New Blue Ribbon Panel for Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

New Blue Ribbon Panel for Ocean Drive:

"fresh start" for solving problems

Newly elected Mayor Dan Gelber will appoint a Blue Ribbon Panel to come up with solutions for numerous issues impacting Ocean Drive, the second such initiative in the past three years.
 
In November, Miami Beach voters rejected a ballot initiative to rollback closing time at outdoor cafes on Ocean Drive from 5 to 2 am. Gelber told Commissioners and the audience at his first Commission meeting this week, “I don’t want Ocean Drive to feel that we’ve forgotten about the issues that exist there and I certainly don’t want members of the public to think that we’re overlooking that.”
 
Addressing three items for discussion that had been placed on the agenda by various Commissioners, he asked what the best forum for those discussions would be – via the Committee process or perhaps a Commission workshop. “I think it’s important for us to have a discussion as a body, whether it be here or at a committee level, as to what we can implement to improve the quality of the crowd on Ocean Drive, the walkway, make it safer, work with the police, work with the Ocean Drive Association and our businesses.”
 
Commissioner John Alemán said, “I think we have an opportunity here now to do things a little bit differently and have a fresh start.” She noted, “This Ocean Drive conversation has been going on for a long time” referring to the Ocean Drive Task Force appointed by former Mayor Philip Levine in May of 2015 which presented a list of 29 recommendations in June of last year. Those recommendations were then consolidated into a Ten Point Plan authored by Commissioner Ricky Arriola and presented in September of last year. Those initiatives got off track when Levine proposed a ballot initiative to close the sidewalk cafes early to rid Ocean drive of the “cancer” of crime.
 
“What I’d like to see is not necessarily starting with a Commission workshop where we make a bunch of decisions and impose it on them,” Alemán said. “I would like to start fresh in a more collaborative spirit. Let’s participate in a process with the business community … We have common goals. We all want visitors to come here from around the world who spend as much money as possible, right? And have the best time and come back. And we want them to be safe while they’re doing it and we want our residents to be able to enjoy living nearby, visiting as well ... In the past we haven’t necessarily agreed on how to get there. I’d like to personally see us work on that in more of a collaborative setting versus a Commission workshop where we talk about it and decide their fate without their input.”
 
Arriola said through the Ocean Drive Task Force and his Ten Point Plan process a number of good ideas were generated. “This Commission started to implement legislative language last year, then we sort of got sidetracked [by the ballot initiative]. I agree with Commissioner Alemán for a fresh start and let’s let bygones be bygones.”
 
He agreed with the sentiment that, despite the vote, the problems that exist need to be addressed.  “I think all of us unanimously are a little bit frustrated with what’s happened and happening on Ocean Drive and we all want a better and brighter future and that includes the folks on Ocean Drive so I’m prepared to do whatever it takes and be as aggressive as possible to move quickly and put some action behind our words.”
 
Alemán emphasized one of the immediate issues of concern to Commissioners as well as the “good operators” on Ocean Drive “is the price gouging and the bait and switch that is going on which is so, so damaging to our brand” referring to numerous complaints on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and social media about a few restaurants charging egregious prices not disclosed to customers for “specials”. She said she wanted the City Manager to be able to address the issue “as aggressively as possible” adding, “Personally, I’d like to see us revoke some sidewalk café permits and revoke some BTRs when that’s going on and I doubt that I’m alone up here.” BTRs are licenses for operating a business.
 
City Manager Jimmy Morales said Staff is working on recommendations to address the issue. “Ultimately, the biggest leverage we have is our sidewalk café permits because so many of these restaurants, that’s where they make their money.” Morales said ideas being kicked around include a hotline people could call to make complaints about price gouging in real time rather than City staff reading about incidents “on Facebook three days later”.
 
Additionally, Morales said the administration is working on legislative changes that would give them “a lot more authority over the sidewalk cafes". Referring to the online reviews of a few restaurants, he said, “It’s horrific what you read … I think we’re all embarrassed by it.”
 
He noted, “The state ties our hands on price regulation … we can’t control prices on their premises but we can control what happens in our sidewalk cafes because that permit is a privilege, it is not a right.”
 
With regard to the other issues, Gelber said he would appoint a Blue Ribbon Panel “in the next couple of days”. The goal for the Panel, he said, is “to give us some usable ideas that are not from ten years ago or three years but for the future and I’d like it to be incredibly collaborative because I think a lot of people want to address this.”
 
Photo: Shutterstock
 

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