Friday, October 30, 2015

It's All Been Corrupted and Compromised: Shut Down the PLG and Go Hillsborough NOW!

Posted by Sharon Calvert
Eye on Tampa Bay

Re-posted here with permission

The Eye has always been skeptical of the transportation initiative and the Policy Leadership Group (PLG) since it was created in March 2013. How could we not be skeptical when the very first participants invited to participate were the rail cartel. On August 4, 2013 I posted A Solution looking for a Problem and said way back then:
We need problem solving public policies not agenda based policies. So yes as Salinero stated I will be watching this process closely and suggest all taxpayers in Hillsborough County do as well. Or hold on to your wallets!
How prescient....because the process ended up creating a $1.35 million taxpayer funded crony mess resulting in a flawed proposed huge $3.5 - 7 Billion sales tax hike.

No one at County Center or the county commissioners can feign ignorance about this mess. They were warned and those warnings are publicly documented.

We have documented the cronyism, the deception, the flawed process, the half-truths, the flat out lies, what appears to be violations of our Sunshine laws, what could be violations of our electioneering laws, violations of provisions within Parson's CCNA umbrella contract and the phoniness that has surrounded the entire Go Hillsborough campaign.

The problems are not going away. Certainly Mike Merrill, Parsons, Bob Clifford, Beth Leytham and the county commissioners cannot think these issues are going to go into hiding and be swept under the rug while law enforcement is investigating.

They better think again. 

WTSP's Noah Pransky's latest 10 Investigates reveals that some county commissioners intentionally and consistently use their personal email accounts to have private discussions about county business. As reported by Pransky, the commissioners did not hand over these emails when requested via Statute 119 public records requests until a private citizen threatened legal action. 
Those public records – never produced for 10 Investigates by commissioners – reveal that not all the emails were personal in nature, with many dealing with county-related topics such as transportation expansion (now dubbed "Go Hillsborough") as well as coordination on newspaper op-eds Leytham helped the commissioners write. 
The 85 emails from Hagan and 27 emails from Murman also demonstrate how frequently the commissioners use their personal AOL accounts to discuss public business. And the failure to turn the documents over to 10 Investigates, despite several requests, raises new questions about whether additional electronic communications may exist between the county's most powerful politicians and one of its most powerful behind-the-scenes operatives.
Hmmm Sound familiar? There's no private servers sitting in a bathroom but these commissioners intentionally used their personal email accounts to secretly discuss county business with the politically well connected PR lobbyist Beth Leytham. How many more secret emails or text messages exist like these and what do they say? Taxpayers and voters deserve to know.

Leytham has been dubbed the "Queen of Damage Control" but we'll shorten it to "Queen Beth" because she is now Queen of all the damage she herself has created but cannot control, regardless of how many times the Tribune tries to circle their wagons to cover for her.

Queen Beth blurs all lines between the many hats she wears -- political consultant, close advisor, close friend, close associate, lobbyist, campaign consultant, private citizen, candidate volunteer. She uses those hats for easy access to the electeds, Mike Merrill, the media and other so-called power brokers. Queen Beth rarely discloses which hat she is wearing when. Does that enable her to circumvent lobbyists requirements and campaign filing disclosures?

What did we learn from Pransky's latest report and the private emails? Certainly more questions need answering. 

Confirms our previous claims that the Go Hillsborough campaign, County staff, County Attorney Chip

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The right choices for St. Petersburg City Council

With the Rays issue off the table who will do the best job for their District and the City?

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

With the Rays agreement back in play and a demonstration that there are enough votes for the Rays to get a deal if they are willing to be reasonable, the Rays and a new stadium should NOT be a big concern in the November 4, 2015 City Council elections.

No candidate is screaming, "No deal!"

With the Rays issue off the table who will do the best job for their District and the City.

In District 1 the matchup is between Charlie Gerdes now serving as City Council Chairman and Monica Abbott a newcomer to St. Pete politics
Gerdes is the hands-down choice in this race. In his almost four years on City Council, Gerdes has shown a steady approach to citywide issues.

Charlie has a good grasp of the big picture and while he respects the office of the Mayor, he is not overawed by it. Gerdes  and his fellow Council member Jim Kennedy's efforts to get a deal moving on the Rays have been indicative of the kind of thinking required to deal with an ever more aggressive strong Mayor.

In the District 5 Race Steve Kornell and Phillip Garret face off.

 Kornell is by far the candidate of choice. His proven record in his District, focus on children and attention to citywide needs make him the right choice to represent District 5 for another term.

