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HB PIER PLAZA at the CROSSROADS - Fun and buzzing alive much of the time, alcohol stung and hung-over at others. There is no denying the popularity of the beach-side promenade -- sales tax figures and crowds in the thousands don't lie -- but it is prosperity with a twist, a caveat recognized by everybody from City Council members to residents to the chief of police. Already a social and political focal point of the town, the plaza has come under scrutiny by a Police Department that has long accepted that policing drunks and stopping fights is part of its nightly duties, so much so that two to six officers are assigned to the plaza six nights a week. Four officers walk the beat full time.
Fighting is so common, the plaza's nickname is "Thunderdome," after the Mad Max movie.
HB Downtown Bar owners meet with the HBPD - City officials and police urged Hermosa bar owners to work harder at curbing noise, under-age drinking and over-occupancy, while giving kudos for their improving efforts at an annual public meeting Tuesday at City Hall. The gathering served as a forum for bar owners to exchange feedback with police, city officials, and the public. Police complained that patron promotions beyond the South Bay draw from the greater Los Angeles area people who commit the majority of problems. None of the bar owners acknowledged such advertising. The city has attracted more people every year since construction of the Pier Plaza in 1997, coinciding with an increase in crime.
The Daily Breeze – May 30, 2004
HB PIER PLAZA at the CROSSROADS
Story by Dennis Johnson, DAILY BREEZE
IT'S 1 A.M. ON PIER AVENUE PLAZA and a man walks up to the police officers watching over the unusually sparse crowds to tell them that someone is laid out cold on the sidewalk in front of Citibank.
For a Saturday night on the downtown Hermosa Beach patrol this isn't a rarity.
The man on the ground appears to be very intoxicated. He's also very large, about 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, mostly muscle. Three officers strain to help him into the back seat of a patrol car. He's barely coherent, but can somewhat support himself as two officers push him from one side, while another pulls from the other. The process takes about three minutes.
"And he's not even that bad," Sgt. Raul Saldana remarks. "OK. There you go. Good night, sweet prince," says officer Chris Alkadis before closing the door and hopping in the front seat to ferry the man to the police station for detox.
The tall, stumbling man is not the entire story of the city's Pier Avenue Plaza -- he's just one more character in its 7-year-old narrative. But he is emblematic of a single city block on a long-term bender.
Fun and buzzing alive much of the time, alcohol stung and hung-over at others.
There is no denying the popularity of the beach-side promenade -- sales tax figures and crowds in the thousands don't lie -- but it is prosperity with a twist, a caveat recognized by everybody from City Council members to residents to the chief of police.
Already a social and political focal point of the town, the plaza has come under scrutiny by a Police Department that has long accepted that policing drunks and stopping fights is part of its nightly duties, so much so that two to six officers are assigned to the plaza six nights a week. Four officers walk the beat full time.
Fighting is so common, the plaza's nickname is "Thunderdome," after the Mad Max movie.
"I think there are a lot of good things downtown that a lot of people do like, but you have this popular element that takes place at night; that's where a lot of the bad (problems) come from," Police Chief Michael Lavin said. "We don't want to keep saying the sky is falling, but we've had enough incidents happen down here where we can raise the issue."
In response to the increased violence, Lavin issued a report earlier this year outlining the problems in which he also says there is ample reason to connect a large number of the incidents to a couple of bars -- Sangria and Aloha Sharkeez. "I believe it is reasonable to say that the majority of these calls are directly or indirectly connected to the address indicated," Lavin wrote in the Feb. 26 report. "I have spoken with officers that have worked the downtown foot patrols for many years. It was certainly no surprise to them that Sangria and Sharkeez have had and continue to have the most disturbances connected to their businesses."
The 26-year veteran recounted a handful of brawls in the downtown area, including a New Year's Day fight in which police Sgt. Steve Endom had his leg broken. In early January, a woman was punched in the face twice after arguing with a man about the Oakland Raiders in a downtown bar. And in an assault May 6, a man smashed a bottle over another man's head, spraying bystanders with glass and alcohol.
Since the report was released, Lavin and several city officials have stopped tying the calls to any specific business, instead opting to meet with all Pier Avenue bar owners -- including the two in question -- to come up with a generalized approach for tackling the problems of excessive drunkenness and increased violence.
However, police officials said the ideal solution has yet to be found.
