Tuesday, August 27, 2013

It's Decision Time on ObamaCare - DeMint and Heritage Comes to Tampa

Former Senator Jim DeMint is a soft spoken Southern gentleman but when he speaks you listen intently....I first met the Senator right before the 9/12/2009 Taxpayer March on DC – you know that march where over a million Americans attended but the mainstream refused to report about. A group of us from Florida were walking the halls of Congress the day before the march and lo and behold Senator DeMint was in his office. He invited us all in to chat and get a picture with him.  Senator DeMint then proceeded to tell us how Proud he was to stand with us. We, of course, were grateful and thanked him for his unrelenting work and efforts to stop ObamaCare back then.

So we looked forward to the Heritage Action event last week where Senator DeMint, now Chairman of Heritage Foundation, spoke to a packed house of over 700. The Eye was there and the room was energized with all who spoke. 

We were fortunate to attend the Press Conference prior to the event with Senator DeMint, Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action and Chris Jacobs, Heritage healthcare policy analyst.  

We found it curious those in the media who are “so interested” in Senator Rubio's position supporting defunding ObamaCare.  But the same media is "never interested" in asking Senator Nelson, who voted for ObamaCare in 2010, what he thinks about it now.  Why does the Senator who voted for the train wreck get a pass?  We won't hold our breath wondering. A couple key points we will emphasize came at the end of the Press Conference as DeMint basically said 
A government shutdown is a misnomer - it is a slowdown, essential services continue to get funded but the damage from a slowdown is so much less than the damage from implementing this bill. 
And remember Don't Blink!

We were able to get a couple of interviews before the event.  And while I am still getting the hang of this interview stuff, Tim Curtis, Chairman of the Tampa912, gave us his insights.

So ObamaCare is not ready for primetime, waivers and exemptions have been given to certain groups, including Congress and not to others, like you and me.  It appears to be an IT nightmare that includes issues with securing the personal data being entered, the inability to verify eligibility and so many missed deadlines.  With Tampa practically an epicenter for identity fraud, we have to wonder how comfortable you would feel entering your tax and personal information into the ObamaCare system?  As Tim tells us, there are free market solutions that will fix this mess but we first must get rid of ObamaCare.  

We then caught up with the Florida Regional Coordinator for Heritage Action, Karen Jaroch, who helped plan this event. She explains the purpose of the event and has a great message  for how ObamaCare can be defunded while the rest of the government continues to be funded.

The purpose of this Heritage Action event? As Karen said, we are in the August recess when our Congressional Representatives and Senators should be home holding Townhall meetings to hear from their constituents.  Unfortunately too many of them no longer hold any Townhalls so this event offered an alternative opportunity to be heard.  

The main event included comments from Senator DeMint and Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham and a Q & A with both of them answering questions selected from the audience. A true joy at the end was Rafael Cruz, Senator Ted Cruz's father, who escaped Cuba and came to America. Rafael personally knows what it is to have his freedoms and liberties immediately taken away.  But he says in the United States those liberties and freedoms are slowly being eroded away like a frog in a pot on the stove, with the heat slowly increasing until unwittingly boiled dead.

As Senator DeMint said
It's decision time.  Since when did Americans not fight for what they believe in because they were afraid they would lose?
And Michael Needman added this when questioned about the Obama and the Democrats successful social media strategies.
We don't just have a tech problem.  We need to have a soul, we need to lead, we need to inspire. Take responsibility within your sphere of influence - on social media, going door to door, talking to friends and talking over the dinner table.
From the soft spoken Southern gentleman DeMint to the energetic fervor of Rafael Cruz, there was a buzz and sense of urgency ignited in the room. We were reminded that We the People do have the power but that we must exercise it. The clock is ticking on ObamaCare and we were told the urgency is now for empowered Americans to lead and take the following action.  
Contact your Congressional Representative and request they sign Rep. Meadows letter to Defund ObamaCare. 
Sign the Don't Fund It Petition and let's get at least a million signatures.
We hope you enjoy our videos of this event, will stop back and watch them again from time to time and that you will share them with others "within your sphere of influence".  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The homogeneous diversity panel

The Tribune came out for non-diversity on the diversity panel in an editorial recommending the rejection of Terry Kemple for the new volunteer diversity advisory council.
After vigorously opposing the possibility of Terry Kemple being appointed to a new diversity advisory council several months ago, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner has now softened his stance.

Kemple, the well-known Christian conservative activist, should be allowed to have his application to join the council considered by the commission, Beckner says.
Good enough... now... for Kevin Beckner, who's trying to rescue his beloved diversity panel after several miscues. Apparently Terry Kemple thinks thoughts the Tribune thinks shouldn't be thought.  Such as traditional values, as if they matter any more.

