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Roundup 8-8-2014

August 8, 2014

Riverwalk & Crew Art – the Right Decision, for Now

The City Council took up the Mayor’s request on crew art on Thursday.

A divided City Council on Thursday delayed a vote on erasing a stretch of graffiti, much of it representing visits by college rowing teams, painted on a Hillsborough River seawall.

Good, though how divided were they?

The council decided 6-to-1, with chairman Charlie Miranda voting no, to delay the discussion until 5 p.m. Aug. 21 so people have more of a chance to voice their opinions. The vote came after city officials emphasized that graffiti would be removed from only 650 of Tampa’s 10,600 feet of riverfront seawall.

So technically divided, but not really.  Anyway, the result is good.  There should be a discussion of these issues – too often they are just sprung on the City Council and no one really has a chance to think or discuss them.

As we noted in our special post earlier this week, a major problem is that it is hard to trust the administration when it gives assurances that the crew art will be allowed in other areas.  The administration’s case rested on basically this:

“The vast majority of the seawalls are not being touched,” said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic opportunity administrator. He also noted that while crew teams have painted their school colors, nicknames and slogans for years, photos from 2009 show that the section of the wall in question was mostly unpainted then. Most of what’s there now has been added since, and includes graffiti from fraternities and some offensive language.

So clean the foul language. . .

And the Mayor’s contention that somehow it the crew art detracted from the enjoyment of the river, which, one City Council person pointed out, is odd:

But Capin noted that Buckhorn hasn’t always seemed to have a problem with graffiti on the wall in question. She read part of a 2012 Tampa Tribune article that described Buckhorn pointing at a rowing team’s logo for Penn State — his alma mater — on the seawall near Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“The only problem?” Buckhorn said, according to the newspaper. “The Penn State logo isn’t big enough.”

This week, Buckhorn has said the idea is to make the Riverwalk active and engaging, as well as to “highlight Tampa’s best natural asset, the Hillsborough River.”

By using both natural and man-made backdrops, the new lighted art project will be “a signature for Tampa,” he said.

More from the referenced article:

It’s not often that city officials have anything good to say about graffiti, but standing along the west bank of the Hillsborough River on Saturday morning, Mayor Bob Buckhorn didn’t slam the guerilla art.

He praised it… At least the college logos painted on the seawalls along this stretch of the river by rowing crews that come here every winter to train.

“The only problem?” the mayor said, pointing to a particular graffito, across the Hillsborough, painted on the wall along the Riverwalk by Curtis Hixon Park. “The Penn State logo isn’t big enough.”

No worries.

Buckhorn said rowing wasn’t huge at his alma mater. But it has been in Tampa for more than a century, which is what brought the mayor, his entourage and scores of rowers, their families and friends, and curious onlookers to Plant Park at the University of Tampa.

* * *

“There has been a great tradition of rowing in Tampa,” he said as he attended to last-minute details such as signing time slips for three Tampa police officers on hand to keep the mellow crowd in line. “The University of Tampa used to have the President’s Cup and we wanted to bring a rowing event like this back downtown.”

* * *

“This is a great way to showcase the city, the waterfront and the great sport of rowing,” Buckhorn said, placing particular emphasis on the benefits to youth.

“Not only is rowing good exercise,” he said, “but if you get really good at it, it can be a good way to earn a scholarship.”

Apparently, the crew art did not detract from the enjoyment or focus on the river in 2012. So what is the reason for the change?  Because.

This all goes exactly to our point that, while the city says it wants to clear only a small amount of the crew art today, it has already removed a decent amount, wants to remove more, and there is no reason to think the administration will not have another excuse to remove even more later.  The area where crew art is acceptable should be rather large and should be specifically and clearly designated.

We have a good first step from the City Council.  Now, it should finish the job and make sure the crew art is protected, even as the Riverwalk and lights go in.  (And it should stow that rubber stamp more often)

Transportation – A Muddle

Part of the proposal for a proposal for a proposal for transportation in Hillsborough County is the restructuring of the HART board and expansion of HART responsibilities.  So what does the present HART board think of that?

At a meeting Monday, the directors of HART were unable to agree on how or even whether to change the board’s composition.

Instead, they voted to allow their chairman, CEO and attorney to meet with the county attorney, administrator and staff to create a consensus document about the board’s governance.

“We have to start showing a great deal of leadership,” said County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who serves on the HART board and made the motion. “And the message has got to be that we understand the big picture — the traffic problems, the transit problems in this community — and we’re willing to step back and work on a consensus document.”

