Local blue laws could be officially repealed in two weeks

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 10:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 10:09 p.m.

In a few weeks, you'll be able to order eggnog — the hard kind — on a Sunday morning.

The Gainesville City Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a measure to lift the city's decades-old blue laws restricting alcohol sales on Sundays.

If approved on a second vote on Dec. 15, the changes would take effect immediately and would mean restaurants and bars could serve alcohol from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. and package stores could sell alcohol from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day of the week.

Currently, bars and restaurants can only serve between 1 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Sunday and stores can't sell alcohol, save for beer and wine, at all on Sunday.

The commission offered little discussion of the item. It had been unanimously approved by the commission's Public Safety Committee in October.

Restaurant and bar owners pushed for the changes, saying the current ordinance was outdated and that the change would add tax revenue. Some said visitors from other areas were frustrated by the laws.

On Thursday, Commissioner Randy Wells said he acknowledged citizens' concerns about safety but noted that Gainesville Police Department officials said the changes would pose "no undue impact on public safety."

"There is another view of holding sacrosanct Sunday, but I am still supportive of this," Wells said.

In November, the Alachua County Commission voted to follow suit by changing its laws after the city's transition is finalized in two weeks.

The City Commission also decided to take another look at the decision to cancel bus service on Christmas Eve.

In 2010, the Regional Transit System opted to cancel service on Black Friday and Christmas Eve in order to save money, as few were riding the bus on those days.

But Commissioner Scherwin Henry expressed frustration about the move in a recent Sun article, prompting a citizen to bring up the issue at Thursday's meeting.

Henry said there are a number of residents who don't have cars and "really depend on this transportation to shop, to get to work. It's important in their lives."

The commission referred the matter to its Recreation, Cultural Affairs and Public Works Committee, but Commissioner Todd Chase said he was interested in exploring ways to restore service for Dec. 24.

Chase also went back and forth with environmental advocate Rob Brinkman, who told commissioners he met James Hansen, a NASA climate change expert, recently and thanked him for his endorsement of the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center, the 100-megawatt biomass plant being built here.

"I don't even know who Mr. Hansen is," said Chase, who added it was easy for the scientist to give his endorsement without knowing the full situation or having to face constituents. "That guy, he's not going to help my mom pay the bill."

"Commissioner Chase made an inaccurate statement when he said Dr. Hansen didn't know anything about this plant," Brinkman told the commission. "I dare say Dr. Hansen knows more about GREC than Commissioner Chase."

Chase also called out Brinkman's assessment of the buyout clause — or lack thereof — in the city's biomass contract, calling it "totally disingenuous."

Mayor Craig Lowe took exception to that, saying, "I don't at all think it's disingenuous."

Lowe said Brinkman's assessment — that references to the buyout clause could have been about the part of the contract allowing the city to purchase the plant as opposed to an early termination of the contract — was reasonable, and he criticized the "propaganda" and "distortion" opponents have spread about the project.

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