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Roundup 5-5-2017

May 5, 2017


Transportation – TBARTA Bill

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe

— And About That

Transportation – The Streetcar Study Latest

Transportation – How Did the Ferry Experiment Really Do?

Transportation – Good Riddance

Downtown – Encore Retail

Channel District – Boxing

Economy – How About Housing

Economic Development – How Not to Attract a Headquarters, Education Edition

Port/Latin America – Cuba

Politics – When a Term Limit is not a Term Limit

Rowdies – Still Kicking

Transportation – Those Autonomous, Shared Cars


Transportation – TBARTA Bill

The TBARTA bill was passed by the legislature.

The Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Wednesday that will reshape the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority. The Florida Senate passed its version last week, and the bill awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

The legislation will do three things:

The final bill requires legislative approval if there is a request or plan for rail that involves state money (rather than just any plan).   And the unanimous approval is a good achievement, and it is unlikely such a bill would be vetoed (or a veto not overridden).  Not surprisingly, the Times had a very positive editorial:

Scott should see the bill that passed unanimously in both chambers as a balanced, responsible approach by the region to be accountable for its own destiny with no predetermined conclusions about a specific plan. The agency’s 13-member governing board would include locally elected officials from the five counties and area business leaders. Scott would make four appointments to the board, including its founding chairman. This new governing structure is fresh and inclusive, and it reflects the strong working relationship of the bill’s major proponents, from the Tampa Bay Partnership to the bill’s main sponsors, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Plant City, to mayors and county commissioners on both sides of the bay.

* * *

Strengthening the governance of TBARTA is an essential step for the region to work together toward commuting solutions. But the tougher work is yet to come: deciding what transit options and routes are best and how to pay for them. This lays a solid foundation for the region’s political and business leaders to find common ground.

Unfortunately, it is not really inclusive in the sense that it only includes government officials and the poorly defined “business community.” (And, as we have said, as a practical matter, the business community would be well represented on the board, anyway). There are other relevant voices. (For instance, setting aside that TBARTA will now be about transit, who will speak on transit issues for people like those who would be harmed by TBX?) Hopefully, someone will represent them.

And, as we have explained before, the problem in this area has not been that political officials and the business community (in the forms of the Tampa Bay Partnership or Chambers of Commerce) have not worked together.  They have.  But there has not been a plan that sells to the public at large, though hopefully that will change.

Aside from that, we are fine with the change.  (Though anything the TBARTA proposes under the new structure could have been proposed under the old structure.)  Frankly, we are less concerned with the arrangement of the seats or who sits in the them then than with what the rebranded organization actually proposes (if the business community members can get a coordinated, integrated, transportation plan, great). That remains to be seen.

Downtown/Channel District – Maybe

There was an interesting article in the Times regarding the Lightning owner’s project:

The development plan has grown from $1 billion to $3 billion, so the Jeff Vinik-Cascade Investment partnership is talking to local officials about expanding the public’s financial commitment to the project, too.

$3 billion?  When last we can remember, it was $2 billion.

Strategic Property Partners originally envisioned a project with an ambitious 3 million square feet of development. Now it’s looking at building 9 million square feet over the next decade, including:

SPP also plans to demolish and rebuild the 230,000-square-foot Channelside Bay Plaza. And it plans to build two new hotels with a total of 650 rooms, plus renovate the 700-room Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.

The company has 15 teams of architects and designers working on plans for 16 different blocks. The University of South Florida is scheduled to start construction on its medical school building late this summer. SPP plans to start construction on the first of its buildings next year, with its first big buildings opening in mid- to late 2020.

So it is about 3 times larger, though we are not sure exactly what the specific changes will be.  Back to the public money:

Discussions are in the early stages, say officials and executives with Strategic Property Partners, the Tampa real estate company set up by Vinik and Cascade, a private capital fund launched by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. No hard numbers have been mentioned, and no financial request has been made.