Kornell has evolved into a complete City Council member during his first four years on the dais. His calm, knowledgeable and steady hand will be needed to guide the City through the next two years of the Kriseman administration.

In District 7 Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown are in a tough battle to replace Wengay Newton who leaves City Council due to term limits.

This has been one of the rather dicer City Council races in the last few years.

Wheeler Brown has been working toward this goal for several years with service in her neighborhood and the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Recent news paper articles and Posts on social media sites have painted an unprofessional approach to the Wheeler-Brown campaign and a lack of good judgment and decision making.

As the strong Mayor form of government continues to evolve in St. Petersburg, becoming more politically and  cronyism based people elected to City Council must be upright in character and uncompromising in their ability to follow the rules.

Will Newton comes to the voters with years of public service as a fire fighter/paramedic and lots of experience negotiating with politicians and City staff members during union bargaining sessions.

Will Newton shares his brother's deep concern for his District, the plight of children in poverty, failing schools and the real issues in District Seven. He also has a solid view of all of St. Petersburg.

Much has been made  lately of Newton's issues with the IRS, but Will Newton did exactly what most of us would do. When a tax problem arose, he sat down with the IRS worked out an agreement and honored its terms.  

That's what Will Newton does. He sets down works out differences and honors the result.

These are the reasons Will Newton is the right choice for St. Petersburg and District seven.

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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Kriseman in a bind on Rays – deal or no deal?

Who will Kriseman really be negotiating for when he meets with the Rays St. Petersburg or his ego?

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

In a not too surprising turn of events, St. Pete City Council approved the Kennedy Plan allowing the Rays to look for a new stadium outside the City.

You would think just getting the controlling political body to agree to let the Rays look would be a victory, but Kriseman started to poo poo the deal from the get-go.

"Typically, you don't see offers get better with time. So that's a concern. The other concern is that the amount that the Rays are being asked to pay is more than they were asked to pay the first time," Kriseman said after the vote.

Actually, deals do get better with time, especially when the other party, the Rays, have a bit of a time crunch themselves.

Add to that Kevin King, Kriseman's Chief of staff comment regarding the Mayor's view: "He'll attend the meeting, but whatever happens, he won't be reduced to playing messenger.  He doesn't have to do anything," King said. "He has to be on board, too."


See the whole back story in Charlie Frago's Tampa Bay Times Article Third time the charm? St. Pete City Council considers another deal with Tampa Bay Rays.

Council member Charlie Gerdes plan, which I personally liked, never got a hearing, so he voted against the Kennedy deal. Don't read too much into the Gerdes vote. This way, City Council has a fallback position if they need it.

The chances the Rays can get out of the Trop by 2020 are small so the likelihood they would pay out the whole $33 million of the Kennedy plan is also small. Even if they did and if their bright shiny new stadium was full of beaming fans wouldn't it be worth it?

They wouldn't blink at $33 million for a player they wanted.

What we have now is a Mayor with a wounded ego, a chief of staff who can't seem to keep his mouth shut, a City Council Chair that switched sides and a baseball team that has a tough decision to make.

The Rays would be smart to grab this deal and get the process they have longed for locked in and started.
Trying to play Gerdes against Kennedy would be a big mistake and trying to play the Mayor against City Council would be really stupid.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Carly Fiorina fading fast

Should Fiorina not make the next debate because of her poll numbers, it may be all but over

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
Carly Fiorina, who I supported – see Disclosures below; seems to be fading fast in the polls.

David Graham has an interesting analysis in the Atlantic What Happened to Carly Fiorina?

Key in Graham's analysis is the fact the Republican women don't really seem to be all that excited about a female president. Graham also makes a good point regarding Fiorina's jump in the polls following each of the debates only to be followed by a slow decline in voter interest.

The media, at least some of them, like Carly because she is good political material. She creates good sound bites, but the comment regarding a Planned Parenthood video that never existed seems to have hurt her.

Fiorina's biggest problem continues to be the same as the other Republican presidential hopefuls; she just can't get up stage of Trump and Carson. To make things worse, as of this writing, she trails Jeb Bush.

Should Fiorina not make the next debate because of her poll numbers, it may be all but over.

Look for someone like Fox News to give Fiorina a spotlight shot, maybe on the Sunday Talk shows to help shore up the poll numbers.

There is an argument for hanging in there since Trump or Carson or both could implode at any time. And there is also the Vice Presidency to keep in mind.

I still like Fiorina, but unless one of the two front runners really stumbles, Cary is destined to be riding in the lower tier of poll numbers for some time. For now it may be a good strategy to just try and make the debates and wait out the field.

