Government

Miami Beach Commissioner Floats Last Call Booze Ban Compromise

Newly elected Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez at the special commission meeting on January 12, 2022.
Newly elected Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez at the special commission meeting on January 12, 2022. Screenshot via Miami Beach TV
The November 2021 municipal election in Miami Beach asked voters whether they'd like to see an ordinance scaling back last call from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. citywide (with exceptions to be determined by the city commission). Proponents argued that the nonbinding ballot item — colloquially known as the "2 a.m. ban" — would reduce crime in the municipality's South Beach Entertainment District. It passed with a hefty 57 percent in favor.

Talk of the ballot item dominated much of the election cycle and often devolved into bitter attacks from both sides. Now that it passed, the commission is obligated to make the initiative a reality, and each of the six commissioners has indicated they'll support some version of a 2 a.m. rollback.

On Wednesday night, Mayor Dan Gelber, a vocal proponent of the rollback throughout his 2021 re-election campaign, called a special session to workshop the forthcoming ordinance. City legal staff drafted a handful of options for commissioners to consider, ranging from a wholesale rollback of last-call from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. for all establishments across the city to a less-strict approach that would grandfather in businesses already in operation.

But over the course of the three-hour meeting, it became clear there was no consensus among commissioners on how to move forward, and there was widespread disagreement as to what businesses (if any) would be exempted. Newly elected Group 1 commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez even used part of her time to instead suggest returning to the drawing board and changing the 2 a.m. ban to another hour altogether.

"Here’s what I would be open to: 3 a.m. across the board, no exemptions, because that’s clean-cut for everyone," Rosen Gonzalez said. "Or maybe 3:30, because between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m., you kind of hit 3:30 and you do that across the board, and it’s a start and sends a message."

Legally, the 2 a.m. rollback time was not up for debate because it passed on the November ballot: commissioners had to work within the framework of the proposed options. But Rosen Gonzalez's remarks also stood out because she'd unequivocally supported the 2 a.m. ban during her campaign.

"The electorate supports a 2 a.m. rollback," Gonzalez can be seen saying in a video she published to her campaign's Facebook page on November 5. "So do I."

Two months later, Gonzalez was suggesting a 3 or 3:30 a.m. last call.

"On this last election, on the ballot was a straw poll that simply asked the voters whether, on a citywide basis, they wanted to roll back consumption hours to 2 a.m. with exceptions that we provide," Gelber said, encouraging compromise among the commissioners. "And I think that we're here today in this particular meeting to try to figure out how we're going to animate the will of the voters who told us that's what they want us to do."

Gonzalez opposed exemptions of any kind, referring to a scenario in which about 140 businesses would be exempt from having to roll back their last call times. That option would exempt virtually all oceanfront hotels, fully enclosed restaurants, bars, and dance halls in select areas on Washington Avenue, 71st Street, and in the Collins Park neighborhood north of South Beach, according to a planning memo provided to the commission.

"I respect the electorate, I know we need a change," Gonzalez said. "I'd like us to do something that creates a change but doesn't create the scenario where we're being sued."

Group 5 Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who'd opposed the 2 a.m. ban during the election cycle, said at the meeting that commissioners needed to consider recourses in the event that a rollback does not repair Ocean Drive's 24/7 party image, including incidents like one last August, when a 21-year-old tourist from Colorado was shot and killed in a random, broad-daylight attack by a man who said he was tripping on mushrooms.

In the end, Gelber instructed city staff to begin drafting an ordinance even though it's unclear what it would include since commissioners couldn't agree on any of the particular exemptions. Gelber added that he wanted the item to go to a vote as soon as next month. In order to pass, the ordinance requires support from four of the commission's six members.

New Times attempted to reach Gonzalez by phone but did not immediately hear back.
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Michael Majchrowicz is a staff writer at Miami New Times. He studied journalism at Indiana University and has reported for PolitiFact, The New York Times, Washington Post, the Post and Courier, and Tampa Bay Times.