Safety Harbor City Commission Endorses Greenlight Pinellas Plan
The Safety Harbor City Commission agreed on Monday night to endorse the PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas plan, approving Ordinance 2014-10 by a vote of 3-2.
The decision came after parties from both sides pleaded their cases as to why the commission should or should not endorse the polarizing $100 million mass transit project, which will be on the ballot in November’s general election.
One by one, nearly two dozen people stepped to the podium at City Hall and expressed their opinions about the plan, which calls for an increase in bus services as well as a light rail system that will help connect Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties by implementing a one-percent sales tax increase.
“I’m here tonight not to encourage you not to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just to remain neutral,” Barbara Haselden, an outspoken opponent of the plan, said during the public comments portion of the agenda item. “Of course I would like for you to vote ‘no’, but it would be wonderful for you to let this system play out.”
“This is an attempt to create the illusion of consensus around the county that everyone wants this.”
“I just really don’t want the City to take a position one way or the other,” former Safety Harbor Planning and Zoning Board member Karen Kallal added. “I honestly have not yet made up my mind. I’d rather the City just be neutral.”
While the majority of the speakers echoed Kallal’s sentiments and asked the Commission to remain neutral on the issue, there were some who requested support for the plan.
“I like to encourage you today to endorse the Greenlight Pinellas plan,” Safety Harbor resident James Fogerty said. “This plan is a benefit for Safety Harbor. We’ll see things like increased bus service and continuation of the Safety Harbor (Jolley) trolley, and most importantly, a change in the way that we do things.”
PSTA director Brad Miller, of course, requested the commission’s endorsement of his organization’s project, but he also praised the city for it’s thorough exploration of the matter.
“I want to thank the City Commission,” Miller said. “Having been to 21 of the 24 cities so far in Pinellas County so far, you are the ones who have spent the most time and gotten the most number of PowerPoint presentations on the subject, so I think you are all fully informed.”
“It’s very important, I think, to know what’s in it for Safety Harbor,” he added, noting a doubling of the bus service to the city and increasing the weekend Jolley Trolley to a daily service, while adding the average homeowner would save money thank to the plan’s proposed elimination of the PSTA’s property tax.
“There will be a net savings for homeowners in Safety Harbor even if they never use the system.”
After hearing the public comments, the commission had to decide whether or not to endorse the project.
As was the case with the public, the commissioners were also split on the issue.
“What we’re voting on here is the vision that is being presented,” Vice Mayor Cliff Merz said, noting that he has served as Safety Harbor’s representative to the PSTA since January 2013. “We’re not making a decision on Greenlight Pinellas. The voters will make that decision.”
But to Commissioner Rick Blake, voting on the resolution was akin to encouraging voters to support the plan.
“I think this is almost a tactic of sorts to get all these organizations to support the vision without the actual details of it, and that, to me, is a little concerning,” he said.
“I’m not on board with the City of Safety Harbor supporting it as a whole without knowing what all those detailed benefits are.”
Following comments from Commissioners Andy Zodrow and Carlos Diaz, Mayor Andy Steingold had the last word before the vote.
“I was on PSTA, I went to two meetings, and I really pushed hard to get it on the ballot,” the mayor said. “Although I didn’t necessarily agree with it, I thought it was good…to let the people make a decision whether or not they want it.”
“I have not been satisfied with it, mainly because I do not agree with the split,” he added, stating he believes there should be greater emphasis on the light rail system, which he called the future, and less on the “beefing up of the bus system.”
“I don’t want to take action with it, and I think that what we do up here obviously impacts what our residents think throughout the city.”
Despite the mayor’s urging, the commission ultimately passed the measure by a vote of 3-2, with Mayor Steingold and Commissioner Blake expressing the nay votes.
- PSTA Boss Seeks Support For Greenlight Pinellas Plan
- Safety Harbor Jolley Trolley Service Starts Today
*Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com.
The more authority you give the govt, the less money and fewer freedoms you will have.
A bad plan implemented today is worse than doing nothing.
I suspect light rail will keep being brought up until the Powers That Be finally get it thru their thick heads that no matter how much it appeals to some people most people do not want it. it will be a massive disruption for years just getting it built & once it is built it will either cause monstrous traffic issues as it crosses dozens of surface roads or be a miles long eyesore of elevated tracks. Given the geography of Florida a subway is not a viable option.
If the truth about the taxes was put out clearly & simply I think it would be defeated even more soundly than it has been every time to date.
I DO AGREE that mass transit needs help in Greater Tampa Bay. I DO NOT AGREE that light rail is the solution.
Perhaps if they were presented as two distinct referendums you might get the bus upgrades passed.
I think the best option is better bus service – esp between St Pete & Clearwater & Tampa (& eventually Brandon on the east end). There needs to be frequent express runs between 1-3 locations in each city with large commuter parking lots & LOTS of frequent connections. The last time I looked at the bus routing from Safety Harbor to my job near @NetPark – it took over 2 hours & got me there 60-90 minutes late. I love where I live & I like my job (most of the time at least) so changing either is not an option.
Another option that never seems to be discussed is tele-commuting. Many of the jobs that do not require direct customer contact could be done from from.
I do not want to have to rely on a government run (citizen supported) system for my transportation that will tell me when & where I can go so I intend to keep my car.
The Tampa Bay area is and has been in great need for a mass transit system. Light rail has been discussed for several years and again and again voters have decided to delay the issue. At some point, though, we can no longer continue to delay but must take action. Yes, the plan will increase your taxes a bit, but in this case it is necessary for the future of the area. We can no longer rely on automobiles as our main source of transportation.
The plan is not perfect, no plan usually is, and I think it should emphasize the rail more than the buses, but as the old adage goes:
“A good plan implemented today, is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”
If this passes here in Pinellas, than it will have an even better chance of passing in Hillsborough when it next appears on their ballots.
It’s time to take action.
I am concerned about this project for two reasons. First – and my info may be faulty – my understanding is that one tax will reduced or eliminated BUT about three times that revenue will be generated from new sources. The new revenue is supposed to be a tourist based tax but only about one-third of those increased taxes will actually be from tourists. That means instead of our total tax load going down in will actually go up. If someone would look into these numbers & elaborate or correct me on this I would appreciate it.
Secondly while I believe the expanded bus routes will be a benefit the addition of the light rail has the potential to be a financial disaster. The cost of acquiring that much land – much of it probably thru eminent domain or above market prices – will likely be slow, expensive and over budget. That will occur before any significant construction begins. Part of the construction will be along the US-19 corridor where the current project should just about get finished when this one is scheduled to start so the congestion will continue. additionally light rail will be crossing a large number of roads frequently & causing traffic tie-ups.
My preference would be to split the project and do the buses now then after at least two years to allow for adjustments & familiarity revisit the light rail – it would be relatively simple to keep the plans updated during this time as opposed to starting from scratch.
I agree with the mayor on this one. Folks aren’t clamoring to ride more buses, but a light rail system may prove “sexy” enough to gain riders.