Downtown task force turns over its report

After six months of brainstorming, the Huntington Beach Downtown Task Force on Monday presented to the City Council its recommendations for making downtown safer.

Council members decided some of the group's suggestions can be addressed immediately though others — including

improving the lighting in the parking structure off Walnut Avenue and Third Street, finding a way to encourage downtown employees to park at the structure and increasing the number of surveillance cameras — may warrant further discussion.

The City Council is also determining the future of the task force, which a majority of the council supports.

"There needs to be continuation, in my view, to make sure that things get implemented," Councilman Dave Sullivan said.

The city has already made changes.In July, the council approved restrictions on entertainment permits for downtown bars and restaurants that ban new customers 30 minutes before closing time, establish that last call be issued 15 minutes before closing and require close-circuit cameras to be installed and maintained.

Police Chief Robert Handy said permits for most establishments downtown have been replaced, with only a few more to go. Establishments that serve alcohol must renew their permits every 12 months.

To crack down on alcohol problems even further, the city has barred new convenience stores and similar businesses from obtaining liquor licenses. The new law was approved by the California Coastal Commission last month.

Police have also ramped up enforcement downtown over the last three weekends — an effort Handy called effective.

He said additional bicycle patrols, increased uniformed and undercover operations inside establishments and temporary changes to shift times to allow greater police presence at night have contributed to 42 arrests, including 12 for suspected driving under the influence, and 191 citations.

The police chief added that the department is looking to acquire two horses to establish a summertime mounted unit.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw said sustaining those efforts would be difficult because of the lack of funding and the number of officers.

"I don't want to say that we can't do it," Handy said. "I don't want to use the excuse that staffing is always a problem, but it certainly is, in this case, an issue for us for the sustainability of the effort that we're doing now."


Council member compensation soon to be reinstated

In other action, the council approved a proposal to bring back compensation for expenses incurred by new members.

The item, which passed on a 5-2 vote, will allow future elected council members to be compensated for expenses they incur while serving their term. Mayor Matthew Harper and Councilman Joe Carchio dissented.

Expense allowances were removed in 2012 because of the recession and as a show of solidarity with other city departments, whose budgets were being cut.

"This was a gross injustice when it was voted on by the outgoing council in 2012," Shaw said. "It was kind of like a middle finger to the rest of the council members and to the city."

Council members are paid $2,101 a year, but those who were in office before the change — Harper, Shaw, Connie Boardman and Joe Carchio — retained their expense allowances.

If passed, the ordinance would reinstate compensation for the newly elected. It cannot retroactively compensate those currently serving.

"It's absolutely crazy that you have to pay to serve, and that's the predicament these people are in," Sullivan said.

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