The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 3 of 588 - SaintPetersBlog

No surprise — Sierra Club endorses Darden Rice re-election to St. Pete City Council

As Earth Day approaches this weekend, Darden Rice is rolling out endorsements from two environmental organizations for her re-election bid in St. Petersburg City Council District 4  — Florida Conservation Voters and (unsurprisingly) the Sierra Club, where she had previously worked.

“We’re proud to endorse one of our own,” said David Harbeitner, President of the Suncoast Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Darden has a long history of environmental activism and a strong commitment to standing up for what is right. We want to continue to work with her to make St. Petersburg a cleaner and healthier city.”

“Florida Conservation Voters is proud to announce Darden Rice as our first-ever local endorsement in her race for St. Petersburg City Council,” said Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director, Florida Conservation Voters. “City Council Chair Rice is a dedicated public servant who will tirelessly defend what is best about St. Petersburg. We look forward to working with her to protect our parks, waterways, and wildlife.”

“I’m very honored to have the support of these two respected and effective organizations,” Rice said in a campaign statement. “I started my career working to protect the environment, and I have continued that deep commitment to those values in my career as a City Councilwoman. I am focused to continue the necessary work of protecting our environment in St. Petersburg.”

In addition to the Sierra Club, Rice served as the Florida Director of Gulf Restoration Network before her election to the council in 2013.  She’s also the founder and chair of the City Council’s Environmental, Natural Resources, and Sustainability (ENRS) Committee.

Rice is running for a second term in District 4. Challenging the 46-year-old is USFSP student Jerick Johnston.

Janet Cruz latest Democrat to call for Frank Artiles resignation

Florida Democratic Minority House Leader Janet Cruz is calling for Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles to step down, following the outrage over published remarks of his racist comments to black Democratic lawmakers.

“Frank Artiles’ comments Monday night transcend politics and get to the idea of who we are as people,” said the Tampa Representative in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. Her response was the latest in a series of calls by Democrats for Artiles to resign.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucuswhich includes seven senators and 21 state representatives, issued a letter Wednesday calling for the Senate Rules Committee to begin the process of ousting Artiles from the Senate.

Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto, the Rules chair, agreed there was “probable cause” Artiles violated Senate rules  that say a senator must “maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

Artiles apologized on the floor of the Senate Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Miami Herald reported on racist comments he made to Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville and Perry Thurston from Fort Lauderdale.

Artiles also made a sexist remark to Gibson, the Herald wrote.

“My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally,” Artiles said to Gibson. “No one deserves to be spoken to like that.”

Senate President Joe Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the comments, “disgusting,” but would not respond to questions about whether he thinks Artiles should step down.

Cruz had no such qualms.

“Do we believe in equality and treating each other well?” the Minority Leader asked in her statement. “Or do we believe that loose slurs and misogynistic attacks should be a part of our rhetoric? These disgusting remarks do nothing to bring us closer together as people and should not be tolerated by a civil society. Senator Artiles should take into account the best interests of his constituents and resign immediately.”

Primary care physicians: Health care plans must have prevention

Dr. Joy Jackson

Any health care program implemented by Congress or the state must include affordable preventive health care for all, Dr. Joy Jackson told members of the Polk County Tiger Bay Club Wednesday in Bartow.

Jackson is the Polk County Health Department director and chairs the Florida Department of Health’s statewide committee on Pharmacy and Therapeutics.

She has also served as medical director for Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine, a free and low-cost clinic for those in the health insurance gap, since 2012.

Tiger Bay had billed her talk as “Trump vs. Obama health care programs,” but Jackson said affordable health care for everyone is the key to prevention of more serious health problems and increased medical costs. The “how” is up to the politicians, she said, declining to take a side.

At the turn of the 20th century a third of worldwide deaths was due to influenza, she said. Now the No. 1 cause of death is cardiovascular disease and No. 2 is cancer.

“We are living longer and dying of chronic diseases,” Jackson said, making it more crucial that everyone has access to preventative health care.

One of the major causes is obesity and the state has implemented a preventative program known as the Healthiest Weight Project.

Although Jackson steered away from the political side of health care, some Tiger Bay members characteristically did not, asking blunt questions.

One, in particular, wanted to know if Jackson supported universal health care.

