Friday, April 20, 2018

Beware of the Blue Wave

There are some adept sensible Democrats out there, but none were present in this first debate.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
A lot of political analysts and pundits are predicting that the Democratic Party will have a banner year in the upcoming midterms. Goodness knows the Republicans are doing all they can to help them.

Before you decide to change your voter registration from Republican to Democrat and show your displeasure with Trump, and the feckless bunch of Republican do nothings in Congress that would rather investigate Trump than represent their constituents take a look at what is happening around you.

The first debate featuring four of the Democratic candidates for Florida Governor was an interesting affair.

 If I had to pick a central theme(s) it would be let’s raise taxes, shut down funding of charter schools, raise some more taxes, put in some more social programs and continuing pouring money into a failing educational system even though none of them knew what the education budget was.

In other words, these candidates are proposing what Democrats do; replace governance with social welfare.

You can check out the debate at: FOX 13.

Florida has experienced phenomenal growth over the last eight years. The economic infrastructure that supports that growth has been carefully put together. Looking at the Florida economy as an apple ready for picking could quickly undo what eight years of hard work has accomplished.

Just electing a bunch of Democrats to offices from the school board to the State house and Governor will not cure anything. An old-line social programs Democrat in the Governor’s mansion and one or both houses of the Florida Legislature controlled by the Democrats will bring the current growth trend in Florida to a screeching halt.

There are some adept sensible Democrats out there, but none were present in this first debate.

The real questions are: can any of these candidates morph into someone who can actually run a government and not turn it into one massive welfare program and secondly are there any of these candidates you want to bet your small business on along with the education of your children?

The Republicans are up next will they do any better or get “Trumped?”

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Tampa Bay Tabloid Shuffle: The Bad News and the *footnote

Tampa, Fl.
Published By: Jim Bleyer
April 12, 2018

By Jim Bleyer
First, the bad news.
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, the area’s much beloved alternative weekly, was bought out by Euclid Media Group.  Known as EMG,  it owns a portfolio of nine such city publications including the Orlando Weekly.
EMG has shown a penchant for marginalizing and, in some cases, eliminating political news. It didn’t take long for the Cleveland-based outfit to telegraph its intentions to Tampa Bay readers.
Two immediate casualties of the local acquisition were ultra-proficient Editor-in-Chief David Warner and kickass News Editor Kate Bradshaw.  EMG’s track record suggests independently-sourced news stories in Creative Loafing will henceforth be a rarity.  Those who perused the Orlando Weekly before and after its changeover can attest to that.
Readers accustomed to in-depth exclusives can now expect more stories like this: a profile of former county commissioner Kevin Beckner who failed to win the 2016 race for Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Courts.  That campaign was two years ago.
Wednesday’s digital edition of CL carried the story.  It was basically a list of Kevin Beckner’s favorite things from obsession to meat market to performance venue.
The pap was listed under “Politics” on CL’s front page.  The “writer” should be thankful there was no byline.  Embarrassing.
So the fraternity of Tampa Bay news sources untainted by pay-for-play investors and the corporate establishment lost an important member.  The public will become more reliant on local blogs for independent political commentary: Tampa Bay Beat, Eye on Tampa Bay, Shadow of the Stadium, Ybor City Stogie, Bay Post Internet, and the Tampa Bay Guardian.
On to the innocuous.
The Tampa Bay Times announced it would scale back publication of its *tbt tabloid from every weekday to once a week.  Only puzzle aficionados will notice.  Other than offering the L.A. Times crossword, the *tbt is basically a stripped down version of the Tampa Bay Times with pun-laced headlines.
The *tbt freebie was bad business anyway.  Its only competition: the Tampa Bay Times whose pay news racks are frequently side-by-side in the same locations.  Rolled out in 2004 as a weekly, *tbt started publishing five days a week in 2006.
Reason for the cutback: Trump-inspired tariffs on imported newsprint.
The ironies are too rich.  Last year, publisher Paul Tash announced the debt-laden Times wanted “to connect with Trump voters” while simultaneously accepting a $12-15 million cash infusion from right wing investors.  With propaganda disguised as news stories, the move backfired humongously as subscribers rebelled and voters rejected endorsed candidates.
And, it was the tariffs that triggered the *tbt contraction, not any in-house recognition that it used an incredibly poor business model.

 Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Beat

This post is contributed by Tampa Bay Beat. The views and opinions expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Bay Post Internet or the publisher.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Dysfunction or Deception: Road Diets & 60 Foot Buses on Gulf Blvd

Only government can be so out of touch with reality. This is why the transportation issue in Tampa Bay has become so dysfunctional.

