Thursday, September 20, 2018
Opinion

Buckhorn: Keep control of public spaces local

TAMPA

A Sunday morning walk down Bayshore, an afternoon coffee in Ybor, or a festival along the Riverwalk — whatever your day holds, we have worked tirelessly to make sure that our city's personality shines through in every corner.

We know that every brick road holds a story, that every old cigar factory has a history, and every park has a new memory waiting to be made. Unfortunately, lawmakers in Tallahassee are considering stripping local governments of the control to determine what's acceptable in our public spaces.

Telecommunications companies are pushing SB 596 and HB 687, legislation that would allow them to place small refrigerator-sized equipment, and even towering poles, on public rights of way. If passed, local governments would have no control over where this communications equipment would be placed or how it would look.

This idea tramples on the authority of the very local officials you entrusted to make decisions about how your community, and all others in Florida, look and feel.

Here in Tampa, we've streamlined the permitting process to foster economic competitiveness and make doing business with the city seamless. We pride ourselves on embracing the latest technological innovations. We are a nationally recognized tech hub, leading the way in autonomous vehicles, tech start-ups and partnerships within the tech community.

When public officials consider where structures may be located, they evaluate many factors, including a community's character, the safe installation of such facilities and the cost to the taxpayers. The proposed legislation directly negates this by allowing telecom companies to construct equipment with no concern about how it affects our neighborhoods, public safety or local budgets.

But most important, it diminishes communities. The legislation would interfere with a community's ability to maintain its unique character and would hand the telecom companies license to create permanent eyesores.

Certainly, I enjoy the wireless service on my cellphone and appreciate ongoing efforts to make it better. We have worked closely with Internet providers to strengthen our Web access and hope to partner in the future to bring faster connectivity to our neighborhoods. However, I recognize that the safety and well-being of our citizens must always come first.

SB 596 and HB 687 disregard mechanisms established to responsibly care for our communities, forcing local considerations to take a back seat to corporate interests.

This legislation could disrupt the progress we are making in Tampa. Before this power grab is allowed to become law, each community must speak out and remind its legislators that they have a duty to fight for the people who sent them to Tallahassee.

Bob Buckhorn is mayor of Tampa. He is a member of the board of directors of the Florida League of Cities.

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