Terry Kemple
The diversity panel has been a long running saga for the Hillsborough County Commission, as the love child of Commissioners Beckner and Les Miller.  They've repeatedly tried to block Kemple's appointment through ill advised political maneuvers that only agenda driven politicians would appreciate.  We've documented these in several posts, here, here, and here.  We've interviewed Terry Kemple in the past.
The council, [Kemple] wrote, is probably “code for some effort to forward the homosexual agenda.” He went on to say the council’s work was not the “important work” commissioners should be doing.

Shortly afterward, a national diversity council helping the county review the applications decided to pull Kemple from consideration. But a heated discussion among commissioners left the application in the air and effectively delayed the council’s formation. Beckner now says he’s willing to have Kemple’s membership considered so the council can be formed, with or without him. Kemple’s membership seems likely if the four commissioners who backed his application during an earlier meeting vote in his favor.
Good thing we got some out of town help on how to have a not too diverse diversity panel. I'd hate to think where we would be without all their great help.  Who selected them and made them arbiter of properly diverse thought in Hillsborough County?

There are 58 (!) committees and boards for Hillsborough County.  I'm sure they are all very, very important to someone out there. One might say we already have a diversity of panels.  Some include:

  • Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee
  • 4 related to Child Care and Children's services
  • Commission on the Status of Women
  • Community Action Board (in the name of diversity, I demand an inaction board!)
  • Council on Aging
  • 3 Historical related councils
  • Human Relations Board (whose mission seems to substantially overlap with the Diversity Advisory Council)
  • Only 2 Arts related councils

Some are "boards", some are "councils", some are "committees"...  don't ask me why.

Exactly what is the mission of the diversity advisory council?
This Council works to facilitate communication between County government and its diverse populations, and address matters related to diversity that are important to everyone.
The membership of this Council shall be appointed by the Board of County Commissioners and will be comprised of 24 members, two representatives from each of the following categories:
  • African American
  • Caribbean
  • Far East Asian
  • Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender
  • Hispanic/Latino
  • Indian Asian
  • Middle Eastern
  • Native American
  • Northern European
  • Southern European
  • People with Disabilities
  • At-Large (identification with a specific category not required)
Pretty clear, right? After all, it is "important to everyone".
What about that Human Relations Board?  What is it's mission?
This Board encourages equality among all people by reviewing complaints filed under Hillsborough County's Human Rights Ordinance which promotes fair treatment and equal opportunity for people regardless of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, disability, or marital status.
The membership of this board shall be appointed by the BOCC and shall be comprised of 13 members. This Board seeks to be diverse in its membership and representation by persons of all ages, races, religious beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, conditions of employment, and both genders is encouraged. In addition, there shall be on the Board at all times, a person with a disability or a person representing persons with disabilities.
Consideration for membership shall be given to representatives from the following fields:
  • Retail Merchandising Management
  • Industrial Management
  • Real Estate Sales
  • Property Leasing
  • mortgage Financing
  • Law Enforcement
  • Labor Council
I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to rationalize why we need yet another committee, board, or council.

Just to make sure everyone knows, according to the Hillsborough County Charter, discrimination is prohibited:
Section 9.11 Discrimination Prohibited.
To be consistent with federal and state constitutions, laws, rules, and regulations, the county  government shall not deprive any person of any right because of race, sex, age, national origin, religion, disability, or political affiliation. The administrative code shall provide adequate means for protecting these rights, including equal opportunity assurances.
Demographically, Hillsborough County is 70%+ "white".

Hillsborough County Population by race

I'm sure the Diversity Advisory Council will be 70% white, right?

This is an unpaid, non-policy volunteer position.  Why are the Tribune and politicians so afraid of Terry Kemple?  Why are they limiting a diversity of opinion?  Is this truly a diversity council, or is there some other agenda the Tribune and the politicians are trying to promote?  Are they discriminating against Terry Kemple due to his traditional religious beliefs?  Will they have the same objections for a future religious Muslim nominee?  

We cannot have diversity of thought on the diversity panel!

Nothing closes the mind as tight as groupthink.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Roads First, Buses Second

First we were told we are in a transportation armagedden. Now there appears to be this frantic attitude of we've got “to do something” to expand mass transit simply for the sake of doing something. The Tribune reported Monday that Commissioner Sharpe is shifting his focus “to do something” to buses.

The Eye agrees that's better than focusing on costly light rail boondoggles. But this hysteria about mass transit may be misguided and the confusion – buses, rail, transit - oh my - continues as the Tribune reports
Sharpe said he still favors a “demonstration” rail line, perhaps from Tampa International Airport to the Westshore business district. Once ridership on the demonstration line takes off, he said, the public will support expanding the rail lines as they have in cities like Denver.
It's no longer Charlotte, now we need to emulate Denver? But Denver is part of an eight county regional transportation taxing district (RTD). This eight county RTD includes Denver and Boulder, has a population of nearly 3 million and covers a sevice area of over 2300 square miles. The Denver RTD includes 6 light rail lines with an average daily ridership of 69,300, which is about 2% of the RTD population. Even with a regional tax, RTD is having fiscal issues and had to identify what it could do to raise revenues, cut costs to cover it's huge shortfalls. Do we really want to follow Denver?

