Miami Beach commissioners are considering a range of ideas for killing spring break’s buzz in South Beach, including making marijuana arrests, banning scooter rentals, limiting alcohol sales and even blasting classical music from loudspeakers.
Elected officials took no votes at the commission meeting Wednesday, but they discussed the fallout from a hectic spring break weekend that attracted an overwhelming amount of partygoers — enough to force the police to temporarily block incoming traffic on the MacArthur Causeway on Saturday night.
On Wednesday, commissioners brainstormed ideas for how to better manage the increasingly larger crowds each year and instructed City Manager Jimmy Morales to engage an outside consultant to help the city develop a plan for crowded spring break weekends.
Several commissioners said all ideas should be put on the table. Among them: revisiting the city’s policy for issuing fines for possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana instead of making an arrest. This approach was adopted in June 2015, when the police department said it would save $40,000 year in costs associated with arrests and prosecution of possession cases.
“We need to reverse the marijuana legislation,” said Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. Fellow Commissioner Ricky Arriola — who often spars with Rosen Gonzalez on the dais — didn’t disagree.
“We should look at our marijuana policy,” he said. “There was some wisdom behind why we did it, but we might need to revisit it.”
Rosen Gonzalez, a Congressional candidate, made another suggestion: Blasting music that spring breakers would hate to break up the party on the sand. Perhaps marches by John Philip Sousa or some Mozart.
“I think we should do something radical,” she said.
One change already in motion is a ban on scooter rentals during “high-impact” periods, or dates when officials expect huge crowds concentrated in the South Beach’s entertainment district. Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán is sponsoring the legislation, which is being drafted and expected to be on a future commission agenda.
The crowd-control problems came to a head on Saturday, the peak of spring break season and St. Patrick’s Day, when a dense crowd of 5,000 to 6,000 revelers on Ocean Drive grew beyond what Beach police could handle. Loud noises, including a bottle breaking, sparked stampedes on Ocean Drive that led owners of two prominent clubs, the Clevelander and Mango’s Tropical Cafe, to shut down their sidewalk cafe service after tables were knocked over and wait staff couldn’t get to their tables.
Residents complained of rampant public drunkenness, people urinating in public and widespread marijuana use.
The mass of people and cars that jammed South Beach’s streets led to the police department’s decision to close the eastbound causeway for an hour.
“Traffic wasn’t moving anywhere on South Beach,” Police Chief Dan Oates told commissioners. “We felt it was a dangerous condition in terms of moving emergency vehicles around the Beach.”
Morales already has a plan for crowded weekends, created last year, that he tweaked immediately in the wake of Saturday’s issues. He ordered more cops from elsewhere in the city to South Beach and the removal of parked cars on Ocean Drive after the street is closed for pedestrians only.
Also, the city will no longer move people off the beach early; instead crews will pick up litter after dark. That displacement of such a large mass of people, officials believe, contributed to the overcrowding on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue.
The city manager suggested other measures to be considered later, including beefing up police presence with officers from other cities, restricting alcohol sales, and advertising the city’s rules to student groups at universities that might have a lot of students coming to South Beach.