TOM'S KEY ISSUES

I’d like to advance the conversation on six key issues, as well as draw a contrast with other candidates for St. Pete city offices who are being far less specific about what they stand for.  I understand there is a risk to being this candid.  Even within a single household, it’s difficult to find two people who completely agree on six different issues, so I’m sure it will be the rare person who likes every single thing they read here.  However, if elected, let me affirm that I will keep an open mind about all issues before the Council, do my homework, leverage my experience, and stand prepared to modify my positions if new data identifies a better way to go.  But for now, here are my current leanings on what I expect will be the most important issues before the next City Council. 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING:
CAN WE AFFORD THIS PLACE? 

Housing prices and rents are spiraling higher every day – much faster than wages.  What fun is it to live in a great city when all your money gets eaten up by housing costs?  The only real way to keep housing affordable is by growing housing supply.  St. Petersburg’s development philosophy needs to adapt to accommodate high-density housing alternatives to an even greater degree than today.  In suitable areas where the preponderance of local families support it, zoning should also be adapted to allow “villages” of high density housing and walkable commercial areas in parts of the city outside of downtown where this type of development is not presently allowed.  For any given level of population, higher density housing makes it possible to preserve more greenspace, and maximization of greenspace will allow St. Petersburg to remain beautiful for all to enjoy.

FOLLOW THE MONEY:
THE CITY GOVERNMENT IS TAKING A LOT OF IT FROM YOU

The actual cash taken from us by the city in property taxes is up 94% since 2011.  While our city is more terrific now than it was then, I would attribute that improvement more to the cool stuff the residents themselves created than to the stuff bought by the city government with those extra tax dollars.  The recent boom in St. Pete housing values is poised to create an unprecedented increase in the amount of cash property taxes taken from you by our municipal government.  That’s why it should be a Council priority to take a tough, unsentimental posture towards city spending and work to minimize property taxes as much as we responsibly can.  After all, taxes are part of housing costs—you can’t deliver affordable housing without strong control of property taxes.  So far, I am the only candidate for any city office this year with a focus on controlling property taxes.

THE TROPICANA SITE: PLEASE AIM HIGHER

The single largest private development project in the U.S. in the last decade was Hudson Yards in Manhattan.  It was built on 28 acres.  In the prior decade, the largest U.S. project was City Center in Las Vegas.  It was on 67 acres.  The Tropicana site is 86 acres, in the middle of one of the most popular and cosmopolitan cities in Florida, adjacent to burgeoning walkable neighborhoods, and with outstanding transport access.  The City has badly underestimated the value and potential significance of this site.  I’m not aware of a comparable urban development opportunity on the entire east coast of the U.S. at present.  The four development plans short-listed by the city in its RFP process are largely sterile, centrally planned concepts with troubling levels of office / convention / retail content that is now threatened by multiple macro trends.  None of the four concepts bring a corresponding jobs engine, either – a fatal flaw.  St. Pete needs to aim higher and consider transformative uses for the site that will finally deliver on long-promised south St. Pete job growth.  The City needs to call “time-out” on its existing redevelopment initiatives now, and organize an alternative RFP process to solicit proposals for truly transformative redevelopment concepts that come complete with their own jobs engine, such as redevelopment anchored by a major university relocation/extension, Fortune 500 corporate relocation, or similar catalyst. 

This type of alternative RFP process is not a novel idea.  It resembles the strategy mayor Michael Bloomberg used in 2011 in New York City to find a transformational use for a far smaller 12-acre parcel at the southern tip of Roosevelt Island adjacent to Manhattan.  Multiple compelling proposals were received from inside and outside the U.S., with Cornell University chosen as the winner.  Today, the first phase of the “CornellTech” campus sits on the site, a major graduate school for students in the engineering, technology, business, law and design disciplines.  Over 50 start-up tech companies are already attributed to CornellTech graduates.

