Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019

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The Buzz 4/27/17

Champion for Beach Ownership Rep. Matt Gaetz plans to file a bill soon that transfers ownership officially of Navarre Beach from Escambia County to Santa Rosa County. The bill will allow Santa Rosa Island leaseholders on Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach to choose whether they want to own beach property and pay property taxes, also known as fee simple title, and ensures that Pensacola Beach property under Escambia County control that is undeveloped remains preserved forever.

Both Escambia County and Santa Rosa County commissioners have given the bill thumbs up, allowing Gaetz to move forward on what has caused a lot of knock-down-drag-out fights between the two counties and residents of the barrier island.

Gaetz credited District 4 Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson IV and District 4 Santa Rosa County Commissioner Rob Williamson for helping draft the legislation in a spirit of cooperation. In the past, the counties have been at odds over the issue.

There is some worry that Florida’s senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson may try, as he has done in the past, to attach an amendment that calls for the Navarre Pass to never reopen, Gaetz said. The pass existed for only a few months in 1965 before Hurricane Betsy filled it in with sand and closed it for good.

Gaetz told a group of Navarre community leaders that he and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio have gotten assurances from the Nelson camp that he will let the bill pass as is.

Gaetz also said the bill may receive opposition from pro-environment advocates who believe beach ownership will lead to more development. However, the Republican said the bill could pass in 2017.

“We will have our opponents who don’t want to see more growth,” Gaetz said.

Robinson made it clear that none of the leaseholders will be forced to accept fee simple title. He also said the bill is clear in its intent. “The pass isn’t involved in this issue,” Robinson said. “This is a tax issue.”

Once a leaseholder sells his lease, which are as low as $100 a year, the property will automatically transfer to fee simple title and appear on the two counties’ property tax rolls, Robinson explained.

White in the Mix Peter Schorsch, creator of SaintPetersBlog.com and FloridaPolitics.com, keeps an eye on the internal politics of the Florida Legislature. In his most recent analysis of the 2022 House Speaker’s race, Pensacola’s Frank White is among the names mentioned.

According to Schorsch, the contenders are Paul Renner of Palm Coast, Byron Donalds of Naples, Ralph Massull of Lecanto, James “J.W.” Grant of Tampa, Erin Grall of Vero Beach, and White.

The new rules call for members to not select a speaker until after the 2017 Session. Members are not suppose to solicit support for a leadership bid until after June 30. There are currently 27 freshmen Republicans in the House, so 14 votes are needed to secure the Speakership.

Of White’s chances, Schorsch wrote: “There is a faction of North Florida members who will likely move and vote as a bloc: White, Mel Ponder, Jayer Williamson, and Cord Byrd. The inside joke about three of these members is that their roommate in Tallahassee is Grant. One thing is for certain, come July 1, either White or Grant will be a candidate for Speaker, but not both.”

Vinyl Parks It Curt Morse, executive director of the Downtown Improvement Board, went on “Pensacola Speaks” to clear up confusion over Vinyl Music Hall blocking off parking spaces on Garden Street for bands to load off equipment for their concerts.

Originally, the media reported that a citizen had his car towed from one of the spots. When reporters tried to find out whether Vinyl had the power to do it, no one seemed to know. Morse said he was unaware of any agreement with the DIB or its parking management company. City Hall had no records.

“Our financial coordinator was out on vacation, and of course we run a very, very lean operation here so not a lot of hands on deck that were able to answer that question for me,” said Morse. “So I ran with what I knew which was very little.”

When the financial coordinator returned, she told Morse that she knew about an agreement.

“We went to the archives and found binders of past use agreements for everything from those meters there on Garden Street adjacent to Vinyl Music Hall, as well as other use agreements for things as innocuous as dumpsters that are in a parking place,” said Morse.

He had found an agreement with Vinyl for the spaces, but that it had expired in January 2016. For some reason, his predecessor, Ron Butlin, failed to renew it. Butlin resigned last September for health reasons, and Morse took over in November.

“The unfortunate reality Rick, is the DIB in the past has possibly not run as lean and as efficient as it could,” said Morse. “So what we’re working on now with our team is trying to refine those processes, make sure they’re in place so that things like this don’t happen. ”

Morse had met with the management of Vinyl Music Hall. A new use agreement has been signed, and Vinyl will pay for the use of the spaces in 2016.

He said, “They’ll be paying a 25 percent premium on those parking spaces to have the privilege of using them the day of the show so that they can provide adequate parking for a tour bus and a trailer to come in and unload and then perform, and then load again, and then leave.”

New App for Veterans The Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research announced it has finalized a funding agreement with VetCV, a Pensacola-based company with technology developed at the Florida Institute for Human Machine and Cognition.

VetCV is an app where military veterans and their families can track and manage their healthcare activities, make appointments, request status data, track important life events, and manage their careers. Users will also be able to safely store valuable medical, military, personal records, and store precious memories. VetCV provides a platform for veterans to build personal support networks with other VetCV members.

