Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bills to Divert SunRail Funding Earmark Money to TBARTA and Adds New Bureaucracy

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

All state taxpayers were put on the hook to pay for SunRail's operating and maintenance costs for the first 7 years. Since SunRail ridership is so dismally low and farebox only covers 5% of its operating costs while state taxpayers are subsidizing 95%, thankfully the state funding of SunRail ends in 2021.

It's 2018 and the food fight over where those rail dollars will go has officially begun.

Bills filed this legislative session diverts $60 million of state rail monies beginning in 2021, grows government by creating another transportation bureaucracy and provides earmarks for TBARTA and Miami-Dade County.

The original sponsor of the House bill is Rep. Avila from Miami-Dade but the champion sponsors of both bills in the State House and Senate are from Tampa Bay - Rep. Jamie Grant and Sen. Dana Young. However, no one seems to know the genesis of the original bill.

The bills are HB535 and SB1200. They earmark $25 million to Miami Dade County and $25 million to TBARTA  if there is a one for one local or private match - not including any federal funds. The earmarks have no sunset or end date so they must go into perpetuity.

HB535/SB1200 earmarks $25 million
of state funding for TBARTA  
TBARTA was unnecessary when it was created in 2007 as a regional transportation authority. TBARTA is more unnecessary as another transit authority paid for on the backs of taxpayers. TBARTA was repurposed to a transit authority last year when transit ridership has been decreasing in Tampa Bay and nationwide, record auto sales is occurring as more people are buying cars and traditional transit is being disrupted. And taxpayers are already paying for their local transit agency.

The Eye had numerous posts about the unscrupulous politics last year used by special interests and then powerful Sen. Jack Latvala to ram the TBARTA bill thru. Latvala resigned in December last year amid allegations of sexual harassment and the recommendation that a criminal investigation be conducted regarding the abusive use of his power. Perhaps that TBARTA bill forcing another transit agency on taxpayers should be reconsidered - not funded.

HB535/SB1200 grows government by creating a new transportation bureaucracy, Alternative Transportation Authority, within FDOT. FDOT already includes their 7 Districts, the Turnpike enterprise, Transportation for the Disadvantaged and the Florida Rail Enterprise.

FDOT Org Chart w/new authority
(Click to enlarge)

"Alternative transportation systems" in the bills is defined as:

For purposes of this section, the term “alternative transportation system” means a system of infrastructure, appurtenances, and technology designed to move the greatest number of people in the least amount of time. The term includes, but is not limited to, autonomous vehicles as defined in s. 316.003 and transportation network companies as defined in s 627.748. The term does not include other traditional uses of a roadway system for conveyance.
Missing is cost-effectiveness, congestion relief, ability to more efficiently use our existing infrastructure or provide the ability to reduce travel times for the most amount of people. AV vehicles will use roadways like traditional vehicles today so the last sentence of the definition is not clear.

What is good in the bills is they repeal Subsection 5 of Statute 341.303 that funded rail projects out of the Florida Rail Enterprise. The Florida Rail Enterprise was established in 2009 when the Obama Admin was doling out the HSR debt dollars that Governor Scott thankfully rejected. (Actually voters/taxpayers rejected the bullet train in 2004.)

Over and over again we find that once bureaucracies are created, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. HSR was rejected but the bureaucracy remains. Bureaucracies need sunset dates!

Unfortunately, these bills do not eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise but re-divert money from it that has been paying for SunRail since 2014. The local municipalities in Central Florida, who still have no dedicated long term funding source for SunRail, must begin picking up their own tab beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022.

So the food fight over what is being called "found" money has begun. It's not really "found" money because everyone knew the state funding of SunRail thankfully had a sunset date.

Beginning in fiscal year 2021-2022 when the state stops paying to operate SunRail, these bills change where the funds for the Transportation Regional Incentive Program, TRIP, (who knew…) are allocated. $60 million of Florida Rail Enterprise money will be diverted earmarked as follows: $25 million dollars on a matching basis to TBARTA, $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million that can be allocated throughout the state based on county requests.

Was TBARTA or FDOT consulted? One would assume the entities specifically impacted would have been. When we inquired to both FDOT and TBARTA, we were told they had not been engaged and did not know about the bills until they were filed.