The recommendation would eventually be brought back for discussion and possible approval. 

That is reasonable, though it is not clear why this issue has not been ironed out already.  So what is the TED plan for HART?

The HART board is made up of 13 members — seven appointed by the Hillsborough County Commission, three by Tampa, two by the governor and one by Temple Terrace. The county’s other city — Plant City — has no appointees to the board.

Under an idea proposed by a large group of local elected officials calling itself the Policy Leadership Group, the HART board would still include the two gubernatorial appointees. But every other member would be an elected official — all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities, for a total of 12. As it stands, fewer than half the HART board members currently are elected.

Under this iteration, the mayor of Tampa would be that city’s sole representative on the board, but would still be able to cast three votes. This means HART’s charter would have to be altered to allow for proportional voting. County Administrator Mike Merrill said interlocal agreements between the county and cities could accomplish the change.

Even if the HART board were to reject a reorganization, Merrill said rules already allow the county and cities to appoint all elected officials — rather than laypeople — if they choose.

“Each jurisdiction can appoint to the HART board whoever they chose,” Merrill said. “It’s not like it’s anything really new that’s needed. If the County Commission wanted to appoint all seven of themselves to the HART board right now, they could do that.”

Setting aside the oddness of the Mayor of Tampa having three votes, that is correct.  There is no reason that unelected people have to be appointed to the HART board.  In fact, the County Commission put another Commissioner on the board last week.  which brought this response from one of the Tea Party members of the HART board:

Karen Jaroch, whose term on the HART board ends Oct. 31, said she opposes converting its membership to mostly elected officials or enlarging the agency’s scope of responsibility. She said the board needs members with diverse skills and backgrounds such as Crino, a financier, and Steven Polzin, director of mobility research at the University of South Florida’s Center for Urban Transportation Research.

Jaroch, who chairs HART’s finance committee, said busy county commissioners and city council members won’t have the time to delve into complicated and data-heavy transit issues, especially if the agency’s work load expands significantly.

“I think this model has worked: HART is one of the best transit agencies in the country,” said Jaroch, who is an a [sic] engineer. “Expanding the scope, and putting all elected (members) on there that don’t have the time to commit to that, I think is a mistake.”

First, it should be noted that this board member is an engineer with ties to the road industry who was ironically appointed by the same County Commission that ostensibly now wants to change the HART board. (See “HART, again: Tampa Bay Exceptionalism, Part II”) Second, HART is hardly one of the best transit agencies in the country.  If it was so good, there would not be a need to fix transportation in Hillsborough County, which most people (though probably not a lot of Tea Party members) think is the case.

More directly, appointed board members may have some more time, though that is not clear.  On the other hand, they are not accountable to anyone, which is a major problem, especially when those appointees represent small interest groups.  More to the point:

“We’re talking about changing the (HART) board because we’re talking about creating an agency that has significantly more money to spend with greater responsibility,” said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who sits on the HART board. “So you want people serving on that board who are directly accountable to our citizens.”

Exactly. On the other hand, just because someone is elected does not mean they will not contribute to the muddle:

Also opposing the policy group’s plans is County Commissioner Victor Crist, the one no-vote on Miller’s nomination to the HART board. Crist said he didn’t know Commissioner Sandy Murman planned to put Miller’s name in the mix, so he countered by proposing Sharon Calvert, founder of the Tampa Tea Party, for the open board position. Calvert was one of the leaders of the opposition the last time a sales tax hike was proposed for transportation projects in 2010.

“I had to pull a rabbit out of my hat,” Crist said of his nominating Calvert. “She’s one person who has an interest and understands’’ transportation.

Crist, who has served on the transportation policy board with the other commissioners for the last 14 months, said he opposes the projects put forward by Merrill on Tuesday and is against holding a tax referendum in 2016. Crist noted that the price tag on the list of projects Merrill presented far exceeds the $3 billion the sales tax increase would generate over 30 years. Merrill said the list will be downsized by the policy board after it hears from the public in a series of meetings later this year.

“I look at these numbers and I’m not comfortable with them,” Crist said. “It’s too lofty, too broad, and based on too many uncertainties for the voters to support it.”

Crist, a Republican, denied that his sudden, vocal opposition to the transportation plan has anything to do with the election challenge he faces in November from Democrat Elizabeth Belcher.

If he says so, but his suggestion of one of the most anti-rail, Tea Party members (someone who he defeated in a primary) for the HART board is odd especially for someone who said this last year:

But Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist has a different suggestion, one he said Wednesday would ensure the taxpayers — and not just the Rays — get a return on their investment: the former dog track in Sulphur Springs.

