St. Petersburg-based flilm Loren Cass released on DVD, Netflix

“Loren Cass,” that dark portrait of St. Petersburg in the late 90s, was finally released to DVD this week.

If you haven’t heard about “Loren Cass,” see my past articles here and here. Or, just check out what the L.A. Times had to say about the film.

Watching this film’s stature rise from a local independent movie shot by a 21-year-old native son to a national recognized film is a true success story. So, St. Pete residents should support the release by purchasing the DVD, or at least renting it.  Let’s try to make it one of the Local Favorites of St. Petersburg on Netflix!

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it (REDUX)

Over the last week, Central Avenue has a hot topic with the St. Petersburg Times’ editorial encouraging artists to take over the 600 block. And once again, they mention the efforts of City Councilmember Leslie Curran. So, once again, I must remind folks how city councilmembers, including Ms. Curran, ruined that block to begin with. To take credit for any burgeoning artist scene now is, well, infuriating.

Please check out my rant on that here.

I hate to be a Negative Nelly — I’m glad something is happening as oppose to vacancies or, gasp, condos — but I can’t help but think how this all could have been avoided if city officials had any sense of — well, let’s just leave it at “any sense.” I also take great umbrage to Councilmember Curran newest quote to the Times:

Curran says the renaissance along the 600 block is similar to what happened years ago in Ybor City when artists went into empty storefronts long before developers took an interest in the area.

“My wish is that it (Crislip) becomes a viable art center that connects to the Beach Drive art scene, the Florida Craftsman Gallery, the Dome District and the Craftsman House in the Grand Central District,” said Curran. “Whatever we can do to get those folks out in the forefront and tie them together, that will be great for the city.”

Yes, Curran, and we all now how Ybor turned out …

St. Petersburg Homeless Image street newspaper debuts

If you traveled downtown at all this weekend, you may have spotted folks hawking an unfamiliar newspaper.

The St. Petersburg Homeless Image —  a forum for advocates, homeless and formerly homeless people, students and the general public —  made its debut this weekend on the streets of St. Pete. The paper includes articles on the homeless lawsuit against the city, St. Pete’s designation as “Second Meanest City,” a blistering attack on the St. Petersburg Times for their recent article against panhandling and passionate obits on recent street people who died.

The paper is the brainchild of G.W. Rolle, a formerly homeless man who serves on the county’s Homeless Leadership Network. The project grew out of a need to provide accurate, passionate news and opinions to the people of St. Pete during an unusually hostile atmosphere toward the homeless. Plus, through a generous vendor program, the paper provides an economic opportunity to the city’s homeless. They can sell the paper for a profit and, besides getting some extra cash, learn valuable job skills. Rolle told me it’s a good alternative to panhandling.

The idea is nothing new. In 19 cities throughout the United States and Canada, “street newspapers” have proven effective in giving homeless people a “hand-up” instead of a “hand-out.” Street newspapers even have a national umbrella organization backing them.

If you pick up a copy — and you should — you’ll find a few articles written by myself and some homeless advocates across the county. The design and editing needs a little work, but the St. Petersburg Image is a good example of the kind of alternative journalism we need in St. Pete.

How’s that for civil discourse? Baywalk vote ends in brawl!

Just when you thought the Baywalk Bruhaha couldn’t get any more ridiculous… two old men battle out in the City Council chambers! One of them is City Councilmember Bill Dudley’s brother. Go coach!

Basically, after the City Council reversed a previous vote and decided to privatize one of Baywalk’s sidewalks, several protesters in the crowd left in a huff. Peace activist Dwight Lawton chides the City Council for something about stabbing the Constitution, while homeless advocate Bruce Wright told the dias, “You’re so full of shit.”

But the shit-talking did not stop there.

Another anti-privatization guy, 61-year-old Ronald Deaton, says something about the city turning fascist when 76-year-old Fred Dudley — Councilmember Bill Dudley’s bro — yells, very loudly, “Why don’t you just MOVE!”

Deaton snaps back, “Why don’t you just EAT SHIT!”

