Sunday, June 28, 2015

GoHillsborough Flawed: Data Skewed?

Hillsborough County taxpayers paid Parsons Brinckerhoff a million bucks handed to them by the county via a no-bid contract, including handing over $300K of our tax dollars to PR inside lobbyist Beth Leytham to conduct what appears to be a flawed transportation public engagement effort. 

We received the packet of information that Parsons provided the Transportation Policy Leadership Group on June 11 to back up their proposal to put another 30 year $3.5 BILLION sales tax hike on the 2016 ballot. Parsons handed the packets to the county commissioners at that meeting so it appeared the commissioners had not even had a chance to review what was in it. We assume that County Administrator Mike Merrill provided some type of briefing or summary of the information to the commissioners prior to the meeting.

However, what should have occurred is that all the commissioners should have had the opportunity to actually read the information to then be able to ask some challenging questions about the information they received. They should not be simply relying on what Merrill tells them for all their advice. Merrill is not a policy maker and he should not be acting like one as if he is an unelected County Mayor. Commissioner Hagan read a lengthy scripted statement supporting the tax hike and Commissioner Miller stated we'll be "DOOMED" if we don't pass the huge tax hike. But apparently neither one of them had even read the information packet to know exactly what was in it. Sound eerily familiar.

So we started reading the packet and some of the data appeared a bit strange. The packet stated that both transit and roads were "relatively" equal in prioritization response. We decided to look at where the GoHillsborough workshops were held as that provides some good insight for who had the opportunity to actually participate in this effort. Here's what we found:

GoHillsborough workshops held: Tampa vs County


Hillsborough County's population is about 1.3 million while the city of Tampa's population is about 350K. GoHillsborough held their workshops disproportionately in the city of Tampa vs the county based on population. What GoHillsborough did was force anyone in the county to have to drive much further to even participate in the workshops held in the county.

Why were the workshops disproportionately held in the city of Tampa? Was this intentional? 

This is the data the county commissioners paid a million bucks for and are relying on to make decisions. Why aren't they asking these questions?

GoHillsborough's data looks skewed.

GoHillsborough looks flawed.

GoHillsborough 30 year $3.5 BILLION proposed sales tax hike looks flawed.

Former PSTA Board Chair 90% sure GreenLight defeat was a good thing

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

Wednesday's PSTA Board meeting was a typical right up to the very end.

The Board whizzed along Wednesday through the agenda and received a favorable budget report that estimates PSTA will be able to operate to nearly 2021 without dipping into reserves.

PSTA has done a good job of pulling some rabbits out of the hat but has used some estimates on fuel prices and property tax revenues that could be a bit volatile. The entire budget on paper looks pretty good.

More telling will be how the budget actually affects service, and that will become clear in the next few meetings as route changes and deletions begin to take shape.

All went along well until item number 12 on the Agenda which is simply Board Comments.

PSTA Board member Doug Bevis, Mayor of Oldsmar, was first up in this round robin of comments where most members resort to promoting some event in their community or thanking PSTA staffers for their efforts.

Mayor Bevis began by thanking the budget staff for their excellent work and then said, "I think it is a good thing GreenLight failed.' He went on to add, (Paraphrasing)"If Greenlight had not failed we would not have had the level of review we see in this budget and a leaner PSTA."

I was at the meeting and as he as speaking, I did a quick sweep of the dais and if looks could kill Oldsmar would be looking for a new Mayor.

The next couple of speakers tiptoed around Mayor Bevis's remarks doing the soft shoe that is typical of this section of the Agenda, then Commissioner Welch was up to bat.

Neither able nor capable of just letting it pass, Commissioner Welch said he could not agree completely with Mayor Bevis that the GreenLight defeat was a good thing but, "He was about 90% sure the Oldsmar Mayor was right."


Welch, who did everything to get the GreenLight referendum passed except lay his first born on the GreenLight alter is now 90% sure it was good that GreenLight was defeated?????

Remember Welch was the PSTA Board Chairman, who defended the ethics review during GreenLight, supported Brad Miller's bad judgment during the misuse of Federal funds debacle, lead the charge for a vote of confidence for Miller, constantly and vehemently pushing the GreenLight referendum and belittled those who opposed it.  

Now all of sudden 8 months later he is 90% sure it was a bad idea. Where was the great enlightening? It could not have been the vote because he was still up on the idea after GreenLight was mauled at the polls.

The unanswered question is: how many other people on the PSTA board really agree with Mayor Bevis but are afraid to speak out?

They booted Norm Roche when he didn't buy GreenLight.

