Tag Archives: downtown

Surf City’s Stimulus Plan (Get Tourists Drunk) Captured on Film

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Surf City’s now infamous reputation for drunk driving and rowdiness, most of it stemming from its bar infested downtown, is usually expressed in statistics and as a necessary side effect of the city’s plan to stimulate economic development through tourism.

An HBPD study released last year clearly implicated the high concentration of combined restaurant/bars in the downtown area as a major cause of the problem.

Huntington Beach has the highest number of DUIs for any California city in its population range, is ranked third for DUIs of any California city and is ranked seven in the state, regardless of population, for drunk driver collisions as of a year ago. Last year five people died in drunken driving crashes in the city.

Downtown late night scene
Police tend to a downtown visitor who seems to have had too much to drink. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

“Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety problem we have in Huntington Beach,” HBPD Chief Kenneth Small told the City Council last January.

Mayor Joe Carchio recently gained headlines for “cracking down” on downtown bars. Critics say his plan is a good first step but much more needs to be done to deal with the problem.

At a recent meeting of the California Coastal Commission when the city was seeking permits under the Coastal Act for its revised Downtown Specific Plan, Councilmember Keith Bohr said that the downtown area was a victim of the city’s successful program to attract tourists to its 8.5 miles of beaches and to its downtown attractions.

“We’re a very popular area,” he told the commission. “We have lots of folks come and our police force does a great job of enforcing our DUI [laws], hence our numbers are higher than others probably because we take advantage of the grants and enforce that and it makes people comply with our laws.”

Even accepting Bohr’s unlikely scenario—that other California cities don’t also take advantage of grants and try their best to enforce DUI laws—for downtown area residents the problem with drunks goes beyond statistics and affects their quality of life.

Richardson Gray, a downtown resident, complained to the commission about drunks overrunning downtown and waking up residents while walking back to their cars after the 2 a.m. closing time for bars. Other residents have long complained about late-night wandering drunks having sex in their front yard bushes and urinating, defecating and fighting on their lawns, or recklessly driving through their streets at high speeds while drunk.

“We have to live with the headaches of too many drunks on our streets and crime in our neighborhood,” Gray complained.

Surf City tourist nearly passed out on the ground.
Surf City tourist looks skyward. Photo courtesy of Paul Edward

A recent late night tour of downtown Main Street conducted by the HBPD for members of the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association, Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby and Councilmembers Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman helped illustrate – literally – those headaches.

Photographer Paul Edward captured the essence of the problem with video and in 24 photographs taken in less than an hour on what Bixby described as a “slow night” starting at about 1:30 a.m. Some of Edward’s photographs are within this article. The entire batch and the video can be viewed at http://pauledward.smugmug.com/Street-Scenes/HBDRA/.

But Bixby’s tour notes help give the context for Edward’s photographic essay. “It was an eye-opening experience for me,” he wrote. In his own words, this is what he witnessed just before and after the final call for alcohol downtown:

  • Males fighting and being arrested, with one being taken away in an ambulance;
  • Females having a loud altercation on the verge of fighting;
  • People staggering around under the influence;
  • At least one establishment allowing people to finish their drinks after the posted closing time;
  • People making out in dark shadows;
  • A guy being arrested after passing out;
  • Code-required sidewalk clear passage area being used for entrance queuing at Sharkey’s/Killarney’s (sic);
  • Definite uptick in altercations at the 2 am witching hour;
  • An inebriated guy standing in the middle of Main throwing fist-fulls of hard candy into the ari landing with a scatter onto the asphalt and subsequently crunched with a “pop pop pop” as a police cruiser slowly drove by;
  • A guy helping his near-unconscious buddy into the DRIVER’S Seat (!) of their vehicle;
  • And all of this was on a relatively “slow” night.

Although tax revenues establish the fact that downtown Surf City’s bars and alcohol serving restaurants help bring in the money for their owners as well as the city, no study has been done yet to study the costs to taxpayers of the kind of law enforcement Bohr touts but that is—as Edward’s photos show—woefully inadequate, no matter how valiant, for the task. Perhaps even more important to the residents of downtown and the rest of the city is the human cost of the city’s habit of only measuring success in dollars and cents.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Response to Mayor Carchio: Good first step, but more needs to be done about downtown

By Angela Rainsberger

Editor: Rainsberger is the director of Huntington Beach Neighbors.

Dear Mayor Carchio:

Thank you for the letter regarding your proposed solutions to reduce the DUI fatalities coming from the downtown establishments. I believe this is a step in the right direction to reduce the DUIs and I hope that we will see some meaningful reduction over time. I believe the key is to make certain that these voluntary suggestions become requirements of entertainment permits as they come up for renewal or as new EP are issued.

In addition for new restaurants it is important to find a way to add restrictions to the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to prevent restaurants from morphing into bars. I expect you will see far less protests and activism from citizen groups in the downtown if we can insure that a restaurant stays a restaurant.

There are other cities in Orange County that have areas of heavy concentration of establishments serving alcohol who have found ways to manage the consumption to reduce the risks to life and quality of life. I would encourage you to meet with the city staff of Fullerton who crafted their successful ordinances and policies to understand what has worked for them.