Well, I guess Dudley doesn’t get too many retorts to his jingoistic comments (“Love it or leave it!), so he lunged at Deaton, who wasn’t going down without a fight. Police eventually broke up the scuffle, but there’s some controversy surrounding that, too.

First, though, watch the scene for yourself. There are two videos making the rounds today. The first was captured by a cameraman for WTVT. It begins right after Polson switches his vote and agrees to privatizing Baywalk’s sidewalk:

This second video was taken by Leonard Schmiege, an engineering consultant and City Council candidate. It’s the best video to see Dudley take the offensive:

Who started the fight is important, because by watching the videos, you can see police chose to take down Deaton and not Dudley. It wasn’t until protesters complained that police chose to take Dudley down to jail, too. St. Petersblog 2.0 makes a good case about this here.

And all this for one lousy sidewalk in front of one lousy mini-mall. Wow.

Did the St. Petersburg City Council destroy Baywalk?

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For the last two months, I’ve tried hard to avoid the debate over Baywalk’s public sidewalk. I did not ignore the subject because I hate free speech or love Baywalk, or any version of these two. No, I avoided it because the whole damn thing is a non-issue.

Like many “big stories” in this town — and come to think of it, across the country — this is another “us vs. them” argument that seems to make good soundbites and elicit a flood of Letters to the Editor. But, frankly, this idea that city councilmembers are fighting for “the soul of dowtown St. Petersburg” is complete rubbish. I have even more disdain for those business owners and editorial writers (see “They Put the Dagger into Baywalk” Tim Nickens) who cry wolf at the City Council’s recent decision not to privatize the Baywalk sidewalk.

By reading the St. Petersburg Times, I’m supposed to pick one of two arguments:

1) Baywalk is the Golden Boy (or Girl) of downtown St. Pete. Without it, our vision of a thriving downtown is dead. But poor, poor Baywalk is on life-support due to a bunch of unruly protesters who prevent decent hardworking Americans from shopping at Chico’s. We should allow the new owners of Baywalk to control their sidewalk. That’ll fix the recession!

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2) Hell no! We won’t go! Giving up a public sidewalk to the evil capitalists at Baywalk will destroy the fabric of democracy! Sure, we haven’t protested there in ages, but by golly, when George Bush’s henchmen overthrow Obama we need to be ready! Hell no! We won’t go! Hell no! We won’t …

Now you see why I’ve shut my ears and eyes to this nonsense?

But, alas, after reading a recent Times’ editorial, I’m compelled to respond. So let’s break this down so even Tim Nickens can understand it:

  • Baywalk is in trouble because we are in a recession. Baywalk isn’t the only Tampa Bay retailer experiencing hard times.
  • The few people who can afford to visit the movie theater or shop at Trade Secret may be more scared of the recent shootings than protesters. I’m not sure how privatizing the sidewalk will solve that. Maybe Mayor Rick Baker should spend his time looking into the crime problems in St. Pete instead of how to sell off public land.
  • These protesters never prevented anyone from seeing a movie or buying a hamburger. We’re not talking about throw-blood-on-your-fur-coat protesters or huge aborted fetus protesters. These are PEACE protesters with, you know, PEACE signs. Not to mention the fact that these protesters have not been there for several months anyway.

So if just one sidewalk is really not the issue, why are the new owners of Baywalk so adamant about controlling it? Two reasons …

The first one is simple: Why not? As business owners, they want to leave as little to chance as they can. If they have the chance to control more area in order to bring in customers, they’ll take it. Hell, I’m sure they’d ask to own all the sidewalks in St. Pete if they thought it would pass!

The second reason is a little more insidious:

While the city fights over the sidewalk, reporters and citizens are distracted from the real issue — the City Coucil giving nearly $700,000 of taxpayer money to a failing private enterprise in the midst of a recession.

Someone please tell me the difference between giving taxpayer money to Baywalk and using taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Rays?

What’s more infuriating is the lack of historical context in this debate. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on Baywalk over the years. And even before Baywalk, city leaders bulldozed six blocks and spent millions on the Bay Plaza boondoggle.

