Friday, October 26, 2007

Thaxton on Water

October 25, 2007

One can't help but notice that: Atlanta is running out of water, Florida is in an ongoing drought, Mosaic phosphate mining, if allowed to proceed, would use up copious amounts of water and possibly compromise our fresh water supply while only providing back 10% of its product to a dying agricultural industry in Florida.

We ignore the implications of a limited water supply at our peril.

With this in mind, I bring you some notes I took at a fascinating talk given by Jon Thaxton on water, October 13, at the First Methodist Church as part of their environmental series, downtown Sarasota.


"Sarasota's economy and environment must both be healthy to survive."

Jon Thaxton (County Commissioner) has been ringing the alarm bill since 1990. (I recall Horace Sutcliffe, the state hydrologist, saying that all the water to southwest Florida was compromised because of the sump action of the orange, Disney and phosphate industries bringing salt water intrusion into our freshwater aquifer. That was in 1975.) The Florida Aquifer is the largest fresh water cavern in the world!

We have estimated a per capita need for water. Sarasota County uses less per capita than most any other county in the state, 80-86 gallons per person per day, while the state average per person is about 126 gallons. Water charges in the county are on a graduated schedule so the first 4,000 gallons are at the cheapest rates with prices going up as one uses more. Some questions we must ask ourselves:

* How much water will be needed for the people who are expected to move here?
* Estimate drought tolerance for our water system - factoring in rain and population fluctuations throughout the year.
* Then look for new water sources; figure out how much to charge.
* Approve and manage future growth appropriately.
* Up until now, Sarasota figures out its water needs and costs after growth arrives.

Currently, Sarasota County has a diverse set of water supplies. We can't rely on surface ground water. We can't rely solely on the aquifer as it needs rest to be recharged. We feasibly have enough water to take us to 2018-2022. It takes about 8 years to bring new sources on line (permits, put in lines, etc.) after it has been identified.

Sarasota's newest source is to tap the fresh water going into Dona & Roberts Bays. This requires a balancing act to take fresh water from Cow Pen Slough while restoring the estuary where much energy has been expended to bring it back from the brink by restoring wetlands.

Historically Manatee County built a long term water source while Sarasota allowed wells and septic tanks. But now, Sarasota, Manatee & Charlotte counties are all looking for new water sources. An interim water supply is being tapped - the Peace River - taking 36 million gallons of water a day. Sarasota receives one of the largest takes from the river. The Peace River is close to running out of water by having water demand that exceeds supply.

The budget needs to build schools, parks, roads, water, judicial systems are 50% of the need. We plan for an absolute minimum. Under normal conditions, we can meet 95% of our water needs. But we are in a drought. Cyclically these can last 2 to 5 years. According to the Peace River Water Authority all reserves will have been consumed by January. Last year at that time we had millions of gallons in reserve, next year we will likely have none.

Sarasota has two different kinds of water storage: surface water & underground. No, we won't run out of water, but we will run out of cheap water and we will harm the environment by taking the portion it needs to survive for ourselves. As for the aquifer, when we take out more than too much - then we invite salt water intrusion and degradation of our future water supply.

SWFMD (Southwest Water Management District) has said Sarasota County must team up with local counties who have very different growth management philosophies. We will have no say in their water usage. This proposition is not being run by the voters. Is this a deal we want?

The days of cheap water in Southwest Florida are gone. All water sources in the future will be more expensive. This should be no surprise as we have known that this was coming.

Consider that we used up five years of stored water in the first nine months of this year. That supply for us is gone. If the rains stay away and the drought continues into next year, we will have no storage reserves going into next year's wet season. What's in our future? A moratorium on all watering of landscaping. Thousands of dollars invested in plantings will be lost. Only a very small percentage (maybe 5%) of our potable water is used for drinking and cooking. Up to 40-60% could be used for landscaping, golf courses, swimming pools. It's going to take some political will to change our habits and policies.

What can be done? Desalinization? Not yet. It's expensive can use up 2 gallons of water for every drinkable gallon produced. We destroy wetlands and waterways by dumping the byproduct: brine.

All the old artesian wells that I knew of as a child are gone. Every 1st Magnitude Florida spring is now polluted due to nutrients.

Cisterns are an option. Used in households here only a few decades ago - the water could be used for bathing and watering yards, flushing toilets. At one time in Key West, it was their only water supply. Re-use water could be used on golf courses, etc. Have buildings save rainwater from the roofs in lakes (in town, in water vaults built into the building).

