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You can fight City Hall, but it'll sue you

To quote my late grandmother: I swannee! (That means something like, "Well, I'll be danged!") I will never stop marveling at the ways of government.

Today's example is on a quiet street in southeast St. Petersburg named Sunrise Drive, which lies on a body of water called Little Bayou.

For the past 70 years or so, the homeowners along Sunrise Drive have lived under the assumption that they owned the individual little docks across the street from their houses.

We're not talking about rich guys with McMansions and yachts. It's an older, middle-class neighborhood, where some folks have a small powerboat tied up, but most don't.

Anyhow, in 2004, the city of St. Petersburg began to tell the folks on Sunrise Drive that they didn't own their docks after all. Surprise.

So everybody got lawyered up. I have no intention of going into the details. Let's horrify the lawyers by trying to put it into English:

CITY: For decades we've been maintaining the public street, the grassy strip between that street and the water, and the seawall. If you ever had any rights at all, which we aren't admitting, you waaaay abandoned them long ago. And if by some chance you win this thing anyway, we want our dough back.

RESIDENTS: For Pete's sake, we aren't trying to take away the public street. We agree you have that easement. But the company that first built our neighborhood retained the rights down to the water, which means we still have the right to our docks — and that's all we want.

So the residents went to court to get a declaration of their rights. The city is fighting, and on Friday it will try to get a judge to drag 39 of the neighbors into court individually, blowing the whole thing up into World War III.

That'll learn 'em!

I asked Karl Nurse about this. He is a member of the City Council whose district includes Sunrise Drive.

The first thing that Nurse said surprised me — but, when you think about it, it says a lot about the institutional role of the City Council.

Nurse, who certainly is not a dummy, said that he didn't even know about this fight until last week.

I said: Really? Don't the mayor's folks give you a regular update or something? You know, "Citizens We Are Harassing This Week"? Apparently not.

"It seems to me," Nurse said, "that if these people had docks there for 80 years, we ought to be finding a way for them to keep their docks."

Dude! I was thinkin' the exact same thing.

In the light most favorable to the city, it's just being zealous about protecting the public rights of way.

But here, the residents say they don't want anything except their docks back.

So surely the two sides could come up with a piece of paper that says all that. They all got smart lawyers.

Unless …

Unless the city's real goal is just to "win," to be legally "right." Unless the city's goal is to hurt a little neighborhood simply because …

Because of the same reason St. Petersburg is invading Tierra Verde despite overwhelming opposition.

Because of the same reason the city wants to kick out the mom-and-pop owners of O'Neill's Marina.

Because of the same reason St. Petersburg under this mayor and City Council does so many things —

Because it can.

You can fight City Hall, but it'll sue you 02/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 9:34pm]
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