“As a physician, I struggle with universal health care, but also universal health care would include preventative health care,” she said. “It is desirable for everyone to have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Asked if she thought everyone gets quality health care she said she didn’t think they do, adding there are multiple reasons. A major one is people not having a primary care physician.

Another health issue concern in Florida with summer approaching is last year’s Zika virus outbreak.

The Florida Department of Health and its county departments monitored the threat carefully she said. There were over 30 travel-related cases of Zika in Polk County alone. But only in Miami-Dade County were there local mosquitoes found to be carrying Zika.

Six babies in Florida were reported with Zika-related issues.

While the health agencies throughout the state are on guard, residents must also be, she noted.

“Keep tipping and draining,” she said referring to bird baths and small water containers outside, “No going away and leaving standing water.”

While there is no visible presence the alerts must continue with strong mosquito control and with people being aware, Jackson said.

Hillsborough Commission expresses caution about fully investing in Cross-Bay Ferry for second year

Hillsborough County Commissioners sounded impressed by the relative success of the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project between Tampa and St. Petersburg that concludes at the end of this month, but whether they are prepared to spend another $350,000 to fund a repeat performance later this year remains uncertain.

After hearing a presentation from St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, whose leadership led to the project happening, the board passed a motion to have County Administrator Mike Merrill review whether the board can find the funds to subsidize its portion of the four-government pilot project later this year.

Curbing his enthusiasm somewhat, Kriseman began his address to the Board by acknowledging that the ferry is hardly the solution to the Tampa Bay area’s vexing transportation issues. “It is simply an additional tool in our toolbox that works toward those solutions that I think all of us seek and know that we’ve got those challenges that we’ve got to address if we’re going to grow out counties and our region,” he said.

The St. Petersburg mayor, who is running for re-election this year, unveiled a PowerPoint presentation filled with statistics to measure who has actually taken the ferry over the past five-and-a-half months. At the end of March, more than 31,000 people had ridden on the ferry, with organizers hoping the total number could hit 40,000 before it ends in 12 days.

Kriseman said that expectations were low for people to commute to work on the ferry, especially with the project using only one boat. During weekdays the service offers only two full round trips, with three on the weekends.

The visit to the Hillsborough Commissioners was the mayor’s second appearance before one of the four local governments who contributed the $350,000 to get the project with HMS Global Maritime rolling last fall. He will visit the Tampa City Council next week.

The survey shows that 90 percent of passengers were Tampa Bay residents, but Board Chairman Stacy White said he wanted those numbers broken down further by zip code, questioning how many people living in the outlying parts of both counties were using the service, vs. those living in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Nearly everyone – 95 percent – said they enjoyed the experience.

The ferry has had a farebox recovery rate of 35 percent. That’s higher, Kriseman noted, than the standard farebox recovery for bus systems, which is around 20 percent.  (Farebox recovery is the proportion of the amount of revenue generated through fares by its paying customers as a fraction of the cost of its total operating expenses).

One of the biggest disappointments was that the ferry was inoperable during high profile events like Gasparilla and the Saturday before the national college football playoff game. Kriseman said that the lack of a permanent docking station was the culprit. The ferry has been taking off the Vinoy Basin in St. Petersburg, and dropping off passengers next to the Tampa Convention Center.

Commissioner Les Miller noted that the passenger loads were less than filled to capacity in the opening weeks of the ferry service, but grew noticeably in recent months. What changed, he asked Kriseman.

The mayor acknowledged that the reduction of the fare had a considerable influence on ridership, dropping one-way tickets from $10 to $5 on weekdays, but he said he thought the number one factor was the awareness and word of mouth factor.

The local governments will not get their $350,000 back, but they will collect some funds to reduce the subsidy when it ends later this month. As of the end of March, more than $111,000 was scheduled to be returned to Tampa, St. Pete, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, with the mayor predicting they will receive a check back for approximately $30,000. “It rarely pays for itself,” he said of transportation outlays, a comment frequently invoked by local officials advocating for light-rail in recent years.

An optimistic Kriseman said in addition to ferry service in Hillsborough County and from downtown Tampa to downtown St. Petersburg, he also mused about ferries running from St. Pete to the Westshore area of Tampa. “Not only giving people the opportunity to go to work in Westshore, but also to take a shuttle to Tampa International Airport and not have to rent a car.”

