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The Beach Reporter - Jan. 13, 2005

Hermosa Beach News


HB Councilman disputes pier plaza incident (1/13)

By Whitney Youngs

According to a Police Department memorandum obtained by The Beach Reporter last Wednesday, a Hermosa Beach City Councilman and Planning Commissioner allegedly used obscenities and were verbally abusive to several employees working at a downtown bar in early December, which, according to several witnesses, they threatened to close down.


According to the memorandum written by Hermosa Beach Police Officer Donavan Sellan, addressed to Lt. Lance Jaakola and sent to several upper level city employees, a doorman, Rick Contreras, working at Dragon Dec. 12 flagged down Sellan and another officer at about 1:25 a.m.

The doorman told Sellan that City Councilman Michael Keegan and another man, now identified as Planning Commissioner Rick Koenig, had "just cursed and yelled at him and two other employees."


Whether or not such an incident occurred as reported is still a matter of conjecture based on whom is telling the story. In the memo, the doorman said Keegan was with another City Councilman he did not recognize. The witness said he knew it was Keegan because he contended that he has seen him "drinking inside the bar in the past."


"I asked him why he thought the other subject was a City Councilman and he told me because the person identified himself as one," reported Sellan. "Contreras said that both of them were heavily intoxicated and they were staggering. Contreras told me that they advised him to shut the (expletive) front doors and to turn the (expletive) music down. Contreras said that because of their verbal abusive behavior he went and got the two on-duty managers, Jason Cochran and Mark Welling."


Keegan denies most of what was written in the report including statements that he was intoxicated, that he used obscenities, threatened the establishment's staff and even the time he was there.  "When I see someone doing something wrong that I think can be remedied very simply, I'd probably do it myself," said Keegan in an interview Monday. "If I saw someone violating a rule and it was not a dangerous act, I'd probably correct them and ask them not to do it. If I saw someone riding a bike in the red zone in the city when the red lights are flashing, I might ask them to get off their bike and walk it.


"That night, I was inside for a moment and I discussed this issue outside with the doorman because I couldn't identify anyone who worked there inside the bar, so the conversation took place outside."  Cochran, speaking for himself and on behalf of the rest of the Dragon staff that witnessed the alleged incident, declined to comment on the matter entirely.


In the memo, Sellan also reported that the unidentified man who has now been determined to be Koenig, "told him in one month that the bar is up for review and that they were going to close the bar down," stated Sellan. "I asked Cochran what the unidentified councilman specifically stated and he told me 'I'm going to (expletive) close this place.' He also said that both of them told him that he needed to review the (expletive) C.U.P. regarding their front doors."


Sellan reported that Cochran said the men allegedly used the "'F' word" at least a dozen times. He also told Sellan that both men were very intoxicated, had slurred speech and were staggering, and, "could not believe that City Councilmen would conduct themselves like that and he felt intimidated." Welling was also present when the alleged tirade occurred, also felt intimidated and was also shocked that the two men would act in such a manner.


Keegan said he has been inside the restaurant/bar one other time and he had filed a complaint on it a previous time in which he called the police Oct. 31 at 4 p.m. Keegan said this establishment is much louder than others on the plaza and refutes that he was there at the time reported. He said he approached the staff about this issue several hours earlier. 


"The council has made it clear that we want the noise reduced and we have made it clear to the city manager and that is all we can do," said Keegan. "I asked them to turn the music down. I will tell you I was not there at 1:25 in the morning. I will say that if there was an investigation to be had for a report then why didn't the police contact me? They have my home address, home number and cell phone number. I was never contacted about the matter and in fact, I only read the memo after the press received it."


Councilman Sam Edgerton, who has over the years disagreed with Keegan on various political issues including the full deployment of a citywide Wi-Fi system that would provide free Internet access to residents in town, said he felt that what the men admit they said was still inappropriate.  "He and Koenig are not law- or code-enforcement officers and they should not be acting as such.


There is a proper way to work with the city to get the noise level reduced," said Edgerton. "This has become a priority item with the police and they are, in fact, enforcing the noise ordinance now more than ever. For Keegan to go over and berate someone, drunk or sober, is wrong. For Koenig, he is on the commission that actually enforces from a board level the C.U.P.s that each bar and restaurant has and I feel that this really undermines his ability to hear any issue if he is indicating a bias."


