Hello, everyone, and welcome to the first edition of the Saint Petersburg Florida Area News Podcast for the year 2019. Happy New Year! I’m your host, Joshua Black, and, for the next 10 minutes, we will see just how little has changed about our city government. New Year, new you? Not so much for the city of Saint Petersburg.
But first we must discuss the viral video about an event that happened in our city. No doubt, many of you have seen the video of the man who attacked a rather diminutive McDonald’s employee, who quickly served him, as one Facebook commenter noted, “a Filet o Fists,” defending herself with clear skill and competence against a larger foe. What most people don’t know is the role played by our very own Saint Petersburg City Council: the straw ban started the fight.
That’s right. The homeless man was accustomed to simply retrieving whatever number of straws he desired readily from the counter with the condiments. In compliance with the new ordinance, this restaurant had moved to a “request only” policy that prohibited distribution of the straws without a specific request from the guest. The lady was explaining the restaurant’s compliance with the unjust statute when the man attacked her. No doubt, the city and the tyrants who pushed the measure will disavow any responsibility for the hostility created by this unnecessary rule. After all, they spent all of their allotted time during the debate talking about how welcoming the people they knew were to the changes. Nevermind what a new mother might have to deal with from a customer with less class than these folks are generally accustomed to dealing with.
The topic was all over the news, so it is no surprise that it didn’t really merit discussion from the dias today. What was surprising was the fact that, around 9:37 AM, new chair Charlie Gerdes recessed the city council meeting so that the members of council could attend some event. The event turned out to be an award ceremony in which former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg awarded the city $2.5M in resources and staff (not cash, so who knows whether this “donation” valuation is accurate) to help them accelerate their “sustainability initiatives,” of which banning straws, polystyrene, and other supposed environmental hazards is a significant part.
Interestingly, though, according to the Tampa Bay Times article that covered the event, Bloomberg didn’t seem to know about the recent history of environment-damaging sewage spills by the city and its contractors. Judging by the gala held at city hall after the city council meeting was over, he didn’t seem bothered by it, either.
Speaking of the spills, Claude was back reporting on six spills of “reclaimed water” (if you ever wondered why sprinkler systems in St Pete smell so bad, it’s because the water in them is only partially treated), which he said were caused by clamps on the mains failing over time. He said that there is no static life expectancy, because components like this have always failed at different stages of service. He expects the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to issue a fine later. In the meantime, the city is paying $25,000 in fines for spills documented between the middle of October and the middle of December.
There was more Pier spending, as there is supposedly money leftover from the $70M previously allocated for the project. City staff stated that there have actually been more than $2M in costs not realized while completing other portions of the project, allowing them to request certain accommodations for the new tenant Doc Fords.
There was also more regulation talk, as the city held the first meeting of a two-part quasi-judicial proceeding regarding the rezoning of a mobile home park between 1st and 4th Streets North at 54th Ave North. The owner previously bought all the units on the site (which is important because of state regulations) and now wants to convert the property into apartments. This is likely because the park isn’t fully rented out, and people these days are looking for more substantial shelter, especially considering the currently higher costs of replacing mobile homes than in previous years and the fact that the city did get directly hit by Hurricane Irma last year.
Councilmember Driscoll expressed concerns that approving the new zoning will displace the residents who would can afford relocation the least. Her concern exposes a fundamental flaw in zoning policy: if the city didn’t mandate only one use for the plot, he wouldn’t need to rezone the whole thing. He could just build on the portion that is currently vacant. Thus, he could continue to rent to the people who still want to live in mobile homes, while also attracting people to his property who don’t. It wouldn’t be much different from several portions of Pinellas Park, a neighboring city that has apartment complexes right next to mobile home parks.
Speaking of housing, during council committee reports, it was noted that the Board of the Saint Petersburg Housing Authority has not responded to the list of topics emailed to them by the council’s legal team. There is still a hold on the time slot for the committee of the whole meeting on January 31. It should be announced by the end of this week whether that meeting will take place.
Unfortunately, for all my big talk about the importance of doing so, this week I forgot to read the consent agenda when it came out on Monday. In it were the usual waste items, but also an item of unique interest: a $5000 award from the US Department of Justice to the St Petersburg Police Department from the asset forfeiture program. During open forum, I explained my strong reservations about the measure to entire council. (listen to audio)
After I spoke, another member of the community had something to say about a serious problem in her neighborhood. (listen to audio)
I spoke to her afterwards, and we remarked about how much better it would be if the matter were simply authorized to be handled by the community center itself. Why should anyone have to go all the way to City Hall to deal with issues right in front of them. Even more irritating to her, though, was the fact that she had to get help from the council member of the neighboring district, because her elected council member was paying her no attention. It was noted during the approval of the 2019 calendar for the city council that this member has sought the greatest and received committee workload of all the members. It seems that sitting on boards and committees is more important to Gina Driscoll than helping her constituents with issues they face day to day.
Such seems to be the way of politics in the USA: constituents are voters and nothing more, to politicians. Justice for them? Ignore it. Danger for them? Brush it off. Photo-op for a meaningless donation from a billionaire with a tyrant’s vision for the same residents? That’s the ticket!
We are certainly a long way off from the biblical form of government which consisted solely of judges who focused on disputes in their communities.
Thank you for listening. This has been Saint Petersburg Florida Area News, a production of the Reconstructionist Radio Network.