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Highs and lows across Tampa Bay and Florida | Editorial
Saving Pasco and manatees, and educating kids and motorists
A ghost bike is displayed as a memorial in Cooper Township, Mich., where five bicyclists where killed and four where injured by an oncoming driver six years ago. Ghost bikes are often used to mark the scene where a cyclist was killed as a memorial.
A ghost bike is displayed as a memorial in Cooper Township, Mich., where five bicyclists where killed and four where injured by an oncoming driver six years ago. Ghost bikes are often used to mark the scene where a cyclist was killed as a memorial.
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Nov. 19

Pasco’s smart decision. Growth is the lifeblood of every community — but it has to be smart, managed and embraced by the people most affected. Those oft-competing elements came together this week when the Pasco County Commission unanimously rejected a developer’s proposal to build 109 houses on Hale Road just west of the Collier Parkway. As the Times’ Barbara Behrendt reported, Land O’ Lakes residents had for months been collecting petitions, posting signs and organizing neighbors to oppose the KB Homes’ proposal. The opposition was a mix, from residents who didn’t want to see more rooftops in an historically rural area to others concerned about more crowding in schools and safety and congestion along Hale Road. The planning commission had recommended denial, and as the hours of public comment ticked away, commissioners echoed the hesitations over traffic and infrastructure, and their unanimous vote to deny caused the room to erupt in cheers. This is how government is supposed to work; residents got engaged and elected officials balanced competing interests in their community. And at the end of the day, fast-growing Pasco remains on track while the character of this special place in Florida survives another day.

Manatees starving again. In what’s become a necessary evil, for the second year in a row, Florida will once again feed wild manatees in hopes of staving off a winter starvation. State wildlife officials announced this week the feeding would run from about December to March, with the goal of purchasing 400,000 pounds of lettuce, double what was used last year. Biologists first proposed the feeding option last year as a temporary fix to address the intensifying chronic malnutrition of manatees, brought on by decades of polluted water in the northern Indian River Lagoon on the state’s Atlantic coast. Polluted water fuels algal blooms that block sunlight, killing seagrasses, the manatees’ diet. Humans, in other words, are trying to save the manatees on the back end because we’re killing them on the front end. What about this insanity makes sense? And how long do we have to see this crisis mushroom before our eyes for Florida lawmakers do something meaningful about these polluted water bodies? Doing this once counts as an emergency; twice is a trend. Humans should not be feeding wild populations, and it’s illegal for the public to feed wild manatees. This was the right decision, but we need a real solution for our waterways.

Hillsborough sex education. The people parading under the banners of liberty and freedom showed up again this week to protest the Hillsborough County School District’s sex education curriculum. As the Times’ Jeffrey S. Solochek reported, dozens of the objectors urged Claudia Isom, an independent hearing officer, to recommend that the board drop its choice and start over. Critics complained the curriculum did not encourage abstinence-based lessons, and that many of the materials are inappropriate for students in seventh through ninth grades. “Our 12-year-olds should be innocent children. They should not be exposed to this material,” one Valrico resident said. First, we have complete confidence in Isom, who is widely respected and served with distinction as a Hillsborough circuit judge. And the school district did a good job of explaining both the substance of the curriculum and the procedure for adopting it. But here’s the bigger point: What do you think 12-year-olds are exposed to now, on their own with their friends, especially if they are not having these conversations at home? Families have an opt-out clause. They deserve the facts. But they don’t have veto power over other people’s children or public health.

For safer streets. Finally, communities across the globe will hold a World Day of Remembrance on Sunday to honor those killed or seriously injured due to traffic violence, and unfortunately, we have special reason to take note here. As Robert Griendling, who’s helping to organize events locally, wrote in our pages this week, Pinellas County was named one of the most dangerous places for bicyclists last year, and the Tampa Bay area the fourth most dangerous for pedestrians. Already this year, nearly 70 motorcyclists have died across the region. Local governments are making some helpful changes — reducing speed limits, slimming down roads, adding sidewalks and curbing — but the dangers persist and there’s much more to do in this car-centric region and state. Better road designs and safety infrastructure are a start, but we also need stepped-up police enforcement of the traffic laws, a greater awareness among drivers to pedestrians and heftier penalties and better education campaigns to send stronger messages about safety. Every life lost is a tragedy and a lifelong ache for loved ones. So wake up, slow down and put the cellphone away. Pinellas County will hold two events: 9 a.m. at the “Sanding Ovations” stage in Treasure Island; and 1 p.m. at Williams Park in St. Petersburg.

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Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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