Here in lies the problem with PSTA, HART and all of the "Taxing Authorities" that are set up and populated with a majority of elected officials. The problem is all of these people are politicians. These boards should be made up of a majority of citizens so the politics is second and the governance is first.

It does not take a rocket scientist to simply observe and see that this board does not really function as a governing board. It is politics first and functional governance second in virtually every case.

The evidence is pretty clear as the board snuggles up to its new consultants and members who may face elections begin to set the stage by distancing themselves from their failed attempt to take $130 Million a year from this County's economy for something the people did not want.

And then they wonder why we don't trust them.

As for me I am 100% sure GreenLight was a bad idea before the vote, after the vote and I will be forever. And it is a fact 62% of the voters agree. 

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Darden Rice looking to upgrade her political status

It really didn't come as much of a surprise that City Council member Darden Rice is throwing up a trial balloon in the 13th District Congressional race. That seat is currently held by David Jolly, who is considering a run for the Senate.

You can get some additional information in an article in the St. Petersburg Tribune by Christopher O'Donnell, St. Pete councilwoman Rice eyes David Jolly’s U.S. House seat.

Rice has always been politically ambitious and this would be a major leap should she decide to run.

Darden is smart, articulate and very politically savvy as her soaring rhetoric on City Council often shows. She is tenacious and has strongly held set of ideals and goals that have served her well right up to this moment.

There are some who would argue that Rice is not quite ready for the prime time of the US House of Representatives but I would strongly disagree. If you look carefully at her background she has spent the greater part of her life in public service and has navigated some very tough political waters.

She is a great consensus builder and can calm a political storm as well as anyone.

The other thing that Rice has going for her is she is not part of the privileged political class. Darden has had to work hard for everything she has accomplished. She is not afraid of failure or hard work.

There is nothing to indicate that that dedication would not continue with her to the US House.

In her run for City Council a lot was made of the amount of money she raised for her campaign, but I think you have to look past the dollars and look at the number of contributors who were willing to offer their support. There are a lot of people who trust and believe in Darden.

Darden and I don't always agree and every now and then she ends me an always pleasant e-mail reminding me where I may have gone astray. And I always appreciate them.

There is a new Facebook page Draft Darden where people are expressing their support.

Darden Rice would represent the 13th District well in Washington. I hope she gives the idea a lot of thought.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

PSTA misses another opportunity for funding as a grant request disappears from the State budget

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

In Friday's PSTA planning meeting the subject of the disappearing million-dollar PSTA State budget line item came up briefly. The response from the PSTA administration was "we will make an application to FDOT and get the money from them".

It is hard to tell if the decision to pass on a budget line item for a PSTA grant is just a State budget issue or a not so subtle message to the PSTA Board and Pinellas County.

It could just be that the people who actually control the way money flows in Tallahassee are sending a suggestion that it is time for the PSTA to clean up its house and replace the team that pushed all of the limits in the GreenLight debacle up to and including the misuse of Federal FEMA funds which ultimately had to be returned.

I am not sure why any State or Federal funding agency would want to get in bed with Brad Miller and a public board that condones his misuse of federal funds and then gives a vote of confidence to those who misused the money.

The PSTA Administration cited State Senator Jack Latvala as the likely emissary to help acquire the FDOT funds. The good Senator might want to think twice before he hitches his star to an organization that views outright misuse of funds as "bad judgment".

There is no doubt that public transportation in Pinellas County is a major problem. But the real problem at PSTA is how it is being run. It may be time for a call to the governor's office and full scale complete review of PSTA and its Board.

These public transportation boards made up of elected officials sound good on the surface, but in reality all they seem to do is centralize everything bad about elected officials and their in ability to really represent the citizens.

FDOT should be cautious about turning over any funds to PSTA unless there will be extensive follow-up on how they are used.

Probably the most difficult thing to understand is why the PSTA Board has not moved to replace CEO Brad Miller who was at the center of all of the shenanigans at PSTA.

Then again maybe it's really not too hard to understand at all.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Another 30 Year Sales Tax Increase? No Surprise, Nothing But Blue Skies....

Were there any surprises at the Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) meeting?


Another 30 year tax hike is totally unnecessary, especially after we experienced the CIT tax.

County Administrator Mike Merrill admitted they can plan well up to 5 years and only plan fairly well up to 10 years. HART's Transportation Development Plan is 10 years.Technology is emerging quickly and transportation and transit may look quite different in 10-15 years. The private sector, technology driven consumer to consumer economy, the sharing economy that benefits us all is fast emerging.  

So why tax us for 30 years for "stuff" they can't plan for?

