Editorials

Miami Beach gets cranky about pot and parking | Editorial

Let’s be honest: Sometimes guests can turn unruly. They might drink too much, light up joints in all the wrong places, play their music way too loud, get into fights over the most inane things, and – adding insult to injury – take our parking spaces.

For most of us, of course, it’s pretty easy to sort out in advance who among our acquaintances is not worthy of an invitation to visit.

For places like Miami Beach, though, identifying the louts from afar is a tricky — and risky — enterprise. But the city is trying to do it anyway.

City officials are clearly irked at misbehaving crowds, and it’s not without reason. Miami Beach residents are sick and tired of the inconvenience of being an entertainment hub.

Here’s the top of a Herald story in March describing events during sprint break that led them to call an emergency meeting of the City Commission: “A brawl on the beach, a young woman knocked unconscious near Ocean Drive, police officers injured, a driver on the MacArthur Causeway serving alcohol to passengers in another vehicle, and a tourist flying out of the car window and getting run over on her way to the airport.”

It’s a quality of life issue. We get it. But in their efforts to assert a little more crowd control, city leaders sound a bit out of control themselves. “I think we need to eliminate this spring break phenomenon as soon as possible,” Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán said. “I think we need to make it a lot less fun to be here, unfortunately.”

They’re well on their way. In the past week alone, Miami Beach commissioners have proposed two new measures that sound tough and kill the fun but probably won’t be particularly effective at reducing the number of beach brawls or tourists going through car windows.

The first measure, set for a final vote next month, would crack down on pot smoking in public places. Violators could face up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine. “It’s not like we’re running around arresting people who are smoking marijuana,” Mayor Dan Gelber explains. “You generally ask them to put it out, and if they don’t, they’re sort of choosing to be arrested at that point.”

The second measure up next month would inflate parking fees to $50-a-day during special events like Art Basel, spring break and Memorial Day weekend. Ouch!

The underlying premise, it appears, is that people who misbehave don’t have as much money at their disposal and will be content to stay home and shovel snow in Buffalo. Or if in the mainland, they’ll have to get a ride sharing vehicle which will not need to park.

As city leaders debate those and other measures for the beaches and the South Beach entertainment district, they would be wise to reflect on the message they’re sending to people who rush south for a little fun in the sun every winter and spring.

Miami Beach didn’t become one of America’s most popular cities and most profitable tourist destinations by deterring crowds. That’s not Miami Beach.

Enforcing the law is necessary for public safety, and judicious changes in parking fees or regulations for large events may reduce the risk of out-of-control crowds.

But commissioners need to be careful that, in haste and frustration, they don’t turn “a lot less fun to be here” into the city’s new slogan.

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