The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County have already committed a total of up to $100 million in downtown property tax revenues to reimburse SPP for realigning streets, putting in new water, sewer and drainage pipes, and making other public improvements on its 40 acres near Amalie Arena.

So far, there’s about $34 million worth of work under way on a first phase of infrastructure. No reimbursements have been made since the work is not yet done.

So what are they considering?

A list that SPP gave Merrill suggests the “public realm” projects could include roads, sidewalks, landscaping along streets, a bigger Riverwalk, other new public plazas or parks, public art, community meeting space, public parking or enhancements to the TECO Line Streetcar, the arena’s Thunder Plaza or Cotanchobee Park.

The list, first disclosed by the Tampa Bay Guardian blog, also mentions “educational, arts (and) cultural uses.” Nozar said that could include moving the county-supported Museum of Science and Industry to SPP’s project, but it would include many other cultural amenities, too. MOSI did not come up during Merrill’s meeting with SPP, he said.

Strategic Property Partners also is thinking about asking the Legislature to consider next year authorizing the creation of a special district for the project. Inside the district, tenants and property owners would pay an assessment to help maintain and manage public spaces, similar to the way businesses contribute to the Westshore business district.

We are glad to hear that they include streetcar money in that list, as it could be a relatively big chunk in the requested money. (And, from what we can tell, the MOSI move is already a done deal.)  As for the general concept of adding more money:

So while $100 million might sound like a lot for infrastructure, SPP chief executive officer James Nozar expects the costs of those public elements will be “far in excess” of that.

The company says that if it builds a lot more than originally planned, its new construction will generate more in property taxes and it would help to receive a larger share of that new tax revenue to pay for public improvements inside the project’s footprint.

“To be clear,” SPP spokeswoman Ali Glisson said, “we would not expect our partners to extend their commitment until after we spend $1 billion.”

That is a decent argument, generally, for public investments that support private investment.  It is also logical to not add more public investment until the initial investment is made by the private entity.  So we have no theoretical argument with the idea.

The redevelopment money in question comes from Tampa’s 870-acre downtown community redevelopment area, or CRA.

When local officials created the CRA in 1983, they added up all the property values in the area. In the years since, taxes generated by that original value have been split up among the city, county, school district and other local taxing authorities.

But since 1983, the value of all downtown real estate has more than quadrupled, generating millions of new tax dollars to support further development downtown. For most of its life, downtown CRA taxes repaid the bonds for the Tampa Convention Center, but that debt is now paid off, so the revenues are available for SPP’s project.

Using money from downtown taxes to help revitalize downtown is logical enough, too, especially to support a project that, if built, will considerably raise tax revenues from the target area.

The real issues we have are about specifics.  The articles say the discussions are in the early stages.  Fine.  But exactly how much money are we talking about, and what specifically do they want to public money to go to (we are not too excited about paying for parking garages, as there are a lot of those in the Lightning owner’s plan already)?  We are also not for making any additional commitments specifically tied to the project until there is progress on the private part of the project.

It’s not that we lack the Lightning owner’s intentions or good will, but to make a further public investment, we think we need to see some results from the existing investment (which we think will be forthcoming).  We also think that any public investment should serve the community as a whole, not be targeted just for this project (like the streetcar, extending the Riverwalk, and other such ideas). And we would like a list of other options for the money to determine if this is the best use of the money.

The bottom line is we are open to the idea, but would need to see a lot more specifics before forming an opinion about the merits (or lack thereof) of any further proposal.  We would also need to see progress on the project.

That all being said, we hope the Lightning owner’s project will get going on schedule.  We like it, and we want it to succeed.  We just want to protect public money, too.

— And About That

Speaking of starting on schedule:

The final budget offered by the Florida Legislature provides the University of South Florida with $12 million for its new downtown Tampa medical education and research center which is expected to begin construction this fall.

That’s less than the $14 million that was listed on Monday, and $5 million less than USF officials had requested from the Legislature.

* * *

The building is expected to cost $152.6-million. To date, the Legislature has provided nearly $79 million to its construction.