Not only Florida needs a water policy - the whole country does. It's a national priority. Don't fool yourself that because Florida is tropical, that the 50-60 inches of rainfall a year is abundant. It turns out to be just the right amount to keep our particular environment charged - our plants and animals require this amount to survive.

Thaxton went on to say that "historically we have done a pathetic job with water planning." And, we can't treat this resource the next 50 years the way we have treated it for the past 50 years.

Do you hear the alarm?

[Submitted by Jude Levy]

Monday, October 22, 2007

From SOS Steering Committee


Due to the large outpouring of pubic support for greenspace in our downtown, on October 15th the City Commission voted to request that city staff develop a strategic greenspace plan with significant public input that includes a vision for the city's downtown parks and streetscapes.

Thank you to all who attended the Commission meeting, sent emails, made phone calls and forwarded the info on to your friends. The Commissioners heard the importance you place on downtown greenspace and responded positively. We will keep you advised of the plan's progress as your voice will be an important part of that process.

Again, many thanks for your continued support in keeping Sarasota green and beautiful.

Save Our Sarasota Steering Committee

[If you would like to be on the Save Our Sarasota e-mail newslist, send an e-mail to and ask to be on the list]

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Downtown Greening

Roger Birkel of Selby Gardens recently wrote a letter to the editor (SHT) concerning a proposed Sarasota Green Policy:

As President of Selby Gardens, and a neighbor of downtown Sarasota, I have had the good fortune to work with many fine citizens interested in the creation of a vibrant downtown business district.

As merchants, developers, residents, and visitors, they share a vision of downtown that is a dynamic and thriving heart of the community, a place to conduct business, to shop, to dine, a place where people gather in the daytime or evening to socialize, a place that draws tourists and residents from our neighborhoods to enjoy a special moment in a beautiful urban environment. Downtown Sarasota can sing with beauty and purpose, and enhance the quality of life for the entire community.

I believe there is a window of opportunity right now to approach the future of downtown Sarasota with vision and creativity and cooperation, to implement the dream we all share.

Success will depend upon many things, but at its most basic level it will be a sense of aesthetics, of “place making,” that drives our urban renaissance. To put it simply, people will gather in places that are beautiful and comfortable.

The human experience cries out for a connection to nature. We are more comfortable when surrounded by “green”.

At Selby Gardens I see this basic truth played out everyday.

However, in many people’s minds there exists a dichotomy between the built environment and the natural environment. One is bare, hard, hot, and alienating, while the other is lush, cool and comfortable.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Great cities of distinction like Chicago and Toronto are showing that it is possible to combine the two and create magnificent destinations.

And there are added benefits to increasing the prevalence of parks, plantings, trees, green walls and green roofs in the core of downtown Sarasota. Vegetation cools the air, slows rainwater runoff, absorbs carbon dioxide, produces oxygen, offers habitat, and improves the aesthetic quality. What more can you ask?

There is one more thing that we can and should ask. Developers, planners, business owners and others often voice a concern that green design compromises the merchant’s prerogative.
Can a downtown sidewalk accommodate a merchant’s need for seating and visibility and be a greenscape at the same time?

Recent studies show that trees, and greenscape in general, increase people’s positive perception of central business districts, causing them to stay longer and spend more. Wouldn’t it benefit everyone if we collaborate to ensure that the addition of plantings does not hinder a merchant’s success but in fact increases profitability?

At present, the addition of paving and hardscape to our main downtown streets is the default strategy in the City of Sarasota Downtown Master Plan. The term “urban character” is used to advocate a reduction in greenery of all kinds. This should not be so.

We must strive for the best in urban design and living. When coupled with our continuing commitment to our spectacular and precious natural environment, we will realize a community that supports all of our citizens and neighborhoods, indeed all life, in the best possible way.

Roger Birkel
The writer is president and CEO of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Payne Park Opening

The Sarasota Herald Tribune's coverage of the opening of the city's new Payne Park was disappointing. An article about "politics" and an opinion piece about the displacement of the long time trailer home residents summed up the event for our local newspaper. Both were interesting but missed the point of the amazing transformation of this piece of land into great green space for our entire community. An editorial on Oct 9 provided a much better description of the festive mood:

In an age of budget battles and cutbacks, the opening of a new park is one of the few developments that can truly bring a community together.