In addition to your bulleted suggestions, I would add the following requirements:

  • No drink specials should be sold after midnight. This would include redemption of coupons such as the ones being sold on Groupon for two times the value of anything purchased. A managed decrease in the volume of alcohol consumed after midnight will decrease the level of intoxication at 2 am.
  • Maintain a full listing of establishments with the details of their entertainment permit restrictions, allowances, occupancies, and closing times to be used as a planning tool and reviewed in total, before any new establishment or any entertainment permit renewals are approved. Adjust closing times to stagger them as entertainment permits come up for renewal. This will reduce the 2 am flood of intoxicated drivers into the streets, by batching them in smaller more manageable groups, that the police will better be able to control.
  • Work with BID to increase the number of cabs available at night; as a cab shortage is a current problem. Taxi vouchers add no value if one must wait for an hour in a taxi queue.
  • Drinks need to be served to the person who will be consuming the drink. Currently there are establishments where drinks for large groups can be ordered by a single person at the bar and then carried back to a group. This prevents the servers from being able to apply the RBS/TIPS training and ABC max drink limitation or to monitor the ratio of drink per person. Require that the serve can verify that drinks are being sold are at the 1:1 ratio per order.
  • Require restaurants to clearly post occupancy permits for each area of their establishments (sidewalk patios, back patios, inside dining room and balconies) so that the police can clearly see when the occupancy of a given area has been exceeded. Currently, many establishments are not posting their patio max occupancy signs and in the evening hours are clearing tables and chairs off the patios and converting the patios to standing room areas with significantly more people than allowed. By posting these signs clearly the police will be able to quickly identify when occupancies have been exceeded.
Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Mayor Sets New Rules for Downtown Bars and Restaurants

By Joe Carchio
Mayor of Huntington Beach

Editor: The following letter was sent by Mayor Joe Carchio to all restaurant/bars with entertainment licenses in downtown Huntington Beach.

One of my primary goals during my term as Mayor of the City of Huntington Beach is to enhance and improve public safety for our residents and visitors. Information released by the California Office of Traffic Safety revealed that there were 195 fatal an injury related traffic accidents in our city involving driving under the influence in 2009. That number resulted in Huntington Beach being ranked number one out of fifty-six cities our size in California. It is my hope that through a combination of enforcement and education, we will be able to reduce the number of intoxicated drivers on our roadways, and thereby reduce the number of fatal and injury related traffic accidents, in future years.

I have been advised by the Chief of Police, and data maintained by the police department supports, that may people arrested for driving under the influence have been drinking in downtown establishment that offer entertainment prior to their arrest. As the owner, or manager, of a downtown restaurant that serves alcohol and offers entertainment, I request that you strongly consider adopting the following policies. I believe implementation of these policies by all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment would help to achieve my goal of enhancing and improving public safety for our residents and visitors.

Proposed Policies:

  • No new customers allowed 30 minutes before closing.
  • “Last Call” at least 15 minutes before closing.
  • Only single sized drinks, and no multiple drinks after midnight.
  • Signage, posters and advertising “Do Not Drink and Drive.”
  • Mandatory “Responsibly Beverage Service (RBS)” training and certification for new employees within 90 days and existing employees every 12 months. The training shall be provided by an ABC approved RBS training provider.
  • Installation of a high quality video surveillance system that is available at all times to the police department.
  • Provide taxi vouchers through the night and to customers leaving at the end of the night.

It is my hope that all downtown restaurants that serve alcohol and offer entertainment will voluntarily implement these policies. IN my meeting with Chief of Police, I formally asked him to impose these policies on any establishment where the Police Department has determined there is a problem related to intoxicated customers. If these conditions are imposed by the Chief of Police, it will occur at the time your Entertainment Permit is renewed.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Court Issues Tentative Decision For Surf City on Downtown Lawsuit

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

A Superior Court judge has issued a temporary ruling against all counts of a lawsuit challenging the city’s revisions to its Downtown Specific Plan (DTSP) approved in late 2009 and early 2010 and its environmental review of those revisions.

The lawsuit was brought by Huntington Beach Neighbors, a 2,000 member citizens’ group concerned with living conditions in the downtown area. The case had its day in court last March.

The area in question covers a patchwork of about 336 acres of downtown land extending outward from the intersection of Goldenwest Street and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) at its north end to Beach Boulevard and PCH on the south, including the Main Street and Pier area.

In an eight page ruling filed on May 5, Judge Nancy Wieben Stock noted that “In a shotgun approach to litigation, and leaving no stone unturned, Petitioners argue that in approximately 33 categories of environmental review, the EIR process was wholly deficient.”

Neighbors had a difficult task because from the start the court assumed that “a public agency’s decision to certify the EIR is correct,” as Stock explained, and it was up to the plaintiffs to prove otherwise.

Stock ruled that the plaintiffs did not show that they first exhausted administrative remedies—part of the burden of proof; in other words, their issues were not brought up during the public hearing process.

“In not one instance in its Opening Brief has Petitioner met its burden here,” Stock wrote.

Stock eliminated some challenges forthwith, for the most part without further explanation, including the assertion that the EIR did not study the cumulative effects of other nearby projects or the DTSP’s effect on downtown aesthetics, noise, public service and land use.

The lawsuit claims that the EIR “does not review the entire action that is contemplated” and thus violated CEQA by “piecemealing” its environmental analysis.

Stock agreed with the city that specific projects that could bloom from the DTSP may require separate EIRs in the future, but that a conceptual or “program” EIR is sufficient for now.

Disputed Development Area
From Nov. 2009 through Jan. 2010 the City Council passed revisions to the DTSP that allowed increased densities downtown, resulting in a potential for more than 1.3 million additional square feet of commercial development in the area.

Those revisions were in addition to Pacific City, a moth balled mixed-use project south of Atlanta Avenue on PCH that covers 31.5 acres and, at its inception in 2004, included 512 luxury condos and a 165 room hotel/spa.

Pacific City combined with the DTSP revisions increases the amount of allowed downtown development by 375 percent over former plans, the lawsuit claims.

Finding that the previous DTSP had been maxed out, the 2006 City Council decided to super-size it, calling into question the purpose of development planning in the first place: what good is it if city councils can drastically change their master plans on nothing more than a political whim?

But those changes required public hearings and environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city was required to study the environmental affects of the Downtown Specific Plan modifications and publish the results.

CEQA guidelines require a “sufficient degree of analysis to provide decision makers with information which enables them to make a decision which intelligently takes account of the environmental consequences,” according to guidelines published on the state website.

CEQA also requires decision makers, in this case the city staff, to answer concerns that are part of the administrative (public) record.

The city violated that process broadly, according to HB Neighbors, without providing reasons for its lack of environmental review. Nor did it respond to complaints that were part of the public record—despite attempts by Neighbors “to achieve reasonable, resident-friendly modifications to the DTSP.”

