Downtown Curfew

When we first moved to downtown West Palm Beach in 2006, City Place had already established itself as a huge success, drawing large crowds, especially on weekends. However, City Place did have one very big problem. On weekend evenings, very large groups of teenagers hung around there (especially in the second-level area around the movie theater). People not in these groups would often feel threatened when coming out of the movie theater; for instance, a middle-aged couple might all of a sudden find themselves in the middle of a crowd of some 30 very rude loud teenagers shouting obscenities and pushing each other around. This would typically not be a pleasant experience and led many customers to stay away from City Place on weekend evenings.

There were also many complaints from the business owners, who had trouble controlling these teenagers when they wandered into their shops. City Place had a large number of businesses and downtown had a new group of condominium residents, and all of them complained extensively to the City about this problem. It seemed that in some cases, parents of teenagers were just driving up in vans and leaving their teens on their own at City Place, further exacerbating the problem. At some point late at night, the police would have to come in and break up the crowds of misbehaving teens, ushering them out of City Place toward the north. I remember when these marauding groups of teens would come running down Rosemary Avenue by our condominium building, every weekend around midnight, resulting in occasional rocks pelting our windows and falling into our balconies, and foul words shouted in angry tones filling the night air. Needless to say, the residents of our condominium preferred to be hunkered down inside during those times, rather than out on the street (and we appreciated living in a fortress with hurricane-resistant and rock-resistant windows). This phenomenom really didn't contribute to the success of the downtown as a place to work, live, and play, to put it mildly.

Realizing the importance of this issue to the downtown environment, the City of West Palm Beach set out to do something about it. After substantial discussions and with great care, they passed a new law which restricted people under 18 from being in the core downtown area on weekends after 10 PM, with a number of well-reasoned exceptions for anyone who had a real reason to be in the area. Signs were put in place all around the area regarding the new law, and police were put in place to enforce it. The new curfew law was so well-written and well-publicized, that wherever these groups of teens had been coming from, they immediately stopped. Some police efforts were needed to enforce the curfew but the amount of enforcement efforts were not extensive. Essentially, the curfew worked immediately. From the day the new law became effective, those groups of disruptive teens disappeared. They are simply no longer there. The problem was effectively done away with. City Place businesses, and downtown residents, all became much happier. Customers could now patronize the businesses of City Place on weekend nights without feeling physically threatened by these large gangs of rude swearing teenagers.

Fast forward to today, July 2009. The downtown curfew has been in place now for several years and continues to work just as well today. If you talk to any resident of a downtown condominium, or any City Place business owner, you can confirm this for yourself. But now a threat hangs over the downtown again. A smart young man named Jeffrey Nadel and his legal team have concluded that the curfew law deprives teenagers of their constitutionally-protected freedoms, and they have sued the City in an effort to get the curfew law struck down by the Courts. Regardless of the legal merits one way or the other, we must not forget why this curfew was put in place, and what will happen in the extremely unfortunate event that Mr. Nadel is successful in getting the Courts to overturn the law. What would happen would be a return to disaster for the downtown, all its businesses, and its residents.

Fortunately, a new group has been forming in the downtown to advocate for the interests of downtown residents and businesses, the Downtown Neighborhood Association, and they have taken up this cause on behalf of the residents and businesses of the downtown West Palm Beach area. In addition, the City has a good legal team and a mayor who understands the importance of this issue. But who really knows what will happen, with the complexities of the law and strong teams on both sides arguing the issue. If you have an opinion on this issue, please do not hesitate to submit your comments in the Comments section of this site.

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