63.33% YES — Limit persons disembarking from cruise ships to total of 1,500 persons per day
60.69% YES — Prohibit cruise ships with capacity of 1,300 or more persons from disembarking
81.20% YES — Giving priority to cruise lines with the best environmental and health records

Key West voters handily approved three changes to the city’s charter that will significantly reduce the number of cruise ships and people that can visit Key West once the industry again gets underway.

The amendment limiting the number of people who can disembark from cruise ships each day in Key West passed with 63% approval. The amendment prohibiting ships with a capacity of 1,300 or more people passed with 61% approval and the amendment giving priority to cruise lines with the best health and environmental records secured an 81% approval.

“This historic vote shows that regulating cruise ships is an issue that unifies Key West, bringing together Republicans and Democrats, young and old, black and white,” said Arlo Haskell, treasurer of the Key West Committee for Safer, Cleaner Ships, which led the cruise ship reduction movement by securing 2,500 signatures on petitions to have the questions placed on Key West ballots. 

The Key West Committee for Safer Cleaner Ships won a decisive victory on Election Day, garnering more than 60% approval of the proposed amendments to the city charter that will limit the size and capacity of cruise ships that can visit Key West’s public cruise ship docks.

What’s next?

And now come the lawyers.

“Unfortunately there’s going to be some legal action against the city pertaining to these amendments. This got dumped in the city’s lap and there’s a lot of confusion out there,” Key West Chamber of Commerce President Greg Sullivan said Wednesday morning on U.S. 1 Radio.

The city of Key West is bound by the voter-approved charter amendments to change the city’s charter and limit the ships that can dock at the city’s cruise port facilities. 


But what about the privately owned cruise ship dock at Pier B, behind Margaritaville Key West Resort & Marina? 

The owners of that facility have joined one existing lawsuit that questions the city’s authority to  mandate costly reductions to its business operations and officials expect them to file their own suit. In addition, several local businesses that depend on revenue from cruise ships and their passengers also had retained the Horan Law Firm to represent them even before voters approved the amendments on Nov. 3.

The time for discussion and compromise has passed due to the binding nature of the referendums, Sullivan said.

City Manager Greg Veliz told the Keys Weekly the morning after the election, “Obviously this will go to court, which could take years, and we’ll have to defend the amendments to our city charter. I’m sure Pier B will file suit.”

When asked whether he’s met with any cruise industry representatives to discuss whether they would send the “smaller, safer ships” to Key West rather than the larger ships that have come here since the 1980s, Veliz said, “I have met with the cruise industry officials, and the same companies that own the smaller ships also own the bigger ships. I don’t mind telling you guys exactly what they told me, which is, that inviting the smaller ships to come to Key West, but not the big ones is like inviting me to your dinner party, but not my wife and kids.”

“This is a business decision that became a political decision,” Veliz said.

The city manager said he wasn’t sure what, if any, role the committee plans to play in the implementation.

“The process is pretty straightforward and governed by the charter,” said Haskell. “Once the supervisor certifies the vote, then the mayor and city clerk simply sign off on it and the amendments become part of the charter. We’re monitoring to make sure everything happens as prescribed.”Veliz said the discussion is not of immediate urgency until the cruise ships resume sailing. They stopped in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

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