The lawsuit asks the court to revoke certification of the final EIR for the DTSP and all its updated project approvals.

Some key assertions of the lawsuit are:

1. The city’s EIR did not show that it examined traffic impacts for summer weekends when visitor numbers are highest;

2. Solid waste impact projections considered residential but not commercial impacts;

3. In an illegal “11th hour amendment” the city council passed a measure increasing downtown density;

4. Parking impacts were not properly considered;

5. The EIR did not adequately consider the cumulative effects of nearby projects, including Pacific City.

6. Impacts on cultural resources, including the Main Street Library, were not properly considered in the EIR.

Main Street Library
Stock’s ruling largely bypassed the most controversial downtown issue of all – what will become of the historical Main Street Library located in Triangle Park.

In that case, the lawsuit contends, the Main Street Library qualifies as an “historically significant” resource under CEQA, but the EIR does not list it as such. Nor were the impacts of the DTSP revisions upon the library examined as required.

The city’s EIR states that “specific development proposals are not contemplated for the project, including development on the library site.”

But the first revised plans allowed for replacing the library with a combination cultural arts center and tourist attraction that includes a gift shop, restaurant, and event rentals and would attract up to 400,000 visitors each year.

In response to thousands of complaints, the city revised the DTSP to provide for a “community oriented cultural activity area that encourages preservation and enhancement of the Main Street Library” rather than replacing it.

But that plan still allows a 24,660 square foot structure, three stories and 35 feet tall, for an additional 14,700 square feet that could hold a gift shop, small cafe and other retail uses – still in conflict with the city’s General Plan – changes that the lawsuit claims should have undergone environmental review.

Lacking that review, the public and city council were denied information vital to the decision making process; therefore, the EIR must be revoked, the lawsuit contends.

But Judge Stock made short work of those arguments. Regarding cumulative effects, they “were not raised at the administrative level by any person.” In any case, she added, the DTSP doesn’t propose any projects yet and any future projects will face environmental review.

Traffic Problems Dismissed
The lawsuit contends that the city’s traffic studies were methodologically flawed and that it made sure to “drastically” understate traffic impacts in its EIR.

The EIR failed to demonstrate that it had analyzed weekend traffic conditions during summer, despite acknowledging the “at-capacity conditions occurring during peak summer days, particularly on weekends.” Nor did the EIR consider the added traffic congestion from tourist buses, the lawsuit alleges.

But Judge Stock called the city’s traffic study exhaustive, encompassing 1,000 pages, and said that the plaintiffs failed to offer expert counter-analysis.

Furthermore, it is not the role of the Court to attempt scientific analysis of the city’s traffic study, Stock said.

Nor is it important “whether the studies are irrefutable or whether they could have been better, she explained. “The relevant issue is only whether the studies are sufficiently credible to be considered.”

Despite the EIR’s alleged failure to demonstrate a specific analysis of peak traffic periods, and without citing specifics herself, Stock concluded that the city’s analysis showed a “full appreciation of the summer and beach-proximity issues.”

Eleventh Hour Changes
If Stock’s traffic ruling doesn’t stretch credulity, her ruling on Plaintiff’s claim of a CEQA violation by “11th hour amendment” illuminates the thick line that often separates legality from morality.

At its Nov. 16, 2009, meeting the city council voted to reconsider revised density standards for one section of the downtown that it had approved at its Nov. 2 meeting.

The issue was placed on the Jan. 19, 2010 council agenda for discussion and a vote, but a slight of hand by Councilmember Don Hansen changed the purpose of the meeting.

Instead of considering a reduction in density, which was the intent of putting the issue on the agenda in the first place, Hansen made a surprise motion.

Previously in District 1 a site area of 25,000 square feet or greater was needed to build a 45 foot high, four-story building. Any lot less than 25,000 square feet was allowed a maximum building height of 35 feet and three stories, according to the Jan. 19 staff report.

Hansen’s motion shrunk the required square footage to 8,000 square feet, creating a huge increase in density. The council passed the motion, but nothing like his proposal was in the staff’s usual list of recommended actions or in the rest of its public report.

Nor was Hansen’s proposal based on information in the EIR, the lawsuit claims, despite having significantly changed the DTSP. And it violated the city’s General Plan. Therefore, Hansen’s DTSP revision must be denied, Plaintiffs argued.

Stock issued a harsh rebuke. The possibility of a four-story building on a 25,000 square foot “or less” lot had already been discussed in the Draft EIR, as well as in numerous staff reports, she wrote.

The same thing for building height. “[T]he EIR process was designed to reveal the outcomes of any amendments to the General Plan in this area,” she added.

Councilmember Joe Shaw called portions of the DTSP “severely flawed,” despite the court’s tentative ruling. “I think the residents of our downtown neighborhoods have spoken clearly about the plan and they’re not happy with it.”

The revised density, building heights and neighborhood uses are “out of sync and out of character” for the downtown neighborhoods, he said. “I hope that this city council or the next will address some of these issues.”

Councilmember Keith Bohr had a different view.

Citing numerous stakeholder interviews, community workshops, study sessions and public hearings held in the five years since the city council directed staff to update the DTSP, Bohr told the Voice that he is “pleased that we are finally nearing the finish line for this much needed update to our Downtown Specific Plan.”

Just how close the city is to that finish line remains to be seen. HB Neighbors spokesperson Angela Rainsberger told the Voice that her group will file objections with the court next Monday. If Stock rejects those objections the group will have 30 additional days to appeal, according to City Attorney Jennifer McGrath.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

How Downtown Surf City Evolved from its ‘Beaver Days’ Into a ‘Village’

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Note: This is the first of a series of occasional articles about the history of development and redevelopment in Huntington Beach over the past 30 years. 

During the March 7 HB City Council meeting, member Keith Bohr praised the success of downtown redevelopment.

There are “challenges with alcohol” there, he said, referring to the city’s infamously high DUI rate—1st place in its size range in the state and 7th out of all California cities, but those challenges show that we are “victims of our success.”