It's a lot more fun to be duking it out with the big guys, but for now trying to shore up some support among Republican women may make more sense.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

BP money for the arts a bad deal for everyone

The decision on where and how to use the BP funds is critical.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
A long time ago I was a member of a Southern Baptist church in west St. Pete. One of the widows passed away and left a rather large bequest. This particular church while not really struggling was like most not financially flush.

The ensuing battle between the various factions, the choir wanted new robes; the kitchen ministry wanted all new silver cutlery; the grounds' people wanted new equipment; the roof needed repair, some wanted new hymnals or pews and the list added up to more than even the generous bequest provided.

The ensuing battle left members upset and angry. Some even left the church.

I remember being in the pastor's office as he sat behind his desk, head in his hands and tears in his eyes saying I wish the money had never been given.   

I doubt if Mayor Kriseman or any City Council members really feel like my former pastor, but the battle over the BP money is shaping up to be very similar.

The issue here should be the greater good for the long term.

This money is coming as a result of the greatest environmental disaster ever. The long-term results of the BP oil spill may not be known for decades.

The decision on where and how to use these funds is critical and will say a lot about who St. Petersburg is as a community.

 Take the arts, for example.

The proposal to create a $1 million endowment for the arts has the arts people salivating.

I think it is a really poor use of the BP funds and in the end will do the arts community more harm than good.

Look at the most-recent effort by the Kriseman administration to create a "self-sustaining" sustaining" arts community.

 Let me decode that for you, they want the arts community to no longer be a budget line item they have to deal with every year. An endowment is a great step in that direction.

Now, every year at budget time when the arts community makes their annual sackcloth and ashes begging visit to the administration and City council, they will be pointed to their million-dollar endowment as their funding source.

What makes it an even worse use of the BP money is the Kriseman administration wastes these funds padding the City budget.

A $1 million-dollar endowment will produce around $40 to $50 thousand dollars year and will probably come with some serious strings attached. The arts people can raise that amount of money every year with a bake sale and a silent auction.

Point that same $1 million-dollar endowment at a fund to help struggling schools and public education in St. Petersburg, and you get an enduring legacy of changed lives.

As I remember it, the Church ended up giving most of the money to world missions and the choir got some new, but not too fancy robes.

There is a lesson in all of that.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Will Newton - The right choice for St. Petersburg City Council District 7

The fact is the District Seven Council seat election is about a lot more than baseball.

St. Petersburg, Fl.
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

 Disclosure: As you will note below I am a contributor to the Will Newton Campaign.

The St. Pete City Council District Seven race is the closest and probably most important race in the upcoming city council elections,

There has been a lot of talk about both candidates' positions on baseball The Tampa Bay Times based its endorsement of Lisa Wheeler-Brown solely on that issue.

The other local newspaper, the St. Pete Tribune, initially endorsed Wheeler-Brown but then switched their endorsement to Will Newton the other candidate running for the City Council seat following revelations about Wheeler-Browns campaign finance missteps.

Recent revelations about Lisa Wheeler-Browns campaign finances, her judgment and background have called her viability as a city council member into question. Her handling and management of her campaign staff are also disconcerting.

The Kriseman administration is like no other we have seen since the strong mayor form of government in St. Petersburg was introduced in the early 1990s. The heavy-handed cronyism, willful disregard of the public's desires and full-blown end justify the mean attitude are making St. Pete City hall look more like Tampa's City hall every day.

In this political environment, it is critical that City Council members are fully aware of the political winds, the willingness of the administration to use whoever and whatever they can to get their way.

My concern goes to the question can Wheeler-brown deal with the pressures and temptations the Kriseman administration will throw at her? How easily could she be manipulated by the Mayor's office? Could her past or future issues be used against her?

All of this may sound a bit far fetched, but with the Kriseman in the Mayor's chair and the likes of Kevin King the political operative as chief of staff and the Ben Kirby propaganda machine all working overtime nothing is out of the question. Examples: the Pier and the recent sewage dump. 

The fact is the District Seven Council seat election is about a lot more than baseball. District Seven contains some of the City's poorest neighborhoods, all of the "Failing Schools" and a host of other problems.

The ability to sit on the dais and advocate from a strong position for the  needs of District seven and deal with the citywide issues and the Mayor's office are critical not only to District Seven but the whole City.

For these reasons, Will Newton is the right choice for the District Seven City Council seat. You can get more information on the Will Newton Campaign Website.

Will Newton brings a lot to the dais not only for District seven, but for the whole City.

He has sat across the table from the politicians and negotiated for the firefighters he represented. He understands how the political process works. Newton has been active in his neighborhood association and in south side youth programs.