Must be Nothing but Blue Skies.....From Now On....

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sign or Symbol the City of St. Pete may have a Flag problem

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

Janelle Irwin has an interesting Post in saintpetersblog: Larry Ahern has his panties in a bunch over gay pride trumping pro-life at City Hall.

You can read Janelle's Post, but the flap is over a request by a pro-life life group to fly the pro- life flag promoting their event 40 Days for Life. The issue, as the pro-life people point out, hinges on the Mayor's decision to fly the Gay Pride rainbow flag supporting the St. Pete Gay Pride event that is held every year here in St. Pete.

I'll leave the abortion argument to those dealing with it and the Gay Rights Flag/Pride thing to that camp for the moment.

Janelle's Post turns into a gay verses abortion rant which I don't quite understand, but I guess that's the point.

There is however a much bigger issue here and that is how the Mayor is dealing what probably seems to him a minor issue.

The Mayor's communication director Ben Kirby's comment on Facebook , "The City flies that flag because the event has a multi-million dollar impact on the city and “it’s the right thing to do”, once again shows the Kriseman administration's complete lack of maturity in dealing with these issues.

So the point is if I bring enough money into town I can get my flag raised over City Hall? 

Once the Mayor made the decision to put a special event flag over City Hall he opened a can of worms and now someone has kicked the can over.

I would point the Mayor to former Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn and suggest he ask Mr. Winn about the issue of "signs and symbols". Mark Winn, myself and a number of other staffers had a long running discussion (about 10 years as I recall) about the differences and the precedents involved.

Once the Mayor decided to fly the Gay Pride Flag he at the least set a precedent of some sort, and picking and choosing who can display their flag based on the economic benefit to the City or any other criteria may not be legal.

As to the Mayor not responding to the Pro-life request, it seems the Mayor has a tendency to just ignore those things he doesn't want to deal with and as usual that approach comes back to bite him.

For now the Mayor should set down with group requesting the their flag be flown and work out something before he finds himself in the middle of the Pro-life battle, with a federal lawsuit and another costly distraction caused by poor decision making.

As to the Ben Kirby statement, as I have pointed out before the Mayor needs to put a muzzle on these inexperienced staffers they are only opening up their mouth's long enough to change feet.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kriseman Administration continues to misfire

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

The Rays
Kriseman and his dream team can't seem to come to agreement with City Council let alone the Rays on a deal to let them look for a new stadium. Baseball, which is usually reluctant to talk business deals during the season, has been typically quiet.

At this point I am not sure who is stringing whom along. If you listen carefully to the drumbeats from across the Bay, the desire to pony up a lot of public or private money to build the Rays a cushy new home seems a bit muted these days. 
The Mayor said he did not want to do an economic impact study because it might put the City in bad position for recovering damages.

Read that as the Rays are not as big an economic deal as they would like you to think they are.

So if the Rays get a chance to look in Tampa and there are no sites or suitors they also have a now damaged position.

Maybe they are not as anxious to look as they used to be.

The Pier
The Kriseman administration has saddled themselves with a selection for the Pier, Pier Park, that a lot of people don't seem to want. Bubbling under the surface is a potential referendum that could tank the whole deal.

Quietness and some secrecy surround the "negotiations" for Pier Park. Look for the designs, contracts and procurement documents to come out late in an effort to stampede Council into a quick decision.

When City Council gets Pier Park back for a final decision, they need to take all the time they need to review the entire deal.

Downtown Waterfront Master Plan
This effort, a near debacle, was only partially rescued by a series of last minute trees thrown on the drawings and some careful wording that hid but did not eliminate the real goal of commercial development of a large part of the waterfront.

Most of the really smart people in town know the DWMP is a concept that will likely never materialize, but it does crack the door open for development that  might not be in keeping with the City's historical goals for the waterfront.

If the Pier Park design goes wildly bad, like it very well may, and City Council does not refuse to fund it, then the waterfront referendum effort will certainly gain some momentum and the DWMP will become part of the fuel.

The Big Blue Cans
The Mayor's latest nightmare is the recycling program, those 95 gallon blue cans and trucks too big to go down an alley.

One has to wonder if anyone did a study on the actual amount of recyclables households in St. Pete generate and just how big those cans should really be.

Somebody should have also been thinking about how the great big automated trucks get down the narrow streets of Old Northeast and how they will get to the cans around all of those cars parked on the street. Maybe a street parking ban is in the works.

Giving some thought to the alleys would have also been good idea.

