Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Debt-Ridden Tampa Bay Times Duping Employees, Subscribers , Advertisers, Suppliers

Cross Post from Jim Bleyer, Tampa Bay Beat blog

With approximately $100 million in debt and operating nowhere near profitablity, the Tampa Bay Times is in its death throes as a viable, traditional newspaper entity, Tampa Bay Beat has learned.

The pension plan is in jeopardy. Assets have been mortgaged. Filing bankruptcy could very well be on the horizon.

Some creditors know this. So-called “local investors” must be aware of it. But worst of all, Publisher Paul Tash, who also serves as board chairman of the Poynter Foundation, has been cognizant of the deteriorating financial situation for several years.

The Poynter Institute is the parent company of the Times.

Tash, the $550,000-a-year chief executive, using a three-card-Monte ploy to stave off bankruptcy, seizure of assets, and an ignominious finality to a longstanding media entity, has known for some time the company’s pension plan is at extreme risk. Times employees have a regular payroll deduction for pension benefits but it could very well be funneled into financing current operations instead of its intended purpose.

Any employee, sufficiently deranged to want to continue employment at the Times, should require an examination of its books. Hell—subscribers, advertisers, suppliers and any entity that has advanced money to the Times should demand to see the results of a forensic audit as well.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency, has placed liens totaling $70 million against The Times Publishing Company. The Times’ total indebtedness is believed to be in excess of $100 million.

The PBGC obtains revenue from four sources:
Insurance premiums paid by sponsors of defined benefit pension plans;
Assets held by the pension plans it takes over;
Recoveries of unfunded pension liabilities from plan sponsors’ bankruptcy estates; and
Investment income.

PBGC liens against the Times (only opens in Google Chrome):

—Oct. 15, 2015 totaling $7,610,616.

—Jan. 15, 2016 totaling $2,888,797.

—Oct. 15, 2016 totaling $10,904,192.

—Jan. 15, 2017 totaling $3,496,356.

—Apr. 15, 2017 totaling $30,476,992.

—Oct. 15, 2017 totaling $15,369,170.

On June 28, 2017, Crystal Financial signed a Satisfaction of Mortgage, releasing Poynter Institute from a 2013 loan totaling $28 million. The mortgage security released was the Poynter Institute property and the parcels of land comprising the Times printing plant.

On the same day, Encina Business Credit LLC signed a lien subordination agreement with PBGC on Encina’s $20 million loan. The agreement identifies that as of January 15, 2017, the Times has an outstanding lien from PBGC for $59,615,990.

The subordination agreement was written so as to basically replace the same subordinated lien that Crystal had with the Times. Encina is a lender of last resort, one step above Tony Soprano’s loan sharking operation.

The subterfuge, paper shuffling, and co-mingling of funds are mind boggling.

In a “distress termination,” where the plan does not have sufficient money to pay all benefits, the employer must prove severe financial distress, e.g., the likelihood that continuing the plan would force the company to shut down. PBGC would pay guaranteed benefits, usually covering a large part of total earned benefits, and make strong efforts to recover funds from the employer.

Greasing the skids for the Times was its purchase of the Tampa Tribune from Revolution Capital Group for a reported $22 million, about $22 million too much. With property, buildings, and a printing plant divested, the Times basically purchased a name, some temporarily inherited advertisers, a subscription list, and a shabby web presence.

The machinations of the Times and Tash are eerily reminiscent of events leading up to the 2009 bankruptcy filing of the Journal Register Company. It operated the flagship New Haven Register in Connecticut as well as smaller papers in four other states.

A top executive declared the company would “emerge stronger and more viable” from the bankruptcy but three years later the papers folded.

A 2012 New York Times article recounts the duplicity of John Paton, chief executive of the management company Digital First Media Group, parent of the Journal Register group. The syndicate was run into the ground and it was perceived Paton filed bankruptcy to shift the pension burden to PBGC.

Paton was quoted as saying pension benefits should be covered by the federal agency. He said he was “embarrassed” as if that mitigated him taking a bloated salary, lying to his employees and suppliers, and putting pensioners in limbo.

Sound familiar? Tash has been insisting publicly that the Times is profitable. He said this after accepting close to $15 million from influential local businessmen who, since the stopgap bailout, have been elevated to godlike status in the paper’s so-called “news” pages and columns.

