INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Residents who drive such low-speed vehicles such as Cushmans, Bintelli electric vehicles, and similarly outfitted people cruisers can now operate them up and down Gulf Boulevard.

At its Oct. 13 regular meeting, the City Commission voted to change its ordinances to allow properly outfitted, low-speed vehicles on Gulf Boulevard while banning golf carts on the coast road through town.

Not only that, the new wording states golf carts can only be driven on the town’s side streets between sunrise and sunset and on designated side streets after dark if the cart is equipped with headlights, brake lights, turn signals, and a windshield. Golf carts, however, can only be driven by people 14 years old and older under the ordinance change.

The designated streets include all the municipal streets in the city and the following Gulf Boulevard intersections: 8th and 12th avenues and 15th through 27th avenues.

Indian Rocks Beach resident Mike Fowler, who owns a low-speed vehicle, or LSV, is pleased with the decision. He drives on Gulf Boulevard to work and as well as to the grocery store and restaurants.

“It was a matter of a slight change in the wording of the ordinance,” he said. “An LSV has to be insured, you have to be at least 16 with a driver’s license, and you have to have headlights, seat belts, special windshield, windshield wipers, blinkers, all those things. I think it should be legal to drive around town. I carry insurance and like to use it for my business and personally.”

The changes to Sec. 62-40 in Ordinance No. 2020-06 also sought to align the city’s golf cart and micro-mobility rules with Florida statutes. The ordinance defines LSVs as vehicles with a top speed of 25 mph; it limits LSVs to streets with posted speed limits no greater than 35 mph.

The city will consider regulations for electrical bikes in town at future meetings.

“The ordinance discussed at the meeting did not regulate e-bikes, though the commission expressed a desire for a draft ordinance to be prepared for their consideration,” City Attorney Randy D. Mora said.

The Florida Legislature recently established that electrical bicycles and their operators must be afforded all the rights and privileges of a bicycle. Local governments, however, can adopt ordinances governing the operation of electric bicycles on streets, highways, sidewalks, sidewalk areas, bicycle paths, multiuse paths, or trail networks under the local government’s jurisdiction, Mora said.

Indian Rocks Beach resident John Thayer told the commission that LSVs were not an issue on the city’s streets.

“It’s the golf carts that are the problem,” he said during public comment. “You should leave LSVs alone.”

Moments before voting yes to the ordinance change, Vice Mayor Phil Hanna urged stronger enforcement of golf cart rules. The sight of people driving golf carts on the city’s sidewalks as well as on Gulf Boulevard at night without headlights worries him.

“Doggone it, I still see kids driving these things,” Hanna said. “We had a little girl about 8 (years old) come down our street in an ATV-type vehicle by herself, lost control, hit a mailbox put together with bricks, and knocked it over. If she would have gone the other way, and a car (was coming) we would have had another story. I would love to see our sheriff’s department maybe turn the burner up a bit and cite them.”

Commission lifts beach fishing ban

The City Commission also voted to end a 40-year ban on shark fishing and spear fishing within 1,000 feet of Indian Rocks Beach, as well as a rule that prohibited surf fishing on the beach. In 1945, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that only the state can make rules limiting fishing. Only the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission can regulate fishing, making the city’s prohibitions null, said Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy.

The idea that fishing from the beach might be illegal might come as a surprise to locals and vacationers who fish for mullet and other prey from the shoreline every morning and evening.

The city apparently has not regulated the no-fishing rules for quite some time.

Mora, who has been with the city since 2014, said, “I am not independently aware of the city citing or specifically preventing individuals from shark fishing in the surf or beach during my tenure as city attorney.”

To align with the state’s wishes, the City Commission voted to repeal Section 74-1 entirely from Chapter 74 of the city code.

The city’s ordinance prohibited shark fishing on and within 1,000 feet of the beach. Surf fishing was prohibited upon any beach within the corporate limits of the city in close proximity to swimmers. Spear fishing was prohibited upon any beach within the corporate limits of the city or near swimmers.

Hanna said the rules were written in the 1970s to prevent injury to swimmers from fishing tackle and possibly, shark bite.

“The fact that you had swimmers and fishermen out there, with hooks and God-knows-what-else, that was the direction (they) took back then.” he said. “I still stand by that; I think that safety, especially the comingling of recreational people and fishermen can present a danger.”

Since the 1990s, the city has considered designating a portion of the beach shoreline for fishermen, another section for swimmers, but it proved difficult to regulate.

City Commissioner Joe McCall pointed out the popularity of fishing in the city. “If you walk the beach any morning, you’ll see five, seven, 10 … of our citizens out there with their (fishing) cart and that’s what they’re doing,” McCall told fellow commissioners. “I haven’t heard of any shark attacks, haven’t heard of any hook issues, but it is one of the great pastimes of our city.”

Commissioner Diane Flagg said she’s seen sharks brought in from the beach surf line.

“There’s a distinction between shark fishing and … regular everyday fishing,” she said. “One day on our beach access, there was a four- or five-foot shark that somebody pulled out and was putting it in his truck. I sure wouldn’t want my grandkids swimming (while they are shark fishing).”

Local governments are allowed to regulate fishing from city property, but “coastal waters are not part of the city,” Mora told the commission.

Indian Rocks Beach is not alone; Palm Beach hoped to write a shark fishing ban in 2017, but Code Enforcement Manager Ben Alma told that city’s Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee that they might as well forget it. State law preempted regulations the town had hoped to adopt.

The commission approved the nixing of the fishing rules, 4-1, with Commissioner Edward Hoofnagle voting no.

The commission plans to write a letter to state officials describing the commission’s frustration at having to change their fishing rules to meet the state’s rules, in spite of having home rule jurisdiction.