South Padre mulls golf cart restrictions

In the file photo, South Padre Island City Council members addressed several golf cart issues and debated solutions. By Alana Hernandez/Valley Morning Star

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — From accidents to noise complaints, golf cart usage on the Island has become a hot topic of debate for residents, business owners and City Council members.

During a South Padre Island City Council meeting Wednesday, council members debated possible solutions for golf cart restrictions.

Council members ultimately took action to address safety issues by banning sound-emitting devices from rental golf carts.

Additionally, they passed a motion to form a committee comprised of two City Council members, two members of the police department, two golf cart owner/operators and two local residents/property owners that will recommend to City Council “a suitable number of commercial plates to be issued.”

Council member Joe Ricco made a motion to ban all sound-emitting devices, including and not limited to radios, bluetooth receivers, CD players and all speaker systems from all rental golf carts and personal play vehicles as described in the Texas Transportation code.

The motion was passed with a four to two vote from council members and it will take six to eight weeks to create the ordinance.

“ Now we’ll put it in the arms of legal to figure out what we can do and hopefully, maybe we can come up with a solution that doesn’t require the ordinance over the period of time it’s going to take to do this,” Mayor Patrick McNulty said after passing Ricco’s motion.

What led to the ban?

In March of this year, council members voted to restrict all sound-emitting devices from exceeding 65 decibals at night and 68 during the day.

During the meeting, council members Ricco and Kerry Schwartz pointed out businesses lack of complying with the ordinance.

“ We’ve given them an opportunity and they have had plenty of time to comply,” Schwartz said during the meeting. “They knew back in March the tenor of this council, how we felt about it and as Joe alluded to, they’ve had 145 days to do something about it.”

Being a business owner of golf cart rental facilities on the Island, Gabriel Vanounou made comments throughout the city meeting addressing why some golf carts have not yet complied with the sound restriction set in March.

“ Remember, we went into memorial weekend and then we went into June, then July is here,” Vanounou explained to City Council. “So, it was not enough time for 500 cars to get redeviced in a busy time. I assure you that once those devices we installed, the noise problem will go away.”

Council observations of rental golf carts

McNulty commented during the meeting on observations he made of music usage in golf carts during his time campaigning.

“ Over this election cycle there were two days where I stood outside in front of City Hall holding a sign for 10 or 11 hours and in that process, you did see the difference between daytime and nighttime rentals,” he said.

According to McNulty, hardly less than 5 percent of daytime golf cart renters drove by with blaring music and were using it much more as a mode of transportation.

“ The problem is when we get into the night level, is when we get probably more alcohol or whatever might partake into it and it creates that mobile party situation,” he said.

City Council Member Eva Jean Dalton voted not to ban sound-emitting devices from rental golf carts.

“ I live on Laguna (Boulevard) and the golf carts for years have woken me up at one or two o’clock in the morning,” she said during the meeting.

She said noise from rental golf carts has “gotten better” since the sound restriction ordinance was passed in March.

Residents’ opinion of golf carts on the Island

During the meeting, resident Tommy J. Saenz gave the council his view of golf cart usage on the Island.

Saenz said he is “pro-business” and is “not trying to shut down the golf carts.”

However, he believes the Island “needs stricter regulations and ordinances.”

“ I’m really concerned about the safety of our citizens and our tourists because golf carts are out of control,” he said. “I’ve seen what these people do is basically drive round and round honking their horns, blaring their stereos and that’s all they do.”

However, not all residents are completely fazed by golf carts on the Island.

Alex Avalos, a resident of the Island, said both parties for and against golf carts have good points, but he believes more time would be necessary to let golf cart owners finish restricting sound-emitting devices on their golf carts.

“ In 30 days none of this is going to matter. Maybe it’s something we can work toward and not necessarily do anything right now because it’s not going to matter once the kids go back to school and families aren’t going to rent these things,” he said. “They bother me, too, but in all fairness, every time I hear them I think of our sales tax going up.”

Recent accident

On July 15, the South Padre Island Police Department arrested Brownsville resident Gregorio Gonzalez, 28, alleging he drove the vehicle that fled the scene of an accident involving a golf cart that happened on the Island Saturday, July 13.

According to city officials, four golf cart passengers were injured in the accident.

On July 16, South Padre Island Judge Ed Cyganiewicz arraigned Gonzalez on four counts of accident involving personal injury or death and set bond at $130,000.