Tyrants Clash and Come Together: The committee and council meetings of Dec 13, 2018
Tyrants Clash and Come Together: The committee and council meetings of Dec 13, 2018
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of the St Petersburg FL Area News podcast. I’m your host, Joshua Black, and, for the next 15 minutes, we will endeavor to cover the full day of events that took place at City Hall for December 13, 2018.
I arrived early to Room 100 for the PS&I meeting, only to find the Budget, Finance, and Taxation committee in full swing. This was the first time I had been at any committee meeting, and, because of the room set up, the details are a little harder to follow. Of particular difficulty is following the slides, because the board they are projected to is much smaller than the one in council chambers; so I couldn’t follow along as the staff advised the city on how they decided on health coverages for city employees. I did learn that the city pays for most claims, but they have United Healthcare for other coverage. They also have a wellness center run by Bayfront Health.
When the Public Services and Infrastructure meeting began, the slides on the staff presentation were in larger print, so I was better able to take notes and follow along as they discussed how to better help distressed tenants. Government enforcement options include:
- Just Cause Eviction regulations: only allow landlords to evict for items listed on the ordinance. Staff mentioned that the challenge is that these ordinances are never fully comprehensive (because human nature and behavior is variable).
- Source of income discrimination prohibition: prohibits landlords from choosing not to rent to a tenant based on the source of the income (i.e., Section 8, wherein the local housing administration, in our case, St Petersburg Housing Authority, pays 70% of the rental cost). Staff mentioned that Section 8 regulations cause additional costs to landlords, which is why so many refuse the vouchers.
- Right to counsel: all Florida citizens have this automatically; in fact, Florida also has automatic reciprocal attorneys fees, meaning that whoever loses the court case must pay the cost for legal representation for the winner (which is actually biblical).
Councilman Gerdes mentioned that Florida State Statutes Chapter 83 covers rental regulations, and those regulations require that a tenant be current on rent in order to fight an eviction. One mechanism for tenants with bad landlords is to deposit the rent money with the courts during the problematic period, but most tenants don’t know about this option and choose to hold on to the money themselves. A lot of them spend that money in the interim and thus lose their cases automatically when facing eviction actions, because they can’t produce the rent immediately in order to be permitted to legally defend against the action. Staff mentioned the possibility of requiring landlords to add this notice to the mountain of paperwork tenants must sign before move in. It could work out well, but I just don’t think that many tenants will read it.
Again, a lot of discussion about how to increase access to affordable housing, but no discussion about reducing the regulations and taxation that make housing less affordable.
Then the meeting got down to the list of topics each council member desired to have discussed in the tentatively scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting with SPHA:
Council Chair Wheeler-Bowman’s request is for all public records related to
Jordan Park redevelopment
Communications about it
Meetings with Residents in the area
What about a Satellite office? (the current main office location is inconvenient for most inhabitants of the city to reach)
RISE Development board members and compensation
Services offered on site
How to development a relationship between city hall and SPHA…
Foster, noting that HUD requires the city to hold SPHA accountable before HUD will act to alter the flow of federal funds:
How can the council get annual reports from SPHA?
What will be different about this time versus last time?
These questions were compiled by the clerk to send to SPHA staff so they can prepare the board for the proposed January 31st Committee of the Whole (or CoW) meeting.
At the end of the PS & I committee meeting, city staff asked the committee to recommend to the whole council that some language in a housing ordinance that hasn’t been used in years be stricken from the ordinance. That new business item may come forward in the next council meeting, but it did not come forward in this one, perhaps due to Sunshine Statute regulations.
The next committee that met was the Health, Energy, Resiliency, and Sustainability committee. If that sounds like it covers every single aspect of life, it’s because it does. Yes. the city council has a committee dedicated to running our lives. This committee is the source of the proposals to ban single use plastic straws and to tax single use bags. The mayor’s “sustainability team” talked about “reducing poverty” in the city. What she didn’t say is that this goal will be accomplished by making the city unaffordable for the poor with policy decisions that increase the cost of doing business and thus the cost of living.
The next committee was the committee of the whole. Here they discussed the calendar for the upcoming year and the new officers of the council. Charlie Gerdes was selected to be chair, defeating Steve Kornell 5-3, and Ed Montanari was nominated to vice-chair with no opposition.
