Sunday, May 31, 2015

Downtown Waterfront Plan - Parks or Development which is it?

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

Almost no one is faulting the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan (DWMP) for its approach, level of effort or the care with which it was put together.

The committee, the public and the consultant did a good job. It just looks like the City staff may have hijacked the final report.

In fact, it is just the level of attention to detail that has allowed the public to become quickly aware of the large amount of proposed development included in the plan. 

In the Public Survey, respondents were asked to rate the benefits of the Downtown Waterfront.

Page 17 of the DWMP Report:
Make the City of St. Petersburg a more desirable place to live
Improve physical health and fitness
Preserves open space
Increases property values
Protect the historical attributes of the City and Downtown Water front
Attracts tourists to St. Petersburg
Improves metal health and reduces stress
Helps attract new residents and business to St. Petersburg
Increases environmental awareness
Increased opportunities for people of different cultures to interact

Nowhere in that list is any indication that significant commercial development is a benefit to the downtown waterfront.

The DWMP includes almost 60 areas designated as "Development Opportunity Sites".

Pier District
11 Development Opportunity Sites

South Basin District
 8-9 Development Opportunity Sites some quite large around the Mahaffey and Dali

Bayboro & Salt Creek District 
40 Development Opportunity Sites including 2 large new docks in the basin.

Although it is hard to get a true read, it seems that the "Development Opportunity Site" portion of the plan was not aggressively in play during the public input. If that statement is not true will someone please show me where the public had a chance to weigh in on the development opportunity site part of the plan?

The point is five years from now when a developer comes along and wants to develop a commercial asset, that may or may not be all that desirable, on waterfront property designated as a "Development Opportunity Site" it is going to be difficult to say no when the developer holds up the DWMP and says, "I am just doing what you said you wanted to do."

For now all or almost all of the "Development Opportunity Sites" should be removed the DWMP and renamed to their current actual use.

Nothing in that approach prevents a developer from requesting waterfront property for a development, but it does not provide a plan adopted by Ordinance to back up his request.

The DWMP was conceived to protect the waterfront not provide a path to exploit it.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

Thursday's St. Petersburg City Council workshop on the Rays request to look around Tampa Bay for a new stadium site was as much theater as it was workshop.

If you want to catch a blow by blow view, check out saintpetersblog, Janelle Irwin's: Live blogging St. Pete City Council’s Rays drama one Wengay rant at a time.

I was there for about half the meeting caught some more on TV back at my office.

Some thoughts:

The USF Student design mockups were interesting and exciting to say the least. They were also a major distraction and cost the meeting about an hour of pretty much pointless discussion.

Note to Chair Gerdes: City Council is easily distracted. Next time someone wants to bring an exciting new concept that has very little do with the actual agenda into a meeting consider saying no politely.

At one point Council Chair Gerdes indicated he was pleased with the wide ranging discussion. I agree. There was a lot of generally useless information tossed around, a few tidbits of relevant information and all of that was apparently enough to get Amy Foster to flip flop on her position.

Every time the Rays issue comes up Mayor Kriseman sounds more and more like the Rays attorney than he does the people's representative.  Kriseman does make a pretty good case for the MOU, but I agree with Steve Kornell the upfront nut to move should be bigger - a lot bigger.

 I like his $55 Million, with an annual de-escalator. Should not be a problem given the general agreement that it will take seven years or so to get a stadium up and running. By then the remaining amount should be reasonable. Unless the Rays have a hidden agenda.

Note to Mayor Kriseman: Put a muzzle on your resident political operative, AKA Chief of staff. Watching the expressions and the body language I am pretty sure almost no one dais really cares about his opinion or sparring with him. Next time someone should make that clear.

Finally, I am a big believer in the theory that people, teams and organizations possess a finite amount of collective energy to accomplish their mission. Baseball is sopping up way to much energy and time from both the administration and the City Council.

Regardless of the "economic impact" baseball is a major distraction from critical issues like the south side, aging infrastructure, a questionable Downtown Waterfront Master Plan and a host of other issues.

Baseball wants to leave St. Pete. They don't want another stadium on the same site because in reality they believe the location is at least 50% of the problem.

It seems up to this point they would like to leave somewhat gracefully. It's time to put another offer on the table that addresses Council's concerns and see how the Rays respond.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Baseball The hand writing is on the wall

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

The Rays attendance problem continues to worsen. They are now last in league attendance with even the usually high draw games seriously lacking.  As I have often quoted Bud Selig, "St. Petersburg is not a major league baseball market."

