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Rules of the Ark

Beach living has its pros and cons.

KEVIN SULLIVAN/ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Crowds invaded Huntington Beach during the U.S. Open of Surfing in July.

Killer fire ring smoke.  

Rampaging street mob in Surf City.

Polluting seagull swarms ignite calls for a falconer.

OMG, is beach living in the OC seriously bad for your health and well-being?  

Or have a few recent controversies and headlines just accentuated the fact that unless you’re in a gate-guarded seaside enclave, living at the beach during summer is a wild social and cultural mash-up?

One thing is clear: There exists a deep continuing conflict between permanent residents and “those people” who are visitors to the beach pursuing their individual versions of fun and personal enjoyment.

Maybe the conflict’s always been there; the historic tradeoff for daily living with ocean breezes, sand in your toes, and ocean and bays on your doorstep. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s just getting worse?

Wrote one otherwise gentle, squared-away 30-year Corona del Mar resident during the fire ring debate:

“Taxpaying residents are invaded daily by an unruly crowd of occupiers who park in our neighborhoods, change clothes in our streets, urinate on our lawns, and leave trash everywhere they go... they pay zero for food from cafes or local markets, dirty the beaches for our maintenance crews to clean up and have zero respect for our residential areas and our city ordinances... This is our summer.”

Scores of Huntington Beach residents and business owners packed a city council meeting called to examine the unrest and property damage that occurred on Main Street after the close of the prestigious U.S. Open of Surfing in July. They were fried over public urination, drunkenness, lewd behavior, and stolen and vandalized property. Some suggested that the community lost control when the surf contest began emphasizing alcohol and free concerts.

They said they feared for their safety.

“What we need to do is change the culture of downtown,” testified one longtime resident.

How do you do that?

Collectively. Residents, businesses and public safety officials in our beach neighborhoods may need to agree that certain behavior won’t be tolerated, relentlessly publicize the rules and enforce them with collective and decisive action. It’s not solely a job for the police. It takes a village. Or, to be bipartisan, a surge. The heroes who slowed down the rampage in Huntington Beach included a group of locals and a courageous part-time employee of the bicycle shop that was being looted.
 
They stood their ground until the police came. My kind of Arrested Development. Put a medal on them. Make them the marshals of the next Fourth of July parade. Start a new Hall of Fame for small acts of civic resolve. It will encourage more.  

If you’re skeptical that there is a problem at the beach, or unsympathetic to the whine of residents who have the good fortune to live near the water, take a closer look. Next weekend, jump on a beach cruiser and pedal the boardwalks and bike lanes that stretch from Newport’s Wedge at the jetty to the dog beach at the northern reaches of Huntington Beach.

Take it easy. Stop often along the way for food, and perhaps an appropriate beverage or two. (Gotta keep hydrated.)
   
Keep your eyes and ears open.   

It’s a marvelous way to better understand the rich, wild, crazy cultural zoo that the beach attracts: people of all ages, races and nationalities, and speaking languages not taught in our public schools. It’s really a surfside Noah’s Ark – with two of everything.

And we instinctively know it was messy on the Ark.

On the boardwalk, we’d solve most problems if everyone walked and rode on the right, respected the most basic laws and – for good measure – followed the Golden Rule. Not a bad approach for achieving peace in our wider beach communities.  

Most beach residents I know savor the simple, more casual, more physically active life near the water. They feel blessed, not haughty or entitled. They learned quickly that beach living is ecumenical, and isn’t for the fainthearted. They signed on for a life different than in a gated community, in the hills or on an exclusive island.

But like everyone in this special coastal area, even the hill and island people, the beach people want those passing through to respect the neighborhood they love and where they have chosen to live.   

Not too much to ask.


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