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St. Petersburg City Hall meets reality, is not impressed

For the most part, life in St. Petersburg, and the way the city is run, are good.

Love the waterfront. Love the downtown. Love the Rays. Love the museums and restaurants. There's water in the pipes. Parks and recreation. The garbage gets picked up.

For the most part, I like the mayor and his assortment of deputy pooh-bahs. I like the City Council, too. Even feel a certain affection for 'em.

And yet it must be said that when City Hall is wrong, it is stubbornly and wildly wrong, and it digs in its heels with the full force of reality-denying bureaucrats.

There are many examples of this over the years, but two in particular have come back to bite the city this summer:

The first deals with St. Petersburg's invasion — there is no other word — of the neighboring barrier island of Tierra Verde, annexing 18 acres on the island's northern tip for the bald purpose of benefiting developers.

After the annexation (which is being challenged in court), the City Council passed new rules allowing the developers to build much more than they could have in the unincorporated county.

The city blithely declared that none of this would have a bad effect. And the city declared the island was not in its "coastal high hazard zone." No worries!

Except …

Except that when all this got challenged, and an administrative judge got a look at it, his basic response was: Hello? What? A barrier island? With the whole thing in Evacuation Zone A? Connected to the mainland only by a narrow drawbridge? Did you guys even think about this? No. And he ruled against the city.

The city, undeterred, is appealing.

The second defeat came recently when the state objected to the city's scheme to create, more or less, a fake "land-use" map to thwart the voters in case the "Hometown Democracy" amendment passes (that's Amendment 4 on the November ballot).

Amendment 4 says that voters should have the final say on any changes to a city or county's "comprehensive land-use plan."

So St. Petersburg's idea is to create a new, simplistic map with a few pretty colors, re-title that as the city's "comprehensive land-use plan," and declare that it is the only thing voters can touch. Meanwhile, the real comprehensive plan would remain under the control of the City Council.

And yet, once again, external reality intruded. The state Department of Community Affairs informed the city that "no legal basis or authority exists for the establishment of such a document." The pretty map is too "broad and general" and lacks "meaningful and predictable standards."

Once again, the city is unimpressed. The thing is on this Thursday's City Council agenda. The city's position is that state law doesn't say it can't do it, either. All it needs is a few tweaks. And so forth. So we might be talking about further legal fights.

(By the way, the city claims that most big developments would still need voter approval. I bet you once this passed the city would say most big developments don't.)

The common theme in all this is that City Hall likes developers. It likes them better than neighboring islands and the people who live on them. It likes developers better than the voters. It is willing to steal land, ignore hurricane threats, bend the law and defy the Constitution to help them. Other than that, as I said, it is a very nice and well-run city.

St. Petersburg City Hall meets reality, is not impressed 09/13/10 [Last modified: Monday, September 13, 2010 8:03pm]
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