Welcome to the 8th edition of the St Petersburg Florida Area News podcast for the year 2019. I’m your host, Joshua Black, and this episode will cover the city council committee meeting and the full council meeting that took place on February 21.
The only committee of the day was the Cosponsored Events Committee. I hadn’t heard the term “co-sponsored events” until I saw a facebook post a few days earlier by a man named Corey Givens, Jr., a local preacher and frequent guest at City Hall, complaining about tax dollars not being properly accounted for when dispensed for non-profits. Councilman Steve Kornell commented on that post that the term “cosponsored” does not mean that the event holders receive tax funding. They receive city services (fire, police, etc), and the city decides whether they receive a bill or not, as well as how much that bill represents of the total cost to the city. As far as I can tell, these are events that are held on city-owned outdoor properties, like streets and public parks.
With only three council members in attendance, Charlie Gerdes was selected to continue as chair, Ed Montanari was selected for vice chair, and Darden Rice joined the committee as a new member. The good thing about Rice being new to the committee was that the staff and other council members were patient with explanations of terms and concepts.
Cosponsored events are required by ordinance to benefit a nonprofit. That requirement can be waived by council. Any outdoor event planned for city owned property that plans to serve alcohol, charge admission, or raise money must be a cosponsored event. Only a nonprofit can apply to hold a cosponsored event, unless council waives that requirement, too. Selling alcohol requires one more waiver, and selling hard liquors requires a second waiver after that. This is on top of two additional meetings with staff from various departments being required after council approval of the event. All of this is explained throughout a 16-page application.
It sounds reasonable, if you accept the premise that government has a legitimate reason to own properties that aren’t devoted to finding justice for victims. I don’t accept that premise, because it is excluded by the instructions given to government in Romans 13:1-8. If someone is not doing harm to his neighbor, it really isn’t the business of the government.
Most of the main council meeting was similar: lots of regulations and debates about things that would not exist if we had a Bible-sized government. Remember that God only gave Israel 613 statutes to follow, and Jesus rescinded up to 2/3rds of them with His death and resurrection. The chapters in the ordinance code of the city of Saint Petersburg are far more than 613, and that’s just the chapters, not the sections, subsections or paragraphs.
But the rejection of biblical limits on government does not explain the unhealthy obsession all of our councilmembers have with federal funds. Congressman Charlie Crist stopped by to give a report and to hear from his local government constituents, and every council member in attendance had a request or two that would mean millions of dollars from the federal treasury. There were clearly no lessons learned from the shutdown. Crist’s assistant wrote down the requests of the council members, but Crist still plans to attend the LAIR (Legislative Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations) Committee meeting scheduled for March 15th (a Friday, not the usual Thursday, unless council vice chair Ed Montanari, the chair of that committee, gave incorrect information).
Council also heard a marina upgrade update from staff. Safe Harbor, a for profit entity that leases the Harborage Marina from the city and is fully responsible for its upgrades, made an unsolicited bid to take over the downtown marinas and give them the necessary millions in upgrades. And, when I say millions, I mean millions. Chris Polestra and his team gave a report showing that bringing the entire marina up to code with the desired sustainability measures would require an investment in the neighborhood of the middle to upper eight figures. I saw $39M on one part of the slide and $80M on another.
What isn’t discussed is that leasing protects the wealthy investor from taxes and from some liabilities. Thus the wealthy get shields that are unavailable to the poor from the government. The poor have borne the brunt of the cost of building these properties, but they get no use of them (most poor people don’t own the boats and never will) and receive no payment from them, as they would if this had been a real investment.
Same with the Mahaffey Theater, which has experience rejuvenation with the partnership with Bill Edwards. A presentation from the manager in concert with city staff showed the major improvements that Edwards and his group have made with the city owned building and concert venue. They revelled in the fact that the venue is now sought after by more noteworthy acts than before, but no one noticed the fact that Edwards is using what the poor paid for as the launch pad for his work. The council members even offered to throw more tax dollars at the building, as well as to lift any contrary regulations that would stifle future improvements. The latter proposal isn’t wrong, but the former is.
Speaking of city owned property, USF Saint Petersburg wants to lease the building at 250 8th Ave S E. I used to deliver sandwiches to that place. If I’m not mistaken, the Coast Guard use to be there, but don’t quote me on that. The lease is for two years, and the university president says that he intends to use it for the new classes they are trying to establish for the next semester. Council approved unanimously.
When the sewer report came up, Claude Tankersly reported that TECO is willing to experiment with accepting the city’s new waste treatment under these conditions: the city must produce the fuel for a full month before TECO will even test it. Then, TECO will continue to have the product tested for usability every month, for five more months. If all six tests go well, then the city will have firmly established the sale of biosolid fuel with the utility.
Claude also noted that there were two recent spills: one with reclaimed water happened when a pipe was burst by a pump, and one with sewage happened when a contractor installing a post burst a sewage pipe.
When Brejesh came to ask for $35,777 for a study for the Pier, city council finally balked. Not when staff requested millions for seawalls, using TIF funding intended for blight. Not when facing cost overruns in the millions of dollars. But now. Why? Because staff included an illegible schematic with the back up materials. When Montanari asked staff to increase the size of the font and the photos, they showed 91 signs planned for the pier park property. Remember that the Pier Park plan was sold as a “green space” idea, and Montanari doesn’t like sign clutter.
Staff insisted that the schematic was unrelated to the request, but council members wondered how that could be, while voicing their concerns that the signage would overrun the park. In the midst of the discussion, things turned hostile, as Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin turned territorial over the future of the signs. She stated that administrative functions are outside of council’s purview, even though council must approve the funding for any project done by the administration. Her insistence riled several council members, and they decided instead to refer the requested action to a council committee. I wish they had this kind of spine when it was millions for the seawalls.
The during the public hearing for new ordinances, the second reading for the Central Avenue Corridor Overlay was delayed until April. As expected, the part of the new ordinance that implements the bonus structures is welcomed by the people affected, but the zoning portion is not. We will see what becomes of the ordinance in the future. I couldn’t tell if they split the ordinance or not.
Finally, the only quasi judicial meeting was a zoning change request by a church to have part of its property rezoned to the same designation as the neighborhood behind it. The plan is to turn that property into single family homes. It appeared to have been used previously as a parking lot. There were no opponents, and staff recommended approval. I can’t imagine how much money the church was required to waste on this action just to sell its own lot to a developer to help reduce the housing shortage in Saint Petersburg. This should have been a private matter, but it was uselessly regulated instead, having a legally required process that made literally no difference in the outcome, except for the money out of pocket for the applicant.
The quasi-judicial hearing planned for February 28th is planned to include the Driftwood Neighborhood Historic Designation. We will be there.
Thank you for listening. This has been Saint Petersburg Florida Area News, a production of the Reconstructionist Radio Network.