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

Since Greenlight Pinellas failed in 2014 and Go Hillsborough failed in 2016, FDOT in Tampa Bay has been doling out millions and millions for more transit studies like it's Christmas candy.

For the moment at least, the strategy has changed to pursuing individual transit projects instead of going after some massive grand transit plan that have consistently failed in Tampa Bay. Pursuing individual projects enables projects to proceed more stealthily under the radar of public scrutiny.

It is all about getting a pot of federal transit money - at a time when transit ridership is declining, vehicle ownership is increasing, vehicle miles travelled is increasing, innovation is disrupting traditional transit and less than 2% use transit in Tampa Bay.

Only government can be so out of touch with reality. This is why the transportation issue in Tampa Bay has become so dysfunctional.

The transit project in this new scheme that is the furthest along is PSTA's Central Avenue BRT (CA BRT) in Pinellas County. This is the catalyst of the catalyst project. It is in the federal funding spigot pipeline and has been rated by the FTA. It appears this project got this far with little public scrutiny and probably not enough transparency.

We'll start shining a bright light on what the CA BRT project is and the process used to further it.

Do not forget that PSTA was caught in 2014 abusing federal transit security funds by using those funds on advertising for Greenlight Pinellas. Due to this deception, PSTA was forced to hand back $345K dollars to the Feds. Wonder if the FTA knows that?

PSTA submitted their Federal Small Starts application for the Central Avenue BRT to the FTA  September 7, 2017. Small Starts projects must have a total estimated capital cost of $300 million or less and must be seeking less than $100 million from the feds.

The name Central Avenue BRT (CA BRT) is a misnomer because the route actually runs on First Avenue North and South. The existing Central Avenue trolley route continues business as usual.

The CA BRT is a 22 mile long route from downtown St. Petersburg to the Don Cesar at St. Petersburg Beach. To meet the federal qualification that greater than 50% of the route must use a dedicated lane, this project uses a road diet that takes away13 miles of general purpose lanes along First Avenue North, First Avenue South and Pasadena Avenue in Pinellas County.

PSTA CA BRT 22 mile route from downtown St. Pete to the Don Cesar
According to the Small Starts Application submitted to the FTA in September 2017 (emphasis mine):
Along the entire length of 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South, and along Pasadena Avenue from Central Avenue to Huffman Way, one general purpose lane will be converted to a Business Access and Transit (BAT) lane that will be used by only buses and turning vehicles. Along 1st Avenue North, the BAT lane will run on the left side of the road with island stations for boarding on the right. Along 1st Avenue South, the alignment runs on the left side of the road in a BAT lane with island stations for boarding on the right between Pasadena Avenue and 20th Street. East of 20th Street, the alignment transitions to right side running. Along Pasadena Avenue, the BAT lane will run on the right side of the road. In total, the BAT lanes will comprise 13 miles of the 22-mile alignment.
While First Avenues North and South are local roads, Pasadena Avenue aka 66th Street is a State Road. Pinellas County has responsibility over their local roads. Why is FDOT allowing a road diet  taking out a general purpose lane of traffic on a state road? When the Corey Causeway draw bridge is open, traffic gets backed up for quite some way and can take a long time to clear.  Imagine the bigger traffic backup mess created when the Corey Causeway draw bridge goes up and traffic is even worse because a general lane of traffic leading to it has been taken out.

Qualifying for federal funds requires committed local funding for both capital and a long term funding source for operating and maintenance costs. According to PSTA's CA BRT Financial Plan submitted to the FTA (page 5), the capital cost of the CA BRT is estimated at $41.36 million (in 2019 dollars) and PSTA is asking for $20.36 million (49.2%) from the Feds. The chart below is included in PSTA's submittal to the FTA last September. 

PSTA CA BRT capital funding plan provided to FTA

Page 6 of the Financial Plan states:
The City is currently in negotiations with PSTA regarding financial support of the BRT project for both capital and operations.
What is so striking is the City of St. Petersburg Beach has never taken any action, has never voted on or approved to "plan" or "commit" $1.5 million to the capital costs or provide operational funding for the CA BRT. PSTA went to the St. Petersburg Beach council in October 2016 requesting financial support for the project but no action was taken by the council. PSTA has never gone back to St. Petersburg Beach since October 2016. There is no evidence of ongoing negotiations between PSTA and St. Petersburg Beach.

This is no small mistake so why did PSTA include such misleading information in their September 2017 Small Starts application submittal to the FTA? Is PSTA being deceptive again? This question deserves an answer - especially in light of what PSTA did pursuing Greenlight.