The only funding TBARTA requested this legislative session is a million dollars to create their Transit Development Plan as required by the State legislature. HB2451 was submitted by Rep. Joe Gruters for that specific appropriation this year.

Eligibility to receive TRIP funds requires partners that form a regional transportation area and requires those partners meet certain criteria to be eligible to receive those funds. Does the TRIP criteria still apply to the $60 million diverted from SunRail? If so, how can $25 million be earmarked to Miami-Dade or any funds go to a single county?

Bills HB535/SB1200, as currently written, are flawed. They create more bureaucracy, lack an end or sunset date, appear to duplicate some of what is already in place and have accountability issues.

The nebulous term “Alternative” should not be used in the title of any transportation authority. If the intention is for innovation, then use such terminology as innovative, new technology, advanced technology, etc.

The Florida Rail Enterprise should be eliminated, not just re-divert its funding. Eliminate Statute sections 341.303(5) & (6). This entity appears to either be very inactive and/or not very transparent. There is no federal/state money for HSR, BrightLine HSR is a private enterprise and SunRail has its own Board of Directors.

Let's get rid of an unnecessary bureaucracy if a new one will be created. Novel idea!

The bills duplicate some of what is already in place today in Florida. FDOT already has staff working on innovative transportation solutions. FDOT and Turnpike are partners of SunTrax:

We already have Florida Statute 341.501 High-technology transportation systems; joint project agreement or assistance. That statute provides funding via FS 339.135 by FDOT for high tech transportation projects meeting specific criteria, including it must be implemented within 5 years and it is in the transportation improvement program of any MPO that is within the boundaries of where the project is located. 

Why aren't innovative transportation projects being funded via what has already been put in place?

We need efficiencies in government not duplication that causes wasteful spending, confusion and convoluted processes. The path of least resistance in government is to add something new, regardless of what is already in place.

The $60 million being diverted with these bills needs disciplined accountability, clear concise criteria for its use that can be measured, and have a sunset date. No state funding should be earmarked into perpetuity. 

State transportation grants must go thru a competitive process and awarded on merit not be earmarked. The monies awarded should not be used to leverage debt or be used to bail out any local or regional transportation/transit authority. All monies distributed must be used for project design and construction only and prohibited from being used for public outreach, advocacy, education or electioneering.
The $60 million being diverted from rail comes from Statewide Documentary Stamps Tax revenue. The estimated future doc stamp revenues can be found here. It is a big pot of money that funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund - the Florida Forever Amendment 1 passed by voters in 2014.

The top third of State Documentary Stamp revenues is lopped off for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (Florida Forever). The balance, currently over a half billion dollars, goes to the State Treasury with $75 million to the General Fund and the remaining $470 million to the State Transportation Trust Fund.

The State Transportation Trust Fund funds the TRIP program and Bills HB535/SB1200 will divert $60 million of TRIP funds to earmark $25 million to TBARTA, earmark $25 million to Miami-Dade County and $10 million available to any county in the state for supposedly innovative transportation projects.

TBARTA has no plan, very little staff, and they have not even created their transit development plan. They currently have no staff or skills to operate any major transit system. The $25 million earmarked to TBARTA cannot be used for the recently proposed regional Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project proposed by Jacobs Engineering because it is not innovative or uses new technology.

Earmarking state funding for TBARTA beginning in 2021-2022 today is the cart before the horse and into perpetuity is appalling.

Eliminating the rail funding is good. But if the state legislature wants to create a new transportation bureaucracy, the hatches must be tightened down. If the state wants to divert rail dollars to innovative transportation, that should include all forms of innovative transportation not just transit.

These bills are flawed and the earmarks must be eliminated. Just because the SunRail earmark expires in 2021 does not mean those funds should simply get earmarked elsewhere and with no end date.

What about considering getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracies and returning some of our hard earned money back to us?

Let's see bills to repeal TBARTA, eliminate the Florida Rail Enterprise and reduce the state Doc Stamp rate!
This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.
Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Sunday, February 25, 2018

St. Petersburg’s Noise Ordinance needs business-like benchmarks to remove politics, sentiment

City leaders do not understand noise's impact to resident’s health.

As St. Pete City Council Considers changes to the City's Noise Ordinance  Here is an informing Post from May 2017

St. Petersburg Fl  
Public Opinion by author: Robert Neff

Benchmarks enable the City to make effective decisions based on data analysis in real-time, thereby removing sentiment, political influence, and unsubstantiated claims of benefit and value.

