Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A TALE OF TWO CITIES: Miami Beach Expands Plastic Straw Ban While St. Augustine Beach Commissioners Vote to Repeal Theirs (Local10 Miami/St. Augustine Record)

Without any legal research memo presented to Commissioners and without hearing from ban proponents Capt. Adam Morley and Jane West, St. Augustine Beach Commissioners repealed their plastic straw ban, along with a plastic bag bank.

Five business-friendly St, Augustine Beach Commissioners once again reacted too swiftly to the demands of City Attorney James Patrick Wilson.  No opinion was offered by maladroit City Manager BRUCE MAX ROYLE, who sometimes falls asleep in meetings and has joked about it in his monthly newspaper columns.

I passionately opposed their decision, publicly, at the first reading of the ordinance, reported shallowly as a fait accompli by incurious St, Augustine Record./I>.

The WRecKord is now owned by those oleaginous hedge fund slave drivers at GateHouse, whose Chain Gang Journalism copy desk for the St. Augustine Record and some 200 other newspaper is now in Austin, Texas.

St. Augustine Beach is misled by disappointing Mayor Undine Celeste Pawlowski George, at best a cowardly lion. All five St. Augustine Beach Commissioners are registered Republicans. 

 While showing courage in allowing a Rainbow flag to be flown for Gay Pride this year, they often cavil and quibble and take dives for developers. On this occasion, they trimmed their sails and behaved like five cowardly lions. Will they ever find courage and a new City Attorney?

In sharp and marked contrast, the City of Miami Beach, led by a liberal lion, Mayor Daniel Saul Gelber, expanded its ban. Gelber is a former judge and prosecutor, son of a former judge, prosecutor and Miami Beach Mayor.

Wonder why?

St.Augustine City Attorney James Patrick Wilson uttered a baby talking scare speech to five gullible Commissioners, who are risk-adverse and tired. He conflated the legal status of plastics bag ban litigation with plastic straw bans. This is what happens when your burned-out City Attorney refuses to write a research memo for Commissioners. 

Recently winning a doubling of his monthly returner to $6000, then heading off hiring of environmental attorney Ralf Brookes as City Attorney, Wilson is now ready to retire and wanting the City to hand off the City Attorney gig to his associate, Jeremiah Mulligan.

Footnote: Miami Beach Daniel Saul Gelber wears a white hat on this occasion. He is a former State Senator who once worked for homophobic U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. Gelber was our 2010 Democratic nominee for State Attorney General. I supported Gelber's opponent, David Aronberg, who is now the Palm Beach County State's Attorney. Daniel Saul Gelber lied to me in 2010 about his partnership status in Akerman Senterfitt, claiming he was of counsel when Martindaloe Hubbell and his own law firm listing called him a partner. Gelber declined to reveal any of his white collar criminal defense clients. Dave Aronberg and I both argued it would be wrong to hire a State AG from BP's law firm when the State of Florida needed to sue and prosecute BP for the Gulf oil spill. On plastic straw bans and ocean level rise, Mayor Daniel Saul Gelber has redeemed himself. What do you reckon?

Bottom line: St. Augustine Beach Commissioners elect a new Mayor in January. Residents elect new Commissioners November 3, 2020.  St. Augustine Beach needs new leaders who will reflect the community's environmental ethics.

From the St. Augustine Record and Local 10 Miami:

St. Augustine Beach roundup: plastic ban repealed to avoid lawsuit
By Christen Kelley
Posted Sep 11, 2019 at 5:42 PM
Updated Sep 11, 2019 at 6:27 PM

Latest budget lowers tentative millage rate

The city of St. Augustine Beach is facing multiple challenges this budget season, and that means residents could see an increase in their taxes and major projects could be cut.

At a special budget meeting Monday, the Commission voted to lower the tentative property tax rate to 2.5 mills. The city had originally set the rate at 2.6 last month. With the current proposed rate, the owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $500 annually.

The new rate is still up from the 2.3992 millage the city has maintained for the last nine years. But after keeping taxes the same for that long, the city is in need of extra revenue to cover the budget.

“2.6 is a lot to swallow. I think if we direct staff to take it down to 2.5 and really see where they can trim, that would be a really good exercise to see what they can do to take it down to 2.5,” Commissioner Margaret England said. “We’ve got to build up some reserves. I think we’re going to have to bite the bullet and increase a little bit, but 2.6 is a lot.”

The Commission will vote on the final budget on Sept. 23.

Plastic ban repealed

Last month, the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the city of Coral Gables was violating state law by enacting a ban on plastic and polystyrene products. Now other municipalities, including St. Augustine Beach, must repeal their similar bans in order to avoid a lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the city did exactly that. City Attorney Jim Wilson explained that the Beach doesn’t have the resources to fight for the plastics ban, especially with new legislation that could result in the losing party being responsible for both parties’ attorney fees.

“It doesn’t make any sense when the law is pretty clear right now that you don’t have a dog in the fight,” Wilson said.

Wilson said they’ll likely have to wait and see what happens on the state level. He advised that they could still create a new ordinance banning plastic straws, as those items weren’t included in the court ruling.

