Early last week, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine dropped a bombshell on the city commission. "We all know what's going on on Ocean Drive," he said. "It’s turning into a Bourbon Street. It’s turning into a terrible place that’s become a blight, a cancer that spreads to our entire city."
Luckily, Levine also had an easy solution: a ban on liquor sales after 2 a.m. He says the police back him on the idea and he plans to push for the late-night fun-killing ordinance.
The mayor has been lambasted on Twitter and Facebook over the idea, but the truth is he isn't the first Beach politician to introduce an ordinance designed to cure all of the city's ills. Had he done some research before proposing his drinking ban, he would have learned that many of his predecessors have attempted for decades to legislate morality and good taste in a town where the world comes to party.
Here's a brief history of some of Miami Beach's zanier and ill-advised attempts fix some problems that weren't all that serious in the first place.
In 1939, the Miami Beach City Council — as it was called at the time — went after people who appeared on the streets "with exposed legs sometimes wet and sticky with suntan oil," the Associated Press reported.
From the AP story: "An ordinance adopted yesterday requires bathers to wear robes extending from shoulders to knees" when going to or from the beach. "It's the stickiness the council dislikes, not the exposed legs," said the AP story, adding that some council members considered the sight of exposed legs slathered in oil to be "unsightly, distasteful, and annoying."
Shorts Are Out
In 1944, the city council considered an ordinance that would have banned tourists from wearing shorts and bathing suits on city streets. A Miami Daily News story didn't say why the council felt such an ordinance was needed, and it's unclear if it ever passed.
Classically Out of Touch
In 1947, the city council passed an ordinance that banned hotels from playing anything but string music. "It'll be Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven at Miami Beach hotels from here on in following action from the city council which put an end to the playing of barrel-house and boogie woogie in competition with nightclubs," the Miami Daily News reported.
Cover Those Midriffs
In 1950, the city council once again took up the issue of people traipsing around the city's streets wearing next to nothing. Council members were asked to pass a law that would require people on the streets to be covered from the "shoulders to the knees." According to the Miami Daily News, the councilman who proposed the ordinance said he had never before come up with an idea "which had received such instant approval."
At least one clothing store owner approved of the proposed ordinance. "The kind of play suits we sell aren't intended to be worn on the streets," clothing designer Mal Marshall told the Miami Daily News. "Anyway, it's always the wrong kind of person who wants to wear something like that on the streets."
Daily News reporter Haines Colbert hit Miami Beach streets to get reaction to the ordinance and ended up talking to Brooklynite Max Anderman: "I know I shouldn't be walking around like this, but I couldn't help it," said Anderman, who was wearing shorts.
Anderman explained to Colbert that his daughter had packed his bag in a hurry and didn't include any pants.
Topless No More
In 1977, city commissioners voted to retain a ban on topless sunbathing. Only one commissioner voted to overturn the ban, arguing, "God's masterpiece is a well-built woman."
But Miami Beach Mayor Harold Rosen wasn't swayed. "If we had secluded beaches, like California or some of the islands, it would not bother me," the mayor said.
In 1990, the Miami Beach City Commission passed a law banning nude dancing at bars that served alcoholic beverages. "They're flesh factories. We don't want them operating near our schools, churches, and synagogues," the Miami Herald quoted Beach Mayor Alex Daoud.
(Twenty-five years later, in what has to be one of the longest-running legal feuds between a business owner and a government body, strip club owner Leroy Griffith is still engaged in a war with Miami Beach to get the ban on alcohol overturned at his Washington Avenue flesh emporium, Club Madonna. In 2001, Griffith almost prevailed when the commission voted on a first reading to allow alcohol in clubs that featured full nudity. Ironically, Griffith's attorney and lobbyist before the commission was former Miami Beach Mayor Harold Rosen... the same Harold Rosen who in 1977 spoke out against overturning the ban against nude sunbathing.)
In 1998, an ordinance was passed that banned beer and wine sales after 10 p.m. at grocery stores, minimarts, and gas stations. "The previous cutoff time was either midnight or 2 a.m., depending on the store's license," the Miami Herald reported.
The 1999 Herald story credited the law with "reducing crime."
The purpose of the ordinance is to cut down on people coming to the Beach, buying a $5 six pack, and cruising or hanging on street corners, especially on Washington Avenue, said Commissioner Nancy Liebman.
"We don't need kids coming here and sloshing around the streets until all hours. We had a great big problem with open containers," said Liebman, who pushed for the change last year. "The ordinance has worked very well; we have noticed a tremendous change."
Juice Bar Beatdown
In 1999, Beach commissioners tackled the problem of after-hours clubs, also known as "late-night juice bars," banning partiers under 21 from patronizing the clubs.
Then-Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto called the clubs a haven for drug users. "They are not dancing, just existing," he told the Herald at the time, adding that there had been 33 overdoses and nine deaths that year on Washington Avenue.
And then, in 2000, Beach commissioners took steps to keep the under-21 crowd out of nightclubs despite the inspired protests of one commissioner, who told the Herald: "We are just going so far afield... We are banning everything that has made this city great... Is Rollerblading on Lincoln Road next?"
The Rubber Chicken Ordinance
Possibly the most insane idea, though, came in 2000, when the city commission took aim at SoBe's sidewalk cafés that displayed fake food and passed the "rubber chicken ordinance." The ordinance "came at the urging of Commissioner Nancy Liebman," the Sun-Sentinel reported.
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Displays of rubber food were "not the quality that we envisioned the Art Deco District would ever become," sniffed Liebman.
At last Wednesday's meeting, Levine never got around to explaining how banning the sale of alcohol after 2 a.m. would deter crime. A limited ban on outdoor alcohol sales won't stop crime any more than laws against drunk driving prevent people from getting behind the wheel with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.
But one crime clearly on his mind was an incident in early April, when a Miami Beach patrolman was dragged by a car drag racing along Ocean Drive. But even that case has an ironic ending: It's not known if Meshach Samuels, who was arrested for the crime, had been drinking at a club before the crime. But if he was, it's worth noting he had celebrated 18th birthday only three days before the dragging.
If 18-year-olds are the ones causing all the trouble on the Beach, how would a late-night alcohol ban fix that?