The Times’ Tim Nickens and others screaming about “the death of Baywalk” don’t seem to understand what has revitalized St. Petersburg over years. It certainly was not Baywalk. Sure, we should have a movie theater and some high-end shops downtown. But Ybor and Channelside have the same thing — and yet they aren’t attracting people from all sides of Tampa Bay, except for maybe bachelorette parties.

What made downtown St. Pete is the mixed-use projects that allow folks to live, work and play downtown; the charming restaurants and hip bars; the eclectic shops; the art galleries; the walkability; the waterfront; the major venues like State Theater and Jannus Landing, which recently closed. If we’re throwing around thousands of dollars, why not invest public money to open Jannus back up? I guarantee that venue has brought more people downtown than some cheesy mini-mall.

In short, screw Baywalk.

If the owners can’t make money because of a handful of protesters, then they deserve to go under. With that kind of attitude, they might as well give up now.

Just give us back our $700,000 before the door hits your ass.

(Photo courtesy of Vera Devera/Flickr)

University of South Florida and animal testing

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Ever wonder what kind of animal research goes down at the University of South Florida? Well, thanks to a recent Humane Society lawsuit, you can find out with just a few clicks of the mouse.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently posted animal testing reports from the nation’s research facilities on its website. The annual reports — which contain information on what kind of animals are used and if the experiments are painful — are required by law, but until now, only available after a lengthy Freedom of Information Act request.

So, what kind of creatures live in USF’s labs? In 2008, the university conducted experiments on 410 hamsters, 212 pigs, 208 guinea pigs, 56 primates, nine rabbits, four gerbils and four cats.

Unfortuately, the information included in the reports is not complete. Mice, rats, fish and birds are excluded from the reports. Also, the documents lack specifics on the experiments themselves.

But — and this is the point where you all gasp — the reports do separate the animals into categories: those animals used for breeding; animals used for experiments that didn’t involve pain; animals used for experiments that did cause pain or distress, but researchers used anesthetics; and animals used for experiments that did cause pain or distress, but aesthetics were not used.

About a quarter of the hamsters and four monkeys fell into the latter category.

The animal rights blog News for Florida Animal Advocates listed some of the other research facilities in Florida and brought up a great point about the lack of information in the reports: Shouldn’t the people of Florida know the nature of the testing and why alternatives to animals were not used?

Speaking of animal cruelty, did you hear about Glenn Beck and “Frog-gate?”

(h/t to News for Florida Animal Advocates)

(Photo courtesy of DanielJames/Flickr)

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster jockey for losing candidates’ support

As Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford celebrate primary wins this evening, the losing eight mayoral candidates wrapped up election parties and drove home. But their roles in the mayoral election are not finished. Over the next few weeks, Foster and Ford will jockey for the remaining 47 percent of voters who didn’t choose them tonight, and attempt to turn former opponents into friends.

That won’t be easy.

The third and fourth top vote getters — Deveron Gibbons (19 percent) and Scott Wagman (15 percent) — won’t say who they’ll support in the general election.

As Gibbons left Push Ultra Lounge, he promised to meet with Ford and Foster to “discuss the issues.”

“Then let me sit down with my supporters and decide who I run the race with,” he said.

Wagman said he was hesitant to back either candidate.

“At this time I’m not even thinking about it,” he said from his event at Outback Steakhouse. “I have issues with both [of them].” He paused and added, “I will back Ken Welch. At some point, he will be mayor of this town.”

John Warren, the owner of Savannah’s Cafe who championed smart growth and economic recovery, also wasn’t prepared to support either candidate.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with [Ford and Foster] and each has some decent ideas,” he said. “But a big issue that hasn’t been discussed is community planning. A lot of the other individual issues you could categorize under community planning.”

The importance of the other candidates was not lost on Ford or Foster.

At her victory party at Red Mesa Cantina, Ford praised all contenders for running great campaigns, singling out Gibbons and Wagman. At Midtown Sundries, Foster told supporters, “I intend to be everybody’s mayor, whether they supported me or not.”

Like the other office-seekers, former city councilmember Larry Williams, who finished fifth in the primary, knows the remaining two candidates will seek his support.

