Whiting Downtown Story

David Whiting has returned to writing for the OC Register in recent months, having left his editorial post there to once again publish a regular column. Thankfully, most of his musings have been about the outdoors or yacht racing or voting, and not his usual obsequious odes to local law enforcement.*

On May 5, the Orange County Register published a chipper little column by David Whiting entitled “Fullerton’s Lively Downtown is One to Envy, Not Blame.

Billed as “part of an occasional series on every city in Orange County,” it opens with a stroll through the streets on May 1:

“It’s Friday night before Cinco de Mayo in downtown Fullerton and despite much bar-hopping in search of legendary cesspools of booze, the scene is hopping in the best way.

The crowd at The Pint House is Greenwich Village-mellow with plenty of beer accompanied by plenty of food. The band at Ziing’s Bistro & Bar is louder than it is good – but, hey, it’s live music. A few women at Back Alley Bar & Grill argue over a point more fueled by alcohol than thought, but who among us hasn’t done that?”

And then, his kicker, which is probably meant as a playful rebuke: “Shut up, you naysayers complaining of rowdy behavior in the downtown. Fullerton has created what few other cities in Orange County have accomplished.”

It is tempting to just ignore such routine puffery, but there are serious implications to his shallow assessments of the downtown area. “Rowdy” is no joke to many nearby residents and business owners, who have had their windows etched or broken, or their stoops vomited on, or worse, since the Restaurant Overlay District went into effect years ago. Minimizing the impact of the seemingly limitless issuance of liquor licenses in an area already saturated with them is not so funny to many people used to the sight of inebriated young women in heels wandering unsteadily along sidewalks, or into bushes to be sick.

He also suffers from the delusion that it’s just a bunch of local college kids unwinding at night:

“As I walk along Harbor Boulevard poking my head into various clubs, it’s clear that the overwhelming majority of the crowd is made up of those (Fullerton College/Cal State Fullerton) students.” he writes, while somehow remaining oblivious to the ever present party buses that haul drinkers into the downtown every weekend from the Inland Empire and other locales. Remember, the Fullerton City Council actually banned food trucks from the downtown area at night because the police said they were attracting drunks who would get into fights with one another in the street.

His claim that patrons can get dinner after midnight is also a dubious one, at least. Most restaurants downtown stop serving after ten to become de facto clubs, whose drinkers spill out onto the streets throughout the rest of the night and into the early morning hours, when club bouncers have to herd them away from the sidewalks and into their cars by shining flashlights into their faces.

Perhaps if Mr. Whiting would stay out just a little later, even until 2:00 a.m. when the bars close, he would witness a less tranquil scene. Or, better yet, get up early the next morning to watch maintenance workers hose down the sidewalks after the evening’s revelries. It’s too bad newspapers can’t convey odors as well as they can print photographs.

His ultimate conclusion is that “…the mix of alcohol and darkness will undoubtedly attract a few party animals before last call…But finding a downtown alive at night is precious.”

It ought to be precious. The city’s redevelopment agency spent millions of dollars of public money paving and prepping the SOCO area for the thousands of diners and drinkers who patronize the restaurants and bars there each weekend, but Mr. Whiting ignores this fact. He also forgets to mention that a few years ago a report on downtown showed that it was costing taxpayers more to police and maintain the area than it was taking in. So, you may as well take his advice and enjoy it, you’re paying for the privilege anyway. Just watch where you step.

*(With one notable exception)

Stay tuned for Part 2…