Friday, January 30, 2015

Two of the faces of South St. Petersburg



Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD

This past Tuesday, Police Chief Tony Holloway and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman held the third of a series of community town hall meetings. 

The objective of these meetings is to meet with residents of the south side neighborhoods and get insight as to how to improve the relationship with south side residents, City Hall and the Police Department. This meeting was held at Gibbs high school.

South side residents were there, the Mayor was there, the Police Chief was there, Council member Steve Cornell was there as was Council member Karl nurse. All the rest of City Council was notably absent.

The issues with south St. Pete are not going too resolved until all of the City Council stays engaged.

A short time into the meeting, which is essentially a table top meeting where small groups give input to the City staff, a young man began yelling his grievances in a loud voice from the back of the room. He was angry and frustrated his face, as in the picture above, showed both the anger and the fear that exists in South St. Pete. Most of those in attendance stopped to listen, many just kept on talking at their table.

Across the room another young man also pictured above spent his time talking about the issues and his experiences with the police department in a calm and at times tearful way. Focused on the opportunity, he tried to give meaningful input.

It would be easy to write off the frustrated, yelling and angry young man, but that would be a big mistake. I think these two young men represent the breadth of the problems in south St. Pete and define the scope of the problem at hand.

There are many who find themselves between these ends of this spectrum. Many who long for a solution to a problem decades in the making.

These faces are the faces that must find those solutions.

 I am not sure what the answers are, but a few meetings, some cops getting out of their patrol cars and walking around, while a good start cannot overcome the range of these emotions.

Finding the solutions will take everyone.

Be sure to scroll through my Gallery of photos at St. Pete Town Hall Meeting.  The faces really tell the story.

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Twitter@DOCONTHEBAY. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fund Our County Needs Not Wants of Wealthy Sports Owners

Today's Tampa Tribune includes a front page story warning us that the Rays could move to Montreal or some other city if they don't get a new stadium in the Tampa Bay area. 
....new Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred enthused about Montreal as a viable baseball city. That follows October reports in the New York Daily News that Rays Principal owner Stuart Sternberg had discussions with Wall Street associates about moving the team to Montreal and his recent comment that the team is ‘doomed’ to leave if it cannot get out of its contract to play at the Trop through 2027.
I love sports as I've played sports and participated in sporting events my entire life.  Here at the Eye we love the Rays and we'd love to keep them in the Tampa Bay area.  But if the Rays want a new stadium, the private sector needs to foot the tab.  

The Tribune is taking the same tactics with a new Rays stadium as they do advocating for high cost rail systems. The same day they publish an article on their front page they also collaboratively and collusively publish an editorial pushing "their" agenda. So today's editorial is conveniently titled Editorial: Professional sports subsidies bring many good returns

We've seen this tactic used by the Tribune consistently on the rail issue since 2010. We thought there was supposed to be this "fire wall" between Tribune reporting and their editorials. Apparently not when it comes to expensive baseball stadiums and high cost trains.

The Tribune's editorial even attempts to rebut a recent study done of actual data that documents the state gets very little back on every public dollar spent on sports complexes.
...the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research considered the return on $48 million in state subsidies to eight professional sports facilities over three years. It concluded the state received 30 cents for each dollar spent. The findings resemble similar studies by academics over the years. 
But the formulas don’t account for the intangibles that result in added tourist visits and that fuel Florida’s growth.
You read right - let's redistribute more of our tax dollars to wealthy sports owners based on intangibles that can never be quantified.  

If that recent study showed that the state only gets 30 cents back on every tax dollar spent on sports facilities, why would it be any different at the county level?  

Noah Pransky of WTSP Channel 10 has been writing a blog called Shadow of the Stadium where he has been writing regularly about a Rays stadium and other Florida sports business topics. Subscribe or bookmark and keep up with his posts.  

