Thursday, July 21, 2016

Experts: Transportation Sales Tax Funds a Road to Nowhere

Crossposted with permission from Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat


Experts: Transportation Sales Tax Funds a Road to Nowhere



Promoting local sales tax increases for transit projects will always be a losing struggle in Florida, a group of transportation strategists agreed this week.

They attributed voter mistrust of government as the insurmountable barrier to referendum-based tax hikes. That unequivocal assessment were expressed at a funding symposium during the 2016 Transportation Summit at St. Pete Beach.

It puts an exclamation point on the word “no,” the message voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have emphatically delivered to their local governments three times in the past six years. The most recent fail occurred in April and June when Hillsborough commissioners voted against even putting a sales tax increase on the ballot after a grass roots uproar.

The fear and misinformation tactics used by proponents, including the far less than unbiased Tampa Bay Times, were contemptible.

It’s bad news for not only the tax-addicted Times but also for the cabal of politicos in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties whose narrow vision cannot see beyond the use of regressive sales taxes to pay off their corporate sponsors. In Pinellas, County Commissioner Ken Welch leads the sales tax charge. In Hillsborough, County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn are the prime movers.

All know the agony of defeat: Hillsborough voters soundly rejected a mass transit proposal in 2010 that would have boosted the sales tax hy 58-42 percent. The Greenlight Pinellas tax increase for transit, promoted by all the usual suspects, got thrashed, 62-38.

The symposium experts said such sales tax increases will forever be DOA in the best of circumstamces. Both Greenlight Pinellas and Go Hillsborough were tainted by shady dealings involving bureaucratic functionaries: Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller and Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

The centerpiece of both transit plans was a light rail system that would have paid off bond attorneys, wealthy land barons, realtors, engineering firms, and other entrenched business interests.

Neighboring counties haven’t been suckers so far. Polk County voters smothered a sales tax for roads 72-28 percent in 2014. The mettle of Manatee County voters will be tested in November when they will be asked to extend a half-cent schools sales tax and implement an “infrastructure” tax for the same amount.

The roundtable discussion was moderated by Ed Regan, senior vice president of CDM Smith, a multinational engineering and construction firm. The Tampa Bay Times was aware of the symposium and whether it was staffed or not, no article has appeared in the Times digital edition 30 hours after the event.

The summit was hosted by Floridians for Better Transportation in partnership with the Transportation and Expressway Authority Membership of Florida. One of the corporate sponsors was Parsons Brinckerhoff, the multinational engineering firm that stood to eventually haul in as much as a quarter billion dollars if Go Hillsborough passed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

TBX and the Political Kabuki Dancing

Two weeks after the Go Hillsborough sales tax hike died, the MPO held a public hearing June 22nd on their Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The contentious part was whether to include FDOT's TBX Express project in the 5 year TIP. 
TBX Master Plan
Hundreds showed up and the StopTBX crowd as expected showed up in full force. 185 people signed up to speak and overflow crowds had to watch outside the 2nd floor Board room. The meeting started at 6pm Wednesday and went to well after 2am Thursday morning. 

Commissioner Les Miller, Chair of the MPO, allowed the normal 3 minute public comment from those who signed up to speak. Miller also allowed speakers, all from the opposition, to yield their time to other speakers. One opponent spoke for 12 minutes. 

The transcript of the meeting can be found here or downloaded here. Some of the political kabuki dancing was quite a show.

We understand there are valid concerns from those directly impacted by TBX that must be mitigated. However, some of the statements made by opponents were simply wrong, some disingenuous, some misleading and some obviously agenda driven. 

Statements made by TBX opponents included we must get out of our cars, we should not be building more roads, more roads causes air pollution and we need more transit options.

TBX opponent former Democrat Tampa City Councilwoman Linda Saul Sena, who lives on the wealthy enclave of Davis Island not impacted by TBX, stated: 
I WANT YOU TO RECOGNIZE THAT THIS VOTE IN MY OPINION IS A CHARACTER DEFINING VOTE.
THERE ARE  EVEN  SOME COMMUNITIES OUTSIDE OF THE U.S. PRIMARILY WHERE  THE ENTIRE CENTER OF THE COMMUNITY IS FOR BICYCLISTS, PEDESTRIANS, TRANSIT, AND A VARIETY OF CHOICES.
THOSE COMMUNITIES ARE SO MUCH FUN TO VISIT AND LIVE IN, AND OFFER THEIR RESIDENTS THIS BROAD AND RICH VARIETY OF CHOICES.
This is a character defining vote? Saul Sena says we need to be more like communities outside of the US? Huh? This is gobbly gook from someone who has known about FDOT's plans for years.

