Last month as we were rushing to print the Iguana after hearing that we were about to be hit by a huge storm, the City Commission chamber was full of citizens generating a storm of their own. The occasion was the presentation of a report from the special committee established earlier in the summer to examine the problems occurring downtown in and around late-night clubs and bars. In case you are still wondering, this issue was better known as the Rave! Issue. Somehow the whole issue of excessive drinking, underage drinking, drug use, and litter problems became a rave problem. The committee formed to offer suggestions to the commission even became known as the Rave! Committee.
By now it's old news that the City Commissioners voted 3-2 that night to establish a 4am closing time for bars and clubs. Without reciting the list of obvious reasons for the crillionth time, it's nevertheless interesting to look at some of the discussion and information provided that led to this vote.
The Commission had expected a report from the committee at its August 23 meeting, but at that meeting, GPD interim Chief Johnston asked for more time. A surprise guest at that meeting was none other than Florida's own Drug McCzar, Jim McDonough (officially the head of the Florida Office of Drug Control Policy), who just happened to be in Gainesville at the time. McDonough said, "I mean to bring you a perspective," and began by discussing what he called 'rave! clubs'. "When you mention rave! clubs, you are talking about drugs," he warned. Although he admitted there had been no documented cases of deaths on the premises of these clubs, he asserted that there were strong suspicions that some deaths in other cities were a result of drugs consumed at rave clubs. He told commissioners that there were young people-14 years old and even younger-at these clubs, and that "we are putting those young people at risk."
When Commissioner John Barrow asked about what was being done in other cities, McDonough told the story of a young man found dead in the restroom at a McDonalds in Orlando (you know, our national Drug Czar is named McCaffrey-is there something going on here?). McDonough said that it was "strongly suspected" that the man had been brought there from a rave! club. He also quoted an undercover cop from Jacksonville who said that the worst neighborhoods in the city are better places than rave! clubs are. (It was reported in local mainstream media that McDonough made that statement, but he actually just quoted someone else.)
School Board member Judy Brashear spoke that night too, and asked the Commission to remove "the opportunities for mischief" by young people at "whatever these places are that I have just learned about" because these young people should be studying. "Just learned about?" Here's another place Brashear may not have learned about yet: it's a place where people of all ages meet at all hours of the day and night. There's loud music, wide-screen television, video games, plenty of alcohol, and plenty of dope smoking going on. There are more than several of these places in Gainesville. What in the world could they be? Try half the living rooms in town!!! Let's close them down!!! Brashear went on to say that there was nothing happening after midnight that people under 21 need to do. She found a friend in Commissioner Ed Jennings with that statement.
Chief Johnston got the time extension he wanted and when he showed up again at the September 13 meeting he presented commissioners with a stack of reports, many of which were provided as transparencies for the audience to see as well. There were graphs showing how the number of police calls increased substantially during the period from 2:00 am to 4:00 am and graphs showing that the number of medical emergencies also increased during the same time period. But there was no evidence to show that those increases could be attributed to clubs staying open later than 2:00 am, in fact, those increases could very well be a result of the CLOSING of the majority of clubs at 2 o'clock. Some of the committee's recommendations for dealing with this horrible out-of-control situation were:
1. Juvenile curfews.
2. "Youth protection zones." These are certain areas in which a curfew is enforced for people under a certain age.
3. Random ID checks at bars and clubs.
4. Prohibiting promotion of Rave! events.
5. Prohibiting the rental of other venues for parties.
The chamber was full and there were a substantial number of people outside watching the proceedings on closed circuit. When the discussion began, the clerk had received 42 comment cards from people requesting to speak. Representatives of Student Governments at both the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College spoke first, and presented the Commissioners with petitions signed by over 10,000 people opposed to early closing times.
Rochelle Rojas then addressed the Commission, using her 3 minutes to speak about freedom. "Freedom. It isn't lost all at once-it happens in pieces, just like this," she said. The large majority of speakers agreed with the position that clubs should be able to stay open as late as they see fit, but seemed amenable to a compromise closing time of 4:00. Adam Lee suggested that the city adopt all the recommendations except for the closing time, and revisit the issue if there was still a problem. That was probably the most reasonable idea of all; in fact, during the subsequent discussion by the commission, Commissioner Pegeen Hanrahan mused that if the many other suggestions brought forth by the committee were adopted, the issue of closing time would be moot.
Commissioners Hanrahan, Bruce Delaney, and John Barrow cut through all the rave! hysteria and voted to receive the committee's recommendations except for the suggested closing time, opting instead for 4:00. The City Attorney will draft an ordinance and bring it back to the commission for a first reading on October 11 and a second on November 8. This issue is not over yet, in fact, large ads have recently appeared in the Gainesville Sun lately urging those against later closing times to contact Commissioners Hanrahan, Delaney, and Barrow to let them know (the ad even published their home telephone numbers). The campaign of misinformation is in full swing, as evidenced by the following statement in the ad: "Another more recent vote on this issue on September 13, 1999, passed 3 to 2 and essentially maintains the Status Quo..." This implies that the commission took no action on this item. The misinformation began early on with misleading statements by Florida's Drug McCzar ("Florida's usage rate is 25% higher than the usage rate of the nation"), factual errors and omissions in the data provided by the special committee, and assertions by law enforcement that crime reductions in other cities were directly attributable to their earlier closing hours.
Whether you are in support of earlier closings or whether you think it's none of the city's concern, contact the City Commissioners and let them know your opinion on the issue (don't call them at home):
Paula M. DeLaney, Mayor
Bruce Delaney, Mayor Pro-tem
City Commissioner at-large
John Barrow, District 2.
Pegeen Hanrahan, District 3.
Ed Jennings, District 1.
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