People who tell him that they prefer downtown the way it used to be must have a “selective memory,” he said, or are remembering the “Beaver days,” referring to the idyllic community that existed downtown in the 50s and 60s but perished in subsequent economic decline.

“I’ve been around since 87,” Bohr reminisced, going back to his days as a city planner. “There were a lot of boarded up ground-floor retail stores [downtown]. There was a former deputy sheriff arrested for running a teenage prostitution ring out of the upstairs of the 200 block of Main Street, where the parking structure is now. There were devil worshippers living there in the single-room occupancies. I think Huntington Beach has improved a lot every year.”

True, downtown Huntington Beach was badly in need of repair, both structurally and socially, 24 years ago—although Bohr’s story about devil worshippers is more urban legend than fact (more on that later).

The city’s population had grown from around 11,000 in 1960 to around 176,000 in 1983—when downtown redevelopment officially kicked off. In an interview with this reporter published in the Nov. 13, 1987 issue of the Huntington Beach News, the new City Administrator, Paul Cook, commented on the aftermath of the population explosion of the early 60s.

“Basically, the city grew and there just isn’t enough density to keep it [downtown] going on its own,” he explained.

Before that change, the city’s small population was centered on Main Street, so that’s where people shopped. “So they [downtown businesses] had a captive audience. As the city grew and the shopping center at Five Points went up, as well as other shopping centers, the competition grew too great for Main Street,” Cook explained.

Progress in other areas of the city brought economic failure and boarded up buildings to the downtown.

Transients frequented the area and lived in some of those buildings, including the old Surf Theater that closed its doors in 1986. There was a lot full of junk cars and drug deals were easy to come by downtown.

Fifty-one buildings that hadn’t been upgraded for earthquake safety—some were built in the 1920s and 30s—speckled the area.

The downtown’s bad reputation only made it harder for the remaining businesses to survive. Landowners, business owners, city residents and city planners all agreed that something had to be done, but agreeing on a plan was another thing.

Tourist Destination
Under the direction of City Administrator Charles Thompson and the city council (also acting as the redevelopment agency), the city’s first solution was to turn downtown into a tourist destination. A “first-rate, high-quality hotel” with 300 rooms, a 40,000 square-foot conference room and a 20,000 square-foot public plaza located on the south corner of PCH and Main(on 10 lots sold to the developer for $1.00 apiece) was part of the plan.

But that plan had its obstacles. A news story in the Register bragged that “Several hotel chains are now actively interested in the project.” In fact, not a single hotel company was interested. So city planners downsized the project into a 150-180 room hotel that also never appeared at that location.

Pierside Village, a beachside shopping center, was another key to the city’s downtown redevelopment plan. It was to be located on the beach south of the pier, with a 4 foot high wooden deck extending out onto the sand. A tri-level underground parking structure with a major restaurant on top was to be located on the State owned beach north of the pier.

City planners were so excited about Pierside Village that they neglected to tell the council about changes they had made to the plan—including giving the State Parks and Recreation Department the false impression that the council had approved the changes.

No matter, because when the council found out that they had been blindsided by planners they still instructed them to proceed apace, even though the proposed changes had not been passed by the Planning Commission as required by law.

When Bohr first started working for the planning department in 1987, the city was in the middle of a pitched battle with downtown property owners and organized residents who were opposed to redevelopment plans that they considered to be grandiose, poorly planned, unfair and detrimental to the quality of life.

Eager to get past stubborn downtown land owners, the city council also ignored a previous resolution requiring that two-thirds of the landowners in a project area agree voluntarily to sell their property to the Redevelopment Agency before the other third of the owners could be forced to do so through eminent domain.

Some downtown property owners felt that they were being railroaded by the city. They would form a PAC in April, 1988 to hold out for better prices on the forced sale of their land.

But the battles over redevelopment weren’t confined to the downtown.

In July, 1987—about the same time the Pierside Village plan came forth—a raucous crowd of over 300 residents and property owners came to city hall and opposed a proposal to declare 508 acres of land along five miles of Beach Boulevard between Edinger and Atlanta Avenues as blighted so it could be declared a redevelopment area.

The meeting before the city council/redevelopment agency became so intense that the stenographer hired to record the event broke down, crying out “Wait a minute, I can’t take it anymore,” and walked off the job.

After seven hours of hearings, at 2:55 a.m., the Beach Blvd. redevelopment project was defeated 5 – 2.

Back to Beaver
Cook took a much different approach to redevelopment than his predecessor, eschewing the big hotels concept for a “village” atmosphere that would redefine downtown from that time forward. Cook wanted to return to something like Bohr’s so-called Beaver days.

“I don’t see tourism down there as being viable, especially 12 months a year,” Cook told this reporter. “I remember when I came here in 62, Main Street was a pretty private little street with men’s clothing stores and barber shops and village stores and everything was fine.”

Cook got kudos from supporters and critics of redevelopment alike, but public concerns about Pierside, traffic, parking and the city’s heavy-handed use of eminent domain remained strong.

In a drastic attempt to change public opinion and push downtown redevelopment through, the city released a seven-minute video depicting the downtown as having the highest crime rate of any area in the city. It was a haven for drug use, Satanic and Nazi gangs, and “slumlords” who violated health, safety and seismic codes. Pictures of similar buildings that were destroyed in the recent Whittier earthquake were added to make the case for downtown redevelopment.

Cook said he was surprised by the unsanitary living conditions in the downtown buildings or “flop houses” that were depicted in the video. But not all of the code violations were a surprise to city officials.

As had been revealed previously by this reporter in the HB News, city officials, including the council, had deliberately held back on seismic enforcement on buildings whose owners cooperated with its redevelopment plans. Suddenly, however, the city was determined to convert from discriminatory enforcement to all-out enforcement.

Satan’s Home
To back the city’s claims that downtown was occupied by a Satanic cult, the video showed clips of Satanic literature found in a vacant and recently fire-damaged home, as well as wall graffiti depicting pentagrams, the pope, and the Grim Reaper.

