On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert
Transit ridership was always anemic in Tampa Bay where 2% or less rode transit. The pandemic has devastated transit ridership across the country and reduced ridership even more in Tampa Bay. No one who can avoid it wants to ride a bus or a train with strangers.
Transit ridership may be gone forever as the pandemic is causing paradigm shifts in numerous areas including transportation and telecommuting that may hasten urban decentralization. More people telecommuting reduces the need for more costly transit.
More telecommuting, online retail activity and virtual entertainment is making the dense development model around transit stations aka transit oriented development (TOD) irrelevant. The stack and pack TOD development is the model the Anti-Car Brigade keep trying to force on us with their efforts to get us out of our individual vehicles.
Below are four county commission candidates who are members of the Tampa Bay Anti-Car Brigade on the November ballot. All four are Democrats endorsed by another member of the Tampa Bay Anti-Car Brigade - the Tampa Bay Times.
Hillsborough County commissioner Pat Kemp
Kemp is a leader of the Tampa Bay Anti-Car Brigade in Hillsborough County and running again for her countywide District 6 seat. She is an activist commissioner who has served in leadership roles for many years with the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay who want to eliminate fossil fuels (stay tuned). Kemp currently is a member of the Sierra Club of Tampa Bay's Executive Committee. The Sierra Club supports AOC's Green New Deal to eliminate fossil fuels that would devastate our economy and cost $93 TRILLION.
Kemp resides in Seminole Heights in Tampa and has been an active supporter of the Seminole Heights focused StopTBX and Sunshine Citizens urbanist groups who want to tear down 10 miles of I-275 from downtown Tampa to Bearss Avenue. That transportation corridor is an important evacuation route for Tampa Bay. The interstate is a strategic transportation asset of Florida that hundreds of thousands of commuters, businesses, tourists, USF students, patients at Moffitt, the VA or the Byrd Alzheimer Institute and trucks use everyday.
Kemp and the Tampa centric urbanists wants to replace the elevated interstate with a costly street level rail boulevard that would create congestion chaos in Hillsborough County. Kemp supports street level rail including buying the CSX lines for another commuter rail line like the costly, accident prone (many with fatalities) SunRail. All the street level rail crossings would cause congestion havoc and be extremely dangerous.
Kemp has repeatedly voted against planned and proposed Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) improvements to the dangerous malfunction junction and adding needed capacity to I-275 north of downtown. Kemp supported the legally challenged All for Transportation (AFT) transit tax in 2018. She is a lawyer who has tooted her "I am a lawyer" numerous times while discussing county issues on the dais. As a lawyer, she should have known that the AFT transit tax charter amendment language had potential legal issues as all it took was reading Florida State Statute 212.055 to understand that. After a lower Court judge threw out all the AFT unlawful regulations and spending appropriations, we await the Florida Supreme Court ruling whether the AFT tax is thrown out in its entirety or not.
Hillsborough County voters deserve an answer for why Kemp, a lawyer, supported an unlawful transit tax referendum. If the transit tax is thrown out, Kemp will immediately begin an effort to put another massive transit tax on the 2022 ballot. If the transit tax is kept in place, Kemp wants to spend those Billions on rail projects in the city of Tampa that will be paid for by taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough. Kemp does not want to use any of the AFT billions on much needed new road capacity in Hillsborough County - for 30 long years.
When the pandemic hit earlier this year as many began suffering and losing their jobs, transit activist commissioners Kemp, Smith and Overman, with pressure from the Sierra Club, unsuccessfully pursued putting another 30 year 1% AFT 2.0 transit tax on the November ballot as a "backup" plan if the Court threw out AFT 1.0 tax. Kemp, Smith and Overman, incompassionately, tried to exploit a time of crisis when the public was totally focused on the coronavirus pandemic to put another $16 Billion sales tax referendum on the ballot.