Most importantly, he does not bring a lot of political baggage with him.

A lot people don't bother to vote in these midterm elections, but this one is really important.
 District seven is a key to a lot of St. Petersburg's future.

Having someone representing District seven that has a full view of the circumstances, an understanding of the environment at City hall and is not easily intimidated by the Mayor's office is crucial for good decision making.

If you have that mail in ballot still lying around dig through the pile of mail, fill it out and send it back. Don't forget to sign the ballot.

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Sunday, October 18, 2015

St. Petersburg has a sewage problem

Maybe the manhole cover shown would provide some motivation for the Mayor to put some serious effort into the City's infrastructure.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

There should be no doubt at this point that the City of St. Petersburg has a storm-water system problem. The infrastructure is old and in need of major repair.

All of these problems came to a head in the recent St. Pete sewage dumps into Clam Bayou in Gulfport and into Tampa Bay.

If you're not up on the issue, here are several links that will get you caught up.

From Janelle Irwin saintpetersblog:

Charlie Fargo Tampa Bay Times:

As reported in Claire McNeil's Tampa Bay Times piece Kriseman pledges action to avert future sewage dumps the Mayor talks a good game but can't seem to follow through.

"We would like to see the city do Infrastructure 101 to make sure the sewage system is in proper condition," said Walter Donnelly of the Alliance for Bayway Communities. "Six million dollars and $1 million going to sewers? Thank you for that. But bicycles, Mr. Mayor, when the city's sewers are falling apart? Please."

It seems the Mayor is more taken by things where he can hang his name, so I thought maybe the manhole cover shown above would provide some motivation for the Mayor and the dream team to put some serious effort into the City's infrastructure.

Given the Kriseman administration's fascination with the millennials, it might be worth considering that the first time they are ankle-deep in floating sewage their fascination with St. Pete might wane.

It's really hard to sit in an outside eatery and swill your favorite craft beer with crap floating down the street.

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Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Rays Second Season gets rolling

The really big missing piece here is leadership from Mayor Rick Kriseman.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
For background see my Post The Rays and the Second Season

Widely reported by print and social media St. Pete City Council members are talking baseball one on one with Pinellas County Commissioners. Just the thought of Jim Kennedy and Janet Long having a conversation about anything should be enough to send shivers up your spine.

For detail see Charlie Fargo Tampa Bay Times Longtime foes of Tampa Bay Rays stadium deal mulling options.

The Plans:
The Kennedy Plan, The Kornell Plan, The Gerdes Plan, The Kriseman Plan, the Tampa Times Plan and The Rays Plan which is almost the same as the Kriseman plan. There are a couple of more Council members with "ideas" if not plans.

The Threats:
County Commission says tourist tax dollars in play.
The Rays say it's the last deal or no deal.
The Rays don't want to negotiate with eight people (City Council)
The Rays won't pony up any more money, so they say.

There is not a whole lot of detail leaking out about the Council members plans and the Rays are being a bit coy at the moment. All the drama will begin to unfold at the October 22 St. Pete City Council meeting.

The Rays saga is starting to play out like a poorly scripted episode of the FOX series Empire.

The missing piece here is leadership from Mayor Rick Kriseman. For something seemingly this big to get this far out of control Kriseman has to take the fall.

Kriseman, who continues to prove he much more interested in things shiny he can hang his name on than substance, is the one who let all of this disintegrate into a City Council cat fight. If the Mayor had been a bit more willing to share the glory with City Council, the Rays would probably have a deal, and everyone could be focusing on something really important.

The clock is ticking. That according to the County Commission as the Atlanta Braves spring training complex nears a decision point. However, the clock is also ticking for the Rays.

As things continue to unfold in Tampa, developers and big-money players have to be asking themselves would a huge investment in baseball really be worth it. What if we make that investment, and the same 13,000 or so fans are the only ones who show up?

Remember what Bud Selig (MLB Commissioner) said, this is not a major-league baseball market. He said that almost 30 years ago and so far he was right. 

So be sure to follow the Rays second season on TV.

Unlike major league baseball games which you must have ESPN or some pay channel to see most of them, the Rays second season is available free on your cable system Bright House Channel 641, Verizon Channel 20, WOW channel 15. Check St. Pete City Council for times and replays. 

