In secret, behind locked gates, our Nation's Oldest City dumped a landfill in a lake (Old City Reservoir), while emitting sewage in our rivers and salt marsh. Organized citizens exposed and defeated pollution, racism and cronyism. We elected a new Mayor. We're transforming our City -- advanced citizenship. Ask questions. Make disclosures. Demand answers. Be involved. Expect democracy. Report and expose corruption. Smile! Help enact a St. Augustine National Park and Seashore. We shall overcome!
Monday, August 22, 2022
A Letter to St. Johns County Neighbors About Overdevelopment
Sorry for the length of this email, but it's a lot shorter than four more years of developer-driven government with incumbents Blocker, Arnold and Hutson.
Jeremiah Blocker, has put our school system's top rating in jeopardy. He approved 71 out of 73 new developments in his first three years in office. And he actually defends this voting record, so you can expect four more years of the same. Under Blocker, the number of portable classrooms has increased by 50%. School board members have told the media they can't possibly keep pace with the approvals. But Blocker has no problem herding thousands of children into 523 portable classrooms that are less safe and less secure than schools. Our children are being bused away from their neighborhood schools as well. Teachers are quitting. Watch our top rating plunge if nothing changes. Property values will follow.
Commissioner Blocker has a new partner in crime: Sarah Arnold, who was sworn in as commissioner just two hours before she made the motion to approve her long-time friend Senator/developer Hutson's massive, high-density Silverleaf Expansion -- 5600 homes (on top of SilverLeaf's 10,700 homes that are only 10% built). Arnold's father-in-law has had business dealings with Hutson's father for decades. She voted for the expansion after refusing to meet with opposition, and only met with two Hutsons and their attorney. Incredibly, her contact information was withheld from her constituents until right after the vote! Following that, Arnold approved more land to go under the bulldozer than any other commissioner during her first five months in office. 2960 acres total. At this rate, she'll quickly catch up with Commissioner Blocker who voted to destroy 8,216 acres in three years. That's more than half the size of Jax Beach!
Blocker and Arnold want to increase our sales tax by 15%. It's earmarked largely for infrastructure improvements to benefit their big donor developers.
The good news is... Blocker and Arnold have formidable opponents whose top priority is to slow down growth. We ask you to research them - Chuck Labanowski and Krista Keating-Joseph. They're both fiscal conservatives, and their websites describe their leadership experience, qualifications and the sacrifices they've made for our country. Krista is a Gold Star Mom of two Navy SEALs - one of whom died in a firefight with ISIS. She's been interviewed by Fox & Friends seven times, and two interviews are on her website. Chuck is a Marine and combat vet who served in Viet Nam during the heaviest fighting. Krista served two terms on a governor-appointed hospital board and turned around a failing hospital while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
Krista is endorsed by the Mayor of Atlantic Beach, and Chuck is endorsed by those who twice-elected him to a CDD county board. Chuck is a fixture at BOCC and PZA meetings, and he knows how to advocate for his constituents, as opposed to voting against their interests as we've seen with Arnold and Blocker. Chuck is falsely accused in a Hutson-funded attack commercial of raising a "tax" by 40%! In fact, Chuck does not assess any tax. There was only one assessment increase on Chuck's Turnbull Creek board since 2018, and it was about 3%. No wonder his constituents love him. (Chuck has another opponent - Johnny Counts - who in 2005 left the scene of an accident where he caused $10,000 in property damage. That makes Sarah Arnold's lien on her house for not paying her HOA fee seem mild. This is all public record.)
In another equally egregious attack commercial from Hutson's camp, Gerry James,running against Hutson, is accused of defunding the police, which is completely outrageous and unsubstantiated. A mailer falsely states that Gerry wants to eliminate civil asset forfeiture for convicted criminals. False again. And that Gerry wants to take school safety officers out of schools. Absurdly false. If anything, he wants them to be better trained.
It's not just the overdevelopment that's of concern. Something’s not right when:
1. Our State Senator (Hutson) sponsors legislation that benefits his family's development company. As one example, at the very same time he was getting 5600 new homes approved, he tried to make it harder for homeowners to sue builders for hidden construction flaws! The Orlando Sentinel called Hutson's bill "monumentally bad" and "about as anti-consumer as you can get." Fortunately, his bill that encourages shoddily-built homes did not pass. But many of his developer-friendly bills have. Hutson is up for re-election and his opponent, Gerry James, also deserves your vote.
2. We all have a heavy property tax burden in St Johns County and our taxes are going up even more this year. Would you believe Commissioner Blocker doesn’t even pay property taxes, as of this year, on the house that he owns? And he sets our annual property tax millage rate. He also has four jobs - one of which pays him a $110,000 salary from a charity that doesn't file 990s or bring in enough revenue to cover his salary. He landed that job shortly after he became commissioner. Who's paying him? And why?
3. Commissioner Blocker's wife was appointed judge in a position created legislatively by Senator Hutson - right before her husband's vote for SilverLeaf. And she only had one trial under her belt according to her own application. Hutson appears to be using his senate seat and tens of thousands of dollars in PAC money to strongly influence our commissioners.
4. Blocker and Arnold joined the push AGAINST the state when the county was warned - twice - that SilverLeaf required a full application and would not be expedited. The county was more than eager to approve SilverLeaf on Dec. 21 when we were all busy with Christmas. The state said "no" and demanded another hearing. We turned out in force for the next hearing in May, but Blocker and Arnold were representing Hutson, not us when they approved it despite overwhelming opposition. County staff advised them that 19 roads would be adversely impacted. But only Commissioner Waldron cared about us and voted to deny. Our local politicians will continue taking marching orders from the largest residential developers in our community unless we replace them on August 23rd.
5. Arnold and Blocker won’t show up for panels or debates with their opponents. They’re in hiding as their records speak for themselves. They declined to show up for three major forums/panels in Ponte Vedra, and two more in St Augustine - plus many more events where all candidates were invited. Their ads are now claiming to oppose overdevelopment! We've never heard those words out of them - not before Chuck and Krista made overdevelopment their central campaign issue.
6. Blocker deleted "Lower taxes" and "Fiscal conservative" from his website in June. This was after he voted to push a sales tax increase on us. Does he think we're not paying attention?
It’s time to break this destructive chain of events. Let’s elect new commissioners and a new state senator brought in by the people and not by the county’s largest developers. Please strongly consider Chuck Labanowski,Krista Keating-JosephandGerry James.
Do you want tax-and-spend politicians who ignore the will of the people? Or elected officials with conservative values? It's clear who the real conservatives are.
Thanks for reading this opinion from St. Johns County Neighbors who care about our county's future. Vote August 23rd if you're a registered Republican! Please share this email! Nothing will change unless you vote.