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Gainesville City Commission discusses changes to open containers and requiring businesses to enforce face masks

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

The Gainesville City Commission decided last Thursday to ask staff to analyze various COVID-related policies they were interested in implementing, including only allowing open containers in specific parts of the city and requiring businesses to enforce face mask mandates on their premises.

The first sub-item on the agenda was reducing capacity for bars and restaurants. Mayor Lauren Poe led off the discussion by saying that the County is still collecting data on where transmission is happening, “so I’m just going to say that, to me, it’s still premature to take any action because I don’t think it’s defensible because we don’t have the data and information to back it up. We only have our own conjecture.”

Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos said, “I think capacity is a hard issue, but I wonder if there’s other ways to get around it. Other areas in Florida are mandating masks while inside businesses, and they fine the business, and I think we should take that action.”

Commissioner David Arreola agreed: “It’s not asking too much. Businesses should lend a hand.” Regarding the requirement that local governments have to submit data showing the economic costs of capacity restrictions, Arreola said, “I think [the governor’s] really punishing local governments with those requirements… We can’t afford continuous rebellion for people who we need their buy-in. This is bigger than local governments; this is bigger than businesses. People keep dying, and I really feel as though we need to do something.”

City Manager Lee Feldman said it was “questionable” whether they could cite businesses for their patrons not wearing masks. “Basically the recourse is the business would have to refuse to serve and ask the patron to leave, and if they failed to leave, then they can call GPD, and we would trespass them. It’s not clear under the current regulation whether we could actually cite the business.”

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They then discussed modifying their current open container policy. Poe explained: “The commission has suspended enforcement of the open container policy in the public right-of-way while the emergency order is in effect. If the emergency order were to end, we would revert to our underlying ordinance, which prohibits open container on public right-of-way.” 

Commissioner Gigi Simmons has been advocating for reverting to the previous ordinance right away to help with crowds that are forming outdoors late into the night around bars in residential areas. 

Hayes-Santos said there are other options to deal with Simmons’ concern, such as allowing only certain bars to stay open past midnight. “If they’re good restaurants and bars not causing issues, they can even stay open until 2:00 or even 4:00…” He suggested permanently removing the open container ordinance: “I don’t think we should have laws on the books to criminalize homeless because they don’t have anywhere to drink a beer.”

Simmons said any laws that provide different closing times for different bars should be put through the Racial Equity Toolkit. She said she supported reinstating the open container ordinance because “in some of our neighborhoods and some of our communities, residents are being impacted.”

Commissioner Reina Saco asked whether the open container policy could be different in different neighborhoods, with open containers permitted in downtown and midtown only, for example. City Attorney Nicolle Shalley said that would be permitted. 

Poe said he doesn’t believe that the problems Simmons has been hearing about have anything to do with open container “because I think open container ordinances are just silly. The fact that something is legal when I stand in my yard and then illegal once I take it into the street is silly. I’m not doing anything different, worse or better, between the two things, but all of a sudden, I’m criminal… It’s other behaviors and outcomes that we need to address.” He said that if they only allow open container in certain areas of the city, “those are places of privilege. Those are places where people who have means can go and spend a bunch of money to entertain themselves. Folks without do that in their neighborhood… We need to get our Office of Equity and Inclusion to really help us understand how open container laws affect different parts of our community and how creating ‘it’s okay here but not okay there’ impacts equity, as well.”

Arreola moved that they ask City staff to “look at areas in the City that we could designate an open container area. Also, get with Teneeshia Marshall’s office, and while doing that research, talk with her and use the Equity Toolkit and see how that may or may not impact other areas and also to look at the ordinance from down south that Commissioner Hayes-Santos was speaking of, to bring that back to the commission about the permitting… maybe tailor it to this area.”

Hayes-Santos added “asking staff what we can do to break up problematic gatherings and also loud noise… what can we do to better enforce that.”

During a discussion about removing the barriers closing a lane on Main Street at the request of a business owner, Commissioner Harvey Ward said the barriers are “great, but we need to paint them. Seriously, they’re ugly.” Poe added that they should “put in some street furniture and planters, things like that to make them more attractive spaces.”

The motion was amended again to remove the specific barriers on Main Street, move them to the road in front of The Top, ask staff to come back with a possible micro-grant program to help businesses add picnic tables to the outdoor seating areas, and ask staff to come back with an analysis on ways to enforce mandates for face masks in businesses. 

The motion passed unanimously.

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  • These people are all idiots. There is a term used to describe them conducting their meetings. Resembles a “monkey f√€king a football.”
    Who decides a “good restaurant vs a bad restaurant?” Homelessness is not a criminal offense but the crimes the homeless commit are. Tweedle Dumb Santos should at least have an understanding of that.
    What is dead in city leadership is their brain cells. Arreola smoked and drank too much during his teenage years – statistics show that diminishes your logical thinking. Harvey “Two Face” was dropped on his head too many times as a child. Poe is well, just Poe, you can’t teach stupid.
    If they really want to make downtown more attractive, they would clean up the $h!t they bring to the city.

    • “Homelessness is not a criminal offense, but the crimes they commit are”…that was worth repeating.
      I believe in a clean city and I’m tired of picking up
      Other people’s discarded beer cans and dirty
      Face masks. Do you know what’s really hard to pick
      Up? A broken beer bottle. They want to make more
      Covid legislation? How about putting biohazard
      Cans at every bus stop and those dog poop bags
      So we can pick up the dirty germed-up face masks
      That are littering the city.,,.I see them…I know
      You city commissioners see them…that’s a better
      Idea than letting people drink booze openly around our city.
      Open container laws are good…drink your booze
      And smoke your weed at home, not on the public streets & sidewalks…discard your beer cans, bottles,
      And face masks properly you lazy filthy bums!!!

      • Hayes-Santos is quite the tyrant! Fine business’s? Then moronic discussions about open container and window dressing? Ruled by idiots!

  • How do they not see that getting rid of open container laws will lead to more “problematic gatherings”? Why don’t they ask the health dept what to do since no one on the commission has any education whatsoever on this matter.

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