Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Five Points Park Workshop Scheduled

Next week, the City Commission will hold a workshop to discuss the direction for Five Points Park. The Workshop will be Monday, January 29, from 3 to 4:30 PM. The following Monday, Feb. 5, the Commissioners are expected to vote on staff's recommendation - that a RFP be issued to select a landscape designer for the project.

Save Our Sarasota sent the following letter to the commissioners:

Dear Commissioners,

Save Our Sarasota applauds you for your desire to proceed with the redesign of Five Points Park that was initiated last year. The Planning Department conducted a model public process of soliciting citizen input through two workshops and a detailed questionnaire which was widely distributed.

As you probably recall, this public process produced strong consensus that the park should be designed for primarily passive uses with occasional large public events and festivals such as presently occur, and that the green area should be expanded with additional grass and flowers.

We ask the Commission to use this consensus as a starting point and to continue to solicit a wide array of citizen input throughout the process of redesigning downtown Sarasota's premier green space. We continue to strongly believe that Five Points Park should be a lushly landscaped oasis in the midst of all the downtown hardscapes.

Thank you for your consideration.

Janice Green, Chair
SOS Steering Committee

Sunday, January 21, 2007

What Should Government Do?

Laura Sperling wrote an excellent column in the SHT yesterday. If you haven't read it you should. She has a wonderful way of saying what many of us wonder about:

Conservatives and libertarians tend to think that government should provide for public safety and not much more. Govern least to govern best, etc.

I, on the other hand, believe government should work much harder than that. As long as recipients do the dishes, put a chicken in every pot.

Government should build infrastructure, save the environment, educate us, broaden opportunity, level the playing field, cure disease, end injustice, support the arts, forecast hurricanes precisely, and unlock the secrets of the universe.

For starters.

Demanding as I am, though, I do not expect government to provide me with a critical mass of high-quality retail.

I'm 99 percent sure the phrase is not in the Constitution, but the idea keeps popping up at Sarasota City Commission meetings. Municipal movers and shakers apparently believe that shopping is so central to our future that it warrants special nurturing by government.

Freedom to shop is grand. It contributes to the general economy. But as civic ideals go, a "critical mass of high-quality retail" falls way short of "justice for all."

Heck, it doesn't even measure up to "timely garbage collection."

Unlike, say, sewage treatment, retail is a competitive, for-profit enterprise. The private sector seems eminently qualified to sink or swim on its own.

Something to think about. Read the entire column.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Project for Public Spaces

Project for Public Spaces (PPS) has some excellent comments and advice for making transportation part of the

About the PPS Transportation Program

"If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic.If you plan for people and places, you get people and places."

The power of this simple idea is that it reflects basic truths that are rarely acknowledged. One such truth is that more traffic and road capacity are not the inevitable result of growth. They are in fact the product of very deliberate choices that we have made to shape our communities around the private automobile. We as a society have the ability to make different choices--starting with the decision to design our streets as comfortable places for people.

Thankfully, over the past ten years, a growing number of neighborhood groups, cities, states, and even national transportation agencies in the United States and Canada have started to demand something better. PPS is showing them the way forward, helping communities realize how transportation can support their visions for their future, and helping agencies and engineers deliver on that vision.

Downtown streets can become destinations worth visiting, not just thruways to and from the workplace. Transit stops and stations can make commuting by rail or bus a pleasure. Neighborhood streets can be places where parents can feel safe letting their children play, and commercial strips can be redeveloped into grand boulevards, safe for walking and cycling, allowing for faster-moving through traffic as well as slower-paced local traffic.

For years we've helped this vision take shape around North America, by helping communities envision places, training transportation agencies in Placemaking and Context Sensitive Solutions, even helping develop policy and long-range plans integrating transportation and land use for State DOTs.

