PORT RICHEY — For years, Harbor Isles resident Ronald Padova has enjoyed using his golf cart for leisurely rides in his neighborhood, as well as to nearby waterfront restaurants and parks.
It's not uncommon for Harbor Isles residents to seek out a prime spot to catch a sunset in a golf cart, he says. But after police pulled Padova over in February on Bay Boulevard and issued him a citation for driving his golf cart on a public roadway without a registration tag, he began wondering whether the days of getting around by golf cart will be over.
Padova sought a meeting with Port Richey Police Chief Dave Brown asking why the city was suddenly cracking down on golf carts. And word quickly spread through Harbor Isles. City Council member Steve O'Neill said residents began asking him if the board could designate certain roads as safe for golf cart travel.
So City Manager Tom O'Neill is looking into how much it would cost to hire a traffic engineer to scope out roads for such a list. State law prohibits the use of basic golf carts on public roads, but counties and cities can craft exemptions for certain local roads.
Padova, 51, co-owner of Pasco Golf Associates, credits his citation with getting the ball rolling.
"My ticket is the cause of this whole thing," he said. "Port Richey is a small place, so word gets around."
Brown said after the council meeting Tuesday it's "rare" for his officers to issue citations to golf cart drivers on public roadways, and his officers do not "look for it much." But in Padova's case, Brown said his police officer noticed several people on the cart in a "situation involving alcohol."
"My officer called me at home and asked me what to do. I told him, 'Do your job.' The officer could have taken this a whole another way," Brown said.
Padova said Wednesday he had not been drinking and neither had his wife, who sat next to him in the passenger seat, both of them buckled in. He did have a passenger in the back seat. Padova said he was driving that friend home from a restaurant because the friend had been drinking.
Padova said under state law, his golf cart is legally allowed on public roads with a speed limit of 30 mph or less because it has seatbelts, headlights, tail lights and a windshield. So the officer cited him for not having a registration tag. He has since paid the $164 moving violation fine.
Padova said he met with Brown over the incident and the chief attributed the citation to a crackdown on golf cart use on city streets. Padova took responsibility for the citation, but said he is shocked by the chief's characterization of his encounter with police.
"I was doing the responsible thing. If there was an issue with alcohol, how come the police officer said nothing to me about it, and neither did the chief when I met with him?" Padova said.
Padova also expressed concern about possible enforcement on others who do not have carts that are street legal.
"It's an unfortunate situation. I have lived in the city since 1998 and there has never been an issue with from police. Now people aren't sure whether they can use their golf cart or not anymore," Pavoda said. "You would think they would maybe issue warnings or send out a letter that things are going to change before just writing $160 tickets."
During the discussion Tuesday evening among City Council members, Brown did pledge to enforce state law in the city. City Attorney Joseph Poblick said legally designating roads safe for golf cart use is a lengthy process.
Members of the council expressed skepticism over possible safety and liability issues for the city.
"With the gas situation as it is, I'd like to let them use them, but I think it's dangerous," said council member Terry Rowe.