One investor, Kiran Patel, was the Times “Floridian of the Year” in 2017. Out of 17 million residents, Patel, was deemed to be the shining star. But in May of last year, two of his businesses paid more than $30 millionin a settlement with the federal government after accusations of artificially inflating costs for health care. No admission of wrongdoing was part of the settlement.

Another investor, Jeff Vinik, has really gotten his money’s worth. In past trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission on both ethical and legal grounds, Vinik tried to bleed taxpayers on a shady Museum of Science and Industry relocation.

His ineptly named downtown project, “Water Street Tampa,” is in serious trouble. Insiders say it will be ten years before it reaches fruition, if at all. But as far as the Times is concerned, the $200 million and counting in taxpayer funding to support Vinik’s “vision” is money well spent.

Steve Yzerman, general managet of Vinik’s NHL Tampa Bay Lightning never makes a wrong move, according to the Times. But he has been GM for eight seasons without a Stanley Cup. Former GM Jay Feaster, who served under a previous owner, was GM for 2 1/2 years when the Lightning won the championship.

There’s more Vinik cbicanery but adverse news regarding him in the Times is verboten.

Tampa Bay residents, who are savvy enough to glean information from alternative news sources, know better. Meanwhile, the Times continues to be nothing more than a mouthpiece for its investors and vested Poynter Foundation board members. Even the “Politifact” feature is slanted and inaccurate.

The recent plethora of Times/Poynter misadventures are codified here.

Former staff writers collecting a pension might start researching freelance opportunities. Although pensioners would stand at the head of the line, a bankruptcy would interrupt pension payments. It’s extremely questionable whether or not a sale of assets would make the retirees whole.

Current employees should have been bailing for at least a couple of years as the paper has been publicly stripped of any vestige of ethical standards. It also is difficult to fathom that anyone, paid to investigate and gather news, failed to sniff out this debacle occurring in their very own workplace.

Advertisers, subscribers, suppliers, and anyone else advancing cash or goods to the Times should be squirming. When the hammer falls, it will be 20 cents on the dollar in a rosy scenario and that group will comprise the caboose.

The Times two months ago announced it would slash printing of its totally superfluous *tbt tabloid from every weekday to once a week. Tash blamed the action on the institution of newsprint tariffs by President Trump. Ludicrous.

Meanwhile Tash has been living like a Russian oligarch. In recent years, Tash sold his posh $1.6 million, Snell Isle waterfront digs and acquired even more lavish quarters, a $1.8 million condo at Vinoy Place in downtown St. Petersburg. In late 2016, he reportedly sold that condo for $2.15 million, and is now renting a comparable crib on Beach Drive in St. Pete.

Records on file with the Pinellas County Tax Collector have been changed, no longer reflecting the name of Paul Tash when a search is conducted.

Tash continues his profiteering while drawing an immense salary and driving the company’s debt to the stratosphere through artiface and gross mismanagement.

(Tampa Bay Beat will have follow-up stories on the Poynter/Times slide into bankruptcy)

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fund Transportation and No Tax Hike Is Needed!

Transportation planning and progress has been dysfunctional and elusive in Hillsborough County for over 20 years. After three failed sales tax initiatives, from the committee of 99 to to Moving Hillsborough Forward to GO Hillsborough, and multiple unfunded Long Range Transportation Plans from the Hillsborough MPO, the “Powers” that be may have finally faced reality and the future.

On Wednesday, June 6th the Hillsborough BOCC voted to send a future transportation revenue plan presented to them earlier this year to the county Citizen Advisory Committee for their consideration and advisement. The plan was initially presented by Dr James Davison to the Board on April 4, 2018.

Davison's plan consists of 5 separate revenue sources totaling $8.468 Billion, yes billion with a “B”, over the next 25 years. About $6.2 billion goes towards transportation, but the unique thing about this plan is that for its last 20 years there is no increase in your property tax millage or sales tax rate. There is a small increase of 1/4 percent in the sales tax for the first 6 years until 2026 and then the sales tax returns to its current 7%. There are “No New Taxes” for Hillsborough residents in the plan. 