Saul Sena served on the Tampa City Council for 20 years which was most of her entire working career. She knew FDOT has had the expansion of our interstates in their plans for 20 years. She stated at the public hearing that she was a former MPO Board member so she knew that expanding our interstates was in the MPO's approved 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan. 

Suddenly when funding from our state/federal gas taxes we already pay becomes available to actually implement the interstate expansion Saul Sena has an issue.

Saul Sena must understand transportation funding and knows the gas tax is a user fee that was specifically implemented to fund our roads, highways and bridges. She also must know that federal grants for high cost rail and transit projects is not "free" money. Those grants come from the feds general revenue fund which today is simply more federal "debt" dollars as we approach $20 Trillion in debt.

Some TBX opponents wrongly called a toll a tax. Tolls are a user fee that individuals voluntarily decide to pay for the benefit of improving the convenience of their travel. User fees are the fairest to everyone - you use it you pay for it.  

There were lots of rah-rah's for rail, especially from the StopTBX contingency. They wanted all kinds of rail - light rail, commuter rail, high speed rail. Ironically those who were opposing user pays toll lanes prefer to force everyone to pay for highly subsidized costly rail that will do nothing to relieve congestion and few will use.

There was also a large contingent of TBX supporters, including (for transparency) myself, who showed up to speak. 

After a time, the comments became repetitive as nothing new was stated.

Over 1.2 million are expected to move to the Tampa Bay area by 2040, including 600K to Hillsborough county. Regardless of the rhetoric, most newcomers will be bringing their cars and they will not be moving downtown. 

Therefore, our interstate system, the foundation and backbone of our transportation system in the Tampa Bay area, must be expanded and improved and the choke points at I-4 and 60 fixed. Otherwise, we will certainly have gridlock and cause more commuter traffic to use our neighborhood streets not meant for such volume creating more safety issues.

TBX Express is not only about adding additional capacity with managed toll lanes. TBX Express provides an express bus transit corridor that enables HART the opportunity to increase ridership. TBX provides our school system the opportunity to get our children to school more timely. TBX Express empowers individuals to make their own decisions whether to pay the toll or not without coercion. Those who individually decide to pay the toll also benefit those who individually decide not to pay the toll - a win-win for everyone.

What is striking is where were the TBX opponents when the MPO was doing their Imagine 2040 public outreach? FDOT's TBX Express projects are in the MPO's Long Range Transportation Plan aka LRTP. The MPO Board and the Planning Commission already approved the MPO's LRTP that included TBX.
Page 93 of MPO's LRTP that includes TBX
I-275 was recently widened from downtown south to 60 and displaced numerous homes and businesses. Mayor Buckhorn has been demolishing low income housing units in the urban core for his urban redevelopment projects for years displacing hundreds of low income renters. Where was opposition or concern for those displaced by those projects?

FDOT already owns most of the right of way for the project. FDOT owns the property used by the Tampa Heights Civic Association for their community center. FDOT bought the property in 2006 as part of the I-4 interchange expansion, therefore everyone knew there were plans to expand the interchange. FDOT leased the property to the city of Tampa who leased it to the Tampa Heights Civic Association. The Tampa Heights Civic Association made improvements to the property without obtaining approval from FDOT who owns the property. To help mitigate the issue, the state legislature appropriated $1 million to move the community center to another location.

Public comment ended in the early morning hours of Thursday and finally discussion began by members of the MPO Board. A better description was the political theater began. All of the contentious comments were made from the electeds who were doing political maneuvering most probably because they were running for office or re-election.

Commissioner Miller made a motion, seconded by Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, to remove the I-4 choke point and segments north and east of the I-4 interchange (sections 6, 7 & 8) from the TBX project. That is simply idiocy. Apparently Miller and Maniscalco are ok with malfunction junction - a major cause of congestion - and are not concerned about those who live in northern or eastern Hillsborough County.

That motion failed 5-11, most probably for it's lack of common sense because the I-4 chokepoint must be fixed. The role of federally mandated MPO's is not to just consider transportation priorities for downtown Tampa.

