Task force winding up its work

Time is running out for members of the Huntington Beach Downtown Task Force to finalize recommendations on how to improve the area and send them to the City Council.

Councilwoman Connie Boardman, chairwoman of the task force, said during its Jan. 9 meeting that she hopes to wrap things up by the end of February and start making the task force's proposed solutions a reality.

While some on the committee believe that talks have been productive, others have expressed frustration with the progress made over the past five months.

The group has discussed improving lighting and security in the parking structure at Walnut Avenue and Third Street, finding ways to address the alcohol problem, downscaling the U.S. Open of Surfing, enticing downtown employees to park in the structure and getting residential permit parking in the area.

Task force member Domenic Iorfino said the committee is on the right track. He added that even though recommendations haven't formally been proposed to the council, efforts already being made by the city and the Huntington Beach Police Department to combat various problems.

The city now has the tools it needs, he said, including stricter entertainment permit rules on bars and restaurants and the addition of surveillance cameras around the area.

"It's a matter of enforcement," said Iorfino, who represents the Chamber of Commerce. "Since the beginning of the task force until now, the police have already stepped up their involvement in downtown. So I think that's a 100% positive."

He added: "The council and the police are so proactive and are doing such a fine job of reacting to certain points, most of the recommendations we might have made are already enacted. It's wonderful synergy between the task force, the City Council and the Police Department. You can't buy that type of interaction."

Councilman Joe Carchio, who is also a task force member, said he believes the group has accomplished what it set out to do.

"We got all the items that we felt were important on the table, and now it's just a matter of sorting out and figuring out which one's we're going to bring to the City Council for discussion," he said.

The councilman added that it's not just a matter of adding more laws downtown. Business owners in the area need to change their ways if they want to continue operating, he said.

Some task force members have expressed impatience with the focus

on bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

Task force member and Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn. President Kim Kramer has taken the lead on most discussions regarding the topic, addressing the over-serving of patrons and the feasibility of implementing a "deemed approved" ordinance downtown, which would tack on another layer of regulations focusing on nuisance-based problems.

A number of California cities and counties are adopting such ordinances as a means of having more enforcement tools to use against "grandfathered" businesses.

"Kim is a smart guy that does a tremendous amount of research and he makes some incredibly valid points," Iorfino said.

But at the Jan. 9 meeting, several members said they had had enough of the topic of alcohol.

"We've had about five to six meetings and we seem to be going back to the same thing, over and over again," task force member Ralph Palomares.

"We all were put on this task force to bring something to the table, and half the people here don't speak," task force member Susie Smith said also during the meeting. "One person speaks constantly, and we are going in circles and wasting our time."

Task force member Cathy Werblin said she realizes that alcohol is an issue downtown but is tired of putting the blame solely on the bars and restaurants.

"People bring alcohol to the beach, and you're not going to be able to stop that in any significant way, so we have to look at alternatives," she said in a phone interview. "Do we want more attention paid to DUIs as a way to combat drinking? …We haven't had a chance to address any more creative solutions."

Kramer declined to comment on the task force proceedings.

The task force has about three meetings left before wrapping up at the end of February.

Thursday's meeting will focus on residential permit parking and other ways to get visitors to use the parking structure instead of streets in the surrounding neighborhood.

"I hope that the work that we've done by the end of the task force will be productive in getting some change," Werblin said. "The only reason why I'm on that committee is to effect some change and make the quality of life better, not to bash people and not to bash the bars. That's not productive."

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