In addition, Pransky reported for WTSP Channel 10 that Pro teams may exaggerate "need" for tax money such as
The Miami Dolphins told state legislators in 2013 they needed public help to pay for $350 million in stadium renovations. Governor Rick Scott reportedly lobbied for the bill, saying Florida may not host any more Super Bowls without the contributions. When the financing was rejected, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said, "there won't be a renovation...simple as that." Team CEO Mike Dee said the team's future in South Florida is "clearly bleak." But a year later, the team announced it would pay for the renovations itself. Sun Life Stadium already receives $2 million/yr from the state.
In other words, it appears these pro teams are lying to coerce getting our tax dollars but when they don't get the tax monies, they figure out how to pay for what they want themselves. 

Also for WTSP Channel 10, Pransky reported here that
Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he would defer back to the Legislature when it comes to four pro sports organizations seeking state tax dollars. 
One of the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, said Wednesday he is personally "dead-set against" providing tax dollars to professional teams and leagues. But Corcoran, expected to be House Speaker in 2017-2018, said the issue would be hotly-debated since stadium spending has been "near and dear" to the heart of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.
We'll be anxiously awaiting the debate....

Today's Tribune article also reports
Hillsborough County commissioners in October set up a working group that includes Hagan, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Eric Hart, chief executive officer of the Tampa Sports Authority, to handle initial negotiations with the Rays. 
They also approved a list of several financial institutions to underwrite potential bond issues to pay for stadium construction and agreed a contract with Foley and Lardner, a law firm with that has represented MLB teams and represented Guggenheim Baseball in its $2 billion acquisition of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
The questions not answered are:
  • What tax dollars are behind any bond issue? 
  • How much tax dollars are going toward a new baseball stadium and where are those tax dollars coming from?
  • Are taxpayers paying the law firm of Foley and Lardner?  If so, how much? Why?
We are in a very different economic time than when county taxpayers voted for a tax increase in 1996 to build the Glazers a new football stadium. Taxpayers feel tapped out amidst a still uncertain economy and skeptical that what we already pay is being spent wisely and prudently. Don't we have much higher priorities and needs at the state and local level that should be addressed first before shoveling our tax dollars to new sports complexes benefiting wealthy sports owners?    

There is a difference between a need and a want. Roads are a major responsibility of local government yet Hillsborough County cannot fill our potholes. We continue to see millions of county tax dollars earmarked for soccer complexes, cultural centers, the film industry, other special interests and other much lower priorities than for our local roads and other aging county infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, our county "needs" aren't sexy; they are not like a shiny new toy and apparently don't win you any friends with the Tampa Tribune editorial board. But In Hillsborough County, a new taxpayer funded baseball stadium, like a high cost taxpayer funded train, is a want and not a need.

The county does need to "get its ducks in a row" but that requires the county to make the difficult decisions to ensure our highest priority needs are funded first. 

Baseball stadiums since 1991
Almost $4.5 BILLION of public monies

NFL Stadiums since 1990
Almost $6.5 BILLION of public monies
It is not the role of government at any level to fund the billionaire sports owners and sports facilities special interests. Let the private sector fund them and NOT the taxpayers!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hillsborough County a bipolar problem with public education



Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD

The recent firing of the Hillsborough County Superintendent of schools showcases what I think is a major shortcoming in Florida’s educational system.

The highly political elected school board seems to be failing the students and parents it purports to represent.

The scenario is all too common. A school district like Hillsborough or Pinellas for that matter gets into serious trouble, usually due to the bumbling of an incompetent and overly political School Board.

Enough new Board members get elected that want to effect a change and they go out and hire a new Superintendent that has a reputation as a change agent. The new superintendent shows up, does what change agents do, they start to change things.

Teachers bitch and complain, parents complain, coaches complain, and sooner or later, most often sooner than later, the Superintendent gets crossways with one or more Board members and the pettiness of the political process takes hold.

Such it appears was the case in Hillsborough with the firing of MaryEllen Elia.