After a break, the regular council meeting began in council chambers. City staff requested approval for $938k to spend on a design firm to get an idea of how to replace the Shore Acres Recreation Center. Shore Acres is a rather well-to-do community. I’m pretty sure it isn’t necessary for a government bureaucrat to spend tax dollars on a consultant to have it rebuilt. If it isn’t priority for their own pockets, why should it be for ours?
Council also approved the purchase of three tram sets of two cars each, and an electric bus at $60,000 by itself, for a total of $794,000. It’s amazing how quickly these people can agree to just spend $1.7M.
Without any debate, using the consent agenda, they spent $762k to continue to use the Oracle eBusiness Suite, $120k on software maintenance, $40k on hardware maintenance, $17k on extra parking spaces (being rented from a city owned airport, btw), $150k on lawncare supplies, up to $25k replacing toilets, and $100k on a trail along 28th Street North, between Gandy and Roosevelt Blvd. That’s $1.2M spent without any discussion.
Also, remember when council approved those TIF funds for the Pier seawall? That wasn’t enough. The staff came back for another $54k because a certain seawall section hasn’t been designed yet.
For the sewer report, staff requested $800k to spend on relining sewers. Good timing, because a pressured line owned by the city just burst that day, causing yet another sewage spill. Staff says that they recovered all but one gallon of the waste water. Staff also admitted that two reports of spills that happened in November had not been properly reported to the public. They said that they have implemented new reporting protocols to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Council also approved a subcontractor for renovations at the southside library branch.
Council member Rice gave a report on the Land Use and Transportation committee, in which she divulged that FDOT is beginning a reconstruction project for the bridge leading to Tierra Verde at the end of this month. The work is not expected to be completed until the summer of 2021. More information on that project can be found at the link below.
The public hearing portion of the meeting started with a continuation of the hearing of the appeal for the Bezoo project, the proposal to build a 19 story building on the currently vacant lot on the southwest corner of the intersection of 4th Ave N and 1st St. The appeal was initiated by the developer, and the continuance made last week to delay the vote until the full council was present practically guaranteed its doom, because a tie meant a loss, and that’s what happened Thursday. So we wait for a third effort to build on private property with city approval. Isn’t communism grand?
The evening portion started with a quasi-judicial (regulatory) hearing on the matter of the St Petersburg Country Club selling 4 acres of its land to a residential developer to turn it into housing. Doing so required a rezoning of the specific land parcels for sale AND the neighborhood (don’t ask me why). Council approved.
Council also advanced the Ordinance requiring primary contractors or subcontractors to use apprentices AND to pay them the prevailing wage, in spite of the fact that, 28 days after one council member requested additional information about the additional cost to the city of this new ordinance, no answer came from staff. Now, in 2015, the city created an apprenticeship program to try to get inexperienced persons involved in the construction trades, but the apprentices weren’t getting hired. So now they mandate that those who want city contracts hire them AND pay them a prevailing wage. The definition of “major city construction contracts” was also changed to mean contracts that are awarded in the amount of $1M. It had been $2M. This will enrich big business at the expense of small business, but that doesn’t seem to bother the council members.
Finally, council approved, after minor alterations, the single use plastic straw ban, disallowing their use on city properties and right of ways, and requiring restaurants in the city limits to stop distributing them by January 1, 2020. In the interim, from January 1 to April 1, 2019, the city will seek to educate affected businesses about the ban. From April 1 to January 1, restaurants will be required to withhold straws unless requested by guests. If they don’t, the city will issue warnings. After January 1, 2020, the penalties kick in. This is in spite of the fact that most of the alternative single use straw components are just as non-biodegradable as plastic. Most advocates of the ban didn’t know that.
During the discussion, I addressed the council chamber about the speakers in favor of the proposal:
In the end, my speech was for nought. Council passed the ordinance after the minor adjustments. Montanari, Gabbard and Kornell voted to remove the penalties of the straw ban, but they were voted down by their colleagues.
From a news report afterwards, I found out that the plan to tax plastic bags will likely be moved forward either early next year or as early as next week. We’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for listening. This has been St Petersburg Florida Area News, a production of the Reconstructionist Radio Network.
Tierra Verde bridge replacement: http://www.fdottampabay.com/project/238/410755-2-52-01