It turned out that the “Satanic” house belonged to Frank Mola, who developed the Charter Center on Warner and Beach and who had been cited numerous times in the past for code violations.

City officials claimed that redevelopment would create a downtown environment that would discourage visitation by all types of gangs and diminish drug use and crime there.

But the city’s gang specialist offered no evidence that the “Satanic” findings were evidence of cult infestation rather than individual activity and admitted that actual gang related incidents in the downtown area had been few in the past five years.

Meanwhile, concern about development induced traffic problems had swept across much of Orange County. Huntington Beach voters gathered signatures and placed the Citizens Sensible Growth and Traffic Initiative (CSGT) on the Nov. 1988 ballot. Its purpose was to prohibit any future development that would increase traffic or adversely affect the quality of life in the development area.

The CSGT was a clone of a county ballot measure that was placed on the June ballot. Similar measures were placed on the ballot in Seal Beach, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Costa Mesa. Eventually each of these campaigns would fail at the polls, but before a business backed advertising campaign took hold they were favored by the vast majority of voters.

With public pressure and self-doubt mounting, the city hired a development consultant to reevaluate the downtown. The report concluded that the city’s original plans weren’t marketable, challenged the viability of its parking and traffic circulation plans and recommended a 180 degree turn away from attracting the tourist trade toward an emphasis on residential and complimentary commercial (mixed-use) development.

In a letter to the city council, Cook emphasized the report’s main conclusions:

  • Long lasting commercial revitalization of Main Street was dependent upon creating a significant resident neighborhood, an approach that had proven successful in cities across the country.
  • Return Main Street to a two-way artery.
  • “A more sizeable and consistent household population base is required to turn the area into a legitimate residential neighborhood where people actually live and work rather than just a place to ‘hang out and party.’”
  • Retail on Main Street should “enhance the marketability and competitiveness of the larger housing component,” and should be oriented toward local residents’ needs rather than seasonal visitors.
  • An 8 – 10,000 square foot “ranch style” market should be located on Walnut and Main.
  • There should be 25,000 square feet of retail on Walnut and 6th streets.
  • A four screen movie theater for PCH and Main.
  • Perq’s bar should have a second level restaurant that would also serve as a “quality nightclub or comedy club.”
  • A 15-20 room bed and breakfast facility would be a good fit for the village concept, but Cook noted that “a hotel is not one their suggested uses nor is it one of mine.”

In April, 1988, the city council unanimously approved conceptual plans for creating a “village atmosphere” downtown instead of the hotel and tourist oriented destination it had previously planned for. Most conspicuous among the changes was the elimination of the 300-room hotel. The Pierside Village, which the city agreed would not help revitalized the portion of downtown on the inland side of PCH, remained in the city’s plans.


Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

EXCLUSIVE: Bill Clinton Visits Downtown Surf City

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Former United States of America president Bill Clinton was in town yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on PCH for a meeting of unknown content and purpose. Clinton was spotted by the hotel’s hard working staff—one of whom confided in the Voice—as he walked by in the lobby. Clinton exchanged greetings with the workers by mutual hand waving. It is not known at this time if the former two-time (and two-timing) president spent the night at the hotel or what room he would have slept in if he actually did spend the night, but it probably would have been the presidential suite. Nor is it known which nearby downtown restaurant/bar the former president went to, if indeed he did go to a downtown restaurant/bar (this writer’s guess is that he would have gone to Sharkee’s and the cup cake store, but I’m not sure in what order) or if he walked on the pier or if he just skipped the downtown altogether and went to Newport Beach. Nor is it known if Clinton went for a walk on the beach or went surfing along the side of the pier—or if he did go surfing by the pier if he by chance bumped into Dana Dude and if they got into a fight after that happened, that is, if it did happen. The Voice will continue to keep its readers updated as new information flows in, but about all that we can confirm at this time is that former president Bill Clinton did indeed appear at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Photo: Stolen from Orange Juice blog which probably stole it from somewhere else.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Pierside Developer Claims ‘Bully Tactics’ Used by Huntington Beach Activist

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Kim Kramer, the leader of a group that advocates for downtown and city-wide improvements, has been accused by a prominent local developer of using “bully tactics” in an attempt to pressure him into donating $25,000 per year for-life to the city for a proposed downtown area residential parking permit program that he was promoting.

Joe Daichendt, owner of the Pierside Pavillion on the corner of PCH and Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach, told the Voice that Kramer, chief spokesperson for the Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Association (HBDRA), strongly implied that if he didn’t donate the money to the city he would not receive the support he needed from HBDRA to get permits approved for a live entertainment center that was to be located inside the Pavillion.

The alleged donation request came days after an informational meeting in early September that took place between Kramer, Planning Commissioner Blair Farley and Mary Adams Urashima, a public affairs consultant, to discuss Daichendt’s plans to open the venue using the name of the famous Golden Bear night club that used to stand at the same location but was demolished in 1986 during redevelopment.

Kramer, representing the HBDRA, and Daichendt had formed an informal partnership a year ago to push for approval of the project, which Daichendt said would have been 5-6,000 sq. feet in size, offering comics and local bands on a real stage “like a House of Blues cut in half.” The night club was also to display exhibitions in tribute to the city’s surfing and oil history.

Kramer and Daichendt were both excited about their partnership. “By working together in this fashion, we could establish a new standard of cooperation between the developers and residents that could be ground-breaking,” Kramer wrote in an e-mail to Daichendt in Feb. 2010, expressing their mutually held sentiments.

But the proposal subsequently fell through due to negative feedback from HBPD Chief Kenneth Small about the venue’s size and it is currently being revised, Daichendt says, and will be submitted to the Planning Commission in about two months.

“We’re in the process of taking his guidance and recommendations and incorporating them into something that would be more compatible” with city planners and the Chief, he said.

Contrary to media reports, there was never a plan to reopen or create a new Golden Bear, Daichendt said, and the name has also been dropped from the new version.

