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Roundup 8-30-2013

August 30, 2013


Last week we featured a long discussion about transportation and Hillsborough County, which drew a comment regarding an article about a Commissioner’s views on transportation.  (see article here)  We are aware that many readers do not check the comments, so, instead of replying in the comment section, we thought it might be good to present the whole comment and then discuss it.  First, the comment:

Mark Sharpe permalink

August 25, 2013 11:45 AM

My comments on the bus plan was in response to a reporters call that I might move on the TPD alone. That is not my intention. I had several meetings with County Staff and reminded them that while we might not have a complete multi-modal plan ready for voter approval until late 2014 – don’t think I am falling for the “Dean Smith 4 Corners” strategy used in the past to stall efforts as we do have a bus element that could be ready by itself. It does not hurt that some within the Tea Party have embraced buses to prove they are not against all transit. Good. Let’s put it to the test. We need more buses regardless. Rail ultimately will be the spine of any future, modern network, but buses are a critical piece in making the whole system work. That was my thinking, expressed many times in public, – I did not say it to spur a story, but rather to get staff to look at all options and not grow compacent. When the reporter called, I responded as I am duty bound to do.

We commend the Commissioner for engaging the public and being willing to provide a more detailed, public explanation of his views.  There is much in the comment with which we agree.  We agree that the bus system must be fixed and enlarged.  We agree that buses are an integral part of any transportation system.  We even agree that some in the Tea Party have moved from opposing pretty much all public transportation to supporting buses, and that is something (though it is very well may be to create an excuse to fight rail.).  Finally, we agree that rail should be spine of any future system.  (You can check this article, which has some good quotes from the Commissioner if you want to understand why MetroRapid buses in traffic cannot be solution to our problems.  And if you need more convincing, simply observe SR60 in Brandon or Dale Mabry in Carrollwood at 7:30 am on a weekday, and it will be obvious that, even if they can change traffic signals, buses in traffic will not be able to whisk people around Hillsborough County without being outfitted with monster truck wheels and suspensions.)

The biggest issue we have with the Commissioner’s position is this: how many times can we go to the taxpayer well?  If the County/HART go to the taxpayers and ask for a tax increase to fund half a plan like the HART plan that only involves buses, how likely is it that the County will go back and ask for (and that taxpayers will agree to pay) more money to pay for rail?

Honestly, we just do not see that happening.  (It is not hard to imagine the argument that we should wait years/decades to see what happens with the MetroRapid development before thinking of rail.) That is why we need to think big and create a comprehensive plan (one that fixes buses and has rail) – even if staged in implementation – before going to the taxpayer.  People need to know what they are paying for and to make the decision once.  If we take half-measures, we will be stuck with half a system – at least for a long time – serving neither the goal of providing transportation for the present residents nor the goal of making us competitive.  Half-measures, whether done out of good motives or otherwise, will not get us where we need to be.

Transportation – Pasco May Do What It Should Have Done Decades Ago

There was an interesting development in Pasco County this week.

Jerry Stanley has spent 45 years building highways and bridges in Florida. Today, he’s the $2 billion man.

That’s the estimated cost to build an elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor linking Wesley Chapel to New Port Richey. Stanley’s International Infrastructure Partners submitted an unsolicited bid on June 11 to the Florida Department of Transportation to lease the right-of-way so his company could build and operate the 33-mile toll road.

* * *

The FDOT’s District 7 office last week advertised a formal Request for Proposals (RFP) to see if any other firms can meet or beat Stanley’s proposal. The proposals are due Oct. 23.

By Monday morning, the DOT had already received inquiries from 10 other firms.

It has been obvious that an east-west road in Pasco County has been needed for decades.  In fact, there was one originally planned decades ago that, for whatever poor planning reasons, was never built.

So where will this proposed road go?

Stanley proposes building the toll road in three phases, starting with the segment between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and the Suncoast Parkway. The second phase would extend west to U.S. 19 and could potentially be combined with the first phase. Phase three linking Wesley Chapel to U.S. 301, just south of Zephyrhills, would be built at ground level.

* * *

The toll road could include a transit component with as many as eight park-and-ride lots at key interchanges. Stanley said the transit element would be subject to negotiations.

That transit would probably be buses, which in Pasco might work for now.   (Note: the same article explains that rail would work in Pinellas.)

Any more detail?

The 33-mile project would travel the right-of-way of state roads 54 and 56 and tie into highways, including I-75, U.S. 301 and the Suncoast Parkway.

Transportation officials say it would likely unfold as a series of smaller projects linked together and take years to complete.

It’s too early to say, however, how long the work would last, when it would start, how much it would cost or what the tolls would cost.

Well, that is vague.

