Dispatches from the Sunshine State

Once again Hillsborough County politicians push Tampa backwards

Can anything cool happen in Hillsborough County without county leaders overstepping their authority and crushing it?

I’m not hopeful.

As you may have read by now, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission — made up of politicians and wannabe politicians — effectively shut down two electric car businesses this month when they succumbed to pressure from the cab industry.

I wrote about downtown Tampa’s electric vehicle service last year. I thought the electric-powered golf cart transport was charming, environmentally-friendly and made Tampa unique. Plus, the service was free. Since they didn’t charge for rides, the electric vehicle companies did not need the transportation permits cab companies needed. The electric vehicle companies made money by the advertising on the carts and tips from passengers. For a downtown worker wanting to get to Rick’s on the River or a tourist wanting a ride from Jerk Hut to the Times Forum, these vehicles seemed the way to go.

But of course Hillsborough County politicians can’t let a good thing last for long. Prompted by complaints from (overpriced) cabbies, the PTC decided to ban the electric vehicles citing safety and unfair competition. Unfair? How about the unfairness and cronyism inside the PTC?

Well now, after scores of citizens complained to the PTC, the commission is back-pedaling a bit. They want the vehicles back on the streets, they say, just with permits and insurance. But who knows if those requirements could keep these entrepreneurs sidelined permanently.

Behind the News, Dispatches from the Sunshine State

Hillsborough County residents to Catholic Charities’ tent city proposal: NIMBY!

STOP_tc_hcSpeaking of the homeless, some Hillsborough County residents crying NIMBY packed a county land use hearing earlier this week, trying to convince officials to deny a permit for a tent city much like Pinellas Hope.

Catholic Charities, the same group that set up Pinellas’ tent city, wants to put up a similar camp on 6410 E. Hillsborough Avenue near Harney Road, on a piece of property they own. When neighbors found out about the proposal, they organized fiercely against it with images like the one to the right (OMG! Syringes!). One East Lake Park woman even created a little group: Stop Tent City. They even have T-shirts. Yes, T-shirts!

The residents do have some good points — Pinellas Hope isn’t located near a neighborhood and Catholic Charities is counting on tax dollars instead of their own wealth to bankroll the project — but the rest of the site is filled with a lot of misinformation on how much the homeless want to be homeless and how a large percentage are snowbirds. They also complain that the homeless would be so far from social services. But where were these people when the city of Tampa began harrassing the homeless downtown? Hillsborough County’s street people have been pushed from one side of the county to the other when some neighborhood complains about them. Now, in this recession, the number is growing rapidly and there just is not enough shelter space for them.

Of course, residents are just falling over themselves about the poor conditions inside the Pinellas tent cities and suggesting alternative plans for more dignified housing (as if a tent is worse than sleeping behind a dumpster). But what happens when the permit is denied? Does anyone honestly think any of these residents will be helping Catholic Charities implement another plan?

Maybe these Stop Tent City folks could get together with Bill Maxwell. He might like one of those shirts.

Behind the News

News Nuggets: Zoophiles, gay Charlie Crist, light rail and push-up pants!

To nurse your Earth Day hangover, here’s some outrageously juicy stories from across the state of Florida:

Charlie Crist can’t seem to shake those gay accusations.

After Hillsborough County’s Board of County Commissioners voted to put light rail on the ballot, Pinellas and Pasco counties may jump on the bandwagon.

The Marlins mascot could be the first zoophile arrested under Florida’s proposed beastiality law.

New accessory for the beach? Male push-up pants!

Behind the News

Developers lobby to dispute county impact fees

There’s an oft-used addage in community activism thrown out by pessimistic folks of both political persuasions: “You can’t fight City Hall.” This nugget of civil wisdom comes from the belief that taking on your city government is cumbersome, complicated, tiring and, ultimately, expensive.

After all, city governments seem to have a limitless supply of money to throw at any lawsuit. It’s money from taxpayers, and by extension, money from the person seeking justice. In short, they get you coming and going.

But I think there is an even better truism for 21st century community activism: “You can’t fight Big Business, not even City Hall.” My reasoning? For as much money as a city can throw at a lawsuit, Big Business seems to throw even more and it sticks better. In Florida, I’m specifically refering to developers. Any local community activist knows that developers and their lawyers not only spend big bucks on any challenge to their plans, but they buy politicians as well.

This is why House Bill 227 is a real problem for community activists. Sponsored by four House representatives (including local Rep. Ed Hooper from Clearwater), HB 227 (SB 580 in the Senate) seeks to allow developers to challenge impact fees imposed by local governments.

What are impact fees? They are imposed by local governments to hold developers partially responsible for the infrustructure needs brought on by the developer’s project. Impact fees typically go to building or widening roads, installing more traffic lights and sometimes building a school. Community activists and governments see the fees as promoting smart growth. Some developers see it as unnecessary taxation.

Most county governments have some sort of impact fee, though many times the amount has lagged behind present-day costs. So, during the nationwide housing boom, many counties raised their impact fees. Some developers have sued.

In these legal challenges, HB 227 would put more of a burden on city governments to prove their impact fee assessments are correct. It gets a little complicated, but the Florida League of Cities has a good overview:

SB 580 (Haridopolos), HB 227 (Aubuchon) change the burden of proof in a legal challenge to impact fees and remove any judicial deference to the local government’s decision. The bills were amended in committee to provide that the government has the burden of proof in an impact fee challenge.

An impact fee ordinance is a legislative decision that should be accorded the same level of deference given other legislative decisions – including decisions of the state legislature to impose fees and taxes. The change proposed by these bills means that even if reasonable minds could differ about the wisdom of the legislative decision, the city could lose the challenge. Neither bill proposes to change the burden of proof with respect to any fees or tax levied by the State of Florida, or any permit conditions imposed by the State of Florida or its agencies – all of which are legislative decisions.

But HB 227 isn’t the only bill involving impact fees moving through the Florida Legislature. SB 630 wants to put an outright moratorium on impact fees, something Hillsborough County is already looking at. For more on the complete idiocy of that move, read Mariella Smith’s recent blog post: “Your county’s solution to the housing glut: more houses.”