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Roundup 12-25-2015

December 24, 2015

It is the holiday season and kind of slow, so we decided that we will take the next few weeks off (returning Jan 15).  Before we do that, though, there are a few items to touch on.  We were going to go all creative offer some resolutions for the area, but no one keeps resolutions anyway; so we decided to skip it and go straight to the news.


Transportation – The Alternative Tax Plan

Seminole Heights – Constructive Discussion

Cuba – Tampa, Cuba, ex-Soldiers, Spies

— In other News on Cuba

Economy – Looking at the Year

Politics – Out of the Sunshine

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Tourist Everywhere

— Meaningless Milestone

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country


Transportation – The Alternative Tax Plan

There was an article in the Tribune regarding the provenance of one Commissioner’s alternative transportation tax plan.

In a late-afternoon e-mail blast on Nov. 4, Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman stunned county leaders by announcing she was submitting an alternative to the Go Hillsborough transportation plan they had developed during months of meetings.

What she didn’t announce was where her plan came from — or how closely it reflects ideas and even language put forth by tea party members and a prominent anti-tax activist from Pinellas County.

* * *

But anti-tax activists, who had been imploring county commissioners to shut down Go Hillsborough and forget the sales tax, cheered Murman’s bold move.

“Sandy, I can’t tell you how proud of I am of your stepping out to lead on the transportation issue. It is fantastic,” Ken Roberts, a tea party member, said in an e-mail to Murman the next day, one in a series of Murman’s emails obtained by the Tribune under Florida’s public records law. “Thank you for your courage and your dedication to finding the best way for the county.”

Roberts had every reason to be proud. Murman’s plan borrowed heavily from one he had been shopping to commissioners for months before her e-mail blast.

Of the five funding sources Murman proposed using to finance road and mass transit improvements, three were right out of Roberts’ playbook: mobility fees, which would impose higher payments from builders for new development; a transportation trust fund financed with a portion of the county’s annual revenue growth; and a 5 cents-per-gallon gas tax.

To that list, Murman added two one-time funding options: a $22.8 million settlement for damages from the BP oil spill and $30 million from county reserve funds.

Interesting.  Of course, the people who came up with a lot of these ideas do not want rail or any real transit.  Their ideas also seem to indicate that they do not want good planning and they do not care about any urban living or attracting talent to improve the economy.  But that is their choice.  That does not change the fact that we are open to all sorts of ideas of where to find funding to get us where we need to be. Just because some people may not want to put the money to good use does not mean it cannot be put to good use.

Our view is along the lines of this:

Turanchik, the former commissioner, also liked Murman’s plan, but for different reasons.

“What I like about her approach is it does those things the county commission can do and, in my view, should do,” Turanchik said. “But it doesn’t mean you close the door on a referendum because we clearly have big needs we need to address.”

We do not think the proposed money will cover what needs to be covered (by design) or do what needs to be done (also by design).  On the other hand, we are all for creative thinking and not relying solely on sales tax (or at all, if it can be avoided).  We have no problem with examining other ideas.  In fact, Orlando used an interesting mix of funding to get SunRail after a sales tax referendum failed.  That is fine with us.

That being said, if this alternative was intended to really fund real transportation improvements and move us into the 21st century, it would not have been made at the last minute and would have provided more funding.  It would have been proposed earlier so it could be studied.

Even without this week’s article, this Commissioner’s proposal gave the distinct impression that it was a sop to a certain constituency and had no chance of really solving our transportation issues. It appeared designed to sacrifice really fixing transportation for political expediency.  If that is not the case, the plan was not really good enough to be seriously considered (though it is still an open question whether the whole TED/PLC/Go Hillsborough process is good enough to really accomplish what needs to be done).  In either case, this area deserves better.

Seminole Heights – Constructive Discussion

In contrast to discussions among our elected leaders regarding transportation (and a host of other things), based on URBN Tampa Bay’s report, there was a constructive, if inconclusive, discussion regarding the proposed apartment building on Florida in Seminole Heights.  As you can read in the URBN Tampa Bay write up, there is not necessarily a consensus, but it was civil, and we think eventually there will be general, if not total, agreement (you can’t please everyone).