Koenig, who was appointed to the Planning Commission by the City Council in July to a four-year term that will expire at the end of June 2008, denied the content of the report. He also said that he and Keegan have been friends, "for a long time" and based on his recollection, ran into Keegan in downtown Hermosa Beach, and accompanied him on to the pier plaza where they approached a few staff members at Dragon and left after speaking with them.


"No good can come from this and it's not true," said Koenig on Monday from his initial thoughts after reading the memo himself. "I feel that it's some kind of political move that I don't understand. I donate hundreds of hours every year to the community and this is just vicious. I was down there with Michael, nobody was drunk and nobody was swearing, and (Dragon staff) were asked politely to turn the music down and close the doors and that's it. That's the end of it."


Koenig, a lifetime resident of Hermosa Beach, received the Man of the Year award by the Chamber of Commerce in 2003. The award is given to those individuals who exhibit exemplary civic awareness and service to the community. Koenig donates his time to citywide events like the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Project Touch Car Show; and serves on the board of many nonprofit groups, including the Kiwanis Club, the Hermosa Arts Foundation and the Historical Society.


Voters elected Keegan, who is the owner of Manhattan Bread and Bagel Company in Manhattan Beach, to the council in November 2001 for his first term in office. In a Q&A feature that ran in The Beach Reporter in May 2002, Keegan was posed the question of how to create a downtown that more represents a balance between a small-town/neighborhood atmosphere and a nightlife environment.


Keegan responded by saying, "I think harmony between residential concerns and business concerns will never reach that perfect level. We need to step up on enforcement of our conditional use permits, and we need to enforce all the rules and laws of our city ... I think we are working toward letting the downtown area know that we are serious and we are going do what we can to enforce these laws. I think with prior City Councils it has always been business as usual with lax enforcement, but that is all changing with two new council members."


Later in the report, Sellan wrote that both Keegan and the unidentified man (Koenig), "left staggering toward" the Mermaid, which is located almost directly across the way at the northwest corner of the plaza.  "They (the Dragon staff) wanted me to do something about the incident and I advised them that the threat did not appear to be a crime but that I would inform my supervisor," wrote Sellan. "I think someone needs to talk to Keegan and to the Dragon staff to smooth this incident over."


Mayor Art Yoon, upon reading the memo, addressed the issue of elected officials perhaps using their status or office to act above the law or above ethical standards becoming a City Council member.  "It seems to me that there is an allegation being made that these two men were out of control and out of line, and according to the memo I read a few staff members are alleging it," said Yoon. "I don't even know what to believe because it's not even a police report, it's a memo. So I'm not even sure this incident actually occurred but if it did no one from Dragon is really saying anything.


As far as I'm concerned, there was nothing he did that was illegal. Is it unethical? Well, that's dependent upon the facts. It's possible that Dragon was completely out of compliance and so Councilman Keegan was right on target saying, 'Hey, you guys need to shut your doors.' Now if that's all he said, there's nothing wrong with that."  "The only part that might make this whole thing unethical is that if Michael is using his office to threaten someone or something on the issue of compliance when in fact there is no compliance issue. I don't know, I wasn't there," added Yoon.


In a separate incident, Keegan was reported to have been intoxicated at the 2003 city Christmas party where he allegedly made disparaging remarks about the city police department as being "... a bunch of overpaid security guards."


Hermosa Beach Police Officer Association President Jaime Ramirez drafted a letter to the City Council members Jan. 13, 2004, based on the account of one member of the department.  "This statement was made in the presence of the member and his spouse," wrote Ramirez. "In addition, Mr. Keegan appeared extremely intoxicated and exhibited inappropriate, unprofessional behavior in the presence of our members and their spouses.


The HBPOA has decided not to make this information public and trusts that you will deal with the matter appropriately so that we can prevent this type of incident from occurring again."


Keegan also denies that he was intoxicated at this particular function and contends that he is not a favorite among officers within the Police Department because of his opinions on how the police enforce the law in the downtown area.  "I think if the police would enforce the rules on the books regarding the noise ordinance, we wouldn't have as much trouble as we see down there," said Keegan.


