Gainesville residents will still be able to possess and consume alcohol in public, after Gainesville City Commissioners voted 4-3 Thursday against reducing the hours when open-container possession and consumption of alcohol is permitted from 2:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Commissioners Harvey Ward, Reina Saco, Casey Willits and Bryan Eastman voted against the measure. Ed Book, Desmon Duncan-Walker and Cynthia Moore Chestnut were in the minority.
The City of Gainesville’s open-container ordinance was revoked by the City Commission back in 2021. The rule change, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed people to drink alcohol in public.
In May 2022 the City Commission voted 4-3 to repeal the open-container policy that allowed people to drink and carry alcoholic beverages in public. The decision did not go into effect at the time.
In July 2022, the City Commission met again to discuss the open-container law. The meeting resulted in commissioners doing further research on the best option before making a final decision.
The issue was revisited on Thursday. Public comment was mixed, but the majority of speakers were against keeping the open-container ordinance in its current form.
Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott said he supported the measure to limit public drinking hours. He said the timing helps police officers control drinking more effectively by curbing issues that may arise later in the night.
Scott said the biggest issue with public drinking is when large groups of people gather in parking garages to consume alcohol. Many of these people come from outside of Gainesville with alcohol and large speakers in their cars. Drinking in parking lots and garages is where the majority of incidents take place, according to Scott.
“You cannot control alcohol consumption outdoors; that’s why it’s always been illegal,” said Gainesville resident Debbie Martinez during public comment. Martinez said changing the hours of the ordinance would not ease the problem and wanted the commission to stop any allowance for public consumption of alcohol.
“Florida is becoming the wild west, with people walking in the streets with guns,” said Martinez. She said rising gun violence is another reason why the ordinance should be changed. She blames the combination of guns and alcohol for increased crime and violence in Gainesville.
Gainesville resident Adam Rosenthal expressed concerns about changing the open container ordinance. He said he does not want the well-intentioned actions of his friends in the downtown area to be criminalized.
Rosenthal said one benefit of changing the ordinance is reducing waste by reducing the number of to-go cups given out by bars and clubs. These cups are typically not able to be recycled and create extra waste.
“People can carry a concealed weapon, but I cannot carry a beer across the street,” said Commissioner Casey Willits. He said most people drink responsibly, and this motion would not allow for responsible drinking in public places. Keeping alcohol taboo is not healthy for the children of Gainesville and the greater community, according to Willits.
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker said she wanted the ordinance changed because of the violence she has seen in her district. She prefers that there be no alcohol on the streets at all. She thinks that Gainesville police are understaffed and that banning public drinking will help free up officers to respond to emergencies in the late night and early morning hours.
There was unanimous agreement to research zoning again to create specific areas that would continue to allow open-container possession and consumption of alcohol in the future. The next meeting on this topic is scheduled for next month.