Miller was playing politics as he had already come out against TBX before the public hearing because he feared a Democrat challenger. He did get a Dem challenger, StopTBX activist Kimberly Overman, who conveniently withdrew on June 23rd the day after Miller voted no on TBX at the public hearing. 

As we posted here, Miller wanted billions more from us with an unnecessary sales tax hike. He wanted billions more tax dollars to fund costly fairy dust transit/rail projects that have no realistic cost estimates, no ridership studies, no technical analysis, no defined corridors - no data to support - except being on a costly wish list. At the same time, Miller will throw away a $3.3 Billion funded project that would actually help relieve congestion in Hillsborough County and Tampa Bay.

Democrat Commissioner Kevin Beckner, term limited in November and running for Clerk of the Court, a countywide race where he faces a tough primary with the Democrat incumbent Pat Frank, bought up the question of what the "human impact" is.

Per the meeting transcript, Debbie Hunt of FDOT answered:
THE MAJORITY OF THE PROPERTIES AS IN THE INFORMATION THAT HAS BEEN PROVIDED, CLEARLY SHOWS THAT IF THEY ARE TENANT OCCUPIED AND WE DO NOT GET INVOLVED WITH THE TENANTS UNTIL AFTER WE HAVE WORKED WITH THE PROPERTY OWNERS. IT PUTS US AHEAD OF THE PROCESS WHICH IS NOT WHAT WE ARE ABLE TO DO.
Are most of the properties that FDOT may still need to acquire rental properties and tenant occupied not owner occupied? That would make sense because the expansion of the interstate has been in FDOT's plans for decades.

Beckner also mentioned "there are a lot of regressive outcomes that could happen with the use of toll lanes". Beckner supported the unnecessary proposed Go Hillsborough sales tax hike. Sales tax hikes are the most regressive and impact lower income the hardest. Apparently Beckner was not concerned about that "regressive outcome".

Democrat City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who represents New Tampa and recently submitted her resignation to run for state House seat District 63, wanted to know the tax impact to the city of Tampa. We wonder whether Montelione asked the same tax impact question about the recent I-275 widening at downtown that also took numerous homes and businesses. 

Montelione is a transit supporter and it was obvious she prefers transit and costly trains to user pay toll lanes. However, she made some misguided or misinformed statements. Montelione was concerned about toll lanes on freeways and paying extra for better service. 

The interstate "freeway" is not turning into all toll lanes like the Veterans Expressway as existing interstate capacity remains non tolled. We pay extra for a different level of service everyday. If Montelione wants expedited delivery at the post office, she will pay extra for it. At government agencies, if Montelione wants to pay for a service with a credit card, she will pay an additional fee to use that convenience. If Montelione wants anything expedited or a higher level of service, it is most likely Montelione will pay extra for that expedited service. And that is her individual choice.

The Veterans Expressway expansion has also been in the MPO's LRTP for years and that expansion is currently underway. The Veterans is a toll only road and the expansion is adding two lanes in each direction, one general tolled lane and one express toll lane. I do not recall hearing opposition from Montelione or others about the express toll lanes being built on the Veterans.

Montelione mentioned Broward County who has had Tri Rail for 25 years before they implemented toll lanes on the interstate in South Florida. 
YOU KNOW, SOMEONE A COUPLE OF PEOPLE MENTIONED GOVERNOR
SCOTT AND, YOU KNOW, I ALSO BELIEVE AFTER LISTENING TO THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE BROWARD COUNTY MPO COME TO A TMA MEETING AND TALK ABOUT HOW WONDERFUL THE TOLL LANES WORK FOR THEM DOWN THERE AND THEY — HE DIDN'T SAY IT BUT HE WOULD BE MORE THAN HAPPY TO HAVE THE 3.3 BILLION DOLLARS IN HIS COMMUNITY TO CONTINUE TO ADD TO TOLL NETWORK BUT THEY'VE HAD TRI RAIL FOR 25 YEARS. SO THEY'VE TRIED, YOU KNOW, EVERY OPPORTUNITY THEY HAD TO DO EVERY OTHER STRATEGY AND THEN WENT TO THE TOLL LANES AS, OKAY, WE TRIED EVERYTHING ELSE OUR BURGEONING COMMUNITY AND POPULATION CAN'T BEAR IT ANY MORE NOW LET'S DO TOLL LANES AND WE SEEM TO BE DOING THING BACKWARDS.
How can it be backwards to first do what actually works to relieve congestion? Ti-Rail runs huge deficits and must be bailed out by state taxpayers every year while the toll lanes are successful in South Florida. Tri-Rail is operated by South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA). According to their latest Transportation Development Plan (TDP), farebox revenue (about $13 million) recovers less than 13% of their total operating costs of almost $105.7 million. Ti-Rail requires funding assistance from other sources of over $92 million a year.

