Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 21, 2019 – 3:00 p.m.
During her report at the end of the June 18, 2019 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) Regular Meeting, City Attorney Tammi Bach informed Commissioners that Vice Mayor Len Kreger had asked her to draft an ordinance for consideration at the July 16 FBCC meeting to eliminate on-beach parking at Seaside Park (Sadler Road). Bach reminded commissioners that the current ordinance states that the city must conduct a study to reduce parking in that area. Bach asked for direction from the FBCC as a whole before proceeding to work on this item.
Commissioner Chip Ross asked Kreger if Police and Ocean Rescue had been consulted on this proposal. Kreger replied that Ocean Rescue strongly favored the move, but the Police had expressed concern over where the displaced vehicles would park. “My motivation.” Kreger said, “is that somebody is going to get killed. We haven’t gotten anyone killed yet, but we did get some people run over. There are other issues involving state law, and I think it’s time to do it.”
Kreger went on to state that parking should not be a consideration because “there is plenty of parking at American Beach and Burney Park.”
He stressed his concerns about public safety and ADA access to the beach at Seaside Park.
He said, “I’m all for adding it to the agenda and biting the bullet.” He said that he has been getting a lot of public support to support an ordinance that would eliminate parking at Seaside Park.
Ross said, “I can’t support this until we do the study. … I hear what you are saying; I would never take a car on the beach. But many people in the community disagree vehemently. We are talking about 600 feet of beach out of 7 miles of beach.”
Ross quoted Police Chief Jim Hurley as stating that the current system to monitor the situation at Seaside Park is working, although not 100 percent. Hurley feared many unanticipated consequences from eliminating beach parking. But prime among Ross’ objections was the absence of the study as mandated by the ordinance.
Kreger said he was fine with a study. But he brought concerns over the legality of parking on a beach that has been renourished with public funds. But he agreed that these concerns would be addressed in the study.
Bach asked if the matter could be placed on a future agenda as a discussion item, to talk about parameters of a study prior to moving forward with an ordinance.
Commissioners agreed to direct the City Manager to bring forth a proposed study for discussion at their August 2, 2019 Regular Meeting.
Commissioner Mike Lednovich said he had a different take on the issue. “What we are talking about is behaviors from people who don’t obey the rules,” he said. “This is 2019. Everything is captured on video cameras.” He suggested that three cameras could capture violators and immediately result in tickets and fines. “This is not rocket science. You change behaviors by holding people accountable.”
Commissioner Phil Chapman opined that the issue came about when the city expanded the beach parking area from 300 to 600 feet to comply with the ordinance. “I think part of the study needs to determine how much the city is spending to regulate behavior.” He cited money being spend on beach rangers and potentially on cameras. With respect to the people who claim they have been driving on the beach for 40 years and should be allowed to continue, Chapman said, “Yes. But the violators aren’t you. Attitudes and behaviors today are different. Cars and trucks are bigger. Unfortunately some well-behaved people are going to suffer, but that happens all the time. I’m not excited about the prospect of seeing another person run over. It’s not worth the city’s expense [to continue beach parking]. That’s my personal opinion.”
Kreger also addressed cost issues, citing all the various city departments and personnel involved in allowing the current practice to continue. “Truth is, we could eliminate beach rangers if we could eliminate beach parking,” he said. “Cameras are great, but they don’t do anything if somebody gets killed.”
Ross said to Kreger, “By bringing this up, you have just guaranteed that our emails are going to be clogged for the next month.”