On one hand, budget constraints prevent Lavin from hiring the number of officers he said are needed to adequately handle the problems. On the other hand, it's also highly unlikely that all bar owners would agree on a strict, consistent set of rules to govern good behavior downtown.
Lavin said he is pleased that the city and the department have started working with business owners in confronting the problems of over-serving alcohol, overcrowding and underage drinking. At a meeting May 18, bar owners agreed to address the three issues. More such meetings are planned.
It's things such as crowding and over-serving that can be directly tied to the increased level of violence, said Lt. Lance Jaakola, who is in charge of the department's operations. "I firmly believe that if the tavern owners worked on taking care of these three problems, we wouldn't need more officers," Jaakola said.
With Memorial Day weekend the unofficial kickoff for summer, officers are bracing for a lively few months, the highlight of which is the Fourth of July, when several thousand people flock to the town.
As someone who had a hand in approving many of the downtown businesses, Planning Commissioner Sam Perrotti said that the current reality is a far cry from the place where he envisioned people coming down for dinner and drinks.
"I had a certain vision of what the Pier Plaza would look like," Perrotti said. "This isn't the vision I had."
'A life of its own'
While downtown has always had a handful of bars -- some with infamous histories -- it was the $14 million makeover in 1997 that closed lower Pier Avenue to traffic and turned it into a thriving nightspot that draws people from as far away as Pomona and San Diego, Lavin said.
During the daytime things are calm, but from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. officers receive dozens of calls, the majority of them over the weekend.
For example, from 7 p.m. Thursday, May 20, to 7 a.m. Monday, May 24, officers responded to 50 calls in the one-block area of Pier Plaza. These calls included everything from fights and disturbances to drunk in public and basic calls for service. "It's got a life of its own. It is so popular you have people coming from all over to frequent that. I don't know how we can control that," Lavin said. "Our conclusion is that if you have a big incident down there, it will put a damper on business."
The main issue is the balance between promoting the area as a destination and addressing the problems associated with its popularity -- namely thousands of people drinking alcohol in a small area six nights a week. The Police Department, however, spends up to $350,000 per year -- about 35 percent of its total overtime budget -- for officers to patrol the downtown area.
In addition, the city annually uses about $130,000 for cleaning crews to pick up trash downtown each morning and steam clean the area a few times a year. In return, the area has generated about a quarter of the city's sales tax revenue for the first half of this year -- $256,234.
But it's not just money that the plaza brings in for the city. There's also the added cachet of having a highly popular nightspot that attracts tourists, hotel tax and notoriety. Since the downtown's completion, a variety of television shows and magazines have featured the city, ranking it one of the best beach burgs in California.
For City Councilman Michael Keegan, Pier Avenue reminds him of Division Street in Chicago, another hub of nightlife. He said he enjoys living in a town where he can go out at 10:30 p.m., knowing there will be a vibrant crowd around.
While he said he is happy for the prosperity of the district, Keegan admits he would like to see more family-oriented and food-centered businesses, rather than establishments that rely so heavily on alcohol sales. It's roughly an even split between bars and restaurants, and other businesses on the single city block.
"People like to hang out down there, drink coffee in the coffee shop, walk down to the end of the pier, walk back, go have something to eat," Keegan said. "There's something to do. You try doing that in Torrance."
It's a diversity of venues, he believes, that is behind the area's thriving success. A range of businesses might also sustain its popularity and help control future problems. Keegan acknowledged that there are concerns associated with the success of the plaza, saying that anytime a large public area becomes popular there are going to be negative repercussions.
The councilman questioned whether it could be people who get drunk elsewhere and come down to stir up trouble, or if the fighting is the result of jealous boyfriends protecting their ladies from unwanted advances of other men.
"I think it's overblown until it's checked out," he said. "I think the police just want to bring our attention to it."
Keegan is confident that tavern owners, and city and police officials can work to curb the downtown violence. "I think that with swift action, with good ideas, we can address the problems," he said. "I view it as we're running sort of a venue. ... We have to manage it no different than any other asset.
"If we have to take action, I think the bar owners will work in concert with us."
On a recent Friday, the 8 p.m. dinner crowd is still seated in long lines at the outdoor tables on Sangria's patio. A Latin band -- the Bouzoukis -- plays music that serves as the background track for the entire plaza.
As the evening progresses, the crowds start to change, dinner and happy hour people are replaced by those out for a long night.