The weekday ridership for Tri-Rail is about 14,400 according to Wikipedia.  The 2014 populations of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties total about 5.8 million. With a weekday daily ridership of 14,400, about a quarter of one percent, .24%, of the population in those three counties ride Tri-Rail. Looks more like South Florida did it backwards. How about Tampa Bay do what actually works and will benefit the most first…

Montelione has an issue with users individually deciding to pay for a service they use but she has no issue forcing everyone to pay for services they will never use.

Murman, Beckner and Montelione brought up issues regarding FDOT accountability. No problem with wanting accountability but the irony continued. Beckner wanted all the impact studies, PD&E, mitigation plans, etc. for TBX. However, he never asked for or seemed concerned about accountability regarding the proposed Go Hillsborough sales tax hike. 

Like Miller, Beckner voted to support the Go Hillsborough big sales tax hike to fund costly fairy dust transit projects that have no data - none of the data he was asking from FDOT for the funded TBX project. Beckner never requested any studies, realistic cost estimates, technical analysis, engineering studies or any other detailed information for the rail and taj mahal BRT transit projects included in Go Hillsborough. 

We know why. Because such information or details to back up why these high cost projects were included in the tax hike proposal simply does not exist. That can be a post for another day.

Beckner, like Miller, would throw out a funded project that will actually help reduce congestion. Remember for future reference.

motion was passed by the MPO Board for FDOT to regularly update the MPO on the TBX project and bring the human impact and tax impact information back to the MPO. 

The political theater wound down as the clock ticked well past 2 am in the morning. The MPO Board members finally voted 12-4 to approve the Transportation Improvement Plan with TBX. The four who voted No were County Commissioners Miller and Beckner and Tampa City Council reps Montelione and Guido Maniscalco. 

It is unfortunate that the TBX project got to such a point because it is not a new project. FDOT did not do a good job of messaging. They allowed the opposition to create false narratives and gain media attention that amplified misinformation about the project which enabled the opposition to politicize the project.

There is no excuse for why our local transportation issue and FDOT's TBX project were dealt with in such a disconnected way. FDOT was a participant in the county's Transportation and Economic Development (TED)/Transportation Policy Leadership Group initiative but the Go Hillsborough campaign royally messed up. Go Hillsborough displayed pictures of I-275 traffic at their public meetings falsely insinuating that Go Hillsborough was going to solve interstate congestion. That was a total misperception because Go Hillsborough had nothing to do with relieving congestion on our interstates. 

Go Hillsborough should have informed the public about the proposed TBX project as part of the overall solution for relieving congestion in Tampa Bay. Go Hillsborough should have been honest that it is the proposed TBX project that will relieve congestion on our interstates not any locally funded plan. Instead Go Hillsborough had their heads stuck in the sand  pushing an unnecessary sales tax hike and not focusing on the issue of mobility.

TBARTA and our MPO should have been championing TBX and helping to educate the public about TBX. Both agencies had no problems in 2010 spending tons of taxpayer money and resources to educate advocate for the failed rail tax. Yet they were almost nowhere to be found educating the public on TBX, a funded project that both their boards had approved.

TBX lives on for another day but the StopTBX crowd will continue opposing TBX and will continue tactics to shut it down.

TBARTA and our MPO must get off the sidelines and help educate the public about the project because both agencies have approved TBX.

The electeds who support TBX need to champion the project and educate their constituents.

FDOT needs to vastly improve their messaging about TBX. They must ensure accountability with accurate communication and regular updates to the MPO but the FDOT also must push back when the opposition collaborates with the media to create false narratives.

TBX survives, for now, but there is work to do to ensure our MPO continues supporting the project and it actually gets implemented. 

The interstate is there, has been for over 50 years and it's not going away - no matter how many TBX opponents would prefer tearing it up.

We need more consistency and less hypocrisy to solve our transportation issue.