We also are constantly learning from the great cities and regions of the world. Barcelona has built boulevards and Ramblas that give pedestrians priority over the auto. Paris has developed a neighborhood traffic calming program to rival that of any city anywhere. London charges congestion fees for vehicles entering the city center, successfully reducing traffic levels and funding an aggressive program to improve transit. Bogotá now boasts a world-class bus rapid transit system and has established a mandate to eliminate private auto use during the morning rush hour by 2015.

North American communities are discovering new solutions to the problems of transportation.

Not so long ago, ideas like these were considered preposterous in most North American communities. Transit stops were simply places to wait. Streets had been surrendered to traffic for so long that we hardly considered them to be public spaces at all. But now we are
slowly getting away from this narrow perception of "transportation as conduit for cars" and beginning to think of "transportation as place."

PPS sees signs of this everywhere we go. North American communities are discovering new solutions to the problems of transportation, each in their own way. In Tucson, Arizona, it means revitalizing downtown by creating a network of walkable streets and alleys that connect major public destinations. In New Jersey, it means helping towns solve transportation problems by kicking the habit of sprawl-inducing land use. In New Hampshire's North Country, it means preserving the small town sense of place by calming traffic and reviving public spaces that have been overwhelmed by car-centric development.

PPS is helping California's San Mateo County relieve gridlock and increase transit ridership by transforming auto-dominated downtown streets into pedestrian-friendly public spaces.

These projects are evidence that we can redesign our transportation networks to reflect their true importance as public spaces and supporters of our vision for our towns and cities. We are poised to create a future where priority is given to the appropriate mode, whether pedestrian, bicycle, transit or automobile. To be sure, cars have their place, but the newfound ease of walking and "alternative transportation modes" can make driving less prevalent in most towns and cities. As a result, we will see significantly more people on the streets, which will turn into public forums where neighbors and friends can connect with each other. The street itself will fulfill the critical "town square" function that is missing in most communities today.

That may sound like a far cry from where we stand now, but at PPS, we are helping these ideas take root today. From suburban New Jersey to the high-tech corridor of California's San Mateo County, communities large and small all over the U.S. have stepped forward to say the old way of doing things isn't acceptable any more.

Three simple rules to make transportation a positive force in the public realm.

Project for Public Spaces has a radical idea--transportation can create great places, not destroy them. We see the vast amount of urban land dedicated to cars, traffic, and parking lots as a huge opportunity to create public spaces that serve community. Transportation can be the handmaiden of this transformation—by redeveloping facilities from highways to boulevards, from parking lots to mixed-use transit oriented development, and from nowhere to someplace. But we must follow some simple rules. These include:

Rule One: Stop Planning for Speed
Speed kills sense of place. Cities and town centers are destinations, not raceways. Commerce needs traffic--foot traffic. You can't buy a dress from a car. Even foot traffic speeds up in the presence of fast-moving cars. Access, not automobiles, should be the priority in city centers. Don't ban cars, but remove the presumption in their favor. People first!
Stop planning for speed by removing the presumption in favor of cars.

Rule Two: Start Planning for Public Outcomes
Cars were first introduced into cities as a public health measure--removing the dirt and filth of a transportation system based on raw horsepower, in the literal sense of the word. Cars also allowed us to separate people from the pollution of mills and factories, another public benefit. Great transportation facilities, such as Grand Central Terminal in New York City, grand boulevards, cozy side streets, rail-trails, the wide sidewalks of the Champs Elysées, are transportation "improvements" that actually improve the public realm. "Right-sizing" road projects in cities and suburbs can help increase developable land, create open space, and reconnect communities to their neighbors, a waterfront, or park. They can reduce household dependency on the automobile, allowing children to walk to school, connecting commercial districts to downtowns, and helping build healthier lifestyles by increasing the potential to walk or cycle. Think public benefit, not just private convenience.

The wide sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly crosswalks of the Champs Elysées in Paris are transportation improvements with a public benefit.