And so it was Saturday, as Sarasota celebrated its new Payne Park.

Thousands of people of different incomes, ethnicities and ages -- natives as well as newcomers -- mingled to enjoy the festivities. The all-day party, with music, food, free skateboarding, a movie and exhibitions, was a cooperative effort between city staff, neighborhood volunteers and sponsors. They did an outstanding job.

Stan Zimmerman wrote an e-mail to city staff that came much closer to what everyone attending the grand opening on Saturday felt:

Michael (Raposa): Before I even shower, I'm sitting down to express my profound thanks to you and your folks for making the Payne Park Grand Opening a phenomenal success.

Several observations were striking.

1. The Number Of Kids. The skateboard park was jammed all day. Toddlers were rolling down down the grass of Duane's Mountain. Pre- teens were cruising the sidewalks. Babies were oogling from sidewalks. More kids than I have ever seen in one place in Sarasota. EVER. The average age of folks attending this event reflected so well the TRUE city demographic – average age is coming down.

2. Re-Acquaintances: I heard at least four times, "My word, I haven't seen you in twenty years!" Hugs and smiles. It happened to me twice, smiling faces I thought lost in my past were smiling anew. This event brought folks not only out, but together. In our world of "bowling alone," the stereotype was shattered.

3. Reawakening of Hope: Alta Vista gave away a half-ton of fruit today. Just shy of 1,000 pounds. Kids learned to fly kites, I helped a few myself.

There was a general outbreak of kindness today I haven't seen in town in...well...maybe never. 7-Up Cake, bet you never had that before, baked in an old tradition, and offered up with pride. This was event like no other. Without elbows, nastiness or tears. Spontaneous good will permeated the air. As the movie began, a thousand people jammed together to enjoy a night under the stars.

You helped make this happen. Your staff helped make this happen.

And tonight, I and many others are so glad to live here, where magic can happen.

Please circulate this e-gram to all the city employees who gave their time and attention to create this exquisite event. Without all of their help, none of this would have happened.


A big THANK YOU to Stan and all the community residents that also worked very hard to make this wonderful day happen. Another THANK YOU to Stan for capturing the feelings and happenings in words.

Pictures of the Payne Park Opening can be found on th City's Website.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Help Establish A Sarasota Green Policy

What: City Commission will discuss preserving and enhancing greenspace
When: Monday, October 15, during the 6:00 PM Session
Where: City Hall - First Street and Orange Avenue
What You Can Do: Attend to show support and email the Commissioners

At this meeting, we will have a unique opportunity to increase the quality of our lives by urging the Commission to preserve and enhance our greenspace downtown as well as develop an overall green policy for the city, including the protection of our coastal waters.

For simplicity, greenspace refers to trees, flowers, shrubs and grass.

We are asking for a new Green Policy that clearly articulates the importance of greenspace, providing that the destruction of any public greenspace be only a last resort, not a first option, and then only with appropriate mitigation.

It is essential that we show widespread community support for this initiative.

Ways you can help include:
  • Attending on Oct. 1st and bringing your friends and neighbors with you,
  • Forwarding this message to your friends and neighbors via email, hard copy and word-of-mouth,
  • Emailing the Commissioners (addresses below) to express your support for more greenspace
  • Calling 954.4115 and asking to leave one message for all five Commissioners.
Thanks for your help in letting our Commissioners know how important this issue is to Sarasota's residents.

SOS Steering Committee

Addresses to click and send:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pelican Press Endorses Super Majority

From the Pelican Press

Super majority amendment is good government

Come November - and much sooner actually as absentee ballots are being mailed out this week - voters will be faced with a chance to require significant changes in city and county government, some of them possibly confusing.

But one issue is simple. It would require a super majority of at least four commission votes instead of three to permit increased height or density changes in our comprehensive plans. ...

The Pelican Press strongly believes the community of Sarasota deserves the added protection of super majorities on comprehensive plan changes in both the city and the unincorporated area of the county.

Read the entire editorial here.

City Charter Amendments - Vote Yes

Dear Friends,

Save Our Sarasota's Steering Committee has endorsed four amendments to our City Charter that will be on the November 6th ballot. As a public interest group, we do not endorse candidates. However, we feel these amendments are important enough to the future of our City to merit our support and encourage your support as well.

The amendments will give Sarasota citizens a stronger voice in growth decisions and provide local campaign finance reform.

A super majority amendment would require the vote of four of five City Commissioners when changing the City's Comprehensive Plan to permit an increase in height or density.

Three campaign finance reform amendments would:
  • Lower the campaign contribution limit from $500 to $200, bringing the City of Sarasota in line with Sarasota County;
  • Allow contributions only from individuals, thereby preventing corporations from bundling multiple contributions from several business entities; and
  • Change campaign finance reporting dates so that the press and public learn where the money is coming from before they vote, not after.
Sarasotans for Good Government, chaired by Susan Chapman, has been formed to support passage of these Charter amendments. If you would like to contribute toward the cost of signs and mailers to promote these measures, you may send a check,* limited to $200 per person, to:

Sarasotans for Good Government Campaign Account
46 Palm Avenue South,
Sarasota, FL 34236

If you would like a sign for your yard or are able to volunteer, please send an e-mail with your request and it will be forwarded to Sarasotans for Good Government.

Please vote Yes on November 6th and forward this to others who care about our city.

SOS Steering Committee

*No corporate checks. If check is for more than $100, please note occupation.
Political advertisement paid for and approved by Sarasotans for Good Government Political Committee.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Payne Parl Opening Day - Oct 6

Sarasota, FL: The public is invited to attend the grand opening of Payne Park Sat., October 6, 2007 noon – 10pm.

The event, hosted by the City of Sarasota along with area neighborhood associations and Sarasota County, is family friendly and will include a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1pm, live bands ranging from rock to symphonic, food vendors, a skateboard exhibition, a dance competition, a children’s play area, a multitude of exhibitors and free tennis. The day will be capped with a showing of a popular motion picture on a two-story movie screen. The park is free.

Payne Park is Sarasota’s long awaited signature park with 29 acres of beautiful landscaping, located on the edge of downtown. During the past year of construction, 420 new trees were added to the park, 13, 151 shrubs and plants, four flowing fountains, a skateboard clubhouse, a half-mile running/walking path and three additional tennis courts.

The grand opening of Payne Park fulfills the dream of the Payne Family, who donated the property to the City of Sarasota for use as a public park. In 1923, a public “work day” was held and the community built Payne Park. Through the years, the park was the site of spring training baseball and even a mobile home park. About seven years ago, the City began honoring the Payne Family’s request for a true public park by designing Phase I of Payne Park.

The county-wide penny surtax funded the $8.8 million park. Since 2000, a one-percent sales tax was collected throughout Sarasota County and earmarked specifically for Phase I of Payne Park, which voters approved as part of the penny surtax referendum. Phase II of Payne Park, which would include an amphitheatre, a new auditorium and a children’s play area, is slated to be funded by the upcoming renewal of the county-wide penny surtax. The penny surtax renewal is on the ballot Tues., November 6th.

The fee for a daily skateboard pass will be waived for the grand opening. Skateboarders must have a signed waiver in order to participate.

The Mayors Feed the Hungry Program will be on site collecting canned goods, preparing for the upcoming holiday season. All canned goods including soups, meats, and vegetables will be accepted.
Payne Park is located at 2000 Adams Lane. It is bordered by East Avenue to the north, Laurel Street to the south, School Avenue to the east and U.S. 301 to the west.

Parking is available in the Sarasota County parking garage located at Ringling Boulevard and School Avenue.

Schedule of Events

Noon: Suncoast Concert Band

1pm: Ribbon cutting ceremony - Official Payne Park opening at East Ave. and Adams Lane. Sarasota High School Marching Band - leads the crowd around the half-mile trail and stops at the tennis courts

2pm: Ribbon cutting ceremony - Official opening of three additional tennis courts

2:30pm: Papa Schmitz Band (Main Stage)

3:30pm: Concordia Praise Band (Side Stage)

3:45 pm: Big Night Out (Main Stage)

4pm: Jazz Juvenocracy (Payne Auditorium)

5pm: Dance Competition (Auditorium)

5:45pm: Concordia Praise Band (Side Stage)

6pm: Radio Free Carmela and the Transmitters (Main Stage)

7:15pm: Los Independientes del Vallenato

2pm – All Day: Free tennis Skateboard exhibitions Payne Park history slide show (Auditorium) Payne Family history (Auditorium) Food vendors

8pm: “Night at the Museum”, presented outdoors by the Sarasota Film Festival.