"I don't agree with the tactic of parking your vehicle out on the plaza and standing in front of it, and if that is the police method we are going to use, I don't agree with it. I think officers should be roving the area and moving around as much as possible, and maybe my disagreement with police deployment could lead to some animosity for police to write memos about me."


Fellow Councilman J.R. Reviczky also read the memo and came to the conclusion that it is effectively a "he said/she said" incident.  "You're only seeing one side of the story and I'm not excited about it," he said. "As far as last year's Christmas party, I was not party to that nor did I witness that. I heard about it but I don't know anything more. I'm always reluctant to make judgments as a third party to issues."


Reviczky also added that he feels it's appropriate to tell any business to turn down its music and such if it is in violation of its conditional use permit.


"I've had residents complain to me about that place, and I've gone down there and witnessed it myself," he explained.  "I've called the watch commander and asked them to talk to them and he did.


The only thing Mike did was leave one step out of the process and I just don't see it being a big deal, and that's really the only thing I know he did for sure which is what its C.U.P. says it is supposed to be doing. All of the other stuff, I don't know."

The Easy Reader - Jan. 13, 2005

Officials deny cursing, threat to bar


by Robb Fulcher


Councilman Michael Keegan and Planning Commissioner Rick Koenig have denied allegations that they yelled and cursed at employees of a Pier Plaza bar as Koenig threatened to close the place down, in what the bar staff described as a drunken late-night incident.

The allegations by employees of the Dragon Bar were written up by Hermosa Beach Police Officer Donavan Sellan in a memo to one of his superiors.  “I’m not going to dignify that memo with a response,” Keegan said on Monday. “It didn’t go down like they said it did.”

Keegan declined to discuss the matter in detail but said there was no drunkenness and no profanity. He said he and Koenig “went there and asked them to turn the music down and shut the door. And that’s it. And they said no.”

Koenig called the memo “ridiculous” and also denied the allegations.  “There was no profanity, no staggering, whatever,” he said.

He said he and Keegan asked the Dragon staff to turn down the music and close the door. Koenig said he did not recall the staff’s response.  “I don’t remember exactly what they said,” Koenig said. “…We pretty much left.”

‘Cursed and yelled’ - In the memo, Sellan wrote that Dragon doorman Rick Contreras flagged him down about 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 12 to report that Keegan and another man, who Contreras believed was also a councilman, “cursed and yelled at him and two other employees.”  “Contreras said that both of them were heavily intoxicated and they were staggering,” the memo continued. “Contreras told me that they advised him to shut the ‘f---ing’ doors and turn the ‘f---ing’ music down.”

A Dragon manager, Jason Cochran, told Sellan that “the unidentified councilman,” who turned out to be Koenig, said, “I’m going to f---ing close this place,” the officer wrote.  Both Keegan and Koenig told Cochran that he “needed to review” instructions about the Dragon’s front doors contained in the conditional use permit that allows the bar to operate.  “I think someone needs to talk to Keegan and the Dragon staff to smooth this incident over,” Sellan wrote.

Conditional use permits are regularly reviewed by the planning commission and the city council. The commission makes recommendations to the council, which can revoke the permits.  Police Chief Michael Lavin said the behavior alleged in the memo would not violate any laws, and City Manager Steve Burrell said the behavior would not violate any city policies, rules or regulations. Both officials said no further action was called for.

Dragon staff mentioned in the memo were unavailable by press time.

‘Kind of unfortunate’ - Councilman Pete Tucker said council members or commissioners who notice noise violations should report them to city staff for enforcement rather than take matters into their own hands.

The alleged behavior of Keegan and Koenig “really muddied the waters” when it comes to reviewing the Dragon’s conditional use permit, Tucker said.  “How can either of these guys sit up there on the council or the commission and sit in judgment on [the Dragon]?” Tucker said.

“It’s kind of unfortunate. It’s like the little badge incident in Redondo,” Tucker said, referring to a December 2003 incident in which Redondo Councilman Don Szerlip flashed his ceremonial badge during a profanity-laced run-in with a local resident. Szerlip reported his own behavior to a police officer, and apologized to the resident and to his own council colleagues.