“I’m going to meet with them and I have three questions,” he said. “What are you going to do about D and F schools? What are you going to do about panhandling? And what about the baseball team?”

After finishing off a chicken wing, Williams added, “Before I ran my first campaign, a friend of mine in Tampa, who worked on many political campaigns, told me, ‘Sometimes you’re more powerful when you’re not elected.'”

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: At the Deveron Gibbons party

I’m attempting to hit every candidate’s election night event for insight, great political theater and free food. Next up: Deveron Gibbons.

Where: Push Ultra Lounge (upstairs from Kathleen Ford’s event)

Mood: Vague, much like Gibbons’ campaign. There are a few people mingling about, no real energy. Many patrons are just here to drink at the bar, not supporting the campaign. The few supporters are separated by the Lounge’s bar that wraps around the room. Gibbons hasn’t even shown up.

Who’s Who: Eric Atwater of Atwater’s Cafeteria is here. Otherwise, none of the big names that made Gibbons’ campaign, including Gibbons himself.

Free Food: Notta.

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: At the Kathleen Ford party

I’m attempting to hit every candidate’s election night event for insight, great political theater and free food. My first: Kathleen Ford.

Where: Red Mesa Cantina

Mood: Upbeat and relaxed, like a cocktail party (well, except for the guy on the right). About 25 Ford supporters sip large margaritas and chat. Although reserved, Kathleen Ford is sharing the latest mail-in ballot votes that put her at 27 percent and toe-to-toe with Bill Foster. “It’s still too early,” she says.

Who’s Who: Ford’s husband, some friends, some Bay News 9 reporters, a group of St. Petersburg firefighter union members and representatives from the Service Employees International Union. “With the financial shape that the city is in and shared across the this state … we think that we will be able to work well with Kathleen Ford,” says Van Church, communications director for SEIU’s Florida Public Service Union.

Free Food Factor: None. Only Cantina Red Mesa’s menu and full bar.

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Scene Report

In just shy of an hour, the polls close on St. Petersburg’s mayoral primary. I’ve crisscrossed the city and made some calls to give you an update. Here’s a brief rundown:

The Pinellas County Elections office has the turnout so far at 6 percent. With early voting, total turnout hovers around 18 percent. I almost feel excited we may break 20 percent. Then, I fall back into depression over my dimished expectations

As rush hour begins, campaign supporters with signs are on nearly every intersection. No, wait. Those are just panhandlers

Bay News 9 already found a party to crash: Bill Foster’s event at Midtown Sundries. I guess we know who they bet on …

At Push Ultra Lounge and Red Mesa Cantina, several Kathleen Ford and Deveron Gibbons supporters set up for tonight’s election results fete. Just looking at the signs out front (see above), I can tell this is going to be one skitzophrenic party …

Jamie Bennett is holding his campaign affair at home — 768 Pinellas Point S. Bennett was chopping up a pork tenderloin just out of the smoker when I caught up with him. “Just look for the 100 Bennett signs in the lawn,” he says …

Two-time mayoral candidate Ed Helm is planning an “election celebration” at St. Pete Diner on 34th Street North. Helm tells me “a good Democrat owns it, there’s good food and the original blue plate special.” He guaranteed the food is free, too …

John Warren and Richard Eldridge have not gotten back to me. The only reason I can imagine for not having a party is expecting a loss …

UPDATE: Warren is inviting supporters to Savannah’s Cafe from 7 p.m. “until one minute after my concession speech, which for the fun of it will be crafted and delivered by those in attendance.” …

And still no sign of Paul Congemi. I even checked the KFC on 34th Street.

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: And the winner is …

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Well, we don’t know who the two winning candidates will be until after 7 p.m. when the polls close. But I already know who the loser is (besides Paul Congemi): St. Petersburg.

I don’t have to look at the latest voter turnout results to say St. Pete citizens have abdicated their duties as an electorate. After visiting precincts on the north, south and west sides of town, I can see voters largely stayed home from this mayoral primary.

But the numbers back me up, too.

