TAMPA — Mayor Jane Castor's speech to the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday was less a seminar on her business agenda and more an introduction to her leadership style.
The takeaway? She wants to act sooner, not later, in a handful of key areas: Affordable housing. Transportation. Efficiency in construction permitting.
"In law enforcement, you're used to someone throwing a set of facts at you, and you make a decision and move on," the former police chief told 470 chamber members at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. "Boy, has this been an eye-opener for me. Nothing against planners and engineers — I love you guys — but I'm just not used to all those processes and things, so I'm trying to get them to move some of those processes along a little more quickly."
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Castor plans to name five committees in coming weeks to study a series of targeted issues, among them workforce development and sustainability. She is not looking for reports in a year or two.
"We're going to come up with a plan in 90 days of how to move forward," she said, "because I am a person of action, and we're going to get things done in our community."
Some discussions are already underway. Castor met Wednesday with leaders from the chamber to discuss possible affordable housing initiatives, and said she told the group that she's learned that "it was a hell of a lot easier to talk about these issues on the campaign trail than it is when you actually get down to coming up the different solutions."
Still, "affordable housing is something that we're going to have to do as a community," she said, because "we're not getting a lot of help" from Tallahassee. The state's affordable housing trust fund "has been pillaged year after year," she said, and the Legislature has moved to pre-empt cities' authority to set local rules in a wide range of areas. She said cities need the ability to "make decisions if we're looking at set-asides for affordable housing."
"Our city is defined by our diversity, and the last thing we can do is have our citizens pushed out of the city of Tampa because of rising rent or mortgages and stagnant wages," she said. "So we have to ensure that local rule does not continue to be usurped. It worries me. It should worry each and every one of us."
On transportation, where local officials could at least have an estimated $302 million a year generated by a voter-approved sales tax (if it survives a legal challenge), Castor declined during a Q&A to identify a single top priority.
Instead, she said she wants to put some money into repaying and maintenance quickly, to expand Hillsborough County's bus system, to make use of a CSX rail line to provide a new connection between South Tampa and the University of South Florida, to expand the TECO Line streetcar or bus rapid transit to West Shore along Cypress or Cass streets, and to change the region's transportation culture so that people become less tied only to their cars.
"There are a number of different solutions we can look at, but we have got to get started immediately," she said.
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On the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, Castor did not say anything that has not been said in the last decade: The region is too big to lose a major league sports team. If the Rays moved to Tampa, local officials would do what they could to help. But using "taxpayer dollars" to build a stadium is not an option. Still, money raised through new federally approved Opportunity Zones could be part of a creative financing package that could work.
Overall, she had a receptive audience.
"Workforce development, workforce housing and transportation are really three of our biggest single issues," chamber chairman Jamie Harden said afterward. "It's great to see that that alignment (with City Hall) is there."
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Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times