Current Planning Commissioner Mark Bixby (who was not on the commission at the time) was also invited to attend the meeting but didn’t due to a schedule conflict. In an e-mail communication to strictly to Daichendt obtained by the Voice, Kramer represented Bixby, Farley and Urashima to Daichendt as his “leadership team.”

The e-mails also indicate that the now dissolved partnership and first meeting between Daichendt and his consultants and the HBDRA team came after Daichendt and Kramer were introduced by former Huntington Beach mayor and long-time Kramer friend Dave Garofalo in Feb. 2010.

Before and after that meeting there were several other separate meetings about the Golden Bear between Daichendt, Kramer and Garofalo, without the knowledge of Urashima, Farley or Bixby who were not included in the exchange of e-mails between Kramer and Daichendt.

Garofalo was convicted of felony conflict of interest in 2002 and was banned from public office for life as punishment. Kramer’s relationship to Garofalo has long disturbed some of his followers and other activists who share his concerns about issues affecting the downtown but disagree with his tactics.

 In a response to written questions submitted to him by the Voice (Kramer refused to talk in person), Kramer denied any professional links to Garofalo and sidestepped the issue of involvement by his long-time friend in the Golden Bear project.

“We have spoken on many occasions about Downtown issues and he has offered his insight as a long-time City Council member, as have many other community members and former city officials,” Kramer wrote.

Daichendt says that Kramer requested a one to one meeting about five days after they met with Farley and Urashima and that he was surprised by Kramer’s request. “I had no idea it was coming,” he said, adding that Kramer explained that he would need the HBDRA to overcome opposition from residents and members of the city council, but told him that ‘You’ll never get there on your own, but HBDRA can deliver this in basket.’”

In return for HBDRA support, Daichendt claims, Kramer wanted him to pay $25,000 per year forever for a proposed downtown residential parking permit plan. “He said that the only thing stopping the downtown residents parking program from being approved is that nobody would fund it,” Daichendt claims.

Daichendt refused, he says. “Basically, I told him that was crazy.”

Then, according to Daichendt, Kramer suggested he pay for only three years. When that was refused, says Daichendt, Kramer proposed that he pay for only one year, saying he would get somebody else to pay for subsequent years.

Daichendt took the latter idea to his team of consultants who, he says, rejected it. In an e-mail to Kramer he wrote:

“Kim, let’s talk about the $25,000 contribution to the DRA /Lobby support that will go towards Residents Parking Program.

“Overall I received a very negative/slight angry reaction from the rest of the group. I asked them to curb their enthusiasm at the moment and I’m thinking through some other ideas. Let’s chat next week in more detail.”

But Kramer says he never told Daichendt that he would need HBDRA to get approval for the Golden Bear project. “

The HBDRA supports “public safety and residential quality of life on behalf of the Downtown residential community,” he told the Voice. “City Council and City Staff make these decisions, not the HBDRA.”
And in an article written on the HBDRA website Kramer claims that Daichendt was actually the one who suggested a $25,000 donation. The article explained that “Kramer” supported Daichendt’s project  based upon several mutually agreed upon points stated that:

“The Golden Bear developer presented an idea based on his experience dealing with a local resident who complained about the late night noise coming from one of their nightclub tenants – they purchased the resident an air conditioner so the resident could sleep at night with the windows closed. Problem solved!”

Kramer continued. “Using this idea as a springboard, the property owner suggested that the Golden Bear project, already estimated at $2 million in costs, pay for the Residential Only Parking Zones at a cost of $25,000.”

The article says that since all HBDRA’s points were agreed to by the developer, “Kramer was in tentative support of the Golden Bear.” It concludes by noting that Daichendt’s team of consultants rejected the contribution idea, then notes his (Daichendt’s) suggestion to talk about other ideas “next week” but that the meeting never took place.

The article is dated Feb. 27. Strangely, however, Kramer didn’t mention the article to the Voice when it asked about the alleged contribution request in a phone conversation that took place either on the 26th or 27th of the month. In fact, Kramer refused to answer any questions about Daichendt’s allegation for the record until March 12.

Asked again by the Voice for a response at the March 7 meeting of the City Council, Kramer again refused talk about it but agreed to answer questions in writing by e-mail. In that response, which came on March 9, he wrote “You can read about the Golden Bear on our website at www.HBDRA.com, referring to the article.

But a forensic examination of Kramer’s web postings may explain why he waited so long to answer questions about the $25,000 contribution when he supposedly could have pointed the Voice to it much earlier. A Google search on March 10 showed that although another article posted on the HBDRA website and dated Feb. 28 (one day after the Golden Bear article was supposedly posted) is cached, the Golden Bear article still was not.

Also, every other article on the HBDRA website appears to also be posted on the group’s Facebook page (where dates of uploaded links are automatically posted and can’t be manipulated by users) in proper order, but there is no Facebook posting for the Golden Bear article.

In addition, a (right click) properties check of the photo used in the HBDRA Golden Bear story reveals that the photo was uploaded in March, not on the Feb. 27 date that the article was given.

That evidence suggests that a false publication date for the Golden Bear article was entered that would create the appearance that the article had been there prior to Daichendt’s public accusation that Kramer had pressured him for $25,000 (and prior for Kramer’s need to defend himself), thus giving Kramer’s different version of the story more credibility.

When contacted by the Voice just before publication of this story, Kramer acknowledged that the article had actually been posted on March 9 and apologized for “the confusion this may have caused.”

Kramer said that the Feb. 27 date stamp “is the only way WordPress allows one to manage the sequence of articles. I placed it in second behind the Public Safety article (dated Feb. 28) which should remain #1 for a while. It is now in third place as the Bomburger alcohol license is now #2. To eliminate any confusion, I have now added ‘Datelines’ to each article, as of yesterday.”

Kramer further explained that “Our Facebook person has asked that someone else take over the Facebook responsibilities,” that he doesn’t know how to use Facebook and no one has volunteered to take it over yet.

