Floatopia Miami organizers turned to social media over the weekend to promote an event that has seven goals, chief among them: “peace and love,” “community and good vibes” and “protecting our beach and each other.” All of this, apparently, is achievable by floating on the ocean in colorful rafts with a bunch of your neighbors. The cheery post closes with a lyric from John Lennon’s anthem to utopia, Imagine.
Imagine this, however: For Miami Beach officials and residents, the aftermath of Saturday’s Floatopia was more like a Sharknado sequel, with a trashed beach covered in discarded rafts, bottles and cans left behind by thousands of people.
Call it The Floatopia Fallout and it has led at least two city officials, Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Michael Grieco, to vow to put an end to future Floatopias on South Beach. Grieco posted a live video to his Facebook feed Saturday night that, as of Sunday afternoon, drew more than 300,000 views.
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In the video, which showed sands clogged with the detritus of the day and city and county crews and volunteers picking up the mess, Grieco says: “This is an absolute travesty. And this is me making a commitment to everyone watching this, Floatopia will never happen on Miami Beach again.”
Levine, who is in New York, responded on social media, too. Initially he posted an image on his Twitter account of a trashed beach from a 2010 Floatopia event in Santa Barbara with the words “Never Forget.” Later Sunday, he changed the image to one of South Beach post-Floatopia and the words, “Never Again.”
The message from both officials, however, hasn’t changed hours after the beach was restored. Floatopia — which has become a viral sensation fueled by social media since its creation in California by a couple University of California, Santa Barbara, students in 2003 — has to go.
Even Floatopia Miami hints as such on the group’s Facebook page: “The level of disrespect shown on our beach yesterday was unimaginable. Thank you to everyone who clean up after themselves but unfortunately, this time, you were the minority. We refuse to be associated with this kind of behavior and much less will we facilitate an event that hurts a city and beach that we love.”
A representative from Floatopia Miami responded that the Facebook post would be its statement for now but added, “Please note that our last event was in September and this didn't happen. We have been constantly improving and thought this event was going to be even better than last September.”
Said Grieco: “Before we even heard from [residents] I’ve made a commitment to end it.”
Maintaining the beaches is a county responsibility. For large cleanups, the city supplements with sanitation workers and volunteers. “This costs tens of thousands of dollars for overtime for our sanitation and parks groups and that is a heavy burden for the taxpayer that doesn’t invite the event or sanction the event or even benefit from the event.”
Said Levine: “We knew they were going to have Floatopia and the police department made significant preparations. The good news is there were no serious incidents. No horrible, God forbid, shootings. No real major fighting. There was one fight the police broke up. … The biggest issue was you had so many people on the beach and they left so much trash they literally trashed the beach. We won’t tolerate it. We don’t want something like that.”
Levine spoke with Miami Beach Police Chief Daniel Oates Sunday afternoon. According to the chief, there was only one arrest associated with Floatopia — a fight between two men. A contributing factor to the messy situation: an afternoon rain storm blew through, which caused a mass exodus from the beach to a sea of cars at the same time. In the mad dash, rafts and other plastics were left behind — a potential environmental hazard as the plastic settles on the sea bed.
Rafts are permitted on beaches. Open containers of alcohol are not. City officials can’t close public beaches, even to groups like Floatopia, which similarly angered environmentalists last year when a mess of garbage was left behind after its 2015 event on Miami Beach. Officials hope to figure out measures to contain future Floatopias, short of creating a police state, “and that’s not what Miami Beach is about. But at a certain point, and we are at that point, when crowds become too large there are actions we have to take to correct it,” Grieco said.
Both politicians plan to discuss an action plan for Floatopia at the next commission meeting at 5 p.m. April 27.
“One of the things I did discuss with our city manager is we have to put together a plan in the event it was to come back next year,” Levine said. “We have to figure out a way to stop it or at the very least, contain it. You can’t stop people from coming to a public beach but you can create all types of hindrances or controls or mechanisms so that this doesn’t happen again.”
Among his plans: the creation of a “mayor’s blue ribbon committee on events on the Beach,” he said.
Grieco, who lives in the neighborhood where Floatopia was held — the southernmost South Pointe neighborhood to about 10th Street — spoke to residents Saturday and Sunday and said, “This is more than just the garbage for a lot of people. The impact of these unsanctioned events goes far beyond. Traffic was crippled in South Beach. The folks who live adjacent to the area are livid.”
The large crowd, which has grown since the first Floatopia was held for a few hundred in Miami Beach in 2012, also made it difficult for the police to manage the crowds, Grieco said.
“It’s dangerous to walk through there,” he said. “You can’t see what’s going on. I walked in the middle of it and I felt unsafe. It’s an absolute shame.”
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