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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Labor unrest ends hectic day for St. Petersburg City Council

ST. PETERSBURG---The City Council got its first public reaction to a proposed $224 million general fund budget at the end of a busy day.

"If we don't get it, shut it down," chanted city workers unhappy with Mayor Rick Kriseman's stance on "step" or automatic pay increases as they filled nearly every seat in council chambers before the meeting.

Kriseman has proposed a 3 percent across-the-board raises for city workers, but union leaders say his negotiators have tried to scrap step increases. The union says that move would make the paychecks of some blue-collar employees lighter by up to 10 percent.

White-collar workers could lose 3 percent merit increases, the union says. Police and fire departments will keep their step increases under current contracts.

As for worker's pay, Kriseman said he understood their concerns, but that the city was still slowly recovering from a prolonged fiscal slump.

"In order to budget responsibly we must build ourselves back up over time," Kriseman said.

Rick Smith, chief of staff for the Florida Public Services Union, said the union will do "whatever is necessary" to get a fair contract. …

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St. Petersburg developer Darryl LeClair submits proposal for Toytown site

A St. Petersburg developer who pitched a baseball stadium for the Carrillon area a few years ago is among the parties that has submitted a development proposal for the former landfill known as Toytown.

So what does Darryl LeClair have in mind for Toytown, the county-owned, 240-site in a prime location near Interstate 275 and Roosevelt Boulevard? That’s unclear because the proposals, solicited by Pinellas County Economic Development, aren’t yet public record and LeClair isn’t talking. 

What is public are the names of the three bidders. They include a limited liability corporation created last month called Sportspark Partners. One of the listed managers, EIN Sports LLC, lists the same St. Petersburg address as Echelon, a residential and commercial real estate development firm that LeClair controls. A Bay Buzz reporter who called Thursday was forwarded to a prerecorded message by Chris Eastman, Echelon’s chief development officer at Echelon, that confirmed the company submitted a proposal.

“Out of respect for the company’s process, we will not be commenting to the media at this time,” Eastman said. …

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More souvenir bricks of Pier to be given away

There’s good news for those who went home empty handed from the inverted pyramid farewell.

St. Petersburg officials had said they would distribute 250 brick pavers stamped with an image of the iconic structure at the Aug. 21 event, but hundreds more people turned up than expected.

In fact, 342 pavers were given out that day, Chris Ballestra, the city’s managing director of development coordination, said. The city has since salvaged about 400 more from the demolition site at the old Pier. So those who stood on line for the event and gave their names and email addresses to city staff will soon be invited to pick one up.

Ballestra said the pavers, which are hand stamped, will be available between Sept. 9 and 16 at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 Second Ave NE.

Those eligible for a commemorative paver will be notified by email and must take a copy — one per household — to the museum. About 100 of the pavers will be set aside for those who were members of Pier committees through the years, Ballestra said.

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Utility rate proposal turns into another sewer debate

A  proposed 3.75 percent utility rate increase Thursday became a sort of City Council referendum on the city's sewer system and its management at Thursday's meeting. 

Eventually, the council advanced the measure by a 6-2 vote. Council members Darden Rice and Wengay Newton voted against the measure.

And Mayor Rick Kriseman pitched in with an offer to kick in $500,000 for sewer fixes. 

Kriseman's offer came after council member Karl Nurse suggested raising the wastewater fee to start repairing aging pipes. Instead, Cornwell said the city would shift money from other capital projects. 

Rice said she didn't want to reward the water resources department's poor performance with more money.

"I can't see rewarding bad outcomes," Rice said.

Newton criticized the decision to close the Albert Whitted sewage treatment plant in April. The plant was hastily reopened after heavy rains forced the dumping of 16.5 million gallons of raw or partially treated sewage into Boca Ciega and Tampa bays.

"We asked a lot of questions that did not get answered," Newton said. …

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Maybe Jeff Brandes is right: Robot cars really are coming

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has had no hesitation to be the state's top cheerleader for "driverless cars." 

When he served in the House in 2012, Brandes sponsored a law that helped make Florida one of three (at the time) states to serve as a testing ground for autonomous cars. Sure, it opened Brandes up to easy political attacks, but he didn't back away and now serves as the chair of the Senate's transportation committee, where he's made autonomous cars a top priority.

One of the region's top transportation agencies, Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, seems to be all in on the experimental technology, applying for a federal grant of up to $12 million to design an Automated Vehicle (AV) roadway system here in Tampa Bay. There's even an Automated Vehicle Institute operated by the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research. 