“I’m just saying this is an alternative that makes sense,” Crist said. “I think we should put it on the table and look at it.”

The former Tampa Greyhound Track, still home to poker at Lucky’s Card Room, is just a few miles north of downtown and served by three Interstate 275 exit ramps. It could provide a mass of riders for a north-south commuter rail line linking downtown to Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida.

Then again, he would not be the first County Commissioner to channel a former Presidential Candidate and support rail before he opposed it.  We just wonder where he was for the last 14 months (maybe writing tickets to Lyft and Uber drivers).  Anyway, what is his plan? What should be trimmed from the list?  We would love to know.

Once again, despite a lot of good work by the County staff to lay a foundation for decision making, this all goes back to what we said last week: the plan should have been fully worked out before there was a roll out because nothing has been resolved yet.  The failure is on the elected officials who, through lack of political will, are now going to make us endure another extended period of the same old arguments.

Maybe we will be surprised eventually, but right now this looks like a bit of a mess.  There is much work to be done.

Transportation – PTC and Possibly Some Progress

There was news about ride sharing.  It seems that the PTC discussions with Lyft are moving in a positive direction.

The situation remains especially fluid, but here’s where Cockream says things stand so far with Lyft:

♦ Lyft agreed to put its drivers through so-called Level 2 criminal background checks, and Cockream agreed to buy a $12,000 fingerprint scanner to keep in the commission office to make the process easier.

♦ Cockream said Lyft’s cars should go through official inspections, and they can be done at any accredited mechanic.

♦ Lyft agreed that drivers should go through supervised training, and Cockream said commission officials can help and observe that process.

♦ Cockream remains steadfast that drivers and car companies carry commercial insurance, so he’s asked state insurance regulators to review some proposed policies and issue a ruling. “Even if someone like MetLife came to Florida with a new policy, they’d have to go through the state anyway,” Cockream said.

♦ Lyft has asked for some flexibility with what kinds of cars drivers can use, and Cockream said they’re willing to be flexible on that issue.

Still, a few important sticking points remain:

♦ “Surge pricing.” Typically, Lyft and Uber can raise rates at peak times, partly to lure more off-work drivers to jump into the market. “We haven’t come to a common ground on that,” Cockream said. “They say the price a consumer pays should be what the market will bear, and I understand that. But what happens when there’s a hurricane? We have to have assurances that they’re not going to price gouge.”

♦ “Cherry picking.” Commission rules require taxi drivers to pick up any fare in any neighborhood, but Lyft and Uber systems allow drivers to designate specific neighborhoods and days when they want to work. Drivers can also filter their phone screens to show only passengers with a record of paying well. Likely, Cockream said, ride-share companies will fall more into the limo category than taxi category, because limo companies can accept or decline any customer depending on their business model.

We are not going to comment on this list except on the limo thing.  Because the PTC forces limos to charge ridiculous prices as part of its protectionist policy, it is totally unacceptable to categorize ride sharing as limos (It is unacceptable to have the protectionist minimum pricing for the limos, too). It just goes back to the entire problem with the PTC – its policies are protectionist and cartel promoting.  And if the PTC cares so much about consumers and price gouging, why does it have minimum prices for limos?

In any event, apparently, the discussions with Uber are not as advanced:

Cockream said there’s a “tremendous difference” in dealing with Lyft versus Uber. Sometimes he’s on the phone with Lyft officials daily. By contrast, Uber representatives have been far less responsive, he said.

We do not know whether that is because Uber is being stubborn or just sees no point discussing issues with the PTC as long as the PTC exists in its flawed form.

Another problem we have with how the PTC is handling this is:

But while the PTC is talking to the companies, it has referred an unspecified number of ride-sharing drivers to the county State Attorney’s Office for possible misdemeanor charges.

Hardly good faith, especially for an agency that has real problems with legitimacy.

If there is progress to an agreement, fine.  We have no problem with that, but we shall see if anything can get concluded.  We still have a problem with the PTC, which is an unnecessary agency that has been imposed on Hillsborough County for no apparent reason except to add to bureaucracy and protect special interests.

The County could just as easily negotiate a deal and, unlike the PTC, not interfered with the market.  So what is the point of having the PTC?

Greenlight – Clearing the Deck

In sharp contrast to the ongoing muddle in Hillsborough, in Pinellas, the PSTA keeps wisely removing distractions from the Greenlight issue – allowing people to focus on the real issues.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority repaid $354,000 to the federal government this week after facing questions over how it used grant money on an ad campaign.

