GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Attendance of the city-sponsored Food Truck Friday event has ballooned, leading organizers and law enforcement to ask for more space during Tuesday night’s City Council …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Attendance of the city-sponsored Food Truck Friday event has ballooned, leading organizers and law enforcement to ask for more space during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Organizer Ed Gaw said 2,500 people attended the March event at Spring Park. His only concern now is it draws too many people. There were eight Food Truck Fridays in 2018 and nine planned for 2019.
Gaw said expects 5,000 people at the May edition.
“As this event grows and we push the limits of the event area, we’re going to need to think if that event area can be increased,” he said.
Gaw met with City Attorney Jim Arnold and Green Cove Springs Police Chief Derek Asdot to figure out how that could happen. A solution was increasing the event area to Walnut and Magnolia streets to accommodate attendees, parking and the eight or nine food trucks.
“That would not only give us more area for food trucks, it would give the event some room to grow,” Gaw said. “This event started to put Spring Park on the radar. Anyone who’s been to a Food Truck Friday is coming back.”
A zone of the park is currently designated for coolers and alcohol. Arnold said he would bring back an updated ordinance before the council clarifying alcohol regulations, like the ordinance for the Calavida Arts Festival.
Asdot said law enforcement hadn’t had many issues with excessive drinking or trash at Spring Park. He agreed with Gaw the event area should be expanded.
“I know there are some negative connotations when people hear, ‘beer and wine,’ but it’s not that kind of event,” Asdot said.
Mayor Connie Butler, via speaker phone, asked about parking. Asdot said Gaw and other entities would coordinate with businesses on U.S. 17, shuttles, schools, and they could also use city and courthouse parking.
Council Member Van Royal said he was pleased what Food Truck Fridays turned into and where it could go in the future.
“When we first started this, we had no idea. It started in a parking lot. Ed (Gaw) did have an idea, I thought it was half-crazy, but he’d proved me wrong,” Royal said. “The nice thing we found was that it is a family event. It’s not looked as a place to drink, it’s looked as a place to get some food from a food truck and enjoy it.”
In other business, City Council members also defended the city’s red-light camera program, which faced criticism from two Clay County residents. Richard Farris, of Middleburg, and David Coughlin, of Orange Park, asked council members to reject a contract renewal for the city’s red-light cameras.
Farris said the Mark Wendall Traffic Safety Program Act, a state statute that sets standards for red light camera programs, was founded on false public safety narrative, permits traffic citations up to 90 days beyond what’s considered acceptable for most vehicle violations and it allows law enforcement officers to have less burden of proof than for other vehicle violations. He added that state has an interest in protecting revenue collected and usually the revenue doesn’t get applied to safety improvements.
“There’s no compelling study that exists that speaks to efficacy of statute, saving lives or reducing collisions,” Farris said. “Let’s not lie to ourselves what this statute achieves and who it impacts.”
More than half of the revenue the city collects are sent to the state and about 25 percent is sent to American Traffic Solutions, the contractor. In 2017, a state survey found crashes have increased 10 percent at intersections with red-light cameras after installation, though it’s difficult to prove the increase is from the camera installation alone, the survey concluded.
Green Cove Springs’ crash figures were not listed in that portion of the survey. GCSPD figures show a steady number of crashes at the three red light camera intersections since 2010, save for a spike in 2015 at U.S. 17 and Ferris Street.
Coughlin used examples from California and Michigan and quoted Antonin Scalia. He questioned the accuracy of video and echoed most of Farris’ complaints.
“The contract you are considering tonight will continue the exploitation of vehicle owners by presenting highly filtered, presumably irrefutable imagery which is limited in time, narrow in field of view and bereft of audio, road conditions and jarring events that can contribute to motorists’ decision making,” Coughlin said.
City officials mentioned public safety the most when refuting Farris and Coughlin. Council member Mitch Timberlake said approving the cameras was in the best interests of the citizens.
“An observable fact is that people stop at the lights. Speed has reduced on U.S. 17 because of those cameras,” Timberlake said. “I don’t see where due process isn’t protected. You have the right to go see a magistrate to hear your case.”
Royal said he originally didn’t support the cameras. But he saw kids in the area and the foot traffic from events and was swayed. Council members Steven Kelley and Pam Lewis agreed they noticed vehicles slowing down more often.
“They’re there for a good reason,” Royal said.
Asdot said the cameras were there to influence behavior and encourage the thousands of cars that come through U.S. 17 a day to stop at red lights.
“If people slow down and stop at red lights then you have nothing to worry about,” Asdot said. “That’s literally what it’s about.”
In a rebuttal with his voice rising and occasional thumping of the podium, Coughlin told council members that anecdotes aren't supported by state surveys. The contract was then passed in the consent agenda unanimously.