Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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


***Press Release***

MAY 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

Hillsborough MPO Gone Rogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hillsborough MPO has gone rogue!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Developer Wants Land Use Changes & Opposition Shows Up En Masse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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