'A nightmare waiting to happen': Walton continues effort against stand-on scooter rentals

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — Continuing a pre-emptive effort to keep stand-on electric rental scooters off the streets of Walton County, county commissioners agreed unanimously Tuesday, April 13, to hold a public hearing on another 270-day extension of a moratorium on any rental of "micromobility devices."   

The public hearing will be held during the commission's next regular meeting that starts at 9 a.m. April 27 at the South Walton County Courthouse Annex, 31 Coastal Centre Blvd. in Santa Rosa Beach.

A stock photo shows an electric scooter left on a staircase in an unidentified city. The Walton County Commission will consider whether to extend a moratorium on "micromobility device" rentals at its meeting April 27.

People who cannot attend the public hearing in person can participate via the Zoom teleconferencing tool online at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84670351628. The teleconference can also be accessed by phone at any one of the following numbers: +1-929-205-6099, +1-301-715-8592, +1-312-626-6799, +1-669-900-6833, +1-253-215-8782 or +1-346-248-7799. The webinar ID for the meeting is 846 7035 1628.

Participating via Zoom, whether online or by phone, will allow for the offering of public comment on the moratorium, as well as other business at the meeting.

More from 2020:Walton commissioners extend moratorium on e-scooter rentals

Where it started:Walton bans renting electric scooters for 270 days

Consideration of extending the moratorium will come just three days before the current 270-day moratorium is set to expire. Commissioners enacted an initial moratorium on Dec. 10, 2019. In August of last year, just days before the Sept. 5 expiration of that moratorium, commissioners approved a 270-day extension, which expires April 30.

Specifically, the moratorium has been in place, according to the language of the document instituting it, "in order to allow an opportunity for the county to develop regulations for such uses in the county rights of way."

About 20 people gathered at the South Walton Courthouse Annex in 2019 to discuss the impact electric scooters will have on the county. Commissioners recently voted to hold a public hearing on whether to extend a moratorium on "micromobility devices" first enacted in 2019.

But in the months since the initial enactment, the county has been faced with more pressing matters, including its response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Commissioner Tony Anderson has been the driving force behind disallowing scooter rentals, citing concerns about a lack of control over those rentals and that rented scooters can be left anywhere along streets and sidewalks.

"It's that time of year again," Anderson only half-joked as he brought a request for the public hearing in front of his colleagues Tuesday.

More:It's up to the Walton commission to decide if new mobility plan will alleviate traffic woes

"The reason I'm so against scooters is there's no way to tell who's renting them," Anderson continued. And once a rental period is over, the scooters "are just out there, because you leave them anywhere."

"If you've been to any of these cities that allow it, it's not like they park them somewhere," he said. "They're everywhere."

Also, "There's no way to (determine whether) a kid's renting it, because you rent it with your phone, you rent it with your credit card," Anderson added. 

And, the commissioner added, "there's no way to say if somebody that's drunk is renting it or not."

"It's a nightmare waiting to happen," he said.

Walton County commissioners voted in favor of a public hearing on have extending a moratorium on the rental of "micromobility" devices, such as the electric scooters shown here.

Among the other commissioners looking to get a handle on stand-on electric scooter rentals is Commissioner Danny Glidewell, who asked interim county counsel Clay Adkinson whether the county could enact a permanent moratorium on micromobility rentals.

Adkinson said he would look into that possibility, but cautioned that the board likely will need additional "legislative findings" — articulable rationale for a permanent ban on scooter rentals — before moving in that direction.

"I would also recommend that on any permanent moratorium, that you look at the implications between this and any other similar type of vehicular transit, other low-speed vehicles," Adkinson said, a reference that the current moratorium covers "micromobility devices," even as commissioners have talked consistently about stand-on electric scooters.

"You probably need a comprehensive ordinance addressing that, of which a moratorium is a part, rather than simply a stand-alone moratorium," Adkinson advised.

Walton County planning commissioners have forwarded a proposed countywide mobility plan to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners for consideration. The plan addresses roadway, pedestrian, bicycling and other infrastructure for roads across the county, such as County Road 30A, shown here on a recent afternoon.

The county's interest in regulating micromobility devices is an outgrowth of state legislation passed in 2019 that, at least initially, would have prohibited local governments from passing ordinances regulating how and where e-scooters could be used. The legislation was later changed, however, and as signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis allows some local regulation of the devices.

The moratorium, if extended or eventually made permanent, could have implications for the county's mobility plan. The plan, yet to be approved, proposes a course for transportation infrastructure development for the next 20 years.

Among the opponents of micromobility rentals is Barbara Morano, a politically active resident of southern Walton County.

Praising the commission Tuesday for its moratorium on those rentals and referencing the upcoming public hearing, Morano told commissioners she is "hoping that we stay strong and do what is best."