“This was one of the best reports that have come back to us that we’ve made,” enthused Commissioner Sandy Murman after Kriseman’s presentation Murman reminded the public that the board did approve a proposal two weeks ago to move forward on a much delayed public-private partnership ferry plan to take passengers from South County to MacDill Air Force Base, then to St. Petersburg.

“I don’t know if we can go up to $350,000 the next round,” she admitted about a similar Tampa-St. Pete Cross-Bay Ferry project for 2017-2018. “I think we’re building a very solid case for continuing this.”

“The wife and daughter and I enjoy our moments crossing the bay on the ferry, ” said Commissioner Victor Crist. ” They’re memorable moments.”

Merrill said that “there are enormous needs and enormous opportunities,” regarding the upcoming budget discussions, but said that the Cross-Bay Ferry project would fit into the “return on investment category” in the budget, where it could hopefully recoup all of their investment next year.

“It’s probably a little bit early to judge how this would fit with all the others (budgetary issues) because we haven’t really finalized all of the work that we plan to bring back on May 9th,” Merrill said, adding that his staff will seriously look at the funding request.

 

Janet Long doubtful about supporting $14 million CRA request for St. Pete Pier

The St. Petersburg City Council is poised to vote for a final time this week on approving another $14 million for the city’s plan for a new Pier. If approved, the Council will then approach Pinellas County about re-allocating $14 million in tax increment financing, or TIF funds, to the $66 million Pier project, boosting the price tag overall to $80 million.

Commission Chair Janet Long says she’s not likely to support the request.

“The City Council themselves are not united, number one,” she said on WMNF’s MidPoint program Tuesday, referring to the different ideas that Councilmembers made earlier this month when initially approving the request from Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Long also expressed dismay about the price tag of the new Pier continuing to escalate, as well as the fact that the money comes from the city’s Downtown CRA (community redevelopment agency).

“CRA’s, from my understanding, are put in place to try to help take care of blight in a community,” Long said. “Frankly, I don’t see anywhere I go in downtown right now that could be considered blight. Downtown St. Pete is humming. It’s going to be humming whether there’s a new Pier or not.”

Shortly after Long’s comments, Brandon state Senator Tom Lee struck out in a Florida Senate committee attempting to make the same point, arguing for legislation that he said would cure a problem with CRA’s that were originally created to address blight in a community but have transmogrified into what he called  occasionally pet projects for CRA board members, or in some cases, “slush funds” for said legislators.

“To me, it’s gorgeous the way it is,” Long said about the St. Petersburg waterfront, sans an operating Pier.

“I’m going to have to hear a lot more solid reasons why we have to allocate another $14 million that has been heretofore designated for a transit hub, and since there are so many transportation issues we have, just getting people from point A to point Z downtown is often difficult, so I’d let to see some deeper discussion about what that money can be used for, and maybe that CRA for that matter needs to go ‘bye-bye,’ and we take our thoughts and put it on the Tropicana Field area, or what’s going on the south side of St. Pete. Those two places seem to continue to get the short shrift.”

Long says she has previously made her feelings known to Mayor Kriseman. It’s uncertain where the rest of the County Commission heads are on approving the $14 million.

Long also weighed in on the legislative vehicle proposed by Jack Latvala and strongly endorsed by the Tampa Bay Partnership that would revamp TBARTA, making it smaller and redirecting its focus. Supporters of the legislation took a blow this week when the bill was seriously amended by Tampa Bay area Lee and Jeff Brandes, requiring that any desire for light rail would have to be approved by lawmakers in Tallahassee.

The bill also calls for a majority vote by the MPOs of each county impacted by any proposed rail projects before the authority can pursue any real related contract. It would also require the authority to conduct a feasibility from an independent third party before pursuing any rail-related project.

“At this point in the session, for it to blowup the way that it did, is a bit small minded in my opinion,” Long said, criticizing state lawmakers for not focusing on the future.

Long is supportive of local Metropolitan Planning Organziations merging, an idea that the Obama federal government encouraged. Beth Alden, the head of the Metropolitan MPO, told SPB earlier this year that she didn’t understand the community’s urgency on the matter, a notion that Long is baffled by.

“Are you kidding me? What is the sense of urgency?” said a flabbergasted Long. “Have you ever tried to leave Tampa International and drive across the Howard Frankland and go to Clearwater Beach?” she asks. “I mean it’s a transportation gridlock. “

“Beth is a planner, while I understand in the great big visionary world you want to have those areas in an MPO,” she continued. “If you talk about Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco that’s where the density is. It’s not in Herando, or Sarasota, or Manatee counties.”

