The public’s persistent requests in Ocean City for information on how the Mayor and Council is going to respond to last month’s H20i weekend disaster are understandable. It’s rooted in distrust of the decision makers to a degree. They’ve lived through these horrible weekends for too long with empty, albeit well-intentioned, promises to do something about them for years.
Over the last month, I’ve had dozens of conversations with long-time resort residents and business owners about the last weekend in September when Ocean City was taken over by these vehicle enthusiasts. The feeling among many is the actions seen over the weekend – public urination, violence, burnouts, public destruction of property, robust littering, assaults, blatant disrespect of police officers, accidents, street racing and disorderly conduct – were expected in Ocean City. What was seen was exactly what has been happening for years, but there is no disputing the volume of people was elevated.
The tough talk following the weekend was generally viewed as silly and assurances it would never happen described as baseless and political. It was déjà vu for many as similar comments followed motorized event weekends in 2017 and 2015 with elected officials pledging, “To do whatever we can to eliminate that particular event. That’s the goal,” referencing H20i. This kind of baseless trash talk with no plan to enforce the promises has no place in the conversation moving forward.
The assumption is the hooligans will return again next year on the last weekend of September as they traditionally do. Based on the city’s calendar for 2020, the unsanctioned event will fall on Sunfest weekend, raising a number of understandable concerns about the conflict. Some people are asking what the city can do to prevent that conflict from occurring. I’m not sure anything that can be done about that. It’s a point Councilman Mark Paddack broached at this week’s council meeting.
“Next year, they are planning the event during Sunfest, and to me, strategically, that event needs to be protected,” he said. “This will be the 46th year for Sunfest. For me personally, my recommendation is to work really hard on this. We cannot stop people from coming to Ocean City. One of the suggestions is to simply stop them from coming to town. We can’t do that. The Constitution allows people to move around freely. We can make it a little more difficult and I believe we are going to be looking at every option to do that.”
Parking in Ocean City has always been a divisive issue. In recent history, the issue became most heated in 2013 when the city added paid parking areas on selected high-volume streets in midtown, such as 49th Street oceanside, and north Ocean City, such as 146th Street oceanside. The ordinance authorizing these additional streets for paid parking was eventually repealed after a successful petition to referendum against it. At that time, revealing the impact the controversy had on him, Mayor Rick Meehan made a bold statement, promising to oppose any efforts to add more paid parking on city streets.
“As long as I am the mayor of Ocean City, I am going to object to any more parking meters on city streets,” said Meehan. “Unless there are six votes to override a mayoral veto, I don’t think you are going to see parking meters on the streets. …”
That quote was on my mind this week with the city’s task force voting to send an unfavorable recommendation to expand paid parking in the resort, specifically on the ocean blocks from 11th to 27th streets or 11th to 33rd streets or even 11th Street to the state line. I think the only realistic option for the city to consider is adding some parking meters on the prime ocean blocks along the Boardwalk or potentially further north until Baltimore Avenue ends at 33rd Street. I think there’s some legitimate basis for making motorists pay for the best parking spots near the boards. I agree next year is not the time with the hourly rates heading up already.
Though it’s unclear how the majority of the council feels on the matter, my guess is the votes are not there to add more parking meters north of 10th Street. It’s evident from last week’s meeting that Council members John Gehrig and Mary Knight – both members of the task force — are not anxious to expand paid parking on city streets at this time. Even if the rest of the council supported more paid parking, the council would not likely be able to overcome Meehan’s veto without the votes of Gehrig and Knight because six council members would need to support it. It’s important to note here the task force vote to oppose paid parking expansion was 4-2-1 with Councilman Dennis Dare abstaining at this point and appearing to support some sort of modest expansion, Gehrig voting for not recommending more paid street parking and Knight voting against slamming the door shut on the matter at that point in time.
Though the task force is merely advisory and the vote is basically a straw poll with no binding authority, my sense is the council will be content with generating an additional $1 million in new revenue from the hourly rate increase. I don’t expect the council will have the six votes required to overcome Meehan’s promised veto from six years ago. While the will does not even appear to be there at this time, I also don’t anticipate this council will want to put the mayor in the unenviable position of having to exercise his veto authority.