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SRQ DAILY Sep 21, 2019

Saturday Perspectives Edition

Saturday Perspectives Edition

"Homelessness is not a circumstance that will ever end, but creating a safety net that helps people attain affordable housing and critical support services goes a long way."

- Mark Pritchett, Gulf Coast Community Foundation
 

[Argus]  STOP! Reveals What It Was Really All About
Christine Robinson, Christine@argusfoundation.org

We all knew it was a ruse. It was pretty clear from their name alone that STOP! was not about making development better, but rather creating economic uncertainty to throw up the proverbial gate after they passed through it to end economic progress in Sarasota. 

Translation: It was all about administrative review process and their control of private property rights of others.

The recent announcement that STOP! is folding up shop sheds a bright light on what has happened, and what we are about to see moving forward.

On their website, STOP! leaders claimed they were concerned with “looming buildings and narrow sidewalks that negatively impact traffic congestion, pedestrian safety and walkability.” 

In June, the Sarasota City Commission voted to bring back specific zoning changes (related to these issues) but specifically excluded tampering with the administrative review process. So now, after three years, one would think STOP! would engage and see these important issues through, right? 

Wrong. They decided to dissolve over the issue of administrative review. 

You see, it was never really about sidewalks and setbacks, it was never really about walkability. It was about control. 

It was about subjecting property owners to onerous processes, it was about ending certainty in economic investments in downtown for property owners, it was about stopping the building of some of the very buildings some of them had lived in because they want to freeze Sarasota in time. 

It was about doing what they wanted and not about creating a vibrant Sarasota with all of the things they claimed they wanted on their website.

So what is coming? I predict a political run by some of their own.

If anyone has been watching the Planning Commission closely, they have seen STOP! members who hold seats on the Planning Commission attack the City Commission and city staff on a regular basis when they disagree with them. 

With impartiality blatantly having left the room, some of those same individuals are inappropriately calling for the replacement of City Commissioners who did not do their bidding.

It’s wildly inappropriate and not a soul believes they can get fairness in front of the Planning Commission anymore. Watch the passive-aggressive interrogations, the sarcastic comments and the unrealistic scheduling meant to maximize the amount of money an applicant has to spend. It’s indefensible.

You will see more of this until the City Commission decides to end the circus or there are finally resignations to run for city commission. 

Why? Because it’s not about walkability and transportation. It’s about control.  

Christine Robinson is the executive director for The Argus Foundation.

  

[The Detail]  Blinded by the Light
Cathy Antunes, cathycantunes@gmail.com

Would you spend $211,000 today to save $150,000 over 25 years? Of course not. But it appears the City of Sarasota did just that with the new installation of solar panels on St. Armands parking garage.

Jerry Wells is a retired commodities trader with a keen understanding of energy markets. He serves on the City’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Protections (PREP) Advisory Board.

Unfortunately, Wells’ expertise in solar energy markets has not been utilized by the City’s Sustainability office, and he’s got lots of questions about the City’s renewable energy investment.

“Why do we have to be the village idiot?” asks Wells.

Comparison shopping for solar energy raises red flags. Wells shared a cost estimate for solar panels for his home. For a 4.5 kW installation, the price Wells was quoted from a local vendor was between $10,000 and $12,000. The City of Sarasota’s solar installation is 35kW and cost $211,000. That’s over triple the rate Wells’ was quoted for a residential solar. As a trader in solar energy, Wells says commercial solar costs less, not more, than residential. Wells’ says the City overpaid significantly for the St. Armand’s solar installation.

At the unveiling of the St. Armand’s garage, the City’s sustainability manager, Stevie Freeman-Montes, was asked why they chose to go with solar power for the project.

“It’s free! The sun is free, it’s good for the environment," said the City’s sustainability manager, Stevie Freeman-Montes. "We’re trying to help the transition away from fossil fuel energy.”

Sounds good, but this project wasn’t free. Where are the expected savings from solar power?