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

St. Petersburg's BP oil spill settlement money Kriseman on how to spend it

Notably missing is any effort to deal with issues in south St. Pete

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

The City of St. Petersburg is set to receive $6.5 Billion from the BP oil spill settlement.  Charlie Fargo has the details in his Tampa Bay Times article Kriseman releases wish list for $6.5 million in BP settlement money

From Kriseman's list:

$1.4 million dedicated to preparing the city for rising sea levels and other climate-change  challenges
$1.2 million for a plan to cope with extreme weather and climate change
$1 million for a bike-share program
$1 million for wastewater infrastructure repair
$1 million to upgrade city infrastructure to make streetlights and city buildings more energy efficient
$1 million for an arts endowment
$350,000 toward a private commuter ferry that would cross Tampa Bay
$250,000 to help the University of South Florida buy a new marine research vessel
$250,000 for an action plan to create a road map toward creating a carbon-neutral city
$266,250 to purchase structure to clear the way for building a new Shore Acres Recreation Center
$125,000 to purchase and plant about 250 trees in all eight City Council districts

Notably missing is any effort to deal with issues in south St. Pete, after-school jobs programs or commitments to the City's "failing schools".

Infrastructure is a big issue in the City. Council member Karl Nurse said, "The mayor is shortchanging the most pressing need: massive repairs to an aging sewer system that led to the dumping of more than 31 million gallons of wastewater during heavy rains this summer."

Council Member Darden Rice said, "I don't think the wastewater crisis constitutes a raid on all BP funds."

Pretty easy for Rice to say given she lives in one of the City's higher elevations and is unlikely to be wading through the raw sewerage to get to her car.

The $1 million-dollar arts endowment is a laudable effort, but the primary objective is to get the arts community out of the City budget.

A 1 million endowment for public education to aid any substandard school in St. Petersburg would produce a significantly greater long term benefit for the City.

Given the amount of money USF floats in I think they can buy their own research vessel, the commuter ferry is likely to be a bust and do we really want to spend any of this money on "trees?"

Unless the Mayor tries an end around the City Council will decide on how the BP Money will be spent. In making those decisions it would be good to remember the environmental cost we all paid for this disaster and the lingering notion that it is probably not really over.  

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

PSTA trolling for dollars in Washington

Should the Feds hand Brad Miller more Federal money?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog. 

There are times when you question people's judgment and then there are times you just scratch your head and smile. This article in the Tampa Bay Times by Tony Marrero: Pinellas officials head to D.C. in search of funds for St. Pete rapid bus line caught my eye.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller hauled County Commissioner Janet Long and St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice up to Washington to meet with Representatives David Jolly, Kathy Castor, Senator Bill Nelson and someone from Marco Rubio's office to talk about getting some federal money for PSTA projects.

If you don't follow the goings on at PSTA, this might seem like a worthwhile effort since PSTA is pretty much capped out on tax revenue and Federal dollars for public transit have dried up.

Brad Miller going to Washington to ask for Federal Dollars is kind of like the guy who just got arrested for breaking into your house sending someone by to knock on your door and ask if you could help with his bail.

Miller, who misused federal funds to try to get even more of your tax money in the GreenLight sales tax debacle and then lied to the PSTA Board, would likely be the last person any federal or state politician would be excited about handing federal grant dollars.

From 10 News Investigates:

County Commissioner Janet long, recently laughingly reappointed to the PSTA Board, gave Miller a bad review and then would not support his removal.  See my Post Janet Long reelected to serve 3 more years on PSTA Board.

You can check out their evaluations of Miller:

Darden Rice, a long-time Miller supporter, just can't seem to see any fault with Miller's actions.

Even with PSTA's mounting financial problems, it is hard to rationalize how Long and Rice could look at US House Members, a Senator and a Senator's Representative with a straight face and ask for more money to be managed by the same staff that misused the last large federal grant.

Apparently Long and Rice must feel that the people in Washington are so isolated inside the beltway that they are oblivious to what is going on at the ground level in Pinellas County.

For now, Miller has seven months to "improve his performance." Not exactly sure what that means but one might assume figuring out more ways not to get caught misusing PSTA funds.

The PSTA Board should be required to clean up the PSTA staff before any more federal or state money flows into the coffers. The Board's lack of oversight and the backbone to deal with issues like Miller's dalliances are the real reasons public transit in Pinellas County lacks public trust.

If you would like to send a copy of this Post to your Florida Representatives and Senator, here is the contact information.
You can just copy the Post URL at the top of the screen, or copy the whole Post and paste into their email form.

Representative David Jolly:

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Is CSX Trying to Sell its High Priced Junk to Us?