IMG_6592 (2)As of 2 p.m., Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections spokesperson Nancy Whitlock says turnout is estimated at 4.8 percent. Add the 12 percent of mail-in ballots already counted and just over 16 percent of registered voters in St. Petersburg have performed their civic duty. Although more folks will vote after work, some experts say voter turnout will only land around 25 percent.

Blame what you want: the rain, an uninspiring field of candidates or a really long line at the DMV. Whatever the reason, residents are losing a chance to decide the direction of the ‘burg over the next four years.

Unfortunately, St. Petersburg residents largely ignore local races. In 2007, for the election of two city councilmembers, a mere 9 percent of registered voters showed up to polling places. In 2005, only 20 percent voted for mayor. You might chalk that up to Mayor Rick Baker’s popularity, but in 2001, in the last mayoral primary with 9 candidates, only 25 percent of voters showed up.

Are three-quarters of St. Pete citizens really that indifferent to who runs this city?

For those who did vote, and eagerly await the results, I’m reporting all evening for my site and Creative Loafing’s Daily Loaf blog. Considering the rain has prevented the always-interesting sign waving battles, I’m attending the various Election Day watch parties for some real action, and hopefully, free food. If you want to join me, here’s a rundown of the events:

Larry Williams will hold his party at the old Louis Papa’s, 1530 4th Street North.

Scott Wagman hosts a shindig at the Outback Steakhouse, conveniently only three blocks away at 1900 4th Street North.

Bill Foster will await his results at Midtown Sundries.

And in the weirdest coincidence, Kathleen Ford and Deveron Gibbons will both party down at 128 Third Street South. Ford supporters will chow down at the Red Mesa Cantina on the bottom floor, while Gibbons’ crew watches results at Push Ultra Lounge upstairs. I’m counting on some awkward mingling moments  . . .

Any info on other election day parties would be much appreciated.

Once again Hillsborough County politicians push Tampa backwards

Can anything cool happen in Hillsborough County without county leaders overstepping their authority and crushing it?

I’m not hopeful.

As you may have read by now, the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission — made up of politicians and wannabe politicians — effectively shut down two electric car businesses this month when they succumbed to pressure from the cab industry.

I wrote about downtown Tampa’s electric vehicle service last year. I thought the electric-powered golf cart transport was charming, environmentally-friendly and made Tampa unique. Plus, the service was free. Since they didn’t charge for rides, the electric vehicle companies did not need the transportation permits cab companies needed. The electric vehicle companies made money by the advertising on the carts and tips from passengers. For a downtown worker wanting to get to Rick’s on the River or a tourist wanting a ride from Jerk Hut to the Times Forum, these vehicles seemed the way to go.

But of course Hillsborough County politicians can’t let a good thing last for long. Prompted by complaints from (overpriced) cabbies, the PTC decided to ban the electric vehicles citing safety and unfair competition. Unfair? How about the unfairness and cronyism inside the PTC?

Well now, after scores of citizens complained to the PTC, the commission is back-pedaling a bit. They want the vehicles back on the streets, they say, just with permits and insurance. But who knows if those requirements could keep these entrepreneurs sidelined permanently.

Founding Fathers-God billboards are a sham

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You’ve undoubtedly seen them by now: several black billboards throughout the Tampa Bay area with supposed Christian-friendly quotes from our country’s founding fathers.

“Supposed” is the key word here. As Michael Hussey of Pushing Rope reports, these propagandists can’t prove the nation’s architects even said them. Read the story here.

News flash: Scarecrows don’t scare crackheads away

ross (2)I like Ross Pavio. I don’t know him personally, but dude has a great mustache. And he likes plants. I like plants. I have some basil, tomatoes and some random bean-looking plant in planters on my back porch. Ross has some hibiscus, bromeliad, Mexican sunflowers and other plants turning yellow and brown in his yard.

But Ross isn’t a bad gardener. He’s just not very neighborly.

Ross complained to the St. Petersburg Times last week because he feels some hoodlums are targeting his plants and home. Why would they mess with a guy sporting a mustache like Ross?

SCARECROWFrom the Times article:

At a house across the street from where Ross Pavio lives, a sign pinned to a scarecrow says, “No hookers or crack heads, please!”

