Miami Beach City Manager, Police Chief Recommend Against Spring Break Programming

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach City Manager, Police Chief Recommend Against Spring Break Programming:

Proposed month-long beach activations send wrong message, they say

Updated to reflect Commission action

A proposal to program Spring Break in an effort to tame the party will send the wrong message as the City continues to struggle with the pandemic and its image, according to Miami Beach Interim City Manager Raul Aguila and Police Chief Rick Clements. Commissioners have been mulling a $1.1M initiative dubbed A Marvelous March in Miami Beach with dance parties and concerts, and culinary, sustainability, and wellness activities on the beach between 7th and 11th Streets, the area where the heaviest Spring Break crowds gather. Aguila is recommending deferring any programming until next year and focusing on enforcement of COVID emergency orders and City laws with regard to public safety.

“The goal was to change the narrative of ‘Spring Break’ in Miami Beach,” Aguila wrote in a memo to Commissioners. But, with a pandemic and an unpredictable number of people coming here, he asked, “[I]s this the year that we want to roll out our first ever Spring Break pilot program?”

Using New Year’s Eve as an example, when programming and the number of events were considerably scaled back and with the County curfew in effect, Aguila wrote, “[T]he New Year’s Eve weekend still generated a considerable amount of activity and crowds. It was one weekend but, as demonstrated by the Code Compliance and the Police Department’s incident reports… our Police and Code officers were extremely active and busy.” [Emphasis in memo.]

“Having considered such factors, my recommendation would be not to proceed” this year, Aguila wrote. [Emphasis his.]

Clements, while noting the Police Department “will wholeheartedly support any course deemed needed and appropriate by the Administration and Commission for the Spring Break period this year,” raised concerns about the programming plan in a memo to Aguila.

“As a City, we have taken and enforced extreme measures including fines, social distancing regulations and a very strict curfew, intended to curb and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Clements wrote. “The message that we are activating or programming while still in the midst of a pandemic sends a message to the contrary. We need look no further than this past New Year’s weekend and the increase in the number of visitors that we encountered. The general consensus was that Miami Beach was open for business, and we now must be prepared to take a stance and be consistent with future decisions.”

“Additionally, we have been taking serious measures to challenge the image of Miami Beach as an ‘anything goes’ party atmosphere to include, among others, the saturation and crackdown by the Department within the newly created ADCD [Art Deco Cultural District]. Stricter noise ordinances and our Emergency Order have resulted in the closure of prominent establishments throughout the City,” Clements wrote. “City messaging makes it clear that unruly and disrespectful behavior is not to be tolerated. With that, what direction does the City want to go? Is planning for a college ‘Spring Break’ going to be the norm or is the City moving away from the Spring Break environment?” Mayor Dan Gelber has proposed the City replace its South Beach Entertainment District (MXE) with an Art Deco Cultural District that places less emphasis on entertainment and a greater focus on arts and culture.

MBPD intelligence “clearly shows a watered-down but extended Spring Break period from mid-February through May, and potentially beyond,” he noted. Though the number of schools on break during the peak from March 7 through 21 is less than usual – 137 this year – an extended break from end of February through end of April, would keep officers in “a taxing Alpha/Bravo schedule configuration, which simply cannot be sustained over a seven week+ period, and which would be exacerbated by additional crowds.” Alpha Bravo staffing is an "all hands on deck" schedule with officers working 12-14 hour days for 6 straight days.

“A strong response by the City with regards to our rebranding, and more importantly to health and safety measures, would come into direct conflict with traditional Spring Break activities through the provision of public celebratory and vacation-like venues – albeit carefully thought-out ones,” he said of the proposed programming. “We would be sending out mixed messaging worldwide that the City of Miami Beach is open for business during a pandemic, not to mention over a period of time where we are beginning to implement a self-declared change towards a more refined cultural and artistic atmosphere.”

Clements concluded, “It should be noted that security measures are likely to still be in place over the coming months and that the Police Department will continue to enforce curfews and lawfulness, especially within the ADCD. Policing, as you are well-aware, is not known for being attractive and there is an ugly side to our enforcement efforts. If Spring Break periods are known for being uncomfortable ones,” he wrote, “this season, with the additional reinforcements in place and new health and safety laws to enforce, could be especially difficult to all those visiting and the public at large.”

In a separate memo, Thomas Curitore, Code Compliance Assistant Director, said there will be enhanced staffing citywide during March and April with additional resources in the Art Deco Cultural District. There will also be staff assigned to investigating short-term rental violations. While his department “would welcome additional programming during normal conditions,” he said, given the pandemic, it would be very challenging to control activations to maintain social distancing and enforce curfew and noise ordinances. Curitore also noted he expected Code Compliance officers to be busy with anticipated increases in noise-related incidents and the likelihood that illegal short term rentals will increase leading to house parties in residential neighborhoods.

In addition to the enforcement issues, Aguila noted the costs of programming Spring Break were not budgeted and would either have to come out of the City’s reserves or be funded through sponsorships which, to date, have not been identified.

He did raise the possibility of piloting a program next year and complimented Tom Bercu Productions for the options presented to the City which had asked for programming ideas after a series of challenging Spring Breaks. “However, I think the appropriate time to roll out this pilot would be Spring Break 2022,” Aguila wrote. “Not only would staff and Tom Bercu have had the benefit of observing an unprogrammed Spring Break 2021, but it would also give us ample lead time to allow for optimum input in development of a program for next year, one which I hope would be embraced by residents and businesses alike.”

As for this year, Aguila said, if the Commission agrees with his recommendation to defer the programming, he will ask the various City departments “to determine the appropriate additional resources (and necessary funding) which would be required in order to allow us to maintain an orderly and lawful Spring Break 2022 (particularly in the Art Deco Cultural District and SOFNA neighborhood beachfronts, where most of the activity occurs). We must also factor in additional resources to enforce our COVID-19 Emergency Orders including, but not limited to, the enforcement of mask wearing, social distancing, curfew, and other COVID-19 protocols. Since funding for these enhanced enforcement efforts needs to be identified, I think our resources might be better served by allotting additional funding toward enforcement rather than programming.”

The memos and programming proposal can be found here.

UPDATE (January 13, 2021): Commissioners agreed with Aguila and Clements that now is not the time to pilot a Spring Break activation program given the ongoing pandemic. Commissioners, instead, want to review reports on how this year’s break goes and decide how to handle 2022. 
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