Kemp sits on the Board of the local transit agency HART that is financially reeling from low ridership and internal scandals. At the same time Kemp advocates for tearing down I-275 from downtown to Bearss Avenue, HART is considering using road diets for more transit along Florida and Nebraska Avenues that run parallel to the interstate and Fowler Avenue. The HART Board has become dysfunctional as the vast majority of its members reside in Tampa but the vast majority of HART's tax revenues come from residents in unincorporated Hillsborough. With HART in fiscal distress, Kemp still wants to use billions of taxpayer dollars for transit few will ever use - ironically including her. In 2017 when the Tampa Bay Times asked HART Board members if they ride the bus, this was Kemp's response:
I would like to ride transit more if I wasn't so busy working on the transit issue. ... It's not very amenable to my kind of schedule. I'm not an 8-to-5 in one place type of person.
Kemp also sits on the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) desperately in need of new leadership, new staff and a new Board. This transportation planning organization has failed to plan and fund new road capacity needed for 38 new schools planned in Hillsborough County. A Hillsborough County School Board member was added to the MPO in 2015 but that person was ignored. Instead of focusing on needed road improvements in Hillsborough County, Kemp and the dysfunctional Hillsborough MPO have spent their time pushing costly trains and transit.
Hillsborough County Commission candidate Harry Cohen
Cohen is running for the District 1 commission seat currently held by Sandy Murman who is term limited in that seat. District 1 runs along the western edge of Hillsborough County from the southern border of Apollo Beach through S. Tampa and Westchase up to the northern border of Odessa.
Cohen lives in S. Tampa and is a former Tampa City councilman (2011-2019) who unsuccessfully ran for Tampa Mayor last year. Cohen also sat on the dysfunctional Hillsborough MPO as the MPO irrationally focused on pushing rail and transit rather than the much needed road improvements - including those for planned new schools. Cohen is a lawyer in private practice who also is General Counsel to Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court. The Clerk of the Court is a defendant in the AFT transit tax lawsuit so Cohen has been directly involved with the lawsuit.
Cohen, a transit advocate, supported the AFT transit tax and is on record stating this year he would have voted - in the middle of a pandemic - to put the AFT 2.0 transit tax on the November ballot. As a lawyer, Cohen should also have known that the AFT transit tax charter amendment included unlawful language. Cohen supports rail boondoggles including expanding the bankrupted Tampa Streetcar, buying the CSX tracks for another failed SunRail and the outdated TOD development model. WUSF reported last year when Cohen was running for Tampa mayor his expensive transportation vision included buying the CSX tracks for passenger rail all over the city of Tampa, massive extensions of the Tampa streetcar, greatly expanding bus service in Tampa and encouraging the outdated transit-oriented development so that housing, jobs, and retail shops are closer to transit stops.
While Cohen is not rabid about tearing down I-275 like Kemp, Cohen publicly stated before the 2020 Primary he was "leery" of widening I-275 and then added “We must reduce congestion by getting single occupancy vehicles off the road."
Voters in District 1, especially those outside of S. Tampa, should take note of Cohen's urbanist attitude and support for massive sales tax hikes for costly trains and transit when transit ridership continues tanking. Taxpayers and residents across Hillsborough county may be better served by having more members on the county commission who understand how to run a business and have more practical experience than adding more lawyers to the commission. Small businessman Scott Levinson is running against Cohen.
Kemp and Cohen are lawyers, who in 2018 either intentionally or ignorantly, refused to acknowledge the AFT transit tax charter amendment included unlawful language. Defeating Kemp and Cohen on November 3rd will provide Hillsborough County taxpayers, residents and businesses a fighting chance to stop another AFT rail/transit tax 2.0 being on the ballot if the Florida Supreme Court throws out AFT 1.0, will help force new road capacity funding if the AFT tax is allowed to stand and help stop the Anti-Car Brigade agenda in Hillsborough County.
Pinellas County commissioner Janet Long
Long is the leader of the Anti-Car Brigade in Pinellas County. Long is running again for her at-large seat in District 1. She believes it is the role of government to force us out of the safety and security of our individual vehicles. Long sits on the Board of the local transit agency PSTA that is also financially reeling from disastrously low transit ridership. PSTA has been financially mismanaged for years but Long wants to hand more taxpayer dollars to a transit agency going insolvent. PSTA was caught illegally using federal transit security funds on advertising for their failed 2014 Greenlight Pinellas rail tax.