‘Premature to judge’ - Hermosa Mayor Art Yoon took a milder view of the Dragon allegations.  “I think it’s premature to make any judgment on the issue,” Yoon said.”…At this point I don’t know exactly what happened.”

He said he called Keegan as a courtesy to tell him there were press inquiries into the memo.  “Michael told me ‘Art, there’s no truth to it,’” Yoon said.  “I never would have characterized Michael Keegan as being discourteous,” Yoon said.

Yoon pointed to the Dragon staff’s erroneous description of Koenig as a councilman and said, “Already there is a little inaccuracy in some descriptions in the memo.”  Councilmen Sam Edgerton and JR Reviczky were not immediately available. ER

The Daily Breeze – January 7, 2005

Hermosa officials accused of bar confrontation


HB City Councilman Michael Keegan denies he bullied anybody during incident at Dragon Bar. He says he merely asked for doors to be shut and music to be turned down.

Daily Breeze

A Hermosa Beach Police Department memorandum circulating at City Hall describes witness accounts of a city councilman and a planning commissioner in an obscenity-laced tirade allegedly threatening to close down a bar on Pier Avenue if employees did not shut the doors to block out noise.

Quoting employees of the bar, the memo states that Councilman Michael Keegan and another "councilman" confronted the doorman of the Dragon Bar about 1:25 a.m. on Dec. 12, yelling obscenities and demanding that he shut the front doors and turn down the music.

Keegan denied that he ever bullied anybody during the incident and said the man who was with him at the time was not a councilman but Planning Commissioner Rick Koenig.

"I only told them to turn the music down and that they need to keep their doors shut according to their conditional use permit," he said. "I did not yell obscenities. I wasn't drunk. When they didn't do anything, I just walked away."

Hermosa Beach police officer Donavan Sellan states in his memo that the bar employees told him they were intimidated by the men's behavior and "could not believe they would conduct themselves in that manner." They also told the officer that both men appeared to be drunk, had slurred speech and were staggering, according to the memo. One of the employees said Keegan and Koenig uttered expletives more than a dozen times during the encounter.

Keegan denied spouting expletives or telling Dragon employees that he would shut them down. The two men, who have long been good friends, only had a couple of beers the entire night, Keegan said.

Koenig called the allegations "vicious."

"I was shocked when I read this memo," he said. "All we did was tell them to turn the music down. There was no obscene language. We were not inebriated. We're all grown-ups here. This is ridiculous."

Dragon has probably received only one citation for overcrowding since it opened its doors in June, Hermosa Beach police officials said. Neither the bar owner nor the managers returned calls on Thursday.

Other council members said they are confused and don't know what to make of the memo. Mayor Art Yoon said he believes the incident is worthy of an investigation.

"Right now it's just a he-said-they-said kind of thing," Yoon said. "I need to know what the truth is before I start judging people. It's important to find out what the facts are."

There is neither a police report nor an ongoing investigation of the incident, City Manager Steve Burrell said.

Councilman Sam Edgerton, Keegan's longtime political rival, said he is concerned about the timing of the incident because the Dragon's conditional use permit is up for review.

"It's an issue we have to address as a council," he said. "How can the Planning Commission review their permit without bias or prejudice after this memo?"

But the memo doesn't tell the whole story, Councilman J.R. Reviczky said.

"I've been to numerous events with Michael," he said. "I've never seen him drunk or conducting himself in that manner."

Reviczky said he has heard that the Dragon has received several warnings from city officials for violating its conditional use permit.

Councilman Pete Tucker said that the root of the issue is that the city does not have a consistent procedure to monitor whether bars adhere to their conditional use permits.

"As a city we've never enforced them consistently," he said.

But that doesn't give any council member the license to directly approach a business, Tucker said.

"We're not supposed to go around telling people what to do," he said. "That's why we have the Police Department. We need to go through the proper channels. We can't be the judge and jury at the same time."