Florida's not alone. Connected and Automated vehicles are one of the hottest topics in transportation circles with cities racing to compete for federal money to develop an AV roadway system.

Pittsburgh is one of them. …

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St. Petersbug City Council approves TIF money for waterfront, but warns downtown improvements nearing end

The first steps for the reimagining St. Petersburg's waterfront were approved by the City Council Thursday with $20 million earmarked for sprucing up the approach to the future Pier Park.

The unanimous vote came after a lengthy debate with several council members saying the city should conside ending the tax-increment finance district early or dedicating its $11 million annual revenue to sewer repairs.

"At some point we have to declare victory downtown," said council member Jim Kennedy. The city created the Intown TIF district in 1982 to remove blight, he said. Mission accomplished.

Council member Darden Rice urged city staff to continue to involve the public in implementing the improvements, including a pedestrian art promenade, a grand etnry space, open-air market and a 10,000-square-foot restaurant. The city would build the shell of the restaurant. Whoever gets the 10-year-lease would complete the job and pay rent to the city.  …

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Schrader plans re-election; 2016 to be a rematch

NEW PORT RICHEY – That didn’t take long.

Pasco Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said he plans to seek re-election to a fifth term to the District 1 Commission seat based in east Pasco. Schrader announced his intentions in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday afternoon, a day after one of his 2012 opponents, Rachel O’Connor, filed her campaign papers for the same seat. Both are Republicans.

In 2012, Schrader said, that if re-elected, it would be his last term on the commission. His plans to run for property appraiser, however, took a turn in January when incumbent Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr. filed to run for a sixth term in office.

“That was the intention, but circumstances have changed,’’ Schrader said. “I’ve had business leaders and community leaders and citizens across the county encourage me to run and in all likelihood I intend to file for re-election. I do intend to seek re-election for another term.’’ …

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O'Connor again seeks Pasco Commission seat

Republican Rachel O’Connor, who ran less than 3,000 votes behind three-term incumbent County Commissioner Ted Schrader in 2012, is again running for the District 1 commission seat based in east Pasco.

O’Connor, 30, filed her candidacy papers Tuesday. Three years ago, O’Connor campaigned as a critic of government spending, economic development incentives and transportation fees that were higher for growth in rural areas. She also opposed the Penny for Pasco sales tax renewal.

She finished third in the three-way, winner-take-all open primary, collecting 31.2 percent of the vote despite being heavily outspent by Schrader (37.5 percent) and citrus magnate Ron Oakley (31.3 percent). O’Connor received just 36 votes fewer than Oakley even though he outspent her by a more than 10-1 ratio. Oakley spent $242,000 during the campaign compared to $21,300 for O’Connor.

Schrader, first elected to the commission in 2000 and its current chairman, has not said if he will seek re-election to a fifth term. 

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Two seek county judge spot in Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY – Though incumbent judges routinely are re-elected to the bench without opposition, that has never been the case for Pasco County Judge Debra Roberts who is facing political opposition for her third consecutive election.

Roberts, who filed for re-election this week, already has drawn a challenger, Michael P. Wilson, a former private-practice attorney who now is a Pasco Sheriff’s deputy serving a detective in the professional standards office.

Roberts, the first Afrian-American to serve on the Pasco bench, was appointed to her seat by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. She won election in 2004 and again in 2010, taking 67 percent of the vote. Her campaign treasurer is west Pasco Realtor Greg Armstrong.

Wilson, who filed candidacy papers in June, already has raised more than $7,000, most of it tied to two construction companies. Wilson received $3,000 in bundled contributions from the business and family of  Emmanuel Kavouklis of New Port Richey and the same amount from the business and family of Richard A. Krueger of Safety Harbor. Both are general contractors.

The non-partisan race for the Group 4 seat will be on the Aug. 30, 2016, ballot.

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VIDEO: Jeff Speck on road diets

If you don't know of Jeff Speck, hopefully you will.

Earlier this year, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinick added Speck to his team that's designing and building his $1 billion redevelopment of downtown Tampa's waterfront.

Speck is a city planner, author, TED talker and one of the leading proponents of "new urbanism". 

In a better world, Speck's ideas would be those of the Department of Transportation, and our streets wouldn't be solely the space reserved for cars. But his ideas are catching on and the below video explains why.

Take a look for yourself: 


Jeff Speck: Four Road Diets from Cupola Media on Vimeo.