The Tribune yesterday reported on the HART board finance committee held Monday. I was there and stayed for their entire Transportation Development Plan (TDP) presentation. I listened interestingly to HART's two 10 year plan options, one that basically maintains their status quo and a “visionary” one of building out six more MetroRapid BRT's and greatly expanding services in the county. While the status quo plan can operate for the next 10 years, there is a capital deficit that hits in the next few years for vehicle replacement. If vehicles must run longer, then additional maintenance costs are incurred. Therefore, there will be a capital deficiency even with the status quo plan. The visionary items will stay separate in the budget as unfunded until funding is available for those projects. We'll save the funding issue to another day, especially as the plan is more closely scrutinized and looked at. But it is refreshing to be able to see the two options and I commend HART for this transparency.

We note there is NO light rail system mentioned at all in HART's TDP but the Tribune added
If the Pinellas light rail initiative passes, it's likely the Hillsborough rail debate would take on a new focus as Pinellas County could gain momentum in economic development opportunitites and influence over the location of a new Tampa Bay Ray's ballpark.
Really? This is speculation, of course, as we have previously questioned economic development and rail systems. We wonder why the latest rail system sold with the same economic development promises is not mentioned. Here's the latest from SunRail that will open next year in Central Florida.
One of the region's rare economic-development engines – SunRail – has spurred few new apartments, shops or offices along its route as the commuter-train system prepares to roll out nine months from now.
SunRail commuter rail 
Tying a high cost taxpayer funded rail system to a new baseball stadium also looking for your tax dollars is economic development? The rest of us may be doubtful of the economic value of taxpayer funded stadiums and also question why taxpayers should subsidize wealthy league owners.

The Tribune then quotes Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay and a pro rail supporter
"HART doesn't need to run a rail system. Some other organization could do that."
Now what bureaucracy would that be? There are many moving pieces to this local schizophrenic transportation issue and perhaps what's being orchestrated is to push for some RTD like regional taxing authority. TBARTA, a regional agency that currently cannot tax, is duplicative of other agencies. We would rather see that layer of bureaucracy eliminated. We did discover that our state legislature this past session passed a bill creating the Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Commission. for the purposes:
Of improving mobility and expanding multimodal transportation options for persons and freight throughout Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties. 
The primary provisions of the bill: 
create the Northeast Florida Regional Transportation Commission; provide for commission membership, powers and duties, and funding; provide criteria for transportation projects of regional significance; authorize the acquisition of lands and property but do not authorize the use of condemnation or eminent domain;
exempt the commission from taxation; provide for repeal of the commission unless certain conditions are met; and provide that the commission is exempt from the Administrative Procedures Act.
The commission may facilitate efforts to secure funding commitments from federal and state sources, or from the applicable counties, for the planning, development, construction, purchase, operation and maintenance of transportation projects of regional significance or that support intercounty mobility for persons or freight.
The commission may request funding and technical assistance from DOT and from federal and local agencies. In order to operate for its first five years, the commission is also to request annual funding from each constituent county of up to 30 cents per capita per year based on the latest census.
Yes, Florida now has another bureaucracy that must be funded and another bureaucracy looking for a piece of your federal, state and local tax dollars for transportation.  Why do we need all of these regional transportation bureaucracies?  Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has regional districts and they should provide the cohesive glue for regional and cross-regional transportation projects.

Monday's Tribune article stated that the latest I-275 reconstruction costs more than $53 million a mile according to the FDOT and reported again from Thurman
Thurman said light rail is more cost-effective than a freeway like Interstate 275 through downtown Tampa.
The estimated costs for the proposed rail lines in 2010 were between $73 million per mile in the MPO's LRTP and $100 million per mile which was the original estimate from HART. Considering that on average 98% of us who travel each day use our roads, isn't there also a cost-benefit analysis that must be taken into consideration? No matter how many billions have been thrown at transit, mass transit riders are still a very small percentage of those who travel each day.
MPO post 2010 referendum survey 
What's missing in this transportation group's plan is what the business leaders stated last week, our roads are critical – both to move people and product. Voters did get it in 2010 - they did not want rail costs cannibalizing other priorities. Registered voters asked to participate in the post-referendum MPO survey showed the highest priority (96%) was roads. Somehow that detail got missed in the Tribune article. Which proves the overwhelming majority who voted against the rail referendum in 2010 were not low information voters who did not understand what they were voting on.  Remember the pro rail PAC, Moving Hillsborough Forward, spent $1.8 million promoting the rail tax.

