Monday, April 24, 2017

Clearwater buys 1.4 acres of land, loses 6 acres earlier in same week

The city’s $4.5 million purchase of land coveted by the Church of Scientology was of great interest to the general public.

Tampa, Fl
From: Tampa Bay Guardian
Posted by: Editor Tom Rask

Posted by TBG2016 on APRIL 21, 2017

The Tampa Bay Times assigned two reporters to cover the City of Clearwater’s purchase of 1.4 acres of downtown land last night. However, the Times assigned no reporters to cover the city’s embarrassing loss in Pinellas circuit court earlier in the week in a matter involving 6.5 acres of land that the city had claimed it owns.
The city’s $4.5 million purchase of land coveted by the Church of Scientology was of great interest to the general public. However, the loss of these 6.5 acres of submerged land is equally interesting because it reveals questionable work by city legal staff. The outcome of the case may also have important implications for boating in the waters between Clearwater Beach and Island Estates.
Bill Blackwood is a retired Honeywell engineer and a 30-year resident of Clearwater. Blackwood owns a company called, LLC which won a so-called “action to quiet title” lawsuit against the city this week. In simple terms, such a lawsuit is filed to suppress a claim by a specific party (but not all parties) to property specified in the quiet title action.
Blackwood filed his lawsuit in February of 2016 after the city in July of 2015 demanded that Blackwood cease and desist from “advertising [the disputed] city-owned lands for sale.” The dispute involves 6.5 acres of submerged land in waters off of Clearwater Bay, land that the city expressly stated in its letter that it has title to. Blackwood disagreed, and claimed instead that his company has title to the land.
The background to the court action is that Blackwood wants to build a mooring field in Mandalay Channel on 26 acres of submerged land that he owns. Mandalay Channel is a portion of the waters that lie between the northern portion of Clearwater Beach and Island Estates. Tying up a boat in a mooring field is less expensive than dock storage and allows the boat swing with the wind and tide without impacting other boats in the field.
Several cities in Florida operate mooring fields, including St. Pete, Sarasota, St. Augustine and Key West. Locally, Gulfport also had advanced plans for one before deciding to temporarily shelve the plan due to more pressing budget priorities . However, it appears that Blackwood’s would be the first private mooring field in the Tampa Bay area.

Above: a mooring field operated by the City of Fort Myers Beach

The Tampa Bay Times reported last September that “city and county officials were blindsided by the project because Blackwood started the application process at the top and received a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) in June” of 2016.
However, given that Blackwood’s lawsuit was filed several months prior to the issuance of the FDEP permit, the city should not have felt “blindsided.” However, the city attorney and other staffers may now feel other emotions, such as “embarrassment” or “regret”, after this week’s clear court order.

Judge Jack St. Arnold

In his ruling, judge Jack St. Arnold found that the city “failed to present any evidence to negate or contradict the factual circumstances” which he listed as 32 points of “fact and conclusions of law.” In a half-page conclusion, the judge then found quite simply that Blackwood’s company owns the disputed land.
The day after the ruling, the city filed a motion for rehearing in which it claimed that the judge’s ruling “does not comport to [sic] the actual findings and conclusions enunciated by the Court” during a March 2nd court hearing.
The city further claimed that it was “unaware that the Plaintiff has submitted its proposed order to the Court,” despite also admitting in the same filing that it received a copy of the proposed order from Blackwood’s attorney 13 days before the judge ruled. Notably, the city had submitted its own proposed order to the court a few days after receiving Blackwood’s proposed order, and a week before judge St. Arnold issued his ruling.
At 6:30 in the morning the day after the city asked for a rehearing, Blackwood sent a blistering e-mail to city council members and others in which he said that “the Clearwater City Council must responsibly cut its losses, finally accept it was dead wrong, and recognize the Court’s Summary Judgment.” Blackwood claims that the city “has already spent well in excess of $30,000” on the lawsuit.
In the aforementioned July 2015 letter from the city to Blackwood, assistant city attorney Laura Mahony wrote:
“I agree that this matter should be put to rest once and for all. To put the matter to rest, I suggest that Mr. Blackwood execute a quit-claim deed in favor of the City for the disputed submerged lands, as the chain of title clearly indicates title has vested in the City.”
Mahony’s use of “I” rather than “the city” in her letter reveals a relaxed communication style not appropriate for important legal matters affecting Clearwater’s navigable waterways.  The city may be spending too much time “going clear” instead of thinking clearly about important land issues such as this one.
More importantly, attorney Mahony had expressed the city’s desire to “put the matter to rest once and for all.” But after Blackwood filed his lawsuit, a different city attorney named Richard Hull took action that apparently conflicted with Mahony’s statement.
Hull claimed in court document that Blackwood failed to cite “the source” of the city’s claim on the land in his lawsuit, a claim which the city had clearly stated in Mahony’s letter. In other words, instead of squarely seeking to “put the matter to rest once and for all,”,  Hull’s approach was to try to thwart the lawsuit. Had he succeeded, the question of who owned the submerged land would have remained unresolved.
The city’s litigation tactic of trying to thwart the case rather than seeking to finally decide whatever issue the plaintiff seeks to resolve is a common legal tactic. However, that tactic has failed so far in this case. A thwarting tactic may also be inappropriate for a city acting as agents on behalf of the people, especially given that the city had stated that “this matter should be put to rest once and for all.”
Presumably, the city’s desire to “put to rest once and for all” the ownership of the disputed land is its guiding light in this matter, regardless of whether the city thinks it’s “winning” or “losing” the court case.
Decisions on city legal strategy are made by Clearwater city attorney Pamela Akin, who has held that position since 1994.  Akin’s salary is $181,621 per year and she received a 3% raise in both 2016 and 2015.  Only city council can hire or fire the city attorney, not the city manager.

