Pensacola, Florida
Sunday November 23rd 2014

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The Buzz 12/12/13

Pensacola Makes Another List Pensacolians are driving less than they used to, a new study shows. According to the U.S. PIRG, a federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), Pensacola is among the top ten cities in the U.S. with the highest declines in driving between the years 2006 and 2011. In U.S. PIRG’s report “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” the consumer group compiled and analyzed data from the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration and the Census Bureau for the 100 most populous urbanized areas in the country.

The study ranks Pensacola 10th in the nation in its decrease in the average number of miles driven per resident.  Happily for proponents of greener transportation, increases in bicycle commuting and use of public transit were among the factors behind the decreased miles driven per-capita numbers, the height of which peaked nationwide in 2004. An increase in the proportion of people working from home and those in carless households are part of the equation, along with a decrease in the number of households with 2 or more cars.

And lest detractors point to unemployment and sluggish economic growth as a reason people are cruising in cars less, U.S. PIRG determined that, “Variations in the economy do not appear to be responsible for variations in the trends in driving among urbanized areas,” reporting that in the top 15 cities with the highest per-capita declines in driving, the average increase in the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, versus an average of 4.6 percent in all other urbanized areas. The majority of Pensacola’s top ten list companions were in the Northeast and Midwest, with only Jacksonville and New Orleans being the only other Southern cities to make that list.

Food Trucks Inch Forward Monday evening, after the city council’s agenda conference and Disparity Study Workshop, the question of food trucks made it to the table.
During the workshop, all signs pointed to cooperative efforts among food truck owners, brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, the council, and city staff to find a solution that will be clear for those following and enforcing the future policies regarding mobile vending units, both food trucks and food carts.

Sherry Morris of the city’s Planning Services Division opened the meeting with a recap of the presentation she delivered to the council during their November regular meeting. Her remarks outlined the basic differences between food trucks and carts, mentioned other cities throughout the U.S. that have recently developed regulations, and explained what degree of clarity an ordinance versus a policy would allow the city.

Several council members expressed concern about food trucks lining Palafox Street, from both an aesthetics and safety standpoint. All were in favor of putting the issue before the Planning Board and developing an ordinance specifically related to mobile food vendors.

Councilman Brian Spencer stated, “I do feel that using Chapter 12 of the Land Development Code provides us the best vehicle to properly regulate this. Ms. Morris I think said it succinctly when she said the ordinance formats, and I’m going to emphasize, clear expectations. What could we want more for all of us?”

Also in favor of clearly regulating food truck operations, councilmembers Sherri Myers and Jewel Cannada-Wynn advocate for consideration of policies that will be easily applicable to areas within the city limits, including outside of downtown. Wynn spoke of parks in the city, including both her district’s Armstrong Park and Bayview Park, which she feels would be ideal venues for food trucks.

Michael Carro, who developed Al Fresco, spoke in support of food trucks with proper regulations. Carro mentioned that he met with a group of restaurateurs last week to review the draft ordinance Councilmember Andy Terhaar presented to the council in November. Terhaar’s draft ordinance was modeled after Tallahassee’s policies related to food trucks and mobile vending units, as a basis for discussion.

Existing restaurant owners provided input as well. Nick Zangari, owner of New York Nick’s spoke in support of a designated food truck district on Baylen Street, while Hopjacks owner Joe Abston suggested looking to cities such as Charleston for examples of how to regulate food carts on sidewalks.

The meeting concluded with staff agreeing to work up materials for the Planning Board, who will consider the issue and develop ways to work food truck regulations into the city’s Land Development Code that would be referenced as part of an ordinance governing mobile vending unit operations.

Shelter or Storm? Escambia Animal Shelter has remained under much scrutiny since the Labrador retriever mix Cowgirl, belonging to area resident Danielle Riggens, was mistakenly euthanized on Aug. 30, followed by the resignation of Director of Animal Services Delfi Messinger. In October, two more incidents occurred resulting in two additional pets being “mistakenly euthanized.”

These events were followed by the departure of veterinarian Dr. Melissa Adkison in November. Although no specific reason for her departure has been entirely confirmed, it is said to have been a dispute over the updated sign-off policy for euthanasias, that is, the requirement of her as both vet and acting manager in the absence of Messinger to take responsibility for said sign-offs.

In the wake of Adkison’s departure, Dr. Alphonso W. Steward III was hired as a replacement veterinarian. At the present, the county’s Director of Community Affairs, Marilyn Wesley is overseeing ECAS operations and working to fill the vacant shelter manager position. According to an update from Wesley, interviews for a new shelter manager are currently underway and an offer is expected to be made by the middle of December. It has been announced that the county will join forces with the Jacksonville-based Target Zero Institute (TZI). The mission of Target Zero is to turn all animal shelters in the county into no-kill facilities by 2024. A press release received from Pensacola Humane Society on Nov. 21 with the subject line “Pensacola Humane Society Selected to Partner in No-Kill Project,” noted that PHS would be partnering with the county on this endeavor. The release included the following excerpt from the TZI acceptance letter that was also attached, welcoming Escambia County as its newest fellow.

“TZI will share knowledge through a hands-on holistic approach gained from success in life saving initiatives in Jacksonville and other nationally recognized examples of ‘best practices’ within communities. TZI brings together experts in all areas of animal welfare, by assessing what is currently being done and then showing/explaining how and why different initiatives can save more lives. Our team acts as mentors to your community as changes are made. Thanks to generous financial support of TZI, there are no costs to communities who are chosen as a fellow.”

The release was immediately followed up with a notice changing the status of TZI implementation and distribution of this information to “pending.” At the time, the county is unwilling to discuss the details of this program until the TZI team makes an onsite visit and performs a full assessment. Further details of what this fellowship means for Escambia County and the shelter specifically are expected to be released in January.

“We will not know more about this program until after the site visit in January and the program is discussed by the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners,” stated Wesley.
In the meantime, on the adoption side of the equation, the county announced via a press release on Dec. 2 that it is partnering with the natural pet food manufacturer Blue Buffalo and 4,000 animal shelters worldwide for the “Home 4 the Holidays” pet adoption initiative, with an overall campaign goal of placing 1.5 million orphaned pets in homes by Jan. 2.

On a local level, although the county has confirmed there is no set number for the adoptions it is looking to secure during this month timespan, it’s a campaign they hope will get more people through the doors of the shelter to consider adopting a forever friend.

If nothing else, it appears to be a “feel good” effort on the county’s part to offer a bit more shelter during the storm.