We assume it will be fully funded eventually.

Transportation – The Streetcar Study Latest

In the latest installment of the streetcar study, there was a public workshop about possible alignments.

The city of Tampa has identified seven potential transit corridors to better connect its streetcar service in and around downtown including North Hyde Park, the Channel district and Ybor City as well as neighborhoods to the north.

The city announced the corridors during a progress report on the city’s InVision Streetcar study and outreach effort Tuesday night, after several public meetings.

What was the reaction?

The $1.6 million study has looked at seven possible expansions. On Tuesday, the crowd favored three in an instant poll using their cellphones to vote:

Four other options won less support:

Here are the maps (the top 3 choices listed above are A, B, and G):

From the City Website – click on picture for pdf

From the City Website – click on picture for pdf

You can see a more elaborate presentation here.

First, as long as we have to keep paying the recurring cost of the exorbitant insurance fees to cross the CSX tracks, there will be a built-in issue for the streetcar. (And we get the no-recurring cost of crossing the river, though we have no idea why it would be an issue to go under 275.  The streetcar already goes under the Selmon without issue) But setting that aside, we are not super enthusiastic about the options. F and G are just loops that don’t really add much (though F adds much less than G).  Option A just ends near The Heights, but not really there.  Given how large that development could be at build out, not actually going to it does not make much sense.   B is basically the same issue, but more so.

C, D, and E are interesting in expanding the useful reach of the streetcar, but, to be honest, they are very odd. C and D are just involve seemingly random spurs rather than really making a smooth integration into the existing system.  E is interesting but basically ignores most of downtown (and we are not sure that Hyde Park really is the best place for, or even wants, a streetcar, though connecting Howard and downtown would be nice).  So the most theoretically interesting plans are quite clunky.

It would be nice to work out connecting both “North Hyde Park” (aka West River aka West Tampa) and Tampa Heights to the system (though the cost of crossing the river might be quite high).  If that is not possible in one line, we would pick one (whichever opens up the most present and future riders) to integrate smoothly, but bring it into the heart of that area to really maximize utility. And a lot of the utility of any system is contingent on frequency of service, speed, and fare cost.  If it takes too long (including time-consuming line changes on such a short system), costs too much (like a day pass on streetcar car costing more than a day pass on Phoenix’s much longer, faster and most useful light rail), it will be a barrier to use.

Aside from the weaknesses of the plans, our lack of enthusiasm for any of those options stems from our bigger concern: how any streetcar extension would fit into (or form part of) a larger transportation system.

The reimagined streetcar service would complement transit enhancements currently being identified in a Regional Transit Feasibility Plan that has already revealed five important regional corridors where transit improvements would be most effective. Those corridors would connect areas like Westshore, downtown Tampa, Brandon, the University of South Florida and St. Petersburg.

Engineering firm HDR is leading the InVision Streetcar planning and is working with Jacobs Engineering (NYSE: JEC) to align the two plans.

Which is fine in theory.  The question is what it mean in practice, more specifically what is the streetcar’s purpose to be? It does not exist in a vacuum. Is it just a local circulator? Is it going to form the spine of some system and, if so, how can it be extended to Westshore/airport or what would the connection be?  If you can’t get North Hyde Park and Tampa Heights both into the extension, how would you serve the one left out and what are the different costs and catchment areas?  We get there may not be money to push it farther now, but what would the expansion plan be if there is money in the future?  Is one of those spurs to North Hyde Park intended to go farther (which would make a separate line more sensible) or is North Hyde Park going to be connected by another system? You really can’t judge the relative merits of any of the proposed routes, or decide anything, without knowing how it fits into the bigger picture.

So what is the next step?

The city’s consultants expect to develop cost estimates over the next three to four weeks and gather more public reaction at the city’s website:

That should be interesting. We’ll see if the information provided will address our real questions.

Transportation – How Did the Ferry Experiment Really Do?