Long supported the rail tax boondoggle and PSTA's CEO Brad Miller has never been held accountable for his illegal actions. Instead Long keeps giving Miller pay raises that will be baked in every year even as PSTA's financial position continues declining. Long has been the chief cheerleader and champion pushing PSTA's costly Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (CABRT), newly named the "SunRunner, that few will ever ride. Two of the three municipalities along its route, St. Pete Beach and S. Pasadena, passed formal Resolutions last year opposing the CABRT project. Road diets are part of the Anti-Car Brigade's agenda and the CABRT removes valuable lanes of vehicle traffic along First Avenues North and South in St. Petersburg and on Pasadena Avenue that will create more traffic congestion . PSTA has clearly stated they require a new funding source to operate the CABRT boondoggle.
Up until the pandemic in March, Long was pursuing putting a transit tax on the November ballot. The PSTA Board is not supposed to display partisanship but at a May 2020 PSTA Legislative Committee meeting, Long publicly violated that ethic. Long has a history of lashing out at those who do not support her transit agenda and those who want accountability from PSTA. Long supports road diets, higher taxes, bigger government, regionalism and bigger bureaucracies that will dictate our lives but are never held accountable. Poor to no oversight of a public transit agency going insolvent should dictate removal from office.
Remove Long in November and Pinellas taxpayers will have a fighting chance to save and fix their roads instead of removing road capacity causing more traffic congestion and paying higher taxes for costly PSTA transit boondoggles. Larry Ahern, a small business owner who supports low taxes, limited government that is held accountable, free markets over bureaucracies and term limits for Pinellas County commissioners (there currently are no commissioner term limits even though over 72% of Pinellas voters voted for it on a 1996 referendum that was then overturned in court on a legal technicality), is running against Long.
Pinellas County commissioner Charlie Justice
Justice is running again for his District 3 seat. He is a 20 year career politician who has spent almost his entire adult working life in public office. Justice is also a member of the financially ailing PSTA transit agency Board and supports the costly CABRT knowing that higher taxes are needed to operate it. Justice supported the egregious 1% Greenlight Pinellas rail tax boondoggle overwhelmingly defeated in 2014. Justice, a transit advocate, refused to respond to the Tampa Bay Times request in 2017 when they asked the PSTA Board members whether they ever road the bus. Justice knows PSTA is depleting its reserves and will not be able to operate without a new funding source. Justice will support Long's effort to place another transit tax on the 2022 ballot to bail out PSTA. And poor to no oversight of a public transit agency going insolvent should dictate removal from office.
Remove Justice in November and Pinellas taxpayers will have a fighting chance to stop a massive tax hike for costly transit, help stop the anti-car agenda and stop efforts to impose road diets all over Pinellas County that will cause more congestion. Tammy Vasquez, also a small business owner who supports term limits for Pinellas County commissioners, is running against Justice.
Use of road diets throughout Pinellas County for more transit are being considered including removing a lane of vehicle traffic on 34th Street from 22nd Avenue South to 54th Avenue South. Three large apartment complexes are being built there and most residents will be bringing their cars. With Long and Justice, road diets for more unnecessary transit in Pinellas will continue.
Sitting on the PSTA Board for years, Long and
Justice have refused to provide proper oversight contributing to PSTA's
declining fiscal distress. Long and Justice did nothing when PSTA
misled lied to the Federal
Transportation Administration (FTA) that St. Pete Beach supported and was a
funding partner of the CABRT project. Even their Tampa Bay Anti-Car Brigade
ally Tampa Bay Times could
not ignore that PSTA misled the Feds. PSTA is also in desperate need of
new leadership, new staff and new Board members.
The pandemic has devastated transit. It also has made the dense stack and pack mixed use transit oriented development model irrelevant, stale and outdated. The transit choice rider is gone. More people are telecommuting who may never go back into the office towers making transit more outdated. Traditional centralized transit is dying as innovation and technology decentralizes transportation options just as technology has and is decentralizing other industries. People are fleeing the stack and pack densities of big Blue cities with transit agencies drowning in huge deficits.
Voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas can push back against the Tampa Bay Anti-Car Brigade at the ballot box by defeating Kemp, Cohen, Long and Justice.
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