Inside Aloha Sharkeez, the scene stays the same -- it's still wall-to-wall people, just like it is most nights of the week. Those at a table or with a wall to hold them up are the lucky ones. Everyone else squeezes past each other as they wind through the crowded restaurant. The bar staff does a yeoman's job of keeping aisles clear and the patrons well lubricated.
By 10:45 p.m. Sangria is a different animal. Gone are the long tables and diners who were using them. Replacing them are crowds baring skin and wearing trucker hats. The band's set is over and thumping house music has filled the room.
Across the way, above Loreto Plaza -- a small square off the main street -- the Fat Face Fenner's Fishack balcony offers a bird's-eye view of the scene below. The lines outside Sangria, Aloha Sharkeez and Patrick Molloy's stretch away from the Pier Avenue businesses and out toward Hermosa Avenue. Inside the Fishack, owner Gary Vincent is setting up a DJ booth while his business slowly fills with a crowd notably more sedate than those across the promenade.
Vincent said he's trying to reach an older clientele for his 5-year-old restaurant and bar, adding that he believes the future of Pier Avenue involves more upscale businesses and their attendant customers.
"What's happening is the businesses are changing," Vincent said. "The evolution of Manhattan Beach is nothing more than a predecessor of what is happening in Hermosa Beach. In Manhattan Beach, you had every place that was a bar turn into a bistro." It's this change in markets -- in clientele -- that the longtime barman with the Boston accent hopes to tap.
Back on the Fishack's patio, Redondo Beach residents and regulars James Vestal and Gordon Kordyak are talking about their own evolution in coming to a place that is known as a hot spot all over Southern California.
Vestal, 24, who works in Orange County at a law office, said when people mention going to "L.A." they're usually talking about Hermosa Beach. "It's kind of rare for you to find it dead on the weekend," said Vestal, adding that he can't understand why people would want to wait in line for a bar. "My feeling is it's kind of a meat market."
While they used to do the very same thing in their hunt for good times and attractive women, the two said they were over the whole scene. "After a while, we just figured it out," Kordyak, 25, said. "Once you become a local, you just kind of figure it out. You get over the hype."
The allure of alcohol
While it wasn't the main thrust of the downtown's 1997 renewal -- that would be the European piazza design -- alcohol is undeniably a factor in both the downtown's popularity and its growing collection of restaurants.
In fact, Sharkeez owner Ron Newman said it's usually the early success of bars and restaurants that pave the way for retail shops and fancy boutiques to move into an area -- something that could be part of Hermosa Beach's future. Newman said the main reason for the area's success is its hardworking business owners, many of them residents of Hermosa Beach or other local towns. They've established a scene that is a way of life for many people, that starts with breakfast and ends with drinks at last call.
Business owners also come together to confront problems when they occur, he said. They work with the Police Department and are constantly upgrading their businesses to attract new customers, he said. This is why Newman said he was shocked to discover that the Police Department had singled out Sharkeez and Sangria for review of their conditional use permits (CUP), which set guidelines for how a business can operate.
A subsequent investigation by the city's code enforcement officer found that neither of the bars had violated their permits.
Newman said he believes his business is under scrutiny because it is one of the most popular on the plaza and patrol officers park themselves out front at night. "We operate within our CUP and we never thought anything of it," Newman said. "Most of the (business owners) are not like people who come into a town, rape it and take off. They're all concerned about doing the right thing."
Newman said it's a fine balance between doing business and keeping people happy, especially when some of those people want to impose a minority opinion on what he said is a largely silent majority. "My feeling is, I wonder what Hermosa would be like ... if everybody closed at 10 o'clock," he said. "You wonder what would happen to people in the hotels who come out for some nightlife.
"Before the promenade days, you had Pier 52 and all these things that never changed. That's what some people don't know. They forget what it was like down here -- with the gangs and everything."
Prior to the 7-year-old renovation, the street was known for its grungy bars, T-shirt shops, boarded-up store fronts and groups of teenagers known affectionately as "Pier Rats." Even longtime police officers say they don't necessarily miss the rough-and-tumble bunch who would frequent the area.
For some of those shops on Pier Avenue not involved in the alcoholic side of things, the mix of nightlife and daytime activities has been a boon to business. Sandy Orhbach owner of High-Five Boutique, a clothing store beneath the Fishack, said the increase in nighttime trade makes for a steady flow of customers and means she can stay open later. The businesses along the street have been very considerate of her, she said.