The City’s expects the solar panels to reduce energy costs at the garage by $6,034.70 per year. Given the project’s high cost, it will take 35 years for City taxpayers to recoup their investment ($6,000 x 35 = $210,000). A project with a 35-year ROI is unacceptable.

But the system is under warranty for 25 years. In 25 years, the energy savings is $150,000—not enough to cover the project cost. Wells says it’s unreasonable to expect performance beyond 25 years, and that Florida heat is tough on solar panels. “This is what I do in business,” Wells told me. “In the private sector, a fair return on a solar investment is 8-10 years”.

Unfortunately, the City’s savings estimate assumes energy production of the system will not degrade. But solar panels degrade a bit each year. Realistic energy savings estimates include reduced energy output. The real return on investment here is longer than 35 years.

Finally, St. Armand’s solar panels do not store energy in a battery. Unused energy is given back to the grid (Florida Power and Light, FPL) in a Net metering trade. When the panels aren’t generating power with sunlight, the garage’s power needs are met by FPL. “When do you need to light up a garage?” Wells asked me. “When is the energy really needed?” “At night” I replied. Uh-oh.

Wells says the City could have purchased over three solar power systems for the price of this one, and installed them at facilities like Robert Taylor Center and City Hall. These buildings have high daytime power demand, when solar panels are active. During the evening, when solar panels aren’t producing, these facilities are closed.

This is just simply a bad deal for the city.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail. 

Photo courtesy City of Sarasota: St. Armands Garage.

[Gulf Coast]  Climbing the Hill on Homelessness
Mark Pritchett, mpritchett@gulfcoastcf.org

Portland, Oregon, had always been a place I wanted to visit. The “Rose City” has long been known as a beautiful city championing progressive policies that support public transportation, green spaces and parks.

So Gina Taylor and I flew there this summer to begin a bike ride that would take us through the spectacular Columbia River Gorge and the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley. But before we began the bike ride, we decided to spend a few days in Portland and walk the city.

When we finished our three days exploring on foot, one of the most lasting impressions was not the scenic parks or the multitude of fun places to eat and drink. It was the severity of Portland’s homeless problem. The head of the Portland police union described it this way: “Our City has become a cesspool. Livability that once made Portland a unique and vibrant city is now replaced with human feces in businesses doorways, in our parks, and on our streets.”

The facts bear this out: Portland’s homeless problem is proportionately twice the national average. And the causes are the same as we experience in Sarasota—lack of affordable housing and a population that requires increased social services like mental-health services.

Homelessness is not a circumstance that will ever end, but creating a safety net that helps people attain affordable housing and critical support services goes a long way toward addressing this issue we all must face. In Sarasota, we have made remarkable progress over the past five years, even if it’s not often remarked upon and we are far from finished.

Some examples of that progress were shared this summer when the Suncoast Rapid Rehousing Program held a “move-in celebration” lunch for several individuals who settled into stable housing after years of homelessness. The program, run by St. Vincent dePaul (SVdP) CARES out of the Glasser-Schoenbaum Human Services Center, provides a pathway to permanent housing for the most vulnerable and historically hardest-to-serve homeless adults in our community.

At the luncheon, Mike spoke about living in the woods for over a decade. He had been seeking the help he needed for years before the Suncoast Rapid Rehousing Program was formed. Mike thanked the City of Sarasota’s Homeless Outreach Team for their “persistence” in connecting him to services, and he credited SVdP CARES with “saving” him. Most touching was Mike’s vow, “If I can pay it back, I will.” Just sharing his own story was a great start.

Another speaker was a property owner named Matthew. He is one of several landlords who connected with SVdP CARES housing specialists and is willing to rent to individuals struggling to leave homelessness behind. His comment “I feel like a den mother with these guys” showed how much he cares. The engagement of landlords like Matthew truly makes the difference.