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St. Petersburg pushes for Cuban consulate

Mayor Rick Kriseman said Cuban officials were receptive to his idea of placing a consulate for that island nation in his city.

“Having a Cuban consulate would be a very good thing for us,” Kriseman said at a City Hall news conference three days after his return from a weather-shortened 48-hour trip to Havana.

A “couple of other” Florida cities have been “outright rejected,” said City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes.
“One of them should be very obvious, it’s on the southeast coast of Florida,” Gerdes said.

Gerdes declined to name the cities that a high-ranking Cuban official said were off the list for consulates. He said he didn't want to betray that diplomat's confidence.

Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Gerdes and the mayor’s chief of staff Kevin King flew from Tampa to Havana on a chartered plane Thursday morning, provided by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, a Tampa-based non profit. 

The trip was orginally slated to end Sunday, but the group returned Saturday morning to avoid Tropical Storm Erika. 

The shortened trip meant scheduled economic development talks never happened, but Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said cultural exchanges are under discussion. …

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Republican Tim Schock files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

Apparently, Bay Buzz spoke too soon.

A couple hours ago Bay Buzz reported that Jim Norman's only opposition in a Hillsborough County commissioner District 6 Republican primary was political novice Thomas Avino.

But soon after Norman officially filed to run, Tim Schock, an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Hillsborough County commissioner in 2014, formally submitted the paper work to try again in 2016. 

Schock, 42, is president of a local consulting company, Lightning Capital Consulting. In his 2014 race against Commissioner Al Higginbotham, he was vocally opposed to any new taxes for transportation, especially light rail, which again will be a big issue in the 2016 race.  

Schock won 15 percent of the vote, a distant second behind Higginbotham, who amassed a large war chest in the countywide race.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Schock to sit on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

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Former St. Petersburg business executive files to challenge Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has drawn his first challenger for 2016.

Mike Mikurak, a 61-year-old St. Petersburg Republican, filed papers Tuesday to run for the countywide District 3 seat Justice, a Democrat, has held since 2012. A married father of three grown children, Mikurak most recently worked as a partner at Accenture, Plc., providing consulting services in business strategy and supply chain management for Fortune 100 companies. He retired in 2003.

He has a bachelor’s degree in business operations from Rider University and currently serves on the board of directors for BayCare Health System, the Juvenile Welfare Board and CareerSource Pinellas.

Mikurak said his first bid for political office is about timing and bringing a businessman’s experience to the commission, not a criticism of Justice.

“I’ve spend my time working with other boards and community organizations and it was time for me to step up into a bigger role,” he said.

Mikurak said he wants to create jobs and foster economic development; improve communication between the county, the cities and the private sector; and focus on quality of life issues, especially access to health care. …

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Jim Norman officially files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

It has long been rumored that former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman would once again make a play for office.

Today, those rumors became reality. Norman officially filed to run for the District 6 countywide seat as a Republican.

Norman, 61, was first elected to the county board in 1992 and went on to serve for 18 years. In 2010, he ran for state Senate and won, but two years later while running for re-election he pulled his name off the ballot amid a scandal involving an Arkansas property purchased by a friend and local developer. Norman didn't include it on his campaign disclosure forms; he contended the property was his wife's investment and he didn't know about it.

There's much more to Norman's history as a notable cog in nearly two decades of Hillsborough politics and government. Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton and researcher John Martin rehashed it in painstaking detail for today's paper. The whole thing is worth a read, especially the timeline at the bottom.

Controversies aside, there's something the story points out worth noting as Norman prepares for a comeback: He has never lost an election. …

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Tampa's Perfect Storm: A 36-foot storm surge

It's not probable, but, nevertheless, the latter-21st century scenario outlined in a new study by is terrifying. 

A tropical cyclone sweeps up Florida's westcoast, heading toward Tampa Bay. As it approaches, it churns waves off the Florida shelf, producing a surge of 36 feet as it turns sharply toward Tampa Bay.

By comparison, the observable storm surge of the 1921 hurricane that caused more than $10 million in damage (1921 dollars) was a mere 12.5 feet.  

The authors of the study, "Grey swan tropical cyclones", say the return probability for a storm with a surge of 12 feet in Tampa could be as little as 60 years, making Tampa Bay more than due to get swamped. (Ning Lin and Kerry Emanuel define grey swan as "tropical cyclones as high-impact storms that would not be predicted based on history but may be foreseeable using physical knowledge together with historical data.)

But 36 feet? Not likely. So, don't panic, just yet.






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