Keegan also was the subject of a memo dated Jan. 14, 2004, from the Hermosa Beach Police Officers Association. In it, association President Jaime Martinez wrote that Keegan was heard referring to police officers as "a bunch of overpaid security guards" and that he "exhibited inappropriate, unprofessional behavior in the presence of our members and their spouses."

Martinez said in his memo that the association had decided not to make the matter public, hoping the council would privately discourage such incidents from happening in the future.

Keegan said that memo also was about an issue that was taken out of context.

"I basically said officers shouldn't remain stationary in front of bars, that they should quickly go in and out and that otherwise it makes them look like overpaid security guards," he said.

Neither memo should have been sent out, Keegan said.

"It's unfair because it doesn't give me a chance to tell my side of the story," he said.


The Beach Reporter - Jan. 6, 2005

Hermosa Beach News


Thousands ring in New Year on Pier Plaza (1/6)

By Whitney Youngs

As in years past, a sea of visitors and residents once again gathered on the pier plaza in downtown Hermosa Beach for this year's annual New Year's Eve celebration that police characterized as less raucous compared to previous years with no reports of serious injury.


Thousands of people attended the city-sponsored celebration and listened to the swinging sounds of Big Band 2000, which performed on a temporary stage constructed on the plaza. People donning festive holiday party hats and outfits danced the night away, and mingled with friends and strangers awaiting the final countdown led by Hermosa Beach Mayor Art Yoon.


According to Press Information Officer Sgt. Paul Wolcott, officers reported no serious crimes. However, police did notice an unsanctioned fireworks show with flares shooting off from the beach at the stroke of midnight.  "We didn't have any major problems or fights, things went really well," said Wolcott. "There was a huge but very well-behaved crowd."


Wolcott estimated that between 2,000 to 3,000 people turned out for the event on the plaza and described the crowd as being very thin in the early evening and increasing in size closer to the countdown.  "We were standing room only from Hermosa Avenue down to The Strand," added Wolcott. "It was just really great and everyone had a really good time. There were a lot of families out and all of the restaurants had some great business. Hennessey's even had a New York-style ball drop."


It was South Bay resident Grace Davis' first time at the event where she came with friends.  "I think this is a really great community event and even though I don't live here in Hermosa, I feel like the city has kind of welcomed me to ring in the New Year with it," she said.


As of press time, Wolcott was uncertain of the exact number of people arrested or cited for certain violations, but said the evening on the whole was fairly tame in that respect.  "We had some arrests for drunk driving, some arrests for drunk in public and about three or four citations issued for open containers," he recalled. "There was nothing major. The only other thing that happened was that someone coordinated an impromptu, unauthorized, unsanctioned fireworks show at midnight on the beach. It must have been expensive because they were really high quality. But it was right at midnight and of course, it was illegal and had we caught them, we would have issued citations. But we were pretty tied up at midnight with other things."


A few members of the Hermosa Beach City Council - J.R. Reviczky, Yoon and Peter Tucker - were on hand for the countdown to the New Year. Big Band 2000 began playing at 8:30 p.m. and ended its performance at about 12:15 a.m. This year, the event cost the city an estimated $23,000, some of which was offset by donations. The celebration has been met with a great reception among residents who feel it's an event for Hermosa Beach people.


"Things went very smoothly," said Reviczky. "It was a smaller crowd and I thought there were more families this time, so it was a very uneventful evening. It was a good evening as far as behavior was concerned but it was also a good evening as far as celebrating the new year, so it was good all the way around."


Jared and Erin Nesbitt, residents of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, were out visiting for the holidays and enjoyed taking in the South Bay where they could spend New Year's Eve outside.


"Usually, we are inside a house, away from the snow and so this is quite a change for us to be able to stand here, look up at these huge palm trees and out at the beach when ringing in 2005," said Jared. "No wonder they call places like this paradise and the people who live here in this city are very lucky." 

The Beach Reporter - Jan. 6, 2005

Hermosa Beach News


City honored in national magazine (1/6)

By Whitney Youngs

Hermosa Beach kicked off the new year in an auspicious way by once again making national headlines in this month's issue of Coastal Living magazine as the lead story in the publication's travel section.