The Department of Homeland Security informed PSTA staff in a conference call that the agency might have to return the money because the radio and television ads didn’t promote security awareness, PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller said in an email to his board of directors Friday.

“After I heard this, I immediately decided not to wait any further while DHS would likely delay a final decision, and we sent the grant funds back in a check on Wednesday,” Miller wrote.

If there was any question, the money should be repaid.  That was done.  We await the next distraction.

Economic Development – Confirming the Worst

This week, there was another report of VC funding that just reinforced Florida’s lack of performance.

An analysis by InternetCoast said there were 50 venture capital transactions valued at $422 million in Florida in the 12-month period ended June 30. That’s up from 45 transactions worth $256 million during the period ending in mid 2013.

Despite the growth, Florida’s share of U.S. venture capital funding was a mere 1.1 percent, up from 1 percent a year earlier.

It does not tell us anything we did not already know, but it does confirm the problem.

Riverfront Park – Yea, the Mounds Are Cool

There was an interesting item in the Times about Riverfront Park, going through the history and providing some observations from someone who actually used it.  You can read the whole thing here. We are not going to go over all of it, but just highlight some things:

The park is unkempt, no doubt. My wife calls it Condom Park because she found a used prophylactic near the slides the first time she visited. Our oldest daughter got stung by a hornet while playing there a few years ago. An entry on urbandictionary.com refers to a used-to-be sunken promenade there as the Hobo Death Arena, based on the claims of one rowing team in 2005 that said it witnessed several to-the-death bum fights.

True.  And the neglect is on the City over many administrations.

Nonetheless, we trekked to the top of the tallest mound, positioned the Spooner Board on the hot-as-hell slide and had a blast taking turns riding gravity toward the sand pit.

I sensed it then. Despite the neglect, there’s something special about Riverfront Park. Among the ubiquitous, boring, plastic playgrounds around the city, Riverfront stands out. You can tell, still, that someone had an interesting idea about park design. But it took Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s insults to get me really interested.

In the past few months, Buckhorn has taken every opportunity to deride the park. He calls those hills “alien space mounds” and talks about how they block the view of the river. He wants them gone, bulldozed to make way for a redeveloped public space. Maybe including a beach. Maybe including a boathouse. Maybe including some other boring idea.

Indeed. (Though a boathouse would be ok, just don’t think of having any paint)  Then the column discusses the park’s designer and the original design – and how Tampa messed it up:

Dattner’s original park was brilliant. It included an earthen amphitheater, a promenade with office space and classrooms inside an earthen mound, several other mounds connected to one another by wooden play gear and ropes courses, tree forts, tennis courts, handball courts, a shuffleboard court and a public swimming pool. The year it opened, thousands of people attended full-day events at the new civic jewel.

Now, few of the original features remain. The shuffleboard court is gone. The swimming pool is gone. One of the mounds was bulldozed. The geodesic domes are gone. The wooden forts built around bare climbing trees have been replaced by the boring plastic play equipment you see everywhere.

So he took his daughter and a friend to the park:

I showed them pictures of the park in its heyday, and they perked up. We’d play on that, they said. Both seemed to recognize something the mayor is missing. These hills are something. There’s significance here. There’s history.

“If they try to bulldoze them,” my daughter said, “we could just sit on top.”

Setting aside the logistical problem if sitting on top of a nonexistent mound, well said.  Kids love the mounds (and the idea of a vertical element) and can see the potential even with the City’s neglect.

It is just too bad that the Mayor seems determined to erase the little things that make Tampa different – the Bro Bowl, the crew art, the mounds – instead of embracing them while fixing the things that hold us back – like bad planning, bad design standards, poor transportation, and settling in all ways.

Yes, the park can be fixed up (the City should never have neglected it and it is good that the Mayor now wants to put some money into it), but leave what already makes it special.

Transportation and the Rays – An Illustration

As some of you may know, the Rays traded their ace pitcher last week.  That led to an interesting Times article about economics:

A day before Price was traded to the Tigers, Rays manager Joe Maddon set the stage with familiar team refrain: The Trop causes poor attendance, poor attendance lowers payroll, lower payrolls force the team to part ways with favorite players.

“You lose (James) Shields. You lose (Carl) Crawford. You lose B.J. (Upton). A lot of good guys. That’s what happens around here.” Maddon said. “Until we build a new ballpark, it’s going to continue to happen.”

