Key West: Dinghy Beach Activist Says Marriott Beachside is Violating Her First Amendment Rights
by Arnaud and Naja Girard…
“If they told the police that I was on “THEIR” property, they made a false police report,” says Christine Lininger.
It’s January 7th, North Roosevelt Boulevard, in what has become a familiar scene: Key West police are detaining activist Christine Lininger as the Marriott Beachside hotel has once again called for her arrest. Brandishing the signs she uses to picket in front of the hotel, Lininger is once again explaining that the beach is public, that it was fenced off illegally by the Marriott, and that they have no right to call for her arrest. And once again, Lininger’s pleas fall on deaf ears.
Why is the Marriott Beachside, which belongs to local attorney Robert Spottswood, allowed to erect a fence without a permit and why are people who complain about it arrested?
On January 7th Officer Janeth Del Cid’s body cam laid bare the double standard as only a cop could. While talking with the manager she says: “You’re Spottswoods right? You own the island.” And the hotel management agrees adding: “I’ll tell you what blows my mind with the Spottswoods, the main guy, he’s the Chairman of the FWC for the state of Florida.” “The guy owns the Keys. Yeah.”
But none of that deters Christine Lininger. For the past two years she’s been fighting to save “Dinghy Beach,” a tiny strip of sand wedged between exclusive hotel resorts and used by the few locals who know about it. “I have been loving this little place for the past seven years,” she says. “I used to stop here often, sometimes to relax and sometimes to help with cleanups.”
“They are lying about this beach,” says Lininger, “the beach did not just appear after Hurricane Irma.” She has done some research: “It looks like it was a sponger named Donald O Marchante who first gave it its name, ‘Dinghy Beach’, back in the 70’s. He used it to go back and forth from land to his nearby sponge camp,” says Lininger.
Marchante was a Vietnam vet. He built a shack on stilts on a mangrove island only a few hundred yards away from Dinghy Beach. “There are still remnants of that cabin out there,” she shows us a photo of an old engraving which looks to have been done by Marchante’s friends after spreading his ashes there in 2001. The engraving reads: “This island was the home of Donald O. Marchante.”
On Google Earth you can see what could be the roof of a small shack smack in the middle of the island. Maybe we should do a piece on Donald O Marchante, truth or legend.
So who owns Dinghy Beach?
Two years ago, when the fence went up, Lininger asked to see a building permit. Code Enforcement heroically cited Spottswood for erecting a fence without a permit and without a property title. But some city commissioners came to the rescue and a deal was signed allowing the fence to stay up until the issue of ownership is clarified.
There’s not that much to clarify. We found a survey done by Frederick H. Hildebrandt in April of 2007 which clearly shows the boundaries of the hotel property. It does not include dinghy beach nor the land beneath the fence.
At the December 7, 2021 commission meeting, after Lininger had been pleading for the fence to come down for nearly 2 years, Commissioner Sam Kaufman proposed that the city clear its title to Dinghy Beach.
The city hired a surveyor with Avirom & Associates, who reviewed the 2007 Hildebrandt survey of the Marriott boundary line and found it “equitable.”
Pattern of Harassment?
Interestingly Robert Spottswood himself signed a settlement agreement with the city agreeing that the ownership of Dinghy Beach is “unknown” and “in dispute.” Yet Marriott Beachside employees keep calling the police when they see Lininger on Dinghy Beach. Lininger says this happens in particular after she displays her protest signs for all the hotel’s guests to see.
She’s been handcuffed and questioned. Sometimes a diligent officer calls the city attorney who responds that the Dinghy Beach property is in dispute. Sometimes they let her go. Other times they have her arrested on another pretext, like for allegedly “stealing” a piece of the fence. Recently Marriott Beachside employees called the police because Lininger was using a palm tree as a support for her protest signs.
When we asked to interview Lininger this week we suggested we meet at the Starbucks across the street from Dinghy Beach. “I can’t go to Starbucks,” said Lininger. Officer Del Cid had officially warned her that the Gates Hotel and the 24 North Hotel properties, where Starbucks is located, belong to the Spottswoods and that she will be arrested for trespassing if she goes there to get a coffee. So we walked into Starbucks where the manager told us she was welcome, understood that she had the right to protest, and that the Starbucks property had “no affiliation” with the Spottswoods companies.
“Those people at the hotel are ecstatic when they get me arrested,” says Lininger. “They were grinning and gloating when they put the cuffs on me.”
How is she holding up?
We finally sat down at an outdoor table. Christine had ordered a large tea. She talks non-stop, no interruptions, constantly reinforcing the ethical angle of her position. “It comes from my military upbringing,” she says. One city official, who does not wish to be named, once told us: “She can drive you crazy.” Well, that’s probably what it takes.
Back by the beach, as we stand nearby watching Christine engage with passers by, we see people listening to her and encouraging her, thanking her for her dedication and courage. She truly is one in a million.
CLICK to view and sign Christine Lininger’s change.org petition.
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