City punts on new open container law

As the clock approached midnight on Thursday, the Gainesville City Commission delayed its final vote to lift the open container ordinance until its August 19 meeting.

The commission voted unanimously with Commissioner Gail Johnson absent.

The delay came after the commission approved an amendment, prepared by Commissioner Harvey Ward, that would not allow open containers of alcohol from 2:30 a.m. until 7 a.m.

Ward acknowledged concerns that community members and other commissioners had about repealing the ordinance and said that he had spoken at length with community members and law enforcement about the matter.

“If it’s not okay to buy alcohol, you shouldn’t be able to walk around with an open container of alcohol,” Ward said. “Frankly, that’s when the problem is; that’s what the problem is; so let’s address the problem. . . .”

The original amendment Ward presented listed 2 a.m. as the start time, but Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos proposed moving the time forward so that no conflicts arise from people leaving bars right at 2 a.m. with open containers.

The commission lifted the ordinance on a temporary basis last year in order to help restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the city may permanently repeal it.

A split commission voted 4-3 to advance the ordinance changes during the July 19 meeting, with Commissioners Gail Johnson, David Arreola and Desmon Duncan-Walker in opposition.

Duncan-Walker worried that repealing the ordinance would increase already rising violent crime.

“In the wake of the increase in gun violence, especially throughout District 1, and understanding how alcohol can exacerbate that problem and that issue,” she said at the July 19 meeting. “I can’t put my stamp of support on something that statistics show will exacerbate violent behaviors.”

At last night’s meeting, Hayes-Santos said the ACLU and National Homeless Center supported the repeal because of its disproportionate impact on the homeless population, a topic discussed at length during the July 19 meeting.

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