The bottom line is simple: because Hillsborough was remiss in connecting the Veterans Expressway to I-275, Pasco needs the road (it may have needed it anyway.)  We do not have enough detail to know if this proposal makes sense, but the road is needed, so it should be considered.  (On the other hand, it shows just how fragmented our regional transportation planning really is.)

Abolish the PTC

This week there was more news about the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

The head of Hillsborough’s Public Transportation Commission has lost his right to earn money moonlighting as a reserve sheriff’s deputy because he failed do the volunteer work required to get the perk.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has notified Cesar Padilla, executive director for the government agency that regulates taxis, limos and other for-hire vehicles, that his status as a reserve deputy has been revoked.

Padilla was ordered to “immediately” forfeit his Sheriff’s Office gear — from uniforms and any guns he got as a reservist — and to cease all law-enforcement- related actions, according to a letter sent him last week by sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jose Docobo.

First, why exactly is the executive director of a public body which regulates for-hire vehicles accorded reserve deputy status?

The action would sharply reduce Padilla’s pension, as law enforcement officers enjoy an enhanced multiplier in calculating benefits compared with other state government workers in recognition of the risk of the job.

Surprise, money. (Who is paying this pension, anyway?)

Well, what exactly did he do wrong?

The Tampa Bay Times reported last week that on multiple occasions Padilla has worked moonlighting shifts as a security guard while payroll records indicate he was working at the PTC or out sick. He qualified for the $28-an-hour security work by virtue of his certification as a reserve deputy with the Sheriff’s Office.

He has earned just more than $10,400 in the past 20 months providing security for a Thonotosassa auction house, in addition to his $107,000 annual salary at the transportation agency.

On 10 occasions, the security work was done on Mondays during business hours when county payroll records show he had not taken vacation time to do it.

To qualify for reserve duty that enabled him to do the security work, Padilla, retired from the Air Force, was required to undergo annual physicals and law enforcement training. He also had to do 20 hours of volunteer work for the Sheriff’s Office each month.

“As a return, we allow them to work off-duty jobs,” Docobo said. “There was an expectation that he volunteer 20 hours a month. He had not done that for quite some time.”

Setting aside the misdeeds and omissions, $107,000?  Really?

One County Commissioner on the PTC reacted like this:

County Commissioner Victor Crist, who chairs the PTC, asked the county attorney Thursday to look into the matter, calling the revelations a “great concern.”

Hmm.  What did you expect from someone who wrote their own performance evaluations?

This is what the Commissioner said then:

“I said, ‘At this juncture, if this was a private business, I would fire you,’ ” Crist said. “I was absolutely floored.”

So why did nothing happen until this week, when the director decided to resign?   Kind of pathetic that a body charged with oversight needs so much oversight itself.  What this episode shows is just how susceptible to corruption the PTC really is.

And now the PTC is getting sued:

A libertarian law firm announced it is filing a lawsuit on behalf of a local limousine company, challenging a Hillsborough County rule requiring limos to charge at least $50 per ride.

* * *

Justin Pearson, executive director of the institute’s Florida chapter, said the $50 minimum rule was put in place to protect established taxi and limousine companies. If the rule were not in place, Pearson said, competitively priced limousines could take fares away from cab companies.

Exactly, the PTC is market distorting and only serves private interests to the detriment of the population at large.  Some Hillsborough County Commissioners are looking to get an interim director, (maybe this guy) though we have no idea why the position should be filled.  Other elected officials are thinking of something else:

A pair of state legislators has threatened a review and possible dissolution of the PTC saying its rules prohibit entrepreneurship in the for-hire vehicle businesses and serve mainly to protect existing companies. One of them, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, issued a statement applauding the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

“These restrictions on the private transit marketplace stifle innovation and discourage new business from coming to our community to grow and create jobs,” Brandes said. “These rules are arcane and serve no purpose other than to limit competition.”

Right.  We do not need an interim director.  We need wholesale change – namely the elimination of the PTC.

The PTC is a market-distorting, overly-regulating invitation to corruption.  Other than pork barrel politics, there is no justification for maintaining it. (And that is not much of a justification.)  It is well past time to it was abolished.

Economic Development – Take A Gander

This week we got more confirmation that the County’s Estuary/Bass Pro Shops style economic development policy is flawed:

An improved economy and housing market has spurred an upswing in the state’s retail development, especially in parts of South Florida.

Miami leads the way with about 1.15 million square feet of shopping center space under construction, much of it associated with Brickell CityCentre, a billion-dollar mixed-use project with 505,000 square feet of retail.

At the bottom? The Tampa Bay area with no major projects under construction and the most available retail space of Florida’s six major markets.

* * *

The average asking rate for leasable space was $17.95 per square foot, with South Florida significantly outpacing the north. Miami had a rate of $35.04 per square foot compared with $14.94 for Tampa Bay.

