Pensacola, Florida
Monday April 22nd 2019

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The Buzz 4/4/19

Help Requested In January, Commissioner Doug Underhill failed to win support to invoke eminent domain to obtain a parcel owned by the Lake Charlene Homeowner’s Association that would allow the county to lower the level of Lake Charlene and reduce flooding in the area.

Underhill tried to get the item on the agenda even though it appeared he didn’t have the votes. Commission Chairman Lumon May said that he was reluctant to use eminent domain without exploring every alternative and asked Underhill if he would be willing to wait until another engineer could review the plans. Underhill refused to withdraw the motion.

It died without a second to the motion, which prevents him from bringing the project up again for a year. Another commissioner will have to make the motion for the board to consider it.

Last year, Underhill saw his support shrink among Lake Charlene area residents, who vote at Precinct 54-Elks Lodge on South 72nd Avenue.

In the 2014 Republican primary at Precinct 54, Underhill bested incumbent Gene Valentino, 61-39 percent, and he won the general election against Democrat Deb Moore by 36 points.

However, the 2018 election cycle was different. GOP challenger Alan McMillan won the primary at Precinct 54, 57-43 percent. In the general election, Underhill edged past Democratic newcomer Scott Trotter by 8 points at the Elks Lodge polling place.

In a March 25 letter to Lake Charlene residents, Underhill placed blame on the Lake Charlene Homeowner’s Association (HOA) for holding up the project. He wrote, “I cannot build this project with your HOA and their lawyer fighting me.”

The HOA has opposed lowering Lake Charlene by nine inches because of the possible harm it could do to wildlife, seawalls and property values. Underhill stated, “Their opposition is nothing more than aesthetics,” and he labeled the HOA arguments “absurd.”

Underhill asked the residents to contact Chairman May and request that the matter is placed the agenda for the April 4 commission meeting, get the Lake Charlene HOA to drop its opposition and reach the other commissioners to ask for their votes for the project.

“Or you can accept failure,” wrote Commissioner Underhill. “Failure means the grant is rescinded, and the project is abandoned. Failure means 75 homes in your community remain at risk. Failure means that the next time these homes flood, we have only ourselves to blame.”

He continued, “That is not the Escambia County I believe in which we live.”

Right Price Parking Pensacola’s Downtown Improvement Board continued to refine its plans for downtown parking during a March 26 workshop in preparation for a conversation on the subject this summer with the Pensacola City Council.

DIB Vice Chair John Peacock told other members of the Parking and Traffic Committee that a minimalist approach would probably be best. The city council needs merely to know that the DIB is handling parking and routinely assessing the downtown parking stock and its associated rate structure to figure out how much to charge where and when.

“I don’t want to make it too complicated for city council,” Peacock said. “They don’t need to be involved in price setting, and I don’t think they want to.”

In short, it looks like the DIB will tell the council that some parking that is currently metered may not be at some point and vice versa. The quasi-governmental organization may lean on the tenets of parking guru Donald Shoup, who presented a CivicCon lecture in October—charge the “right price” for parking to ensure a healthy turnover, and then spend the proceeds to benefit the regulated area.

The DIB may consider changing the currently free parking along stretches of Palafox. The organization has received criticism for leaving the prime spots free with metering parking farther away from downtown’s main drag.

Dan Lindemann, the owner of A&J Mugs, was particularly steamed about the situation, complaining that neighboring business owners and employees routinely park in the prime spots all day. He laid out his feelings on the matter at the DIB workshop.

“We don’t have a parking problem downtown,” he said. “We’ve just got lazy people.”

Lindemann said he was tired of trying to reason with the offenders and wants the DIB to start charging for Palafox parking.

“That’s a gold mine up there for you guys. I’ll go up there and do it for 20 percent,” he laughed. “I agree with Dr. Shoup, charge the heck out of ‘em.”

Palafox parking rates will be one of those details of downtown parking that the DIB plans to work out before visiting with the city council.

“We don’t want to debate whether Palafox will be free or not,” said committee member Danny Zimmern.

“Not in front of council,” Peacock agreed.

Other details the DIB will be considering include whether or not to charge different rates for the same spots depending on the time of day and if there should be some stock of parking that is reserved for people willing to pay more for more convenient spaces.

Whatever the parking rates and structure end up being, the DIB will likely spend the revenue on beautification and amenities like bathrooms. Peacock said that anyone happening to receive a fine for parking would prefer to know the money went back into the area.

“It’s things like pressure washing; it’s things like better landscaping; it’s things like Christmas lights,” he said.

“It’s not like we’re a big enterprise just trying to make money,” noted Zimmern. “It’s about the big picture.”

Currently, the DIB oversees about 2,500 on-street parking spaces and approximately 1,400 off-street spots. There are an additional estimated 13,000 private spaces they don’t monitor.

During Tuesday’s workshop, DIB Executive Director Lissa Dees appeared to prod parking committee members to firm up the specifics of their presentation to the city, but Peacock maintained that a more general approach was best.

“I just want to make sure that whatever this group tells council we’re going to do, we’ll be able to follow through,” Dees said.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Peacock said.

DeSantis Remains Popular Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to ride a wave of popularity among Florida voters, according to a recent statewide survey by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI).

DeSantis enjoys a 54 percent approval rating, up six points from last month’s BEPI survey, with 19 percent disapproval and 27 percent of voters unsure about the new governor. Democrats were less enthusiastic about DeSantis, with 37 percent approval compared with 31 disapproval. Independents gave DeSantis 51 percent approval to 12 percent disapproval, while Republicans registered 72 percent approval and 11 percent disapproval.