There has been a lot of news coverage about the Cross Bay Ferry experiment.  While we have been all for the test, we thought it was of limited utility because of the schedule, the fares, and because a limited test does not really give a true measure of what people might do with a firm, full-time service.  Well, the Times dug into the numbers:

The ferry saw most of its success on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as a weekend entertainment option. Far fewer chose to use at as a commuter option, and weekday ticket sales reflected that.

The ferry sold 37,242 tickets from Nov. 4 through April 24. About 25,000 of them, or 67 percent, rode it on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The other third, or 12,000 people, used it the rest of the week.

The ferry grew more popular as more people learned about it. The 16,397 tickets bought in March and first three weeks of April was 44 percent of all tickets sold. Organizers also tinkered with timetables and ticket costs to make the ferry more attractive.

And the tinkering did bring some better results, but was it good enough?

The ferry holds up to 149 people and traveled between the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa. It typically made three round-trips on Saturdays and two round-trips on other days. Tickets cost $10 each way, though Frontier Communications paid for everyone’s tickets during certain promotional days.

Ticket data was provided by ferry operator HMS Ferries up to April 24. The data used here included about 2,800 tickets paid for by Frontier, because those riders set out to use the ferry. It does not include the 1,751 passengers — politicians, the media, local groups, even generals at MacDill Air Force Base — invited by the operator to try out the ferry when the service started.

There were some surprises within those numbers: In about 700 ferry trips, it sailed virtually empty a quarter of the time, with just 15 passengers or less. That’s 10 percent or less capacity, most commonly on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. A handful of times, it sailed with just one passenger onboard, or no one at all.

The ferry carried 100 or more passengers about 130 times, or about 19 percent of the total trips, mostly on weekends. It exceeded 90 percent capacity, or carried more than 134 people, just 6 percent of the time.

The data showed that after a fast start in November, when 5,855 people used the ferry, ridership dropped 34 percent in January (3,857.) A ferry spokesman attributed that to colder weather and the loss of key weekends: The ferry did not operate on holidays, Gasparilla or the national college football championship game in Tampa.

But ticket sales shot up 57 percent to 6,070 in February and haven’t stopped climbing. The first three weeks of April has already seen a record 8,407 tickets sold and could surpass 10,000 once the final tally is in.

But what’s driving those numbers are weekend, not weekday, ticket sales. In April alone, 60 percent of the tickets (5,040) were sold on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

And those numbers are not surprising because:

“That’s not surprising,” Kriseman said. “We knew the commuter piece was going to be really challenging … You’re asking a lot of people, to take a chance and change their schedules for something that was only here six months.”

A ferry feasibility by the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization showed that the 50-minute cruise isn’t very competitive compared to driving across the bay. Instead, the ferry seems geared more toward tourism and entertainment.

Which is quite relevant when considering future investment (or the amount thereof).

And a last point that should be considered in other planning – like the transit study:

There also aren’t a ton of people who live in south Pinellas and work in downtown Tampa, Hillsborough MPO executive director Beth Alden said. The commuter market just isn’t there.

“Maybe if you ran a ferry on a regular basis and it had multiple trips, it might change where people eventually buy their homes,” Alden said. “But right now, you don’t have a huge amount of folks making that commute trip. It’s going to be a lot easier to drive at this point.”

That is not to say that there is no one going back and forth.  There are.  (There are also people going to various spots in between, meaning a transit service that goes between the two with various stops would be better.) But the purpose of a transportation system should not be just point to point unless there is a strong density of ride producing uses at the points and/or better transit at either end to connect to such a density.

In other words, the ferry can be part of a system, but it definitely is not a system unto itself.  It is not even the core of a system.

Transportation – Good Riddance

It is not quite done yet, but the PTC seems to definitely be on its way to oblivion.

Decried by opponents as unnecessary and out-of-date, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission has been at the center of controversy over ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. It approved a ban on their operation within county boundaries and tried to regulate them like taxicab companies.

The House voted unanimously on Friday to end the PTC with no debate. Senators plan to pass the bill (HB 647), by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, next week. Every member of the Hillsborough County delegation supports it.

