Gainesville is one step closer to permanently allowing the consumption of alcohol in public.
Open container laws were originally lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic to avoid large crowds in restaurants and bars. Gainesville’s city commission voted 4-3 Monday night to keep the change in place, but a second vote will be required to make it permanent.Commissioner David Arreola, Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker and Commissioner Gail Johnson opposed the amendment.
The commission also approved a review of the city’s rules allowing for hookah bars to be open past 2 a.m. Additionally, the ordinance would explore how the city could potentially begin enforcing noise complaints more often. The vote to maintain the open container laws as they currently are followed an hour-long debate about how they could influence the prevalence of gun violence, which is rising in Gainesville.
“Given the fact that we’re not winning this battle with gun violence, I can’t put my stamp of support on something that statistics show will exacerbate violent behaviors,” Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said.
An Epidemiological Reviews study recommended viewing alcohol as a risk factor that can contribute to gun violence.
Duncan-Walker cited a shooting that injured two people just 30 minutes before she spoke at the meeting. Another shooting happened Sunday night killing one person and injuring four others. Both shootings occured in Duncan-Walker’s district in East Gainesville.
Commissioner Saco said she agreed that while alcohol can exacerbate violence, it does not cause violence.
“I think the issue we have is a gun control and gun safety issue, not so much an alcohol issue,” Saco said.
She also said the lack of restrictions on where you can drink doesn’t affect the amount of drunkenness in the streets. Gainesville has bars where people can drink then go out into the streets anyway, she said.
“If you are going to drink to excess, you are going to drink to excess regardless of where you’re doing it,” Saco said. “It is not a matter of where you drink, it is a matter of how much you’re going to drink and that choice you’re going to make.”
Saco also said open container laws punish homeless people who don’t have a private place to have a drink.
Mayor Lauren Poe agreed the open container laws were created to harass poor people.
”They don’t have a private place that they can go enjoy a beverage,” Poe said. “Wherever they do it, they are breaking the law.”
Poe also mentioned that alcohol in private settings can intensify domestic and sexual violence, whereas public settings may discourage violence.
“I am equally outraged against the increase in domestic abuse and sexual violence that we’ve especially seen over the last 18 months,” he said.
Policing whether someone can have a beer on the sidewalk is not the way to solve problems like gun violence, Poe said.
Most public commentators spoke against permanently allowing open containers on the streets.
One commentator took a shot at Poe, suggesting he provide his home address so parents of kids who drunkenly fall off scooters and get injured can go to his house to ask why he voted to keep the open container ordinance as it is.
Poe said the commentator crossed a line, and prefers leaving his family and their home out of the conversation.
One resident, who lives three blocks from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, is concerned about the large crowds of people drinking in her neighborhood that would come with football weekends.
“They are now allowing open containers, and I just can't imagine what that's gonna be like, because it was bad enough when they weren’t allowed,” Jane Brockmann, a retired UF professor, said. “There'd be so many drunk people.”
Brockmann understands why open container laws would be lifted in areas like downtown, but she said she does not understand why they aren’t preserved in neighborhoods like hers.
“I think it's just totally nuts,” she said.
Alex is a fourth-year journalism student at UF and is in his third semester at The Alligator where he is serving as the university editor. He previously reported on university administration and the city and county commission. In his free time, he enjoys video games, traveling and being outdoors.