Tag Archives: DUI

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.


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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.

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Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown: Build it and they will drink (and drive)

By John Earl
Surf City Voice

Build it and they will come, the saying goes.  

Likewise, a little more than two decades ago, Huntington Beach started redeveloping its blighted downtown area—linked economically as well as geographically to the beach and pier on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway—into a mall-style “village” that offers shops, hotels, and so far over 30 liquor serving restaurants and bars, all part of the city’s plan to market itself as a tourist destination.

From an economic perspective the plan has worked well. Over 11 million tourists come to the city each year; and two years ago the city collected a peak of about $7 million in hotel/bed taxes, most of it from the downtown area, Councilmember Keith Bohr pointed out at a recent city council meeting.

But encouraging tourism and alcohol consumption in a small area with a high concentration of liquor serving establishments has also created an alcohol dependent downtown with all the expected symptoms. Based on population, Huntington Beach has the 3rd highest DUI rate of any California city and is ranked 7th in the state, regardless of population, in drunk driver collisions, according to a report released by the Huntington Beach Police Department last July.

In 2009, according to the report, there were 274 alcohol related collisions in the city and 95 collisions occurred in 2010 between January and May. For the same time periods, respectively, there were 1,687 and 632 DUI arrests.

Death goes with the city’s high DUI rate. Last year the city had nine traffic fatalities, five of which were related to drunk driving, Chief of Police Kenneth Small told the council at its Jan. 18 meeting. “Drunk driving is clearly the most significant public safety problem we have in Huntington Beach,” he said.

Comparisons to other Orange County cities show how disproportionate the city’s alcohol problem is and how it relates to the downtown restaurant/bar scene. Irvine, for example, which has a slightly higher population than Huntington Beach (217,000 vs. 202,000), and despite being home to a large university, made 709 DUI arrests in 2008 compared with 1,729 DUI arrests in Huntington Beach. Anaheim (pop. 353,000) made 862 DUI arrests.

Anaheim and Irvine do not have highly concentrated downtown bar scenes; Fullerton, however, with a much lower population (137,000), also has a high number of downtown liquor serving establishments, according to the report, and made 1,188 DUI arrests in 2008—similar to the DUI arrest rate in Huntington Beach. Continue reading Surf City’s Alcoholic Downtown: Build it and they will drink (and drive)

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)

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