Not only are there no new taxes, but more money is available for transportation/transit than in the recent GO Hillsborough plan

The entire plan revenues are shown below:
1. Mobility Fees on new development passed 2016: 2021-2045 - $600 Million 

2. Restructure current 10 year property tax BOCC Transportation Policy to 25 year program: 2020-2045 - $1.15 Billion 

3. Value Capture (tax increment financing, development rights, etc) along any premium transit line to leverage state and federal money: 2021-2045 - $1.0 Billion

4. County Transportation Sales Tax @ 1/4 percent: 20121-2045 - $3.01 Billion total
  • $ 1.054 billion to HART
  • $ 1.37 billion to HillsboroughCo
  • $ 499 million to Tampa
  • $ 41.1 million to Plant City
  • $ 27.4 million to Temple Terrace
5. Renew CIT @ 1/4 percent instead of 1/2 cent currently levied:  2027-2046 - $2.708 Billion total **
  • $ 894 Million to School Board
  • $ 190 Million Affordable House
  • $ 1.137 Billion Hillsborough Co.
  • $ 414.3 Million to Tampa
  • $ 34 Million to Plant City
  • $ 22.8 Million to Temple Terrace
**Note: The CIT tax is a local infrastructure sales surtax enabled by FL 212.055. The statute currently only accommodates a 1/2 percent or 1 percent tax. The state legislature will need to amend the statute to support 1/4 percent or make it similar to the transportation sales surtax that can be any percentage up to one percent. We believe the state will accommodate when the county (or counties) request the change.

Dr Davison stated that over $2 billion would go to transit or almost 3 times what was being allocated with GO Hillsborough. Plus over $4 billion dollars to the county and cities to pay for repaving, bridge repair, sidewalks bicycle paths, increased road capacity and new technology. All within a shorter period of time and with no new taxes. At 1/4 percent, the renewed CIT will raise more money in 20 years then the present CIT did at 1/2 percent in its last 20 years and over $1 billion dollars more then in its first 20 years.

After Dr. Davison made the presentation to the BOCC on April 4th , Commissioner White requested that the plan be forwarded to the county Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). County Administrator Mike Merrill requested that the administration “vet” the numbers before taking them to the CAC. 

Last month Dr Davison and Commissioner White met with Hillsborough County's Director of Finance, Bonnie Wise, Director of the Budget Tom Fesler and Chief County Economist Kevin Brickley in separate meetings. It was confirmed that the numbers and future estimates in the plan are accurate. Of course they were the county's own numbers to begin with.

Wednesday June 6th the BOCC unanimously voted 6-0 to send the plan on to the County CAC. Conspicuously, Commissioner Ken Hagan and County Administrator Mike Merrill, who keep pushing tax hike referendums, got up and left the room right before Dr. Davison was to speak Wednesday. Commissioner Hagan has a consistent behavior of rudely walking out of meetings when he does want not his vote recorded. Since Hagan is running again, he should be asked by voters/constituents if he supports the county seriously looking at this alternative funding plan. 

Davison stated there is still a lot of work to be done, but he is confident that this plan can be accomplished. “There is no reason to raise taxes when we have growth in our revenue streams going on like we are have in Hillsborough County”, he said. The key is funding priorities.

In addition, Davison could not explain why the MPO has not included “Value Capture” to pay for transit capital costs in the LRTPs like it did prior to 2000. Value capture includes recovering some of the property value gains to finance the transit project. The Trump Administration has stated they want to make federal transit grants conditional on value capture.

The Hillsborough County Citizens Advisory Committee meetings are held the 4th Friday of every month at County Center. We anticipate numerous different groups will be there to weigh in on the matter and we will also be keeping an EYE on it.

We have often asked here at the EYE the same questions. Why has it taken so long to come up with a plan that together with revenues already committed over the next 25 years, will provide Hillsborough county over $17 billion dollars to improve roads, transit and mobility. All without increasing taxes. 

The county commissioners must seriously consider this plan and throw out any plans that would needlessly raise taxes. 