This “mass hysteria” over mass transit is misguided. The real problem is there is no money for roads. We must address those basics first – how will we maintain and improve our existing infrastructure? We hope Sharpe and other elected officials resolve the basics before pursuing a referendum to raise taxes for proposed mass transit enhancements. 

And we'll conclude with this. The Tribune stated Sharpe said
He wants county leaders to focus on a mass transit option that doesn't need a lot of study and can be put in place fairly quickly
The Eye suggests a plan we can do NOW – time our lights. Simply timing our lights would bring the biggest bang for the buck for everyone who commutes in Hillsborough County, including those who ride the bus.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Really about Transportation and Commerce

The Hillsborough County Economic Development and Transportation Committee leadership group met again yesterday. We were there. What a difference a few weeks makes from their last leadership meeting held July 23rd we previously wrote about here, here and hereWhat a difference it makes when business leaders participate who weren't the “big guns” supporting rail in 2010. A few executives from some manufacturing companies participated yesterday as well as a few executives who specialize in corporate relocations.

The discussion yesterday centered on the importance of TRANSPORTATION. The manufacturers, who must get product out and get materials in, focused on the need for good roads, the proximity of the port and the airport as vital for their business. Even as Comissioners Sharpe and Beckner kept pushing mass transit, there was a tepid response from the manufacturers and basically a “doesn't make a difference” response from the corporate relocation executives. One of the manufacturers indicated perhaps some outreach regarding the existing bus service or some improved bus service may “lure” some of their employees to use it; but their shifts run 5am to 3pm and he observed that many times at 3pm in the summer it's pouring down rain in Tampa....50% chance today.

What was extremely important to both groups of executives was an educated workforce. Today's Tampa Bay Times provides a fair report of what these executives said.
Workforce, workforce, workforce," said C.J. Evans Jr., director of Merit Advisors, which does site-selection consulting for corporations, listing the top three considerations for businesses on the move. More than anything, companies want to know they will be able to recruit employees skilled in their industry, he said. Behind that comes the cost of doing business, which can factor in incentives, Evans said. Transportation? Not a big topic.
Remember this committee is about economic development and transportation not a transit committee as the Times did also report:

Transportation certainly is important, said some of the speakers. But they framed their thoughts more around roads and access to a port in terms of getting raw materials and then being able to get their products to customers generally located to the north.
Today's Tribune article continued their narrative pushing that this is a TRANSIT committee. Despite what these business leaders said Tuesday that brought the conversation back to reality, the Tribune interviewed the pro rail contingent on the county commission, Beckner and Sharpe, after the meeting and reported from Sharpe:

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who pushed for creation of the policy group, said after the meeting he still believes an efficient and expanded mass transit system is vital to creating high-paying technology and biological science jobs in the county. According to the Tribune article, Sharpe went on to compare Hillsborough county with Denver who has a rail line and bus system. The Denver area, on the other hand, was ranked 7th. Sharpe said Denver has 1,000 buses compared to Hillsborough County's 200. Plus, Denver is planning to increase it light rail system from 35 miles of track to 155 miles, he said. In 2010, Hillsborough voters rejected a transportation tax of 1 cent per dollar to build a light rail system, as well as buy more buses and expand roads.
Let's look a little closer at Denver.  Colorado has a state income tax of a flat 4.63% of the federal taxable income. As of June from the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank Economic Research, the unemployment rate of Denver county is 7.7% versus Hillsborough 7% . Also, Denver county is 153 square miles with a population density of 4043 people per square mile while Hillsborough county is 1051 square miles with a population density of 1206 per square mile. The stack and pack densities do help drive some transit use. Do Hillsborough residents want that kind of density, almost quadruple what our current density is? Another item we noted is that Charlotte, that gold standard light rail city we keep being told we need to emulate, was never mentioned. As of June, Mecklenburg county where Charlotte is has an unemployment rate of 9.4%
Nebulous Timeline for a mystery Demo Project
An important item totally missing or ignored from both local print media was the request to include other outside stakeholders to participate in this process, just like the business leaders were brought in. There appears to now be a commitment by this committee to do just that. Here at the Eye we agree. While all stakeholders should have been identified up front, we are glad that additional stakeholders will have an opportunity to participate. We will stay vigilant and continue to watch the process.  So far it's been a roller coaster ride and here's the nebulous timeline presented yesterday.  It still looks like someone or some folks are putting an already predetermined cart before the horse - the mystery Demo project.
Along the downtown Riverwalk - the History Museum
I highly recommend watching a replay of this meeting at 8pm tonight on HTV or watch the  August 14 meeting archived video.  It will be well worth your time. There is certainly a correlation between transportation and commerce. Increasing commerce increases the opportunities for economic prosperity for many. But what really is the correlation between “transit” and economic development? What really determines the economic health of your county? Is it having light rail and more mass transit systems or having more people employed and working? We believe Hillsborough and the Tampa Bay area has many positive attributes. From our natural climate and great year round weather to our still relatively low cost of living, no state income tax, great universities and friendly folks. We anticipate hearing more good news about businesses, families and individuals relocating and existing businesses expanding in the Tampa Bay area. 