The City's approach to revising the noise ordinance has been reactive, and subjective. From 2009-2016, there were 27,638 noise calls and no citations for businesses. How could the city not know this? By not relying on data benchmarks, our city leaders have wasted resident's tax dollars.

Up until 2016, business were winning the noise ordinance revision tug of war, enjoying the support of a pro-business Mayor Kriseman and majority on City Council, though some in Council Members support the residents. However, our city leaders do not understand noise's impact to resident’s health. There are dispatch audio calls where residents describe their walls vibrating, can't sleep or are subjected to constant thumping inside their home. Residents cannot escape. The stress could be avoided, but city leaders do not understand the health impact noise can cause. Without business-like benchmarks, there has not been a clear understanding of the noise issue.

Benchmarks are based on data the city has readily available, Unfortunately, City leadership has not used this data. Instead, in the absence of benchmarks, City leadership has convinced the residents and themselves the noise issue is downtown.

I conducted a data analysis on the police call logs from 2009-2016. This revealed the noise issue was not downtown, but citywide. The #1 and #2 businesses for noise calls are in the Skyway Marina District and Bartlett Park Neighborhood area, and they are Flamingo Resort and Hollywood Nights South, respectively. The downtown bars are in the middle third.  

Figure 1. Noise calls for 2016 Businesses addresses with greater than 6 noise calls
Note 1: At 1049 Central Ave, Amsterdam beer and wine bar closed 6/07/16. Independent opened there on 10/1.
Note 2: Push Ultra Lounge closed March 2017.

Benchmarks allow the city, police, neighborhoods and resident to monitor the noise ordinance's success or failure. Benchmarks provide data in real-time allowing adjustments to be made to ensure residents’ taxes are no longer wasted on revisions that have failed before the ink has dried!

St. Petersburg residents are here for the quality of life, such as, restaurants, entertainment, museums and nightlife. Meanwhile, some businesses want to expand their revenue at the expense of resident's health. As the city grows, this battle will be get worse because the city leaders are not focused on managing the growth. St. Petersburg has become pro-business, sacrificing its quality of life. 

Meanwhile, the City's pro-growth faction consists of residents, businesses and politicians. They have very little consideration, if any, towards those who are on the front-line suffering from the noise. Residents are being thrown under the bus. Residents are being sacrifice for the "Greater good of the city's revenue". However, the pro-growth faction is not getting pummeled by the noise and think the residents on the front-line are expendable. Nothing says community spirit more than being told to move or upgrade your windows!

The mayor and City Council members do not live near a business or address with repeat noise issue, but their constituents do. This is an election issue and the residents need to ask where their city leaders stand on the noise issue.  You can email your question to Mayor Kriseman and your City Council member.  

Here is a look at a few of the benchmarks the city could use.

Comparison Benchmark

A comparison benchmark would compare how a businesses’ total calls and noise nuisance calls rank. The data shows the Flamingo Resort and Hollywood Nights are #1 and #2 for noise, and #2 and #1 for total calls, respectively. None of the downtown bars are in the Top 3rd for total calls. However, residents at near several bars, such as Caddy's, Fusion, Tryst and Ultra may have been assigned business' noise calls.

Figure 2. 2016 Comparison of incident and noise calls for businesses addresses with greater than 6 noise calls

This benchmark demonstrates how no citations for repeat callers has caused the police to continually respond to calls. If the new noise ordinance were to have an enforceable deterrent, such as, fines for repeat calls greater than three calls, then these calls could be eliminated, police would have allocated those resources to other hotspots, and not wasted residents' taxes. This benchmark would have silenced the pro-business council members and written an enforceable noise ordinance that did not waste residents' taxes.  

The dispute between the Tryst and residents led to the noise ordinance revision in 2016. However, Tryst is in the bottom 3rd. Appears the City unfairly targeted Tyrst because they did not use the data they own.   

With the absence of benchmarks, negative resident sentiment, bar owner resistance, and pro-growth sabre-rattling are the only data points that seem to have been used to revise the noise ordinance. Here, benchmarks would have readily identified bars that have high repeat calls. 

Reviewing the data, I found calls were under reported. Officers may assign the noise call to a residence or an intersection, instead of the business. Police dispatch has discretion to roll-up calls from one or more callers. While I was able to focus on a few businesses, to fully understand the calls, any benchmark must included these calls. 