To be continued!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

'Unity' Confab Fizzles; Janet Cruz Campaign in Shambles

Cross posting from the author Jim Bleyer

By any measure, the Janet Cruz Campaign for State Senate’s so-called “unity” event last Thursday in South Tampa was a failure. Worse, it was an embarrassment.
The stunt was necessitated by what Tampa’s progressive community considers reprehensible behavior by Cruz and the Florida Democratic Party. It was a lame attempt for Cruz to mend fences.
After declaring her intention to file for a Hillsborough County Commission seat, Cruz inveigled her way into the state Senate race to unseat incumbent Dana Young. Using the state party as a club and wanting to avoid a bruising primary, she forced community-conscious attorney Bob Buesing out of the race. Buesing, a darling of progressives, faced Young two years ago and lost 48-41 percent.
He had already raised an ample war chest and hit the campaign trail, salivating over a promising rematch. Progressives were ignited.
Not any more. Many rank-and-file Democrats vowed to pass the race on the ballot. A handful, determined that treachery should not be rewarded, will vote for Young.
Buesing, incentivized by a possible appointment if a Democrat captures the governorship, has called for unity and says he supports Cruz.
It’s translating even worse than Bernie Sanders’ call for his supporters to vote for Hillary.
The number of attendees according to multiple sources reached 40, including all the ins and outs. That anemic figure includes Buesing and some close friends, Cruz and her entourage, media, and Alex Sink, the self-styled kingmaker of the Democratic Party whose heavy-handedness caused the ruckus.
A notable absentee:  Karen Buesing, wife of the screwed-over ex-candidate.
There were virtually no progressive Democrats attending. They are the segment of voters that Cruz, a term-limited state representative, absolutely needs in her corner to have any hope of unseating Young.
Chances of that are slim and none ... and Slim just left town.
One local news entity reported that Cruz and Sink declared at the event the Democrats are “now united.”  Laughable.  Tampa Bay Beat contacted several in attendance who would dispute that.
Another tell: the Cruz campaign posted one photo of the event on her Facebook page.  It was a picture of her and Buesing. No one else. No crowd shots because there were no crowds.
Neither Sink nor Cruz had the smarts to say they wished more progressives had attended.  Party hacks, it seems, always go for the Big Lie.
Sink’s power is a total disconnect from her (lack of) ability to get elected herself.  In her last two attempts at political office, Sink lost to two neophytes, Rick Scott and David Jolly, who had never before run for public office. State CFO is virtually ancient history.
Democrats were heartened this year as the 2016 independent candidate, Joe Redner, said he would support Buesing. With Young held to less than a majority two years ago and Democratic voters determined to vote this midterm, the party, especially progressives, met Buesing’s campaign with enthusiasm.
With a fractured party, the opportunity to flip the Senate seat has faded. A further irony is that Cruz would have been favored to win the County Commission seat. As of today, it tilts Republican.
One longtime Hillsborough County political observer declared that the Cruz campaign represented a lust for power, not the furthering of progressive principles. Another pointed out enthusiasm for Cruz is lacking, stating that her candidacy has been met with “collective indifference.”
What was deemed an extremely doable Democratic pickup is now a dubious longshot.
Jim Bleyer, a former reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Tribune, writes the Tampa Bay Beat blog

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Pinellas County Commission District 6 Candidate Forum On June 6 in Pinellas Park


***Press Release***

MAY 29, 2018

Candidates for Pinellas County Commission, District 6, Larry Ahern, Barb Haselden, Kathleen Peters, and Amy Kedron have accepted to attend. Each will give opening remarks and answer questions on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, at 7:00 PM, in the Mainlands of Tamarac Unit 5 Clubhouse located at 4275 Mainlands Blvd., Pinellas Park. District 6 includes northeast St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Seminole and the barrier island beaches from Redington Shores to Tierra Verde.

The District 6 seat became available last year when Commissioner John Morroni announced his retirement after almost 20 years. The Host Committee will call for a moment of silence in memory of Commissioner Morroni who died after a long illness on May 21, 2018.

Each candidate will speak for 15 minutes, after which candidates will take questions from the moderator and members of the audience. The forum will last no longer than two hours.

Tom Reeves, a 2018 graduate of Pinellas Citizen University, will act as moderator. He is Operations Director of East-West Shrine Games and also works special events for the NFL.

Candidate Barb Haselden, best known for leading No Tax for Tracks that defeated the light rail Greenlight Pinellas in 2014, said of the forum, "This is going to be a very exciting event giving residents a close-up opportunity to compare the candidates and selectthe one that best lines up with their convictions and who will fight for them once in office."

For additional information Contact Chuck Graham 727-578-0644.

Barb Haselden Campaign
1043 31st Terrace NE | St. Petersburg, FL 33704

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

PSTA Proposes Raising Gas Tax, Using Toll Monies & Tourist Tax to Fund More Transit

All the proposed sales tax hikes for transit in Tampa Bay have gone down in flames. Now there's a new scheme in Tampa Bay for how to get new pots of money to fund more transit. 