One lesson to be learned from all of this by the Kriseman administration is if you leave the selection of trucks, cars, fire trucks or anything else that rolls completely up to the department that will use it, you will almost always get the biggest thing out there. A St. Pete Fleet Director once said to me, "Go ahead and get the big one, better too big than too small."

Anyhow old Northeast is up in arms and that is never good for a Mayor who would like to have a second term especially when he is a Democrat. The dream team better think of something fast or this one could become a threat to the whole recycling effort to say nothing of some political careers.

The list goes on but so far the Mayor and his team of newbie's have started a lot of things but they seem to have difficulty closing the deal. In every one of these issues the devil is in the details and the details are where the Kriseman administration seems to have the most trouble.  

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Proposed 30 Year Sales Tax includes Light Rail

County Administrator Mike Merrill, acting in a pseudo-role as an unelected County Mayor, held a media briefing Wednesday to leak the transportation plan to the media before it was even publicly presented to the PLG. We assume Merrill or someone already screened the commissioners with this information prior to this event.

So there was disappointment but no real surprises at Thursday's Policy Leadership Group meeting. The media did their duty of "reporting what Merrill told them" before the meeting yesterday.

Why disappointment? 

Disappointing because Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff previously told me that Parsons would present several scenarios to the PLG that they could then publicly discuss. 

Disappointing because of the questions not asked on this critical issue by our elected officials, who some instead made a scripted commentary. Remember due to our Sunshine Laws, this is the only venue for these electeds to engage publicly on the issue. Why weren't there more challenging questions asked?

Disappointing because we have four county commissioner on the HART board and nothing was said how this plan fits in with HART's current TDP, as if this plan would operate in a separate universe. This plan does tell you why Merrill wanted to restructure HART last year with all electeds. We anticipate that issue resurfacing if this plan moves forward to get control of a new boatload of money to HART. We anticipate that working as well as the CIT tax. 

Many in the PLG have stated "we need options" more times than can be counted over the last year but where were any options yesterday? Nowhere to be found. For a truly open, transparent, and "intellectually honest" discussion (which Commissioner Hagan stated they were having), Parsons should have presented the PLG with more than just ONE plan option.

What one option did the million dollar taxpayer funded GoHillsborough effort offer the PLG? The only option Parsons was tasked to provide when they were handed last September a no-bid contract for scope of work titled "Hillsborough County Transportation REFERENDUM support". A sales tax referendum. Within the ONE plan for a sales tax referendum, there was only ONE option presented: a half-cent sales tax (7% tax increase) for 30 years to be on the 2016 Presidential election year ballot.

Apparently, this ONE option presented by Parsons and Merrill basically came from a poll of 600 likely voters that reflected a whopping 52% will support a half-cent sales tax. What's missing from this poll is all the information about who they actually polled, their demographics, where they resided in the county, the exact wording of the questions, etc. Why didn't the PLG members ask for this information? Parsons did not even provide the margin of error for the poll. There could actually be NO Majority support for this half-cent sales tax.
Half-cent sales tax proposal based on ONE poll of 600 likely voters
 (no other information provided)
Click to enlarge

At least we now know why they insist we must pass another 30 year CIT-like tax because Commissioner Hagan stated almost verbatim the poll question that 30 years will provide time to increase transit ridership to pursue light rail. The problem we are told is that light rail is not seen as a viable alternative for unincorporated Hillsborough County RIGHT NOW. 

We get it the pursuit of light rail is like a cat with nine lives.  "They" will pursue it to no end no matter how many times voters vote NO. From the recommendations below, it looks like light rail is already baked in this plan for the City of Tampa. (Remember the city of Tampa took the federal funds for the streetcar which is now bankrupt and this plan gives them a way out)

A 30 year tax will provide a revenue stream to go after state/federal funding for high cost transit solutions in the future. That was actually stated as "the game is to have a revenue stream to get federal/state funding." Federal funding for transit projects is getting more and more competitive. Who thinks 10 years from now as we are now spiraling towards $19 TRILLION of federal debt that federal funding will become easier to get.

Some of the talking points presented at the PLG meeting yesterday and some commentary.

Hillsborough County is #11 for worst traffic congestion in the US  
No citation was provided for where this statement came from so we looked up US traffic congestion information at and the Texas Transportation Institute, both do traffic congestion studies and research. The cities they state having the worst congestion in the US:  NYC, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Honolulu, DC, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Miami. In Florida, we know Ft. Lauderdale has worse traffic congestion than Hillsborough, Orlando may also. The average commute time in Hillsborough is right at the national average of about 30 minutes.