And we can bet most will be using our roads, port and airport!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

We Need More than a Timeline

Today's Tribune Op-Ed Transportation group needs time line adds to the confusion about the purpose and what problem the Economic Development and Transportation committee was created to resolve. This committee was supposedly formed to tie economic development and transportation together.  Wasn't it also to tie back to recommendations that came out of Commissioner Murman's Economic Prosperity Stakeholder committee last year, especially regarding what they identified as economic development areas aka EDA's?

Here's what we reported on the meeting held last Tuesday, the first public forum, of this committee.  No wonder there is confusion as some who attended thought it was a transit meeting.

The Tribune's opinion is this committee is only about Transportation.  Did something change regarding the purpose of this committee since it was created earlier this year? When did that happen and who made that decision, the county administrator and staff, the facilitator, the EDC, special interests or one of the commissioners?

The problem with this committee is the "problem" it was created to solve has not been clearly stated. This committee has been flawed from the beginning because there was never a public and transparent plan put forward specifically stating what it was doing or what goal it was trying to meet.  The commissioners hired a facilitator but apparently then delegated to the county administrator and his staff,  the EDC and perhaps others what and how the facilitator proceeded. The commissioners seem to be sitting on the sidelines not knowing or understanding what the facilitator is doing.  In other words, confusion reigns. And today's Tribune simply contributed more to that confusion.

This committee has steered off course. Holding pep rallies across the county so organizations can rally their members to attend and sing the same tune is not the answer to this committee's problems. We suggest the following:
  1. Clearly state the problem this committee was set up to resolve and it's expected results or goals.
  2. Start with some data. Let's see the data behind what the problem is, surely there is some. 
  3. Identify outside stakeholders that represent various groups of people to participate in this process just like the pro rail business leaders did at the committee leadership meeting on July 23rd. Allow the stakeholders to participate on a panel (like the business leaders did) or hold one on ones so the stakeholders can provide their ideas and information. Outside stakeholders should have equal time to express their views, same as those pro rail business leaders did on July 23rd.
  4. Bring in experts to address the problem this committee is trying to solve, experts on job creation, economic growth, transportation. Ensure there is a balance of views and that not just one side is presented from them. 
  5. Develop a well defined and transparent business case to justify the cost, revenue sources and benefits to the community for any proposed investment.
  6. Provide assurances that the county commissioners receive all of the information provided by the stakeholders and experts or they directly participate in this process. If they do not directly participate, the commissioners should sign off stating they received (and we will assume have read or viewed) all the information provided throughout this process.
We expect our commissioners to constructively and logically gather information and hear a variety of opinions, views and information so they can make informed decisions.  They are who should be held accountable for this process.  And we respect the variety of opinions, including Connect Tampa Bay's, which has an extensive relationship with the local Sierra Club.  However, they are not the single entity in this county that has an opinion, has a view or would like to share information.

The MPO survey of registered voters in the county, post 2010 referendum, indicated their highest priority (96%) was roads and bridges.  Our roads are the most or one of the most utilized assets in the county and they must be maintained and improved.  We have a huge budget gap to do that because we no longer have any CIT money available for anything, though we are paying that tax thru 2026.  We see the success of the recently launched MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit.  MetroRapid was built in less than a year at 1/60th the cost of the proposed 2010 rail line along the same route.  Building on that could be promising, flexible and effective at a fraction of the cost of fixed rail lines and in a timeframe that is realistic.  Of course the private sector is innovating with technology and other business opportunities to bring new transportation solutions to our county.  And this is about creating private sector jobs right!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On Demand with Ride Command

The Eye is always looking to promote innovation and new ways of doing business and providing services. Monday the Eye caught up with just such an entrepreneur, Alan Stapleton, President and Founder of Ride Command, a new way for on demand limo service. Ride Command was launched in Tampa first and uses your smartphone or tablet for a fast and easy way to order your on demand limousine ride when you need and when you want it.

Stapleton, who resides in Maryland, was in Tampa for a few days to work with his local team here and promote his business and he graciously gave us his time for an interview. Please check out the Ride Command website for more information and how to download their app to your iPhone, iPad, or Android device. Then try out the service with an easy click on your phone or tablet. We wish Stapleton the best and we look forward to catching up again with him and hearing about Ride Command's success.