When Daichendt (who has not seen Kramer’s explanation at publication time) read Kramer’s blog posting recounting his version of the Golden Bear partnership and the background to the $25,000 contribution, he sent Kramer an e-mail expressing his outrage. “Kim, I just read your article…alleging that I offered the $25,000. You know it’s not true…You exemplify the worst traits in the political process. I pity you.”

Despite the scathing criticism, Daichendt also says that Kramer has obvious and admirable qualities, including being smart, engaging and a pleasure to talk to, but that he is using his organization, HBDRA, to push his own agenda. “He has proved himself and now his organization not to be credible and my hope is that City Staff and members of the public recognize and remember this in future dealings with him.”

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Saving Face: Councilman Matt Harper didn’t disclose his own drunk driving conviction

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Councilmember Devin Dwyer’s proposal to post the names and photos of habitual DUI suspects on the police department’s Facebook page ignited nationwide news coverage and controversy, but it also opened a broader discussion about Surf City’s alcohol problem and what to do about it.

A study by the Huntington Beach Police Department showed that the high concentration of bars and restaurants selling alcohol downtown is linked to the city’s number one public safety threat –drunk driving (“Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown”).

But on Jan. 18 the City Council voted 4-3 to direct the Chief of Police not to use Facebook to post DUI suspects’ profiles, whether they are “habitual” offenders or not. There were council concerns that the measure wouldn’t work, that it would humiliate innocent family members, and that it would scare off tourists.

HB City Councilmember Matt Harper. Photo: Arturo Tolenttino, SCV

Matt Harper was one of three council members (with Dwyer and Don Hansen) who supported Dwyer’s proposal and who opposed restricting the police. He had opposed Dwyer’s original idea of announcing every DUI arrest on Facebook, he told the council, but favored his “more deliberative and much more vetted” revised approach of exposing only “habitual” offenders.

Harper said he was glad to have the discussion.

“I do like the dialogue,” Harper assured the council. “I do like the council members getting out onto the table what their thoughts are because I think they’re representative of a lot of the thoughts that are happening in our community.” In light of changing Internet trends, he added, the council probably should periodically revisit the idea rather than implement it permanently.

But Harper was being obtuse or perhaps evasive, despite his call for a public dialogue.

Nobody on the council, including Harper, challenged the assumption that first-time arrested drunk drivers should be let off the hook. The reason given for that in other discussions was to respect the presumption of innocence. But that presumption is already overlooked in arrest logs that the police are mandated by law to publish and that have always been available at police stations and, more recently, on regular city websites.

The so-called habitual offender is also presumed innocent when arrested, so why not expose first-time (alleged) DUI offenders on Facebook as well as the alleged habitual DUI offenders?

The first-time alleged DUI offender would also be tempted to drive on a suspended or revoked license, same as the habitual offender. If that person did drive illegally, he could be reported to police by family members, friends or public citizens who know of his driving restrictions and recognized him from Facebook; again, same as for the habitual offender.

And, perhaps, the threat of being placed on Facebook might prevent the first-time DUI suspect from becoming a repeat offender or prevent some other potential drunk driver from getting behind the wheel in the first place. In other words, the same logic applied to the habitual offender argument can be applied to all alleged DUI offenders.

Surely, making one size fit all would be more consistent with the idea that a good Facebook flogging would serve as a deterrent and alert to others and help to ensure public safety.

Harper might be excused for not addressing the full range of possibilities for using Facebook to combat the city’s alcohol problem if not for one detail that he failed to bring up at the council meeting and that has not been reported in the press until now:

On Dec. 19, 2004, at about 1:30 in the morning, Harper was arrested by the HBPD on Beach Blvd. and Bishop Street in the city of Westminster and then booked in the Huntington Beach City Jail for driving under the influence and being well over the blood alcohol concentration limit (BAC), according to court records. Harper was serving as an elected member of the board of the Huntington Beach Unified High School District at the time.

When contacted by the Voice, Harper spoke willingly about the incident and acknowledged that on the night he was arrested he had eaten but also downed seven alcoholic drinks between the hours of 6 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Put another way, Harper was arrested for binge drinking, which the Center for Disease Control says contributes to 80 percent of “impaired driving events” and which it defines  as having a BAC of 0.08 percent from a single occasion—an occasion being from 2 – 5 hours long–usually from five (for men) or more drinks.

A breath test he took at the time of arrest showed an blood alcohol concentration of .131.13, which means that he was legally drunk to a point that could significantly impair balance, judgment, memory and motor skills.

Harper admits that what he did was both “illegal” and “inappropriate” but added that “some people will have different views” about what happened. He offered his own interpretation of why he was pulled over by the police.

In Harper’s view, he fit in well among the drunk driver profile types that the police were looking for when he was arrested: a 30-year-old male driving without his car lights on, late at night, three nights before Christmas.

“There were a lot of fish to be caught and I was one of them that night,” he said.

Harper’s DUI charge (count 1 of two misdemeanor charges) was dropped and he eventually pled guilty to the second count of driving over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol content.

Harper was given three years informal probation with driving restrictions for 90 days, mandatory counseling and he paid over $1,500 in fines. After successfully completing his probation he changed his plea to not guilty for the second count, which was then dismissed by the court.

Harper had no prior arrests for drunk driving and has been clean since 2004. But as he pointed out, and as an HBPD study shows, many drunk drivers aren’t caught. Full disclosure: twice in the mid 70s and once in the early 80s this reporter was one of those people who drove under the influence but did not get caught. Luckily, there were no accidents.

The Voice was aware of Harper’s drunk-driving conviction prior to the November election when he ran for his first term on the City Council but did not report the incident then because it was deemed irrelevant as a news item.

In Harper’s view, his arrest and conviction for drunk driving is still irrelevant, despite that he voted on an issue that was directly related to his own personal experience, an experience that might have given him insights that he could have shared for the public benefit at the time of the vote.

Although Harper is required by law to disclose his conviction in response to “any questionnaire or application for public office, for licensure by any state or local agency,” etc., he believes that its dismissal separated him from it forever. “It was as if I had a car and I sold the car and no longer have the car,” he explained.