Attached, you will find a massing model presented at the meeting, of a proposed tweak to soften the building’s corners some and make the structure slightly less imposing. This is just one of several options the developer, Wesley Burdette, is looking at. Other possibilities the architect, Sean Verdecia, discussed involve a setback on the front facade at the 2nd floor, to create an arcade along Fl Ave, with a 2nd floor balcony… They’re also looking at setting back the 4th floor a bit, again to potentially create enough space for built in balconies, and to soften the height effect. Or also a combination of setbacks and sheer vertical elements (see attached example), to soften the mass, but with more variation.

From our sense, there was no real consensus on massing among the crowd, with several people voicing support for the project exactly as-is, including OSHNA approving a resolution stating that. Some wanted the building a floor or two shorter, but they certainly seemed to be in the minority. It seems like most conclude that nobody wants density infiltrating the residential side streets, so it has to come along the commercial corridors like Fl Ave. 

Here are some of the concepts put forward to try to address the issues brought up in the ARC meeting.

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

It appears that the developer is working hard on this.  The last rendering seems to cover a lot of concerns – unless you just want a one story building with a stucco/red tile façade and fake little bell cupola.  In any event,

– – For anyone who would like to offer further input, you can email the architect directly at; … What is especially useful are picture examples of what you’re referring to, with an explanation the architect can understand. – –

How is that for actual outreach?

Cuba – Tampa, Cuba, ex-Soldiers, Spies

There was a bizarre article in the Tribune this past week about a possible Cuban consulate in Tampa.

As civic leaders from both sides of Tampa Bay jockey to host a Cuban consulate, a small group of naysayers sees a darker side to the prospect — one rooted in continuing Cold War tensions and the island nation’s reputation for superior espionage operations.

A consulate “will be Cuba’s headquarters for intelligence operations in Tampa and Florida,” says Evelio Otero, a retired Air Force colonel who served at both U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. “It will be a spy hotbed.”

The focus for Cuban spies would be Centcom and Socom, says Jim Waurishuk, a retired Air Force colonel who served as deputy director of intelligence for Centcom.

Otero and Waurishuk belong to a small group called “No to Cuban Consulate in Tampa,” which, as its name indicates, is opposed to having an outpost of the Castro government in the Tampa area.

Now, we can understand someone whose family had to leave Cuba and lost a lot having some reservations about relations with Cuba.  On the other hand, at this point, relations are coming whether people have reservations or not. Moreover, this stated concern is a little odd – not because it is unrealistic but because it is so obvious as to be irrelevant.  We kind of view it like this:

“I am not buying into that argument,” says St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who recently visited Cuba to lobby for a consulate. “It is not a concern.”

Kriseman says it is “my job to promote my community and the federal government’s job to figure out how to maintain security on their sites. If I follow their logic, we wouldn’t have a consulate anywhere in the state of Florida.”

Indeed. We think the officials at MacDill know that there are people trying to spy on them.  Not to mention that anything happening in and around a Cuban consulate or its personnel would be about the most obvious espionage you could have.  If US counterintelligence can’t watch a consulate everyone knows might have some untoward activity . . . well, we don’t even know what to say.  As this County Commissioner noted:

“Sometimes those things happen, but our government is fully aware of that potential and generally keep a really close eye on these kinds of offices,” Crist says. “If they are going to spy, they are going to do it whether they have a consulate or not. I don’t think that should be a reason to avoid a consulate. If the government thinks it is time to open one, then I would like to see it in Tampa.”


— In other News on Cuba

There was a little more news about scheduled flights to Cuba.

Miami-based Havana Air says it will be become the first airline to offer real-time online booking for flights to Cuba when it launches its new booking engine January 1.

The move is the latest effort to claim market share in the burgeoning battle over air travel between the U.S. and Cuba, following an announcement last week that the two countries planned to resume regularly scheduled commercial flights.

Last week, American Airlines — which has long operated charters to Cuba – announced it had reached an agreement with the island government [sic] to establish regular service, pending approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Silver Airways, JetBlue and United have also expressed interest in offering scheduled flights. 

