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Miami Beach restricts alcohol sales but rejects a curfew amid spring break violence

The City Commission held a divided debate over how to handle next weekend after two fatal shootings.
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Miami Beach, Florida, officials rejected a proposal to impose a curfew for next weekend in favor of alcohol sale restrictions, in a "better than nothing" attempt to curb spring break chaos after two fatal shootings in recent days.

The City Commission held a heated debate Monday on how to handle the last weekend of the month, with some arguing a curfew was an important measure to keep violence off the streets while others noted it would punish businesses.

A midnight curfew for the upcoming weekend would likely impact the Ultra Music Festival, an electronic dance music event that brings thousands to the area. The last sets begin at 11 p.m. each night of the three-day event.

Crowds gather at Ocean Drive and 8th Street during spring break in Miami Beach, Florida, on Saturday, March 18, 2023.
Crowds gather at Ocean Drive and 8th Street in Miami Beach, Fla., during spring break Saturday.D.A. Varela / Miami Herald/TNS via Getty Images

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said the emergency measures are being applied too late in the month, after the majority of crowds have departed.

She voted against a curfew, noting that it was unfairly impacting a weekend when few, if any, issues arise.

“I also know we’re taking a shot by not placing the curfew because God forbid something does happen. ... This is a very difficult situation,” Gonzalez said. “But you know, Ultra weekend is not a problem. The problem is weekend three.”

Alcohol sales restriction

A compromise amendment was approved in a 6-1 vote, giving the city manager state of emergency powers, but only to impose a restriction on alcohol sales at local liquor stores starting at 6 p.m.

Some commissioners voted in favor of the measure but said it was only a "better than nothing" approach to the issue at hand.

"This is like acknowledging we have a problem, but we don’t want to take bold action because we don’t want to piss off important businesses in our city," Commissioner Alex Fernandez said.

Ricky Arriola, who cast the commission's sole vote against the measure, described the decision as "rearranging the chairs on the Titanic." He noted people will get liquor no matter what.

"One, it's not going to make a difference. ... Let's be real, if it's not going to make a difference don't punish the businesses that are going to be affected by this and their employees," Arriola said.

A recurring concern

This marks the third year in a row Miami Beach has resorted to emergency actions over dangerous crowds during the spring break season.

In March 2021, unruly spring break crowds were blamed for brawls that had to be broken up by police and prompted the first state of emergency. Around the same weekend last March, Miami Beach implemented its second state of emergency after five bystanders were hospitalized in two random shootings.

City officials have struggled to deal with the influx of crowds over the last few years.

Miami Beach City Manager Alina Hudak told the commission it's "heartbreaking" to once again recommend a curfew after months of planning to create programming for tourists, including concerts and athletic tournaments.

"It is clear that the crowds that came here this weekend were intent on causing chaos," Hudak said Monday, distinguishing between "legitimate" spring breakers and people breaking the law.

A shooting on Friday near 7th Street and Ocean Drive left one person dead and another in critical condition, police said. Another person was killed early Sunday morning in an unrelated shooting at 11th Street and Ocean Drive.

Vice Mayor Steven Meiner noted during the commission meeting that the upcoming weekend was the second busiest of the spring break season. He also said with the influx of crowds comes an influx of guns that can put lives at stake.

"It's unfortunate because ... most people come here and are lawfully abiding by the rules and having a good time," Meiner said. "There's no question about it. But we have a situation where we cannot control the violence on our streets."

Gelber spoke in favor of curfew at Monday's commission meeting, and stated it was clear an "enormous presence of police" in the area this year did nothing to deter criminal behavior.

"As much as I like our hospitality industry, we can’t balance that interest when we’ve had two people killed over the last weekend in as many days, and our police are telling us in no uncertain terms that it is a continued dangerous situation," Gelber said.

Ultimately, Gelber supported the alcohol restrictions over doing nothing, but said he believed the commission was "making a big mistake."

Commissioners also debated the legal and practical aspects of imposing metal detectors around the city in the future.

Gelber and the city attorney said the fact that crime surge has turned into a recurring pattern — over the same time period and geographic area — may make it legally possible to implement restrictions before the crowds descend in spring next year.