POLICE – CITIZEN INTERACTIONS:
LET’S TRY FOR REAL DE-ESCALATION OF TENSIONS

The police have a tough job, but they are also well-paid professionals and the only members of society authorized to use force against fellow citizens.  Even before the events of summer 2020, it was appropriate for their operational practices to be more routinely reconsidered and updated, the same way operating practices for other professionals are revised over time, whether you’re an accountant, chef, software engineer, etc.  The punchline is that standards of public safety and police effectiveness need to be maintained at very high levels, but without police-citizen interactions resulting in deaths of citizens who are unarmed or pose non-lethal threats to police officers.  Realistically, though, any change in policing practices intended to de-escalate situations could send an unintended signal of police weakness to bad guys that will invite disrespect of police or worse, defeating the whole effort towards de-escalation.  A change in policing practices therefore must be matched by a corresponding improvement in citizen behavior towards police, achieved through more consistent enforcement of existing laws and penalties for acts such as non-compliance of police commands, lying to officers, evasion, disorderly conduct, etc.  The recent introduction of police bodycams and vehicle cameras in St. Pete should aid the effectiveness of this latter change.

GROWTH CAN BE GOOD:
IF IT’S PLANNED WELL

We are in for a big challenge.  The Tampa Bay metro area is the 18th largest metro area in the U.S., and there is a decent chance it will grow to become one of the top-10 during our lifetimes.  That presents challenges, but it also gives us opportunities to bring more good jobs, more friends and more cool stuff to St. Petersburg.

Existing projections will likely undershoot the actual growth rate for Tampa Bay materially, as they do not yet incorporate such influences such as the long-term effects of the Covid pandemic on location preferences; accelerating migration to Florida from other parts of the U.S. due to profound Florida tax advantages and misgovernance in many large U.S. cities; and increased immigration to Florida from all corners of Latin America.  Intelligent planning for this steeper growth rate needs to start happening now, or the area will become a congested and polluted sprawl.

Covid gave us a temporary break from traffic congestion that was starting to reach Atlanta-like levels.  However, we are still in the pandemic and we are already seeing the same severe rush-hour and bridge bottlenecks reappear.  New transport initiatives need to be started now, and in some cases we will need to look outside the box.  For example, it is foreseeable that a fourth bridge over Tampa Bay will be needed to connect the booming East Bay suburbs to South Tampa, with efficient onward links to St. Pete.  Highways I-4 and I-75 will not be sufficient to meet the surging demand for intercity travel along the Orlando-Tampa Bay-Sarasota-Ft Myers-Naples corridor.  The planning horizon is very long for this type of new infrastructure; we need to start work on these solutions now.

PLAY DEFENSE: AGAINST POPULAR (BUT HORRIBLE) POLICIES TRIED ELSEWHERE

Even before the pandemic, many of the largest American cities were trending badly.  Anyone following events in such cities as San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland or Baltimore can’t deny the problems these cities are having on such metrics as violent crime, homelessness, traffic, lack of affordable housing, failing public schools, high taxes and flight of businesses and professionals.  Municipal governance under the new “woke” playbook has simply failed nearly everywhere it has been tried. Even in cities with big advantages and reputations for economic health – like Austin, TX or Boston – visitors with their eyes open will see the rot beginning to form in downtown areas.  From city to city, the policies that have driven urban decline show considerable overlap, and these same policies promise to derail the remarkable progress of St. Pete if they are brought here.  Examples of such proven-loser policies include:

Failure to enforce laws against street crime, property crimes and drug dealing

An anti-development ideology

Regulatory policies with no apparent purpose beyond the harassment of private businesses

Perpetual efforts to raise taxes and expand the scope of municipal government into new functions

Inappropriate alliances between city employee groups and career politicians, with politicians rewarding city employees with compensation above private-market benchmarks in exchange for electoral funding

No successful policy response to homelessness

Virtue-signaling stunts, rather than thoughtful policy responses, to broader challenges like climate change

WORKING FOR EVERY RESIDENT IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD

Most importantly, St. Petersburg is a special place to call home. This is an inclusive city, whether you are a retiree, a student, a South-Sider, a Snowbird, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a DTSP hipster, a boat person, a working class hero, a tourist, or anyone else who leans toward friendly and good-humored co-existence with his neighbors. We are blessed with historic and diverse neighborhoods, spacious parks, affordable living, a booming downtown core, an unusually clean natural environment by big city standards, and an ecosystem of extraordinary small businesses that add to St. Pete’s eclectic personality. Despite our expected growth, these are the things I am committed to preserving for every resident in every neighborhood if I am elected to City Council.

Thank you for your support. I can’t wait to see you on the campaign trail!

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