We still curious to see if Tampa will keep (and expand) its nonstop flights or we will be funneled through hubs.  Clearly, there is enough demand for nonstop flights in Tampa, but you never know.

Economy – Looking at the Year

There was another column in the Times regarding jobs.  It was what you would expect.

The good news in Friday’s employment report is Tampa Bay’s jobless rate of 4.6 percent is so low it’s now entering a range economists call “full employment.”

As long as you do not count the people not looking for work or the underemployed.  But anyway, it is a good number.

The not-so-good news is wage gains in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties still lag behind the pace of the nation’s average increase in pay. Of special concern is Pinellas, whose average wage increase looks especially weak.

These wage findings come courtesy of a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of employment data on 342 of the country’s largest counties spanning from June 2014 to June 2015. Among Tampa Bay’s three major counties, the BLS found jobs in Hillsborough County paid the highest average weekly wage of $922, followed by Pinellas County averaging $850 and Pasco at $718.

None of the area counties’ average wages approached the national weekly average of $968.

Worse, none of the three bay area counties matched the nation’s 3 percent growth rate in average pay.

In other words, we are behind, and we are not catching up.

Compared to all 339 other counties analyzed by the BLS, where did Tampa Bay’s counties land?

It is a sobering reminder that, while buildings may be going up in downtowns and Westshore and some people are doing really well, this area on average really is not booming.  In fact, it is lagging.

Politics – Out of the Sunshine

There was another article this week about Tampa city audits.

Two internal audits have City Council members simmering about Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s approach to acknowledging when City Hall has problems that need fixing.

Both audits — one of a city housing program and one of staffing at city swimming pools — found operational weaknesses that have since been addressed.

Each was released within the last five weeks. But the parks department responded to auditors’ findings by making changes in July. In the housing program, some changes were made as far back as 2014.

Meanwhile, Buckhorn held onto the reports as nonpublic “drafts” until the follow-up work was done.

That’s too long, a majority of council members said last week.

“There’s definitely some hang time that concerns me,” Lisa Montelione said.

Under Florida law, municipal audits are exempt from disclosure as public records until they are final. At Tampa City Hall, they are not considered final until Buckhorn signs them, which can take the better part of a year.

Council member Harry Cohen said he understands that draft audits are not public records.

“The problem is that if it takes nine months or a year for an audit to get from a draft form to signed, by the time it gets here, it’s either stale or the issues have been addressed in such a way that there’s no purpose to us taking it up,” he said.

Council member Mike Suarez is concerned that the council could approve contracts without knowing whether auditors were raising red flags about the departments in question.

“That’s the biggest issue,” he said. “We need to know because we don’t want to have to unravel a contract later on because someone’s not performing their job.”

We just view the withholding of useful information from the public as normal politics in our Imperial Mayor system. Why should the people (or the City Council) know what happens in their City government? If the administration needs to hold on to a copy for some reason, just 2 copies.  This should not even be a discussion.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of Florida

— Tourist Everywhere

There is a lot of reporting about how well tourism is doing locally – and it is doing well.  On the other hand, we should also keep everything in perspective.  For instance:

“Our community’s tremendous business and tourism climate along with exception regional leadership have led to extraordinary international growth,” said Frank Kruppenbacher, chairman of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, in a news release. “This is why we are in the midst of a record breaking year at the Orlando International Airport.”

The airport reported Thursday a nearly 24 percent increase in international traffic in October, accounting for an additional 436,839 international travelers coming through the airport.

The announcement comes after months of increased traffic figures. International carriers such as Brazil’s Azul Airlines, which began service at OIA this year, and TAM Airlines, which expanded here, as well as Southwest, Air Canada and Aero Mexico accounted for more than half of the international traffic increase for the year.

Total international traffic was up 17.2 percent for that 12-month period, according to airport leaders.

“And numbers like these illustrate why we’re investing over $3 billion into our community’s transportation infrastructure and future.”


Miami International Airport could set a new record of 44 million passengers by the end of 2015, airport officials said recently.

As of last Thursday the Miami airport had already welcomed 40.9 million passengers this year — 3.2 million more than it did over the same period in 2014. It set its previous record in 2014, when 40.9 million passengers moved through the airport’s facilities.