Rule Three: Think of Transportation as Public Space
The road, the parking lot, the transit terminal--these places can serve more than one mode (cars) and one purpose (movement). Sidewalks are the urban arterials of cities--make them wide, well lit, stylish and accommodating with benches, outdoor cafes and public art. Roads can be shared spaces with pedestrian refuges, bike lanes, on-street parking etc. Parking lots can become public markets on weekends. Even major urban arterials can be retrofitted to provide for dedicated bus lanes, well-designed bus stops that serve as gathering places, and multi-modal facilities for bus rapid transit or other forms of travel. Roads are places too!

Transportation is public space to be shared by pedestrians, bikes, transit, and cars.

Transportation--the process of going to a place--can be wonderful if we rethink the idea of transportation itself. If we remember that transportation is the journey, but community is always our goal.

As we begin again to contemplate how to connect the bayfront to downtown Sarasota, the ideas and advice given here should ne evaluated seriously. PPS has education and consulting services that may be of use here.

Save Our Sarasota has long looked at creating great public spaces as a key for our continued quality of life improvement. This is especially true as we see greater pressures for development.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Many of you know that the editor/main writer for this blog has announced his candidacy for Sarasota City Commissioner.

During the next couple months the postings will be less frequent. If any readers have announcements, issues, or comments related to Sarasota's quality of life, please feel free to forward them to us. We will make every attempt to publish the request.

Commentary and news will still be posted and will steer clear of specific candidates.

Save Our Sarasota does not endorse candidates for public office. Our mission remains the same:

Our mission is to be a constructive and positive voice for the preservation and enhancement of Sarasota.

Super Majority - An Idea That Resonates

Stan Zimmerman, president of the City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, said he was thinking about that project when he proposed requiring a super majority in the city. The neighborhood group unanimously approved the concept earlier this month.

"It seemed to be an idea that had some resonance," Zimmerman said. "Something about it feels right to me."

An article in todays SHT describes commissioner reaction to this concept when CCNA inanimously voted to ask the commissioners to enact this requirement.

Bill Earl, who heads the group, Citizens For Sensible Growth was quoted:

"When you have these important issues, you really ought to have a consensus," said Bill Earl, chair of the Citizens for Sensible Growth in Sarasota County, the group collecting signatures [to place the issue on a county referendum ballot]. "Going for the extra vote sets a higher standard."

It is a pleasant change to have the commissioners listen to the citizens.

Now, if we can change the City Charter to require the super majority for comprehensive plan changes, it could not be rescinded by a split (3 to 2) vote. Instead, it would take a voter referendum.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Duany Returns

Andres Duany returned to Sarasota last week, ostensibly to review Sarasota's progress towards a pedestrian friendly, human scale downtown as envisioned in our Downtown Master Plan that was enacted in 2001.

A public forum provided a platform for his views and remarks. The SHT story is here.

Some of his comments:
  • The pace of change is extraordinary.
  • The connection of downtown to the bayfront must be a priority, slowing traffic is a key element.
  • One element of dysfunctional planning is that the decision makers have not become "experts", that is understanding the basic principles of planning and design.
  • Sarasota is well structured (historical layout) for walkable downtown neighborhoods.
  • The Master Plan intended to have free standing parking structures, not to force developers to provide parking - this allows smaller buildings - cannot retrofit the downtown, must get garages now.
  • One problem is that Sarasota is getting only mega-projects.
  • A well designed bus system will do wonders for downtown.
  • When Sarasota Bayside is completed (Quay), Main Street will take a big hit. Must start upgrading these stores now.
  • New hurricane codes have made housing very expensive. Must get affordable housing downtown.
  • The planning staff in Sarasota is very good.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Sarasota Citizens Concerned with Global Warming

A message from the organizers of a grass roots effort to raise awareness of the global warming issue and show ways people can act:

We are starting a group in Sarasota to promote climate protection. Please join us. Slowing global warming is not something we can leave to others, and we are running out of time.