Orhback said she and her family go out to dinner at least once a week, usually at any of the Pier Avenue restaurants' outdoor patios where she can watch her children play on the promenade. "It's laid back and yet still fun ... it's a community, that's what I like about it," Orhbach said.
"That's the nice thing about the plaza, too. On certain nights you can always find someone you know."
Taming the beautiful beast
Back on that Saturday night of the large, passed-out man outside Citibank, Sgt. Saldana said before heading out on patrol that the downtown area has changed drastically in the 17 years he's been with the city.
They never used to arrest people in the numbers they do now for alcohol-related offenses, he said, adding that they bring in about eight people a night, six nights a week. Saldana estimated that about 80 percent of the problems the department deals with are connected to booze, something he attributes to the younger age of those drinking and the sheer number of people who descend on the town each week.
"Is it a good thing it's become a mecca for entertainment? I'd say yes," he said. "Has it become an attractive nuisance? Yes. In some ways, I think it's better. (But) in some ways I like the old downtown better."
As the supervisor for the department's patrols, Saldana said he and his officers know they are dealing with a small percentage of troublemakers out of a high volume of people.
They try to catch those who may harm themselves or others -- who usually call attention to their drunken state by fighting, urinating on the Canary Island palms on the plaza, or passing out in the street. "I'm probably still one of the last realists. I still don't think that everybody is bad. I've been doing this for a long time," Saldana said. "It's definitely not Sodom and Gomorrah down here.
"We have alcohol, and alcohol tends to make hard-working people do things they normally wouldn't do."
As the city slides into summer, a time sure to bring crowds in the thousands, Chief Lavin and Lt. Jaakola said the department will work as it always does to keep the area safe, but there is only so much it can do.
"I think there's a real dilemma about what do to about downtown," Lavin said.
"Either we simply acknowledge that this is the way it is and we staff for it ... and keep a lid on it and regulate it real well or we just eliminate it."
The Easy Reader – May 20, 2004
City officials and police
urged Hermosa bar owners to work harder at curbing noise, under-age drinking and
over-occupancy, while giving kudos for their improving efforts at an annual
public meeting Tuesday at City Hall. The gathering served as a forum for bar
owners to exchange feedback with police, city officials, and the public.
Officers said although they’ve received good interaction with bar owners and doormen, more could be done.
Police complained that patron promotions beyond the South Bay draw from the greater Los Angeles area people who commit the majority of problems. None of the bar owners acknowledged such advertising.
The city has attracted more people every year since construction of the Pier Plaza in 1997, coinciding with an increase in crime.
In 2003, police saw 140 assaults, compared to 77 in 1998. There were 1,315 arrests in 2003 compared with 608 in 1998, and 285 DUI arrests compared to 150 in 1998. In February, police chief Michael Lavin cited “an ever-increasing level of violence in the downtown.”
Police made clear bar owners are only responsible for what’s controllable within their establishments and said they came to the meeting to help and not to pick on them. “One of our objectives is to change the clientele,” Lavin said. He has in the past suggested that bars play less rap, hip-hop and hard rock music.
Too loud anyway
Lavin said the city noise ordinance calls for subjective judgments by officers to determine if noise is too loud. The city’s previous decibel-measuring system was scrapped as too difficult to enforce. The current wording describes an excessive noise as anything clearly audible beyond the property line where it originates.
City Manager Stephen Burrell said noise could be limited best by shutting windows and doors.
Conn Flatley, owner of Fat Face Fenner’s Fishack, said since putting up movie blankets on the outside of his windows to limit the sound during live bands, the bar hasn’t received a single complaint from its “favorite neighbor.” According to 2001 records on police calls for service, less than 5 percent of calls regarding loud parties came from the downtown area.
Police stepped up their efforts in recent months to combat underage drinking. In the past two months, officers have cited about 60 people for possession of fake identification. Some offenders were consequently arrested when they lied to police.
“I don't think anyone wants to serve underage customers. They create more problems,” said Hennessey’s Tavern owner Paul Hennessey.
Also at the meeting, one officer asked bar owners if they had a problem with police checking the IDs of people waiting in line. The matter faces a legal clarification by the city attorney. While no bar owner raised a hand in objection, Chamber of Commerce President Carla Merriman spoke up to oppose the idea, saying people would feel intimidated in line.
