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Ward I Representative – April Thanos – Monthly Report

April Thanos

April Thanos

Ward I
athanos@mygulfport.us
(727) 826-7138

The year has started with a lot of art. First, Art for a Cause at the DRV Gallery on Jan 4th, an art opening at the Hickman on the 5th, another at Margo’s gallery on the 12th. There was also a GMC ribbon cutting for Artists of Elements (barely outside Gulfport) – everywhere you turn there is more art! Lucky us!

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Resiliency Coalition had an all day planning session on the 8th. The goal was to determine our agenda and goals for the coming year. We had great presentations and input from all present. A summary of the meeting will be coming out soon.

On the 12th we had a city employee appreciation luncheon that honored our wonderful staff. Unfortunately, everyone couldn’t be there as they had to be taking care of the city and residents. Hopefully, they still know how much we appreciate them.

The beach cleanup on the next day yielded A LOT of debris and trash. The storms and recent boats washed up on the shore created a real mess. There were many volunteers out there cleaning everything up for people to enjoy now that the weather is warming up. Thanks to those that organized it and all that participated.

The Peninsula Inn had an opening on the 15th, with a good attendance. It was nice to be able to check out the rooms and the fancy elevator. We all look forward to the restaurant opening as well. Congratulations!

The 16th was my Ask a Councilor day which got cut a bit short by rain. Still a few people stopped by with comments and questions. Thanks to GMC for allowing me to share their table in the front of the Casino.

I had a couple of meetings on the tree inventory. One with Dave Mather about the software and how we might use it and another with Public Works to discuss what they already have for software and how to link into it. These were great discussions and made me aware that this is more complicated than I thought. If we want to do a thorough job and keep it up over the years, it will take more planning. A resident, Steve Boerner is helping with this as he is very knowledgeable about GIS mapping, software and how government works. We will continue to figure out how to best do this and hopefully, find grants to pay for it.

There was a Suncoast League of Cities meeting on Friday the 19th in Indian Rocks to go over legislative issues. We had lunch in the park and were lucky with good weather. That night was another good Welcome to Gulfport meeting with more new residents. Thanks to Regina and Kelli for making this happen.

Saturday was our next tree giveaway and all the trees found new homes with instructions from our city horticulturist, Toffer Ross and Parks Superintendent, Tim Connor. After that, our Gecko Queen, Robert, had a Cash Mob at Annex Coffee – this is a great way to get people familiar with local businesses and get them some extra revenue.

The North End Taphouse had their 4th anniversary on Sunday the 28th – Congratulations. That night was a Suncoast League of Cities emergency zoom meeting on short term rentals. We have to stay on top of what is happening in the legislature as the session is moving right along!

Tuesday the 30th was an Urban Forestry meeting that they graciously let some of the people who attended the Tree Town Hall attend. It was very informative to hear what other cities and the county are doing. The next day we had another Tampa Bay Regional Planning Resiliency zoom meeting. And that was it for January!

 

2023

December 1st was Arbor Day for Gulfport and we had a great tree planting at the Rec Center and had trees available for residents to take home. This was the start of our tree giveaway for residents. There will be one or two main types of trees given away one day each month – the first time being January 20th at the Neighborhood Center. Slash Pine is the first tree selected and our city horticulturist, Toffer Ross, will be there to make sure it is the right tree for you and tell you how to plant and care for it.

The next day was Art Jones and I’m sure a lot of wonderful art went home with new owners! Following that on the 4th was the annual Christmas Tree lighting in Clymer Park. The tree looked great and the kids from the Rec Center sang for everyone and then Santa came. A good time was had by all.

The GMC had a meeting on the 6th about city government. Several departments were there as well as the City Manager. They plan to have periodic meetings about different issues. The next day the library had Forward Pinellas presenting on affordable housing and what the county was doing. On Saturday, the Santa Rampage was a big hit and the weather was warm for full Santa suits. Luckily, many had on tropical Santa variations!

Monday was back to normal work with a meeting of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. I am again this year, a member of their Resiliency Committee. We have a Resiliency Summit planned for May.

Just outside Gulfport, the Artists of Elements had a ribbon cutting on the 14th. It was well attended and the gallery has many Gulfport artists on display. The following Monday, there was the Gulfport Safety Parade which wound through the city with first responder vehicles and a lot of honking and sirens. I’m sure the kids loved it. The next day I had my first Ask A Councilor event at the new location in front of the Casino. The GMC is letting me share their table. Come visit!

The year ended with a wonderful GMC masquerade party at the Casino. It was sold out! I was pleased to help with registration – it was a great place to see everyone in their finery. It was such a success that I’m sure they will continue it next year.

Ward 1

Since being in office, I have tried to do things that benefit the whole city and make sure that the needs of my ward are covered. We tried for a state grant for new water lines for Town Shores. It made it through the whole budget process and then the governor vetoed it. We will try again. We are also working on getting “No Wake” signs along the seawall.

The only city street in Town Shores is 59th St S. It is on the regular rotation for repaving and has had a couple of potholes reported and fixed as well as one just outside the entrance. I have had several people bring up the road into the north end of Town Shores as being very narrow and having no sidewalk or curbs. That section of road is not owned by the city. Fifty-ninth turns into 28th in front of the shops and where the sidewalk starts is where the city ownership starts. I have tried to contact the owner (who also owns the property with all the shops) and they have not responded.

In Wood Ibis Park, I had a dog fountain installed (which Flora loves) and had the old cyclone fence taken down. The city decided not to dredge the pond, but I am working with Public Works to address the flooding along 58th and 27th whenever we have a serious storm – twice this year. I am also working on traffic calming on 59th after public works did a traffic study. We will probably start with some more lines along the street to see if that helps. Also, people cut the corner from 59th on to 27th and we are looking to mark the centerline there to keep people in their lane.

Residents in the Pasadena Yacht and Country Club (PYCC}, told me one of their biggest concerns was the cutting down of 35 trees to make a driving range. I will be monitoring with code enforcement to make sure PYCC plants the 70 required replacement trees within a year. We have also done a drainage project for them.

Both Town Shores and PYCC are HOAs (Homeowners Associations). The city provides water, sanitation, construction permits, fire and police for both communities. Town Shores also receives storm water service. Everything else is up to the HOAs. If you have questions or concerns about any issues, please let me know.

I started November looking at our retention ponds in Wood Ibis Park and in Tangerine on the 2nd, to see how they might be improved with more native plantings. Stewards of Our Urban Lakes was there to give some advice and would help if we decide to do anything. They were hoping to take some of the lilies from Tangerine to replant in another pond. The city was in the process of dredging the pond and when it is done would be a good time to look at changes. It was decided that Wood Ibis pond doesn’t need dredging yet.

Art in the Yard was a big success early in the month, as was the city wide yard sale. There was another productive meeting about improving 49th Street with Brother John from St Pete and Ian O’Hara from Ward 4. There was a nice soft-opening for the Artists of Elements: The Gathering Place, which will house ReadOut in February and lots of local Gulfport artists.

On Saturday, the 11th there was a great Veterans Day with the Senior Center officially opening their brick path in Veterans Park and a wonderful parade down Beach and Shore.

Monday the 13th, there was a Florida League of Cities webinar on the upcoming legislative session. There was also a meeting in Orlando on the 30th with committee meetings – I’m on the Natural Resources committee – and more info on lobbying and what will happen in the upcoming session which starts in January this year.

I met with Most Holy Name and Representative Chaney about affordable housing and potentially making it easier for them to build the Senior Housing complex they have been thinking about. It has been dormant for a while, but they would like to see it happen.

My last “Ask a Councilor” at the Welcome Center at the Tuesday market was on the 21st. Next month, I will be with the GMC at their table at the front of the Casino. Do stop by and chat. I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and a good few days off.

The GMC, County Commissioner Rene Flowers and I hosted a meeting at the Neighborhood Center to talk about planting trees on Gulfport Blvd and other beautification ideas for the street between 58th and 49th.. The goal is to make the street more walkable and inviting – a great tie-in to the 49th Street project. The county identified 7 places they could plant street trees. There were suggestions of also doing more shrubs and flowers to go with the trees. Commissioner Flowers also thought we might be able to have some big planters with trees where the right-of-way is too narrow for normal plantings. We will also look into potential grants for the project. The county is going to review the ideas from the meeting and will get back with costs and how we will fund things probably in January.

October started with a meeting about 49th Street lead by Councilors O’Hara and Mohammed (from St Pete). This is a great opportunity to really improve that corridor for businesses and residents.

The next day was a meeting about the future of the Arts Center. Residents were invited to discuss what they would like and library staff gave a rundown on what was planned so far. This will be a work in progress as the plans evolve based on who’s available to teach and what kind of classes and activities residents want. Contact Dave Mather at the library with questions or suggestions.

On the 6th, I was in Orlando for my Florida League of Cities committee meeting. I’m on the Utilities and Natural Resources committee. We made final decisions on the issues we will ask the entire organization to approve. There is another meeting in November to select the final wording. Our “priority” is ratification of statewide stormwater rules and our “policy” is the PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy Program) which is charging high interest rates and causing people to take on debt they did not properly understand.

The next day was the Health and Wellness event at the Casino. It seemed well attended and informative. On the 9th, there was a Florida League of Cities webinar on their legislative priorities. There was another Welcome to Gulfport meeting at Scout Hall on the 13th. I think there were around 20 new residents and Kelly and Regina did a great job of going over all that is Gulfport.

On the 27th, there was a  Civic Health program in St Pete and one of the topics was Gulfport on the Edge – Ingrid gave a great review of the three events and the kind of info we compiled. It was all about Halloween at the Rec Center for the kids and in the parade for the witches. There were a lot of costumed people running around town – including costumed pets! Everyone seemed to be having a great time. The Suncoast League of Cities had a dinner to install the new officers. Dudley Scott from the Florida League of Cities went over some of the things they expect to come up in the next legislative session – it’s a long list of things to watch out for and take action on. There was a great block party on Hull Street for Halloween with lots of costumes and both kids and adults having fun and getting to know their neighbors.

At the council meeting this month I was able to get Dean Hay, Senior Urban Forestry Specialist, City of St. Petersburg to give us a presentation on tree canopy. The council agreed to have a target of 30% as a goal – up from 23% currently. On November 15, I will have a Town Hall about trees, canopy and urban forestry programs. Trees can help us with lowering the heat in summer, flooding and erosion plus adding charm and character to our streets. Please join us at 6pm at Scout Hall to see what is going on and what you can do to help.

 

 

On Tuesday the 5th, I met with County Commissioner Rene Flowers, her horticulture team and Sarah Laracuente from the GMC to discuss planting more trees on Gulfport Blvd between 49th and 58th. As this is a county road it is best for them to take the lead. We should be hearing by mid-October what the county might be able to do and then with Sarah, we will have a meeting with residents and businesses along the boulevard.

September 8th found me in Orlando at a Florida League of Cities committee meeting. I’m on the Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works committee. There are four other committees covering other municipal issues. Each committee gets to make suggestions of issues they would like the League to focus on for the next state legislative session. Each committee picks one policy position and one issue to watch. We heard about Water Resource Planning & Comprehensive Watershed Management, Per- and Polyflouroalkyl Substances, Property Asses Clean Energy and Comprehensive Waste Reduction and Recycling Plan. There will be more discussion in October and November.

The next day the Food Forest had a party to celebrate it’s anniversary. There was a good turnout and they had tours of the Food Forest. Other cities have heard about our Food Forest and talk about creating ones for their towns. CreaSirene Egan deserves a lot of credit for making this happen and keeping a group active to keep the Food Forest weeded and expanding. Thank you Crea!

On Sept 11th, there was a memorial ceremony for those who lost their lives and suffered through the attach on NYC. Regina Buscemi has organized this event for the last few years and we appreciate the opportunity to recognize and remember the tragedy.

That evening I went to an Urban Forestry meeting in St Pete to see what they are doing. It was a good discussion of the need to improve the tree canopy, the best places to plant replacement trees when a tree has be cut down and what the replacement policy is and should be.

The next day the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council had a zoom meeting on Sea Level Rise and what can be done. The main take-away is that we are a peninsula and need to work together on this issue. No one city can do something and have it be effective if everyone in Pinellas isn’t doing the same thing. They also emphasized the need to convert to clean energy as quickly as possible.

Friday the 15th was a Suncoast League of Cities meeting in Largo. Whit Blanton from Forward Pinellas spoke about combining Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough into one planning unit rather than the three separate ones we have today. Many of the projects each county would want to do would affect the other counties and we would have more clout as a bigger entity. There was discussion of the board make-up. One issue is that Pinellas has so many cities compared to the other counties, but this could be worked out.

I had my normal “Ask a Councilor” morning at the Tuesday market on the 19th. Luckily, it was an usually cool day considering how hot it’s been. It was fairly quiet, but I had several good conversations.

The City Manager, Mike Taylor from Community Development and I went over the Comprehensive Plan for Gulfport. Every 7 or so years, it must be updated to comply with the state laws that have been passed since the last update. After the staff, with help from Forward Pinellas, finish that process, it is possible to make any changes the staff, council or the residents would like to see. The update process won’t be finsihed for awhile yet.

I didn’t get a chance to get to Octoberfest as I had my house fumigated and was putting it all back together. I’m sure everyone had a great time!

Yay! We may have made it past the hottest part of summer! At the beginning of the month, I met with Rachel Cataldo of the Senior Center. The council hasn’t been given a budget for running our potential new Senior Center. I wanted to know what it would potentially cost to run that or to keep the current Senior Center open 7 days a week. This figure will be useful for future budgets.

On the 10th, I went to Orlando for three days of meetings with the Florida League of Cities. I am on the Utilities and Natural Resource Committee again this year and I really enjoy it. There are 5 different committees, but currently we only have representation on this one. There were also seminars on: Crisis Communication, Legislative Supermajority, Affordable Housing, City Liveability,PFAS plus a luncheon speaker on AI and one on communicating across the aisle. There was also an interesting trade show.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council had a meeting right after the conference. The special presentations were on Seagrass Trends and Restoration Efforts for Tampa Bay and one about the $1 million dollar grant the TBRPC applied for to assist local governments reduce greenhouse emissions. I also found out about a NOAA grant we could apply for in February. I  got the City Manager and the Public Works DIrector to send a letter of intent to finish our entire sewer project. This could save us about $1.5 million if we get it. I also learned TBRPC can help us review our Comprehensive Plan to make sure we include everything we should and get ideas from other city’s plans.

I met with Rene Flowers, our rep on the County Commission about beautifying Gulfport Blvd with trees and landscaping. I met with the GMC about the same thing and there is another meeting on September 5th with the Rene, County staff, GMC, me and Public Works to see what might be really feasible. The county is involved as it is a county road and an evacuation route.

Tampa Bay Times had a public meeting about Affordable Housing on August 16th. They spoke about what is going on in St Pete, Tampa and the region with many good ideas. This region is growing fast and if we don’t add housing wherever we can, housing will get even more unaffordable. Ex Senator Jeff Brandes has a new nor-profit dedicated to this and I would like to get him to talk to us in Gulfport.

The Historical Society had a great Porch Party about hurricane history for this area – this turned out to be timely! It was very informative. I also had a tour of the Art Center to remind myself of its size and amenities.

The Suncoast League of Cities had a meeting on August 25th in Dunedin. Their new City Hall is amazing! We had a recap of the Florida League of Cities Conference and updated plans for the coming legislative session. Each city is also putting together figures on the cost of code enforcement for short term rentals so that we can give our Senator Nick DeCeglie a better idea of the registration fee he should put in his next bill for the 2024 session.

Then, of course, there was the Gecko Ball and Geckfest. The ball was really well attended with people in amazing costumes. There were many items for both live and silent auction, so hopefully, it was lucrative. We crowned Rober Daunch, Gecko Queen, and I’m sure Ramses is his princess! Geckofest was hot, but still seemed to have a nice crowd.

My website now has forms to fill out for potential projects you might like to see happen in Gulfport and also if you don’t have a project, but might want to get involved. Please send in your ideas and together we can make Gulfport even more wonderful! Forms

What better way to start a month than a BBQ for the Senior Center and 4th of July events – including the parade? It was great fun, if a little hot for the parade. Then the wonderful fireworks (sorry pets)!!

Gulfport on the Edge

My website page (Ward 1) now has links to the presentation of Gulfport on the Edge from the June 20th council meeting as well as much of the back-up materials that were furnished to council members. There is also a tab for projects that you might be thinking should be done or that you would like to do. This form will help clarify the ideas and help us find volunteers to help you and give you any help you need from the city. Next to this tab is one for volunteers that would like to help and the areas they are interested in or knowledgeable about.

 

I met with Code Enforcement to get a better look at the software they are using to identify short term rentals when there is a complaint. They have set priorities for these cases 1. Close neighbors  2. Other local complainants  3. People outside the city or those with a list of properties they are complaining about. They are not looking up any property unless there is a complaint against them or someone on their block. The software will make it very easy to see how often places are rented and for how long without a complicated process for the one complaining (as it was in the past).

 

There was a very interesting Florida League of Cities webinar on citizen boards on July 11th. Some cities have quite a few – Gulfport has boards for the pensions of staff, police and fire departments, as well as the Board of Adjustment for variances and the Planning and Zoning board. Some places have found it advantageous to have more boards or temporary boards for a short-term specific purpose. The webinar talked about best practices for establishing, training, advertising and running the boards. Every year council members are required to take a 4 hour ethics course and I did mine on July 12th.

 

On July 15, the Suncoast League of Cities had a planning retreat for the coming year. Rep Kim Berfield spoke to us about the past session and what she thought might be up again next year. She thought short-term rentals will come up again. They have reassigned a lot of people to new committees and they are all on many committees – which is very time consuming. Insurance is sure to be a hot topic as there is still much to do about it. There were discussions on how the last legislative session went and how effective we were (or not). We decided on our priorities for the coming year:

Attainable housing

Sustainability / Environment

Behavioral health

City sovereignty

 

I went to a meeting of the Community and Urban Forestry Working Group. Local cities are doing Tree Canopy Inventories which in case of storm damage can result in money from FEMA. There is Invasive Tree Education and Citizen Foresters as well as discussion about cross jurisdictional tree ordinances. There are grants around at the state and federal level to put in more trees. Some cities are using Americorps volunteers, local residents and students from local colleges to help with tree inventories, planting, stormwater and water clean-ups. There is a lot we can do to make our city even more of a Tree City!

At the Neighborhood Center there was a great meeting with the businesses on 49th St. Brother John Mohammed, St Pete City Councilor and Ian O’Hara planned the meeting. It was for businesses on both sides of the street from 2nd Ave N to the water. Attendance was great and it was decided they wanted to form a “business district” instead of just a business association. There will be another meeting on August 28th.

 

 

June was Pride Month and we raised the flag on the 1st and had a wonderful Pride Day on the 3rd – with a parade! The LGBTQ+ Resource Center had ArtOut and a show. All were well attended. Then on the 26th the city had the trolley at the St Pete Pride. We had a great time, despite the heat!

With Marivel Gutierrez from the Rec Center, I met with Caprice Edmonds – out School Board Rep about a program she is involved with called Help Me Grow. The Rec Center incorporates many of the same services, but it was good to know what is available in the county. Caprice will be at some of our events for families to make sure they are aware of the program.

Flag Day was celebrated on the 14th with a ceremony to retire a flag at Veteran’s Park. Then on the 17th we celebrated Juneteenth at the Casino. There were lots of tables with things for sale and programs on offer.

The Tampa Bay Regional Resiliency Coalition had a zoom meeting with updates on land use, clean energy, stormwater infrastructure and resilient shorelines. Susan Glickman, a well-known local environmentalist, presented Why Seawalls Alone Won’t Save Florida From Climate Change. It was very interesting and a little scary as there aren’t that many ways we can be prepared to save our Town from rising sea levels in the future,

At the City Council meeting on the 20th, Ingrid Bredenberg did an overview presentation on the three Gulfport on the Edge sessions. Mark Johnson showed us several of the vision boards from the last session with some of the ideas residents found important. Then Kelli Garcia took us on a guided vision of Gulfport in 2030. The character and charm of Gulfport were even more enhanced with more amenities, more solar everywhere, lots of families enjoying the parks and everyone still loving living in Gulfport. You can see the presentation on he city website – it’s at the beginning of the meeting: City Council Meeting Video- June 20th

We plan to have the presentation and all the backup data and summaries on my page for Ward 1 on the city website soon. We will also have a Project Form which can be filled out with your ideas for a project or something you would like to see happen or information which could be presented to a group. There will also be a Volunteer Form for those that would like to help with projects to let us know their interest and skills. We hope residents can add to the projects that have already been started:

Block party for Earth Day

Welcome to Gulfport for new residents

Cleanup and improvements to the Tangerine Greenway

Beside our normal council meeting, the first week of May was taken up with the Tampa Bay Resiliency Conference. There was an informal kick-off Wednesday night and then two days of nonstop presentations and panel on various topics – including:

  • Weather and Climate Risks
  • Lessons from Ian: Innovations in Post-Disaster Preparedness
  • Integrating Resiliency: How County Administrators Make It Work
  • Resilient Ecosystem: Integrating Nature Based Solutions
  • Motivating Coastal Communities to Action: Mayors Panel
  • Federal Climate Initiatives – Rep Kathy Castor
  • State Resilience Update
  • Integrating Insurance into Community Resiliency
  • Motivating Action: Empowered Community Leadership
  • Success Stories: Innovations in Resilient Infrastructure

It was a very informative conference and I’d be happy to speak more about it with anyone who is interested.

On the 12th, The Rec. Center had a well attended VPK graduation. Our staff at the Rec. Center do an amazing job with these adorable kids as well as with all of their programs. It was a delightful event! It is always nice to be at happy events like this.

There were several webinars this month with wrap ups from the legislative session. This session seemed very motivated to take away the power of cities to rule themselves. Some of the measures which we (the Florida League of Cities and the Suncoast League of Cities) were able to keep from passing this year, will probably come up again next year. We were also able to make at least small changes to some laws to make them a bit better. It really does matter that your representatives hear from you – their constituents.

The Suncoast League of Cities had a dinner to recognize the legislators that did the most to help regional cities. It was a lovely evening. I only wish we were able to honor more of our electeds for helping us rather than listening to our concerns.

The Gulfport on the Edge team spent a lot of time this month getting ready for our presentation to the council on June 20th. We will have a narrative and a slide show as well as more information to give to the council and make available on the website for everyone. It would be great to have you there!

This month started out with a lobbying trip to Tallahassee on April 3rd and 4th. This was part of a Florida League of Cities annual lobbying event. The Suncoast League of Cities made our appointments and help guide us around. We got to see all of our legislators and some from other nearby counties. The goal generally is to promote “home rule” (which lets cities decide for themselves what is best for their residents), to encourage bills that are good for cities and help mitigate the ones that aren’t. It also helps to build relationships with legislators.

April 10th was especially busy as there was a Tampa Bay Planning Resiliency Council meeting and then my town hall – Gulfport on the Edge. The Resiliency Council is having a two day Resiliency Conference in Clearwater on May 4-5. There will be lots of speakers on various aspects of resiliency and a chance to hear what others are doing to prepare for storms, climate change and future changes in general. I’ll report on that next month. The Planning Council also had a presentation of a study they are doing on food security.

Gulfport on the Edge had over 120 people imagining what Gulfport will be like or what they would like it to be like in the year 2030. There were so many good, create ideas that it will be hard to cover them all in a wrap-up presentation. We have a group working on how to best present these ideas to the city council and residents. One of the goals is to keep residents engaged and to that end we had 18 community organisations there to offer volunteer opportunities. We will also put together groups with common interest (for instance planting more trees) and have them create strategies to achieve their goals – with or without help from the city. Not all the ideas are for the city – many are things residents can do on their own. It is very exciting!

I had my normal “Ask a Councilor” day at the Tuesday market. The GMC had a great grand opening for the Wine House next to the Peninsula Inn – I’m sure it will be a popular place.

Back again to Tallahassee on April 24-25 to lobby for the Suncoast League of Cities. I partnered with Kathleen Beckman who is on the Clearwater City Council. It was very interesting to hear what goes on in bigger communities. We again visited all our local legislators and tried to get some adjustments to bills. I also thanked Rep Linda Chaney and Sen Nick DiCeglie for the money they have requested in the state budget for Gulfport’s sanitary sewer repairs.

Gulfport celebrated our many, many volunteers at a luncheon at the Casino on April 27th. These people are the ones that make Gulfport run as smoothly as it does and we appreciate them. That evening there was a “State of the Beaches” events in Treasure Island where some of the local mayors (Including Mayor Henderson) answered questions about what is going on in their communities as well as how state legislation might affect them. It was very informative.

Finally, on Friday the 28th, there was a presentation of the Pinellas Housing Compact which we have joined. It was a 9 to 3 event with speakers talking on all aspects of Affordable/Workforce housing issues.There were panel sessions and powerpoint presentations as well as round table discussions. I will ask to have Forward Pinellas present some of this information to the city council and advise us which ideas are most relbut we evant for Gulfport considering our size and lack of land. I’m looking forward to seeing how we can help generate some mix of housing to help alleviate the housing shortage and high prices. I’ll let you know when that is on the agenda.

Gulfport on the Edge Notes: 5/15/23

In going through all the notes from the last session on April 10th, I found some questions that I can answer.

  1. Do we have an Arts/Culture Board? No, we don’t. I believe the city, council and the GMC are all very oriented to artistic and cultural events and certainly open to any new ideas.
  2. Can we limit the number of bars? If an area is zoned to allow bars (among other types of businesses) right now you can’t limit how someone chooses to use their property. I’m not sure if we can limit the overall number of bars, restaurants or any other business that is allowed in a zoned area. We might have to get an opinion from the state.
  3. Can we limit chain companies and McMansions?
  4. Yolanda Roman was concerned about chain stores and found that if we defined the “character” of Gulfport in a way that would mean a chain store would change the ‘character” – they could be prohibited. However, the council at the time did not want to do that.
  5. McMansions – Out current residential heights and set backs were set up in the 1950’s. Winway (as an example) builds to those set backs – usually using them to the fullest, but not getting variances to do more. I have heard some communities have reduced the size of homes that can be built and I’m checking on it. Normally, now you can’t reduce the size due to the FL Bert/Harris lawsuit which prohibits anything that could reduce the “value” of a property, which reducing the height or setbacks could do.
  6. Giving artists an inside track on available properties? This would be up to individuals to contact a realtor to keep them informed.
  7. 5. Educate locals on available resources? Two residents have started a monthly “New Residents” informational session to discuss all the resource available in Gulfport. You can also find them on the website (Which I am hoping we can improve with this budget. Information was taken off in order to make the website ADA compatible and is slowly being put back again.)
  8. Does the Senior Center reach out to children with programs? They do not, but the Library and the Rec Center certainly do. I’m sure this is something that potentially could happen.
  9. Recycling and Composting. The city has a robust recycling program. The program looses money as the markets are limited, but it is important to keep doing it so that the market for recycled goods increases. The city also sells composting bins at a reduced price for residents through the Public Works Department.

 

We finally got the tennis courts, pickleball courts and the playground by the Rec Center open and everyone seems very pleased with them. These days projects take longer than expected with supply shortages and contractors who are very busy. Scout Hall should be finished by the end of April. We will be working on fixing our sidewalks for quite a while, now that the survey is done. We are also in the process of getting a Stormwater Master Plan and a Vulnerability Study which should both be done by the end of 2024. The Vulnerability Study is required before you can get most grants from the state or federal governments.

During the council meeting on March 21st, the city gave an overview of each department and a long presentation on the ways the city communicates with the residents. You can view the meeting here: 3.21.23 Council Meeting Monday Update

I met with a group of Short-Term Rental owners to heard their views of the situation. Many were unaware until recently that we had purchased software to find these rentals and hired an additional code enforcement officer. Most of these owners had rentals outside the “allowed area” which is a couple of blocks of Gulfport Blvd on either side of Beach, Beach south of the Library to the Casino and along Shore. Outside of this area, rentals must be for 30 days – with 3 rentals a year for less than 30 days allowed. They talked about how popular Gulfport is as a destination, our lack of accommodation, and the benefit to local businesses.

Using short-term rentals has become a very popular alternative to hotels/motels due to cost and how much more comfortable it is – especially for a family (and pets). I explained the situation with our current ordinance and the concerns of residents that were brought up at various council meetings and the workshop on the topic. There is a bill currently in the state legislature that could make it easier to amend our current ordinance without losing our “grandfathered” status. Currently, if we change anything in our ordinance, we revert to the Florida state law, which allows short-term rentals everywhere. The new law will probably have a provision for registering these rentals and set a cost for this as well as allowing inspection fees, which we may be able to set for ourselves. Once we know what the new law is and how our software will work, we can discuss this topic more.

We have been doing the final planning for the third Gulfport on the Edge Town Hall on Monday, April 10th at 6pm and would love to see you all there. We will be visioning Gulfport in the year 2030. Sign up: Gulfport on the Edge 4.10.23

The city had a nice flag raising ceremony at the library for Black History Month to start off the month. Then I got to help build a Habitat for Humanity house in Pinellas Park with other elected official from the area. Luckily, they had people there who really knew what to do! I helped put insulation in the exterior wall. This is their 100th house in the area and they will have a celebration in March when it’s finished.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council had a meeting where they showed some videos of Hurricane Ian rebuilding and one of a simulated hurricane. There was a lot of discussion about hurricane preparedness and they will be having a regional meeting in March, to make sure the cities and counties are as ready as possible. They came to speak at our city council meeting on March 21st and showed the simulated hurricane video with some maps that showed how much of Gulfport might have flooded if it had hit here. The county is trying to improve the shelters for emergencies, but it was surprising how few people went to shelters for Ian in this area.

I did a recording for a video being produced by Pinellas County Schools for elementary through high school about civic engagement. They were having many people answer one question each to give many perspectives on the topic and make them age appropriate. I was pleased to know civic engagement was being so actively taught in our schools.

Granicus, who is the provider for our new software to detect short-term rentals had a webinar on how to get revenue from short-term rental properties using their software. It would be difficult to change our rate structure for business taxes, but many cities charge a registration or inspection fee. The registration would make sure we have accurate contact information and the inspection fee is usually to make sure the rental properties are properly up to code. The council has not discussed these issues yet, but I will bring them up after we get the system up and running – hopefully, that will be soon.

The LGBTQ+ Resource Center had a great turn out for their Read Out program. I went to one night of readings and the play at the Hickman – Laramie Project – which was great!

My Tuesday at the Market was fun and I spoke to a few people. However, the next day I listened to a webinar about the bills the state legislature is proposing and found it very upsetting. There are many bills that will limit our city governments from making the best choices for each city, as well as many that will make life more difficult and dangerous for citizens – like being able to carry concealed weapons with no license or training. Everyone needs to stay informed of what is going on in Tallahassee and write emails or letters or call our state legislators about the things you like and those you don’t. Your voice is important! We went over some of the same bills at our Suncoast League of Cities meeting as well as having a presentation on the Tampa Bay Airport.

To make everyone smile again there was Get Rescued! Flora (my little dog) and I had a great time checking everything out and she met many dogs and came home with a few new toys and chews. It was a very well attended event and everyone seemed to have a great time – thanks GMC!

A lot of time in January was spent evaluating the Nov 14th Town Hall and planning the one for January 30.Thanks go to Ingrid Bredenberg for all the time she spent on this – especially training all the volunteers. We again had over 100 people at the event on January 30th and the feedback was very positive. It is a challenge to put all the information together in a meaningful way that can be easily understood by anyone who wants to see it. We’re working on it…

This month there were all the normal meetings with the city manager, the one council meeting, “Ask a Councilor” at the Tuesday market, Florida League of Cities webinars and I had a meeting with the Finance Dept about our outstanding receivables. We are looking at better ways to collect, especially on Marina debts.

We had a luncheon with staff members at the Casino to celebrate all their work and honor those that have been with us for different lengths of time. We have a very dedicated and hardworking crew!

There was a Suncoast League of Cities meeting in Temple Terrace. I hadn’t been there before, so it was nice to have a look around. The speaker was the President of the Florida League of Cities, Jolien Carabollo from Port St Lucie. She especially emphasized the importance of getting residents involved in lobbying the state government – either in person, by phone, email or letters. We need everyone’s voice to count and for our legislators to know what we think. I am hoping to have someone from the League address the city council and our residents.

Gulfport on the Edge – Trends

We had over 100 people and 20 tables with different topics at the January 30th Town Hall – Gulfport on the Edge – Trends and Forces Impacting Our Town. Many of the same trends/questions/issues/comments were made at this event as at the first town hall and at many of the different tables – even though they had different topics. Many times the same trend affects many issues. We live in a complex environment and a solution to one problem can have unintended consequences in another area. Therefore, issues have to be looked at from many perspectives.

There were many trends that were discussed that evening. Here are a few that crossed over between tables:

  1. People moving south for better weather and a nice environment
  2. More employees working from home and can live anywhere
  3. Gentrification
  4. Cost of living in Florida increasing more than the national average
  5. People looking for alternative transportation – walking, scooters, ebikes, golf carts
  6. Walkability is becoming more important – need for pedestrian safety
  7. People wanting more festivals, art fairs and music – citywide entertainment
  8. Short-term rentals as a means of vacationing instead of hotels/motels
  9. RVs as an increasingly popular way to travel
  10. More families moving into the area which increases need for kid-friendly activities
  11. Dissatisfaction with code enforcement
  12. Loss of trees, plants and green spaces
  13. Water quality and the trend to more red tide and other water issues
  14. Sea level rise and the problems that it will bring
  15. Increasing bad/hot weather and more intense storms

There were many more discussions about lots of trends and topics. The data will continue to be assessed and more will be added after the next session.

Next actions:

  • The last Gulfport on the Edge community conversation on Monday, April 10th from 6 to 9 as we time travel to 2030 to Envision Possible Futures. This will be a highly creative, interactive event to bring your ideas to life in pictures and words. To register go to: https://Gulfport-on-the-Edge-Vision-2030.eventbrite.com.
  • Attend Councilor Paul Ray’s Town Hall on Wednesday, March 15th at 6pm at the Library. He will have Dudley Scott from the Florida League of Cities discussing how residents can become more engaged in state issues.
  • Vote! Vote! Vote! March 14th.

 

2022

The month started with a Florida League of Cities meeting in Kissimmee. They have a new program to encourage resident participation in state government. I will be following up on this program as the session starts in Tallahassee in March. They had an excellent review of the national and state elections. My committee, Utilities, Natural Resources & Public Works, proposed a bill to deal with entire watersheds (rather than by other jurisdictions) and to make it easier to hire wastewater treatment staff licensed in other states/services.

There was a very good session on the affordable (workforce) housing crisis in Florida. Different cities spoke about their plans and the sorts of things that are achievable. It is especially important that the state not raid the Sadowski Trust Fund, which is set up to fund affordable housing projects. The legislature routinely takes a large portion of the funds to use for other projects.

The last session I attended was about the number of federal grants available for many different types of projects. There are some cities much smaller than Gulfport that have received substantial amounts of money. One of the main things is to be prepared with your project and understand what is involved in managing the grants.

I watched an excellent presentation on what Lake Wales is doing to preserve its character and still promote some development and add affordable housing. They did a great deal just with planting trees and landscaping. They also repurposed older buildings and changed some outdated warehouses into mixed-use housing projects.

The Suncoast League of Cities had a meeting with The Tampa Bay Estuary Program making a presentation about their accomplishments and the problems that remain. One problem area for harmful algae (but not red tide) is north of the Howard Franklin Bridge. We also still need to do more to keep our population of manatees healthy and well fed with sea grass.

Gulfport, as usual, outdid itself with the tree lighting, Santa rush, bike, and golf cart parades and general holiday spirit. I hope everyone had lovely holidays.

 

 

During our two city council meetings this month were debates about the city “vacating” land along Clam Bayou. “Vacating” is giving city property to adjacent property owners and most commonly occurs with unused alleys. Council did vote to vacate the properties.

On November 15th, the council had a presentation from Freebee, which I am happy to send to anyone who would like to see it. They operate a free transportation service similar to GetGo which the GMC operated for a couple of years. In this case, the city would pay for the service. Currently, they have service in St Pete Beach and other Florida cities.

The Veterans were out in force on November 6th for the parade. It was a lot of fun and the weather was great!

At the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council on November 14th they discussed the regional food systems – how to make sure they are resilient and where to find more land for small gardens/farms. There was also a presentation on “living” seawalls. Typically, seawalls are flat cement that microorganisms cannot adhere to. However, a new company is making 3-D cement seawalls with all the same properties as regular ones. THey also cost the same and are installed the same, so any contractor can use them. They allow microorganisms to adhere and this promotes other sea life that keeps the water cleaner. Very innovative!!

The big event of the month was Gulfport on the Edge on November 14th at the Casino. Around 100 people were there. This took a lot of planning and many volunteers led by Ingrid Bredenberg. Participants discussed Gulfport’s Strengths, Problems, Opportunities, Threats and Uncertainties.  In addition to gathering a lot of perspectives and data, participants were asked to frame strategic questions that can guide future research and planning.  In addition to feedback about the event, people provided suggestions for actions that can be taken in the coming 12 -24 months.

I am responding to some of the questions and suggestions made as well as providing links to sources of information that are available to everyone.

Resiliency/Vulnerability Study

The city has applied for a grant to do a resiliency/vulnerability study and we are just waiting to see if we get it. The city is doing a two-year study on stormwater runoff and flooding.

Short-term rentals and Rent Control

The council had a workshop on October 20th on short-term rentals and rent control. Rent Control & Short Term Rental Workshop link.

The City of Gulfport must follow Florida laws which are very restrictive on rent control.  A city must prove there is a “housing emergency” to override the restrictions. Both St Pete and Clearwater decided that they were not going to try to prove an emergency existed, so the council didn’t want to spend money for a survey to end up with the same results.

The city is taking steps to address short-term rentals in areas they are not allowed. The council decided to purchase software that will identify short-term rentals. What we normally think of as transient housing ie. daily, weekly and/or monthly rentals are allowed only in a small area along Beach, Shore and part of Gulfport Blvd. In the rest of the city, you are allowed to rent monthly, with no more than 3 rentals less than a month per year. Most of our short-term rental properties are outside the “transient” area and the software will allow code enforcement to identify who is renting for less than a month. We are hiring a second code enforcement officer to help with this, so that it will not require so much documentation from neighbors.

Trolley and/ Getgo

The Gulfport trolley was stopped because it was difficult to find licensed drivers and was not cost effective for the number of riders. The city is currently fixing up a used GEMS vehicle to use instead. This vehicle doesn’t require a special driver’s license, so it will be easier to find drivers. It will be used to move people from parking areas around the city during special events and is free.

Council had a presentation from FreeBee, who operate a free ride service in St Pete Beach and other cities in Florida. The company would provide the drivers and vehicles, the city would pay and it would be free for riders within Gulfport. This would be in a similar format to GetGo which ran for a couple of years. This would not just be for special events. If you would like a copy of the presentation, just let me know and I can email it to you.

Other council members being at Gulfport on the Edge

Sunshine laws prevent council members from attending other council members’ Town Halls. In my capacity as a City Councilor, I am sponsoring these events as Town Halls.  This allows me to use City facilities and have the support of city staff to help produce these events along with a team of over 30 volunteers.

Building Styles and Concern over “McMansions”

In the “Arts District” (between 49th and 59th south of Gulfport Blvd) there are Design Guidelines which were created in 2004 to keep new homes and buildings in character with surrounding structures.

Nearly all the new homes being built are complying with our current size/set-backs and other regulations. It is rare to have a new building ask for or get a variance to the current codes.

Current laws were made years ago.There was a Florida lawsuit over reducing setback/size of buildings, which now means that if a city tries to reduce the size, setbacks, etc., a property owner can sue that they are not getting the “highest and best use of their property”.

Removal of Trees

Gulfport has a very tree-friendly ordinance on the books. (Gulfport Tree Ordinance) However, the State pre-empted it and allowed any tree that is designated as ‘diseased or a danger” by a licensed arborist to be removed without a permit or replacing it. In the last session of the legislature the Florida League of Cities was able to amend this law to have clearer definitions – but it will be VERY difficult to get rid of it.

If a builder takes down “healthy” trees, they are required to replace them with specific size trees, depending on what was cut down. You can always cut down invasive trees. Many Laurel Oaks were planted in Gulfport over 50 years ago and they are reaching the end of their natural lives. Live Oaks live much longer and are a better replacement.

Homelessness

This is a national problem. Whenever City staff, EMTs, or police officers encounter the homeless, they are advised of all the services available to them. The City also plans to hire a social worker in conjunction with Treasure Island to help with this issue. The county and all the other cities in the area are trying to address this problem as well. There are not easy, fast fixes.

People are not allowed overnight in our parks and our police patrol for this.  They are allowed to park on the street overnight. We are working on the beach pavilion issue.

Events Promotion/Communications

The city puts out a weekly newsletter on Mondays with all the city, GMC and other events:

Gulfport Weekly Newsletter Sign-up

Affordable Housing: Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

The city codes allow for small cottages or ADUs to be built if they follow the codes and lot requirements. Currently, you have to have a very large lot to comply with the codes.You can find more information about those requirements at Municodes on Accessory Dwelling Units.

Next Gulfport on the Edge

Please plan to attend the next Town Hall on Monday, January 30, 2023.  Gulfport on the Edge: Trends and Forces Impacting Our Region.  Participants will be bringing their expertise and information to topic-focused discussions about social, environmental, economic and other trends that are or will affect Gulfport residents and visitors. The event is free and open to the public. Register

 

 

This month started with a city council meeting and a Florida League of Cities Committee meeting. I’m on the Natural Resources and Public Works committee. We did a recap of what happened in the legislative session and started on priorities for 2023. We are looking at how to get funding for watershed areas that overlap jurisdictions, water resource planning statewide, and licensing for water and wastewater operators.

The Tampa Bay Resiliency committee is planning a large environmental conference for May 4-5, 2023 at the Thunderbird. The hope is to engage many city and county electeds and staff, so that we can work together for the region. The public can attend.

I went to my first Forward Pinellas meeting. I had until recently, not been aware that I could attend this. This agency does the planning for the county and is available for cities to help with our planning. We recently used them for our downtown plan and we have had them speak on affordable housing. Gulfport intends to be part of an affordable housing coalition and there will be presentation at the December 6th meeting.

All this month there were many meetings and time spent planning for “Gulfport on the Edge” – my town hall meeting on November 14th. We tried to make this a meeting that all council members could attend, but due to Sunshine laws this will not be possible.

Right after the second city council meeting was the workshop on Short Term Rentals. There was much discussion on the possibility of rent control, but it was decided that this would not be the best way to address the rental housing price problem. We then decided to hire another code enforcement officer and to pay for software that identifies short term rentals and can document the number of stays to be able to tell if they are complying with our regulations. Adherence to this will be on a complaint basis.

Then I was off to Seattle for 10 days to spend time with a very sick friend. While there I kept up with my emails and planning for the Town Hall. It was a busy month.

September started off with a lot of fun at Geckfest and the parade. It was good to see so many people out having a good time! It was my first Geckofest parade due to covid and I was happy to be part of it.

We had a very inspiring and thoughtful memorial service for 9/11. It is important not to forget all that happened and how bravely many people reacted to save others – First Responders especially, but also others.

Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and the subcommittee, Tampa Bay Resiliency had an in person meeting. One of the topics was planning to make sure we have adequate shelters for storms. Some schools that have been used in the past can’t be used now due to changes to prevent active shooters. So we must find other places that can have multiple uses and especially increase the number of pet friendly shelters. They are also working on a template that cities can use to promote living shorelines.

I went to a Community Conversation in St Pete about neighborhoods. It was good to see another example for the type of Town Hall I am planning for November 14th at the Casino with Ingrid Bredenberg. We want to make sure everyone in the Gulfport community (residents, business owners, people who work here, city employees and anyone who enjoys Gulfport) has a chance to be involved in visioning for future Gulfport. I have spent a lot of time this month planning this event.

The Florida League of Cities had their Policy Committee meeting in Kissimmee. My committee,  Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works is working on proposals we will lobby for in Tallahassee next session. One possibility is considering watersheds all one unit even if they span multiple jurisdictions so they can more easily get grants. Another proposal is for a statewide Water Resource Planning department, possibly like we have for transportation. Another issue is the lack of qualified staff for water treatment plants (and other parts of government). The proposal would be to allow reciprocal acceptance of their qualifications with other states. We are only one of three states that don’t do this. There will be more discussion of these proposals at the October 7th meeting.

On Saturday evening the 17th, I had my ride along with Officer Zack Mills. This was very interesting. We had several neighbor problems with other neighbors (apparently, very common) and another incident that required us to take someone to the hospital to be checked out. Everything was handled very professionally and it is amazing how much officers can do with the computers in their cars.

I had my regular Ask A Councilor time at the Tuesday market (third Tuesday each month from 11 to 1). This time a lot of discussion about short term rentals. I’m looking forward to it being cooler for these mornings!

The Suncoast League of Cities held their lunch meeting on the 23rd at the Casino. They have a regular travel program to go to Tallahassee multiple times during the session to see people about particular issues. I will plan to go more this year. There was discussion of affordable housing and the next meeting will concentrate on this issue and what cities can do to increase their housing stock. I did learn that affordable housing can be built on commercially zoned land.

Then there was Ian!! We were so fortunate to be missed. However, the city did a great job preparing for the worst and so did our residents and businesses! Yards were empty of furniture and other things that could blow around, windows were covered and people evacuated. We need to not take it for granted that hurricanes will miss us, because sooner or later we will get a direct hit. Hopefully, not for a long time.

 

This month started with my last few sessions of Police Academy – we drove police cars fast, shot guns (I hit the target) and went to the forensics lab. We did not get to go to the jail as there was a covid outbreak. All were very interesting evenings and well presented. I still haven’t been able to schedule my ride along, but will do it in September.

I had my regular Monday morning talks with the city manager about upcoming agenda items and anything else that I had questions about or he thought was important for me to know. We, of course, had council meetings on August 2nd and 16th

From August 11th to the 13th was the Florida League of Cities conference in Hollywood. It was my first time in Miami (Hollywood is so close) and I definitely prefer Gulfport. There were  a lot of good sessions. On the 11th, I attended my Legislative Policy Committee meeting – I’m on the Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works committee. We went over what was accomplished in the last legislative session and will be deciding upcoming issues at our next meeting, September 16th. After that was a session on Home Rule, which is the ability for cities to decide local issues themselves.

The 12th was the busiest day.

  • First was “Florida Keeps Growing: Is Your City Ready?”. This unfortunately was geared more for areas that really have undeveloped space and how they will utilize/zone it. It didn’t have much for areas like ours that are very built out already – maybe next year.
  • The Opening General Session was interesting and had a very good speaker about making sure you make the best use of your life/time.
  • In the afternoon was “Doing More with Less: Solutions for Small Cities. This centered around getting grants from wherever possible and things the city can offer to keep staff – which is a growing problem.
  • Next was “The Science of the Story: How Voters Make Decisions”. This emphasized that people relate more to a story than to just facts, so that is the best was to get an idea across to constituents.
  • Last for the day was “Resilient Florida Bootcamp”. There is a lot of federal money around, especially for infrastructure and environmental issues. The biggest points were that you have to have a vulnerability study ready to go and have exact specifications for projects to be considered. The city manager just put in for a grant to get Gulfport a vulnerability study done after I had brought this up to council.

Saturday was Local and Regional League Breakfast meetings. Mine was with the Suncoast League (the one I go to), Manatee, Tri-Cities and Volusia Leagues. Each League spoke a bit about what they were doing and I got to mingle with people from other areas. I had spent a lot of time in the exhibition hall talking to people who might have services that would benefit Gulfport. I got literature on splash pads which I gave to Christine as she is particularly interested in that. There were also vendors that had short-term rental apps, transportation solutions and many others companies.  In the afternoon I got to explore a bit of Miami – some really tall buildings and lots of traffic, plus some interesting areas.

The regular “Ask a City Councilor” time was slow and hot, but nice that there are still people happily walking around our Tuesday markets. The next day I spent time going through all the info I had from the conference to put together a report for city council and contacted some of the vendors for more info.

I had two more presentations from short-term rental app companies and one from Freebee – they have a shuttle service similar to the Getgo service we had here for awhile. I have invited them to present to the city council in November. It’s possible we could get a grant to help fund their service.

When planning for my upcoming Town Hall, I decided first that I would concentrate on work force housing and then decide to have my town hall after Paul Ray had his on short-term rentals and after the council workshop on short-term rentals on Oct 20th. Then after more discussions and meetings – I decided to have Ingrid Bredenberg present the Visioning/Community Conversations she had proposed to council and they decided against. This way, rather than deciding what was important for my town halls, I would let the residents decide what is important for Gulfport. This will be a series of 3 or 4 town halls building on each other – but you don’t have to be at each to participate. We are hoping to gather A LOT of residents, business people and other stakeholders, so that you can all have something to say about how Gulfport is in the future. We will bring our findings to city council and they can use the input to help decide on upcoming issues.

On election day, I worked as a poll worker at the Rec Center and saw many of you voting. It was a long, fun day. I attended another zoom meeting on housing on Aug 27th which was interesting, but not much really new info. All-in-all a busy productive month!

 

The Senior Center had an indoor picnic for the 4th of July holiday. Michael Fridovich and I were servers and I heard Christine Brown had helped setup. It was very well attended and the food was fabulously picnicy. The staff had this very well organized – kudos to Rachel and Walt and all the Senior Center volunteers.

Fourth of July was a hot, fun day. We had a great, typical small town parade where everyone can participate. I was with the other council members and the mayor narrated the event. Lots of beads for the onlookers. This was topped off with our usual great fireworks display. Again our city staff did a wonderful job. We have checked into doing a laser light show, but for now they are too expensive. Hopefully, the cost will come down and we can do something that won’t upset the town pets.

On July 11th, I started the Gulfport Police Academy with six others. It is a wonderful way to get to know how the department recruits and trains staff; what some of the regulations are: how the call center works and our relations with the sheriff’s department; how the police car is equipped and what it takes to pass the driving requirements for training; our neighborhood crime watch program and much more. This is the first class since covid, but more will be coming up. It is weekly for 8 weeks and will include a ride along with an officer.

I did my required four hour ethics course on July 13th. This is required of all elected officials on a yearly basis. It reminds us of the sunshine rules, how meetings should be conducted, when there is a conflict of interest and what are considered inappropriate gifts, among other things.

The Suncoat League covers cities in Pinellas, Pasco, Citrus, Hillsborough and Hernando counties. Our own Jennifer Webb is our legislative consultant.

Our 2022 Legislative priorities were:

  • The Housing Factor – Housing equity is rooted in the idea that people are happier living in a neighborhood that provides for their needs.
  • Building Safety and Recertification – We wanted legislation that would shorten the 40 year period for building recertification.
  • Resiliency and Sustainability – We support legislation that enables intergovernmental coordination and planning for coastal resiliency and sea level rise strategies, natural water quality improvements and natural resource protection.

 

The Suncoast League is also concerned with bills related to vacation rentals and how they affect local authorities, bills related to preemption of local ordinances and protecting Home Rule in general. Please contact me if you want more information on this legislative agenda. Affordable housing is one of our big objectives for next session – including homelessness. We also want to make sure net-metering for home solar energy doesn’t change to make solar less attractive.

I had a meeting with the city manager, finance director and public works director about the upcoming 2022-23 budget to go over some questions I had. This will be discussed more in upcoming council meetings. There is a copy of it on the city website for anyone to review before the upcoming meetings. Please let me know if you have concerns or come to a meeting and bring them up.

The Suncoast League of Cities had a Candidate Forum on the evening of July 25th. This was done speed dating style. The candidates moved from table to table as we asked questions that related to city issues. The goal is make sure all candidates understand our concerns, so whoever is elected knows how League Cities position on important issues to cities. There was only one judge candidate, but many of the other candidates were there. Unfortunately, there was also a NAACP candidate forum that night as well.

I am working on putting together a town hall about the housing crisis and what a city our size can potentially do to help the situation. I want to have people there to talk about what others are doing and what is reasonable for Gulfport. This will probably be in October when more people are back in town.

Please let me know how I can help you.

I am looking into renewing our trolley service when the season gets busier and potentially restarting something like the GetGo with money from PSTA. More info on that to come.

 

June 1st we had a lovely flag raising for Pride Month. There was a successful Pride event that Saturday. There was also a great Art Out event at the library which I attended, organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center of the Gulfport Library.

On June 3rd there was another webinar on affordable housing. This topic is usually the first thing on the agenda with all the meetings of other cities I attend or listen to.

Deckard Technologies gave me a presentation on their short-term rental platform. It is a comparable cost to Granicus and seems to have more in depth information. It was good to have another choice and see the differences between the two companies. We already use Granicus for some other applications. Deckard is more of a data company and uses AI to scan sites and compare information between short-term rental sites, real estate listings and the property appraiser. There are also other companies which may be of interest.

We had a well attended and moving ceremony for Flag Day at Veteran’s Park on June 14th.

On June 23rd, The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council had a program on Resilient Ready Tampa Bay for an afternoon at the Marriott on Roosevelt. There were people from cities all over the region and it was great to hear that we are on the same page about the needs for this very vulnerable area. Getting consensus on the most immediate needs and the money to do them are not quite as easy. It was a very thoughtful event and very informative.

The St Pete Pride parade was on June 25th and I was on the trolley representing Gulfport. There were a lot of entries in the parade and a great crowd watching and cheering. The staff did a great job of organizing it and taking care of those on the trolley. Thank you.

 

On May 3rd, I had a Town Hall Meeting about parking. There were about 30 people there and we had 2 guest presenters, Angelo Rao (was Traffic and Parking Operations Manager at the City of Lakeland) and Christopher Brimo, a professional Certified Planner.  We had a discussion about the types of things we could do and how the situation is now. There were many ideas, but no consensus about the need for a change or what the change would be. So for the time being we will leave things as they are. I presented the results of the meeting in writing to the council at the next council meeting.

I attended several, either in person or zoom meetings, on affordable housing. Plus, I went to an affordable housing conference. I also had several meetings and many discussions about short term rentals and how they affect the city and the housing situation. I had a presentation from Granicus who has a platform that tracks short-term rentals to see what they could offer the city and how we might be able to use them. I thought the costs were very reasonable for what they do.

Every Monday I meet with the City Manager, by phone usually, to go over the next agenda and any other items I have concern about. I also get questions answered that people have asked me recently on various topics.

Every third Tuesday, I have a table at the Tuesday market outside the Welcome Center to answer questions and help people check their voter registration status.

On May 25th, there was a meeting about homelessness in the area. This was put together by the Homeless Leadership Alliance. It was very interesting to hear what other cities and organizations are doing about this issue. We are planning to work with a couple other cities to share funding for a resource person to seek out homeless people and make sure they know all the services available to them. Our city staff – police, fire and others also do this whenever they can. There is a difference between chronically homeless and their needs and people who are recently homeless due to rising rental rates and having their rental homes sold. The second group are often employed and just can’t afford rental housing now. I have asked someone from the Alliance to speak with the council.

I try to answer all my emails and phone calls by the next day and this oftens requires some research or questions to staff. I often get stopped and asked questions whenever I am out and about and will get answers back to people if I don’t immediately know the answer.