This effort requires the Call For Service Records and audio calls to be reviewed. When calls are assigned to other residences, the Call For Service Reports should be reviewed to determine the location. In addition, the audio of the call to police dispatch can identify how the noise is impacting the health of the resident.    

Ratio of Non-Noise to Noise Calls Benchmark

The Ratio of Non-Noise calls to Noise Calls is a benchmark that will identify business where calls may have been assigned to residences. A high ratio may identify other issues. 

Figure 3. 2016 Ratio of non-noise to noise calls for businesses addresses with greater than 6 noise calls

Top Incident Category Benchmark

Top incident categories is a benchmark the City can use to determine the percentage of calls for each category for both all businesses with repeat calls. I have identified 11 distinct categories to determine total calls and the category’s percentage. This is useful for police, neighborhoods and residents to determine how a business is impacting the quality of life. This also permits police to address issues and reduce an upward trend. If needed, police can re-allocate  resources on a temporary basis to address the issue.

This is the high level view of the percentages for each categories.
   16% — CONDUCT
   10%  — VEHICLE
     9% — OFFICER MISC
     6% — THEFT / FRAUD
     4%  — DRUGS / MENTAL

Figure 4. 2016 Incidents Categories for business addresses with greater than 6 noise calls with a Ranking of 1-5

List of Incidents Benchmark

The list of incidents is a benchmark that details the incident type and number of instances each occurred. Repeat noise nuisance calls consistently rank in the top three positions for 11 of the 13 businesses.

Figure 5. 2016 List of incidents for each business with addresses with greater than 6 noise calls 

The noise calls seem high for Fusion 1560, an apartment building next to Ferg's and across from the police headquarters. Ferg’s Sports Bar only has one noise call. Therefore, I suspect some of the calls at Fusion 1560 may actually belong to Ferg’s. Comparison of the calls for Fusion 1560 and Ferg's Sports Bar deserves further review using the Call For Service reports and audio calls to police dispatch. Fusion 1560 has a bar located on the ground floor, but this has closed doors.

Fusion 1560 has an extraordinary number of private tows at 140. A review of the Call For Service Reports would provide insight into how many calls were for Ferg’s and event pedestrian and car traffic from Tropicana Field, where the Tampa Bay Ray's play baseball and events are hosted.

Data Analysis Notes  

Note 1: Recommend political contributions be analyzed to determine if business have sought to exert influence through donations. Analysis would reveal any trends or potential conflicts. 
Note 2: Flamingo is noise-related verses only noise nuisance, where noise-related includes noise nuisance, ordinance violation, and loud party. The surrounding residential area was reviewed. Call For Service Reports verified calls were assigned to the residents. These were included in the Flamingo Resort's numbers. 
Note 3. The city has the data readily available. The police call logs are available in a data base. All data, reports and audio records were obtained through Public Records Requests.    
Note 4. There were 425 unique nature of incident codes used. The number of unique codes is not a predictive factor for the number of noise calls.

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

Friday, February 23, 2018

Politicians are a sorry-ass lot

I for one took the anti NRA pledge Wednesday night. If you took money from the NRA, you will not get my vote.

