Acknowledging that discussing the sewage system, the plight of the Tampa Bay Rays potential stadium relocation, and the escalating costs of a new Pier are important issues, members of the People’s Budget Review (PBR) advocacy group said Wednesday that with fewer resources coming from Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., the candidates running for St. Petersburg mayor and City Council need to focus on the bread and butter issues that directly affect people’s lives.
“Our fellow citizens in St. Petersburg are looking at potentially massive cuts from the federal and state governments,” said Brother John Muhammad, a neighborhood activist with the People’s Budget Review, speaking at a press conference from the Midtown branch of St. Petersburg College. “These cuts could gut remaining housing programs for thousands of St. Petersburg residents, cut off their insurance and continue to deliver the assault on public schools.”
With last year’s presidential election still on their minds, the PBR is calling on city officials to follow what they are calling “A New Deal for St. Pete,” which calls for city leaders to prioritize four main points: 1) Preserving communities; 2) expanding educational opportunities; build community wealth; and 4) making St. Pete a living wage city.
“We all know we’re in an election cycle so there’s a lot of talk,” said Patrick Collins, owner of the Deuces BBQ. “I keep hearing about the problems, but I am not hearing anything about the solutions. The new deal is offering those solutions.”
In truth, the candidates, especially those running in the City Council District 6 race which encompasses South St. Petersburg, have been talking about issues like affordable housing and the threats of gentrification on the campaign trail, in part because many of the first debates were held in Midtown, where those issues are front and center for that community.
Collins says he’s lived in places where the $15 living wage ordinance has been in enacted, specifically mentioning Seattle, which became the first city in the nation to pass a $15-an-hour minimum wage in 2013. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states began 2017 with higher minimum wages, because of increased cost-of-living adjustments, ballot initiatives passed by voters or state legislation.
However, researchers from the University of Washington found that low-income workers saw their pay fall drastically when the city moved to the $13 mark in 2015. Companies reduced the number of hours that employees worked to cope with the increased labor costs.
Some of the issues that the PBR are calling for are actually being worked on in City Hall.
Cory Adler is executive director of the 2020 task force, the organization charged with reducing poverty in St. Petersburg over the next five years. She wants the city to pass legislation enacting what is known as a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA), which brings together developers, groups of employers and city governments to establish guidelines for building development in a community.
“If someone’s going to come in and build in South St. Pete, the people of South St. Pete should be able to be at the table to discuss the project, and then benefit from the project,” Adler said, adding that there are ten such agencies around the country.
Adler says that Agenda 2020 has met with Mayor Kriseman and his staff about this issue, and says “they’re working with us to create it,” adding that a final agreement with the city council “would really take us to the next level in terms of having everybody at the table to talk about the community.”
Carla Bristol owns Gallerie 909, an African-American art gallery located on 22nd Street South in Midtown, and is a member of the People’s Budget Review. She says the four main issues that the PBR has laid out are crucial for the candidates to embrace.
“These are things that people come to the table with after somebody’s been elected,” she says of how the process traditionally works. “It shouldn’t be a feel good thing, it should be, what are the specific needs of this community? Let’s get to the table, listen, and move forward.”
This is the sixth year that the People’s Budget Review has surveyed members of the community and presented their most pressing needs in a document to get locally elected officials attention. Brother John Muhammed says that the goals transcend this month’s municipal election, though since the upcoming FY18 budget will discussed next month, which is where he hopes to get some of the PBR’s ideas implemented going into next year.
“Give the city of St. Petersburg credit,” says Anthony Jones, the CEO of Bright Community Trust, about the citywide discussions on the board and in the election about the lack of affordable housing. “We just need to make sure that this issue continues to go forward, with positive results coming out of it.”