“Everything just went Black(wood)”

The city had already lost round #1 in it’s battle with Blackwood when FDEP denied the city’s appeal of the mooring field permit it had issued to Blackwood in June of 2016. FDEP’s order dismissing the city’s petition was issued in December 2016. This week’s court order suggest that the city just lost round 2, may be down for the count, and should think about throwing in the towel.
The reasons for the Times’ decision to not cover this story any further since last September are unknown. The Times reported at that time that the city expected to “squash the [mooring field] project.” Now that round #2 was won by the “squashee”, a follow-up story might have been in order.
Whether the city’s actions in this court case were part of that attempt to “squash the project” is not clear, and the city does not comment on active litigation. However, once the litigation is over, all city records in this matter, including those on the city’ legal strategy, become public record. The Guardian will follow up and report what that strategy was.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.

Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Guardian
This post is contributed by the Tampa Bay Guardian. The views expressed in this post are the author's.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Ridership Declining: No Need For Regional Transit Agency, Big Need to Fix Interstates and HF Bridge

Tampa, Fl
From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

Special interests, lobbyists, Senator Latvala and their media enablers are feverishly working together to force a regional transit authority on Tampa Bay taxpayers. However, they cannot ignore the state of transit in Hillsborough and Pinellas - double digit ridership declines. Hillsborough's population is growing but its transit ridership is declining.

At the HART Board Finance and Audit Committee meeting this week, the budgetary pressures on HART were presented and discussed. The chart below from the budget presentation, found here, reflects HART's current budget issues.
HART's budgetary pressures
The video of the lengthy committee meeting that includes this presentation is found here.

To net things out, HART has a deficit of a little over $13 million dollars. The major causes of the deficit are declining ridership and rising healthcare costs (thanks Obamacare…) HART moved to using zero based budgeting this budget cycle that enabled them to reduce that deficit to about $8.5 million. (shows why zero based budgeting should be used by all taxpayer funded entities…)

The budget will be part of HART's Board meeting agendas from May through August with Budget public hearings in September. The May 1 HART Board meeting will be interesting and one to watch and pay attention to.

Across the Bay in Pinellas, PSTA, mismanaged for years, is experiencing ridership declines as well.

This recent Tampa Bay Guardian article states PSTA's ridership is at a 10 year low. Even when PSTA made rides free on the Jolly Trolley, ridership for the Jolly Trolley was 52,235 in March, down a whopping 34% from 79,045 in March of 2016. And tourism is booming again in Pinellas.

The Guardian article also indicates how ridership is defined which overstates the number of actual riders. There is also a bit of a scandal regarding the recent contract for the trolley service and some sketchy changes to reporting done by PSTA.

HART and PSTA's declining ridership is what almost every transit agency in the country, except in NYC, is experiencing.

Existing rail systems are entering an era of disrepair as we have a backlog of $80 Billion of major repair and rehab needed. Trump's skinny budget eliminates the federal New Starts/Small Starts and Tiger grants for new transit projects. Trump has stated he wants to focus on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair.

Yet today taxpayers are funding another transit campaign, this time a regional one, the $1.6 million Regional Premium Transit campaign. The cost of this latest campaign is ghastly - especially after the $1.3 million Go Hillsborough debacle.