With transit ridership continuing to decline, even on their busiest route, PSTA (transit agency in Pinellas County) is proposing new funding sources to fund more transit. 

At today's PSTA Board meeting, the agenda includes PSTA staff presenting "Funding for Transit Investments". The first source of potential new funds comes from the tourist tax. The state legislature passed HB7087 this year which expanded the use of the Tourist Development Tax aka hotel bed tax. 

With certain conditions that must be met, the tourist tax can now be used as capital funding for infrastructure projects including transportation, sewer, drainage, etc. projects that (supposedly) positively will impact tourist related businesses in the county. At last month's PSTA Board meeting we attended, this tax was brought up by PSTA's State lobbyist (yes - PSTA uses your tax dollars to hire State and Federal lobbyists) and we saw dollar signs flashing in some of the Board members eyes.

Therefore,  PSTA staff with present their "Tourism Focused Transit Projects" that includes: Clearwater Beach to the airport, Mid-County Beach to the airport, Jolley Trolley coastal route, downtown St. Pete to downtown Tampa, Central Ave BRT, Clearwater Beach busway, the proposed regional BRT from Wesley Chapel to downtown St. Pete 
PSTA's Tourism Focused Transit Projects to pursue
potential use of expanded tourist tax funding
As we posted here, PSTA has a funding gap for their proposed Central Ave BRT. City of St. Pete Beach is not a funding partner for the BRT, and may not be, so PSTA must close the funding gap or reduce the size and scope of the project. Note that PSTA's Central Avenue BRT received their medium high rating from the Feds FTA because they used procedures for "entitled" ratings implemented by the Obama Admin. These procedures which allow entitled ratings enable grant requests to be made without having to provide more detailed information about the project - a post for another day.

PSTA is proposing numerous other Central Ave BRT like services all over Pinellas County:
PSTA's Proposed BRT/Rapid Services in Pinellas County

With PSTA's farebox recovery tanking to about 16% (aka taxpayers subsidize 84% of their operating costs), where will the money come from to fund all this? 

PSTA plans to pursue more federal funding for all these new transit services and they must have more committed local funding to pursue the federal funding. 

The "Other Notes" in the presentation outline PSTA's scheme for pursuing more money:
  • New Local Option 1-5 cent Pinellas Gas Tax Revenue = $17.6M total (2018$) Proposed new Routes total $14.7M (2018$)
  • PSTA will require $130M over 10 years to replace our buses that have reached their 15-year lifespan. Our current plan for bus replacements is under-funded by $8M/year and could be supported by Penny for Pinellas, STP Funds, or gas tax revenue
  • Proposed 41-Mile Premium Regional Transit Service to be supported with the toll revenues from the TBNext lanes or tourist development funding
That is right - PSTA wants to raise your gas tax intended for roads, highways and bridges to fund more transit. PSTA wants to use toll revenues, that should be used to maintain and improve the toll roads, to fund more transit.

According to, 1.76% of commuters use transit in Pinellas County. 

No worries…Transit ridership is always somewhere over the rainbow - the same place as that pot of gold…

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hillsborough MPO Gone Rogue

June 1st officially begins our Hurricane season again. Many in Florida and Tampa Bay still have last year's hurricane season in the back of our minds. Millions evacuated last September as the massive Hurricane Irma, larger than the entire state of Florida, created the largest evacuation in the history of our country. 

It's also time for the Metropolitan Planning Organization's (MPO) to start their federally mandated 2045 long range planning. MPO's are powerful federally mandated transportation decision making boards as all federal and state transportation funding must go through the MPO's approval process. The MPO entity itself is surrounded by a bureaucracy of staff and numerous committees.

To begin the latest Hillsborough MPO planning effort, the Hillsborough MPO Board met with the Planning Commission and the Hillsborough River Interlocal Planning Board at a strategic planning retreat at Stetson University on March 23rd. This "strategic planning" retreat was attended by almost all bureaucrats with just a handful of electeds in attendance. Required attendees were the bureaucrats…..The bureaucratic Swamp is alive and well in Tampa Bay.

The retreat provided input to the MPO's Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) document. This document sets out the transportation activities the MPO will do and the products they will develop as part of the long range planning effort.

Our bureaucracies now act like PR marketing entities that use our tax dollars to create campaign slogans to sell some, often orchestrated, agenda. Previous Hillsborough UPWP documents did not have slogans but this time the transportation central planners felt compelled to include one in their latest  Work Plan document- It's Time Tampa Bay.
But time for what?