Hermosa Beach made headlines last year as 2004's best beach on the U.S. mainland according to the national magazine Reader's Digest. Editors of the well-read publication chose Hermosa as the best beach as part of its "American's 100 Best" spread that also included categories like best fishing, roller coaster, layover and zoo. The publication has about 40 million readers.


According to Coastal Living's Senior Editor Susan Haynes, the nationwide publication has a circulation of 650,000 and a readership of 3 million.  "Our topics cover homes, gardens, lifestyle, travel, food and entertaining within sight, sound, taste, touch or smell of saltwater with the exception being that we do some Great Lakes coverage," said Haynes. "We call that the North Coast. Our editorial boundaries, geographically speaking, are the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, what we call the North Coast and we do dip our toes into the non-U.S. Caribbean, the Canadian coast and the coast of Mexico. When I say U.S. coast, that does include Alaska and Hawaii. This year we will be doing our first Central America story in Costa Rica."


In its January issue now at newsstands, Coastal Living features the tiny beach town over a three-page spread in which writer Heather John opens the piece by remarking about the city's rich surfing history from the 1940s through the 1960s.  "Heather lives in Southern California. She actually is a senior editor at Bon Appetite magazine and she has done a lot of freelance for us over the years," added Haynes. "She and I used to work together for a wine magazine up in the Napa Valley. I came to Coastal Living and she went to the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine and then moved over to Bon Appetite. I am always eager to get her ideas and suggestions for Southern California coverage and she had pitched Hermosa Beach as a great little beach town."


John goes on to describe the pier plaza and the city's unique and thriving downtown area both in the daytime and evening.

"The drive down palmy Pier Avenue spills onto the town square and the 104-year-old Hermosa Pier," states the piece.  "Boutiques selling surf wear, antiques and knickknacks line the streets. At dusk, lights sparkle from tree fronds, and young, suntanned crowds mingle on Pier Avenue at Aloha Sharkeez sports bar and Patrick Malloy's. Nearby, The Strand - an impressive beachfront path that runs south from Santa Monica - is home to old-school haunts such as the retro Mermaid and its neighbor, The Poop Deck."


John also wrote in detail about the amenities and services offered at the Beach House where she stayed anonymously for about three or four days.  Coastal Living, based in Birmingham, Ala., is a member of the publishing giant Southern Progress Corporation that is more than 100 years old. It has been a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc. since 1985. The firm also prints magazines like Cooking Light, Health, Southern Living, Southern Accents, Progressive Farmer and Cottage Living. The magazine was launched in May 1997 and will put out nine issues this year and 10 issues in 2006.


John also goes on to mention Martha's 22nd Street Grill as a hot spot for brunch, Hama Hermosa as a restaurant where you can find decent-priced sushi and avant garde cocktails, the Comedy & Magic Club where you can stop by and take in acts by Jay Leno and Ray Romano, and Gallery C as the new venue generating a great deal of attention as one of the few emerging efforts within Hermosa's burgeoning art scene.


City-sponsored events don't go without notice as John also makes reference to the Fiesta Hermosa events, Sunset Concerts and Aloha Days along with the city's beloved Surfer's Walk of Fame.  "The chamber has invested a good portion of Fiesta profits to our Visitors Bureau marketing plan and the results have certainly been great," said Carla Merriman, the chamber's executive director. "We can now add a top travel story in Coastal Living magazine to our designation as 'Best Beach Town' by the Travel Channel and 'Best Beach' by Reader's Digest."

The Daily Breeze – January 2, 2005

Police: Increase in DUIs in 2005


On New Year's holiday, 87 alcohol-related arrests are made countywide, with 27 in South Bay.

In Hermosa Beach, crowds on Pier Avenue were down during the evening, but the plaza from The Strand to Hermosa Avenue was standing-room-only at midnight, police Sgt. Paul Wolcott said.  A few skirmishes occurred, including at the 705 club, and a few people were cited for public drunkenness, but overall the crowd was well-behaved.

Daily Breeze

A dejected veteran South Bay traffic officer said Saturday that so many people were drinking and driving on the New Year's holiday, a police task force found it difficult to keep up with them.