Voters also were asked about several public policy proposals being discussed in Tallahassee. Importing prescription drugs from Canada to help lower costs to Floridians won 75 percent support among survey respondents, with only 12 percent opposition.

DeSantis’ proposal to create a task force to reduce the impact of harmful algae blooms was also widely popular among voters, with 63 percent support and 16 percent opposition. The expansion of school voucher programs for middle-income families garnered 52 percent support and 29 percent opposition. Banning fracking was also popular, with nearly half of those surveyed (49 percent) supporting a ban on all kinds of fracking in Florida, while 31 percent oppose a ban.

Floridians by a margin of 46 to 34 percent support banning sanctuary cities to prevent local governments from passing ordinances that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Allowing teachers to carry firearms on school property was opposed by 50 percent of those surveyed, while 38 percent approved.

The survey was conducted March 22-24 and polled 500 Florida registered voters. The study was conducted using an online sample supplied by Survey Sampling International using online questionnaires and via IVR. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.3 percentage points.

Two-Way MLK Drive To improve traffic issues and create a more walkable community, Pensacola may consider changing a couple of currently one-way streets into two-way affairs. Mayor Grover Robinson said at his March 25 press conference that he plans to approach the city’s Eastside Community Redevelopment Agency about changing North Davis Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to two-way streets.

Robinson said that he felt making the change would calm speeding traffic, make the neighborhood the streets run through safer and hopefully spur local businesses along the routes.

“There’s just a lot of things we could do in that community if we quit doing the one-way,” the mayor said.

Robinson related the neighborhoods running along the two streets to an area in Charleston, S.C., having just visited the city for the Mayors Institute for Civic Design conference this past weekend. He noted the positive results the area experienced after opening up streets to two-way traffic and said he plans to relay that city’s experience when trying to sell neighborhood residents on the two-way concept.

“I do want to go to the neighborhood and say, ‘Listen, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen the difference it’s made in an area that was fairly similar to yours, in Charleston.’ I think it does a lot of things we talk about. It’s how do you slow traffic down? How do you make things more walkable? How do you make it safer?’” the mayor said.

Robinson added, “I don’t want to try to force something on the neighbors that they don’t see—it’s my job to get them to see that that is a value and would make it a better neighborhood for them.”

In addition to any traffic-calming impact it may have, Robinson said he considered a resurgence of local businesses along the newly two-way roads to be a real likelihood.

“The other part is … how do we introduce microeconomic development back into some of these communities, especially some of the communities that we’ve traditionally seen more economically neglected?” he said. “If you give back that two-way traffic, if you give back that walkability, there is an opportunity for that residential neighborhood commercial to come back.”

While there isn’t a timeline on this two-way conversation, Mayor Robinson said he planned to start the ball rolling soon.

“Baylen and Spring streets didn’t take that long once they decided to do it,” the mayor said. “If we decided to do it, then we would begin notice and set a date. We’d move out and get it striped. And we’d eventually show up one day, and all the sudden you’d be driving two ways.”

Board Volunteers Sought The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners is seeking Escambia County residents interested in volunteering to be considered for an appointment to four seats on the Escambia-Pensacola Human Relations Commission.

The EPHRC was first established by an interlocal agreement between the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners and the city of Pensacola in April 1974. The purpose of the commission is to be responsible for the promotion of fair treatment and equal opportunity to all citizens of the local community. For this term, commission members, who are called commissioners, will serve an initial two-year term of office.

Commissioners will establish a schedule of regular meetings, which shall be held at least monthly. The commission meetings are held to discuss the previous month’s day-to-day activities and to ensure that the interlocal agreement between Escambia County, the city of Pensacola and the EPHRC are in compliance. Additional meetings may be held for special discussion, workshops, training sessions or community activities.

Interested Escambia residents are asked to submit a resume and letter indicating their desire to serve by the close of business Wednesday, April 10. Resumes should be submitted to Judy Witterstaeter/Shamara Jernigan, Escambia County Board of County Commissioners, P.O. Box 1591, Pensacola, FL 32502, or emailed to boardapply@myescambia.com.

Ferry Landing Grand Opening On Saturday, April 13, the City of Pensacola will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Pensacola Ferry Landing beginning at 10 a.m. Refreshments and tours of the facility and boats will be offered following the ceremony.

Located at the head of Commendencia Slip between the Port of Pensacola and Plaza de Luna/Palafox Pier, the new $3.5 million dock and terminal building will serve as the homeport location for National Park Service’s 150-passenger, catamaran-style boats, the Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch.

HMS Ferries, Inc. is the new concessioner under contract with the National Park Service to operate the boats. Once in service, the ships will transport passengers between Quietwater Beach, Fort Pickens and downtown Pensacola.

Mark Your Calendar The Escambia County Waste Services Department will host a Regional Roundup 8 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 6, in the north parking lot of Pensacola High School, 500 W. Maxwell St. Regional Roundup events provide an opportunity to properly dispose of electronics, household hazardous waste and up to four tires per vehicle, free of charge. Proof of Escambia County residency is required to participate, such as a driver’s license, power bill or voter registration card. This is a residential drop-off program only; no commercial waste accepted. For more information, email wasteservices@myescambia.com.

DIB finance committee meets 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, in the Bowden Building, Room #2, 120 Church St.

DIB parking & traffic committee meets 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11, in the Bowden Building, Room #1, 120 Church St.