 It remains unclear to me why it is so difficult for the politicians to accept the fact Selig was right.

The Kriseman administration has put together another version of the now famous Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which addresses the development rights issue that seemed to be the reason the last MOU went down the toilet.

 Payout money for an early move was also a big issue.

Kriseman has been playing it a bit coy with Council saying he does not want to bring his latest MOU forward until he has enough committed votes for it to pass. Not exactly the way a representative government works.

What he is really saying is he does not want another embarrassing discussion where he gets a bunch of questions he does not want to answer.

Kriseman has refused to conduct the economic impact study Council member Kornell asked for the major reason likely being the only really serious economic benefit has probably been for Fergs Sports Bar.

It's time for a Mayor and the City Council to just fess up to the fact major league baseball will not work here. Selig was right.

For now, if the money portion of the MOU is still the issue with Council, how about a counter to the Mayor's most recent "offer": Rays give up all development rights, construction can begin any time, City agrees to keep 1,500 parking spots on the site, payout to move is set at $50 Million this year, reduces $4 million every year with the payout portion of the MOU sun setting in 2026.  

It is time to let the Rays look any where they want because unless there is someone in Tampa with a big ego and really deep pockets I don't think there will be a Tampa stadium deal.

With two major league sports teams in Tampa, rising ticket and concession prices and the history of baseball in the bay area, it is hard to imagine a new stadium will simply make all of that go away.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

City Council makes a valiant effort to fix a flawed Waterfront Master Plan

Opinion By: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog
In what seemed to me a heartfelt attempt to get to an acceptable Downtown Water Front Master Plan City Council labored until they just couldn't go any longer Thursday night.

At question was the inclusion of hotel/convention center and a host of areas all along the water front designated as "Development Areas"

The Hotel Conference center seemed to be a no brainer, with consensus it should be pulled from the Master Plan but the rest of the development parcels designated in the plan became much more difficult to deal with.

At one point there was a suggestion that all of the development areas be pulled from the Plan but that seemed too draconian to the Council.

What struck me was the tenacity that the Consultant and the Kriseman administration held onto the development portion of the plan. Struggling to keep the possibility of a Plan with massive "development opportunities" alive, both the Consultant and the Administration spoke repeatedly in glowing terms of the hotel/convention center, retail along the west side of Al Lange and other possibly wonderful commercial ideas that might evolve.

Council, concerned that future Administration's or Councils might not interpret the plan as they see it, struggled to make changes that would clarify the intent of the plan only to be rebuffed by the Administration's team.

In the end the Council continued the discussion to the next City Council meeting with instructions to staff that removed the hotel/conference center, took the "Development Areas" out of the South Basin and provided some additional language changes.

The administration will bring back a modified plan.

If all of the Council recommended changes are actually made there will still be a lot to be concerned about in the DWMP. Far to many undefined "Development Areas" remain; the approach to Bayboro Harbor seems completely impractical to name a couple.

The administration harped on the fact that the plan is "conceptual" but defined areas highlighted in red "Development Areas" are a bit more than conceptual.

Even in it's revised form the DWMP is likely to be the biggest threat to the Waterfront ever approved by a City Council.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog
The Downtown Water Waterfront Master Plan in it's current from can best be described as the camel's nose under the tent, the crack in the ice, the toe in the water; pick your metaphor.

Had the emphasis on "development areas" been omitted, or at least toned down significantly, it would have been a masterful Master Plan.

In the current form, the DWMP sets its self up as the lever to begin the systematic commercialization of waterfront.

Required by Charter Amendment, using a process required of and approved by City Council including well-documented public input, the DWMP is exceptional in form, context and content.

The DWMP treats the more esoteric issues of the waterfront with great care, carefully documenting the massive public input effort into these sections of the Plan.

The commercialization portion of the plan or the "development areas" as the Plan refers to them, seems to be carefully woven into the fabric of the Plan with little public input to support them.

The DWMP deftly bows to the City Charter in the Legal Context Section, but does it really?

