Reports call for more balance in downtown Huntington Beach

Concerns include public safety, drunk driving and lack of retail space for residents.

April 20, 2011|By Mona Shadia,
  • Richard Plummer, left, Angela Rainsberger and David Rice are with Huntington Beach Neighbors. The group has a study that shows the problems the city has with DUIs and the oversaturation of alcohol licenses in downtown.
Richard Plummer, left, Angela Rainsberger and David… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

A pair of analyses of the Huntington Beach downtown scene show a grim picture of the impact the bars and concentrated alcohol licenses have on the city's safety and reputation.

Two Huntington Beach organizations have compiled data highlighting the number of establishments that serve alcohol and the number of bar and restaurant customers who flush into the city's streets and, as a result, make Huntington Beach the city with the most drunk-driving incidents for its size in California.

One of those organizations, Huntington Beach Neighbors, says the city's approach to dealing with filling vacancies downtown has created an area that encourages partying and drinking on weekends and summer nights instead of tourism and a balanced retail area that also serves the residents who live there.

"Our first objective is to stop having or to slow down the growth of youth bars so we have a better balance of establishments in downtown Huntington Beach," said Richard Plummer, the Neighbors' vice president. "We already have a tourist destination."


Over the years, retail stores that closed downtown were replaced with restaurants that serve or want to serve alcohol. Ka Shabu replaced California Greetings, and Bomburger also replaced a retail store.

Councilman Joe Shaw said he doesn't believe the city planned this arrangement, but it all just happened that way, partly because staff don't have strict guidelines from the city's leaders.

"I wish we would do more," he said. "But I think there are some on the council that are very reluctant to draw the line and say there shouldn't be more liquor licenses downtown. And you know, it's hard to just say there shouldn't be when you consider a place like Morton's The Steakhouse wanting to come in. We would certainly want to be able to have them come in."

Downtown has 62 restaurants, of which 39 have licenses to serve alcohol, the Neighbors' report said. Those 39 restaurants and bars, which sit within two blocks of each other, have a maximum occupancy limit of 6,355, giving the downtown area the highest concentration of bars in Orange County and one of the highest in the state, the report said.

At midnight, up to 3,200 customers and bar visitors flush into the streets from the 18 establishments that close at that hour, according to the data, which was compiled from local and state agencies.

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