SVdP CARES has plenty more success stories. Like Robert, who exemplifies the power of second chances. After he was released from prison without a housing plan, Robert bounced between shelters and the streets until he enrolled in the rapid rehousing program last year. Robert felt he served his time and was determined to find employment and a place of his own, if only he could access those opportunities. He quickly secured a job and within a few months earned a pay raise. The SVdP team found him housing with a landlord willing to offer him that second chance. Robert recently graduated from the program, stably housed and self-sufficient.

I love these success stories all the more because I know how hard-earned each one is. The work behind them is cheapened if we don’t pause to reflect and appreciate that—to celebrate them together. 

We still have a homeless issue. Fortunately, ours is far from the scale Portland experiences. Thanks to generous donors and their gifts through the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, and Gulf Coast Community Foundation, we have been able to fund critical services like the rapid rehousing program. We need even more philanthropists who want to invest in successful, transformative work to support our community’s most vulnerable.

Thank you to the Suncoast Rapid Rehousing staff and the dozens of partner agencies that make up our region’s ever-strengthening “continuum of care” for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Thank you to courageous landlords like Matthew, who take a personal risk to give back in such a vital way.

And thank you, most of all, to the homeless and formerly homeless individuals who invest in themselves by reconnecting with our community and developing relationships that will help them thrive. You are worth celebrating.

Mark S. Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. 

Photo courtesy Wikimedia: A homeless man in Portland.

[Higher Education]  Creating Opportunity For Regional Success
Carol Probstfeld, presidentsoffice@scf.edu

The State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota creates opportunities. We offer access to high-impact, low-cost higher education. We provide the education that allows our working adults to advance in their profession or start a new one through certificates, two-year and four-year degrees. We offer high school graduates a low-cost, high impact associate degree that transfers directly to a state university in Florida. We offer the opportunity for high school students to accelerate their lives by earning college credit and associate degrees while still in high school.

These are things we do well and will continue to focus on to ensure our College is meeting the needs of our community. As we consider the future of our College, the word opportunity has great meaning and tremendous impact. As our community expands, our College must determine to best way to create more opportunities for education and training, while remaining true to the support we have provided our region for more than 60 years.

At SCF, we will always do what we say, deliver on our promises and provide a strong return on investment for our students, donors and taxpayers. Creating opportunities for growth, advancement and fulfillment is central to that pledge. We must expand on our strengths to meet the demands of our rapidly growing community. Every day is an opportunity to introduce someone new to our College. These new residents are our future students, donors, supporters and workforce.

To impactfully create learning opportunities at SCF, we will never become complacent. We want to be our students’ first choice to find the programs, degrees and certifications that will meet the employment and economic needs of our community.

Internships and experiential learning opportunities in the classroom expand learning and lead to positive outcomes for students. By expanding on our partnerships with our business community we can create more opportunities for our students. We are in the early stages of developing learning communities, which are groupings of students in academic interest areas or majors that provide scheduling assistance, resources and collaborative opportunities.

We also want to create more extracurricular activities to participate in community programs for our students, faculty and staff. Engaging with our community will create enrichment opportunities to complement the educational experience. SCF already fulfills multiple monthly requests for subject matter expertise from local civic groups and the media. To expand on that goal, the business incubator/accelerator we are developing on the Bradenton Campus could create consulting opportunities for faculty and staff.

As we focus on providing the best services to our students and community, we have to maintain the outstanding staff and faculty team at SCF. We must be one of the top employers in our service area to maintain the level of talent required to be among the top colleges in Florida. We created the SCF Leadership Academy in 2017 to identify and professionally develop the future leaders of our institution. We recently brought our second class together and will groom our academy members for leadership roles at SCF and in our community.

Opportunity is at the heart of our College. We create opportunities for a better future every day for our students and community members. As we maintain our focus on our strengths, we know that creating more opportunity is the pathway to SCF continuing its leading role in our region.

Dr. Carol Probstfeld is president of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. 

[On County]  Pre-2020 Census Redistricting Exposes Shortcoming of Fair Districts
Gabriel Hament

In November 2018, Sarasota County voters, both Democrats and Republicans, changed the system by which future County Commissioners would be elected—nearly 60 percent pulled the lever for Single Member Districts.