The Fire Department cited several establishments in recent months. Last week, Sharkeez was singled out during its Cinco de Mayo fiesta when an inspector noticed decorations had covered up exit signs. The Fire Department deemed the scene hazardous and all the customers were removed, and brought back in once the signs were uncovered.
At one point in the meeting, a bar owner said he previously heard an officer with a microphone threaten to pepper spray the crowd if they didn’t disperse. Police Capt. Tom Eckert insisted that no officer did such a thing, while the bar owner said he was certain he heard it with his own ears.
Residents weigh in
Several residents from Manhattan Avenue voiced their complaints that the neighborhood was turning into a pig’s sty with beer cans, bottles and trash strewn about along with urine and vomit. One resident remarked, “Listening to someone throw up outside your window for a half hour at 2 in the morning is disgusting.”
Some bar owners argued that drunken people could come from locations aother than their establishments. ER
The Easy Reader – May 13, 2004
It’s Saturday night in
downtown Hermosa Beach as a police force collides with liquid courage. “It's
the same thing every weekend. Mostly everything down here involves alcohol. We
usually can't reason with drunks too well,” says Officer Dave Bohacik as he
surveys the scene at party central, the popular Pier Plaza promenade.
Two women and a man recoil as they watch their friend’s eyes roll back and his head droop limp toward his chest. His body slumps as police officers strap his wrists with handcuffs; the man refused to sign a drinking-in-public citation and then refused to be cuffed.
The tactic police commonly use cuts off blood flow to the brain, referred to in the academy as a corrugated restraint, more commonly known as a headlock.
On another night around closing time, police responding to a disturbance call confront three men in front of Roberts Liquor who fail to respond to repeated requests to stop walking and confront police. The men have their arms around each other’s shoulders. One says, “There’s no problem here; we’re cool.” Apparently not, as officers press them up against the Bank of America. One suspect punches an officer in the side and police react quickly, dropping the man to the ground. Officers deliver a few kicks before he’s subdued and pulled into a patrol car.
The crowd surrounding the scene grows chaotic, yelling accusations at police about abuse and unnecessary force. Officers are dramatically outnumbered, about 100 to six. The look in officers’ eyes suggests a rush of adrenaline as they work to keep the crowd at bay. The situation quickly turns ugly.
Two girls dressed to party scream at Officer Chris Alkadis who pushes them both away, one at a time, nearly taking the girls off their feet. One responds with a light shove against the officer’s shoulder. Alkadis twists her wrist behind her back and delivers her to another officer, who handcuffs the woman and puts her in a patrol car. “A lot of people think we come off strong. You have to look at it from our perspective. If we find the problem and remove it quickly, we can go on to the next problem. What's perceived as aggressive is just what force is necessary,” said Officer Landon Phillips. “All we try and do is be as safe as possible. This [Pier Plaza] is a controlled chaos. There are about 1,000 people to four officers. Our biggest fear is that the crowd will turn on us.”
The people arrested in these cases didn’t live in the South Bay. Like many of the tens of thousands of people a year, they were drawn to the tight strip of bars called the Pier Plaza. The older holes on Pacific Coast Highway get their share of neighborhood police calls too. Upper Pier Avenue and outlying bars on Hermosa Avenue also have seen their share of police attention.
Attorney Tom Beck is currently prosecuting three lawsuits against the Hermosa Beach police, one that is under appeal and two others yet to go to trial. Beck has been taking on police forces in court since 1978. “The beach cities like to use the drunk in public statute to arrest people. Police are no different down there than anywhere else. They play the same game: they overreact, they cover it up and they lie about it,” Beck said.
With the summer about to heat up, Hermosa approaches its most active season. Last year’s Fourth of July -– when the partying spills from the Plaza up and down the Strand -- topped years past in borderline anarchy. Beck has filed a lawsuit in an incident caught on videotape showing an officer shooting pepper spray in the face of a man who resisted getting pushed into a patrol car. Later that day, an altercation left one officer with a broken leg.
Baby faced enforcement
Officer Landon Phillips has been on the Hermosa Police force for almost three years though he’s still perceived by many suspects as a rookie. At age 25, Phillips doesn’t look a day over 18. He followed in the polished boots of his father, a career Hermosa cop. Instead of squeezing himself within one of the Pier Plaza bars like others his age, Phillips stands back by his patrol car with an ear tuned to his radio.
