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Friday April 25th 2014

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Rants & Raves 11.04

COUNCIL FAILURE The City of Pensacola has once again failed to fully govern and protect our historic districts. Pensacola is “America’s First Settlement,” yet the City provides our utility providers no apparent oversight or review in representation of historic district rights of ways. Historic districts that are blighted with excessive utility structures are diminished and tend not to draw as many tourist dollars for our entire community.

I recently sent a report to the City of Pensacola citing two North Hill locations (1008 and 1010 N. Reus St.) that have had the presence of “double light poles” for well over a year. A utility puts in a new light pole, but fails to remove the old one until the situation is brought to their attention.

In this case, the owning utility, Gulf Power, admitted to “messing up” by failing to notify other utilities to move their equipment to the new pole so the old one may be removed. It is reasonable for this to take a month or two to coordinate before the old pole is removed. This is reasonable and fair. What is unreasonable and unfair for our historic districts are timelines greater than six months and in some cases over a year. The inescapable message from the utility is: “We don’t care.”

What is also unreasonable and unfair is for the City of Pensacola to demonstrate a laissez-faire attitude on this issue toward the utility companies and thereby relinquish governmental oversight of our historic districts.

The question that has yet to be answered is: When will the City of Pensacola start governing and reviewing utility installations on district rights of ways in accordance with our existing Land Development Code? Architectural Review Boards (ARB) already have oversight of rights of ways in many other Florida historic districts, such as those in Orlando, Ft. Pierce, Miami, and Jacksonville.

The North Hill Preservation District is not large, yet there exists (or existed) a large number of un-reviewed “double utility poles” for an extended time period. Why does Pensacola, “America’s First Settlement,” fail to monitor its historic district’s rights of ways?

The City has declared a “moratorium” on new utility structures until final language is drafted into our new historic element to the Comprehensive Plan. Naturally, the utility companies oppose restrictions and Gulf Power, I have heard, has been a very strong opponent. If Gulf Power is truly opposed to new restrictive language and ARB review, one would think that they would be demonstrating model behavior and perfect oversight, thereby making the point that City permitting and review is superfluous. What may we expect if the City, once again, gives the utilities a pass and lets them self-regulate as has been the case to in the past?

As of this writing, and likely in response to my Oct. 15 letter, Gulf Power and perhaps other utility pole owners have begun removing their more longstanding double poles. I believe all of these sites were “mistakes” akin to the 1008 and 1010 N. Reus St. report and have been neglected for the same amount of time: a little over a year. If Gulf Power and the rest of our utilities had to go through City permitting and ARB review, they would be much quicker to be a good neighbor in our historic districts than is presently the case. Gulf Power’s poor example at 1008 and 1010 N. Reus St. is precisely why they need City oversight.

One would think that Pensacola would be a leader in historic preservation rather than a laggard. Like the AT&T utility cabinets issue, the “double utility poles” stand as ugly monuments to Pensacola’s lack of full and effective governance. These different and increasing incidents are manifestations of the same issue—the City’s failure to fully govern. Pensacola may be “America’s First Settlement” in name, but the City of Pensacola, by omission, often acts to diminish its historic integrity.

The purpose of local government is to govern locally and represent the interests of all parties, not just those of “big business.”

—Scott O. Davis, Pensacola
RIGHT ROLE FOR INSURANCE EXCHANGES In October, the Department of Health and Human Services closed its “comment period” for the new regional health insurance exchanges—a major component of the Obama health reforms.

As state officials implement their plans, they should strive to ensure that these exchanges don’t crowd out free market insurance mechanisms. While the options available on these exchanges will work well for many people, a substantial slice of the patient population will find them unsuitable.

Preserving a vibrant private insurance market in addition to the exchanges will maximize choice and enable people to find the insurance plan that best fits their particular needs. When the president said that people who are happy with their insurance “can keep it,” we should keep him to his word. Choice is crucial.

The thinking behind the exchanges is sound. Large employers can negotiate good health insurance rates because they have a big workforce to spread risk. Individuals and small businesses don’t have that advantage, and therefore they end up paying significantly higher rates than their larger counterparts.

Exchanges will help level the playing field. Participating insurers will offer a standard set of plans that must conform to specific government standards. Groups of people that typically have difficulty finding affordable insurance, including the self-employed, unemployed, and smaller firms, can buy the standard plans through the exchange.

In this way, these groups can pool their purchasing power and get lower rates. The federal government will also provide subsidies for lower income consumers.

Exchanges go live in 2014. If a state hasn’t started the process of establishing one by 2013, the federal government will take over the responsibility and run the exchange itself.

Healthcare coverage isn’t one-size-fits-all. There needs to be an insurance market outside the government exchanges to ensure people with unique plan preferences can get the coverage they want.

The new insurance exchanges will reduce the number of uninsured, and should decrease the price of coverage for many patients.

But policymakers and private healthcare stakeholders need to work together to ensure that the exchanges don’t become the only way to get health insurance. The more options patients have, the more likely they are to get the coverage that best fits their individual medical needs and financial means.

—Peter J. Pitts, president, Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, New York City
SUING THE FED Over 200 American citizens from 27 states have filed a legal action that will greatly benefit your readers. The defendants are officials of the Federal Reserve System, Wall Street banks and individuals of the six bank regulators.

One basis for the action is that The Fed is not an independent government agency. The complaint, filed in Charlotte, N.C., proves the 12 Fed banks, lending us paper money they illegally create, are owned by Wall Street banks. Citizens have paid $7 trillion to borrow their own money. Its recovery will be distributed to the states. A million seconds equals 13 days, a billion equals 31 years, and a trillion equals 31,688 years.

—Hugh W. Johnston, Gastonia, N.C.