The new year is not just resolutions and goals, it’s a time for new laws to be enforced. The City of Gainesville is not any different. Starting Jan. 1 the Gainesville “open container” ordinances are in full effect.
These laws prohibit open containers of alcohol on public property. This would include midtown and its surrounding area, as well as many tailgates. The laws exclude specific areas called the “Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Districts” from these ordinances. These special districts are meant to help preserve the areas’ integrity and nature.
Open container laws can be detrimental to Gainesville in four key ways.
These laws can negatively impact communities and residents. There has been a sharp decrease in local businesses ever since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just this past year several local businesses closed due to expenses and a lack of support from residents. Open container laws add another hurdle for existing businesses and areas attempting to grow.
The areas that are not included in the ACE districts will have an economic disadvantage because they will not have the opportunity to become like these districts. The mere fact that the City of Gainesville has produced these ACE districts showcases that open container laws can be harmful to local businesses. Because if they weren't, they would have no need to make the district at all.
These laws are typically used by law enforcement to persecute minorities or the homeless. A majority of the citations that are drawn up are given to minority populations.
For example, Gainesville’s previous mayor, Lauren Poe, said 53 of 97 citations given were to African Americans. This shows these laws can be enforced more strictly upon certain populations. One study showed that more Black and Latino citizens are arrested for public drinking at steeper rates than white citizens are. In the past, it used to be criminal to be drunk in public, which would disproportionately affect homeless populations, but these laws slowly morphed into the public drinking laws we have now. In Gainesville, people can be given a civil or criminal infraction as a result of an arrest for violating one of these ordinances.
These citations for an open beverage on the side of the street are nonsensical. There are already public intoxication laws in place to go after those who indulge too much in their alcohol. Open container laws create unnecessary restrictions that many may be unaware of.
Open container ordinances with special districts are complicated. While the ACE districts are a step in the right direction, they are very limited. There are only two ACE districts in the entire region of Gainesville, one being the main downtown area (including Depot Park) and the other is located on Grove Street near some local businesses. The Grove Street ordinance is a tight area that skirts certain blocks. This is also a characteristic of the downtown district, although the boundaries are more conventional. Further, these districts do not encompass everything the map shows them to have. For example, these districts' parking lots and garages do not count as a part of the district, causing confusion and citations for simple mistakes.
These new open container ordinances will create more difficulty in a city where local businesses are struggling. The good news, however, is that these ACE districts allow for some flexibility among Gainesville residents rather than laws that just put up more red tape.
Cayman Forbes is a political science and international studies major.