 “I didn’t feel that it would contribute significantly to the discussion in the same way that others [on the council] didn’t think they should have disclosed about speeding tickets under item 13,” he said, referring to a council discussion and vote (also on Jan. 18) on an ordinance that would change speed limits on city streets.

Harper’s take on the cause of the downtown area’s huge DUI problem is that it’s the result of the city’s unique geography–backed up against the sea rather than centrally located or near a freeway that would take drunk drivers away to be arrested elsewhere–and its highly concentrated younger (18-30) demographics. The long term remedy, he says, is to increase the diversity of businesses and store fronts downtown, with mixed-use residential to create clients who can walk rather than drive to and from the bars and restaurants.

If nothing else, Harper’s arrest and conviction for drunk driving, along with the entire Facebook controversy, helps illustrate how easy it is to blame others while ignorning the effects of our own policy decisions.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

HBPD Wants to Out DUI Suspects, But What About the Presumption of Innocence?

By Chris Hinyub
Special to the Surf City Voice

The Huntington Beach Police Department wants to publish the names of suspected DUI offenders on its website in an attempt to prevent and reduce the crime. The department wants to send a “clear message” that they are serious about enforcement.

According to a report submitted this month to City Council, Surf City police believe drunk driving is a “significant problem,” especially in the downtown district where a high concentration of liquor vendors operate.  “DUIs are a public-safety issue,” said police Lt. Russell Reinhart. “Public awareness of the problem, and scope of the problem, is one way of addressing any public-safety concern.”

The Huntington Beach Independent implicated itself in the proposal when writer Britney Barnes stated in a recent story:

“The Police Department considered publishing the names of those arrested for DUI after the Huntington Beach Independent stopped publishing a weekly DUI list in December, according to the city report. The Independent decided to ax the standing feature after a change in editorial policy.”

“The department is considering posting the names, which are public record, online, not to embarrass people, but to send a message that Huntington is enforcing DUIs,” Reinhart told the paper. “It’s not a wall of shame we’re looking to put up,” he said.  It’s unclear how well this strategy will work, considering it is (in essence) the continuation of a policy upheld by the news agency and the police department for years with no reduction in DUI incidences since its inception.

The department has made an average of 1,700 DUI arrests a year and the report to city council members suggests that in 2008 Huntington’s DUI rate was the third-highest for similar sized municipalities – cities of approximately 200,000 residents.

The report also claims that Huntington currently has the fourth-highest number of alcohol-related traffic collisions. A dozen or so lives are claimed from these each year, Reinhart told the paper.

If officers are trying to “focus on being proactive instead of reactive” about drinking and driving as reported, it doesn’t necessarily follow that hiring another motorcycle officer for DUI enforcement and posting the identities of suspected drunk drivers on the city’s police website will do much good.

Orange County resident, Robert Ameeti was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving about seven years ago. He feels that police are more inclined to react to the problem with an arrest than proactively investigate whether crimes are even being committed.  The effect of such a tactic is the distortion of criminal statistics which are inevitably used to perpetuate and expand policing efforts.

“What part of ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ is not being understood?” Ameeti says. “The arrest of a driver because he is thought to be intoxicated does not warrant the driver’s name being splashed for all to see.”

Ameeti was attending a party in Huntington Beach and decided to leave when police arrived, responding to a noise complaint. Ameeti didn’t drive far because of a flat tire. As he pulled to the side of the road, he realized one of the responding officers had tailed him and proceeded to detain him by flashing his hailing lights. Arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, Mr. Ameeti was faced with the unenviable task of proving his innocence in spite of what he claims was a fallacious arrest report.

Luckily for Ameeti, the police department dropped the charges after a test revealed his blood alcohol content to be around .001.

“I knew at the time of my arrest that the charges were bogus but no one bothered to tell me that my blood test had proven me correct,” he relates. “I still had to pay for my car to have been impounded as well as for the blood test along with the hiring of a lawyer. To have had my name publicly pronounced as being assumed to be guilty would have only been one more unwarranted blast against me.”

Ameeti says people in his situation should not find themselves being written about in the local paper as having chosen to drink and drive.  Unfortunately, for some victims of DUI arrests, they do not have the resources Mr. Ameeti was able to conjure for his defense.

There are an untold number of innocent DUI suspects who, under threat, duress or coercion, plea to the charges against them.

(Originally published July 31, 2010 by the California Independent Voter Network)

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address:

Downtown Shuttle Starts

From a Surf City official press release:

Surf City's Downtown Shuttle is ready to go.
Surf City's Downtown Shuttle is ready to go.

The free Huntington Beach Surf City Downtown Shuttle will make its inaugural voyage from City Hall to downtown Huntington Beach on Saturday, May 22, 2010, running through September 5 and making stops at the northwest corner of Main Street and Orange Avenue, and on 5th Street at The Strand.  The surf-themed shuttle resembles a classic woody-style vehicle, and will operate on weekends from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM.  The shuttle will also run on Memorial Day (May 31) and Labor Day (September 6), but will not be in service on Independence Day (July 4).

Shuttle riders can take advantage of free parking in the Huntington Beach City Hall parking lot, located at 2000 Main Street at the corner of Main Street and Yorktown Avenue and board the shuttle at one of the two available stops in the lot.  The shuttle will run on a 3.5 mile continuous loop throughout the day, and provides a quick, fun and comfortable alternative to driving downtown on days when the demand for available parking spaces reaches its peak.  This means that visitors will spend less time searching for parking, and spend more time enjoying shopping, dining and strolling in downtown Huntington Beach.

The Surf City Summer Shuttle is a pilot program for 2010.  The city will evaluate the program throughout the summer to determine how the program can best serve the community in the future.  The program is funded by Air Quality Management District funds provided annually to help alleviate congestion by providing viable alternatives to driving.

For more information on the Surf City Downtown Shuttle, visit www.huntingtonbeachca.gov or contact the Economic Development Department at (714) 536-5542 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (714) 536-5542      end_of_the_skype_highlighting.

Please Give Generously Now
Other Amount:
Your Web Address: