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Community Voices: An open letter to the Pinellas County legislative delegation

Brandi Gabbard

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Welcome to the Catalyst’s Community Voices platform. We’ve curated community leaders and thinkers from all parts of our great city to speak on issues that affect us all. Visit our Community Voices page for more details.

As the Chair of the Legislative Committee for both the City of St Petersburg and Forward Pinellas, I wanted to reach out today regarding a few bills of concern for our city, county, and the residents we all serve. I will highlight them below and want you to know that I am available if you have any questions or want to discuss further.

Sadowski Funding. In 2020 the City of St Petersburg assisted 48 homeowners with $961,424 of SHIP funds. This is 48 low to moderate-income residents, families and seniors who benefited from our down payment assistance and rehabilitation grants that assist people wishing to stay in their current homes.

Home ownership and the ability to maintain homes are paramount to the overall quality of life in our city. The need is great and the reallocation of the fund over the last several years has made the need harder to address and it compounds over time.

The two main issues that cities, especially those of our size and geography, must overcome when it comes to fighting our Housing Crisis are access to Land and Funding. Some of these challenges are simply a result of being a built-out city that must be redeveloped appropriately with a housing first and complete neighborhood model in mind. I applaud the decision to approve HB1339 in the 2020 session and our city is currently working on a streamlined approval process to utilize this measure. However, the preemption on linkage and impact fees that was also passed last year handicapped our capability to fund a self-sustaining affordable housing fund of our own, and has left us with few options for funding. As mentioned, this funding is critical.

I have personally looked at creating new programs that would provide down payment assistance for our essential workers and city employees. Unfortunately, with limited access and availability to funding, programs like these will be impossible to implement. I agree with leadership that infrastructure and climate change initiatives are vitally important, but to fund those needs off the backs of the people who need housing assistance is not right.

Please find another way. Please vote no on the budget proposal in front of you and fully fund Sadowski for Affordable and Workforce Housing ONLY! 

HB 55/ SB 284 (Design Standards). This is a bill that has presented itself over the course of the last two sessions and is looking favorable to pass the House and Senate this session. Please think of your city and our neighborhoods when you place your vote and I urge you to vote NO!

As mentioned above, one of the main tools we have for addressing our affordable housing crisis is the redevelopment and increased density along corridors and in existing neighborhoods. The challenge we as policy members face when overcoming resident concerns over affordable and workforce housing development approvals is oftentimes design standards. When we can assure residents in traditional neighborhoods that any new construction will fit with their existing aesthetic and neighborhood feel, we have a lot more success.

Our staff has worked diligently with the bill sponsor to offer compromises on the language to no avail. While I understand this is being pushed by the building trades, as a Real Estate Broker in my private life I can assure you that allowing buildings of any type to be built in St Petersburg without design standards will dramatically affect the overall feel of our city and the marketability of our community. Furthermore, it will be counterproductive to our efforts to increase and replace our aging housing supply.

As a City Council member, I assure you it undoubtedly makes it more challenging for us to approve projects going forward. I urge you to think about the unintended consequences, your own neighborhoods, and the city vibe that we all love. Please vote NO.

SB 628/HB 1013 (Urban Agriculture). I want to first Thank Senator Darryl Rouson and Representative Michele Rayner for sponsoring this important bill, and Representative Linda Chaney for her Co-Sponsorship. I know that a lot of you are supportive of these bills already and I thank you for that as well. It looks like this bill is hopefully well on its way to the floor and hopefully approval.

It is important to note this is a City of St Petersburg initiative led by myself and our Assistant City Attorney Michael Dema. He and I have worked behind the scenes for a few years now with the Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture, Urban Farmers and Agriculture experts, and residents looking to come together to solve our food insecurity issues in our city and across the state of Florida. We know that just in our city we have five food deserts as indicated by the USDA.

In the state of Florida 1 in 5 children are food insecure and as someone who grew up as a food-insecure child, I can tell you firsthand that the health and prosperity outcomes for those children directly correlate to their quality of life and access to basic needs such as food. Through the committee process, there have been some changes to the original language that we proposed, and I wanted to address a specific change that I hope will see its way through to full passage.

There has been some concern about opening this up too broadly to any city that may want to implement urban agriculture programs in their municipality. A proposed compromise has been discussed that would allow the five largest cities of 250,000+ residents to serve as a pilot program for the first few years. We are supportive of this because it allows the City as a leader in this arena to expand programs that we have already put into place with the passage of the Urban Agriculture Ordinance allowing local onsite sales of locally grown produce inside of our dense residential neighborhoods.

There is immense excitement from the community around this ordinance and we are looking to work with other cities on designing ordinances that fit their needs as well. What we do not want to see, are any changes that would limit the use to only five pilot programs statewide. This has been worked into the last Senate action and our concern is that if this change is ultimately approved, a city such as ours could swallow up all pilot program availability leaving no ability for other cities to take advantage of this opportunity. This language is very important and needs to be carefully monitored so the spirit of the bill and the outcomes are honored. This is simply about feeding people. What better vote could you take for our communities?

Please vote YES and guarantee the correct language stays intact.  

HB 1113/SB 1412 (Traffic and Pedestrian Safety). While these bills seem innocuous on the surface, I ask you to consider them carefully as passage would send our pedestrian and roadway safety efforts back decades. Smart Growth America recently released their “Dangerous by Design” study that shows Florida as the number one state for pedestrian fatalities with 5,893 deaths from 2010-2019. These numbers are growing every year and Florida has seen a 19.4% increase in these deaths since 2019. The Tampa/St. Pete area alone has reported over 200 deaths since the beginning of this year.

This bill seeks to remove the ability for mid-block pedestrian crosswalks and rapid flashing yellow beacons like those we see across Pinellas County including one of our busiest roadways for pedestrians, Gulf Blvd. As a member of Forward Pinellas, I have been proud of our efforts to fight for safer roads for all users especially our most vulnerable.

We have a long way to go to ensure that we can all feel a better sense of safety on our roads and the yellow flashing beacons at crosswalks are a valuable tool in assisting us in these efforts. We have over 350 of the RRFB’s in Pinellas County alone and more than 90 in St Petersburg. It would take us at least $750,000 in St Petersburg to remove them all and for many locations, there are no other allowable devices that can be used. That is 350 areas in our county that will be less safe than they are currently, and it will just be a matter of time until we see a further uptick in the local deaths on our roadways if we are forced to remove them.

I ask you to please reject this dangerous legislation. Please allow us to continue the use of this important tool that has been studied and approved by both the Federal Highway Administration and the Florida Department of Transportation. Let’s continue to keep our residents and visitors safe and vote NO on HB 1113 and SB 1412. 

I want to thank you for your service, I respect and admire your leadership and know you will take each of these issues into careful consideration. Once again, please reach out to me if I can explain further or do anything to assist you. 

Thank you,

Brandi Gabbard

St Petersburg City Council, District 2

 

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1 Comment
here we go

1 Comment

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    Archie Rose

    April 15, 2021at10:32 am

    It’s way past time to end these mask mandates. There is overwhelming proof that masks are harming people’s respiratory system due to not being able to breath fresh air. ….. If someone wants to wear a mask, great, they can wear one. If they dont want be around those not wearing masks, they can stay away. End this power grab and end the mandates.

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