From the DWMP
In January 2011, the city’s Charter Review Commission (“CRC”) convened with the purpose of proposing amendments to the City Charter, to be voted on by the city’s electorate in a referendum in November of that year. Among several proposed amendments that came out of the CRC’s deliberation was a proposed amendment for the development of the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan (“DWMP”). On November 8, 2011, St. Petersburg voters approved an amendment to the City Charter creating Section 1.02(g) and requiring the City Council to approve a DWMP on or before July 1, 2015. The charter amendment also compelled the City Council to adopt an ordinance setting forth the procedures for the adoption of the DWMP. The amendment required the City Council, prior to July 1, 2012, to adopt by ordinance, a process to create an inclusive master plan for the Downtown Waterfront, the criteria to be addressed, the manner of adoption and a process to assure that adequate inclusive public input is obtained prior to adoption and a requirement for review and update. The ordinance was adopted by City Council in June 2012, and created a new section of the City Code, Section 16.08, which governs the DWMP’s seven-year review and update procedures. The DWMP shall be amended by ordinance, with notice given to the public and at least one public hearing before City Council.

Note in the final sentence above, the DWMP shall be amended by ordinance. This makes the DWMP very easy to modify. A development centric or cash hungry City Council could have a field day.

From the DWMP
The DWMP is a conceptual planning document intended to provide guidance to the city and its people in their stewardship of St. Petersburg’s singular Downtown Waterfront environment, parks and amenities. The DWMP is subordinate to federal and state law, the City Charter, the City of St. Petersburg Comprehensive Plan, and the City Code of Ordinances. Therefore, specific recommendations contained within the DWMP may require a vote of the city electorate in a referendum, or other acts of city government and public input, before implementation of plan recommendations may occur. The Charter embodies the long-held core values of St. Petersburg’s citizens and, in particular, their shared desire to protect City- owned park and waterfront property. The Charter further outlines the City-wide referendum procedure required of any permanent disposition of public park or waterfront property, including the sale or lease of such property to private interests. Through this referendum provision, the public’s role in a debate on the future of its waterfront park property is fundamental and will be preserved in perpetuity.

Note the reference here: "Therefore, specific recommendations contained within the DWMP may require a vote of the city electorate in a referendum, or other acts of city government and public input, before implementation of plan recommendations may occur."

The key word here is may, not shall.

From the DWMP
The city shall perform a consistency review of certain projects in the context of the DWMP, including but not limited to, capital improvements and programming proposed for the Downtown Waterfront area. The DWMP shall be interpreted broadly to accomplish its purpose and intent. The DWMP shall be read in its entirety, with no single facet to be construed in isolation of the remainder of the document. After development of the DWMP and other documents that may from time to time be created to implement this plan, the administration and enforcement of the DWMP shall be performed by the city in its sole discretion. The provisions of the DWMP shall be effective upon adoption by the St. Petersburg City Council.

Note that the Plan indicates that once it is adopted it shall be "interpreted broadly to accomplish its purpose and intent."

One of the primary purposes seems to be commercial development of the downtown waterfront and the intent is pretty clear.

The question becomes in a scenario where a property on the waterfront designated as a "development area" has been singled out by a developer for say a hotel or a condo, the developer offers to pay market value for the property, the basic design is complementary to the waterfront and meets the requirements of DWMP.

The City decides to take the question to a referendum and the developer sues claiming no referendum is needed.

The Charter requires a vote on the sale of waterfront property, but the Charter mandated DWMP says implementation of Plan projects MAY require a vote.

Who wins? 
As a very good lawyer friend of mine said to me on a number of occasions: "On any given day you never know what judge or a jury may do."

Therein is the problem. One successful legal challenge based on the DWMP could start a land rush on the waterfront.

Some careful tweaking along with a moderation of the "development areas" should eliminate these concerns and put the DWMP in it's proper perspective to the City Charter.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Tampa Bay Times questions St. Pete Waterfront plan

By: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog

Rarely do I find myself on or close to the same page as the Tampa Bay Times.

The Times Editorial recommends, " One unnecessary concept — a hotel and conference center — has provoked criticism and suspicion among a citizenry that has repeatedly rebuffed such for-profit intrusions onto the waterfront. The council should approve the plan but reject the hotel idea."

I certainly agree but City Council should go even further and make it clear that the large number of "development" sites I pointed out in my Post St. Pete's Waterfront Master Plan...... "It's Like Hitting the Lotto" ..... Take a look at the Pictures and note the areas flagged as "Development" sites does not constitute a change in direction for the downtown waterfront.

The Times Editorial takes a shot Councilmember Steve Kornell's position that he will vote against the plan if the hotel stays in the plan. Putting aside the fact that Steve is up for reelection, it will likely take a strong stand from not only Kornell but also several other Council members to get any significant change to the Waterfront Master Plan.

While it is true that the Waterfront Plan is simply that, a plan, once adopted by City Council it will become the reference point for all challenges to the use of the waterfront.  The development emphasis of the proposed plan could be toned down considerably without having a negative effect on the plan's viability.

