Saturday, August 08, 2015

Creepy Creeping Privatization: Ed Slavin Guest Column on St. Augustine -- Guest Column Ed Slavin: Privatizing public resources is a growing threat to livability

St. Augustine Lighthouse (Photo by J.D. Pleasant)

 Correction:  I am informed $150k was paid in 2002 for Lighthouse and Keeper's House; 2014 transaction was for nearly seven acres at 50 cents per square foot.  Thank you.

Guest Column Ed Slavin: Privatizing public resources is a growing threat to livability
Posted: August 7, 2015 - 10:47pm

St. Augustine

St. Augustine Foundation walled off our Spanish Garden in 2001. You can enjoy our statue of Queen Isabella only one day annually.

Burghers hounded our street artists, attacking cherished First Amendment rights, 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. Another federal lawsuit is pending because city hall still deprecates tourism worker rights.

■ 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: neighbors are now forbidden to walk on former parklands, breaching the lighthouse’s written promise to the county. Five Republican county commissioners took six minutes to sell out the Lighthouse Park neighborhood, selling St. Augustine Lighthouse and nearly seven acres for $150,000, without any appraisal showing comparable sales. My mother always warned me, “Republicans never steal anything small.”

■ 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 coral-growing tanks, an 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.

■ Kenneth Worcester Dow gave nine historic homes to the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences to be protected forever. Florida paid some $2 million for restoration and exhibits. The museum sold it to David Barton Corneal who wants to inflict a high-end hotel on our HP-1 historic district. Commissioners, please vote “no” on DOW PUD.

There’s hope for preserving livability, authenticity, history and nature in our Ancient City.

■ Jan. 15, commissioners rejected a building permit for a 7-Eleven in our historic area. It appealed. City commissioners bought the property at that congested intersection.

■ Jan. 26, commissioners rejected two 70-foot tall buildings on U.S. 1.

■ Aug. 5, county commissioners unanimously reversed and rejected rules to “box” in First Amendment rights in parks

Elected officials are listening, now increasingly making decisions based on law and facts, without fear or favor.

It’s about time.

Enough privatization. Enough history-demolition derbies. “It takes a village” to save “our village,” as environmental lawyer Henry Dean said, referring to St. Augustine Beach (voters enacted a charter ban on tall buildings in 2014).

Let’s preserve what we love forever. For our 450th legacy, let’s join our late Mayor Walter Fraser and Sen. Claude Pepper, et al., who 76 years ago proposed a St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore.

It’s up to us to preserve the commons.

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