Cross Posted from

CSX is offering to sell some of its under utilized tracks around Tampa Bay to the Florida Department of Transportation.
There are 97 miles of railroad track connecting the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The steel grating links Tampa International Airport to the University of South Florida, stretches across four counties and reaches as far north as Brooksville.
Freight trains run on those tracks now. But they could, one day, form the spine of a passenger rail system that would finally connect Tampa Bay — and ease the region's dependence on roads.
This is no pie-in-the-sky scenario. It's an idea gaining sudden momentum because railroad giant CSX Corp. is shopping around two segments of its Tampa Bay routes.
 CSX is interested in selling two lines.
One of the rail lines offered by CSX is the "Clearwater line." It stretches from downtown St. Petersburg, climbs northwest through Pinellas County to downtown Clearwater, veers to Oldsmar, then runs east past Tampa International Airport and ends near downtown Tampa, in Ybor City.
The second route is the "Brooksville line." It starts in Tampa, juts north from the first line, passes by USF, cuts through Land O'Lakes in Pasco County and finishes in central Hernando County, near Brooksville.
Urged by local leaders, CSX analyzed its lines and found that those two routes carried minimal freight traffic and could be used for passenger rail.
Here's where the tracks run CSX wants to unload.

CSX rail lines for sale
(in red and blue)
We should note a few things.

This is not a light rail solution. If realized, this will be a commuter rail solution. That is, big, heavy, noisy, diesel trains, on existing CSX tracks that were originally built for efficient movement of freight. It is not commuters, or people heading to the ball game or the art museums or the latest event in a downtown park.. Want to convert to light rail? Not going to happen.

These tracks are where they are. They are not optimized for Transit Oriented Development, if anyone believes that myth. They do connect the downtowns of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, as well as Tampa airport and USF or at least close enough,

Friday, October 9, 2015

Commuter Rail may be an option

CSX would merely make the tracks available for lease through a deal with State the rest would be up to the local community.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

CSX has thrown its hat into the tumultuous ring of Tampa Bay area public transit. 

You can read the details in: Caitin Johnston's piece in the Tampa Bay Times, CSX's offer finally opens the door to commuter rail in Tampa Bay.

Carving an interesting path through Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties and connecting the down towns of Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, these CSX tracks could form a backbone to move commuters over fairly large distances.

For now, the CSX offers to make certain lines available do open a new and interesting window of discussion. The commuter rail system would, by its very nature, be inter modal requiring both bus and possibly light rail to carry short distance and last mile traffic.

There is a host of issues as Caitin Johnston points out, the most difficult overcoming the political parochialism that will always accompany an effort like the CSX offering proposes.

CSX would merely make the tracks available for lease through a deal with the State the rest would be up to the local community.

The initial thought is to establish yet another regional board made up of elected officials to try to bring a plan together.

These Boards of elected officials have proven to be virtually useless. They accomplish little beyond talk are poor managers, they are prone to encourage corruption, if not among themselves, then among the organizational staffs they create and their hired consultants.

Public transportation would be better served if TBARTA were disbanded, and the Hillsborough and Pinellas County transit authority boards were reconstituted with a majority of non elected officials.

The real issue here before any of this ever gets off the ground is to make sure we don't have the same-old  people, political groups, consultants, influence peddlers and politicians who want to get their hands into the money flow running this effort.

If they do commuter rail will likely go the way of GreenLight Pinellas, Go Hillsborough and other transit initiatives.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Rays and the Second Season

As the fall negotiating season opens, the Rays management wants to avoid a repeat of past performances.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

For the last few years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been playing four seasons in St. Petersburg.

There is spring training, the regular season, the fall politics season and the winter negotiating season.

You are probably pretty familiar with spring training and the regular season, the fall political season and the winter negotiating season maybe not so much.

The fall political season is that period where the St. Pete City Council, the Pinellas County Commission, Tampa and to some degree Hillsborough County tries to get their various proposals, positions, money and ducks in a row.

Typically, there are a lot of pitches, mostly softballs, a few strikes and a lot of outs.

This year the tension between the Mayor Rick Kriseman, Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes and City Council has boiled over into the St. Pete City Council elections where at least one media outlet, the Tampa Bay Times, has tried to make the District Seven City Council race all about baseball.

The Second Season will actually kick off later this month when a new proposal from City Council is supposed to surface on October 15th, and we may find out if Mayor Kriseman is going to throw hard balls by refusing to do the studies the City Council has requested or refuse to present the City Council proposal.

The Rays will hold their wrap-up  news conference later this week, and you can look for some preliminary public talks with the Mayor and someone from the Rays probably in a month or so. The Mayor's office would like everyone to think some talks have been ongoing, but I think that is not likely.