James Scott latest to join fray in St. Pete City Council District 6

With the entry of environmental activist James Scott, the list of candidates for St. Petersburg City Council District 6 grows to eight.

The USFSP graduate student announced his candidacy Tuesday morning on the steps of St. Pete’s City Hall.

A December 2014 University of South Florida St. Petersburg graduate in Environmental Science and Policy, Scott is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Florida Studies.

Although he’s been called an environmental activist, Scott is all about sustainability, which he says is about balancing economic, environmental and social priorities. To him, that means not putting clean water ahead of jobs, or jobs ahead of clean water or transportation.

The 29-year-old Daytona Beach resident has lived in St. Petersburg since 2008; his resume replete with accomplishments regarding the environment. Scott established a student-led clean energy fund at USFSP, the State of Florida’s first; he secured a campus commitment to carbon neutrality, and led a net-zero energy parking garage project largely funded by a Duke Energy $1 million SunSense grant.

Scott served as USFSP student body president, noting among his successes in that role the ability to secure funds for the construction of the University Student Center, as well as bringing the campus’s first student health services facility. He also helped establish USFSP student representation on the USF board of trustees.

Ever ambitious, Scott says he’s been thinking of running for public office, specifically District 6, since 2009.

On his campaign website, Scott is asking for input from the community about what issues are important to them, intending to soon begin a ‘listening tour’ of sorts.

“My main message, especially in the primary, is that I’m listening,” he says. “I really want to get out there and have conversations.”

Having said that, he says his agent is about three main points: 1) Improving access to the average citizen to City Hall; 2) Pragmatic leadership that focuses on numbers and talking to key stakeholders; and 3) Sustainability, where he refers to his desire to protect the community from problems related to the insufficient infrastructure, specifically referring to the sewage problems that rocked the city last summer.

Entering the District 6 contest, Scott joins Akile Cainion, Corey Givens Jr., James Jackson, John Johnson, Sharon Russ, Maria Scruggs and Justin Bean.

District 6 covers parts of downtown and South St. Petersburg. Karl Nurse has held the seat since 2008.

Lisa Montelione joins CDC of Tampa

Former Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione has a new gig.

The native New Yorker accepted a position at the Corporation to Develop Communities, Inc (CDC of Tampa) in its Career Resource Center. Her responsibilities will be developing relationships with employers in the Tampa Bay area to assist the CDC’s clients in finding jobs.

“Bringing Ms. Montelione onboard expands the reach of our Career Resource Center, allowing us to have a greater impact across the Tampa Bay region,” says CDC CEO Ernest Coney. “Her dedication to the community and her hard work over the past several years to help those who need a hand up will lift up the lives of those participating in our training programs. I am thrilled to have Lisa join the team.”

A local community activist in the North Tampa area, Montelione first ran for public office for the Tampa City Council District 7 seat in 2011 when she said she couldn’t find anybody who she could support in the race against incumbent Joe Caetano.

That year, she defeated Caetano and won re-election in 2015 without drawing an opponent. That fall, Montelione announced she would run in 2016 for the House District 63 seat, occupied by Republican Shawn Harrison, who was also a former representative of Tampa City Council District 7.

It was expected to be a close race, as the HD 63 seat is truly one of the few swing House districts in Florida, having gone back and forth between Republicans and Democrats in various election cycles. It ended being extremely close last November, but in the end, Harrison defeated Montelione.

“Taking on the employer relations role is so much more than just connecting the CDC of Tampa’s Career Resource Center’s graduates to Tampa Bay employers,” Montelione said in a statement. “Joining the CDC of Tampa’s team of professionals who work every day to end the cycle of poverty is an honor and a privilege. I look forward to serving the clients of the CDC of Tampa find rewarding employment and assisting employers [to] fulfill their commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Created in 1992 and initially led by Chloe Coney, CDC of Tampa works on curbing poverty and the deterioration of neighborhoods in East Tampa.

Tourism trends on tap at Tampa Downtown Partnership event May 2

As Florida’s largest industry, tourism is a major economic driver in both downtown Tampa and the entire region.

