OCEAN CITY — The full Mayor and Council on Monday will get their first look at a plan of action to eliminate certain offseason vehicle-related special events, including the spring and fall classic car and fall H20i events, based on Police Commission recommendations formed during a closed session last month.
After arguably one of the worst motorized special event weekends ever in late September with the arrival of thousands of participants in a unsanctioned and ultimately canceled H2O International car show, the Mayor and Council promised bold action and perhaps painful solutions to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The police commission was tasked with drafting recommendations on how best to eliminate the events or at least curtail some of the illicit behavior associated with them.
To that end, during a closed Police Commission meeting on Oct. 13, the panel, which includes Mayor Rick Meehan and Councilmembers Dennis Dare, Wayne Hartman and Mary Knight, came up with a list of recommendations to forward to the full Mayor and Council. Highlighted on the long list of recommendations is sending a letter to the H2Oi promoter requesting the event be moved entirely out of Worcester or Wicomico counties.
In terms of the spring and fall Cruisin event, the commission is recommending eliminating the traditional Boardwalk parades during the events and, perhaps more importantly, discontinuing the rental of the convention center and Inlet parking lot for the spring and fall events. The list goes on and on and includes working with state legislators to create a Special Event Zone, similar to work and school zones, with associated traffic laws and increased fines, and an expansion of video surveillance systems and increased enforcement.
There’s no question the special events put “heads in beds” and patrons in restaurant seats to some extent. While the business community has been largely supportive of exploring measures to curtail some of the less-than-desirable activities associated with the motorized special events, the police commission’s recommendations have certainly gained the attention of some segments of the private sector. In an email blitz to Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association members characterized as a call to action on Friday, OCHMRA Executive Director Susan Jones called the proposed recommendations “extremely reactive” and urged the association’s members to show up in force at Monday’s Mayor and Council meeting. An email blast followed shortly thereafter from the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce.
“While many agree that certain motor events are causing upheaval in our community, these suggested measures seem to be extremely reactive rather than a more planned proactive approach,” Jones said in the memo. “These suggestions were unanimously approved by three councilmembers and the mayor. It is critical that you attend the meeting and/or voice your opinion.”
A document under the heading “Ocean City Motor Events Action Plan” calls Ocean City a “safe, clean and green family resort featuring a world-class Boardwalk and healthy community for residents and guests.” The document goes on to state how the resort often fails to live up to that mission statement during certain vehicle-related special events.
“Certain motor event attendees are violating our values and changing our long-held reputation as a family resort,” the document reads. “Immediate action is required to reverse this undesired trend of lawlessness, civil disobedience and disrespect for our town.”
The document goes on to outline some of the proposed changes and action items. It calls for requesting promoters to cancel the events or move them off the Eastern Shore. It also calls for taking legal action against promoters to recover increased event costs incurred by the town. Again, it calls for discontinuing the rental of the convention center and the Inlet parking lot to promoters and eliminating the Boardwalk parades.
The action plan calls for changed operational tactics including DUI checkpoints, rolling roadblocks, a curfew, the closure of Baltimore Avenue from 15th to 33rd Street and a road diet, which could reduce traffic lanes on Coastal Highway. Another recommendation suggests having businesses close early during the events, perhaps as early as 9 p.m.
Physical tactics used to combat the motorized special events could include strategically located temporary speed bumps and installing cameras on Coastal Highway for increased crime watch surveillance. The plan also calls for having the State Highway Administration (SHA) begin construction on projects in the resort prior to the vehicle-related special events. Historically, the town has asked SHA to put off highway projects until after the vehicle-related special event season.
In terms of additional law enforcement assistance, the recommendations include requesting the governor to have the National Guard on standby. The action plan also includes replacing the vehicle-related special events with other family-related events such as youth sports tournaments, senior citizen Olympics, and pickle ball championships.
The action plan calls for exploring town code and state law changes to help curtail or even eliminate the vehicle-related special events including an enforceable vehicle noise law, the doubling of fines in newly created “special event zones,” making spinning out in confined areas a felony reckless endangerment charge and impounding vehicles that are not street legal.
A separate document rates the various vehicle-related special events on a variety of factors including the behavior of non-event attendees, the behavior of roadside crowds, the level of law enforcement required, the desired demographics, adverse social media impact, promoter cooperation and pedestrian endangerment with a score on “one” being good and “five” being bad.
On the motor events rating matrix, H2Oi scored five nearly across the board, the only non-five score coming under the heading “trailers.” Similarly, the spring cruising event scored five across the board, the only four coming under the heading “desired demographic. The fall cruising event scored fours and fives across the board with the only exception being a three under promoter cooperation.
Bike Week generally scored well on the motor event ratings matrix with scores of one and two almost across the board. The only four for Bike Week came under the level of law enforcement required and the only threes coming under the headings trailers and desired demographics.
The annual Corvette special event in October and the annual Jeep Week in May scored perfect scores of one in every category.