In other words, the supply of existing retail space exceeds the existing demand.  So why is the County Commission so eager to give taxpayer money for new projects, like the SouthShore Commons or Estuary/Bass Pro Shops project?  How is that a good use of taxpayer money?  Why is the County so happy to create a bigger glut of space and call it economic development, especially when reuse of existing space without any incentives is possible, to wit:

That one-word response describes how much in government incentives Gander Mountain officials sought or received to build an outdoor gear superstore in the Tampa area.

The store will open with dozens of tents, backpacks, kayaks, firearms and fishing poles, but there will be no sales tax breaks for the company to do so. No credits on future income taxes, no government assistance for roadway improvements or credits to create jobs.

* * *

Compared to the average Bass Pro location, those built by Gander Mountain tend to be smaller, though they are hardly petite in the retail landscape. Gander Mountain on Wednesday confirmed plans to build a store at 11655 W. Hillsborough Ave., taking up the entirety of a former BestBuy location just east of the border with Oldsmar. When opened this autumn, the store will stretch to about 34,000 square feet, and include gear for camping, fishing, hunting, canoeing and kayaking, and have a major firearms store. This would be the sixth Gander Mountain store in Florida, and the first in the Tampa Bay region. The next closest store is in the Ocala area.

As we explained months ago, our market is big enough that the outdoor sports sector can and will be served without having to spend taxpayer money.  There was no reason to give Estuary/Bass Pro Shops any money – if they do not want our market, so be it.  The real question is who exactly benefitted from the County Commissioners’ vote?  It wasn’t the existing property owners or the existing residents.

This is just another bit of evidence that the County is happy to spend taxpayer money to subsidize sprawl while most of the County Commissioners are m.i.a. on transportation. Maybe one day the majority of the County Commission will stop giving handouts to developers of sprawl and focus on real economic development, including creating proper infrastructure, planning, and codes to support that economic development and compete with other areas.

Economic Development – The Real Thing

We have heard a lot of talk about the possible Amazon warehouse somewhere around here, though nothing final has been announced.  When the possibility was announced, we heard the usual expressions of how a warehouse took us to a new level, how “it’s our time,” and “we’re number one.”   This week, we noticed this article in the New York Times about Amazon’s new headquarters in Seattle. (cookies needed)  Here is just a bit:

The company already has about 15,000 employees in Seattle, mostly highly paid engineers, managers and programmers, out of a global work force of about 97,000, according to people familiar with its head count who were not authorized to discuss a figure that the company does not share publicly. The new towers have a capacity for 12,000, giving the company room for nearly 30,000 workers in Seattle, which has a population of 635,000.

* * *

Many of those new apartments are within walking or biking distance of Amazon. Service businesses and start-up technology companies, meanwhile, have sought nearby addresses. Northeastern University, based in Boston, set up a remote campus last year across the street from Amazon’s current buildings.

“I think they’ve single-handedly defined a whole region,” said Bryan Trussel, the chief executive of Glympse, an Internet start-up with offices next to Amazon. “Now everyone wants to be there.”

* * *

Other technology companies are moving into urban spaces. Twitter and Dropbox, the social networking and online storage services, have made San Francisco home, while Tumblr and Etsy, blogging and shopping sites, are in New York. Google has huge urban spaces from Paris to Pittsburgh.

The appeal of cities to potential employees is part of the reason for the shift. An urban setting, with access to good restaurants, nightclubs and cultural attractions, has become as important a recruiting tool as salary or benefits for many companies.

* * *

Mr. Schoettler, Amazon’s real estate director, said environmental considerations were an important factor in the company’s decision to remain in Seattle, along with the type of employee that an urban location attracts.

“The energy and excitement from employees being in an urban environment — I hear it daily,” said Mr. Schoettler, who walks to work. “A lot of people don’t even have a car. They want that urban experience right there.” 

From – click on picture for email

Now, what is happening in Seattle is actually taking something to a new level – and also creating an environment to attract the workforce.    Not only that, but it is bringing office development to downtown Seattle, which is proving very hard to do in downtown Tampa.  Moreover, the construction jobs for the buildings and the restaurant and other retail jobs in the area will all arise from the high paying headquarters, knowledge based jobs, not warehouse or big box retail jobs.  That is real economic development, and it is just another reason why Hillsborough County’s living-in-the-past, sprawling real estate based policy is flawed. A warehouse is nice, but it is a warehouse. (Oh, and Seattle has rail.)

Someday, maybe Hillsborough County will learn.  Hopefully, not too late.

List of the Week

Our list this week is Logistics Management’s outstanding service in ports. The criteria can be found here.

While it is more of a numerical scoring, we can figure the top 5.  The best customer service at a port goes to the Port of Tampa, followed by Savannah, Charleston, Prince Rupert, and Tacoma.

Nice to see.  Hopefully it can translate into more business, especially in containers.


Have a good Labor Day.

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