This is a reminder too that transportation solutions are a hot issue today. The Eye previously wrote a post about the burdensome regulations and ethical challenges of Hillsborough county's Public Transportation Commission aka PTC. We are the only county in the state that has this type of commission and the PTC has a history of inhibiting innovation and entrepreneurs like Stapleton. Ride Command is currently trying to work through some of the issues. Technology will continue to move forward and it's time to get rid of the archaic regulatory inhibitors to new services providing more choices. We all want new businesses here and it's the free markets that should determine whether they are successful and thrive.  Now's the time - let's simplify regulations that inhibit new technologies and businesses like Ride Command.

Monday, August 12, 2013

On site report from the Economic and Transportation Public Forum

Last Tuesday, August 6th, there was the first public forum held as part of this Economic Development and Transportation committee/process created earlier this year by our County Commissioners.

The Eye captured some video from this meeting and we wanted to share some of it with a bit of our editorializing. The pro rail contingent once again have the heavy hitters of elected officials, the local media, taxpayer funded agencies and deep-pocketed special interests on their side. Now it's only “Fair” that another side be heard too! Enjoy the show!

We have previously written about this committee: its confusing agenda, no transparent plan (or no plan), unelected bureaucrats in charge and its credibility questioned because of the recycled pro-rail business leaders again get their say while others don't.  And who cares and never mind that voters overwhelmingly defeated the rail referendum in 2010. But the 2010 losers want a do-over......when the more critical issue is how do we fix our roads.
2010 Rail referendum election results (purple voted against)
Well the confusion and credibility issues were not resolved Tuesday. This was the first event to gather public input. Poor event planning forced the venue and format to change the day of the event. Some folks who attended thought this meeting was simply a transit meeting. It turned into some organizations rallying members to show up in numbers and even hand out stickers for transit. And to top it off, this event was hosted by the facilitator and county staff but the county commissioners and other members of the committee were nowhere to be found.

The event turned into the public comment “pep rally”.  It was originally intended to be some facilitated type event where those who attended would be separated into various groups and go thru some exercise of answering and discussing the questions. But instead, it was really not much different than public comment at a BOCC meeting, except the commissioners weren't there to hear anybody. Everyone who walked in was asked to complete a survey that had the vaguest of questions like “how important are transportation improvements to job growth in the county?” Really? Folks probably read the first half of that sentence and the first thought is yes, we do need transportation improvements even if their highest priority is to fix our roads. They were all nebulous questions where you could make all kinds of assumptions to answer.

As we listened, we realized that many of those speaking from  the “we want more transit and a rail too” contingent were members of the Sierra Club. They were good about bringing out the human interest stories.  However, they did not address cost or funding and we were left wondering if transit is another taxpayer funded entitlement.  Isn't it still a responsibility of adults to make decisions where they live and work based on numerous factors, transportation being one of them but not the only consideration? We all cherish our freedoms to have and make choices but personal mobility is what has contributed vastly to America's economic prosperity. Thankfully, there were others who brought some balance by highlighting the importance of facts, figures, costs, proper expectations and feasibility of realistic results.

At the end, the facilitator Herb Marlowe asked how this process could be improved. Well how about starting by specifically stating what the problem is and provide a transparent, public plan. Then identify key stakeholders who represent various groups of citizens in the county. Either have stakeholder roundtables or one on one's that allow the stakeholders a voice to present their ideas and information.  Better yet, let's get rid of the facilitator and the unelected bureaucrats who seem to be driving this process off it's tracks.  It's time our elected representatives specifically state what problem they are trying to solve.  Either the elected reps step up to the plate and bat or shut the whole committee down now!  Because at the end of the day, they must be held accountable for the results.

Replay of the August 6th meeting will be tonight, August 12th at 9:30pm and it is supposed to be archived sometime.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Stacked and packed on the Riverwalk

Last night the Tampa City Council gave preliminary approval for the Residences at the Riverwalk, the proposed 36 story apartment tower smack in the middle of the performing arts district, adjacent to the Straz Performing Arts Center and the northern reach of the Tampa Riverwalk.
Council members voted 5-2 to rezone the acre of city-owned land west of the John F. Germany Library where the tower will stand. They also approved a city request to vacate ownership of Tyler and Cass streets within the tower footprint.
The proposal drew a packed house for a hearing that ran more than three hours. The final vote will be at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 22.
The parcel of land is currently owned by the city of Tampa.  This tower will be crammed in a one acre parcel being sold by the city of Tampa for $4 million to the developer, a price above the appraised value.  In turn, the developers will donate an unrestricted $1 million to the Straz, whose board originally opposed the tower.

Actually, that parcel is really not there, it will have to be created.  They will have to reroute Tyler and Cass streets, change them from one-way to two-way streets, reconfigure the Straz drop off area where Tyler will now dead end, in order to create that one acre of space.