The CA BRT project will put 60 foot buses with four stops and no bus bays on the narrow congested Gulf Blvd. This service is in addition to the existing Jolly Trolley that runs along Gulf Blvd and the Central Ave Trolley. 
PSTA 60 foot bus on narrow, congested Gulf Blvd
with 4 stops & no bus bays in addition to Jolly Trolley
The project will also eliminate 231 parking spaces in St. Petersburg.

The documentation PSTA submitted to the FTA in September 2017 for this project stated it had gone through an extensive public involvement process. The Eye has attempted to get information regarding such extensive effort and the data captured from it from PSTA. To date, we have only received this list of public involvement events.

PSTA's list of CA BRT public involvement events

Is this considered "extensive" outreach?

Of the 39 events attended by 462 attendees, most were meetings with elected officials,  the bureaucracy and special interests.

Where are the sign in sheets and the data captured from the meetings? Were surveys done? If so, where's the data captured from those surveys? Do all the residents and businesses along the route know about this project and its impact?  What were all the communication vehicles PSTA used to inform the public and capture feedback, emails, newsletters, letters, social media, from their website, etc.? Where is the information captured from that communication?

All the data and information captured from public involvement are public records The information should be either accessible by the public or easily accessible to provide to anyone who requests it.

We have talked to people in Pinellas County who are unaware of the project and certainly do not know about the road diets and putting 60 foot buses on Gulf Blvd.

We can bet most, including those most directly impacted, those who live in St. Petersburg Beach and probably those who live in S. Pasadena, do not know about this project or what it is doing.

It is time they do.

More to come about this project and PSTA.

Stay tuned!

This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.
Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

Is a Millennial migration possible in St Pete?

Will Generation Z follow in the Millennial's footsteps and embrace the old urban core?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog

 As the Millennials get older, some new trends in their behavior are emerging. One interesting switch is the beginning of a decline in craft beer consumption.

Fifty-eight percent of craft beer drinkers are under the age of 35, putting them in the Millennial generation. Here are some links for consideration.

There are also changes in Home-buying patterns. From the National Association of Realtors, NAR Generational Survey: Millennials Increasingly Buying in Suburban Areas.

The share of Millennials buying in an urban or central city area decreased to 17 percent (21 percent a year ago) in this year’s survey, and fewer of them (10 percent) purchased a multifamily home compared to a year ago (15 percent).Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, says while Millennials may choose to live in an urban area as renters, the survey reveals that most aren’t staying once they’re ready to buy.

Check out Smart Asset: Where Are Millennials Buying Homes? – 2017 Edition for more details.

The issue for St. Petersburg is essentially this: The “downtown St. Pete renaissance” grew up with the Millennials and now that they are grown up (median age is in the 30s) will they like their forerunners the baby boomers' bolt for the suburbs?

It looks like the answer is yes.

According to Forbes (2015), the generation after Millennials is Generation Z, which they defined as people born from the mid1990s to the early 2000s, made up 25% of the U.S. population, making them a larger cohort than the Baby Boomers or Millennials.

So, will the next group follow in the Millennials footsteps and embrace the old urban core?

More importantly for St. Pete will Generation Z want craft beer, loud bars, sleazy looking out door cafes, gum laden sidewalks and dying landscaping that is represented in downtown St. Pete, or will they be looking for the newer, slicker more articulately planned and designed core like the Jeff Vinik development in downtown Tampa?

The Kriseman administration continues to emphasize the “precious Millennials” but the facts would tell us they are getting older and moving on and so should St. Pete.

Over four decades ago St. Pete woke up to find its downtown dead. It took a number of years for that to happen, but in today’s world, the Millennial migration could end up like more of an instant rapture.

It would only take one or two of the downtown “high tech” businesses deciding to head across the Bay to start a stampede.

One only has to look up at night in downtown St. Pete at all those dark windows in the tall buildings and in the not so tall ones to see that the seeds of disaster are already sown.

City Council and the Kriseman administration need to begin now working on a plan for Generation Z and the soon to be retiring first wave millennials.

Too early you say. We have time let’s leave that to the next mayor. That’s probably what they were saying in the mid 70s right before the bottom dropped out.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Will the Floating art sculpture survive state arts funding cuts?

As far as the arts in St. Pete are concerned there are a lot of better ways to spend public art funding.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.

At a recent City Council, meeting a couple of people made impassioned pleas for support of Janet Echelman’s proposed, “floating art structure” for the new Pier and Pier Park.