Two girls approach.
“Hey, look at him,” one says to her friend. “He’s a cute cop. Would you handcuff me? I just love a man in a uniform,” she says. Phillips smiles slightly and says, “No. My girlfriend wouldn’t like that.” He says he often gets that kind of attention along with a fair share of negative feedback, as any officer can attest. “How many people go to work and have someone walk up, get in their face and say I hate you?” Phillips said.
Anyone who’s been around long enough, especially on the Fourth of July has witnessed the strong arm of the law, sometimes perceived as short-fused justice. Some in trying to rile up a reporter say the situation is worse than LAPD’s Rampart Division. Articles in this newspaper recently featured three claims for damages against the Hermosa Police Department, none of which officers were allowed to respond to because the matters might end in litigation. If those cases are like most, however, they will never go to trial.
Police officers say they wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t get complaints. The department receives about 24 complaints a year against police personnel, about one every two weeks. This includes investigations initiated by the department, but most are by the public. Among those complaints, only two made it to trial since 1998, the year the Pier Plaza was opened. The department was exonerated in an excessive force lawsuit brought by Richard Burd. In the other, the city won a summary judgment that is under appeal.
Although the number of complaints has stayed about the same each year since 1998, the number of arrests in the city spiked in the last few years, going from about 600 per year from 1998 to 2000, to 846 in 2001; 1,012 in 2002; and 1,315 in 2003. Police arrested 583 people between November 2003 and March 2004, including 185 suspected of public drunkenness.
The Plaza has drawn its share of attention. Police Chief Mike Lavin, in a February memo to the city manager, cited “an ever-increasing level of violence in the downtown.” In the city’s only statistical analysis of downtown crime, police found in 2001 that the small area accounted for one quarter of the city’s disturbance calls and 29 percent of reported assaults.
“Drunk guys are usually not cooperative,” said Officer Don Jones. “They don't understand consequences and might be resistant. You have to repeat things a few times. Our job is to make sure no one gets hurt. If we can stop a fight before it gets bad that’s a good thing. As long as I walk home and know no one got hurt, I feel I've done my job.”
The Easy Reader – May 13, 2004
A recent weekend-night ride-along revealed the mundane and the hectic.
11:20 p.m. Police Sgt. Paul Wolcott drives up to the back door of the Underground Bar and Grill on Hermosa Avenue, where a doorman reported catching a guy with a fake ID. The picture does not look like the man. Alkadis and his partner Officer Kelly Sullivan arrive on the scene. The suspect’s real name and birth date reveal he's on felony probation. Alkadis says to his partner, “1015. Do it.” He repeats, “1015. Do it,” as he nonchalantly motions with his flashlight. Sullivan handcuffs the man and put him in the patrol car.
11:32 p.m. Back at the station, police search the man and place his belongings in a plastic bag as he is booked. He comes up to a metal gate in a tiny booth. Wolcott stands behind the counter like a judge or a priest in confessional. He's scrolling through the man's arrest warrant. It shows a life of trouble. "I don't have any parents sir. I've been raised by my grandparents,” the man says. "How long have you been on probation?" Wolcott asks. "Since I was 15." The man faces five years in prison for violating probation, Wolcott says.
Midnight: We hit the streets again, doing a lap around the Plaza, down the Strand and through the alleys. On 14th Street Wolcott runs the plates of a car with some men standing around it. The plates come up clean. Wolcott flashes the spotlight in the car. It takes a keen eye on the little things to catch crime. Officers are committed to maintaining a quality of life people should expect. “It's the little things that take the quality away,” Wolcott says.
12:14 a.m. Officers break up a party at the Quality Inn and Suites on Aviation Boulevard. A kid sits in the hallway. Two officers are already on scene when Wolcott arrives. One is standing over the suspect. "I give you credit. At least you got them out of here fast," the officer says. The other officer surveys the room. Wolcott follows. The room is smoky. A towel rack and a lamp are broken.
12:35 a.m. Three laps around the Plaza checking in with all the doormen. They each wave at Wolcott, who flashes his spotlight like a wink while we pass. Someone yells down the alley, "I'm drunk in public."
12:41 a.m. There's a call from the Masada house, a halfway house for young people, reporting someone stole a purse; suspect is a man in a black sweatshirt. We race around the neighborhood searching, but no luck.