“Nobody would ever say, ‘Follow the Hillsborough model,’ ” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, an outspoken opponent of the commission who represented part of Tampa until redistricting last year. “The PTC is an abomination. Getting rid of the PTC and passing ridesharing might be the best thing to happen this session.”

Now that it is going away, let’s review the history, per the legislature:

The commission has its origins in the Taxicab Commission of the City of Tampa, created by special act in 1947 (Ch. 24921, Laws of Florida). Until 1976, Hillsborough County and the municipalities of Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace had their own separate taxicab ordinances, resulting in duplication and jurisdictional problems. To resolve these problems and create a more centralized system of taxicab regulation, in 1976 the Florida Legislature authorized the establishment of a countywide taxicab regulatory agency, the Hillsborough County Consolidated Taxicab Commission. In 1982, the Legislature added vans, handicabs, and limousines to the commission’s regulatory scope. To reflect this change, the name of the commission was changed in 1983 to the Hillsborough

County Public Transportation Commission (Ch. 83-423, Laws of Florida). In 1987-88, the Legislature added basic life support ambulances and government wreckers to the commission’s regulatory scope. In 1994, the Department of Community Affairs designated the commission as an independent special district.

(pdf pg 8).  Over time, the PTC worked to stifle new transportation ideas and messed with basically everything within (and some outside) their purview.

One final note from the former chairman of the PTC:

Hillsborough County commissioner and former PTC chairman Victor Crist told the Times/Herald that the state’s legislation overseeing Uber didn’t go far enough to protect consumers with higher insurance requirements, vehicle inspections and tougher background checks.

“I think the Legislature sold out the public ridesharing consumers by putting them needlessly at risk by not requiring the basic safeguards that we have here in Hillsborough County,” Crist, a former Republican state senator said.

Ok.  There is an argument for tweaking standards.  He should feel free to contact his legislator.  Hopefully, they will be more responsive to the needs of the consumer than the PTC has been.

Downtown – Encore Retail

Encore has had residents for a while.  Now, it is finally getting some retail, per 83 Degrees Media:

Encore, a $425 million redevelopment of the former Central Park Village public housing area, will give a home to local foodie Michelle Faedo’s Tampanian Cuisine as the first of three retail operations in the project’s immediate future.

“We’re really happy,” says Leroy Moore of the Tampa Housing Authority. “It’s a major milestone for this site because Encore is all residential now and we have space on the ground floor of all those buildings for retail.”

The residential facilities at Encore now have a strong enough population to support development of retail facilities, Moore says. In addition to Faedo’s eatery, a barbershop and new Westshore Pizza location are under contract.

It’s about time.  We also assume there will be a decent amount of turnover in the retail while the proper mix gets worked out, which is fine as well.  At least now it will become more like a real urban neighborhood.

Channel District – Boxing

URBN Tampa Bay posted some renderings of a proposed hotel at Kennedy and Meridian

From URBN Tampa Bay – click on picture for Facebook page

There is not much to say about it.  It is pretty much a box with some stuff slapped on the side, with a garage on the end.  While the main building has awnings, which is good, the parking garage with some screen on Meridian will just add to the less than pleasant streetscape on that road (see Pier House parking garage).  And aside from the garage, it basically looks like any hotel you can find at a mildly busy highway exit, not a hotel in an up-and-coming urban neighborhood.

We are all for adding hotel rooms to the Channel District and we get that this is filler, but it could still be better.

Economy – How About Housing

There has been a lot of talk about the boom in housing prices.  And they are rising, but there is one thing to keep in mind:

Despite a robust real estate market, only 10 percent of Tampa Bay homes have rebounded to their pre-recession peak value, a new report says.

Trulia, an online real estate database, found that while Tampa Bay home sellers are enjoying the largest price gains in 10 years, the gains are less than half of what they were in the bubble days of the mid 2000s.