Pavio, 56, said that’s the message he has been trying to get across in his North Kenwood neighborhood since moving in four years ago, but his efforts backfired.

In the past few months, Pavio said, a fire has been set in his back yard, a video camera above his garage tampered with, and his beloved plants and lawn ruined with chemicals. Last week, he called St. Petersburg police to his home on two consecutive days to investigate the vandalism.

Uh, yeah … Ross, let’s learn some Neighbor 101 up in here. Mr. Rogers never put up a scarecrow insulting the hookers and crackheads in the neighborhood. Not even in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Good reason, too: Hookers and crackheads don’t like being heckled.

Be clear: I’m not necessarily blaming Ross for some fucked up individuals trespassing into his yard. And really, his plants never insulted anybody. But Ross, you totally didn’t have to goad your neighborhood drug dealers. A nice call to the cops would have been sufficient.

But, Ross argues, he was really, really hoping this would turn out to be a good neighborhood:

Pavio, who said he doesn’t blame the police for his troubles, isn’t interested in joining any groups. After spending about $55,000 to renovate his two-bedroom, two-bath house and cultivate its barren yard, he has had enough.

“I came here with this wonderful idea that I was going to be coming into this up-and-coming neighborhood,” he said.

“I had great hope. I was not even worried about investing the money. I thought it was worth it.”

Finally, Ross (and similar residents) I have another St. Pete lesson for you: Don’t go into a neighborhood, looking to invest and thinking a scarecrow will make the ‘hood safer for you. As many longtime St. Pete residents have figured out, it takes a lot more hard work than that. Like, uh, joining “associations.”

Ross, this is for you:

Florida Gov. Crist denies Neo-Nazi connection, story goes national

Two days ago, I wrote a post about a Florida white supremacist who sent several public officials copies of a anti-Semetic film. One of those officials was Charlie Crist, who seemingly wrote back to the Nazi thanking him for the film and promising to share it with the “people of Florida.”

I cross-posted the blog on the popular progressive blog, Pushing Rope. Well, the story got out. Quick.

First, TBO.com ran the entire post on their website (without Pushing Rope’s consent I might add). Then, the Associated Press (and then Huffington Post) picked up on the story. At least the Associated Press added some new reporting:

The governor’s office, however, said it was an embarrassing mistake. The signature was made by a machine and Crist never saw the letter, said Sterling Ivey, the governor’s press secretary. “We are NOT sharing the DVD with the people of Florida,” Ivey said. “The governor does not support this view. The letter was sent out prior to us reviewing the DVD that was sent.”

But my favorite part is the upset White Reference blog who decries me calling them a bunch of Nazis.

Hats off, by the way, to the Ybor City Stogie who is the first blogger to find out about the letter.

Environmental group wants to ban swimming with manatees. My solution: Create the Sea Cow Narc Force

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Two years ago, during a cool week in March, an out-of-town friend and I made an early morning trek to Crystal River, Florida. Our goal: Get our manatee on.

Crystal River lies in Citrus County, which is the only place in the world where humans are legally allowed to swim with the endangered manatee, that sweet tub of sea cow that is as synonymous with Florida as alligators and large mice. In fact, there is hardly any other reason to visit places like Crystal River, a town of 3,600 with a nuclear power plant and several trailer parks. The manatee tours have put this little hamlet on the map and led to one-of-a-kind human/animal interactions that have touched thousands of people’s hearts.

So, naturally, a few slack-jawed yokels had to ruin it for the rest of us.

In 2007, animal rights activists filmed some Crystal River visitors harassing the manatees — chasing them, riding them, separating moms from babies — and then released the videos to media outlets. Reporters followed the story and, for a while, it seemed the tours that made Crystal River famous might halt.

829665-R1-030-13ALuckily, cooler heads prevailed and federal wildlife officials did not immediately ban the practice. My friend and I went on to have awesome time viewing these gentle creatures in their natural habitat. I rank that day as one of the best ever in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter.

But earlier this month, an environmental group — Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility — filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking the federal agency to ban the practice of swimming with the manatees. PEER is the first group to formally petition the agency and they’re leaving open the possibility of litigation.