The new tower will be about 500 feet tall, in the arts district (considered west of Ashley), where there is no other residential or commercial development.  It will be about 3 times taller than the Straz itself, hence the vote on the zoning change to allow the out of place, high rise tower. 380 residences are planned along with about 10,000 square feet of retail space.  Estimates are they'll be able to stack and pack 500 people in that one acre.

We at the Eye went down to the area and took a look around to see for ourselves to try to understand how they'll shoehorn this thing in.

The Riverwalk vision was as a linear park along the river for Tampa citizens to enjoy and be aesthetically appealing, which we at the Eye have enjoyed personally.  Will we now get a Canyon of Towers instead?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Tampa Bay Making Headway - Let's Keep it that Way

We have heard some great news in the Tampa Bay area regarding companies opening or relocating to the area. As far back as last year, the Tampa Bay Times picked up on on the economic GROWTH opportunities here, even if they did refer to Joel Kotkin as something called a “futurist”. In reality according to his Wikipedia, Joel Kotkin is a professor of urban development, currently a fellow at Chapman University in Orange, CA and the Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank. And Kotkin wrote an Op-Ed earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal summarizing his latest report released by the Manhattan Institute on, "America's Growth Corridors: The Key to National Revival."

What Kotkin research reveals is four broad regions where economic growth will occur.  The Tampa Bay area is included in what he calls the "Third Coast". Despite the recent recession and overall stagnant economy, these charts from Kotkin tell a great story....
Employment growth 2001-2012, Tampa Bay is included in Third Coast
Florida in the Best States for Business

Here at the Eye, we know those who live in the Tampa Bay area want to enhance our economic prosperity by leading in econonmic growth. How do we continue and grow having companies, families and individuals come here?
By building on our relatively low cost of living and taxes, our endless summer, great quality of life, improving our education, providing cost-effective transit, embracing the free markets and “driving” more private sector transportation options.

But today we've got the multitudes of taxpayer funded Central Planners collaborating with elected representatives and some deep pocketed special interests pushing the Obama agenda of regionalism, rail and subsidized transit-oriented development. Those special interests gaming the system and greatly gaining at taxpayer expense is pretty clearly stated by the CATO institute back in 2006 referenced in this recent article regarding the Honolulu $5 billion rail to nowhere boondoggle.
A transit agency that expands its bus fleet gets the support of the transit operators union. But an agency that builds a rail line gets the support of construction companies, construction unions, banks and bond dealers, railcar manufacturers, electric power companies (if the railcars are electric powered), downtown property owners, and other real estate interests. Rail may be a negative-sum game for the region as a whole, but those concentrated interests stand to gain a lot at a relatively small expense to everyone else.
This central planning agenda of pushing and advocating for stack and pack densities and high cost rail is occuring here and throughout the state and country. In addition, this agenda tramples on one of the cornerstones of the American Dream and rights our country was founded on and that is a free market economy and the protection of our property rights. Stanley Kurtz wrote a book last year Spreading the Wealth:  How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities  and recently wrote Regionalism:  Obama's Quiet Anti-Suburban Revolution on National Review Online highlighting:
the July 19 publication of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation broadening the obligation of recipients of federal aid to “affirmatively further fair housing.”
Kurtz went on to bring up the region wide blueprint San Francisco “Plan Bay Area”:
Essentially, Plan Bay Area attempts to block the development of any new suburbs, forcing all population growth over the next three decades into the existing “urban footprint” of the region.
We only have to look at what is occurring in Florida with this 7 50 plan, aka 7 counties for 50 years to see their regional blueprint for 7 counties in Southeast Florida.  But taxpayers and residents there have woken up and created the American Coalition 4 Property Rights that has already had success in fighting the central planners agenda.  And we know all federal dollars comes with lots of strings attached.

We know that Tampa Bay area is a great place to live, work and play. We continue to hear the great news that more companies, individuals and families are deciding that too as they migrate here.  We all want economic growth but highly subsidized rail and centrally planned economic development projects are quite suspect for achieving the benefits of economic prosperity for all in our county.  
Detroit's building a 3 mile light rail aka streetcar and the city has tons of creative financing tax-increment financing districts known as TIF's with lots of debt and they're bankrupt. 