I am sure the Times and a lot of other downtown power brokers are concerned about the pending waterfront referendum and toning down the Waterfront Master Plan may take a little steam out of the referendum effort.

I still remain convinced that the only way the citizens of St. Petersburg can assure their waterfront is protected is by having say through the referendum process.

You can check out the Referendum petition at Waterfront Charter Amendment.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday May 17, 2015 Pinellas County Arts Funding May Increase

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

This past week it looked like a window for more Pinellas County funding for the Arts may be opening.

 Creative Pinellas, the county-funded arts agency, is seeking $300,000 a year to promote the arts and to fund local artists and programs for the next three years.

You can read more in Steven Girardi article in the St. Pete Tribune Pinellas leaders see value of arts, seek more information.

County funding for the arts dried up when the County Office of Cultural Affairs was shuttered five years ago in the midst of the financial downturn.

This is the moment when the arts community should be fully prepared with a program and details. County Commissioners want to know where and how any funding increase will be spent.

Publically funded arts programs have a tendency to become cliquish. A broadly based program and accountability for how public art funds are actually spent is a necessity.

The $300,000 is a reasonable sum if Creative Pinellas can produce a plan with sufficient detail to make Commissioners feel comfortable. Beginning with a modest working budget line item in the new budget, the arts community should be encouraged to return in the next budget cycle to report on their success and the County Commission should be open to additional funding.

The County Commission should avoid throwing a ton of money at the Arts only to be disappointed when the outcomes don't meet expectations or controversy arises over the program.

In St.Pete they have begun to realize throwing money at arts programs and using public funds to support individual artist or groups of artists does not produce a sustainable arts community.

The St. Petersburg approach to the arts community is one the County should consider. St. Petersburg is moving toward a sustainability model which brings customers to buy local art to support its growing arts community.

You can read about the Saint Petersburg approach in my six Post series A Casual Conversation with Wayne Atherholt St. Petersburg's Director of Cultural Affairs .

For now it looks like the County Commission is poised to renew its commitment to the arts and they should.

 The Arts community should also realize that what comes from the public trough can just as easily disappear as it did 5 years ago. Moving from subsidy to sustainability is a model the arts community should embrace.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

St. Pete's Waterfront Master Plan...... "It's Like Hitting the Lotto" .....Take a look at the Pictures and note the areas flagged as "Development" sites.

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

St. Petersburg's New Waterfront Master Plan and the Ordinance adopting it was up for first reading at last Thursdays City Council meeting.

The St. Petersburg Waterfront Master plan is exquisitely done. It details the process, the participants, the stake holders, the objectives and the plan. You can see the whole plan at Downtown Waterfront Development Plan .

“It’s like hitting the Lotto,” Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said this past week. “It’s going to be transforming in front of our eyes.”

You can read more in the St. Petersburg Tribune, Steven Girardi, New pier is start of big changes for downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront.

Steinocher's reference is not without merit, problem is the LOTTO winners will not be the citizens of St. Petersburg. The winners will be the developers who will use the Waterfront Plan to get access to property that normally would be out of their reach.

Why such enthusiasm by the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce?

If you read carefully the plan would be more accurately titled the "St. Petersburg Downtown Waterfront Redevelopment Plan. Neatly tucked into this plan is the proposed commercial development of a significant part of the water front. 

Take a look at the Pictures and note the areas flagged as "Development" sites.

There will be a lot made of the fact this is just a "Plan" and it all requires approval but the problem is the "Plan" will be trotted out as justification every time some developer wants build on what is now protected waterfront.

All of this should be enough to send you screaming to the Waterfront Charter Amendment Web site to get a Petition sign it and mail it in.

That's the only way you get a Ticket in this LOTTO.  

From the Water Front Plan
"The waterfront should continue to be an asset 
and venue for economic vitality for the entire community. Access to the water should be a source of social and economic value to the residential neighborhoods. The waterfront should be a place of economic activity for small business in niche locations to energize events and provide limited day to day comfort such as recreational rentals and sundries. And the waterfront should be leveraged as an opportunity
for job creating economic development to support the recreational marine industry, scientific research, education, transportation, and cultural tourism."
Economically Vibrant Downtown Places
·         Al Lang Field redevelopment
·         Pier uplands with restaurants and entertainment
·         Large covered market pavilion
·         Conference/Hotel destination near the South Basin
·         Arts destination - art trail & art “anchor pieces”
·         Leverage USFSP and other Innovation District institutions to improve K-12 opportunities.

