By Wayne Parry
LONG BRANCH, N.J. — Two popular Jersey Shore towns are going to court to try to block so-called “pop-up parties” at which thousands of people gather on the beach.
They acted after previous events resulted in public drinking, drug use, fights and vandalism.
At least two such parties planned for later this month are currently being advertised in online fliers that encourage attendees to bring their own liquor and marijuana, and promise public boxing matches.
Long Branch is asking a court to block promoters of the parties from hosting any such event without first getting a permit from the city, and seeks financial damages from them stemming from a party they hosted last month.
Point Pleasant Beach also plans to go to court against many of the same individuals by Monday.
Long Branch’s lawsuit names six people from northern and central New Jersey as defendants. They could not be reached for comment Friday and several social media accounts that were attributed to them in court papers had been deleted as of Friday morning.
Both towns were the site of past pop-up events officials say got out of hand and resulted in tens of thousands of dollars worth of expenses in police overtime costs alone.
“Enough is enough,” said Long Branch Public Safety Director Domingos Saldida. “These viral parties are likely to get bigger and more dangerous until we do something about it.”
Cities across the country have been dealing with the issue for years, trying with mixed results to prevent or discourage pop-up parties with new laws, higher fines and beefed up police details.
Police in Florida have new powers to shut down such gatherings after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill last month targeting parties organized on social media on short notice. Sheriffs there can now designate an area within their jurisdiction a “special event zone” in reaction to a pop-up party, and can double traffic fines, impound vehicles for 72 hours, and recover enforcement costs from the organizers. Some lawmakers opposed the law on the grounds that it could be used to stifle political protests or demonstrations.
Springfield, Illinois, recently created a pop-up party task force and is considering partnering with local businesses to put up cameras to monitor spots where past parties have been held.
Police is Isle Of Palms, South Carolina, said a pop-up party over Memorial Day weekend included people climbing onto the roofs of cars.
Kalamazoo, Michigan, passed a law in 2019 that makes participation in a “mobile nuisance party” punishable by up to 90 days in jail. But it failed to prevent a party last month at which seven people were arrested for standing on cars, fighting, drinking and carrying illegal weapons.
In New Jersey, Long Branch Mayor John Pallone said the city is seeking to hold financially responsible the organizers of a May 21 party that drew 5,000 people to his city’s beachfront, leading to numerous fights and the vandalization of a police car. He said the city spent $25,000 on police overtime and cleanup costs.
Point Pleasant Beach has also experienced several such parties, including a particularly large one in 2020 in which Mayor Paul Kanitra said his town “was treated like an absolute toilet.”
He said the borough is seeking to have a court block future events without first obtaining a permit. And he called on state lawmakers to redefine the legal definition of creating a riot so organizers of unsanctioned gatherings that result in violence can be charged criminally.
“They were very destructive,” Kanitra said. “Flags were ripped off people’s homes, mailboxes were destroyed, and there was a sea of litter. It wasn’t a family-friendly atmosphere. You don’t want to take your kids on the boardwalk rides if you have to navigate a sea of marijuana smoke and fights to get there.”
Three young people returning home from that party died in a fiery crash in Newark, New Jersey.
Most of the attendees of the previous parties were Black and Latino, and some attendees complained on social media that race played a factor in authorities attempts to end the parties — something the towns deny.
“Our economy runs on tourism,” Kanitra said. “We welcome tourists of all backgrounds in Point Pleasant Beach. But it’s not unreasonable to require that anybody who visits respects our laws.”