And conveniently timed with the transit campaign is Senator Latvala's bill. His bill will force taxpayers in Tampa Bay to fund a regional transit authority that takes away local control and will trigger  regional taxing.

What's more egregious is how the bill was created, the unscrupulous politics and the bully tactics being used. The bill was created behind the scenes by the same special interests organization who has been the biggest supporter of rail in Tampa Bay.

Latvala used  abused his powerful Appropriations Chair position in the Senate by playing games with the process rules and holding appropriations bills hostage to get his way to move the bill along. Fortunately Senators Lee and Brandes amended the bill to reign in some of the shenanigans we fully expect with a regional transit authority. Their efforts are greatly appreciated but we hope the bill dies.

With declining transit ridership in Tampa Bay, Latvala's bill and the costly transit campaign is absurd. Considering the state of our existing infrastructure and getting any federal dollars for new transit projects may be a pipe dream, these are out of touch with reality.

Tampa Bay has a transportation issue it needs to address not a sudden regional transit issue and it certainly does not need another transit agency, an arms length away from voters and taxpayers, to fund.

Regional transit authorities become very powerful, arrogant, wasteful and require higher taxes. Almost all, if not all, of the rail boondoggles were rammed through regional transit agencies pushed by deep pocketed special interests.

The focus needs to be on getting our existing infrastructure in good repair FIRST.

Focus on fixing and improving our interstates - the foundation of our transportation system in Tampa Bay - add the needed managed lane capacity that also creates a bus transit corridor that could also be used by AV's in the near future, fix the chokepoints and fix the Howard Frankland Bridge that hundreds of thousands of people in 180K vehicles use everyday. FDOT has the funding, no tax hike needed, to get this done.

Do the Basics First!

Stop pursuing the absurd.


Here again is the Genesis for Latvala's regional transit bill today. Everyone should watch it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Businesses and Residences with more than 6 repeat calls for noise in St. Petersburg, Florida

Noise is not just a downtown issue in St. Petersburg, Florida. It's citywide.

St. Petersburg Fl
Public Opinion by author: Robert Neff

The interactive map plots businesses and residences addresses with more than 6 repeat noise calls. Use this The toggle button,
to toggle between the  toggle the business and residences layers.

For addresses with greater than 6 repeat noise calls, residences account for more calls than businesses. However, businesses have a higher population density than residences. Thus, business noise has a greater impact on the nearby population.

In 2016, the #1 and #2 ranked business for repeat noise calls were not downtown but in Skyway Marina District and Bartlett Park Neighborhood, and they are, respectively, Flamingo Resort and Hollywood Nights South.

The data investigation found that addresses could be separated into four categories:
  • Business (Businesses are defined as bars, clubs, entertainment complexes, hotels, restaurants and storefronts), 
  • Residences (Homes, Apartments, Condos), 
  • Intersections — Not included on above map
  • Individuals. The address for the one noise citation for an individual was not found in the data and not included. 
An analysis of the addresses with more than six (6) repeat noise calls revealed 59 addresses accounted for 650 calls, where:
  • 13 Business had 239 calls
  • 43 Residences had 366 calls
  • 3 Intersections had 45 calls
Three intersections are not included in above map.
  • 22 calls at 13TH AV S / DR MARTIN LUTHER KING JR ST S, St. Petersburg, Florida 
  • 14 calls at 13TH ST S / 24TH AV S, St. Petersburg, Florida 
  • 9 calls at 12TH AV S / DR MARTIN LUTHER KING JR ST S, St. Petersburg, Florida 
The businesses that had greater than 6 repeat noise calls are listed here:
† Need to research the Call for Service Report to determine if this was for the bar that moved out. 


Mr. Neff has run hi-end eCommerce operations for major national and international brands. He was Chief Web Operations Division at United States Mint and an executive in luxury retail eCommerce. He has several startups under his belt and has worked in Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., and Dallas. in the past, he was Director Online Sales for a consumer product company, directed eCommerce marketing operations and online analytical operations. Now retired, he is enjoying life as an award winning photographer, writer, and contemporary artist who has shown his work at one of Art Miami's International Art Shows, Spectrum Miami. He occasionally tests online products for companies in Silicon Valley. The value he brings is institutional knowledge from years of experience.

When the City of St. Petersburg noise issue became an issue for others and him, Mr. Neff dusted off his skills to conduct an investigation, data collection and data analysis.
Should you have a noise-related story to share or have a question, contact me directly via email.

Public input is being sought on the Noise Ordinance. You may express your concerns and thoughts by emailing the Mayor at, and your council member,

The opinions here are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bay Post Internet or the Blog Publishers where it appears