Mayor Undine George suggested the city present some type of award or recognition to those businesses that voluntarily choose to use more sustainable products. The ordinance was set to take effect next year, but some places have already replaced their plastic products with more eco-friendly solutions.

“This was a grassroots effort, it didn’t come from us, it came from the people and those are the consumers here in our community that want to bring about this change so we can still honor their voice and their request by doing something to promote those businesses that adhere to their environmental demands,” she said.

Flag-flying policy considered

In June, the city decided to honor LGBTQ Pride Month by flying the rainbow flag above city hall after a group of citizens requested it. But City Manager Max Royle was concerned that because the city had no policy regarding its flags, they could be faced with picking and choosing which groups’ flags to fly.

“It opens up the door for somebody saying ’I want to fly my flag, you allowed this group to do it, why can’t I?” Royle said. “Finding that reason, I think, is going to be difficult in a legal challenge.”

Although the city had not received any requests for other flags, commissioners decided Tuesday to draft a policy that gives them the right to fly the flags they choose, including the Pride flag. With the proposed rules, residents would not be able to request a specific flag to be flown, but they could suggest it to the commissioners for consideration.

“It’s not a public forum, it’s your forum,” Wilson said. “It’s what the city of St. Augustine Beach wants to represent.”

Commissioners could also come up with a list of events and special occasions that they want to honor by flying a flag, such as Pride month.

“Why not fly a special flag two or three times a year that we think goes along with our mission statement and diversity,” England said. “So I’m open to flying a flag, but I agree with our attorney that we need to regulate it.”

City deals with continued push for vacation rentals

During its regular meeting Monday, the Commission voted to approve a waiver of a time requirement for the reapplication of a conditional use permit.

James Cochran, the owner of a plot of land on A1A and 5th Street, requested a conditional use permit in April to build a residential home in a commercial zone, with intentions of using it as a transient rental. His application was denied. Since then, he said, the Commission has approved multiple requests for the same permit.

“The very fact that I’m standing here is frustrating,” Cochran told commissioners. “My lot is identical to all the other ones that have been approved.”

Cochran pointed out several properties that were approved for a conditional use permit to build residential in a commercial district, including lots north of the Marriott Hotel that were recently approved. He also showed that his lot is completely surrounded by transient rentals.

Instead of appealing the decision, which he said would cost $15,000, Cochran asked for a waiver of the 12-month waiting period so that can reapply for the permit now. The Commission voted to waive the waiting period, but Cochran again has to go in front of the Planning and Zoning Board and another Commission meeting to get the permit approved or denied.

“My holding costs on this property are about $2,500 a month,” Cochran said. “I should’ve had this permit in April. We’re talking about $10,000 of my time and money that’s been wasted.”

The city recently has been dealing with development issues surrounding an increase in transient vacation rentals, defined as rentals of 30 days or fewer. Developers are requesting conditional use permits because they want to build rental homes in commercial areas, where visitors can enjoy shopping, restaurants and proximity to the beach.

But now the Commission has changed its stance on transient rentals, and feel they have to approve conditional use permits in order to keep them within the commercial district. There’s currently a cap of 100 transient rentals in the mixed-use residential district, and that cap has been reached.

“I believe that we made a good decision at the time that we made it,” Commissioner Maggie Kostka said. “Now at this point six months later, there is new information, so I think that if we went through the process again we may see things differently.”

Lowest-paid public works employees to get raise

Public Works Director Bill Tredik voiced concerns that the department’s lowest paid service workers are not making enough to compete with the historic city and county governments.

In order to bring up wages for those workers, Tredik decided to put off purchasing a new flatbed truck for the department. That frees up about $17,000 that can be put toward salary increases.

Service workers will now start at $13.56 per hour, slightly more than the $12.84 they are making now.


Miami Beach says no to plastic straws citywide

Commissioners unanimously approve expanding plastic straw ban

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor

Dimitar Tzankov via
Miami Beach is expanding its ordinance banning plastic straws and stirrers citywide.
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Miami Beach's plastic straw ban is extending from the ocean to the bay.
Miami Beach commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance Wednesday banning single-use plastic straws and stirrers citywide.
"Every move we make to strengthen our litter laws citywide significantly reduces the amount of litter and pollutants on land and in the water," Mayor Dan Gelber said. "Protecting both our natural environment and wildlife is a priority for our city and a cause we will never stop fighting for."
Plastic straws and bags are already prohibited on the beach, but this latest effort expands the ban to include the sale of all plastic straws by businesses throughout the city.
The ordinance will be enforced in phases before the full ban takes effect next July.
Elizabeth Wheaton, director of environment and sustainability for Miami Beach, said the city will spend the next three months trying to "educate our businesses and get the word out to our residents."
After that, the city's code enforcement would issue written notices to businesses in violation of the ordinance, she said.
Beginning July 1, any businesses providing plastic straws or stirrers to patrons will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $500 for any subsequent violations.
"We anticipate that our businesses will comply," Wheaton said.
Several other South Florida cities have implemented plastic straw bans in recent years.
Copyright 2019 by WPLG - All rights reserved.

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