The other players, The Pinellas County Commission and the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council are now touting a mega sized spring training initiative at Toytown the former landfill (dump) and making soft but definitely threatening noises to move tourist tax revenue from a Rays stadium to the dump... err landfill.

Most curious has been the lack of any major-league  baseball interest from Hillsborough County or Mayor Kriseman's buddy Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Since Jeff Vinik indicated that baseball was not the "best and highest" use of his downtown development property a major-league baseball stadium has not been a hot topic across the Bay.

Look for some high and outside pitches from across the Bay just to keep things interesting, but unless a really deep pocked angel shows up or MLB becomes so disgusted with St. Pete and Pinellas County they are willing to pony up some serious money and/or concessions the pickens for a new stadium in Hillsborough may be a bit slim.

As the fall politics season wraps up and City Council and the Mayor try to get a unified game plan in place things could get a bit testy. Kriseman has not had a political win in some time and getting a Rays deal to look for a new stadium on his terms would be a big win.

If Charlie Gerdes can be the one who puts the Rays stadium deal together, the Mayor and his dream team will continue to look like the ineffective bunch the really are.

As the fall negotiating season opens, the Rays management from President Brian Auld right on down want to avoid a repeat of past performances where they got asked questions they could not or did not want to answer and ended up in political fights, they 1) had no interest in and 2) could not win.

Just given the Rays trepidation and speed at which baseball approaches problems like the Ray's stadium dilemma, don't look for much to happen before the November election, and if that goes badly it could be January before any really substantive talks result in a new and acceptable proposal.

Meanwhile, the spring training proposal for Toytown will continue to move along.

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Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Is St. Pete City Council being marginalized and bullied by the Mayor?

This is the first time since the 1992 Charter changes a strong mayor has refused to provide critical information requested by City Council.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.
As we watch the Rays/City Council/Mayor Kriseman/MOU argument continue to unfold, the relationship between the Mayor and City Council is becoming more strained.

Twice now the Kriseman administration has refused to provide studies, read that as information, the City Council has requested.

First was the City Council request for an economic impact study that would have provided real information about the economic benefits or lack thereof regarding the Rays impact on St. Petersburg.

Then there was the City Council request for a land use study that would provide information about development opportunities with and without a baseball stadium.

At this Thursday's City Council meeting, in the most conciliatory terms, Council Member Jim Kennedy asked, the Mayor to reconsider the land use study and Kriseman basically said no way.

Under the current Charter provisions, City Council can only "request" the Mayor to provide information. They cannot direct such a request be filled nor can they undertake the effort on their own.

Since the Charter change in 1992 implementing the strong Mayor form of government, this is the first time a sitting mayor has refused to provide critical information requested by City Council.

My view on the economic impact study which Kriseman said, "might weaken our bargaining position with the Rays" was that the report would show there is little economic benefit derived from the Rays presence in St. Pete and if one factors in the amount of tax money the Rays suck up it may actually be negative.

Regarding the land use study, it is hard to follow the Mayor's logic on this one. One school of thought is that a detailed, independent study might reveal some serious issues with the site such as the extent of known soil contamination and seriously impact the whole redevelopment equation.

There is perhaps a much bigger issue as Kriseman tries to hold City Council at bay by denying them the information they request.

Kriseman is holding the City Council hostage by refusing to let them explore areas of the Rays deal he does not want either made public or in the Council's preview.

All of this sets a dangerous precedent and could result in this Council and future council's becoming unable to function.

If Kriseman gets away with stonewalling City Council on this one, he will continue to operate this way until he is voted out of office in two years.

For now, it's time for some hard ball.

While some would argue, it is not a good idea to let the Rays become a pawn in St. Petersburg political power struggle, there is a lot more at stake here than baseball.

City Council should merely tell the Mayor, give us the economic impact study and the land use study, and until you do the Rays, deal is on hold.

If the County Tourist tax money for a stadium is lost, and /or if the Rays just get tired of the whole mess and leave it will be Kriseman's fault.

Something needs to be done to prevent this type of deadlock in the future.

It may be time to consider a Charter amendment that allows City Council to commission their own independent studies; soliciting them through the City Purchasing Department when a Mayor has denied them information they feel is necessary to make a decision.

Such a change should be fairly narrowly drawn, require funding for such studies and could contain a restriction that such requests for information can only be made following an absolute refusal by an administration to provide requested information or studies.