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

Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Independents it does not matter, politicians are not fit to run this Country, this State or any City or School board.
How many kids have to die at the hands of some senseless fool before these bastions of all things political realize we as a people we have left it up to them to do something.
Mealy mouthed, self-serving, self-absorbed, the only thing that gives them meaning is the little bit of “special” that being elected to some office provides.
I am far from a CNN fan, but Wednesdays CNN Town-Hall meeting was riveting television news at its very best.
Even Jake Tapper who is usually completely full of himself tried to stay out of the fray and let those who came to speak have the platform.
Check out this article in the New Yorker by Evan Onos CNN’s Town Hall on Guns and the Unmaking of Marco Rubio.
I have never been a fan of Marco Rubio; I never voted for him, and I never will. Wednesday’s Town Hall showed Rubio for the two faced chameleon he really is.
My disdain for Rubio goes all the way back to April of 2010, and my post Republicans Should Be Cautious and in July 2016 Rubio – Why would Florida send Rubio back to the US Senate?
When Cameron Kaskey one of the #NerverAgainmovement leaders asked Rubio, “Would you refuse to accept donations from the National Rifle Association in the future?”
I held my breath as here was the moment for Rubio to completely define himself. After an uncomfortable pause, Rubio slithered up to the NRA and said, “people buy into my agenda, and I do support the Second Amendment.” He added, “I will always accept the help of anyone who agrees with my agenda”
I was setting on the edge of the couch pounding on the footstool. My two dogs scurried from the room. The day before Florida House Republicans voted down House Bill 219, which would ban the sale and possession of semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity  magazines.  See the Tampa Bay Times article by Elizabeth Koh and Steve Bousquet: Florida House rejects considering ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines
I have never been more ashamed to be a Republican.
Read Evan Onos coverage.
If the young people from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cannot count on a “younger Senator” from their state who can they count on? Certainly not the Republicans in the state legislature who just a few hours earlier voted down an assault weapons ban.
I do not think any of this will change anything, at least not now.
The Marco Rubios of politics, and there are a lot of them, will swill the NRA booze and lap up their money and little or nothing will get done.
But make no mistake. We are raising a generation of children who will quickly become voting-age adults who have seen what the barrel end of the gun looks like and what it can do.
It will take years for them to get educated and experienced enough to run for office, and by the time they do the body count of innocent victims created by the hands of Rubio his elected partners, and his cohorts at the NRA will be large enough to ensure there will be a change.
Let’s hope the upcoming mid-term elections will see the beginning of a change from NRA domination to common sense legislation.
I for one took the anti NRA pledge Wednesday night. If you took money from the NRA, you will not get my vote.
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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Baseball take two – It’s Tampa’s turn

The money is important but is the long-term support there?

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

The quest for money and support to build Tampa’s new baseball stadium has begun.
Obviously, money is needed to build the $700 to $800 million stadium, but equally important is a significant out pouring of support for from the business community.
The battle to build a baseball stadium in Tampa has gone on for over a generation.
Check out this article from the May 1985  Los Angeles Times: Battle Rages On for Baseball in Tampa, St. Pete.
Here are some quotes:
Former New York Yankees president Cedric Tallis, the executive director of the Tampa Bay Baseball Group, calls downtown St. Petersburg "not the best area, you might say."
"We do have to get our act together," says Cecil Englebert, chairman of the Pinellas Sports Authority. "We have been told by baseball that a bridge, stream or a lake does not separate a marketplace."

But Englebert shares the prevailing view of those working for a team here: this is such a good market, baseball cannot afford to turn its back simply because the two sides cannot agree on which side of Tampa Bay a team belongs.

March 1986 Los Angeles Times article by Bill Shirley Staff Writer: Tampa and St. Petersburg Are Ready for Baseball When the Sport Expands

Here are some quotes:
Tampa is ready to build a $60- to $70-million domed stadium with private funds, Tallis said, but it would be a multi-purpose facility. Nevertheless, Tallis is confident this area will get a franchise. "It is a question of time," he said. "We think we're No. 1."

Expansion talk has virtually stopped in St. Petersburg, too, said Hubert Mizell, sports editor of the St. Petersburg Times. "It has gone into limbo because of the lack of encouragement from baseball. People got tired of waiting

It is this support that gets major league baseball comfortable that the franchise can be a success.
Fast forward a decade to January 22, 1995 and an article from the Washington Post by Mark Maske: PHOENIX, TAMPA-ST. PETE LOOK LIKE LOCKS.
And then in 1998 The Rays played their first game at Tropicana Field. For a lot of Rays history check out this site: Today in 1998, the Rays played their first game in franchise history
Taking a look at a recent Tampa Bay Times article from February 2018 by Charlie Frago: On deck in Rays ballpark quest: Tampa Bay’s business community it does not look like a lot has changed other than the names and faces of the innocent and the guilty.
Back in the beginning, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig did not think this was a baseball market, and a big part of the reason was the very lack of support that the Tampa group is trying to muster up. Baseball is a sport and a business of records, facts and statistics and the statistics have proven Bud Selig right.
Will things be any different in Tampa? Hard to say, but a key to the answer to that question will be whether the current baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred looks over the Tampa effort and gives it his blessing or another curse as Selig did.
For now, Tampa and the local baseball elite are charging down a familiar road of trying to buttonhole the big-business players and not so big-business players in the Tampa and Hillsborough community into commitments that will make the move to Tampa look viable from a ticket sales perspective and underwrite the new stadium.
Careful as you commit fellows and gals. We have heard all these songs before.
I was on the team that built the dome. I was on standby to go to Los Angeles when the Giants deal fell through, and I have sat in our 43,000 seat stadium with 3000 other people to watch a game.
After all that money, and all that work, all those sleepless nights, all the worry; all the hope and all the prayers the words of Bud Selig still ring in my ears – “this is just not a major-league baseball market.”
Have things changed? I certainly hope so.
It’s Tampa’s turn to bet the farm; to jump through all the MLB hoops; to promise and commit; to get caught up in the moment.
If you build it will they come and keep coming?
There is only one way to find out.
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Sunday, February 18, 2018