So where are we with the Rays stadium issues?

The Rays want to explore potential stadium sites in Hillsborough as well as Pinellas counties, but St. Petersburg officials have blocked any cross-bay search, citing a Trop contract that extends to 2027.

Meanwhile, attendance that averaged 23,147 a game after the team’s 2008 World Series run dropped to 18,645 last year and is on pace this year for 17,389, the worst in baseball.

The Rays and city officials have met several times since Mayor Rick Kriseman took office this year, and both sides say they are working amicably toward a solution. They are scheduled to meet again this month.

So, as far as we can tell, we nothing has really changed except St. Pete has even less leverage than before and attendance is worse.

Last week, we wrote that Hillsborough County should focus on building its transportation system properly because, if done on the cheap, money saved now will likely be lost later.  We used the Trop as an example.

Think of all the good players the Rays could not keep as good jobs, companies, and talented workers and you can understand what the price of a half-assed transportation plan will be. (No pun intended)

Built Environment – What?

We saw an interesting article from the Tampa Bay Business Journal this week that tells one a lot about the mentality of this area – especially in Hillsborough County.

Premier is a 145,000-square-foot park — three one-story buildings and one four-story building on 12 acres — in the southeast quadrant of Gunn Highway and Linebaugh Avenue with frontage on both roads. Kossoff’s group is planning to invest $1 million in the park, to demolish the four-story building and renovate the interiors of the remaining three. That will make way for more parking, which Meridian and Blue Vista are hoping will give them a competitive edge. The office trend nationwide is significantly reducing square footage per employee, putting as many people in as little space as possible. That dynamic creates need for more parking than most properties have.

What the article does not say is that the remaining buildings are all sprawling one story buildings. (You can see an aerial photo here) In other words, the four story building has to go to provide more parking for the one story buildings.  And note that this complex is right near Busch/Gunn Hwy and Dale Mabry – hardly an empty field.

Yes, we do not own the property and the owners can demolish a perfectly good four story building if they want.  Our point is that it shows the sprawl-centric mentality.  One story buildings take up more surface area, eliminating more parking spaces, than a four story building with the same square footage.  Yet, in a very high traffic area is becoming less dense is considered a better use of the land?

We wonder if the County Commission considers that economic development.

 A Little History

A reader made us aware of this website on the history of railroads in the Tampa Bay area which is made through the cooperation of the Friends of Tampa Union Station and the Times.  There is some stuff of interest, especially, in our opinion, this pdf, which appears to be a school curriculum.  (It apparently also had some help from Hillsborough County through a historic challenge grant. We find it strange that this area keeps destroying its history then honoring it, much like the old Hillsborough County Courthouse, which was demolished in the name of progress and now is the county seal.)  Anyway, for those interested in such things, it is worth a look.

List of the Week

This week’s list is realtytrac’s list of Most Affordable Housing Markets for Millennials.  There are actually two lists – most affordable to buy and most affordable to rent.  The lists are by county.  We put the metro area in parentheses. The methodology is here.

First, to buy.  Topping the list is Richmond Co. (Augusta, Ga) followed by Cumberland Co (Fayetteville, NC), DeKalb Co (Atlanta), Duval Co (Jax), Philadelphia Co (Philadelphia), Baltimore City (Baltimore), Faulkner Co (Little Rock), Franklin Co (Columbus, OH), Douglas Co (Omaha), Milwaukee Co (Milwaukee), Lancaster Co (Lincoln, NE), Rutherford Co (Nashville), Montgomery CO (Clarksville, TN), Pitt Co (Greenville, NC), and Prince George’s Co, MD (DC).

The top to rent is Bossier Parrish (Shreveport), followed by Arlington Co, VA (DC), Lancaster Co (Lincoln), Cass Co (Fargo), Mecklenburg Co (Charlotte), East Baton Rouge Parrish (Baton Rouge), New Hannover Co (Wilmington, NC), Faulkner Co (Little Rock), Dane Co (Madison, WI), Franklin Co (Columbus, OH), Douglas Co (Omaha), Montgomery Co (Clarksville, TN), Durham Co (Durham), Hennepin Co (Minneapolis-St. Paul), and Rutherford Co (Nashville).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. B. Wills permalink
    August 8, 2014 12:23 PM

    Regarding park design, City officials should use Parc Guell in Barcelona Spain as a model that beautifully illustrates the appeal of vertical elements in parks. Here’s a link: http://www.parkguell.cat/en/park-gueell/origin-and-creation/

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