Our group is called SNCA for Sarasota Network for Climate Action . (Say "Snikka.") Don't worry. No regular meetings. No dues. And this is probably the longest email we will ever send you. If you want to participate and make a difference, all you need to do is give us your email address. We will "meet" and make decisions and take action via e-mail and website. We hope to create a good website (and we do need volunteer/s to help on that) that will explain the issue and our actions. We might ask you to come out to a city or county commission meeting to show that there is groundswell of grassroots concern whenever we try to persuade our officials to take action.

To join just send an email to with "Subscribe to SNCA" in the subject line.

Here is our initial mission statement, to be refined as we go along.

The Sarasota Network for Climate Action (SNCA) is a group of concerned citizens who recognize that science has established that human activities, particularly human use of fossil fuels for energy, are causing carbon dioxide and other gases to accumulate in the atmosphere where they are forming an ever-thicker blanket, which is making the earth grow warmer.

We call on our local governments (county and cities):

• to acknowledge the threat of climate change and pledge to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change

• to sign the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which urges federal and state governments to enact policies and programs to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol target of reducing global warming pollution levels to 7% below 1990 levels by 2012, and pledges to strive to meet or exceed Kyoto Protocol targets for reducing global warming pollution by taking actions in our own operations and communities

• to join ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiates), an association of local governments that have made a commitment to sustainable development, and which provides consulting, training, and evaluation tools for setting and achieving energy efficiency objectives

• to sign (as the county has) the 2030 challenge, a program initiated by the American Institute of Architects, which calls for increasing the fossil-fuel reduction standard for all new buildings to carbon neutral by 2030

• to establish (as the county has) an environmental department staffed by at least one environmental specialist, and set up a citizens' board to advise and recommend regarding environmental policies.

We are hoping to gather representatives from a broad base of groups and interests around town, including: architecture, media, business, arts, education, sciences, neighborhoods, faith communities, environmental organizations, etc. We are asking you to represent X. That doesn't mean you will act officially for any group you belong to. It just means that when you meet other people from your interest group, (or anyone, for that matter) we want you to promote the issue of energy efficiency and climate action.

If you can get more people to join our SNCA email community, all the better. We need to show that there is growing concern and an increasing number of people who want local action to stop global warming.

We don't have long to act. Most scientists predict irreversible damage if we do not take strong global action within the next ten years. The most dire effects will not occur in our lifetime, but we are responsible now for future generations.

You can look at these websites (among many others) to understand more about global warming and what we might do:

The last link above will take you to Big Bend Climate Action Team. This Tallahassee group's heroic efforts inspire us to help lead the Sunshine State away from energy excesses toward sustainability.

Will you join us? All we need is your email commitment. We will not give your email address to any other person or group. Our emails will be very short (unlike this first one!) and will usually lead you to links if you want to know more.

June Cussen
Lea Hall

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

County Promotes Tree Canopy

From Sarasota County:

Urban Forestry plan to help grow tree canopy

The Sarasota County Commission Tuesday approved the preliminary five-year Urban Forestry Strategic Plan, which will be used to create a performance-driven urban forest that integrates green with built infrastructure.

"The urban forest is no longer a simple amenity, but a natural utility", Urban Forestry Division Manager Demetra McBride told the commissioners. Among its numerous applications, the urban forest can reduce air pollution, act as a watershed management tool, and help improve energy conservation. The five-year strategic plan is structured to exploit those significant benefits, and to design and manage the urban canopy so that aesthetics and function are inseparable.

The plan calls for diversifying the urban forest, exploring creative opportunities for creating a canopy and further defines and applies the urban forest as natural infrastructure.

There are three strategies the strategic plan is based on:

  1. Design, for the most functionally effective and the most fiscall -responsible urban forest;
    Program management, for sustained operational excellence; and
  2. Education and outreach, that promotes consensus and participation in public, government, professional, economic and scholastic circles.
  3. Commissioner Joseph A. Barbetta lauded the plan saying, "This is finally recognition of how important the tree canopy is to the community."

Among the initiatives in the plan is adding trees to stormwater retention ponds for aesthetic and environmental reasons and offering trees to people who have replaced their septic tanks with a connection to a central sewer under the Phillippi Creek Septic System Replacement Program.

Each initiative is subject to formal board approval and will take time to implement.

The final version of the strategic plan will be brought before the board in a few months for approval.

For more information about the Urban Forestry Strategic Plan, contact the Sarasota County Call Center at 941-861-5000 and ask for the Public Works Facilities Services office.

Project Contact:
Demetra McBride, 941-861-0844 or 941-650-9242,

Good News!

More on the Super Majority Idea

From SRQ magazine's Page 1 e-newsletter:

Super Intentions: The CCNA Wants A Super Majority Vote To Protect The City's Comprehensive Plan

If neighborhood preservation were in trouble, would Super Majority be its hero? Members of the City Coalition of Neighborhood Associations think requiring a super majority vote when amending the city's comprehensive plan might help curb some of the growth that they feel is detrimental to Sarasota.

Currently, the 5-member commission requires just a 3-2 vote to amend the comprehensive plan and allow developers such leeway as increased density and land use changes. But CCNA President Stan Zimmerman said their group decided last weekend to press the possibility of a super majority vote (4-1) to amend the plan.

"The comprehensive plan should require more than just a simple majority to change it," Zimmerman said. "We went through all of these years of effort to develop the downtown plan--who knows how many thousands of man hours and endless
meetings--and suddenly three commissioners could walk in one day and say 'Why can't we have 25 stories downtown?'"

Zimmerman stressed that the CCNA will see the issue voted on-whether it’s on the city commission's agenda or a referendum ballot. He said the city could pass an ordinance to require the super majority, and that route would be much easier. But if they deny the ordinance, the CCNA will request a citizen vote on the issue and hope to incorporate the new rule into the city's charter.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Super Majority

At the Saturday CCNA (Coalition of City Neighborhoods) meeting, the topic of requiring a city commission super majority (4 out of 5 votes) in order to change the comprehensive plan was brought up and discussed.

This would make it more difficult to change the comp plan without having community involvment and acceptance of the change before enacting the change.

CCNA voted unanimously to:
  1. Ask thecity commissioners to put this question (requiring a super majority for comp plan land use changes) on a referendum ballot.
  2. If the commissioners were not agreeable to this, CCNA would consider collecting signatures to put this on the ballot.

There is a petition effort to have a similar super majority requirement for land use changes in Sarasota County. The group has more than half of the required signatures.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Surveying Sarasota Residents

In the recent Pelican Press issue, Rick Barry has a story about the commissioners reaction to he latest City Survey. He writes:

Sarasota residents are sorely displeased with the general direction in which the city is moving, with its heavy traffic and the amount and density of new development. They dislike the quality of its drinking water - and don't think their leaders in City Hall are listening to them.

Those were among the findings of a citizen survey by a national organization based in Boulder, Colo., hired by the city to pinpoint problems.

Assistant City Manager Debra Figueroa formally presented the survey to the commission Tuesday afternoon.

The commissioners' reactions? Disbelief; much chuckling at citizen ignorance as reflected in contradictory answers; noting that some problems cited should more properly be blamed on the county or some other jurisdictions; and a general belief thing were going quite well, in reality.

The solution? Better "communication" - articles on the city Web site explaining how good the city's drinking water actually is - and generally more and better public relations.

Citizens' overwhelming dissatisfaction with permitting so many high-rise condominiums and large-scale retail development downtown was downplayed as residents' failure to grasp that the city is merely fulfilling its role in the "New Urbanism" approach to concentrating growth in urban areas as an antidote to sprawl in the suburbs beyond.

Check the entire article.

I attended the presentation and also took notes. Some of my notes about the reaction to the survey:

Shelin: the low score on park maintenance is because of county, not city. We can't interpret this - not enough data points to see if there is a trend, this is only the difference between perception and reality, absolutely disagrees with comment that Sarasota does not listen to citizens - the commission must communicate that there is more than one master (business, etc) to serve and only one group thinks no one listens.

Bilyeu: While the survey seems to show that long time residents say that development is too much and we are going in the wrong direction, he belives that long time residents are probably OK with change except for those that cannot accept change; not enough difference in year to year change (presenter indicated that 4% or more change year to year was statistically different) and that 5% wasn't enough for him.

Servian: need to look at response to open ended questions. We need to ask the right open ended questions. City doesn't communicate what it is doing. McNees: city is not teaching citizens that city is anti-sprawl.

Atkins: this is not a reflection of what the city has done, it reflects more about what the area (county) is doing, the community, not the city.

Shelin: in order to improve we need to know the basic concerns, this takes analysis and many years of surveying. McNees response: important to resist cause and effect for a particular data point, need years and years to see trends.

Bilyeu: we should take down the statue "nobody is listening". Servian: yes, that was a response to the Viet Nam war, now everyone thinks it is a commentary on city hall.

Palmer: I think we have a problem here, I don't think we should react quickly and agree we need to continue surveying...

The video of the discussion is available on the city web site (starts about 18 minutes from start.) Mike McNees has commented on the article by Rick Barry on the City Managers Blog. He disagrees with the article.

And so it goes... makes you think about the story of the emperor that had no clothes.

In the same issue of the Pelican the City Manager, Mike McNees says the city really is listening. Also, M C Coolidge (aka Reality Chick) says:

Sarasota was a simple city with soul - a partly cultivated, partly serendipitous confluence of artists, farmers and ranchers, the winter "snowbirds," tourist and service industry workers and professionals, retirees, and families.....

Meanwhile, Sarasota's decision-makers continue on their quest to make Sarasota into a world-class "destination." Only just like the Botoxed brows and pumped-up poitrines of our populace, the changes are all superficial. We're selling out old-world grit and real glamour for a nouveau-riche development mindset of blitzed-out glitz....

Sarasota's changing. Decisions are being made faster than they have to be and the results are causing more collateral damage - to our people, our wildlife, our natural environment - than they have to. We're losing too many of the things that matter, and gaining a lot of things that never will.

Well said. Straight from the soul.

Friday, January 05, 2007

City Announces New "Citizens' Academy" Session

Announcement from the City:


The Neighborhood Partnership Office is accepting applications for the next "Citizens' Academy". This program is a unique opportunity for City residents, employees, and business owners to learn how their City operates through informative presentations and hands-on workshops.

The Academy meets from Feb 1- March 8 on Thursday evenings from 6:00 - 9:00 pm plus a Saturday morning tour of our Sports Facilities.

Please visit [the city] website for applications and information or call the Neighborhood Partnership Office at 954-2612.

This program has received excellent reviews by those attending past sessions.

Duany Visit

From City Hall For Immediate Release: January 3, 2007


Sarasota – World renowned urban planner Andres Duany, who helped the citizens of Sarasota design the Downtown Master Plan six years ago, will return to Sarasota Wed., January 10, 2007 for a public forum. The forum will be held in the City Commission Chambers within City Hall, located at 1565 First Street, 4pm – 5:30pm. Everyone is invited to attend.

Mr. Duany will provide a retrospective on how the community developed its Downtown Master Plan. He will also discuss whether the Downtown Master Plan is being implemented the way he envisioned years ago.

Mr. Duany is credited with being a leader in New Urbanism, an international movement that emphasizes mixed-use and walkable streets.

Mr. Duany was graduated from Princeton University with an undergraduate degree in urban planning and architecture. He also earned a master’s degree in architecture from the Yale School of Architecture.

There will be a brief media availability with Mr. Duany immediately following the conclusion of the public forum at 5:30pm

Release Contact: Jan Thornburg, Public Information Officer

A Sarasota Herald Tribune article about this visit is here.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Message From "People For Trees"

Community News
People for Trees/426-9752

Florida Arbor Day is Friday, January 19

January is the best month to plant a tree in Florida and so the third Friday of the month has been designated as Florida Arbor Day. What better way to celebrate than to plant a beautiful Florida tree?

People for Trees,Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit group that strives to create awareness about the importance of a healthy native tree canopy, will host their Annual Florida Native Tree Sale on Saturday, January 27 from 10-2 PM at 3597 Froude Street, North Port.

A wide selection of Florida native trees in 3-gallon containers will be available for only $10.00 each. Choose from the Loblolly Pine, Southern Magnolia, Bald Cypress, East Palatka Holly, Red Maple, Sweetgum, Mahogany, Mulberry, Florida Elm, and the Southern Red Cedar. Receive expert advice on the best trees for your yard and the proper way to plant them.

This is the annual fundraiser for People for Trees and helps to fund their many community events and activities including the monthly Eco-Kids Club for children, the annual North Port Tree Festival, school projects, and community gardens.

For more information and availability of trees call Alice White at 426-9752.

[If you can't make to to Northport consider buying a few native trees at a nursery and plant them in your yard or another suitable place. We all need more tree cover!]

2006 Sarasota Citizen Survey

The 2006 Sarasota Citizen Survey results were released a couple weeks ago. This is the second annual survey of how city residents think city government is doing.

The "Normative Comparison" section looks at how residents of Sarasota answered questions when compared to similar sized cities across the nation. This comparison takes into account questions that tend to be rated high (or low) across the country. For example, if every city rated their library system at 90% positive then each city would be average (50th percentile) compared to other cities. However if there were 100 respondents and 25 rated their library system as poor or lower, 50 as average and 25 as good or better, then if your city's library was ranked good or better, you would be in the top 25%, that is, higher than 75% of the comparable cities.

In the Normative Comparisons for Sarasota, the Quality of Life Ratings show that Sarasota rates itself higher than 75% of comparable cities in the following categories:
  • Sarasota as a place to retire
  • Overall appearance of Sarasota
  • Opportunities to attend cultural activities
  • Recreational opportunities
  • Public information services
  • Public library services

Conversely, Sarasota rates itself lower than 25% of comparable cities in the following categories:

  • Land use, planning and zoning
  • Satisfaction with overall direction the city is taking
  • Sarasota listens to its citizens
  • Traffic signal timing
  • Amount of public parking
  • Storm water drainage
  • Drinking water
  • Sewer services
  • Accessibility of parks
  • Appearance/maintenance of parks
  • Services to low income people

Last years survey showed similar results.

In the 2005 survey, 69% of the respondents indicated that too much growth was a problem (either a moderate or major problem), this year 70% indicates it is a problem.

Traffic congestion was rated last year as a problem by 80%, this year by 78%.

Access to affordable housing was rated as a problem by 88%, this year 85% rated it as a problem.

Also, in 2005 59% of the respondents indicated that taxes were a problem. This year that rose to 70%.

When comparing ourselves to cities of similar size we rank in the:

  • 32nd percentile when looking at the value we recieve for our taxes,
  • in the 23rd percentile when looking at "does Sarasota listen to its citizens"
  • in the 6th percentile when looking at whether the citizens are pleased with the direction of the city.

Each of these rankings is lower than last year.

We have 2 years of data indicating where the citizens believe we need improvement as well as areas where we excel. We need our city officials to focus on those areas that need improvement. We expect improvement in those areas.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Invitation to the Proposed School Ave Development Meeting

TO: Sarasota Citizens
FROM: Ronald H. Burks

You are invited to an open discussion for the proposed School Avenue Development. The meeting will be Wednesday evening, January 17 between 7:00 - 9:00 p.m. in the Papaya Meeting Room (2nd flr), Waldemere Medical Plaza (1921 Waldemere Street). This proposed development will be based on a mixed-use concept.