Dedicated lane BRT is supported but there are questions surrounding implementation and use. 
Remember GoHillsborough only provided cost per mile information for high cost dedicated lane BRT. They never provided the cost per mile for shared lane BRT such as HART's MetroRapid service. GoHillsborough never mentioned managed bus toll lanes as a way to add road capacity that buses could also utilize. GoHIllsborough never provided cost per trip/passenger information for anything. That is key to understanding the cost-benefit of an investment and whether that investment is being made in a highly utilized or under utilized asset. The only transit cost information that would have made sense to anyone that GoHillsborough provided were for the options "they" wanted. GoHillsborough simply lumped HART's entire 10 year plan into one big amount so no one could compare it to anything.

Half-cent sales tax preferred: no other source or amount receives majority support 
No margin of error provided so is this a true statement?

74% of "citizens" are more likely to support a referendum if developers pay more.
Supposedly this was from the same poll of 600 likely voters:
74% more likely to support referendum if developers pay more
Click to enlarge
There should be some type of impact fee assessed for new development infrastructure. Some type of mobility fee may be considered, similar to what Pasco County implemented. The impact fee monies will be complimentary and in addition to the $3.5 BILLION, not part of the $3.5 Billion tax. There should have been an estimate of what an impact/mobility fee would generate but none was provided. Also what exactly would these monies be spent on?

This is where Commissioner Stacy White passionately questioned land use far beyond just mobility fees and wanting to pursue in our county comprehensive land plan some type of "densities swap" to the urban core. Stacy wants an analysis done of exchanging density entitlements. We wondered if this is like cap and trade. This is the first time we've heard about it so we will be looking for more details.

It would have been refreshing to hear that kind of passion questioning why we must have another 30 year Cit-like tax or why does all transportation funding have to be tied to a sales tax. Commissioner Higginbotham did bring up that we have existing revenues we can leverage to start funding hopefully our roads - we don't have to wait until a referendum passes or fails in late 2016. Instead Commissioner Les Miller stated (literally) that we are DOOMED if we don't get this boatload of money in 2016. We remember PSTA's Brad Miller saying the same thing about Greenlight Pinellas. In that same vane, Commissioner Ken Hagan  stated there's "no possible way to fix the crisis". Wait a minute - Hagan's been on the county commission since 2004 and was part of the commission who blew out the CIT tax by 2008 creating this "crisis".  The fix is another 30 year tax like the one he blew out?

Regarding the CIT tax, it was sold to voters in 1996 (when it passed 53-47%) that it would be used for projects in 5 year increments. Merrill had the audacity to state how successful the CIT was at doing just that and that is how this new 30 year tax could wok. I think some folks behind me about fell off their chair because we all know what happened to the CIT.  The entire tax was spent by the county within 11 years, much of it on pet projects to help incumbents get re-elected. Today we still pay the tax until 2026 but it simply goes to paying back debt. 

Other than Miller's passion for us being Doomed, Hagan's scripted message this will end the crisis and White's land use request, we did not see a whole lot of positive passion from the rest of the PlG for this plan. If they thought this was a great plan, wouldn't the rest of the PLG members chimed in more about how much they "love" the plan  not just thanking people for the hard work and that this is simply "better than 2010". 

Interesting that the only sound that came from Mayor Buckhorn publicly at the meeting was the loud ringing of his cell phone going off. He waited until the Tribune approached him afterward to state this:
The lower apportionment for transit was made more palatable, the supporters said, because of Clifford’s recommendation that Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace use 10 percent of their share of the tax proceeds for mass transit. 
That would be enough for Tampa to start a light rail system, said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. 
“We in the city are not going to exclude rail as an option,” Buckhorn, a member of the leadership group, said after the meeting. “We think that’s what our future looks like. That’s why this flexibility looks so good.”
Transit lobbyist Kevin Thurman also weighed in:
Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay, agreed that a light-rail system might be possible with the 10 percent spending option. Thurman pointed out that the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency, known as HART, is getting 25 percent of the tax proceeds, about $881 million.

