Free parking at a typical beach access in Indian Rocks Beach.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Residents of Indian Rocks Beach have long prided themselves as being the friendliest in Pinellas County. They have proven it with free parking for beach-goers and plenty of accesses for visitors to get to the beach. Now those same residents are wondering if perhaps they have been too friendly.
Dozens of them showed up at the commission meeting on July 8 to urge commissioners to do something about the number of visitors who show up on the weekends and holidays and clog the streets with their cars and foul the beach with their trash.
Many of the people at the meeting were there because of an email they received from resident Diane Flagg who urged a good turnout at the meeting to get the attention of the commissioners about the problem. Flagg was to the point in her email.
“I think we have exceeded our ability to absorb the crowds without placing a burden on the residents who live here,” she wrote. “Those of you who frequent the beach have seen the excess trash, cigarette butts, soiled baby diapers and discarded fishing lines and hooks and more left lying on the beach.”
Flagg’s biggest complaint was parking.
“Many who live here have difficulties in even getting to the beach on weekends,” she wrote. “Streets are difficult to navigate; there are traffic jams at beach accesses and unauthorized vehicles parking in IRB resident designated parking spaces.”
It was clearly obvious that the vast majority of the dozens of people who attended the meeting were there to have their say about the overcrowded streets because of people going to the beach.
First the city officials had their say.
“We have 28 beach accesses that were built with state grants,” said City Manager Gregg Mims. “If we begin to talk about metering the parking spaces at those accesses then be aware we’ll have to treat them all the same. So if we meter a visitor’s spot, then we’ll have to meter the residents’ spots and the golf cart spots.”
“There is a lot of parking pressure on many streets,” said Mayor R.B. Johnson. “If we make those closest to Gulf Boulevard no parking that should help. If people have to park farther back in the community, laziness will come into play and maybe they won’t stay.”
Commissioner Phil Hanna said it was time to get tough with those who park where they shouldn’t.
“We need to pump up enforcement and start writing citations and let them know we’re not playing this game anymore,” he said.
Several residents suggested potential solutions.
“We should get a citizens committee together to deal with the issue,” said Don House. “If we get enough minds together we’ll solve it.”
“Can we hire civilians to write citations for parking offenders; perhaps a police auxiliary or special code enforcement officers,” asked Ron Sacra.
“We need more police presence on the weekends,” said Gord Obarski.
“We need to give them a hefty fine. Right now it seems like there is no enforcement of our laws whatsoever,” said Donald Bishop.
Larry King, who attends virtually every commission meeting but seldom has much to say, was moved to speak out on the parking issue.
“I call it invasion by day-trippers,” he said. “They come here and show us no respect. They are not added value to the economy. I paced off 200 yards from my condo recently, and as I walked back I counted 50 people drinking, including two of them out in the water with long-neck beer bottles. We need to give out citations and send the message that we have zero tolerance for alcohol in Indian Rocks Beach. That will soon solve the parking problem.”
Rebecca Sacra noted that the $20 parking fine is nothing more than a parking fee to anyone who gets a ticket.
Resident Linda Newton cautioned people to remember that the beach isn’t just the property of Indian Rocks Beach.
“Everybody pays for the re-nourishment of the beach,” she said. “We should remember they own it, too, and when they visit they bring revenue. We should give them a place to come and we should welcome them.”
Many people were upset with what they perceived as a lack of enforcement by the Sheriff’s Office regarding the parking issue and unruly activities on the beach.
Then it was back to the mayor and commissioners to have the final say. If all that sounds like Indian Rocks Beach residents don’t like visitors, Johnson issued a word of caution to the residents about that attitude.
“We need to watch the way we talk about day-trippers,” he said. “It isn’t always true that they are disrespecting the beach. There is always a percentage of people who will litter and so on and because we are getting more and more people to the beach, it is natural that more and more people will break our laws. The percentage remains the same but the number goes up.”
Johnson reminded the audience that the beach wasn’t owned solely by Indian Rocks Beach.
“Our visitors don’t have to spend money when they come to the beach and we should not give the impression that we glare at every visitor who comes here. It is their beach too,” he said.
Hanna said the solution to him is more enforcement.
“If we get enforcement amped up we’ll see an improvement,” he said. “We have to tell these people that their mother doesn’t own the beach; she’s not here to pick up after you.”
Commissioner Cookie Kennedy thanked the residents for showing up and helping to solve the problem. Commissioner Terry Hamilton-Wollin agreed.
“This is not an easy task,” she said. “We can’t provide any more parking and we don’t want any more jackasses on our beach. You made us sit down and listen.”
Commissioner Jim Labadie ended the conversation by saying he’s heard enough.
“We got the point; it is time for action. I don’t like the attitude of ‘I’ve got mine now you stay away’ but we have to do something,” he said.
That something is falling right into the lap of City Manager Mims. Mayor Johnson asked Mims to sort through the various comments and suggestions and come back with a plan of action at a future meeting.