A couple of the bullet points don't quite seem to fit the "small business" profile.

As I said above this is an exceptional plan. And the plan is needed. It's just like most of what happens when the waterfront is the issue, good intentions and hard work of volunteers is quietly hijacked by special interests.

As we have seen twice with the Pier, the public cannot trust the Administration or City Council to look after their interests on the water front. This Referendum puts you in the driver's seat.

There will be a lot of bleating about how this Charter Amendment will stifle growth and make things too complicated. My answer is that's simply not true.

What it will do is force developers to produce projects that will meet with public approval and that is a good thing. 

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The Incredible Shrinking Pier

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

It was somewhat amazing to watch at Thursday's St. Pete City Council meeting as Pier Park simply shrank right before the City Council's eyes and no one even mentioned: bait and switch, change of scope, what will it really look like or can we have a look at what the real renderings will look like.

The footprint had already shrunk by almost 25% or so to get some hope of permitting and those towering trees that looked like 30 foot Oaks, quietly shrunk to 30 foot native plants, make that palm trees.

The real issue here is City Council may have bought themselves a $33,000,000 pig in a poke. Forget the inverted pyramid, what will this thing really look like?

Here is a given.

The Kriseman administration will get a deal on Pier Park if Mike Connors has to unload the dirt for the event field from the truck himself with a shovel and a wheel barrow to make the budget.

Under no circumstances, at any cost, for any reason, no matter what, come hell or high water these negotiations with the Pier Park group cannot fail because the State Statute requires that if they do the City MUST negotiate with the second ranked and that is Destination Pier.

From the Kriseman administration's position that cannot happen!
This deal will be filled with enough holes to embarrass a sieve.

 The City will pony up "in kind" services, provide "staff support", agree to "finish" certain parts of the structure, "haul away debris at City cost or no cost for undefined "City Purposes", waive permitting costs on an on the list will go.

Pier Park could not be permitted and most likely not built within the budget as originally designed. As the wheeling and dealing begin in the design phase the real question is who is watching the chickens and the answer is the silver haired fox.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Pier Park Decision An Epilog

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

If you have not already read all you want to about the latest Pier events check out Janelle Irwin's saintpetersblog Post: Inverted Pyramid lovers: You’re doing it wrong


As indicated in the above Post there is a lot more to come. But there are a couple of lessons for City Council and perhaps an administration to learn.

First and foremost several have asked the question; "How did City Council find themselves in this mess where they had limited options?"

My view: by design.

Once the Kriseman Administration put forth the process in Title XIX Chapter 287.055 and Council agreed to letting the Administration set up the selection committee the die was cast. The head of the committee was preset by the Statute and the outcome was almost completely assured, the inverted pyramid was coming down.

Mike Connors was going to run the show and everyone knew or should have known where he stands and Connors usually gets his way. When things started going south, his Selection Committee rant move the members back in line and while the Administration didn't get ALMA they may get to tear the pyramid down which is satisfaction enough.

Without adding in some caveats, Council essentially delegated the Pier selection process to a committee that was handpicked the Mayor, with a chairman with the administration's agenda and a good possibility of producing the desired result.

"Why didn't City Council listen to the public?"

The public survey was always a big risk. From the start the only way the public was going to be heard was if they agreed with the Administration. Taking both City Council and the public out of play with the formal selection process was brilliant.

The lingering problem is both the Kriseman administration and the City Council are now saddled with at least a segment, and perhaps a growing segment, of the citizenry who thinks they are being deliberately ignored. And they are.

As much as I and others exhorted Council to make a different decision, City Attorney John Wolfe summed it all up in what most of us knew, the possibility of legal action which would be costly and lengthy and far too big a risk. With the exception of Newton, no one was really ready to take that risk.

Council took the only "legal action" they could. Their hands were tied.

Here is where I think the City Council got taken for a ride.
 From the Statute:
(a) For each proposed project, the agency shall evaluate current statements of qualifications and performance data on file with the agency, together with those that may be submitted by other firms regarding the proposed project, and shall conduct discussions with, and may require public presentations by, no fewer than three firms regarding their qualifications, approach to the project, and ability to furnish the required services.

The Statute seems to leave the structure of the evaluation process up to the Agency, in this case the City. City Council should have retained the final ranking process as their purview and not delegated it to a group of 5 non-elected people and one biased staff member.

Too late game over.