In response to the passage of the county charter amendment, four of the sitting Commissioners (all opposed to Single Member Districts) and two whom are up for election in 2020, have chosen to reconfigure district boundaries.

Is there anything more contentious than incumbents drawing their own districts’ boundaries the year before an election?

Compounding suspicions is the fact former state Senator, now County Commissioner Nancy Detert has been the chief proponent of this push to redistrict before the 2020 Census. The former state legislator was a member of the infamous 2012 Senate Reapportionment Committee, which was central to the statewide decennial redistricting process.

In lawsuits brought by the League of Women Voters and other organizations, it was revealed both the State Senate and US Congressional maps were illegally gerrymandered, in violation of the Florida Constitution. 

In 2015, when all was said and done, the Legislature’s legal fees and court-mandated Special Sessions cost Florida taxpayers a mammoth $11 Million.

In the landmark partisan gerrymandering case heard by the US Supreme Court, Rucho v. Common Cause, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court’s majority and withdrew the federal judiciary from refereeing cases of state legislative and congressional partisan gerrymandering. Instead, Chief Justice Roberts pointed to Congress and individual states as Constitutionally permissible venues for restraining partisan gerrymandering. Florida’s Fair Districts amendments to the state Constitution, passed in 2010, was cited as an example.

In Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent, she referred to two amicus curiae briefs submitted by current and former federal and state legislators that pointed to partisan gerrymandering as a political cancer threatening the healthy functioning of the body politic: “These artificially drawn districts shift influence from swing voters to party-base voters who participate in primaries; make bipartisanship and pragmatic compromise politically difficult or impossible; and drive voters away from an ever more dysfunctional political process.”

With at-large elections masking the underlying partisan composition of Sarasota County, elections haven’t been competitive, political tension has been absent, and the all-Republican County Commission can always retreat behind the “red wall of Clark Road” when they take an unpopular vote.

This lop-sided environment has led to an ossified policy apparatus ineffective at addressing the region’s most pressing challenges.

The county’s economic engine is still dependent on the cyclical industries of homebuilding and tourism, sectors that are easy victims of economic hiccups. According to the United Way, approximately 38 percent of Sarasota County households are unable to afford the basic necessities of life (proper nutrition, healthcare, housing and transportation). And sewage spills from antiquated infrastructure only seem to grow in frequency and volume.

Whereas the Fair Districts amendments make illegal the partisan gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts, no equivalent legal protection exists at the local level.

Absent any legal obligation for current and future Sarasota County Commissioners to draw districts fairly and free of any "... intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent," the citizens of Sarasota are left between a rock and a hard place.

If the Commission is serious about operating a fair redistricting process, they should place a county charter amendment on the 2020 ballot or pass a county ordinance equivalent to the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Gabriel Hament, a Sarasota native, in 2015 managed a successful Sarasota City Commission campaign. He served as a fundraiser and helped launch a state legislative campaign, and has been a volunteer organizer for School Board, state legislative and gubernatorial contests. 



[SCOOP]  Florida Studio Theatre Inspires Students To Write Plays

Now in its 29th year, Florida Studio Theatre’s (FST) award-winning WRITE A PLAY program will encourage young students to open their minds, envision new possibilities, and write down their remarkable ideas. This year, FST’s WRITE A PLAY program will reach over 47,000 children in over 45 schools across the state of Florida. The program is a year-round arts-in-education initiative, providing students with the example, the inspiration, and the skills to write their own original plays. 

Florida Studio Theatre

[SCOOP]  Lakewood Ranch Medical Center CEO Andy Guz Named 2019 American Cancer Society Real Men Wear Pink Candidate

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center’s Chief Executive Officer, Andy Guz, recently joined 35 local leaders to raise awareness and funds for the 2019 American Cancer Society Real Men Wear Pink campaign. The candidates were nominated by co-workers, family members and friends. The 2019 campaign will run from September 1 through November 1. Guz noted, “As my third year participating in the American Cancer Society Real Men Wear Pink campaign and throughout my career in healthcare, I have witnessed the impact of raising funds for groundbreaking breast cancer research and initiatives to ensure access to mammograms for those in need. By raising money and awareness through Real Men Wear Pink, we are helping to save more lives from breast cancer.” 