The bay area isn’t alone in it’s slow recovery among the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. According to the Trulia analysis released today, only about a third of all homes nationally have seen their values rebound to what they were before the housing crash. 

What’s more:

Trulia found the greatest correlation between home values and income growth. San Francisco and other areas with the strongest growth in incomes since the recession have seen the biggest growth in values. That’s one of the areas where Tampa Bay falls short, the study found.

From July 2009 to July 2016, the bay area registered a 25 percent increase in jobs, among the highest rates in the country. But incomes grew by only 11 percent, outpaced by 40 of the top 100 metro areas including such Sun Belt competitors as Nashville, Austin and Raleigh.

(And remember how low our incomes are to start with.) Setting aside that the three Sun Belt cities listed are significantly smaller in population (though not influence) than us, none of that is surprising.  But, it is just a reminder that, while it may be that when you are standing in this area, it looks booming, if you look at it relative to other areas, that is not so clear.

Economic Development – How Not to Attract a Headquarters, Education Edition

As anyone who looks at economic development knows, one of the biggest issues for drawing talent is having good schools.  And, as we have noted before, ours have some issues.

In three separate sessions Tuesday, the School Board tossed around ways to manage a $3 billion operation while wrestling with population growth, aging buildings and a political climate that increasingly favors alternatives to government-run public schools.

Chief business officer Gretchen Saunders showed the board more than two dozen areas where expenses are climbing above current levels, in some cases by tens of millions of dollars — from employee health insurance to money gobbled up by charter schools.

Funding amounts from Tallahassee are still unknown. And Hillsborough’s cost-cutting efforts so far do not appear to be sufficient.

Florida’s per-student funding is at 2007 levels, said board member April Griffin, “and it is 2017.” She later proclaimed that “our situation is dire. It is very dire.”

Yes, there is a funding issue (and tax revenues are still not back to pre-recession levels in many cases).  But there are other issues as well – including management over time.

In any event, after all the talk, they reached this final outcome:

Although the board members spent the entire day together, they left agreeing they need another workshop. Board member Susan Valdes said it should be just about the budget — and all day.

Let’s review from a little over 2 years ago:

In political and business circles, the reaction to the board’s 4-3 vote to terminate Elia’s contract has been overwhelmingly negative. The prevailing wisdom is that Elia is a good school leader with the title of state Superintendent of the Year to prove it, that a board majority was being petty, and that the move was rash, costing taxpayers more than $1 million to break her contract.

Soon after that, it was discovered that:

In the last four years of superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s administration, the Hillsborough County School District went on a spending jag, tearing through more than half of its $361 million reserve fund, officials revealed this week.

Left unchecked, the pattern would have resulted in another operating deficit this year — a $75 million hit that would bring the fund down near its legal minimum threshhold.

* * *

While some board members say they were in the dark about the spending imbalance, chief business officer Gretchen Saunders said there were no secrets. The administration shared financial statements with the board regularly and posted them on the meeting agendas. “Was it highlighted? No,” she said, referring to the fund balance. Board members did not ask for a public discussion, she said. 

That left unmet needs like fixing air conditioning in existing so students would swelter in class and getting kids to school on time (not to mention the need for more schools as population grows).  And, it seems, as yet, no one has managed to work this out.

We are not going to get into the nitty-gritty of education spending, as that is a bit outside what we cover, except to the extent that the failure to fix these issues (or spot them coming) while praising and supporting leadership that brought them on is very similar to how so many other issues are dealt with in this area – lack of investment, not paying our way, covering up deficiencies, and not really planning ahead.

That does not mean there aren’t some good public schools or good programs (like IB), as well as some very good private schools, but it is just another example of a problem that, regardless of the hype from time to time, seems to linger and impede our development.

Port/Latin America – Cuba

This week there was cruise news:

The first Cuba-bound cruise ship to call Port Tampa Bay home in recent years is ready to set sail. Royal Caribbean International’s Empress of the Seas will launch Sunday for its seven-night cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, Belize City, Belize and Havana, Cuba. Port Tampa Bay and Royal Caribbean will hold a plaque and key ceremony for the launch Sunday on board the ship. 

