Central Planning Problems

Joshua Black

Podcast: St. Petersburg, FL – Local Area News

Joshua gives the lowlights from the December 6 City Council meeting


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Hello, Everyone, and welcome to this edition of the St Petersburg FL News podcast. I’m your host, Joshua Black, and, for the next 10 minutes, we will discuss all the strife that was present in the St Petersburg City Council meeting for December 6, 2018. But, first, we will cover the less controversial but equally saddening portion of the meeting.

At least $6M was spent during this meeting, with a little over $650,000 going towards yearly maintenance for the city’s injection wells and about $5.4M going towards redevelopment efforts on the Southside of St Petersburg. How much more was spent isn’t quite clear, in large part because the city has made no effort to assess the cost of mandating that apprentices be paid “the prevailing wage” in all “major city construction projects.” Support for the ordinance came from a construction workers union, whose representative spoke about the difficulty filling the ranks and hoped that measures like these would draw more young people into the trade.

Now, from what I know about unions (I never joined one, but I had several people try to recruit me, and I had some friends who were part of one or another), pay is determined by experience, not productivity. I’m sure a lot of people can figure out other ways to make more money doing something easier than construction (I certainly did), especially as the minimum wage (which applies to jobs of all kinds) keeps rising. Funny, unions also historically argued for the minimum wage, which is now hurting their recruitment efforts.

The city also moved forward a change to the once per week garbage collection program, which was implemented in 1985 to reduce the burden on single occupant homes that don’t produce the trash that homes with more occupants do. The criteria have been expanded slowly over the years, to include two-occupant homes and larger lot sizes. This proposal includes a forgiveness month for people who may have guests over and removes the lot size limitation altogether. The city monitors water usage to determine if the homes that apply for the lower monthly rate actually qualify, with 5000 gallons of water per month being the upper limit for what they expect a two occupant household to use. Under this new proposal, if the home uses more than 5000 gallons for three consecutive months, they go back to the higher (twice per week collection) rate and cannot qualify for the lower rate for 12 months.

Now, if the garbage collection were done by a private company in direct contact with the people and no monopoly on the service, the adjustment of rates wouldn’t become an item for city council. Companies would automatically adjust for the needs of their customers in order to keep them from looking elsewhere for the same service. Obviously, the city won’t consider that. Governments like monopolies, especially the ones they run.

Apparently, local governments also like being busybodies. Besides monitoring your water usage, they also want to monitor your straw usage. City council also moved forward a proposed ban that would eliminate single use plastic straws from distribution by restaurants.The full ban would not take effect for maybe 15 months, as the first 90 days would be a grace period, and then the next either 9 or 12 months would be a prohibition on unrequested inclusion. In other words, restaurants would be required to wait until the guests request straws in order to distribute them. (I’m honestly surprised that restaurants don’t already do this, in general, in order to control costs, but I digress.) After that, guests will be expected to bring their own, which is inconvenient and could be unsanitary, but don’t let that get in the way of feel-good activism.

Council members Montanari and Gabbard each expressed reluctance to vote for the full ban, with council member Gabbard stating that she wants to review the impact on the numerous restaurants, especially quick service establishments, quite a few of which are in her district. Both stated that the education portion should have a heavier emphasis than a mandate. Council member Gerdes stated that, next week at the second reading, he will propose an analysis on the education aspect of the program before the implementation of the full ban. No amendments were approved immediately, in order to respect the dubious tradition of waiting for the second reading.

During this discussion, it was revealed that single use plastic bags were originally slated for the same ban, but that plan changed to having them taxed instead. However, there is a lot more resistance to both of those plans than the plans to ban straws. Council member Rice stated that the plan to tax the bags is more difficult to implement and that she wasn’t sure she had the votes in city council to advance it.

The sharpest controversy came after lunch. There is a vacant lot on the southwest corner of the intersection of 1st St N and 4th Ave, and a second developer is making an effort to build a residential structure. The first developer failed to perform his project, even though his design was much to the liking of the nextdoor neighbors, so the council is seemingly inclined to approve the second developer in spite of the opposition. The lot isn’t very large (it’s large enough to build a couple houses on, but that’s not the direction they are going), and the proposed development would fill it entirely, while also rising 19 stories above the pedestrian traffic. It reminded some of the people who live in the adjacent condominium of the cities they left because they didn’t like them.

At least 20 people spoke in opposition, with ten more opponents being present who did not speak; while only two spoke in favor, including the attorney for the developer. There is actually a lawsuit regarding this proposal already filed, which is why they had a stenographer during this portion of the meeting.

This could not become a controversy if the city didn’t attempt to control the kinds of development that happens downtown, like every other city does. Land use is simple: people buy what they think they need in order to serve the consumers they expect to purchase their product (housing, office space, retail space, industrial space, parking, etc.). If they can’t find a profitable use for the land, they will simply wait until they can, during which time the lot will be vacant or abandoned. Unfortunately, neither the city nor its residents see it that way, hence the hearings and the lawsuit.

The hearing is actually being continued to next week, because the votes to advance the proposal have been quite close, and the council moved to wait to vote until all eight members could be present.

One of the last items by the council involved the recurring issues with the St Pete Housing Authority. After the order from members of council to their legal team to draft the resolution requesting that the mayor consider removing two members from the Housing Authority board, the board reached out to ask council to reconsider a committee of the whole meeting, provided that the board be given a list of relevant topics to be discussed during that meeting, so that the members of the board can be prepared. The tentative date for the meeting is January 31, 2019. Council did decide to delay its instructions to the legal team for drafting the resolution until at least the date can be confirmed. The topics for that meeting will be hammered out by council members at the Public Services and Infrastructure meeting before the city council meeting next week. It’s unclear what became of the request by the St Pete Housing Authority for $3M in funds from the council. It died without a motion on November 1st, but that doesn’t mean that the board has relented in its pursuit of the funds.

Next week’s city council meeting starts at 3 PM, but the PS & I meeting comes before. We will endeavor to cover both.

Don’t forget to look up the consent agenda, which comes out on Monday. Contact your council member if you have questions about what you see there.

Thank you for listening! This has been St Petersburg FL Area News, a production of the Reconstructionist Radio Network.