St. Pete – noise or dollars which will it be?

Is Downtown St. Pete really fueled by draft beer and loud noise?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.
The City of St. Petersburg has been wrestling for years with the problem of noise. The arguments, mostly centered around the downtown area, have grown more strident as downtown St. Pete morphed from a simple “downtown” to a craft beer powered juke box.
The assault on any attempt to control or limit noise and the proposed St. Pete Noise ordinance is no exception see Fox News Dan Matics: Proposed noise rule frustrates St. Pete bar owners.

The argument from the bar and brewery owners is the loud music is what attracts the ever precious millennials through the door. Is that really true?

Do the millennials that these bar owners tout really like loud music?

Well, according to Bernadette Hasson writing for NightClub&BAR which bills itself as “The Bar Industry Authority” says, “In an anonymous survey, millennial's listed the following reasons for not going to nightclubs: cover charges, expensive drinks, long lines to get in, long waits for drinks, too-loud music, pretension, rude staff, crowds, getting jostled, meat-market atmosphere, inability to have a conversation."

With massive speakers pointed at the street, and the volume cranked up it is more like a circus midway than a city street. The objective is to get your attention, and nothing about setting a mood. 

Try having a conversation in one of these places.

Then there is the impact on the surrounding businesses and residents and that is what this noise ordinance is all about.

An area like downtown St. Pete is all about quality of live and brew pubs, and bars are just one small part of the quality of life. These businesses would have you think the entire downtown will fold without a mass impact of a loud bass.

Just not so.

There some indication that a little softer on the music just might be better for business.

For now, we need to watch the Kriseman administration and City Council as they balance the sanity of those who live down town, and in other areas of the City plagued by noisy night spots with the claims of those who deliberately make the noise.

The next public meeting on the noise ordinance is scheduled for:

E-mail Doc at mail to: or send me a Facebook (E. Eugene Webb) Friend request. Like or share on Facebook and follow me on TWITTER  @DOC ON THE BAY.
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Friday, February 16, 2018

San Diego Didn’t Fall for Shady Stadium Deal; Will Tampa?

