By Jessica Sanchez and Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporters
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – A Code of Conduct prohibiting “hawking”, the soliciting of passing pedestrians either verbally or with handbills, by sidewalk café operators on South Beach’s iconic Ocean Drive will go into effect on October 1st. It may also be expanded to Española Way and Lincoln Road soon.
The practice of “hawking” has been maintained as free speech in recent court rulings, nevertheless, the City of Miami Beach can control activities there through the sidewalk café permitting process because sidewalk cafés are on public right of ways.
This week commissioners approved the ordinance on second reading and it will take effect in time for permit renewals on October 1st. The permits that are good for one year will now be conditional on operators acknowledging the Code of Conduct and agreeing to be bound by it.
This ordinance advanced a step further, adding the no solicitation provision within 20 feet of the outer perimeter of the sidewalk café permit area from 5th to 15th Streets on Ocean Drive.
Mayor Dan Gelber, said, “It’s a different approach […] I am heartened by the fact that there really has been very little pushback from anybody on Ocean Drive. In fact, I think they sort of like it because part of the problem has been when there’s no floor, it’s a race to the bottom and if you elevate the floor everybody’s on the same level of merchandising their product whether it be food or merchandise or anything so it’s good thing.”
In settling a record in case of a legal challenge, the city took testimony and affidavits from residents and business owners at a recent Neighborhoods Committee meeting in regards to the harmful impact of hawking on the City, its residents and tourists.
In one affidavit, Miami Beach CFO John Woodruff stated, “the City subsidizes the cost of operating a sidewalk café on City property by offering participants in the sidewalk café program space at a substantially reduced rate under the current market rate for space.”
According to Woodruff, the permit rate for sidewalk café space is $25 per square foot while the market rate is $120 per square foot based on past real estate closing sales and the price for the only retail space that is currently for lease on Ocean Drive.
Woodruff’s statement proceeds to say, “In exchange for accepting this subsidy and participate in the sidewalk café program, sidewalk café operators must agree to a Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct.”
After Commissioner Joy Malakoff said she received calls from tenants and property owners on Española way about wanting to prohibit the hawking there, Commissioners discussed expanding the no solicitation provision to Lincoln Road and Española way.
On September 12th, the city’s social media asked the public, “If you have experience with harassing people hawking tacky or fraudulent “specials” in front of the sidewalk cafes on Lincoln Road or Española Way, please comment below or message us with your story.”
There were over 100 responses, one resident wrote, “How much time do you have? Most recently in August with friends visiting from Hawaii, we walked the length of Lincoln Rd after dinner. We were accosted so many times by restaurant hawkers that my friends’ reaction changed from surprise to amusement to annoyance.”
Another wrote: “I avoid walking down the streets where restaurants solicit. They might be some of the most beautiful streets in Miami but I can’t stand being bothered the entire way.”
Commissioners hope to take up an amendment to the Sidewalk Café at their meeting on September 25th to expand the no solicitation provision. In the meantime, all operators on Española Way and Lincoln Road will be receiving a notice that the amendment is coming.
There are some doubts about the ability to enforce the new rules, and complaints or concerns for violations should be directed to 305-604-CITY( 2489), for the quickest response time. The rule states that unless a pedestrian asks for information about the menu first, pedestrians should not be pestered.