Costly rail like the failed SunRail? Subsidized Transit Oriented Development (TOD) to create densities around train stations that benefits developers? Or tearing down 10 miles of Interstate 275, that serves as a major hurricane evacuation route and that hundreds of thousands of people use daily, from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue? Replacing I-275 with a street level boulevard and a train? And then ask taxpayers to pay for all the costly congestion creation?

Scenario planning was not mentioned in previous Hillsborough MPO UPWP documents but their latest version has them. Below are the scenarios/projects documented in Hillsborough MPO's federally mandated UPWP document (emphasis mine).
1. Trend Plus, defined as continuing current land use policies with incremental expansion of the Urban Service Area in Hillsborough County.
2. Beltway and Boulevard, defined by the conversion of I-275 north of downtown Tampa into an at-grade boulevard, accompanied by construction of managed lanes on I-75 and I-4, as well as a new limited access highway in the SR 54 corridor.
3. Transit Oriented Development, focused on a rail transit line following the CSX corridor between downtown Tampa and the USF area.
Scenario planning for transportation is used to consider broad frameworks not specific projects - especially at the very beginning of a planning process. This makes the Hillsborough MPO's planning process appear contrived and orchestrated.

The scenarios Hillsborough MPO used in their 2040 long range planning process were broad frameworks:  Suburban Dream, Bustling Metro, New Corporate Centers. Other MPO long range planning documents we looked at also used broad frameworks.

There's reason to be skeptical of the Hillsborough MPO because we caught some graphs they included in the original draft version of their UPWP. One of the graphs they tried to include that reflects light rail as the top choice is below.
Unsubstantiated poll results MPO tried to include in updated UPWP
(Click to enlarge)

We asked the MPO where the data came from that created this chart. We obtained a copy of polling the MPO did which can be found here. These polls were taken at some FDOT TBNext meetings, where often half the attendees were staff, bureaucrats or a member of taxpayer funded bureaucracy. Of course, some of the same people attended multiple meetings and the same person could have been surveyed multiple times. The MPO also polled their own bureaucracy (no bias for sure in their own bureaucratic Swamp).

We questioned the MPO why they would include such unsubstantiated data in a formal MPO document insinuating they were valid results. Federally mandated MPO's cannot just make stuff up and manipulatively create false narratives. The MPO did remove the graphs (because they cannot substantiate the data) and replaced them with this text.
The Hillsborough MPO already has begun engaging the public, via live audience polling, on what some of the major influences or “drivers” of change should be factored into the 2045 Update, as well as strategies for accommodating this growth and where resources should be focused. While this polling was not developed as a statistically significant survey, results indicate that there are people in Hillsborough County who are interested in alternatives to current trends. The Hillsborough MPO is currently analyzing the implications of responses to the survey, like traffic congestion and infrastructure cost, which will be assessed in a broader outreach phase to determine how widely held those preferences are.
According to Hillsborough MPO's 2040 long range plan, we'll have a gridlock if we do not improve and add capacity to our entire interstate system. Below are the capacity needs from Hillsborough MPO's 2040 plan for the interstates and roads. The chart even includes costly rail lines that confirms spending millions and billions on rail does nothing to relieve congestion.
Hillsborough MPO 2040 Capacity Needs from
their 2040 LRTP
(Click to enlarge)
Now the MPO ignores their own previous capacity needs data and is considering tearing down I-275 from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue that hundreds of thousands use everyday in their latest planning process. 

And the Hillsborough MPO told us rail and tax hikes will be in their long range plan AGAIN.

The Hillsborough MPO ignores the will of voters in 2010. They ignore those who showed up at Go Hillsborough meetings/public hearings in 2016 opposing rail and tax hikes and "demanding" our roads and highways be fixed first.

While the public is being told to prepare now for the upcoming hurricane season, the Hillsborough MPO is considering tearing down 10 miles of a major interstate that serves as a major hurricane evacuation route.

