ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman threatened to buck Gov. Ron DeSantis should the governor ease restrictions too fast for the mayor’s comfort.
“As much as is possible, and to achieve uniformity and to limit confusion, we intend to track with (DeSantis’) plan here in St. Pete, with one caveat," Kriseman said, referring to the governor’s plan to reopen the state. “If he makes a decision that is not in the best interest of public health here in St. Pete, I will not implement it. And I will urge our partners at the county and our friends across the bay to also reject irresponsible actions.”
The mayor made the remark Tuesday afternoon during his weekly update on the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, and he unveiled a new motto: “Restart, but be smart.”
Kriseman has some authority to guide St. Petersburg through its reopening. He cannot ease restrictions on businesses and gatherings faster than the state or Pinellas County, but he can keep rules within the city’s limits more restrictive.
He said he has been coordinating his response with Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton.
“I think it’s really important that the county and city are aligned as closely as possible," he said. "Unless there’s some order that comes down that we don’t agree with, it’s our intention to align ourselves with the orders of the county.”
DeSantis’ first phase of reopening allows retail and restaurant establishments to invite customers inside at 25 percent capacity, and allows outdoor seating so long as patrons remain six feet apart. Kriseman announced Tuesday he will allow restaurants to expand outdoor seating by permitting tables on parking lots or other adjacent spaces.
Restaurants will have to apply for the expanded seating by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications must include the property owner’s approval and a sketch of the seating layout so city officials can ensure parties will remain six feet apart. The mayor said restaurants that get approval will be allowed to have the extra seats through the end of the city’s emergency order.
He also alluded to further action that could be taken to expand outdoor restaurant seating, saying considerations include public safety, traffic and equity issues.
The mayor also pitched the “St. Pete Way,” a set of guidelines for residents and businesses he made clear are not orders but suggestions. They include recommendations like hand washing and social distancing, and specific guidelines such as keeping hand sanitizer at each table in restaurants, encouraging restaurants to adopt reservation systems and requesting hospitality businesses to have employees wear cloth masks. The “St. Pete Way” will be about “building a culture of health and kindness,” he said.
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He also touched on his 17-person Restart St. Pete advisory group, which met last week over Zoom. Kriseman has also met with members individually.
The consensus from advisers, which include health care professionals and members of the business community, among others, was that “we need to be very deliberate, very conscious of the decisions we’re making, and take it slowly,” Kriseman said.
“The worst thing that all agreed that we could do was to open up too quickly and result in us having to shut things back down again,” he said.
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