Officers made 27 drunken driving arrests, up from a usual number in the teens, Gardena police traffic Investigator Carl Freeman said.  "It was incredible," said Freeman, a member of the South Bay Regional Driving Under the Influence Task Force.

"It appears to me that those who choose to drink and drive just don't understand the seriousness of what they are doing."  Overall, during 10 days of task force patrols, arrests were down. Police cited the bad weather for keeping people at home. This year, 187 people found themselves in jail in patrols before Christmas and New Year's, compared to 213 last year.

But officers found so many people intoxicated in their cars on New Year's Eve and in the early hours of the new year, they chose to keep patrolling beyond their 3 a.m. cutoff and stayed on the streets until 5 a.m.

In the last three nights of patrols, DUI task force officers made 75 arrests, compared to 58 in 2003 and 56 in 2002.  "It's disconcerting as a citizen, as well as an officer," Freeman said.

"There was nothing major as far as significant injuries or significant pursuits. There were just a lot of people who ingested a lot of alcohol and unfortunately many of them chose to drive."

The DUI task force -- comprised of officers from the California Highway Patrol, Palos Verdes Estates, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Gardena, El Camino College and sheriff's deputies assigned to Lawndale -- annually work the holidays to take intoxicated motorists off the street.

Patrols moved throughout the South Bay, and arrests occurred in each city. Freeman made arrests in Inglewood, Torrance and Hermosa Beach. One police unit made six arrests in Gardena.  One man who spent the night in jail was from Michigan, apparently in town to attend the Rose Bowl game.

Whether he made it to the game in Pasadena was unknown, because "well, we got his car," Freeman said.

Most of those arrested were from the South Bay, Freeman said.  Throughout the county, CHP officers arrested 87 motorists on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, eight more than last year's total of 79.

Statewide, officers made 485 DUI arrests, compared to 481 last year.  In Hawthorne, police officers chased and arrested a couple of drivers who turned out to be intoxicated, Hawthorne police Lt. Dennis Barberic said.  In Carson, deputies arrested a suspected drunken driver who crashed into a couple of parked cars in the west end of the city, deputies said.

Alcohol also played a role in disturbances at Latitudes on Harbor Drive, where Redondo Beach officers used pepper spray and their batons to disperse some people trying to break into a private party.  At 10:40 p.m. Friday, police received a call that 150 people were trying to rush the door, Redondo Beach police Sgt. Phil Keenan said.

Officers dispersed the crowd, but were called again at 1:30 a.m. Saturday when another 150 people were trying to get in.  No one was arrested or hurt. Officers from Torrance and Hermosa Beach arrived to help, and a police helicopter patrolled from the air.  Officers were called to a fight at Denny's at 3:40 a.m. Saturday, but when they arrived, the participants split in different directions, Keenan said.

At 11:30 p.m. New Year's Eve, officers from Redondo Beach, Torrance and Hermosa Beach raced to Old Tony's restaurant on the Redondo Beach pier when someone called police on a cellular telephone to report that two men with guns had entered the restaurant, taken hostages and ordered everyone to lie prone on the floor, Keenan said.

Police arrived and found the call was bogus.  "There is information to lead us to the person that made the call," Keenan said. "The investigation is ongoing."

In Hermosa Beach, crowds on Pier Avenue were down during the evening, but the plaza from The Strand to Hermosa Avenue was standing-room-only at midnight, police Sgt. Paul Wolcott said.  A few skirmishes occurred, including at the 705 club, and a few people were cited for public drunkenness, but overall the crowd was well-behaved.

Wolcott said celebrants in the plaza seemed to enjoy a Times Square-style ball that was dropped from the roof of Hennessey's Tavern at midnight.  "Everybody seemed to be having a real good time," Wolcott said. "We didn't have any major incidents at all."

Wolcott said that more taxis were needed to take passengers from the area. Some people were still waiting for rides at 3:15 a.m., long after the bars closed.

Police and deputies in the Harbor Area, Carson and Hawthorne said reports of gunfire at midnight were significantly down and that messages warning against the activity were working.

As far as alcohol, however, Freeman said the South Bay DUI task force will become more vigilant in the coming year with state-funded sobriety checkpoints in several cities and task force operations once a month, as well as the holiday period.


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