Lakewood Ranch Medical Center

[SCOOP]  Aesthetic & Wellness Center's Peak Performance Programs

The Aesthetic & Wellness Center, established by Dr. Inda Mowett in 2005, has expanded its practice to include alternative healthcare approaches. These programs are designed for individuals who want to improve overall health and take an active role in early detection and prevention of health conditions. Utilizing the latest diagnostic testing technology including: Bioimpedance Analysis, Micronutrient Testing, Metabolic Testing, Cardio Metabolic Testing, Hormonal Testing, and Medical Fitness Evaluation, The Aesthetic & Wellness Center can work toward reducing or even eliminating potential health risks factors while taking a cohesive look at an individual’s health. 

The Aesthetic & Wellness Center

[SCOOP]  Dick Vitale to Receive Award for Fight Against Pediatric Cancer

The Payton Wright Foundation (PWF) will present basketball legend Dick Vitale with the “Payton’s Hero” award for his dedication to fighting pediatric cancer. The foundation, which financially assists families who have a child with brain cancer, will honor Vitale at its annual Palette fundraiser on October 19, in Sarasota. Vitale’s efforts to raise money for pediatric cancer research began after meeting Payton Wright, a then-four-year-old girl who was battling brain cancer. The ESPN broadcaster and former NBA and college basketball coach had spent years raising money for the Jimmy V Foundation, which was inspired by his late friend Jim Valvano. His efforts were further inspired after living near the Wright family as Payton battled a rare form of brain cancer.   

The Payton Wright Foundation

[SCOOP]  Manatee County Master Gardener Volunteers Celebrate 40th Anniversary with Open Garden Event

Master Gardener Volunteers are holding an “Open Garden” celebration on November 8- 9 to commemorate their 40 years of volunteer service to the Manatee County's University of Florida/IFAS Agriculture and Extension Service.  The free event, which is open to the public, is taking place in the Master Gardeners’ Educational Gardens on the Extension grounds at the Manatee County Fairgrounds in Palmetto. Fridays events will include self-guided tours of our award-winning garden, as well as Information Stations and demonstrations, all geared toward inspiring the creation of Florida-Friendly landscapes.  Saturday is devoted to families and children. In addition to self-guided garden tours and Information Stations, the morning will include fun activities and craft-making. Complimentary cookies and beverages are available both days and on Saturday, Kona Ice will be on site for those wishing to purchase a refreshing treat. 

Manatee County Master Gardener

[SCOOP]  Suncoast Waterkeeper's Healthy Tributaries Program Fundraiser

On July 14, Cheryl Berlon, hosted a fundraiser for Suncoast Waterkeeper at her home in Punta Gorda. Chef Dario Leo from Rossini Trattoria Gastronomica Restaurant provided a cooking lesson and delicious food, while Maurice LoMonaco entertained attendees with his fabulous music. This event raised $14,000 for Suncoast Waterkeeper to create a water quality testing system for several waterways in our area. This program will develop a network of trained citizen scientists who will gather samples from the Alafia, Little Manatee, Manatee, Braden, Myakka and Peace Rivers. 

Suncoast Waterkeeper

SRQ Media Group

SRQ DAILY is produced by SRQ | The Magazine and edited by Senior Editor Phil LedererNote: The views and opinions expressed in the Saturday Perspectives Edition and in the Letters department of SRQ DAILY are those of the author(s) and do not imply endorsement by SRQ Media. Senior Editor Jacob Ogles edits the Saturday Perspective Edition, Letters and Guest Contributor columns. For rates on SRQ DAILY banner advertising and sponsored content opportunities, please contact Ashley Ryan Cannon at 941-365-7702 x211 or via email

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