But we'll keep watching at the Eye because Tampa Bay is making headway so let's keep it that way!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Solution looking for a Problem

The Eye decided to start asking some questions about the latest committee created by our County Commissioners, the one tying economic development and transportation. We previously posted about the committee's infamous July 23rd  meeting. I was curious why the pro rail groupies, representing the same companies who were big donors and supporters of the 2010 rail referendum, were invited to the committee meeting. I was also curious - what and where is Marlowe's plan? Certainly he has mapped one out but from what I have gathered, it's not been shared with any of the Commissioners. Who's driving this train? 
Hillsborough County Transportation Committee gone off it's Tracks?
Therefore, I contacted one of the County staff members, Eric Johnson. Johnson, works under County Administrator Mike Merrill and is working with the facilitator Herb Marlowe on this initiative. According to Johnson, Rick Homans, CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation (EDC), together with County Administrator Mike Merrill, decided which business leaders to invite. So lo and behold, as I suspected, it was no coincidence they were all rail groupies.

And can you believe it? I had tell the Tribune that because they did not “think” to ask the question of just how all the rail groupies came together. So the Tribune finally caught up with me and included this information in Mike Salinero's Tribune article today.
Calvert pointed out that the business leaders who attended the meeting were chosen by Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Homans supports a light-rail system for Hillsborough. 
Every single one (of the business leaders) was heavily tied to the referendum in 2010,” Calvert said. “When you start out like that, it's not good for the credibility of what you're doing.”
Now who is the EDC? It is a public private partnership, which was created in 2009, after it spun off from the previous economic development arm of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. And where does their funding come from? The EDC's latest Annual Report reflect the breakdown of their 2011-2012 total funding of $2.35 million:
  • Municipal (cities) - $550K - 23%
  • County - $738K - 31%
  • Investors - $957K - 41%
  • Grants/Fees - $47.5k - 2%
  • Sponsorship/Events - $58K - 3%
I thought we were told that the EDC was primarily privately funded in it's new form. However, their last annual report reflects that your tax dollars were 54% of the EDC funding. Homans is a big pro rail supporter and we're not surprised as he previously was director of the taxpayer funded Space Port in New Mexico. And Homans, as CEO of the EDC, used his presentation time at a budget Workshop recently (not a budget public hearing) to request $250K more from the county coffers. Guess Homans wants more of your tax dollars to push his rail agenda.

But back to Salinero and his Tribune article. Salinero missed the rest of the message I told him. For starters, the title of his artcle is “Hillsborough residents to offer transit fixes”. But the county commissioners voted to form this committee to tie Transportation, NOT Transit with economic development. So why that title Mike? We all want job creation and economic growth and prosperity but that does not equate to centrally planned economic development and always taxpayer funded transportation solutions. Innovation in transportation is happening in the private sector. Will they be included in this conversation?  We don't know because we haven't seen Marlowe's plan.

In addition, as I told Salinero, staffer Johnson said that this is only the beginning of this process and we're not looking for solutions because we're at the requirements gathering stage. Maybe the facilitator, Marlowe, did not get that message or understand what he's supposed to be facilitating.  We certainly haven't seen his plan.  So there you have it. We're not supposed to be talking about solutions.  But that's what the rail groupies did when they were intentionally brought together on the 23rd. You can watch the BOCC workshop video here. They once again spoke in unison that the answer to our problems is to build a high cost rail, that sounds more like a streetcar. We've already got one bankrupt streetcar in Tampa and the Tribune reported last year then city-councilman Mayor Buckhorn voted against because it lacked a viable business model. 
Tampa Trolley was Buckhorn right - no business model?
Perhaps the rail groupies spoke too soon because as the Times recently reported “Tampa Bay area suddently basking in big economic wins.”

So maybe we don't even need this committee. There is confusion about what this committee is doing vs last year's EPSC efforts to what the MPO and all these taxpayer funded planning agencies are posturing for. And the July 23rd pro rail meeting did not help. Why aren't the commissioners leading this initiative? Why did they hire a third party facilitator, who it appears now is being directed by unelected bureaucrats from the EDC and county staff? When I brought that up with Salinero, he mentioned some commissioners being up for re-election. Bingo! That's the problem - when our commissioners aren't honest and will publicly stand for something, they stand for nothing. While I disagree with Commissioner Sharpe on rail, at least he is willing to publicly admit what he is pushing. Is the rest of the crew waiting for a consensus driven answer from Herb Marlowe and his agenda driven process?

How about we clearly define the problem with data that backs up the issue that's trying to be solved. Where is that data? I asked for data showing traffic patterns in our county and haven't gotten that data yet. We have 6000 lane miles of roads in Hillsborough County, that aren't going away with a $2 billion backlog of road and safety improvements. We have had declining gas tax revenues, a blown out CIT tax  so how do we maintain what we have? No wonder the MPO post-referendum survey reflected roads as our highest priority with rail falling way down on the list. Show us where the problems are instead of offering a free form platform to special interests to push their agenda.

We need problem solving public policies not agenda based policies. So yes as Salinero stated I will be watching this process closely and suggest all taxpayers in Hillsborough County do as well.  Or hold on to your wallets!  

Public Forum on Tuesday, August 6th, County Center, 26th floor should be interesting.