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Lake Worth To Arrest People On Public Property At Night

Tagged under: News West Palm Beach Florida Politics Criminal Justice
By Expeal on January 21, 2016.

Omid Ghaffari-Tabrizi found this picture of the Mayor of Lake Worth, flanked by the City Commissioners.

On January 19, 2016, during a Regular Meeting of the Lake Worth City Commission, the Mayor, Pam Triolo, the Vice Mayor and District 1 Commissioner, Scott Maxwell, and the Vice Mayor Pro Tem and District 3 Commissioner, Andy Amoroso, all voted in favor of Resolution No. 06-2016 (PDF Warning, 279-287). The purpose of the bill is to make "public property" off limits from 10 pm to 6 am, seven days a week, unless authorized by the government. "Public property", as Lake Worth's Ordinances define, is property zoned as "public" and owned by the City. Examples include the Downtown Cultural Plaza, the City Hall complex, and the shuffleboard court complex on Lucerne Avenue. It goes further, barring anyone from selling anything on public property without a permit, while also adding the same exact protections parks and natural areas are afforded to public property. That means if a police officer really wanted to, they could write you up for damaging the grass by walking across a field or damaging a "tree, flower, shrub, rock or other mineral" on public property.

A violation of this ordinance would result in a fine of up to $500.00 and/or a term of imprisonment of up to sixty days. Not only that, a court is ordered to allow for an arrest if a fine is not paid after a certain period of time, and it is written in the law that there is nothing keeping the court from ordering labor during the imprisonment term. It is interesting to note that all three are also up for re-election this year.

Amoroso is the Commissioner that first proposed this ordinance, throwing "public property" into the city park ordinances. He did suggest one change, however, reducing the closing hours by two hours, setting them from midnight to 6 am. His reason is simple: "Nothing good happens in a park after midnight." As the owner of Studio 205 and Java Juice Bar on Lake Avenue for the last 22 years, he is pushing to get the resolution signed into law at the next meeting on February 2.

Commissioners Ryan Maier and Christopher McVoy spoke out against the law, saying it is simply designed to get the homeless residents off of city property. Maier, who originally supported the ordinance on first reading, stated that the city "is creating an umbrella law [that says] even if you're not committing crimes, we're going to criminalize your existence, your being. It's based on perception, it's based on appearance. It's not based on legality. This is a huge mistake."

McVoy added to Maier's statements, pointing out that even he could be arrested under the new ordinance. "We are walking straight into a lawsuit. Do we need to address some problems? Yes, but when you squeeze one area, where do all those folks go? Neighborhoods. Do we really want that?"

Area resident Michelle Sylvester also chimed in, complaining that Mayor Triolo and Commissioners Maxwell, and Amoroso have hijacked what was supposed to be a bill about public safety. "It's not about outlawing homelessness or putting people in jail, it's about making our parks and public spaces safe."

Amoroso disputed that he was targeting homeless people, telling the Palm Beach Post that "Walking through the [Cultural Plaza] and selling drugs is a problem. Walking through the plaza and seeing someone defecating is a problem. That is what this ordinance is looking at. We're looking at the drug dealers and pedophiles in the park who are there while children are there."

Mayor Triolo supported Amoroso, stating that homeless people themselves are victims of the drug addicts that she claims inhabit the area. "They're being robbed, they're being stabbed, and [the addicts are] stealing what little the homeless do have for a fix. This isn't a homeless issue, it's a safety issue."

While Commissioners McVoy and Maxwell stated that they were in favor of holding a community workshop to get more of the public's input, Maier believes it is too little and too late. "The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County would have wanted opinions before you passed the ordinance. We just passed an ordinance that says anyone who walks through a public space [at night] can be arrested. I think that's absolutely ridiculous."

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