Sunday, July 26, 2015
Privatization Threatens Authenticity, Livability in St. Augustine, Florida
Privatizing public resources is a growing threat to livability.
St. Augustine Foundation walled off our Spanish Garden in 2001. You can enjoy our statue of Queen Isabella only one day annually.
Burghers hounded street artists, attacking our First Amendment, for decades. Our City embarrassed us in the eyes of the world, repeatedly losing First Amendment lawsuits. Meanwhile, our once-lively downtown is now "a t-shirt shop," says PZB member Cathy Brown. Another lawsuit is pending because City Hall still deprecates tourism worker rights.
In 2010, City Commissioners outsourced the 450th celebration to "First America Foundation," handing over $275,000 to a new group, intending to avoid Sunshine and Open Records laws. We stopped them, thanks to pro bono legal representation by Holland & Knight of eighteen of us (we also stopped an illegal five-commissioner Spain trip to "conduct business").
In 2012, our Colonial Quarter was "outsourced" to Pirate Museum proprietor Pat Croce. Result: fewer re-enactors, more alcohol, more merchandising.
In 2014, County Commissioners sold our St. Augustine Lighthouse to a "non-profit": neighbors are now forbidden to walk on former parklands!
In 2014, our City renewed a no-bid, below-market lease with Len Weeks and Joe Boles for 81 St. George Street (Florida Cracker Cafe).
In 2015, Commissioners voted 4-1 (Mayor Shaver dissenting) for no-bid, below-market 20-year lease of our former Salt Run Community Center and Lighthouse Restaurant to St. Augustine Yacht Club.
Developers demanded City land south of Riberia Street (historically Punta de Buena Esperanza, or Cape of Good Hope), called it "Riberia Pointe" and wanted it for a coral-growing tanks, aquarium and children's museum. Lincolnville residents Nancy Shaver, Cash McVay, Blake Souder and Judith Seraphin stopped them -- it's now parkland, and Nancy Shaver is now Mayor.
In October 2014, Commissioners approved a Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the massive Shipyard development along our San Sebastian River, without sufficient protection for public rights to walk along the boardwalk.
Kenneth Worcester Dow gave nine historic homes to the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences (DMOAS) to be protected forever. Our State of Florida paid some $2 million for restoration and exhibits. DMOAS sold it to DAVID BARTON CORNEAL, who wants to inflict a $500/night hotel o n our HP-1 historic district. He's already demolished Carpenter's House. Commissioners, please vote "no" on DOW PUD.
There's hope for preserving livability, authenticity, history and nature in our Ancient City.
On January 15th, Commissioners rejected a building permit for a 7-Eleven in our historic area on eleven legal grounds. Unanimous. 7-Eleven appealed and quickly settled, with our City Commissioners spending $1.4 million to buy the property at the congested corner of May & San Marco. Unanimously.
On January 26th, Commissioners rejected two 70-foot tall buildings on U.S. 1. Unanimously.
Commissioners are now making decisions without fear or favor, based upon the facts and law of record. It's about time.
Enough privatization, conflicts of interest, no-bid contracts and historic building demolition derbies. This is our time. This is our town. Help preserve and protect St. Augustine's history and nature forever from developer flummery and dupery. Support reforms and City Charter amendments. "It takes a village" to save "our village," as veteran environmental lawyer/manager Henry Dean said, referring to our smaller neighbor of St. Augustine Beach (where under his guidance, voters opted to put a Charter ban on buildings taller than 35 feet).
Let's preserve what we love forever. For our 450th legacy, let's join our late Mayor Walter Fraser and Senator Claude Pepper, et al. who in 1939 first proposed a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. www.staugustgreen.com It's up to us.
Ed Slavin (B.S., Foreign Service, Georgetown University, J.D., Memphis State University, now University of Memphis) has lived in St. Augustine since 1999 and helped win more than 30 public interest community victories here since 2005.