Carnival will also have cruises to Cuba this year. And we are happy about that, though we still don’t get why it is to have people cruise to Cuba (and fly to Cuba) from Florida and spend money there, but there are issues with agreements to trade goods through the same ports.

Politics – When a Term Limit is not a Term Limit

There was some utterly unsurprising news about the County Commission this week:

County Commissioner Sandy Murman now says she is “probably” going to leave her district seat to run for a countywide seat in 2018, which is setting off a flurry of jockeying and maneuvering in what promises to be a wild 2018 county election season. 

Which sets up an interesting election.

But the 2018 campaign could also bring to the fore an unpleasant issue for the commission members: Three of the seven commissioners — Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Murman — could be seeking new seats that would enable them to avoid term limits. That could draw backlash from term limits advocates, or provide an angle of attack for their political opponents.

Murman faces a 2020 term limit. Jumping to a countywide seat would restart her term limit clock, and 2018 will be a good year to do so because two of the three countywide seats will be available and she could avoid running against an incumbent commissioner.

Countywide Commissioner Al Higginbotham is retiring, and Hagan, facing a 2018 term limit in his countywide seat, has filed to run for Victor Crist’s District 2 seat.

In 2020, newly elected Pat Kemp will be eligible to run for re-election to her countywide seat.

Meanwhile Crist, also term-limited, has said he plans to run for one of the two countywide seats next year.

Under the county’s term limits charter provision, a term-limited commissioner can continue to serve by moving from a district seat to a countywide seat or vice versa. 

We get the idea behind that.  We also get the idea behind term limits – and they are contradictory.

We are not going to take a position on term limits.  They have an upside and a downside.  Right now, in Hillsborough they basically have no upside because the Commissioners just exchange seats.  The term limits are accomplishing nothing. If we are going to have term limits, we suggest that we either get rid of that Charter provision so they are real.  And if we are not going to really have term limits, just get rid of them.

Rowdies – Still Kicking

The Rowdies referendum passed easily.

A jubilant Rick Baker, a former mayor widely expected to challenge incumbent Rick Kriseman, told a green-and-yellow-clad crowd that the 87 to 13 percentage-point victory was a sign the city deserves an expansion franchise.

* * *

The referendum will allow city officials to begin negotiating a 25-year lease with Edwards, who wants to spend up to $80 million to expand the stadium’s capacity to 18,000 seats.

Despite the landslide vote, nothing will happen unless MLS decides to grant one of four expansion teams to St. Petersburg. A dozen cities are vying for those franchises over the next two years, including Phoenix, San Diego and Nashville.

This is only step one in the process of (maybe) getting into the MLS, but having a stadium plan (which still requires a lease with St. Pete) is a major step.

Transportation – Those Autonomous, Shared Cars

For those who think that congestion will be solved by autonomous, shared cars, we have this from the founder of Tesla:

Musk’s calculus: Most people, he said, think that once all or most of us are zipping around in robot cars, everyone will be able to drive faster with much less road congestion. But that is almost certainly wrong, he said. With shared driving, “the affordability of going by car will be better than that of a bus. It will cost less than a bus ticket. So the amount of driving that occur will be much greater with shared autonomy, and traffic actually will get far worse.”

Which leads to some interesting questions.  First, his solution is to tunnel under cities, which is very expensive and cannot really be done in Florida (at least not extensively).  It is also unlikely that we will have vast elevated roads.  Also, who will pay for the buildings and maintenance of all those congested roads and, if the cost is added to the use of the car, will it still be cheaper than transit or will we have to continue to subsidize roads?  And, since we can’t go under and will likely not go over all those congested roads, if Florida just relies on automated, shared cars, getting around will be that much harder – not easier.

Once again, we are sure automated cars, and shared cars, will form part of our transportation in the future (though it is not clear when), there is ample reason, including from the Tesla founder’s own opinions, to be dubious. we still will need other options.

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