You can get more detail from the Tampa Bay Times, Waveney Ann Moore, What artist Janet Echelman’s Pier District sculpture would look like. And you can check out my recent post Flotsam Jetsam and Floating Art for a slightly different view.

There is not enough money in the “public art budget” for the Pier or the uplands project to cover the proposed cost of the floating bag of lights, and it looks like any help from the State is not going to be forthcoming. See Andrew Meacham Times Performing Arts Critic,  As Florida dramatically slashes arts funding, theaters and museums scramble.

As the art lovers of the city begin to gush over the proposed project “defining St. Petersburg for the world,” City Council may have some tough decisions to make.

The whole concept seems to me a bit out of touch with reality, and probably just another way for the artsy to force their view on the rest of us.

If the high rollers of the St. Pete art scene really want a large bag of lights floating out in front of the Vinoy, then maybe they should fund it, install it, maintain it, insure it and take responsibility for it.

Think keep it local!

Since local art and our arts community depend to a great degree on donations and reliable public support it seems a bit unseemly to ship all that money out of town.

It would also be nice to be able to point to a local artist or artists as the one who created the artwork that will frame the City’s downtown water front, rather than a sign hanging from the bottom of the floating light bag.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Sternberg’s Best Bet: Las Vegas

Cross Posted with permission from: Tampa Bay Beat

By Jim Bleyer 

After decades of being shaken down by sports franchises, their billionaire owners, and professional sports leagues, sensible cities are refusing to pay subsidies to keep or lure a professional sports team.
There is one exception: Las Vegas.  It appears to be the most likely destination for a Tampa Bay Rays franchise desperate to feed at some public trough.
Though much ballyhooed in the local media, a Rays move to Tampa, contingent on hundreds of millions in public subsidies, is highly unpopular on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum.  A public referendum would go down in flames.
Cobbling together an enormous subsidy from several revenue sources for owner Stu Sternberg would jeopardize Tampa’s financial rating and neglect important city services that need upgrading.
But Vegas gets tons of dough from gambling and other related sources. It has successfully lured a new hockey franchise and an established NFL team to relocate.
Sin City’s NHL franchise, the Golden Knights, is enjoying a banner inaugural season in both attendance and on the ice.  It became the first team in NHL history to start its first year winning eight of their first nine games.
The Golden Knights lead their division and rank third in the 16-team conference as the regular season winds down.  A combination of liberal expansion draft rules and shrewd front office transactions enabled the fledgling Knights to wow its fans and hockey aficianados in general.
Average attendance at the T-Mobile Arena is 17,892—103 percent of capacity. According to ESPN, Vegas is third in the NHL in overall arena capacity percentage.  The 14,000 season ticket holders can expect to kick up more jack next year.
The team’s mascot is a gila monster named Chance.  A relocated Rays team could accurately be represented by a desert rat named Sure Thing.
Hedge fund managers like Sternberg and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jeff Vinik share one characteristic: they make fortunes with other people’s money, often reeling in bigger bucks than their investors, or more appropriately, “customers.”
Grifter and Rays Owner Stu Sternberg
Other cities mentioned as landing spots for the Rays make little sense. Montreal, a city that failed to support the Expos and lost the team, is now governed by a mayor that ran on a platform of setting a high bar for any stadium subsidy.  Charlotte and Portland have younger populations that don’t put pro sports on their radar.  Cities in Mexico and Cuba would support professional baseball but they’re not viable in the present poinsonous political climate.
So the last city standing is Vegas, having drawn no line in the sand. It is willing and able to spend whatever it would take to land a professional baseball franchise.
The biggest hurdle for Sternberg: waiting too long.  Like St. Petersburg, the city of Oakland has been threatened by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred that it will lose the A’s without new facilities.
An Oakland move to Vegas makes more sense than Tampa Bay geographically but baseball has seamlessly realigned its divisions in the past.  Sternberg should act quickly.
The perennially shiftless NFL’s Oakland Raiders will begin play in Vegas in 2019 or 2020, depending on stadium availability.  The Raiders have fans thoughout California from San Francisco to San Diego and they travel well.  This move has “success” written all over it.
Like the Rays, the Raiders have an owner, Mark Davis, that will travel to where he can get the best deal.  Unlike the Rays, the Raiders have a storied history of success on the field and at the box office.
 This post is contributed by Tampa Bay Beat. The views and opinions expressed in this post are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Bay Post Internet or the publisher.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Noise calls located at 201 1st Avenue North in St. Pete's Downtown Core

St. Petersburg Fl
Public Opinion by author: Robert Neff

In 2017, Police responded to multiple noise calls located at 201 1st Avenue North in St. Petersburg's Downtown Core.  From February 28 to March 12, there were 6 noise calls. Another call was made from 215 Central Avenue, and in the officer's notes, the subject indicated the rooftop bar had just opened.

