Prepping for July 4 parties: Newport Beach, Huntington Beach brace for hectic holiday

The visitors from Arizona, all three generations of them, have a favorite ritual during their annual Fourth of July beach front getaway.

They like to watch.

“All the drunk people; it’s really quite funny,” said Shannon Pulk, a mother of three who for nearly 20 years has been coming with her family to the same Newport Beach rental home for Independence Day.

If history is a guide, they’re about to have a lot of viewing options.

Beach towns in Orange County are Ground Zero for Fourth of July partying, with hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the coast for quality time with family and friends, fireworks over the ocean — and partying.

Police in the most popular beach cities will monitor revelers for even small signs of trouble. Lifeguards will carefully watch the water, as warm weather and strong surf could spell trouble for the influx of beachgoers, who will take up prime real estate on the sand. Travelers — especially people renting near the sand — will pack houses for parties.

Two areas in particular, Huntington Beach and the coastal neighborhoods of Newport Beach — both known for previous July 4 unrest — will be patrolled by police checking out the streets and the sand to keep party people in control. The cities have taken to social media and other means of communication, like text alerts, to issue live updates and warnings.

Since 2010, Newport Beach has been trying to dispel its reputation as the rowdy go-to place for Fourth of July. The city holds a family-friendly parade during early morning hours in West Newport, and it has opened up streets previously shut down to traffic to help prevent large groups from forming.

And the changes seem to be working.

Last year, Independence weekend arrests in the city were down to 94, verses 120 in 2014.

“We’re absolutely certain part of it is the multi-year plan to really stop what people see as a party atmosphere in the area,” said Newport Beach spokeswoman Jennifer Manzella.

This weekend the city will have about 200 police officers on patrol, including 75 from outside agencies. Some will be using anti-riot techniques, such as riding on horseback through the streets. The strong police presence will be in effect all weekend, leading up to the Monday.

The holiday also means triple-sized fines in Newport Beach’s Safety Enhancement Zone, a stretch of West Newport that encompasses the area between the Pacific Ocean to the south, 32nd Street and Newport Boulevard to the east and Pacific Coast Highway to the north and 54th Street to the west.

Citations for carrying an open container, igniting fireworks (yes, that’s illegal in Newport Beach and other beach cities) and public urination (illegal everywhere) will cost more than usual.

And don’t even think about parking illegally.

Or throwing water balloons at other revelers.

Also, if you want to have a party on your roof (or the roof you’re renting) consider yourself warned: Newport Beach building inspectors will be cruising the neighborhoods this weekend, looking for violations — such as rooftop parties.

Commerce, however, will be tolerated.

Pulk’s daughter’s – Lily, 9 Olivia 6 and Hattie, 4 – hope to make a holiday profit, setting up a lemonade stand for thirsty between party people. Last year, they made $150.

Up the coast, in Huntington, fines are not increased for the holiday. But the city has a long-standing zero-tolerance response to crowd-related violations, like drinking in public. That’s a response to Fourth of July riots that became a Huntington Beach staple in the mid 1990s.

Late on the night of July 4, 1994, mobs in Huntington Beach began throwing rocks, bottles, beer cans, water balloons and bottle rockets at each other and, later, at authorities. Some police and fire officials arrived in a 2,500-gallon water truck, initially warning people to leave and then dispersing those who remained by turning four high-pressure hoses on the crowd. About 100 officers were needed to to control the melee.

A year later, hundreds of people started tossing skyrockets and firecrackers at trees and cars, and a crowd formed to dance around a burning sofa. Trash bins and lawn chairs were burned through the night. One man was shot and killed.

To cut that Fourth of July tradition off before it entered year three, the city enacted a zero-tolerance policy in 1996, issuing citations for everything from drinking a beer in your front lawn to tossing water balloons. That year, there were nearly 550 arrests. But arrests fell to 111 in 1997 and 50 in 1999.

Last year’s arrests in Huntington Beach totaled 86, about two thirds for either DUI or other alcohol-related crimes.

Though Huntington Beach Police spokesperson Jennifer Marlatt noted that people should never drink and drive, she noted it’s particularly dangerous on a weekend when pedestrians and bicyclists are clogging the streets.

She said police are using social media to put out the message that people should stick to the “safe and sane” fireworks or enjoy the professional show at the beach.

She also said anybody visiting the coast should expect a crowd, with busy streets and clogged parking lots.

“Have patience,” she said.

Last year, police fielded nearly 600 complaints about illegal fireworks. This year, city police are asking anybody calling in such a complaint to know the specific location — just hearing the firework isn’t enough.

Lifeguards up and down the coast also are prepping for a potentially dangerous mix: warm weather, strong surf and rip currents. Add in some holiday booze and the combination can be lethal.

“Things just happen (on Fourth of July weekend) that are different than a lot of other days,” said Newport Lifeguard Chief Rob Williams.

“There’s a lot more intoxicated people … disturbing the peace and a bit of arguments,” Williams added. “If there’s surf… that’s when we do get really busy.”

So, with all the tourists pushing their towns into a holiday play land, what’s a local supposed to do?

Joe Tallman, a 70-year-old homeowner in Newport Beach, spent part of Thursday holding a parking spot for a relative who would be visiting for the wild weekend.

Tallman said his six-bedroom will be filled with about 30 friends and family a holiday bash.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “But there’s enough fun to make it worth it.”

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