MaryEllen Elia was appointed Superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools in 2005. Earlier this month, Elia was honored as a candidate for Florida's Superintendent of the Year.

Board member April Griffin has a long history of clashes with Elia since taking office in 2009. She has lead the charge against Elia.

Sally Harris, one the recently elected School Board members, who cast the swing vote to can the superintendent and who is too new to have a real record with Elia said in an interview with Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton, Harris: she voted for the firing because she felt the relationship between Elia and the board was irretrievably broken.

Really!

You can take that as political speak for making sure you don’t get on the wrong side of the Board power brokers and a classic example of why the school board system fails to work.

With all of the positive comments from politicians, business and the public about Elia, the School Board as a body has to be feeling a little stupid.

The issue of Elia’s contract and salary came up a number of times and one has to wonder if there wasn’t some petty jealousy regarding Elia’s compensation package. Apparently the Board isn’t too fiscally conservative since they feel justified in spending a Million dollars of the public’s money just to get their petty way.

I suspect that money could have been put too much better use.

The question now is, who will be willing to step up and take on the Superintendent’s role? Will it be another change agent, or will the Board be looking for someone they can walk all over?

More appropriately who in their right mind would want to work for this School Board as a Superintendent.

My guess is given this School Board, its make up and character, public schools in Hillsborough County are going to get a lot worse, before they get any better. 

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Twitter@DOCONTHEBAY. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Go Faster on Tampa Bay Express Lanes

The Florida DOT is holding a series of meetings in the Tampa Bay area this upcoming week to discuss the toll lane project called Tampa Bay Express.
[T]he Florida Department of Transportation has scheduled two workshops this week to reveal the tentative plans to the public. The meetings are scheduled for Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Minnreg Hall, 6340 126th Ave. N., Largo, and on Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Pepin’s Hospitality Centre, 4121 N. 50th St., Tampa. The meetings will be conducted in an open-house format with no formal presentations.
Based on the success of similar express lanes in South Florida, where drivers that are willing to pay the price in tolls that range from $0.50 to $10.50 during the highest congestion, go faster than they may otherwise along the planned routes.

It should be noted the toll lanes are planned for new capacity, and should not reduce existing capacity on the routes.  This should remove some cars from the existing capacity along the interstates, and further help reduce congestion.

FDOT wants to add Express Lanes along Tampa Bay Interstates
That's been my experience in South Florida.  While the express lanes usually move faster than the free lanes, the free lanes are moving better than they did prior to the express lanes.

Even with the surge pricing, a $10.50 toll does sound a bit excessive.  However, in South Florida, the initial max toll was $7.20, but express were still congested at times, so they raised the cap to $10.50.
“The express lanes were routinely failing” because so many people were using them, [Diane Scaccetti, executive director of Florida Turnpike Enterprise]. said. “The express lanes are a product for a more time-reliable trip. It is a demand-based model. And even though you hear about these higher prices, the average peak toll southbound is just $2.97 and the average peak northbound is $3.19.”
...
There will be times, though, when toll-lane drivers could potentially pay more than $20 for a trip, all paid through Sun Pass, the state’s prepaid electronic toll program.
So hopefully it won't be that successful.  $20 tolls would be an indicator of a total failure on the existing capacity.

These express toll lanes have several advantages,
Steven Polzin, director of Mobility Policy Research for the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research, said express lanes are a way to build more roadway capacity with a revenue source to help pay construction costs. “It offers the community additional choices. It brings new money to the table which allows new capacity sooner rather than later.

“It can be a very attractive opportunity to get quality transit service in a corridor,” Polzin said of toll lanes, “because you’ve got congestion-free operation. You can take relatively longer trips at freeway speeds.”