However, given the seemingly aggressive redevelopment nature of the Waterfront Master Plan, this is a lesson that should not be missed.

For now we wait and see what the outcome of the referendum effort will be.

Given the ease with which it was possible for an administration to create a process that took both the City Council and the public completely out of the final decision making process for water front assets, this referendum takes on a whole new level of importance.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's Time to Make the City Council Dias a no Tweet, no Post Zone

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

There is a lot going on in most City Council meetings that is important. I have frequently noticed council members tapping a way on their cell phones as deliberations go on, the public speaks, etc.

Here is a FACEBOOK thread from last week's Council meeting where the Pier was being discussed:

Phil Ammann Oh, I wish people would stop picking on Newt. He definitely can liven up a room.

Janelle Irwin And he's got a heart of gold. I love the dude, but he's an easy target, sadly.

Kate Bradshaw Imagine him in the State House...

Janelle Irwin King of gaffes, perhaps?

Phil Ammann He will be in good company.

Kate Bradshaw He's not afraid to chew people out.

Amy Elizabeth Foster It's not disrespect-its frustration that he refuses to attend committee meetings where all our decisions are made and background is provided. He also doesn't read the backup material so we waste tons of your tax payer dollars b/c he isn't carrying his weight and it drags on meetings. It's also sad bc he makes points sometimes that should be listened to but people tune him out bc he starts with the same juvenile data no matter what the topic is. There I said it.

Most interesting is the last Post.

City Council members are supposed to turn all posts and tweets into e-mails and save them for public records purposes. I am making a public records request for this one. I'll let you know if one shows up.

The point is this, while this one may be a bit questionable as to its appropriateness it also begs the question of people getting information from and/or supplying information to City council member's during meetings which is neither in the public view or available as a public record.

Kind of moves a social media cloud over the meetings in the sunshine concept.

I also find it exceedingly disrespectful as council members tweet and post away on their cell phones as members of the public, who often struggle with getting up and speaking, find themselves being technologically ignored.

All of this adds a great deal of credibility to the ongoing discussion regarding how much these elected officials really care about what the public thinks.

It is time for Council to agree to a cell phone free zone on the Dias, and for the Legal department to enforce the Tweet/Post to email requirement.

Since some of our council members are not good at dealing with temptation, perhaps a secure lock box where the phones can be placed would be a good idea.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

New WEB Site launched for the ST. Petersburg Waterfront Referendum –

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .
I received an e-mail update from Tom Lambdon, founder and chairman of the political action committee (PAC) Vote on the Pier with details on the Preserve Our Waterfront Referendum.

The link to the new WEB site is

This link will take you to a Facebook page with all of the details.

From Tom Landon's e-mail:

 "We have about six volunteers that are manning – and updating this new FB Page – and it contains links to our main website for – which is the legally registered Political Committee – that is the legally registered SPONSOR PAC (as required by the State) of the Waterfront Charter Amendment Petition"

"None of us are against development. That is NOT what this latest petition is about.

We just believe ANY demolition or construction upon downtown waterfront property DESERVES to be decided by City VOTERS – and NOT by a handful of temporary elected officials – that just want to place their name on a project on that unique and precious waterfront acreage – which is owned by each and every taxpayer of the City.

I believe you would likely agree."

With only a very cursory review of the proposed Waterfront Master Plan, it looks like a development driven initiative and once in place they will nibble away at the waterfront and this Plan will make it very difficult protect one of St. Petersburg's most valuable assets.

One only has to drive through Madeira Beach and on up through Indian Rocks to see what happens to the waterfront and waterfront access when the developers, chambers of commerce and other special interests take control.

If you are a St. Pete resident, go to the web page above follow the links and get a Petition. Print it, sign it and mail it in. That's all you have to do.

In the next general election, you will have the opportunity to vote for the Referendum and take control of your St. Petersburg Waterfront.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Finger Pointing the Wrong Folks AT HART Board Meeting

There was quite a bit of finger pointing going on at Monday's HART board meeting. I was there.

What caused all the brouhaha? A presentation made about the proposed six future MetroRapid corridors that is and has been part of HART's Vision 10 year Transportation Development Plan (TDP). The Vision Plan is not yet funded but it has been vetted and it gets updated every year.

The first MetroRapid North-South route was implemented in 2013 for $26 million, under budget, and is a longer route than the 2010 proposed $1.2 Billion light rail corridor along the same route. 