Combining that money with the 10 percent flexible funding for the three cities could raise the percentage of total transit funding from 36 percent to 44 percent, he said.
Below are the 15 recommendations made by Parsons Brinckerhoff:

Parsons Recommendation #1 states to "develop modernized streetcar or similar technology from downtown to TIA/Westshore/and/or USF area

Parsons Recommendation #2 states to put a 1/2 cent sales tax on the ballot in 2016 - will generate $117.5 annually ($3.5 BILLION over 30 years)

Parsons Recommendation #3 states it will be a 30 year tax to leverage SIGNIFICANT funding from other sources (federal/state funding)

Parsons Recommendation #4 breaks down the split: 

  • Maintenance - 23.8%
  • Transit - 36.1%
  • Roads - 36.1%
  • Sidewalks/Bike paths - 3.9%

Parsons Recommendation #5 breaks down the jurisdictional allocations with the addition of HART receiving 25%

  • HART - 25%
  • Hillsborough County - 55.23%
  • Plant City - 1.72%
  • Tampa - 16.82%
  • Temple Terrace - 1.23%

Parsons Recommendation #6 states Hillsborough County must ensure new growth pays itself - prepare a mobility fee ordinance to go into effect simultaneously with 1/2 cent sales tax 

Parsons Recommendation #7 states consider establishing a dedicated maintenance fund program

Parsons recommendation #8 states that the city of Tampa should consider using at least 10% of its 1/2 percent allocation towards co-funding the modernization and extension of the streetcar (to turn it into a light rail) or other premium service (light rail according to Buckhorn) within the City of Tampa.

Parsons recommendation #9 states that Hillsborough County should consider using at least 10% of their 1/2 percent allocation towards co-funding BRT (assume that is the high cost dedicated lane BRT) within Hillsborough County. 

Parsons recommendation #10 states Plant City use at least 10% of their 1/2 percent allocation towards co-funding express bus and circulator service within Plant City.

Parsons recommendation #11 states Temple Terrace use at least 10% of their 1/2 percent allocation towards co-funding BRT and express bus service within Temple Terrace.

Parsons recommendation #12 states to conduct more public engagement meetings to develop initial 10 year project list for the referendum. (Was that included in the million dollar Parsons contract or are we paying them and PR lobbyist Beth Leytham more of our tax dollars?)

Parsons recommendation #13 states to build trust, confidence and accountability by creating processes that notify, inform and update citizens on specific projects. (Is that a confidence builder to feel comfortable with them spending your $3.5 BiLLION?)

Parsons recommendation #14 states to realign projects and priorities to most efficiently and effectively improve traffic flow and transit as well as contribute towards economic prosperity. 

Parsons recommendation #15 states to develop and implement policies regarding alternate forms of transportation and new transportation technologies such as improved transit, automated control vehicles, private provision of transportation services and tolling. (Does that mean getting rid of the PTC and enabling ride sharing?)

 The packet from Parsons given to the county commissioners show these project costs:
GoHillsborough Estimated Project Costs
Something looks very strange. HART's  Vision Plan TDP which would double bus service in Hillsborough County is a 10 year plan not 30 year plan. The $1.5 Billion includes their funded existing services. The unfunded portion is about $600-$700 million over 10 years. Where are these Fixed Guideways reflected at a cost of almost $2.6 BILLION and over $4.2 BILLION? Are they dedicated lane BRT or rail? They had previously provided the cost per mile at $54 million per mile for fixed guideway BRT and $88 million per mile for rail. Do the calculations and these appear to be about 5 mile routes. Hmmm.. That's a lot of tax dollars for 5 miles.

One of the major problems I have with this entire GoHillsborough effort is that it is an opinion based effort not a data driven one. Where's the data? Parsons told me at one of their last meetings there would be data to back up their plan. Where is that data because it's not in the packet given to the county commissioners. Instead the packet provides a list of projects citizens wrote on maps with no clue of the cost or actual viability of anything. Here's one of the wish lists:
Light Rail all over Hillsborough County 
This is what you get when it's a free for all of opinions which is what GoHillsborough did.

Don't be fooled - as Mayor Buckhorn states, light rail is in this plan and when the city of Tampa partners with HART - that is county money NOT just Tampa's apportionment of a new county tax.

Next up are 12 more GoHillsborough meetings between now and July 16. We assume these will be those facilitated small groups directing you to some answer. We also assume more money will be flowing to Parsons Brinckerhoff and PR insider lobbyist  Beth Leytham.  Sweet deal huh?

They are allowing one month for these meetings and Merrill asked (really directed) the county commissioners that he wanted 2 votes on July 16.  The first vote for the PLG to approve the plan and a second vote to ask the county attorney to write the ballot language. 

We hear that won't be difficult as it's already written....

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

If this is your Disaster plan you need a new plan

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

Let me begin this Post by clearly stating this is NOT a knock on the wireless industry.

 I spent a number of years while I was with the City of St. Petersburg working with cellular companies and cell tower companies configuring and locating cell towers.

When it comes to dedication to service and reliability they are to a person totally dedicated.

Here is the problem:
In virtually every major local emergency or disaster the local cellular system has collapsed under the weight of its call load.

