St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman warns: social distancing or citation

The mayor said people have been misusing city parks. He cautioned that can spread coronavirus.
Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday held a news conference via Facebook Live, where he lambasted residents for ignoring social distancing guidelines in city parks.
Mayor Rick Kriseman on Monday held a news conference via Facebook Live, where he lambasted residents for ignoring social distancing guidelines in city parks. [ BOYZELL HOSEY | Times ]
Published March 30, 2020|Updated March 31, 2020

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ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman has issued this warning to residents who have not been abiding by social distancing guidelines in city parks: You will be cited.

Kriseman began a Monday afternoon news conference broadcast via Facebook Live to lambaste those who misuse the parks. Parks, he said, remain open for walking, jogging, running, cycling and to soak up some sun.

They do not, the mayor said, remain open for pickup football games or for playing volleyball. (Apparently people have been bringing volleyball nets to courts to replace the ones the city has taken down, the mayor said.) Or for picnics. Or for using playground and fitness equipment that city workers fenced off last week to abide by Pinellas County’s safer-at-home order.

“If 10 or more of you are together, you will receive a municipal ordinance violation," the mayor said. "The easiest way to not get one is just don’t do it.”

Violating the ordinance is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in county jail. Violators would receive a notice to appear in court and a judge would determine the penalty.

If people continue to ignore social distancing guidelines, he warned further, he will close the parks altogether.

Kriseman said he is watching how well Pinellas County’s order encourages people to abide by social distancing and group gathering guidelines. If people don’t abide by those rules, he hasn’t ruled out issuing a more restrictive rule that would apply just within the limits of St. Petersburg.

“If you stop following the order that’s in place,” Kriseman said, looking at the camera, “then you’ll give us no choice.”

In Tampa this week, Mayor Jane Castor praised residents, who she said were practicing appropriate social distancing.

“We haven’t had any major problems. The vast majority of individuals are cooperating,” she said during her own Monday afternoon Facebook Live appearance. “I personally drove around through downtown and all around the city over the weekend and the streets are abandoned.”

Related: Tampa is spacing out well, Mayor Jane Castor says

Kriseman also announced he has suspended all in-person city services starting Monday. That includes paying parking citations, codes compliance, housing, construction services and permitting, and billing and collections. Assistance with those services remains available online and by phone, Kriseman said.

City officials said parking attendants have stopped writing parking tickets for meter and residential permit violations. They are still ticketing vehicles parked in “red zones” — areas marked by signs such as “No parking to corner” and “No parking anytime” and near fire hydrants, crosswalks and safety zones.

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“These are all safety issue types of tickets,” said St. Petersburg emergency operations spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.

Kriseman again called upon Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, so everyone can operate “off the same sheet of music,” mimicking a line DeSantis used Monday when he issued countywide stay-at-home orders in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties. DeSantis issued the safer-at-home order through mid-May, only to clarify hours later that he meant for the order to remain in place only through April 15.

Related: South Florida urged to stay home until mid-May, DeSantis says

The mayor said he has not talked to DeSantis, comparing the governor to his predecessor, Sen. Rick Scott, who Kriseman said would call to offer support during emergencies.

“To date, Gov. DeSantis has not done that, and it’s very disappointing,” Kriseman said.

Kriseman said he has spoken to Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez. City officials said Kriseman has not reached out to DeSantis personally.

“Typically governors reach out to mayors to check in on their cities,” said the city’s policy chief, Kevin King.

The mayor also said he would have more information on the city’s Fighting Chance Fund, designed to help small, locally owned and operated businesses and their employees that have been affected by the coronavirus-induced economic slump.

He added that federal help through the recently-passed stimulus package will be available for small businesses, and lamented that only cities with a population of 500,000 or more will be made available to cities in the form of direct aid. In Florida, that means only Jacksonville will receive those dollars.

Kriseman also provided an update on the opening of the St. Pete Pier, which is slated for May 30.

“We haven’t canceled the opening date, but we also recognize that ... everything that’s happening is fluid right now,” the mayor said. “If it gets to that point where we need to cancel the opening date that we’ve set, we’ll do that. We’re just not prepared to do it yet.”

On City Council meetings, Kriseman said the city is working to toward holding virtual meetings soon. The mayor previously suspended City Council meetings until April 9.

Kriseman also said the Tampa Bay Rays have offered Tropicana Field as a temporary hospital site, should the existing hospitals become overrun with those suffering from COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus. He added that other businesses have offered up vacant warehouse space. In response to a question about the abandoned Edward White hospital, the mayor said city officials were told it would not be a viable temporary hospital facility.

Hillsborough County on Monday announced it had signed six-month renewable leases with two hotels to provide up to 360 beds for residents who either need to isolate or quarantine because of the virus. County officials also identified the Yuengling Center as a suitable site to tend to 250 more patients if local hospitals become overloaded.

Related: Hillsborough strikes deal for hotel beds, Yuengling Center to house patients

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