TAMPA — Sometimes she had to strain to be heard above the whirring of the coffee machines, but Mayor Jane Castor’s message was clear: The city is on the move and she’s listening to suggestions on how to make it move better.
At Arco Iris, a well-known West Tampa Cuban restaurant, Castor spent about 20 minutes moving from table to table to chat with customers over their cafe con leche and Cuban toast as part of a new effort to engage residents where they congregate. Dubbed “Coffee with Castor,” the plan is to have the mayor drop in to gathering spots around the city each month this year.
After making the rounds Wednesday, Castor then stood in the center of the restaurant and talked for about 40 minutes, running down some highlights of the first 32 months of her administration and taking questions.
“You guys know me, I’ve been here many, many times,” Castor said.
Many of the questions involved the constant irritations of city life: crumbling roads, litter and inconsiderate neighbors. Castor got a big laugh telling a story about how, on a rare day when she was driving herself, she pulled over a driver who had thrown litter out the window right in front of her.
Castor, the city’s former police chief, cited the “broken windows” theory of policing to explain why litter can lead to bigger problems. “It says the community doesn’t care,” she said.
To that end, she urged residents to organize and clean up dirty streets and parks. “Don’t wait on the city,” she said.
She spoke about the transformation of West Tampa: federal grants to help extend the Riverwalk to the west side of the Hillsborough River, a planned makeover for the historic Black commercial Main Street district, work on Vila Brothers Park and the Rome Yard project, which the mayor said would boost the stock of affordable housing in the area.
“We have to make sure that growth is intentional and inclusive,” Castor said.
Castor also introduced Maribel Garrett, the city’s new engagement coordinator and Hispanic liaison. Castor noted that the fastest-growing segment of Tampa’s population is Latino, which “will be the majority very soon.”
The mayor also touted transportation as a key to keep the city moving forward, saying Tampa residents needed to move past an idea of transit as “two people in an SUV.” Creating safe connectors between neighborhoods and embracing new transportation technologies such as e-bikes are priorities, she said.
Not everyone was satisfied with her answers. West Tampa resident Serena Serrano pressed the mayor to expand recycling options and pressure businesses to stop using plastics. Castor said China’s decision to stop accepting many kinds of recyclables made it unfeasible to expand what the city will pick up. And she said banning some types of plastic containers, an example offered by Serrano, would place too much of a burden on small businesses.
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And she heard plenty of complaints about the conditions of streets and the lack of sidewalks in many places.
“I understand. I feel everybody’s pain,” she said. “We have to do something about that.”
Overall, Castor received a warm reception from the crowd of several dozen people.
Leo Alvarez, a banker and past president of the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said he was happy with the city’s direction under Castor.
“She’s continued on with what Buckhorn left. I think it’s been positive,” he said.