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Taking aim at alcohol

The biggest news in Huntington Beach this year was the city's work to reduce alcohol-related accidents and DUIs.

December 28, 2011|By Michael Miller

Huntington Beach's top newsmaker of 2011 wasn't a person or an organization, but rather a controlled substance.

Throughout the year, the Independent's front page featured more drinks than a typical bachelor party. Statistics showed Huntington at the top of California cities its size in alcohol-related car accidents. State officials investigated a popular restaurant that had been tied to a large number of DUIs. Residents incited a hearing on whether downtown could have one more liquor-serving license.

At the heart of Huntington's alcohol issues are several questions, and the answers may depend on whom you ask.

Do the downtown statistics represent an out-of-control drinking culture, or just efficient work by police in catching perpetrators? Does the actual number of alcohol licenses — 39, to be exact — make a difference? And however rambunctious the neighborhood may get after midnight, is it still an improvement over its previous self?

"I don't know that it's keeping anyone away from our beaches," developer Robert Koury, who owns properties containing several bars and restaurants, said of the area's reputation. "I see families and people of all walks of life."

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To some who have lived in Huntington for decades, the city's modern downtown affluence is little short of miraculous. Skinheads, panhandlers and Fourth of July riots are considered things of the past. Upscale hotels line the beach, while events like the U.S. Open of Surfing make the pier a world-famous destination.

But alongside those sleek structures and packed restaurants are many residents who have trouble sleeping on weekends, as bar patrons flood their neighborhood.

There's one thing on which everyone can probably agree: Huntington Beach, which the Los Angeles Times proclaimed "the 'Jersey Shore' of Orange County" in April, has earned a reputation as more than just Surf City. And many are looking to take action before that reputation gets worse.

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'It's a few of them'

The year started with, well, sobering news about the drinking problem in Huntington.

In January, the state Office of Traffic Safety issued a report that the city ranked first among California cities its size in per-capita alcohol-related injury traffic collisions in 2009. The previous four years, Huntington had placed sixth, eighth, seventh and fourth, respectively.

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