The Landing at Jannus Grand Opening was March 1, 2017.

There was one incident report issued. According to the Officer's Notes, 


Even though the Officer heard the music, there was no citation issued. The only citation to an individual at a business address was Park & Rec and that was the only two citations to a bar address in 2535 noise calls. St. Petersburg noise ordinance cites the individual at the business, and not the business.

On March 6, 2018, during the 3rd Noise Ordinance Public Meeting, The Landing at Jannus owner spoke and told the audience that he does not live downtown, because it's too noisy. At the City's February Public Services and Infrastructure Meeting, former Mayor Foster was recognized and introduced to as representing The Landing at Jannus.

In 2017, the address, 201 1st Ave N, generated 10 noise calls plus one officer assigned call to caller's address, 
215 Central Ave, referencing a rooftop bar that just opened. There are a total 153 calls, which include 11 noise.

The calls are for two addresses totaling 179 calls. Officers use 201 1st Av N and reference The Landing at Jannus in several reports in the article. According to The Landing at Jannus website, the business address is 200 1st Av N.    
  • TABLE 1: (153 Calls) Non-Noise calls for 201 1st Av N
  • TABLE 2: (26 Calls) Administrative calls for 200 1st Av N and 201 1st Av N
The Call For Service reports need to be reviewed to determine if any of the calls are not for the The Landing at Jannus. This is an example where Police data collection could be improved.

While Public records may provide a few records for free, there can be a charge.

It has been determined that the charge for the production of the records you have requested will exceed $20.00. The City is providing you with an itemized estimate of the anticipated charges: 3 Hours of labor to produce/review for redaction @ $19.00 per hour = $57.00
Estimated Total: $57.00
On March 29, I asked Mayor Kriseman to authorized the request to be provided at no cost. To date, there has been no response.

After reading the Officer's notes in the Call For Service Requests at the end of the article, put yourself in the resident's position. You have been disturbed by the noise for 14 days. Told the officer you called 5 times. You hear it. Officer was in your bedroom and heard it. The Police have asked the Landing to turn down the music. What is the resident thinking now? Why isn't the police doing anything to stop the music? Can I afford to move? Why isn't the police protecting me in my home? What would you do?

Here are the days and times of the calls.

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Sunday, April 8, 2018

Whining about the cost of school safety

St. Petersburg, Fl 
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD 
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.

First, there was the shooting at Marjory Douglas High School, then the call to action by the Douglas High victims and students, then the Legislature passed a school Safety Bill; the governor signed it.
Now all we hear is carping and complaining from sheriffs, police chiefs and mostly from school district superintendents about money and how they will pay for all of this.
The legislature provided some money, but that was redirected from school funding all the more to the ire of local school boards, superintendents and educational “leaders."
Let me tell you what I haven’t heard.
I have not heard of any plan from school systems to lower costs, to reduce administrative staff or overhead.
No attempts to push school planners for more efficient schedules for everything from transportation and maintenance to classes.
No plans to reduce expenses for sports, arts and other niche educational programs that serve a few provided by the school systems.
No, the school boards want to keep doing the same inefficient job and pad their funding by holding your kid’s safety hostage.
It seems they have all seized on this safety issue as an opportunity to go fishing for more funding.
If law enforcement from Sheriff to police departments needs to staff up to provide school security, funding should be forth coming immediately from the State, and there should be no reduction in overall policing to accomplish the school security task. All of this will take time to hire, train and equip deputies and police officers for the task.
The real question here is: are the law enforcement agencies going to provide school security as a public service or are the school systems going to “buy” this service from law enforcement?
From a dollars and sense perspective, it really does not matter since the money all comes from the same place, your taxes, regardless of who handles it.
I for one, would much rather the State fund law enforcement directly to provide the service to the schools and keep school boards and their administrator's fingers out of the money flow.
School Boards are notoriously poor in administering these types of agreements, and they will add several layers of bureaucracy, all at our expense, to oversee, manage and complicate the issue.
These school systems would like nothing better than a new large stream of cash flow that they can manage, massage, manipulate and hold back to keep law enforcement “in line."
The Legislature should step up and establish a per school resource officer level of funding for each county in the state and supply the funds to the local sheriff who sets the staffing levels and who can provide the service or contract with local police agencies.
Now it's all law enforcement all the time with no complications.
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