Unfortunately we expect more political kabuki dancing before the TBX project starts.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Reader's thoughts on Mass Transit and light rail

We as a community need to think not only about one year from now but 5, 10, 20 years from now! – CV


St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Transportation continues to be a major issue in the Tampa Bay Area. There have been multiple failed efforts to convince the public to tax itself for the development of transportation initiatives.

Here is an e-mail from a reader with a different view:

    Read your post on the "Patch." My thought is that I would be willing to pay an extra 1% in sales tax to bring another form of mass transit to the area. I believe that it would benefit the local citizens by creating jobs, eventually relieving vehicle traffic, helping seniors get around (which provides a better mental health for the aging), it would create media attention to the area
which can be a boost to local marketing and advertising therefore stimulating the economy, and finally providing tourists with a way to see areas that they may not have if they just took a taxi from the airport to their final destination (again, a possible benefit to local businesses!

    Let's say I spend $100 a week in purchases that are taxable. That means that i would be paying an extra $1 to help the local economy in a big way. Is that really that big of a burden for me?.... Absolutely not and I think that if the "Train" initiative was presented as only costing a $1 a week, (which is probably double what most people spend in taxable purchases, remember "real" food isn't taxed) that the vote would be to pass an increase in county tax!

    All that people such as yourself seem to blog about is how these things are going to cost YOU and your like minded individuals. I ask that you take the time to think about and write about both sides of the argument. Think about how your $1 could actually help others! We as a community need to think not only about 1 year from now but 5, 10, 20 years from now! The last I heard, more people are moving into Florida than out of it. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my opinion!
CV - Clearwater

You make a very good point.

The problem all along has been the bay area people behind light rail are mostly developers and real estate people. Their principal objective has been to use publicly funded light rail to start transit-oriented redevelopment of Pinellas County.

You only have to look at the meandering route of the failed GreenLight Pinellas effort to see this approach at work. The entire GreenLight effort focused on creating new centers of development and not on improving public transportation.

There was also no significant GreenLight effort to resolve the "last mile" issue.

This approach rarely works in the US.

If we had a serious transit plan that solved the "last mile" problem and put light rail where it would be effective I agree that the public would support it.

The CSX tracks offer a significant opportunity, but the "last mile" problem is huge in the CSX scenario.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to Like or share on Facebook.

See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Disclosures and understanding what you read in my Posts

You will be amazed at how much more engaged in our political process you become, when you make a simple $5.00 contribution to a candidate, you support.


St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

This month (July 2016) I will begin following the upcoming election cycle at the national, state, county and local level.

As I often remind many of my friends, I am a Blogger not a reporter. I Post my thoughts and opinions, you will rarely see any "Breaking News" in my Posts.

In this election cycle, as in the past, I will periodically contribute to political campaigns, PACs or issues. I think it is important that as a reader, you can easily see when I am commenting about a campaign or candidate where I have contributed.

All of my Blog Posts end with the following:
E-mail Doc at: mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share and Like on Facebook. 

The tag line will be as shown below with "Disclosures" added. As I contribute to various campaigns, the campaign or candidate will be listed.

E-mail Doc at: mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share and Like on Facebook.
Disclosures:

These contributions are not ringing endorsements, and I frequently disagree on specifics with those I have supported and agree with those whom I have not.

I would encourage you to contribute to a candidate or cause you support. Today virtually all campaigns have a WEB site where it is easy and secure to make a contribution.

The amount really is not that important, but you will be amazed at how much more engaged in our political process you become when you make a simple $5.00 contribution to candidate or a cause you support.

Running a campaign, whether it is for city council or president of the United States is an arduous task. Most candidates will tell you they are more inspired by the number of names on the contributor list than the numbers beside the names.

Thank you for the time you invest in reading what I Post. I deeply appreciate all of your comments, Tweets and e-mails.

It will be an interesting election cycle with just a few months until the Presidential election. I hope I pique your interest, make you smile, raise your awareness and move you to comment in the coming weeks.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to Like and share on Facebook.

See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tampa Bay Partnership Reinvents itself

You can toss The Tampa Bay Partnership into the same bucket as the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and TBARTA.


St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

The Tampa Bay Partnership (TBP) was formed in 1994 as a regional joint public/private organization to encourage and support major economic issues.

You can read the details of the TBP reinvention in the Tampa Bay Times piece by Robert Trigaux Business Columnist: Tampa Bay Partnership  2.0: To meet regional challenge, economic advocacy group reinvents itself.