The Hillsborough MPO has gone rogue!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Developer Wants Land Use Changes & Opposition Shows Up En Masse

Guest post from Shirley Wood, a resident of south Hillsborough County

Talk to any resident in southern Hillsborough County and they will tell you about what they deal with daily- unbelievable traffic jams, numerous accidents, and a rising crime rate- and it will soon be even worse if the developers get their way. The push now is to allow for more density in development by changing the County Land Use Code* from R-2, which allows 2 units per acre to R-3 which will allow 3 units per acre. In one planned “village” this will mean up to 13,200 houses on 4,400 acres way out by Balm, which sets a precedent for more sprawl all over the county's rural areas.

Residents showed up last Thursday evening at Riverview High School for a public meeting to listen to those representing the developers. The meeting, supposedly organized by the developers, although held in a public high school, using county A/V equipment, and with a Hillsborough sheriff deputy provided, was advertised as a chance for residents in the area to hear about the planned village and the enhancements it would bring to their area. 

The meeting was attended by well over 500 people from the areas including Balm, Wimauma, and Tropical Acres- many who had received a letter inviting them to attend. Food and beverage was provided and a short presentation was made by David Smith, an attorney for one of the developers before citizens were allowed to speak and ask questions. 

According to the developers this change will only apply to this one development- So the question asked by some residents- then why change the entire land use code?? Why not just apply for a zoning change for this one parcel of land? Of course the developers know this will set the precedent for any future developments anywhere in Hillsborough County. Among some of the claims Smith made in his presentation: 
  • In order for R-3 to apply a development must have over 160 acres with “enhancements”. 
  • R-3 is not about rezoning property- it is about changing the county’s Land Use Code 
  • At this time the only property that would be affected would be the one proposed development in southern Hillsborough County (of course no comment from him about the precedent this change would set and the fact that this code change would allow any developer to apply for this change in the future anywhere in the county.) 
  • Said this would not automatically change from R-2 to R-3, but would give the developer the “opportunity” to seek that change 
  • Claimed that the water and sewer in any development would be paid for by the developer in agreement with the county. 
Then it was time for public comments and it was obvious the residents were NOT impressed with all of the promised “enhancements” this “village” would bring to their area. Citizens lined up at the mic to take their turn asking questions. The first was a question concerning the term “public housing” in the proposal. Smith claimed that term was not in the proposal at which the citizen turned to the audience and asked how many had read the proposal with the words “public housing” and several raised their hands. Smith assured him he would reread it and get back with him on that. The follow up was a question asking if Smith could assure them there would be no zero-property line housing, to which Smith said he could not. As for the promise of more parks- one resident told them that their neighborhood already has a park, but no money to maintain it or to provide security so it can safely be used. Another said that before the developers showed up with their thousands of houses they had all the “green space” they needed. Improved roads was also mentioned by Smith as a plus that would come to southern Hillsborough and the residents jumped on this reminding him that traffic now, before this proposed development is built, is already a nightmare, and the county has said that any relief to the congestion is 10 years in the future*. Some honestly said they were afraid of what this meant to their neighborhoods and their way of life.

The questions continued for an hour and ended with the final citizen reminding everyone that the people they were addressing their comments to were not the ones who could do anything about their concerns or even cared about their concerns, and telling them that the fight must go to their county commissioners and the county planning commission. He then turned to Smith and asked, “This development has already been approved hasn’t it? The only difference is whether the density will be 2 houses to each acre or 3 houses to each acre?” To which Smith said yes. So sprawl has already been approved by our county, and the question now is only how dense these developments will be. 

Citizens must speak up now if they want to stop this change to our Land Use Code with even more density in already over-developed rural areas. Future meetings are planned and hopefully the turnout will continue to grow and citizens will continue to contact their county commissioners about this issue. Dates of scheduled meetings are:

July 12, 2018, 6:30p Public Meeting - Riverview High School, 11311 Boyette Rd. Riverview, FL 33569

July 23, 2018, 5:30p Planning Commission Hearing - 18th floor County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Downtown Tampa

August 16, 2018, 6:00p County Commission 1st Public Hearing - 2nd floor County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Downtown Tampa

October 11, 2018, 6:00p County Commission 2nd Public Hearing - 2nd floor County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Downtown Tampa
An Eye note: The Developer's Contact listed in the first link above includes Attorney Vincent A. Marchetti

The Times published this article about Marchetti last month.Hillsborough commissioners are concerned about sprawl … until this guy shows up

This Times article last year reported Marchetti hosted a fundraiser for Hagan after he filed to run again for a District seat he had already held.

Are county taxpayers are paying for these meetings hosted by the Developers?  If so, why?