Tampa, Fl
Posted From: Tampa Bay Beat
Author: Jim Bleyer

Rendering of stadium/convention center combo rejected by San Diego voters
By Jim Bleyer
Fifteen months ago the people and politicians of a major American city stood up to protect their region’s economic health and integrity by rejecting a shakedown from a billionaire owner of a big-league sports franchise.
But the citizens of San Diego had three major advantages over their counterparts in Hillsborough County where special interests are intent on bilking taxpayers to build a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
—Public funding of a new stadium for the NFL Chargers was put to a referendum with passage requiring a 67 percent supermajority;
—The political will existed to push back against a blackmailing bully, in this case Dean Spanos, scion of real estate magnate Alex Spanos;
—Access to accurate, complete information from the San Diego Union-Tribune which reported all facets of the issue.
San Diegans killed public financing, 57-43 percent, not even a majority let alone the required threshold.  The ballot measure asked voters whether they wanted to increase the city’s hotel room tax rate from 12.5% to 16.5%, with the proceeds to fund a new $1.8 billion stadium and convention center. The tax increase was to repay $1.15 billion in bonds, leaving the Chargers and NFL to pay the remaining $650 million.
What’s happened since the ballot defeat?  The Chargers moved to a temporary facility in Costa Mesa playing the 2017 season to a fraction of the audience they drew in San Diego.  Half the fans rooted for the opposition.  The Rays are used to that; the Chargers weren’t.  When the Chargers move to a larger, modern stadium in Inglewood for the 2020 season, the facility will be shared with the Los Angeles Rams.
Meanwhile, life goes on without the Chargers in San Diego.  Most citizens are bitter at the Spanos family; a tiny minority actually trek to Charger games.  The city is still a hotspot for high-tech innovation, an incubator for Broadway-bound theatre, home of the historic Gaslamp Quarter, culturally diverse and harmonic, an attractive beach and surfing destination and much more.
Despite offering a specific plan that had adequate access, didn’t destroy neighborhoods, and meshed with a convention center, San Diegans saw through the bamboozle of transferring wealth to a billionaire and shot down the proposal by a healthy margin.
The stadium scheme in Tampa has nothing to recommend it.  A new playpen doesn’t guarantee Rays owner Stuart Sternberg will spend more than a pittance on payroll, reduce the abominable number of food safety violations,  or ditch players coming into their prime to cut costs.  It does guarantee to increase the value of the Rays franchise by a half billion. That’s the name of the game.
Look at the above rendering.  The combo stadium-convention center in San Diego blends with the neighborhood and has adequate access.  The proposed Rays stadium in Ybor City (below) is shoehorned into a unique, celebrated district.  Access and parking are difficult if not laughable.
San Diego also had one definitive financing source; Tampa’s revenue origins are uncertain as special interests and their toady politicians are scrambling to cobble together a taxpayer-funded sports subsidy.
As for the plan, San Diego actually had a specific one.  The Union-Tribune ran factual balanced accounts about the stadium campaign, its pros and cons.  Hillsborough County residents, the few who subscribe anyway, are not as fortunate with the Tampa Bay Times publishing slanted articles and omitting important facts.
The Times is rolling over for Sternberg, real estate interests, and the investors who temporarily bailed it out of bankruptcy.
Politicians love hotel taxes because this levy is the embodiment of taxation without representation.  Prancers to the pork barrel polka, such as Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan,  look for any means to leverage tax dollars to fund their “legacy.”  They abhor referendums that allow the public to interfere with their gifts to special interests.   They would find a super majority requirement lethal to their indulgences.
Taxpayers in other cities that paid for stadiums often discover they are still on the hook long after the team departed. In New York when the Giants bolted the Big Apple for New Jersey, taxpayers were still paying off $110 million in debt on the old stadium. St. Louis lost the Rams, but they didn’t lose $144 million in stadium debt the team bequeathed.
Philip K. Porter, Professor of Economics at the University of South Florida, terms sports subsidies as a “transfer of wealth” and competition for funding with more needed municipal services regardless of the revenue source.
Of the 38 metropolitan areas with at least one major professional sports team, Tampa ranks fourth in per capita subsidy, according to Porter.  That number will only increase if the Ybor City boondoggle comes to fruition.
His report, “Public Subsidies and the Location and Pricing of Sports,” can be found here.
According to Michael Leeds, an economist at Temple University, “If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent. A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.”
Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, is dubious of the economic hype surrounding professional sports facilities.
“A good rule of thumb that economists use is to take what stadium boosters are telling you and move that one decimal place to the left, and that’s usually a good estimate of what you’re going to get,” Matheson says.
Economists say the biggest reason sports teams don’t have much impact is that they don’t ignite new spending. Most people have a limited entertainment budget, so the dollars they shell out for a game is money they would have spent elsewhere such as a restaurant or small businesses where more money would have stayed in the community.  Matheson added that instead of drawing people to a neighborhood, games can actually repel them.
That certainly applies to Ybor, one of America’s most storied, culturally significant and eclectic neighborhoods.  And how much of the money that absentee owner Sternberg rakes in from his revenue sharing/cheapskate payroll template do you think remains in the Bay area?
When politicians like Hagan and Buckhorn go directly to “how should we fund the stadium” omitting all the intermediate steps and any taxpayer comment let alone vote, they’ve already lubed the public to assume the position that shoveling tax bucks toward a sports facility should be the correct priority. It eliminates discussion of uplifting economically depressed neighborhoods, educating and assisting disenfranchised youth, properly training and retraining law enforcement officers, and addressing infrastructure needs.
Buckhorn and Hagan, abetted in their misinformation campaign by the Tampa Bay Times, obsess with burnishing their legacies, however fleeting, and rewarding their real estate cronies plus Sternberg with hundreds of millions.
Tampa residents are victims of this squeeze play.  
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