12:53 a.m. Call to North End. A guy got hit in the face with a bottle. He comes out with blood on the bridge of his nose. He knows who hit him but he doesn't want to press charges.
1:04 a.m. I’m in the middle of telling a story about how some drunk person punched me in the face one Fourth of July when Wolcott spots a kid bent down behind a car. He stops abruptly and quickly flashes the spotlight on him. The kid says he was pulling his socks up. He has long socks, pulled up to his knees. He's missing some teeth. Wolcott looks closely. “When did you snort cocaine?” he says. "About an hour ago," the kid says, not hesitating. The kid's let go with a warning to stay out of trouble. “How did you know he did cocaine?” I ask later. “There was white powder on the rim of his nose,” Wolcott says.
1:25 a.m. We join the foot patrol on the Plaza. Officers are standing around casually. People coming out of Fat Face Fenners Fishack have caught officers’ attention, a potential fight. They go to break it up and tell both men to go their separate ways or they’ll get arrested.
1:35 a.m. Police stop a man holding a plastic cup with about an inch of gin and tonic. An officer approaches him and says, “Guess what I’ve got here?” holding a ticket book. The man is cited for drinking in public, and not all that happy about it.
1:45 a.m. The lights to the bars come up, signifying closing time. Officers know the moment is volatile as about a thousand people, mostly intoxicated, flood into the broad walk street.
1:50 a.m. Police get a disturbance call from Roberts’ Liquor and make the aforementioned arrest. For the next half hour, officers are fueled with adrenaline, trying to disperse the unruly crowd.
2:15 a.m. Wolcott heads back to the station. On the way he spots three men urinating behind a dumpster in an alley. He pulls in behind them and turns on his lights. The men scatter with glassy eyes.
2:30 a.m. Nearly all the officers are back at the station beginning to fill out paperwork. A friend of the man who was arrested on suspicion of police battery wants to post his bail until he finds out it’s set at $20,000, which will have to take a little longer than expected.
Pier Plaza has been a hot button political issue in Hermosa since its creation. Council candidates such as longtime office holder Sam Edgerton and newly elected councilman Peter Tucker campaigned in part on their friendliness with the Plaza establishments. Other forces about town hammered the candidates for such support.
Many argue the plaza brings rowdy outsiders who don’t respect the city. Others look at the financial gains and the rise in property values that come with a vibrant draw, and point out that the sparkling Plaza brought to life downtown buildings that had been boarded up.
There’s a paradox in this scene that while the town has prospered with revitalization, destructive shock waves ripple to nearby businesses in the form of vandalism and mischief. Every weekend police get at least one report of etched or broken storefront windows. Building managers report urine and occasionally human feces in the alleys. Vomit often litters the sidewalks.
Gary Kazanjian of Kazanjian Stained Glass on upper Pier Avenue said he’s had his windows broken three times in the last four years. He suggested a fund paid into by downtown bar owners to cover damages caused to other businesses by their patrons.
“I'm really happy to see their success. I think it's good for the town for having people coming in and it probably has ancillary advantages to other businesses too when people see our city. I just think they should take care of the impact that they have on our businesses too,” Kazanjian said, adding that he’s been in business since 1975 in the same location and didn’t have these problems until the redevelopment on pier plaza.
Bad old days
People who have been in Hermosa for a long time remember the old days in the 60s and the 70s when biker gangs frequented the cul de sac that is now the Pier Plaza. In the 80s and most of the 90s, two-thirds of the businesses on the dilapidated Pier Avenue were vacant. At the time, Hermosa was in dire need of a makeover.
“It's nothing like it used to be,” said Paul Hennessey, owner of Plaza mainstay Hennessey’s Tavern. “I used to fondly tell people we were located where the debris meets the sea. There were a lot of homeless people, drug addicts and violence on the pier. Because of that, no locals ventured down there.”
Hennessey said the police force now is the best he’s seen in the 27 years since he opened for business, when police wouldn’t dare confront motorcycle gangs.
“Believe me, whatever small complaints they have now, they wouldn't want the same things we had before,” he said.
The cost of refurbishment and millions of dollars in investment had a startling effect. Hennessey, like all others on the Plaza, pay as much for rent in a day as they did 25 years ago in a month. In turn, business has increased tenfold, he said.
“Just with sheer volume there's always people who will get out of line,” Hennessey said. ER
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