To those of you who attended our prior meetings on October 30, November 28 and most recently December 14, all three discussions were conducted by Jerry Sparkman (Totems Architecture of Sarasota), President of the Gulfcoast Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and I wish to thank you for your participation in those meetings.

All the prior meetings have been video taped and copies of these three meetings have been provided to the City of Sarasota City Clerk's office (Billy Robinson) and also a set to Kelly Kirschner, President of the Alta Vista Neighborhood. We hope in this way that anyone who was unable to attend the prior meetings can have the opportunity to view the video tape(s) and be able to attend the January 17 meeting with background information.

I hope you will be able to attend our January 17 meeting, and provide your input to our open discussion.

[Note: Kelly Kirshner, Alta Vista President, has asked the City Clerk if the meeting videos could be broadcast on the government affairs channel, Channel 19. Billy Robinson is looking for available times.]

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A New Stadium?

Saturday's editorial in the SHT discusses the continuing efforts to keep the Cincinnatti Reds in Sarasota for Spring Training.

Spring Training has a long history in Sarasota and there is much to be said for keeping this tradition alive.

Not everyone is happy with the idea of city and county dollars being used to support a new stadium.

The editorial says, in part:
City officials showed poor judgment by failing to fully consult the public earlier as they laid the groundwork for a new, second stadium. It's no wonder that the project lacks broad political consensus.

The city of Sarasota -- population 54,000 -- has relatively small financial shoulders and is expected to bear only about a sixth of stadium construction costs. Though the city could be on the hook if certain unanticipated expenses arise in the $54 million project, local officials worked to limit risks. Still, it wasn't reassuring to know that the lengthy pact with the Reds was undergoing frequent revisions just hours before it was approved. More time to digest the fine print -- and get more input from the city attorney -- would have been appreciated.

The proposed plan, while showing a way to reach an agreement that would keep major league baseball in Sarasota for many years to come, is lacking a bit.

In addition to the unfunded commercial portion of the plan, there has been no good explanation for requiring two stadiums across the street from each other. The answer that is given is that there are many events that cannot be currently scheduled because of the need to wait for the baseball schedules to be published (summer league). A question might be whether these are baseball events - requiring a baseball stadium, or would they be better served by a multi-purpose facility. Do baseball events justify two stadiums?

Given the current plan with two stadiums, another question is, since the Reds have indicated they need another practice field (and Ed Smith could serve as this field), why not refurbish Ed Smith to "todays stadium requirements" and build only a practice field? The only answer that seems to be given is that Ed Smith was built on a landfill and it is not known what is underneath the field or stands. Why not determine what the liabilities are?

The question of on-going operating costs have not been adequately explained. At one of the neighborhood workshops to address questions, Pat Calhoon indicated that Ed Smith currently costs about $400,000 per year to operate (government subsidy). He indicated that with a new stadium, Ed Smith operating cost would drop to about $250,000 and the new stadium would add another $400,000. Is this a realistic estimate?

While the effort to find a solution to the question of how to keep Spring Training in Sarasota has been great, the problem has been quite complex. Add in the deadline issue for state dollars and we have ended up with a proposed project that still has a lot of unanswered questions.

Hopefully the answer is not to give taxpayers an additional additional burden.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year From Sarasota

The downtown merchants worked hard to bring a big party to Main & Lemon in downtown Sarasota.

Quit a few people ( several thousand) showed up to cheer in the New Year.

Three bands, several Budweiser filling stations, food vendors and purveyors of light trinkets kept the crowd happy and festive.

A brightly lit "orange" was hung from a construction boom (fitting?) and a small blimp with a camera for overhead views rounded out the scene.

At near the stroke of midnight, the orange descended about 50', or so, while Commissioner Mary Anne Servian and SSN 6 Sports Announcer, Anwan Smith, counted down to a local TV audience.

The merchants, sponsors and festive party goers all had a good time. Thanks to everyone who made this happen!