The Tampa Bay Partnership is made up of CEOs and government officials, and the primary aim was to support economic development from a regional perspective.

From the Tampa Bay Partnership web site:

About the Tampa Bay Partnership
The Tampa Bay Partnership galvanizes the business and political leadership of Tampa Bay to exert its collective influence on the policies, programs and projects that enhance the economic competitiveness and prosperity of our region.

Through the Partnership’s public policy, political action and research initiatives, a diverse community is united with one shared vision and one powerful voice on issues of regional significance.

Founded in 1994, the regional advocacy organization is today supported by more than 120 private investors, public partners and community stakeholders from the counties of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota.

You can check out their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/TBPartnership

In this reincarnation “The Partnership plans to end its public-private structure and instead be run exclusively by a "council of governors" consisting of up to 40 CEOs of major companies based or operating here who would pay $50,000 a year to serve on the board. A second-tier "leadership council" of another 40-plus senior area executives will pay $25,000 a year to participate.”

They will dump their public funding along with the politicians (Public Partners) and the public scrutiny that come with the public money and simply become a regional lobbying club made up of people who can afford the “dues” or feel the investment will be in their best interest.

The TBP has not been all that effective of late, except for the recent TBX effort but there is little to indicate their support made much difference.

You can toss The Tampa Bay Partnership into the same bucket as the Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and TBARTA.

The Tampa Bay region is such an alphabet soup of planning organizations, cities, counties and special-interest groups and organizations that it is a wonder that anything gets done.

Once TBP is successful in filling its Board at $50K and $25K, a pop and unfettered by the restrictions that come along with the public funding it will be interesting to see what the Tampa Bay Partnership 2.0 looks like. Will they be a good old boys club, a lobbying group, self-serving special interest group, a Political Action Committee (PAC) or some hybrid combination?

One thing is for sure, if you can’t afford a seat at the TBP table the likelihood they will be supporting anything in your best interest is slim.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook.

See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:
Contributor: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Friday, June 10, 2016

Another Urban Myth Busted

We've grown weary of the incessant cheerleading around downtown development for both Tampa and St. Petersburg. We're glad they are developing and improving, but its not the only story in town. All that's hot in the real estate market is not downtown.
Forget Davis Islands, South Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg — Tampa Bay's hottest ZIP codes are two you might not expect.

While wealthier parts of the bay area have seen greater price appreciation since 2004, the areas most sought after by home buyers today are Largo/Seminole (ZIP 33778) and Tampa's Carrollwood-Northdale (ZIP 33624), realtor.com says.
It should not be any surprise as to why.
The main reason for those ZIPs' popularity is simple — both have stable neighborhoods with the kind of roomy yet moderately priced homes that are in increasingly tight supply these days.

In ZIP 33624, "Northdale is affordable square footage for the money,'' says Joe Lewkowicz, a veteran Coldwell Banker agent. "Plus, they've got the YMCA, which a lot of people use, the golf course, a great school right there (Gaither High), and it's close in to downtown.''
Disclosure: Joe Lewkowicz is a neighbor.

Amenities. Good value. Space. Privacy. Yard. Good schools...

Northdale Park
In short, the American Dream does not start and end in a boxed up in an apartment, even if downtown transmogrifies into a Disney-esque entertainment district for the ADHD afflicted in crowd.

Perhaps the high rents downtown contribute. A friend recently moved downtown into a one bedroom apartment for $1700 per month.  He likes it downtown, so great for him. That kind of rent is typical of downtown these days.

Latest downtown Tampa apartment rents on Zlillow.com as of June 9
Compare that to Northdale.
Lewkowicz is negotiating an offer on a 2,400-square-foot home with a new kitchen and golf-course view, listed at $325,000. "In a lot of other areas you cannot get that for that kind of money,'' he says.
A quick mortgage calculation assuming $325,000 purchase price, 30 years, 20% down, 3.75% interest rate terms for that Northdale house can be bought for $1204.10 per month (principal and interest only).

You can decide which is the best for you and your family. Many are choosing Northdale and other affordable areas.