“Ninety-five percent of veteran records are in paper format, and while many Veteran Affairs Medical Centers (VAMC) are transitioning to electronic records and have converted over 500,000 Veteran records. Many Veterans cannot access these records,” said Niels K. Andersen, VetCV Chief Executive Officer. “VetCV puts control of information back in the veterans’ hands by giving them a secure platform to capture and store vital information.”

The Florida Institute supports new company creation based on publicly funded research and bridges early funding gaps for companies spinning out of Florida-based universities and research institutions.

Bydlak 2018? Rebekah Bydlak garnered 7.8 percent of the vote in the hotly contested August 2016 GOP primary to replace Congressman Jeff Miller. Coming in fourth in the seven-person race hasn’t driven her away from politics.

Bydlak is the Executive Director of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, which recently launched the website SpendingTracker.org to track federal spending in real time.

“You can go in and enter your zip code or find a member of Congress by selecting their name, and you can see how much total spending each member has voted for,” she explained to Inweekly.

“This is something that we sought to do a couple of years ago, just based on the fact that it’s so hard to find that information,” said Bydlak. “Most people aren’t going to go and read CBO (Congressional Budget Office) scores and voting records, and so we think information is powerful and that’s why we put it together.”

While she said that she thinks Rep. Matt Gaetz, Bydlak did not rule out running again for political office.

“Once you get involved, and you see how much there is to be done, you find it hard to pull yourself away,” said Bydlak. “Who knows what the future holds, but I’m certainly not writing anything off.”

Become Certified Emerald Coastkeeper Laurie Murphy, a certified stormwater inspector, is holding a class in the Pensacola area on Monday, May 8, to train what will be Pensacola’s first group of Certified Stormwater Volunteers.

The class is from 5:50 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Cokesbury United Methodist Church on 9th Avenue across from Pensacola State College.

The training is free and open to the public. Emerald Coastkeeper and NPDESCompliance.org, the largest stormwater non-profit organization in the world, have partnered to help to give participants the tools to help protect their neighborhoods.

Interested parties, such as public works directors and employees, homeowners associations, neighborhood associations, environmentalists, and educators, are encouraged to attend. However, anyone with an interest in stormwater issues may come Additional materials will be available for a donation, but not required for the class.

Free food and beverages will be served.

The initial class is limited to 24 people. To be considered, you must RSVP to coastkeeper@emeraldcoastkeeper.org by May 1.

End Beach Bottlenecks The Escambia Board of County Commissioners has studied the traffic on Pensacola Beach for seven years. Two engineering firms have examined the issues and identified the same two bottlenecks, according to Pensacola Beach developer Robert Rinke.

“One bottleneck is the toll,” Rinke said on “Pensacola Speaks” earlier this month. He believes the county made the right decision to install the SunPass system that allows cars to come on the Santa Rosa Island without stopping to pay a toll.

He said, “They spent $2 million on those electronics to put that SunPass in. Now they don’t have to turn them all to SunPass. They can get some people a way to get through with a dollar initially until that ultimately will back up, but there’s a whole education process. They’ll do that slowly and educate by doing the right things.”

The second bottleneck is the only traffic light on Pensacola Beach.

“Both engineers said the traffic light has to go or you’re backing up traffic every weekend in the spring and the summer,’ said Rinke.

Five years ago, the engineers proposed building a flyover that traveled east and west and took the vehicles above the pedestrians.

“In general, people didn’t like it,” Rinke told Inweekly. “That was $70 million, and it was too much.”

He believes the latest proposal is a much better plan and is less expensive and more aesthetically pleasing. The plan has two roundabouts, four pedestrian underpasses, and no traffic lights.

“You bring people onto the beach. They go east. If they’re going to go east, they get out of the core. They go west. If they’re going to go west, they get out of the core. Now you’re dealing with just the people that want to be in the core,” said Rinke.

The plan creates a “pedestrian-centric Pensacola Beach, not a car-centric Pensacola Beach.” The price tag is $22 million, which Rinke and others propose would be paid with local option sales tax (LOST) dollars generated on Pensacola.

“We’ve generated $509 million over the last 10 years of LOST, and the beach only got $4 million,” said Rinke. “We’re proposing that we just take the share of LOST that we generate on the beach, bond that for 10 years, and pay for the whole infrastructure project with LOST that’s meant for infrastructure only.”

The traffic plan was scheduled to be presented to the BCC on Tuesday, April 25 at its committee of the whole, after our publication deadline. If the commissioners like it, the proposal could come before the board for a vote in May.

Constitution Panel Hearing The Constitution Revision Commission will hold a public hearing in Northwest Florida, as the panel continues taking input from across the state. The commission will hold a hearing at 4 p.m. May 3 at Gulf Coast State College’s Amelia Center Auditorium in Panama City.

The 37-member panel is holding a series of hearings as it prepares to propose constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot. Its other May hearings are scheduled for May 10 in Lee County and May 17 in Hillsborough County. None have been announced for Pensacola yet.