One of my most vivid memories is the from the Oklahoma City bombing. As I stood in the City IT Data Center I watched the Oklahoma City Fire Chief begging people to please get off their cell phones so first responders could communicate.

That story has and continues to repeat itself in almost every localized major disaster right up to today. The cellular system fails for a brief time under the volume of calls, texts, tweets, posts and pictures.

When a major hurricane or even a very bad storm like the No Name Storm of a while back hits here it will be no different.

Those cell towers you see around the bay area will in all likelihood survive all but the worst Category 4 or 5 storms, but if you look closely at the pictures you will see many cellular antenna arrays mounted on roof tops of tall and some not so tall buildings.

These critical links in the cellular system are only as good as what they are bolted to and the roofs they sit on. There will undoubtedly be some physical loss of capacity in a really big hurricane event. 

The real problem with the wireless system in an emergency is not the survivability of the system it is us.

We have all come to rely on and take for granted our cell phones and tablets when it comes to communication. Look around. It is ever more difficult to find someone who is not on their cell phone or tablet.

We text our kids, use locators track our kids and sometimes spouses and it always works.

There is the occasional dropped call but almost all of time it just simply works. Like all things that provide convenience and connectivity we become totally dependent on them.
The Hurricane:
Chances are in a hurricane leading up to the storm the cellular system will work reasonably well. But as the storm grows closer and people go from concerned to panic and start calling and texting, the wireless system will begin to slow down. At some point it may just stop working.

What's even more important is a text that would go through almost immediately in normal circumstances may take hours in an emergency. You cannot count on texting as a form of immediate communication.

Following the hurricane and the ensuing panic to find love ones, secure property, get help from first responders and let family and loves out of town know your status it is easily possible cell service will be spotty for hours if not days.

The Tornado:
The Hurricane is the scenario that we most often plan for in Florida, but a strong tornado which happens almost without warning can be just as serious.

The wireless system inside the tornado zone will be severely impacted, but outside the zone it will be functioning. Loading from calls, messages and pictures will be a major problem causing delays, dropped calls and no service. Relying on the cell phone to get family back together may work but it also may not.

If your home is not affected by the tornado it is the best rallying point.

If it is damaged, you and your family members may not be able to get to your house. You need a place defined in advance where everyone knows to rendezvous.
Local school, disaster shelter, large store in a shopping center somewhere everyone can go to and get back together quickly.

Trying to set that up in real time on your cell phone may just not work.

If your disaster plan is:

We will round up the family by texting or calling
Everyone call dad, if you can't get dad call mom
We will know where the kids are by using the locator
We have chargers in the cars
We can text message or call the grandparents up in Ohio
Probably should send some pictures after the storm.
Should get a case of water, some hot dogs and some propane for the grill

Good plan problem solved.
Not really.

What if you can't get a call or a message to go through?

What if you haven't connected with one or more of the kids or your spouse or significant other?

What if someone in your family is found by a first responder, where will they be taken?

Now what?
As a backup plan check one of the Hurricane Guides and find the shelter nearest to your home. Follow the Hurricane Guide for  preperations and add this additional step.

Take the family, get in the car and drive by the shelter so everyone will know where it is located.

Write your child's name on a piece of paper along with the shelter address, put it in small plastic bag and put it in a zipper compartment in their back pack or computer bag.  That way they can tell a first responder where their family will rendezvous.

Put that same information on a card in your wallet or purse so you will always have it with you.

This is a simple way to establish a single point where you can get your family back together in a disaster.

The people who run the wireless system are dedicated beyond belief. They will risk life and limb to get the system back up and running in a disaster. But, they cannot control how we will use it and there is the problem.  

As a final thought should a disaster strike try to resist the temptation to start texting, tweeting and sending photos up north to your relatives, and keep the kids off their phones until things calm down a bit.

One of the best hurricane or disaster plans you can have is a plan that does not rely on your cell phone to gather up your family and your loved ones.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Sunday June 7, 2015 Pier Park, Downtown Waterfront Master Plan – Now What?

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

With the Pier Park decision and the approval of the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan it seems pretty clear that the St. Pete Mayor's Office and City Council cannot be trusted to protect the waterfront.

Pier Park continues through its "redesign" phase, see my post The Incredible Shrinking Pier, and the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan (DWMP), while modified to eliminate the hotel/conference center and renaming some for the Development Opportunity sites, still seems to be more of an attack on the waterfront than a plan to protect it.

The mind boggling thing about all of this is seeming lack of commitment to protect the City's most valuable asset by the City Council.