Official estimates put the number of visitors to Hillsborough County at nearly 22-million annually, with $3.6 billion in spending and supporting more than 48,000 hospitality-related jobs, making it a significant sector of Tampa Bay’s economy.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership will examine the latest trends in tourism and future growth in “Downtown Debriefing Series: Trends in Tourism,” scheduled Tuesday, May 2, at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 513 S. Florida Ave. in Tampa.

Trends in Tourism features a discussion with Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay and Maryann Ferenc, incoming board chair of VISIT FLORIDA.

Networking and registration begin at 7:30 a.m.; continental breakfast and program start at 8 – 9 a.m.

Members of the media are welcome to attend as guests of Tampa Downtown Partnership, with RSVPs for complimentary registration through Kelsy Van Camp.

Joe Henderson: Tom Lee’s recent travails could start the guessing game again

State Sen. Tom Lee usually keeps people guessing about his plans.

While the Republican from Thonotosassa is well-known in the Legislature and isn’t afraid to stir things up, he has spoken often about possibly running for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. He waffled last year about that almost up to the filing deadline before deciding to run for another term in the Senate.

I wonder if recent events in the Senate might start Lee wondering again if it wouldn’t be better to work a little closer to home.

His well-publicized bill to eliminate public subsidies for the construction of sports stadiums failed to get out of committee. This was on the heels of what amounted to a rebuke when he called for an independent audit of the $2.1 billion expansion project at Tampa International Airport.

He tried to attach an amendment to the Senate budget that would have triggered the audit, but it was rejected by a voice vote. Those who spoke out against Lee on that gambit included Republicans Dana Young and Jack Latvala, although Tuesday he did pick up a major ally when the Times/Herald reported House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called for a full airport audit.

Bear in mind, Lee doesn’t have to do anything right away. He was elected to a four-year term in the newly created District 20, covering parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

But the field is shaping up for the 2018 county commission races in Hillsborough. Veteran Republican Al Higginbotham already announced he will not seek re-election to his countywide seat, while long-serving Republican Ken Hagan said he will try for election to a single-member district.

Victor Crist, who also has been a fixture on the commission, is term-limited in his district, but most people expect he will run for Hagan’s soon-to-be open countywide seat. Right now, he likely would face only token competition in the primary from tea party activist Tim Curtis.

If Lee jumps in, he could go for Higginbotham’s spot. He would be a formidable candidate and likely would campaign about how he could bring his Tallahassee experience to bear for the betterment of his home county, but there is some intrigue there, too. Some prominent Democrats – including former commissioner Kevin Beckner and state Rep. Janet Cruz – might decide to get involved.

Plus, Lee has been linked to a possible run for the state’s Chief Financial Officer, where he would have great influence over spending policies. That’s in his wheelhouse. But he also ran for that job in 2006 and lost to Democrat Alex Sink.

When you talk to Lee, it usually doesn’t take long for the conversation to drift into the direction of impact he could make in his home county. He has also said his prime motivation for returning to the Legislature (he previously served 10 years there) was to help change the way business is done.

He clearly has been fighting that fight, but his nose has gotten a little bloodied in the process. It’s worth wondering whether the bleeding is enough to make him get serious about working closer to home.

Ridesharing bill advances to final vote in Senate

Legislation creating a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies was debated Tuesday on the Senate floor.

Sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, SB 340 would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million in coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

Brandes substituted the House version of the bill (HB 221) sponsored by Republicans Jamie Grant of Tampa and Chris Sprowls of Safety Harbor, which had already passed the lower chamber.

Brandon Republican Tom Lee and Miami Democrat Julio Rodriguez introduced amendments, but then withdrawn.

Lee’s amendment would address what he said was an oversight in the legislation involving local governments cutting a deal with a particular transportation network company while cutting out others.

“What I fear what’s going to happen is that the extractions that are going to occur for that exclusivity are going to cost those transportation network companies a lot of money,” said Lee. “And then they’re going to have to drive their costs back through the rates paid by consumers, and yet those consumers wouldn’t have any choice.”

Lee didn’t want to jam up the legislation, he said. However, he would try to add his proposal to a different bill.

The next amendment, offered by Rodriguez, would address what he said was unnecessary language on standards in the bill if a ride-sharing driver is an employee or independent contractor.

Brandes considered it an unfriendly amendment; Rodriguez quickly withdrew it.

The bill now advances to the Senate for a third and final hearing Wednesday. Passage there would bring the bill to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk to become state law.

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