The same type of funding could not be used for a rail system, he said, because capital costs are simply too high to be offset with commuter fees.
Toll lanes offer individuals the freedom of choice, as they pay for themselves by the people who use them.  Express toll lanes will also be used for express bus transit services.  In the case of Howard Frankland Bridge, express lanes also can easily be used for evacuation routes, which a light rail solution cannot do. Ongoing toll collections provide a funding source for further increasing our road capacity.

The routes would be along I-275, I-4, and I-75.  But don't get excited just yet. FDOT is still in the early planning stages, nothing has been finalized. Each segment can take 6 to 7 years to complete. However, there currently is no funding approved, so no one knows if or when the express lanes will be built.

These planned segments cover some of the most congested parts of the Tampa Bay Interstates, each of which have substantial F rated (the worse!) level of service (LOS) segments, according to the 2011 Hillsborough County Level of Service Report (latest available), each segment carrying well over 100,000 vehicles per day.

Clearly, something must be done, as Hillsborough County and the State of Florida have delayed improvements for years.  We have major construction along I-275, I-75, and the Veterans, that we are all exhausted driving through, but those are catch up projects.  It is time we not only catch up but begin to the anticipate the needs of another 600,000 residents by 2040 in Hillsborough County, of which the vast majority will be driving.

As a quick comparison, HART recently announced record ridership for the month of December 2014.
Overall, 2014 was a record year for ridership, HART said. December alone saw 1.27 million passenger trips.
That's good news.  HART was able to increase ridership without a big tax increase. Small wins, for sure, but HART will be part of the long term solutions.

But the real problem remains with our roads.  Just diving a bit deeper into the 2011 Hillsborough County Level of Service Report, there were nearly 1.5 million daily trips on LOS F rated county road segments, and over 2.2 million daily trips on state road segments (includes the interstates),  or over 3.7 million trips per day on failed road segments in Hillsborough County.

With the expected growth in Hillsborough, we can only expect more F rated roads and congestion to increase if we don't get to work on our roads.

Express lanes are one solution among many that must be part of the plans in Tampa Bay.

Lets start now.

Another problem with transit

Men, be aware of your manspreading...
A new subway campaign in New York City is calling attention to commuters who take up more room than they need on public transit. One of their head-turning posters, apparently targeted at men, reads: "Dude, stop the spread please. It's a space issue."
Via CBC Q, heard locally on WUSF, your NPR station.
Actual campaign from NYC MTA against the international crisis of manspreading.
According the manspreading experts, manspreading is sitting with your legs too far apart.

This is a critical issue emerging among transit riders.

Just recently.

It's not been a problem over the last century of transit.

Until now.

You must now be very cognizant of and be on the lookout for manspreading.

This scourge must be stopped.

Are men being targeted?  It does seem men are assumed guilty a lot more these days. Men's privilege, easily debunked campus rape epidemics, etc.

Do we need government or MTA to eliminate manspreading, or can we just, you know, talk and be more courteous?

Jeff Stone, Canadian Association of Equality, a men's rights association, was also quoted. His position?  Things are different down there.  Open up, don't squish the jewels.

Tighten up!
The men most guilty of manspreading are not listening to NPR.

Manspreading opponents are assuming that all manspreaders must always spread their manhood.

Can they not respectfully ask the manspreader if the seat next to them is occupied?  Do they not think the manspreader will relent and allow another transit rider to sit down, and the manspreader contract their legs?

Talk to your neighbor.  You don't need the MTA or government to show some common courtesy, or to ask for a seat.

You might find you have some new understanding or something in common with the manspreader.

Me? Another reason to drive rather than being accosted for incidental manspreading.

Of course, its not all bad news recently with men.

Men in Germany had a big win.  German man went to court, won the right to pee standing up.

Sharon adds:
If a guy sitting next to me is manspreading, I'll empower myself to jab him with my purse.
She carries a big purse.

Sunday January 25, 2015 Is Kriseman Moving to an Imperial City Hall?



Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb

Being Mayor of any large City is not really a fun job. Oh, if you ask them they will all smile and tell you how wonderful it is to be Mayor, but in reality it is constant stream of unending problems they can’t solve, issues they can’t resolve and requests they can’t grant.  The hours are long and the rewards are few. The job takes a real toll on families and careers.

It’s not uncommon after a while in office, mayors’ start looking for some relief from all of the problems, issues and exposures that come with the job. Most common approach is to build a staff wall to filter access.

The recent moves by Mayor Kriseman to restructure access to the Mayors office have a familiar ring.
               
 You can read the details in Janelle Irwin’s Post in saintpetersblog, In new guidelines, Rick Kriseman narrows City Council’s access to Mayor’s Office.

Kriseman is the first Mayor in St. Pete history to bring in an entire top staff immediately upon taking office. Now the Mayor seems to be isolating himself inside that circle, while restricting access to the top team. By isolating the Chief of staff (Kevin King) and the deputy Mayor (Kanika Tomalin) Kriseman appears to be putting in place a hierarchy between himself, the Mayors’ office, staff and the rest of the elected City Council members.

On the surface it may seem plausible to restrict some access to the Mayor’s top team since some council members can be a bit pesky The problem is once this type of structure gets in place it’s not long before it will start being applied to the public in general.

Kriseman campaigned on a platform of openness and this seems to be a step in the other direction. The Mayor needs to be careful about putting to many barriers between him and the people outside the inner circle.

Open, unfettered and unfiltered communication between the Mayor, his staff, administrators, directors, managers, City Council members and the public in general is the key to his continued success. Once that input is filtered through, the Chief of staff, deputy Mayor or Communication Director the Mayor looses touch, and that can lead to real problems.

We certainly haven’t moved to a royal court yet, be it appears we may have taken a small step in that direction.

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Twitter@DOCONTHEBAY. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Conversation with Rob Davidson, of Davidson Fine Art Gallery about the St. Pete Arts Scene Part 5



To get some perspective about the St. Pete Arts scene, earlier in the month I sat down with Rob
Davidson and his staff of Davidson's Fine Art Gallery to get the view of a long time member of the St. Petersburg Arts scene.

This is the last of a 5 Post series where Rob Davidson talks about his Gallery, the Arts in St. Pete and how he sees the future of the arts in St. Petersburg. 

My Questions are in Bold

"What do you think is the biggest value the arts community provides to the City and its citizens," I asked
I think what it provides is a unique character to the City that's going to draw people here," Rob began."

"I see St. Pete in its heyday as a place where people are actually going because of the arts. To keep the unique flavor of the City, to not try to be Tampa and work with what's already here.

"In addition the arts community serves to preserve the City's historical past. "We used tear down older buildings but now can't just do that"

Amada added, "It is interesting that people are ordering historical prints from us".

"We work with the History museum and they have historical shots, we cleaned them up for McNulty Station printed them on canvas and had a lot of people ask us about them as we were printing them up."

Rob added, "So if we can build projects with communal studios and maybe living space, where people can immerse themselves in their art and not have to work three jobs just to meet their daily household expenses."

What do you think about the Arts Warehouse project?
"That's a good project. It's the kind of thing that needs to happen," Rob began.

"We needed to make space for art and make space for artists and make affordable space with maybe living quarters within where people can immerse themselves in their art and not have to work three jobs just to make the rent."

If you get into communal situations like that, you are building neighborhoods and kind of pulling the community in so that you use the arts to reach out to the community. Once you start fixing neighborhoods up, that kind of stuff is contagious. 

"Get arts projects into the community, reach out to the community, and build with the community to get a lot of these public art things going and that to me is the future of St. Petersburg.  So people can come down here to St. Pete and enjoy not only the environment but the arts and the arts community." Rob concluded.

The Davidson Fine Art Gallery us located at 2036 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL 33712, the Phone Number is 727-827-1888. Right across the Street from Haslems Book Store.

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