Six proposed MetroRapid BRT's in HART's Vision Transportation Development Plan (TDP) which are not yet funded were presented at the HART board meeting. Their construction costs, which includes right of way costs, are: 
  • East - West: 17.7  miles from Temple Terrace to the airport, cost is $21.5 million
  • Kennedy Blvd/TIA: 8.3 miles from downtown to the airport, cost is $18.2 million
  • New Tampa: 11.5 miles from SR54 to USF, cost is $14.6 million
  • Brandon:  17.2 miles from Dover to downtown, cost is $20 million
  • Dale Mabry:  22 miles from Lutz to MacDill, cost is $38.8 million
  • Gunn Highway/Busch Blvd:  18 miles from Citrus Park to Temple Terrace, $30.2 million
The total costs to build all the MetroRapid routes is about $143.3 million for almost 95 miles of new transit corridors.
Proposed MetroRapid routes in HART's Vision Plan TDP
(click to enlarge)

This information is not new information as it has been in HART's TDP. HART's TDP has been around much longer than the GoHillsborough effort. However, it was stated at the HART board meeting Monday that this information was never presented to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG). That started some of the finger pointing going back and forth at the meeting about HART's Vision Plan TDP vs the GoHillsborough effort. 

The chart that caused some of the angst was the one below citing the differences in the cost per mile for the shared lane MetroRapid BRT with traffic signalization and the fixed guideway dedicated lane gold standard BRT. There is a HUGE cost difference.

HART MetroRapid BRT costs vs GoHillsborough gold standard BRT costs
(click to enlarge)
Ironically it was mostly the county commissioners who sit on the Transportation Policy Leadership Group, who hired Parsons Brinckerhoff and are directly responsible for creating the GoHillsborough campaign pointing the fingers. Commissioner Murman stated that she was contacting County Administrator Mike Merrill to get this presentation at the next PLG meeting. 

The GoHillsborough public engagement campaign ends in 2 weeks and Parsons Brinckerhoff supposedly will be presenting their proposed plans at the June 11 PLG meeting. NOW the county commissioners on HART are complaining or wondering why HART's TDP information was never publicly presented to the Policy Leadership Group. Better late than never. 

HART's CEO Katherine Egan is part of the Policy Leadership Group's Management team led by County Administrator Mike Merrill.  We know Merrill and Parsons Brinckerhoff have this information. 

As the prime consultant on the million dollar taxpayer funded GoHillsborough effort, it is Parsons Brinckerhoff's responsibility, not HART's to ensure all stakeholders, including HART, participate. It is Parsons Brinckerhoff's responsibility, not HART's, to bring together all the data the stakeholders provide. That is what consultants are paid to do and Parsons is getting a boat load of our tax dollars to do it. 

We presume HART's TDP information ended up where last years AEComm transit assessment ended up - hidden in the background out of general public view.

The breakdown of the costs associated with HART's proposed MetroRapid corridors is important because the latest GoHillsborough meetings have charts with some estimated transit costs per mile. These charts can also be found on their website here. However GoHillsborough does not compare the costs of HART's shared lane MetroRapid BRT corridors the same as the costs for fixed guideway dedicated lane BRT and fixed guideway rail. 
GoHillsborough provided transit costs (click to enlarge) 
GoHillsborough cites fixed guideway dedicated lane BRT costs $54 million per mile and fixed guideway rail costs about $88 million per mile. Neither of these costs include right of way, which can cause huge delays and cost increases. (Note rail costs for many new projects today are about $100 million per mile.)  

The Ferry service cites costs of $31 million. However, the Ferry project started BEFORE GoHillsborough and has already received a federal grant for work to be done. It should be worked separately from GoHillsborough.

Go Hillsborough cites HART's 10 year TDP Vision Plan as a total cost of $1.5 Billion. That cost includes HART's current services of their Status Quo TDP Plan, plus the proposed MetroRapid corridors stated above plus other enhancements. GoHillsborough just lumped it all together as a total cost of $1.5 Billion.

How does the public accurately compare a $1.5 billion plan to other transit options that cite cost per mile? They can't. It is not an "apples to apples" comparison of costs. It is disingenuous and does not enable the public to fairly comprehend the various transit mode costs.

As the chart above creating anxiety depicts, when HART's costs are broken down, the cost per mile to build out the 6 MetroRapid transit corridors range from approximately $1.2 to $2.2 million per mile, far less expensive than any fixed guideway. In addition, GoHillsborough failed to cite the shortfall for the Vision Plan which is what actually requires a funding source. That shortfall over 10 years is about $464 million in capital costs and $215 million in operating expenses. 