With the stage set for a new "Pier" that, if it can actually be constructed, will not look anything like the plans that were sold to the public over their whishes, and a DWMP that at the very least opens the door wider for development, what will those in St. Pete that really want to protect the waterfront do?

The case will be made that the current charter provides for a public referendum for certain activities on the water front, but it is far to narrow and as we have seen Mayors and City Councils seem to always find a way to do what they want as opposed to what the public desires while skirting the referendum process.

Those who would protect the waterfront are at a critical moment. Will they move forward with a referendum to modify the charter and tighten up the requirement for waterfront changes and development or is it time to just give up?

Given the results of the LENS, Pier Park and the waterfront master plan it seems the only true way to protect the waterfront is to give the people the final say in ALL that happens on the waterfront.

There will be cries from the politicians, developers and others that it will be too restrictive. Could be, but that entire outcry is really about a few people making a lot of money and politicians getting some big campaign contributions all at the cost of your waterfront.

The waterfront is the people's property, and it's time for the City Charter to make that crystal clear.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

GoHillsborough Campaign Ends: Funding Options And No Cost Options

We went to one of the last GoHillsborough meetings that was setup differently than the previous meetings. These last meetings forced you into small groups with a facilitator and a scribe to record your comments on what types of transportation projects each person in the group would like to have funded and what funding options each person would support. 

Comment forms were not handed out as you signed in. Only after you have gone through the facilitator's process were you given a comment form to fill out and submit.  

Some of the facilitators were Parsons Brinckerhoff staff and some were county staff.  The county staff certainly were not transportation experts nor trained facilitators but it did make us wonder again why the county handed Parsons the big million taxpayer bucks no bid contract.

What we noticed was there were a considerable number of people that had not been to a previous GoHillsborough meeting. This was their first meeting so they were learning and getting informed at the same time they were being facilitated toward a consensus.

Taxpayers paid Parsons to have 36 meetings to both provide information to the public and gather data back from the public. Why did GoHillsborough campaign facilitate consensus building on the critical issue of funding options with folks who never attended a previous meeting? Is that consensus building best practices?

What was glaringly missing in these discussions was anything about the cost. The small groups were being facilitated to have conversations about funding transportation from the 100,000 foot level. 

This was a meeting focused on funding options. However, the funding options discussion was being held without any discussion about cost options. The cost charts used at previous meetings were not even displayed with the rest of the charts setup around the room. 

These last meetings were attempting to gain consensus ONLY on NEW revenue sources for transportation. Small details like the cost of what these funding options may be used for was nowhere easily found. The facilitators did not even bring the subject of costs up.

In my group I brought up that we need to first prioritize our existing budget before pursuing new revenue. That wasn't even offered as a choice. Neither was impact fees or transit fares. Shouldn't  "choice" riders of transit pay a more market priced fare to cover transit's operating costs? Today transit fares only cover about 20-25% of the operating costs. 

These were the only funding options presented in the small groups:
Transportation Revenue Sources
Note the small print stating "Assumes growth will pay will an increased and equitable share and Federal and State grants". Who thinks Federal grants will continue as they have in the past?

Would any business be making decisions for how to fund projects they have no clue what  those projects cost? Would anyone in their personal life make funding decision for things they don't know the costs of? 

At least the group I was in was actually discussing transportation funding options which was supposed to be the topic of these last meetings. Other groups, like the one we caught on video below, regressed back to discussing opinions about transportation modes they wanted such as high cost light rail. One person specifically stated they would rather keep driving their car than ride a bus. Again, there was no discussion or information provided these people regarding the cost of anything. 

Thus, the GoHillsborough campaign ends attempting to gain consensus on transportation funding options, especially new revenue sources, that has no association to the costs of what is to be funded. 

These last meetings confirms that the GoHillsborough campaign has basically been a taxpayer funded opinion driven and opinion driving campaign.   

Do opinions make for good policies, especially opinions from those who are first timers to a GoHillsborough meeting and came basically uninformed? 

Maybe another sales tax referendum was already written and defined by an unelected bureaucrat and a politically well connected PR person and GoHillsborough was simply a million dollar taxpayer funded front for it.

We will find out on June 11.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Disclosures and understanding what you read in my Posts

This month (June 2015) I will begin following the upcoming election cycle at the national, state, county and local level.

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

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

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

Beginning this month (June 2015) the tag line will be as shown below with Disclosures added. As I contribute to various campaigns the campaign or candidate will be listed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It will be an interesting election cycle with just under 500 days until the Presidential election. I hope I pique your interest, make you smile, raise your awareness and move you to comment in the coming months.

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