Mayor Dan Gelber said he will convene a special session of the Miami Beach Commission following the murder this week of 21-year old Dustin Wakefield, a tourist from Colorado dining at a sidewalk café on Ocean Drive with his wife and one-year-old son. In a video address, Gelber further pushed his proposal to overhaul the City’s Entertainment District (MXE). “I appreciate that I am the Mayor of a hospitality town. But I won’t pretend that all is just fine in South Beach. We have a problem in what is known as our entertainment district… and unless we recognize it, there can be no will or path to properly address it."
Gelber has spent more than a year working to create an Art Deco Cultural District in the area generally bounded by 5th and 15th Streets and Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive with some success. Though he was unable to gain the number of votes that a judge said was needed to impose the 2 am alcohol cutoff he wants as part of his 12 Point Plan to overhaul the area, Commissioners did agree to put the rollback on the November ballot for voters to weigh in. But the shooting which took place at dinner time on a Tuesday evening by a man visiting from Georgia who told police he was high on mushrooms has shaken the community.
Gelber continues to focus on the visitors the City attracts. “We are selling ourselves short as South Beach given its location, architecture, culture and climate can be many other things,” Gelber reiterated. “As I’ve said before, we need to replace the entertainment district with a mixed-use area that includes more residential living, boutique offices, shopping and galleries, and foster a true live-work-play environment. Not just with a 2 am alcohol rollback, but with zoning changes and incentives for adaptive reuse that will crowd out the shoddy short-term rental hotels and hard-party crowd that attracts the chaos we should not have to endure. If we are not willing to change and make tough decisions, no matter who it upsets, we should not expect change.”
The Mayor emphasized, “[R]eimagining this area is a long-term endeavor, not a short-term fix, and we do need more action now, especially with so many police out with COVID. I’ve asked our City Manager and Chief of Police to present a plan to the Commission that, despite the challenges associated with staffing during COVID, will look to increase police visibility while we are in the multi-month process of hiring the dozens of new police recruits that are in the pipeline. But I am also asking them to give our Commission a report laying out a permanent staffing plan that addresses what resources we need to handle the present challenges. Specifically, how we can guarantee a greater police presence in this troubled area but also throughout our City.”
He noted that “A few Commissioners have requested a special meeting on this and related topics which I intend to convene.”
Among those asking for a special meeting is Commissioner Steven Meiner who posted on social media he wants “to discuss law and order and to get our City under control. I don’t want just talk. I want our City Manager and Police Department to come up with real plans for us as a Commission to vote and take immediate action! I have been publicly and privately advocating to use all available resources, our Police, County and State Police, federal law enforcement, code enforcement to enforce every law, from illegal drug use, illegal firearms, short term rentals, open beer containers, everything! Zero tolerance enforcement with no exceptions works. We need action now!”
Commissioner Michael Góngora also signaled his desire for a special meeting. In addition to “crime & policing on Ocean Drive and the surrounding areas,” Góngora wrote on social media that he wants to revisit the closure of Ocean Drive. The street has been closed since last summer when restaurants were allowed to reopen. To accommodate social distancing and outdoor dining requirements, the City gave sidewalk cafés the ability to expand into the street. Opponents of keeping Ocean Drive closed argue the closure has created a street party atmosphere with crowds that are difficult to police. An attempt to reverse the closure is part of a legal action by the Clevelander against the City that is still working its way through the Courts. While Judge Beatrice Butchko granted a temporary injunction against the 2 am alcohol rollback as requested by the Clevelander, she ruled Ocean Drive could remain closed during the injunction hearing.
Miami Beach Fraternal Order of Police President Paul Ozaeta provided comments on the view of the rank and file officers in a text message. "The consensus among us is that Ocean Drive needs to be opened. Keeping it closed encourages large groups to form, which in turn leads to problems with crowds. It's also harder for us to respond there with only 3 points accessible to most vehicles."
The special Commission meeting is expected to take place next week though a date has not yet been announced.
Vigil for Dustin WakefieldOcean Drive resident Irene Bigger who lives one block from where Wakefield was killed is organizing a community vigil to remember him. The vigil begins "promptly at 6 pm" in Lummus Park at Ocean Drive and 14th Street on Tuesday, August 31. Wakefield was shot while dining at La Cerveceria, a restaurant in the 1400 block of Ocean Drive.
Bigger has supported Gelber's efforts to overhaul Ocean Drive but in an email to the Mayor and Commissioners posted on social media, it's clear her patience has run out. A video of a "disturbed" man on the beachwalk and "multiple pictures of people sleeping on pathways and structures on OD" accompanied the email which began "This is what I see pretty much every morning on my walks, going to the store or grabbing a coffee. Is this a world class destination in your eyes? Of course NOT," she wrote.
"Another innocent person DIED yesterday. Why would ANYONE come back here?
"People have other options and they are not going to come," Bigger's email continued. "Certainly not when our City cannot protect them (not to mention its residents and employees), from the criminals and unstable people that lurk here every day."
"I ask you again to leave your political correctness at the door, and do something about this mess." Bigger suggests giving police "the authority to get these people off our streets," enforcing no trespassing and no loitering laws, utilizing the Homeless Outreach Unit "to take these unhealthy, unstable, people to a facility where they belong," enforcing uniformity with regard to sidewalk cafés "... heck, bring the tables back inside and make sure they provide their own security," she wrote.
Bigger also wants the City "to start working on getting rid of these awful (liquor/vape) stores that add to the cheap and sleazy experience here."
"It all matters. It all adds up. What are we waiting for?" Bigger asked. "An innocent life paid the ultimate price for dragging our feet."
Updated to include date of community vigil