Key West lawmakers discussed changing the city’s mask requirements, increasing enforcement, creating “mask zones” in crowded areas, and assessing the city’s hotel and bar capacity.

The discussion took place almost four hours after the city commission’s meeting on November 17, when the number of participants had dropped from 37 to 25 virtual participants. Although listed as a discussion point, the “COVID update” included a call from Mayor Teri Johnston to “have the courage to make serious decisions”.

“We need to find solutions now,” said Johnston after the commission saw a collection of photos showing crowds – including tourists and bar / restaurant workers – not wearing masks on Duval Street. “How do we change this behavior? How do we stay open during the holidays? The governor certainly did not help us with his order preventing us from quoting individuals, but can we do that? “

Key West Code’s compliance director, Jim Young, who has been quarantined and contracted COVID, told the commission that he and his staff have never experienced the kind of treatment they received while enforcement patrols downtown.

“I and my employees were addressed physically. We were spat at and cursed at, ”Young told the commission, showing a list of companies that were repeatedly cited for their employees and / or customers who did not wear masks. Fifteen quotes were given to companies, with Jack Flats receiving four quotes; Fogarty receives three quotes and Caroline receives two quotes. Fat Tuesday, Waterfront Brewery, The Greene Room, and Pinchers were each cited once. The brewery, Jack Flats, Caroline’s and Fogarty’s all belong to restaurateur Joe Walsh, who has repeatedly protested against the city of Key West over the controversial lease in Mallory Square.

“You have to manage your own businesses in your stores so we can manage the streets of Key West,” Johnston told business owners and organizations who attended the commission meeting or watched online. “It cannot be that we are against them. We need the full commitment of this entire community. “

The commission met in an emergency meeting on November 10 to discuss a midnight curfew for bars and restaurants. The proposal met with fierce opposition from business owners who claimed it was discriminatory, while health and hospital officials questioned the effectiveness of a curfew.

“Whatever we do now is not working and each of us was chosen to protect the people of Key West,” said Johnston.

The commissioners effectively opened the checkbook to city administrator Greg Veliz on November 17 to do everything possible to enforce the city’s masking ordinance, including possibly hiring private security companies. During the nightly discussion, the commissioners also considered the establishment of “masked zones” on Duval Street at the historic seaport, at the southernmost point and in Mallory Square, where people without masks would gather.

“We are talking about the mass of humanity,” city administrator Greg Veliz told the commission, adding that assertiveness “will always be an issue”.

Commissioner Sam Kaufman said he wanted the city “to also look at hotel capacity. Obviously the problem is serious. Our numbers are increasing. And here we are talking about picking up menorah and Christmas tree lights when we have thousands of people downtown without masks. I think we need to look at the capacities of bars and hotels. “

Commissioner Greg Davila said: “While we are certainly grateful that people are here visiting Key West, I see it that way too, as these are people who choose to travel during a pandemic.”

Affordable housing

Workshop – again

In other city news, Surprise, Surprise, the City Commission decided to hold another affordable housing workshop to discuss the future of the 6-acre area on the Truman Waterfront that has long been slated to serve the Bahama Village community Somehow it benefits both residential and commercial buildings.

Johnston said there were too many unanswered questions about the development of this property and the city needed more information and an affordable housing director.

“We need to find the resources for this position,” said Johnston, asking Commissioner Clayton Lopez.

“Yes, there is an expectation on your and my part,” said Lopez.

However, Johnston noted that such expectations will have an impact on the funds available for these homes “because they could be viewed as discriminatory and we simply need more information. I have very little appetite for discussing affordable housing until we have facts, ”she said.

“We need a Housing Director so that we can pull off projects like this on the water without taking 13 years to move forward in small steps.”

Kaufman has been calling for an affordable home shop for more than a year and may have finally got the commission to agree. Officials will schedule the workshop at their meeting on Thursday November 19, which was scheduled as a retreat but will likely become an official public meeting to begin discussion of the new COVID rules and mandates.

Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover also asked if the city had reached out to AH Monroe to get a stake in a waterfront housing company.

“Why reinvent the wheel when there is someone who knows exactly how to do it?” Said Hoover.

Veliz told the commission that years ago he met with the leaders of AH Monroe, who were building affordable housing in Poinciana Royale, Marty’s Place and other locations.

“To be honest, it’s been so long, I don’t remember how those discussions ended, but I would love to meet you again to see what is possible,” said Veliz.

Wisteria Island

Before the commissioners began their COVID discussions, they heard a report from Ed Russo, head of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition.

The group is working with the federal government, including President Trump, Russo said to build an environmental education center and nature reserve on Wisteria Island.

The 28 hectare man-made island off Key West has no chance of commercial development, said Russo due to the population of white-crowned pigeons.

“I met with various stakeholders to reach a consensus on what to do with Wisteria Island,” Russo told the commission. “I think we should make it an environmental education center and sanctuary. There is no development potential on the island. Nothing. Zero.”

He told commissioners he would return in the coming weeks or months with a formal proposal that included input from dozens of groups and individuals.

The island is currently used as an unofficial camp for the homeless and liveaboards.

“Every day there are safety and hygiene concerns on the island,” said Russo. “It’s a mess.”

Russo added that federal funding for a new project on Wisteria Island could come from the Great American Outdoors Act, “the best environmental legislation this country has seen since Teddy Roosevelt,” he said. “You have the money to help us do this and I will be back with a suggestion for you in the coming weeks.”

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