We get it that there needs to be a review of the TDP, as is done every year for some changes, especially with regards to adding service in fast growing south county.  However, compare  HART's Vision Plan TDP which doubles the bus service in Hillsborough County with 9 miles of a fixed guideway dedicated lane BRT recently built for $570 million. No wonder there was heartburn at that meeting.

The costs of HART's TDP Vision Plan must be comparably reflected. The cost chart below is out on the Hillsborough County Transportation and Economic Development website that led to launching the GoHillsborough campaign.
Transit Cost Comparisons from TED website
This chart is also missing in the GoHillsborough campaign. Why? Is it because it was part of the AEComm transit assessment done last year that was never publicly presented to the PLG? That transit assessment states Hillsborough County does not have the ridership to get federal grants for high cost fixed guideway transit options and that Hillsborough should invest in transit cautiously and prudently. 

So why is GoHillsborough only providing cost per mile information for high cost fixed guideway transit options?  Why not include cost information for the option of adding road and transit capacity with managed bus toll lanes? Where is the cost per trip or cost per passenger data? 
Proposed MetroRapid costs in HART's Vision Plan TDP
(click to enlarge)
It's very late in the game for the county commissioners on the HART board to be pointing fingers at HART Monday for presenting an approved TDP they know about and some of them voted to approve. 

But the brouhaha highlights some issues. Merrill should have ensured HART's TDP and the pertinent unfunded costs associated with the plan were publicly presented to the Policy Leadership Group. Parsons Brinckerhoff should fairly and transparently include comparable transit cost information regarding HART's TDP in the GoHillsborough campaign.

The finger pointing at Monday's HART board meeting was directed at the wrong folks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

This is Charlie Gerdes Moment to Shine

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .
The Pier Selection process is a near train wreck. The Mayor has basically squandered away all of his administration's credibility and leadership. It will be interesting to see who the administration sends up to present the Selection Committee findings. Most likely it will be Connors although the Mayor may make a rare appearance.

The whole mess now ends up in front of a City Council that has a lot more questions than answers, suffers from Pier fatigue, does not want to start over, does not want to anger the public, does not want to go through another divisive referendum/petition drive and does not want to spend months or maybe even years reliving this nightmare.

I like to think things happen for a reason, and it seems to me Charlie Gerdes ended up as Council Chair for precisely this moment. Gerdes, who has a tendency to over think things a bit, is a really smart guy. He puts the pieces of a puzzle together very quickly.

Whenever things are raging about him Gerdes can bring logic and calm to a storm. That's called leadership.

The City Council Chair has a lot more discretion than City Administrations would like to admit.

The Kriseman take or leave it push on the Pier Selection Committee recommendation has been pretty well debunked.

Kennedy likes and respects Gerdes and will listen carefully to the Chair's ideas.

Kornell, who also likes and respects Gerdes, wants this whole thing to end peacefully. The issue here is to not let Steve get confused by any legal maneuvering

Rice, who probably let her tweeting fingers get the best of her when she belted out a Pier Park support Tweet, may have a hard time walking that back. Gerdes needs to give her a clear and logical path to make that decision.

Nurse will be a careful observer of the process, and will be looking for the mines in the mine field. Listen carefully to his comments.

Dudley, who likes and respects Gerdes, would like a clear and well defined path out of the mess on the table. Dudley has no problem going to the public for a vote but will worry unnecessarily about how much it costs.

Foster could easily be the swing vote on whatever Gerdes manages to get on the table for a vote. As a new council member Foster has grown quickly in the role and fully appreciates the magnitude of what will happen on Thursday. Gerdes needs to make sure she is clear on where he wants to go.

Newton has already made it clear he will put up a motion to take the whole decision to a public referendum. Newt should wait a bit before he makes this move and let things play out. Some City Council members, who just as a general rule don't support Newton, need to put those biases in their back pocket on this one.

The concept of letting the people decide deserves a vote by their elected officials. Letting a Newton motion die for want of a second will almost insure a referendum. The trick here is, if the public vote is the way Gerdes wants to go then he needs to give Newt the motion or the opportunity to second it. 

If Charlie can get some solid help from John Wolfe, keep the discussion from getting out of control and take advantage of the really solid minds sitting on the dais with him, he can lead this City out of one of the most divisive periods recent times.

Gerdes is the right guy to lead this discussion. He will be humbled by the magnitude of the problem his Council faces and his desire to do the best for the City he loves.

He will do a great job.

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