Recent passenger traffic growth is fueling optimism the Miami airport will exceed the 2014 record in the final weeks of December, generally its busiest month.

Clearly, there is a broader trend in tourism (and flying).  Some yes, we are growing tourism, but it is not like we are out front of the rest of Florida or the country. (This would imply that we are not.) We are all riding the same wave.

One thing of interest is that Tampa International has grown its international (and other) flights even while Orlando has grown theirs.  It is clear that there are different markets for each – as predicted by the early international flight advocates – even if they do overlap a bit.  Thankfully, the airport staff are aggressive in grabbing a share of that.

— Meaningless Milestone

Florida passed the 20 million mark in population.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida’s population has now topped 20 million people.

Prognosticators have been predicting this would happen for years, the way they’ve been predicting the number of Florida tourists would someday top 100 million.

At last, on Tuesday, the census made it official: Florida’s population in 2015 reached 20,271,272. Only California (39,144,818) and Texas (27,469,114) had more people, according to the bureau.

Not that it really means anything.  We would happily switch some of that growth in population for growth in average income – though we don’t see why we can’t have both.

Meanwhile, In the Rest of the Country

Speaking of wages and tech jobs:

Oracle Corp., the world’s second-largest software company, plans to build a new corporate campus on 27 acres overlooking Lady Bird Lake, just east of downtown Austin, the company confirmed to the American-Statesman on Tuesday.

With the new campus, Oracle plans to grow its Austin workforce by 50 percent over the next few years, the company said.

The move expands the presence of another rapidly growing California-based technology giant in Central Texas, as companies including Apple Inc., Google and Facebook are aggressively ramping up their workforces here.

Oracle said its 560,000-square-foot corporate campus is planned for a site between South Lakeshore Boulevard and Elmont Drive. Oracle is buying the 27 acres of undeveloped land for an undisclosed price from Austin-based Cypress Real Estate Advisors. The purchase closed Tuesday, the company said.

The deal also includes a adjacent 295-unit luxury apartment complex that will be a housing option for Oracle employees.

(It appears that it is on the south side of the river. You can see a map here and here) Now that is “in-town” development (though, to be honest, we would not be surprised if it was quite auto-centric, as most “campus” developments tend to be).

“Austin was a natural choice for Oracle to invest and grow,” said Scott Armour, senior vice president of Oracle Direct, the firm’s cloud sales organization. “We already have a high-performing employee base in the region, and the surrounding technology community is teeming with creative and innovative thinkers. Our state-of-the-art campus will be designed to inspire, support and attract top talent – with a special focus on the needs of millennials.”

That last paragraph pretty much tells the story, especially when you compare it to our area (note Oracle alone has between 1000-2000 employees around Austin.

Yes, we have improved, but we are still behind and not really gaining.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sharon permalink
    December 24, 2015 10:48 AM

    You missed the point of Murman offering an alternative which did not just come from those the Tribune or you labels as anti-tax. After over a year and $1.3 MILLION of taxpayer money spent on Go Hillsborough, it could only propose ONE funding alternative that will likely fail considering our recent history and considering the process was compromised. Murman’s proposal is something that could be started now and does not require a referendum. The highly paid consultants and PR firm could not come up with any other ideas because the sales tax hike was already baked into the process from the start. Real consultants always offer alternatives to their clients, never just one take it or leave it proposal. So what that Murman proposed something different late in the game – at least she did because the entire Merrill facilitated PLG and Go Hillsborough campaign intentionally inhibited the electeds from having a serious discussion about all funding options. Funding for our roads and transportation should start first with our existing budget. County revenues are going up but the county is spending it on growing the county bureaucracy much higher than population growth plus inflation and spending on lower priority items and special interests at the same time they tell us transportation is the #1 issue. The elephant in the room down at County Center is Trust. The county needs a Plan B because doing nothing is not an option.

    • December 25, 2015 9:11 AM

      We did not say anything about being “anti-tax.” Moreover, we said that those funding sources should be looked at. However, the plan does not generate enough money to actually pay for fixing transportation.

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