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Gainesville City Commission revokes open container law adopted during pandemic

Carrie Parker-Warren voices her concerns about alcohol-related gun violence to the city commission. (Lily Kino/WUFT News)
Carrie Parker-Warren voices her concerns about alcohol-related gun violence to the city commission. (Lily Kino/WUFT News)

The Gainesville City Commission repealed the city’s open container laws Thursday, making it illegal to carry and drink alcohol in most public spaces starting Jan. 1.

The city will designate two areas as Arts, Culture and Entertainment Districts — Downtown/Depot Park and part of the Grove Street neighborhood — where consuming alcohol in public spaces will be allowed from 8 a.m. to midnight. The commission voted 4-3 to repeal the ordinance.

“This in no way impacts private property, private residents and private yards and the thousands of other locations where people are able to drink without any inhibition whatsoever,” Gainesville City Commissioner Ed Book said. “This affects our ability to impact public safety and drinking in essentially [the city’s] public ways.”

The city has allowed people to drink alcohol on public property, including sidewalks, since September 2020 in an effort to keep businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that is all about to change.

Beginning Jan. 1, anyone found with an open container in public may face civil and criminal charges, Gainesville Police Department Chief Lonnie Scott said.

“If the person is in possession of an open container, the typical response by an officer is to ask the person to pour it out or dispose of it,” Scott said. “But if they become more aggressive and refuse to sign the citation, then the officer could escalate to the point where they make an arrest.”

Scott acknowledged the rarity of imposing criminal charges, saying that most people comply with the request to dispose of their drink.

The decision to return to a ban on open containers comes after over two years of legal back-and-forth between the city commission. In August 2021, the city commission voted to make the open-container law a permanent law instead of a temporary measure.

But in May 2022, after hearing from GPD about public fighting and drinking getting out of hand, the city commission met again to talk about reversing the ordinance. The Gainesville City Commission has been in discussion ever since.

This decision to ban open containers once again addresses the concern of some Gainesville residents about alcohol leading to increased gun violence.

“The people that drink too much can now carry guns without permits, from what I can understand,” Carrie Parker-Warren, an Azalea Trails resident, said during public comment. She was referring to a recent bill passed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis allowing Floridians to carry a gun without a permit.

“At one time, you could bump into somebody on the street that had had too much to drink, and you say, ‘excuse me’ and they would tip their hat to you,” she added. “But now, it’s almost like the ‘Wild Wild West.’”

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward, who provided the swing vote for Thursday’s law, said he is also concerned with the city’s safety. At a city commission meeting on Sept. 14, Ward said that the city is advertised as a “tourist destination where there ain’t no laws.”

But City Commissioner Casey Willits, who was one of the three who voted against the measure, said there has been very little data tying alcohol to gun deaths.

“I want to make sure to remind people that youth drinking has been in the decline in the past couple years, yet we have seen a nationwide increase in violence,” Willits said. “So making these connections are, I think, not scientific. I don’t think they’re accurate to draw them.

“This idea that this is some youth party culture out of hand, that’s not what we see across the United States; that’s not what we see here,” he continued.

City Commissioner Reina Saco agreed with Willits and requested that GPD work on attaining data on gun violence in the city and suggested the use of mobile breathalyzer tests to do so.

Despite the lack of evidence connecting Gainesville’s open-container law to increased gun violence in the city, Commissioner Ed Book held his stance that repealing the current law would lead to a safer community.

“I think it is a public safety ordinance," Book said. "I think there is nexus to both public safety, having a vibrant city and a welcoming city. I don't think that being able to drink anywhere, anytime, 24/7 in public places makes us a city that's more welcoming and vibrant, and certainly not safer.”

The proposed entertainment district includes downtown and the Depot Park area.

City Commissioner Bryan Eastman, who made the motion to create entertainment districts where open containers are allowed during limited hours and voted no on Thursday’s open-container law, believes this compromise will do more than just provide a space for people to drink publicly.

“I would like for us to really think about how we use these both not just as places where people can drink but how do we enhance the sense of place that is there and make people know that when they’re coming here, these are places within Gainesville that you want to come, you want to see and that it adds to the overall vibrancy of the city,” he said.

Lily is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing