Busted on South Beach for Diet Coke
Sorry, Miamians. Your Fundays on SoBe are over. Unless you wanna pay a $50 (or more) fine, the city expects you to leave the booze, soda cans, and Styrofoam coolers at home.
According to code enforcement officers, all of the above are illegal on the sands of Miami Beach. Didn't know? Too bad, after all, "ignorantia juris non excusat" (i.e., ignorance of the law is no excuse for it). Talk about party poopers.
Alcohol has long been illegal on beach under city code 70-86 -- a fact unbeknownst to many locals and most tourists. So carrying a cocktail from Ocean Drive onto the sands can technically result in a fine. Businesses are also prohibited from allowing patrons to leave with open containers, which pretty much puts every Miami Beach bar in violation.
Luckily (for businesses and beachgoers alike), the regulation isn't heavily enforced, as any walk along the shore will demonstrated. Cocktails, beer cans, and Wet Willie's cups are a way of life.
Most locals know to take common-sense precautions -- don't carry glass to the beach, don't be an obvious drunk a**hole, don't do beer bongs in broad daylight, etc. A friend received a citation several years ago, but it was because he was holding a big ol' bottle of vodka. Understandable.
This past Saturday, spring break and pre-St. Paddy's Day madness was in full force, and thousands of people -- drinks in hand -- were reveling on the sands of SoBe. My friends and I were drinking a few beers and talking on our towels.
Suddenly, a code enforcement officer approached and crouched down to speak with us. Her opening line: "Where are you from?" She told us she had to issue one of us a $50 citation due to the fact that we had metal containers (no mention of the alcohol).
Cans are illegal on the beach, period, the officer informed us -- as are Styrofoam coolers.
Say what?! We gave her the fifth degree. Of the six of us, most had lived in Miami for four-plus years, some for their entire lives. One in the group was a lawyer. Not one of us had ever heard of cans/coolers being prohibited. "So a can of Diet Coke is illegal?" we asked. "Yes," she replied.
Both the issuing officer and her partner were unable to quote the specific statute. "Read the ticket," they parroted. We asked for their names, and the issuing officer's shirt tag didn't match what she told us -- questionable in itself.
The ticket reads as follows:
Inspection of the above premises this date revealed you are in violation of section 46-92 (b) as amended, of the Miami Beach city code by:
It shall be unlawful to any person to carry onto any beach within the city a glass or metal bottle or any other glass or metal container.
Meanwhile, the signs at the entrance to the beach say nothing about metal containers or Styrofoam coolers.
Statute 46-92 is noted on the signs as follows:
Not permitted (24 hours a day):
Glass containers & Litter - Section 46-92, Miami Beach code.
So how in hell would tourists know not to bring a can onto the beach? They wouldn't. Unless they memorized the entire city code before their trip to South Florida ...
On the city's code website, the statute reads as follows:
Prohibitions on beaches. It shall be unlawful for any person to carry onto any beach within the city a glass or metal bottle or other glass or metal container. In addition, it shall be unlawful for any person to carry any styrofoam product onto any beach within the city or for any business to provide plastic straws with the service or delivery of any beverage to patrons on the beach.
The signs at the beachfront say no such thing and solely address glass and litter. Shouldn't they let the public know what the law is before they start citing people for it?
In addition, the citation itself has no discernible number, so there's absolutely no way to track the case or ensure the city received our payment. What's to stop them from claiming it was never paid?
Of course, you can appeal the citation, but only after you shell out an extra $100 to "cover the cost of the hearing," according to the ticket.
Meanwhile, we spotted cans of Monster on sale at a beach vendor stand. We were told they have to pour them into plastic cups. But they're still cans, and they're still on the beach. Breaking your own rule, City of Miami Beach?
Because almost everyone on the beach was in violation of these codes in some capacity (along with various other laws), the officers were obviously picking and choosing whom to cite. Based on what, though? Seems like common sense would dictate citing people engaged in obnoxious, disruptive, or dangerous behavior. That sure wasn't our group.
The real question for the citizens of Miami is, WTF? How is this a public service? Beach businesses make a mint selling drinks to tourists and locals. The inability to bring said drinks to the beach is a serious detriment to our appeal and status as a tourist destination. This aggressive and sudden enforcement of antiquated regulations is a transparent attempt to increase revenue for the city during the busy season.
The city is actually considering allowing the sale of drinks in designated areas and by licensed sellers, but even if they OKed it, drinking on the sand, to-go cups, and bringing your own booze to the beach would still be illegal. So what's the damn point?
Let's list the charges against code compliance: issuing a citation with no signage, failure to include a tracking number on the citation, arbitrary issuance, wrong name tag on employee's shirt, cans for sale by official vendors on the beach. Fail.
Boozing it up on the beach is a key part of the Miami experience. But when the city starts enforcing arbitrary codes, harassing beachgoers, levying fines, and taking people's Diet Cokes away, they're seriously screwing with what makes Miami Beach a world-renowned destination. Are we really gonna take that lying down (on our beach towels, natch)?
Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahalexs.
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