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, October 3, 2015

Counterpoint to Tribune's Op-Ed Touts Denver Transit

Posted by: Sharon Calvert

More predictable rail cheerleading from the Tribune, this time with an op-ed written by Andrew Bowen about how great the EIGHT COUNTY Denver Regional Transit (and taxing) District is with light rail.
When members of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Committee go on a bench marking tour next week to Denver, they will probably be a bit wide-eyed as they experience one of the most progressive, efficient, people-friendly multimodal rapid transit systems in the nation — if not the world.

“Gosh,” they might gush. “Could we have something like this in Hillsborough County?”

The short answer is “yes, we can.”
Yes we can. If we fall for the trap.
[I]n Denver, the initial price tag was $4.7 billion, which voters approved 58 percent to 42 percent in 2004.
Which, by 2008, had ballooned to $7.9 billion.

Yes we can. If we ignore the predictable cost increase.

From the Denver Post, they have difficulty making otherwise simple decisions.
"Building one 11-mile segment of commuter rail from Westminster to Broomfield could cost as much as $681 million while about 100 miles of enhanced bus service in the northern suburbs would cost roughly half that and serve nearly eight times as many passengers, according to an analysis for the Regional Transportation District."
Yes we can. If we ignore common sense.

Still, the vast vast majority of workers in Denver commute in their cars. If Denver RTD is so great, why do only 6.5% of workers commute using RTD? That's all modes, not just light rail, but buses as well. Over 80% commute by car. And 2.4% by bike, and that's 4 times the national average.

Yes we can. If we set a low bar for success like Denver.

But I'm sure there's been a great increase in transit ridership across Denver RTD with all this investment, right?

We can check the National Transit Database for ridership and look into Denver's numbers2004 when they passed the referendum, and 2013, the latest available data and applying a little fourth grade math.
Population in the service area increased 24%.
Service area square miles stayed the same.
Annual Unlinked Trips increased 23%
In other words, transit trips across all modes of Denver RTD grew at slightly LESS than then population growth despite, as Bowen stated, Denver has "one of the most progressive, efficient, people-friendly multimodal rapid transit systems in the nation — if not the world."

Yes we can. If we want to spend billions with no improvement in our mobility.

Still, I'm sure there some good news in Denver, right?

Well, yes, there is.

Denver RTD sales tax revenue is up 6.6% for 2015 year to date over 2014.

Denver RTD Monthly Financial Status July 2015
But their ridership is under performing by 2.8% from their 2015 budget, and down 0.3%in actual ridership year to date for 2015 compared to 2014.

There you have it. Another cheerleader for under performing and expensive rail transit solutions that ignores the costs and the results, and can't do math.

Sound familiar? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

St. Petersburg Council District 7 Race – Much more than just baseball

The Race for the St. Pete City Council Race has quickly turned into a political donnybrook.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog
In a blistering series of Posts in saintpetersblog, Janelle Irwin has pretty much dismembered the campaign of Lisa Wheeler-Brown:

The Tampa Tribune pulled Wheeler–Brown's endorsement in favor of her opposition, Will Newton: Tribune endorsements: Gerdes, Kornell, Newton for St. Petersburg City Council and former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker also endorsed Newton: Rick Baker gets behind Will Newton for City Council.

The Tampa Bay Times continues to endorse Wheeler-Brown solely based on her stand to support the Mayor's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Rays.

Which brings me to my point.

The election in District 7 is about much more than just baseball. In fact, baseball should be the last thing on your mind when you cast your vote in this very important race.

If baseball plays any role in this election, it is whether or not baseball will finally get in line in its proper place behind, crime, rebuilding south St. Pete, failing schools, failing infrastructure and a misguided Kriseman administration.

The people who live in District 7 deserve a Council member, who has experience negotiating with public administrations, one that understands the political process, will represent them and not major league baseball and understands how important it is to follow the rules – all the rules.

If the Tampa Bay Rays paid their tab, packed their bags and left town tomorrow St. Petersburg would not shrivel up and die. It's just a baseball team and if attendance figures are any indication one that not a lot of people in St. Pete really care that much about.

Major league baseball likes to tout their franchises as the reason's communities grow and business relocates. It hasn't worked here and it won't work here regardless of a new shiny and very expensive stadium that sucks up a lot of taxpayer dollars.

There is nothing wrong with letting the Rays look around the Bay area for a new site. Nevertheless, let's get an Agreement that works for and protects the interests of the people who built the Trop. 

Everyone in St. Pete has an obligation to make sure the people in District 7 get a Council member who represents their interests and the City's needs.

Go to the web sites:

Read the information, follow the newspapers and social media and above all else make an informed decision and be sure to vote in this very important race. 

If you don't already have it, your mail in ballot will be showing up soon. Be sure to fill it out, sign the Ballot and mail it back.

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.
Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President