Despite all the news from downtown and other urban developments, people continue to move into the suburbs at a higher rate than the urban districts, as Jed Kolko, formerly Chief Economist for Trulia wrote in March this year.
Today the Census Bureau released its 2015 population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas. After volatile swings in growth patterns during last decade’s housing bubble and bust, long-term trends are reasserting themselves. Population is growing faster in the South and West than in the Northeast and Midwest, and faster in suburban areas than in urban counties; both of these trends accelerated in 2015. 
Again, this is not news for those who follow the issue and seek the facts, or even observe the greater residential development in Hillsborough County suburbs compared to city of Tampa.

As Kolko's further analysis shows this is not an anomaly. He expects this pattern of faster growth in the suburbs to continue.
But it’s not just that population growth patterns today more like they did during early years of the bubble. Rather, local population growth trends increasingly look like they did before the bubble, in the 1980s and 1990s.
There is much more to read from Kolko, so read the whole thing.

While we're piecing urban myths, the luxury urban housing bubble is not looking too good.
One major meme for the luxury developers had to do with well-off retirees—the one domestic population with the money to afford such housing. Newspapers have been crammed with anecdotal stories about this “trend.” Yet analysis of Census trends among seniors shows that the senior percentage share in both the inner core and older suburbs dropped between 2000 and 2010 while growing substantially in the newer suburbs and exurbs. The most recent data show these patterns continue.
Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox further explain much of the run up has been due to foreign buyers and investors, and that well is drying up. It's not a full on crash, but there are higher vacancy rates in many markets. This may not be good news for more downtown residential development.

Especially for the urbanistas.

But they can get a better value for the money in the 'burbs.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Les Miller Gives Away Your Taxes To Tax You More

Les Miller, Chairman of the Hillsborough County Commission, recently announced he will vote against Tampa Bay Express, a $6 billion dollar plan to improve the interstate system in the Tampa Bay area.
Opponents of Tampa Bay Express now have a powerful ally who also wants to squash the $6 billion plan: Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller.

Miller said Monday that he will vote against the project known as TBX — a plan to add express toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates — and there’s nothing that the Florida Department of Transportation can say at this point to change his mind.
TBX construction is planned to be funded with the taxes, mostly gas taxes, that we've paid to the state and federal Highway Trust Fund. It's planned to be built with our hard earned tax dollars.

Les Miller, Chairman Hillsborough County Commission and MPO
Yet Miller does not want that money to come back to Tampa.
“I agree with the people that don’t want this and they don’t think they should have this in the neighborhood without a complete study done,” Miller said. “People just feel like it’s going to destroy their neighborhood. Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights. Even though they’re older they’re transforming into vibrant communities.”
TBX has been studied, planned, and designed for almost 20 years. It's the only transportation project in the Tampa Bay area that has been planned to professional transportation standards at all.

The "destroy their neighborhood" is a red herring tossed out by the TBX opponents. The Florida DOT has planned and acquired most of the right of way for the expansion over the last 10 years or so. It has been in the public, yet the nearby affected communities are "transforming into vibrant communities" in spite of the ravages of TBX. Not to mention the interstate is already there, and has been there for over 50 years.

Or are they "transforming into vibrant communities" because of TBX and improved access to those communities?

Miller, also Chairman of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, will be voting on June 22 to give our money away, rather than add TBX to the MPO's Transportation Improvement Program.
“A 'no’ vote has dramatic consequences for our region,” said Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership. “The opportunity to assemble a large amount of transportation funds for our region in the future would probably be next to impossible.”
Miller has also been an outspoken advocate for the troubled Go Hillsborough project, seeking to raise sales taxes in Hillsborough another 1/2 cent for up to 30 years. Go Hillsborough is a total mess as we've documented repeated here at the EyeOnTampaBay. It's a tax referendum with a wish list of projects. No studies, no plans, no designs, no engineering.

For example, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's treasured light rail project between downtown and the airport was estimated to cost $450 million. But that was just a guess. It could easily cost $1 billion. They have no ridership studies, fare recovery estimates, no route, no idea how many or what type of rail cars, where to place the stops, traffic and road crossing impacts,... or even how to route rails to and from the tight and complicated infrastructure around the airport. It does nothing to alleviate congestion for the vast majority of Hillsborough commuters. But he had to have it, and he got it included in Go Hillsborough.

Here we are. The chair of the BOCC and MPO wants to throw away the taxes you've paid to build the most well planned transportation project in years and we get nothing. Miller would rather tax you even more to build a political wish list of costly random projects that will do nothing.