Honestly, I can’t blame the activists. Harassing manatees is akin to pushing down old ladies — maybe worse. Old ladies at least have purses to smack you with; the gentle manatee has no way to defend itself. The animal cannot even swim very fast and the shallow depth of the springs makes an escape from some belligerent fratboy impossible.

But, at the same time, banning such a Florida tradition over a few ignorant tourists seems a bit, well, overboard. The PEER group even decrys touching the manatees at all. If they’ve ever been in these waters they’d know: some manatees like people and enjoy being petted on the tummy or scratched under the flipper. The law says to allow the manatee to come to you first. I think that’s a good rule for any animal.

So what’s the solution?

Like many problems, we already have the solution. The rules just have to be enforced — vigorously. So I have a proposal: The Manatee Narc Force. [Enter patriotic horns]

bmanatee006The idea is simple: volunteers and/or state wildlife officials hang out undercover in Crystal River waters or secretly attend the many tour guides that take visitors out on springs for some manatee action. The Manatee Narc Force watches for violators of the official Manatee Code.

If someone is found harassing a manatee, the Manatee Narc Force immediately fines them $500 — about five-times the cost of the average manatee tour. Depending on the severity of offense, jail time of up to 60 days is possible.

This is already the law. But we need to go a step further.

Under this proposal, the Manatee Narc Force will hold tour operators to a higher standard. If the Manatee Narc Force fines three visitors from the tour boat’s party in a 12-month span, they will fine the tour operator $3,000. Hell, make it $10,000. That way, after a violation, some tour guides might even order everyone back on the boat for the rest of the trip, with no refunds. If that happened, you can be sure Mr. Manatee Molester will get his ass beat in the parking lot by some dad with two upset kids. Hell, I’d do it.

Also, if a tour company has more than 10 violations in a five year period, the Manatee Narc Force revokes the company’s right to be in the water. Problem solved.

“But how will we pay for such enforcement?” my conservative friends ask.

Simple: the fines.

If that’s not enough (and hopefully if they are doing the job it won’t be enough), the federal government and Crystal River will pony up the additional funds. After all, Crystal River is benefiting from the tourism and they stand to lose a lot more money if the ban goes into effect. Plus, considering the manatee is federally protected and the Manatee Narc Force would create jobs desperately needed in that area, the proposal should qualify for stimulus funds.

This isn’t some grand scheme. There are already laws, fines and punishments in place to deal with manatee harassment. The problem is enforcement. As one local TV station reported, state officials only cited one person last year — after nearly 1,600 hours of patrol in an area that hosts nearly 100,000 visitors a year. Folks, if we want to keep this unique Florida treasure, we must be more strict.

Let’s create the Manatee Narc Force before it’s too late.

manateenarcforce2

Neo-Nazis and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist share a love of movie

Incredible find today by the Ybor City Stogie:

Jud_SüßSeveral weeks ago, John Ubele — the operations manager of the white supremacist Nationalist Coalition — sent some Florida public officials a copy of the DVD Jud Süß,” a 1940 German film about a sneaky Jew who tricks an 18th century Duke into giving him control of his kingdom. According to Wikipedia, the movie was made by the notoriously anti-Semetic German director Veit Harlan under the direction of the Nazi Party’s chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

According to the nazi blog White Reference, several copies of this movie were sent to various public officials throughout Florida. Nice gesture, especially considering most hate groups prefer to send threats.

But the interesting part of this story is Ubele — who has run for Florida public office himself — received a thank-you letter from none other than our governor:

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In the letter, Crist (or presumably an aide) thanks Ubele for sending the film “on behalf of myself and the people of Florida.” He repeats an appreciation of “thoughtfulness” and offers to share the film with “the people of Florida.”

Well, the cold hearts at the White Reference blog were thoroughly warmed, if cautiously:

At this point, there is no need to over-interpret Governor Crist’s reaction. It could be that he is simply a buff of old movies and that he finds this movie enjoyable. Eventually, he could find this movie educational as well. It’s worth the time to watch it.

cristjewsI will agree: There is no need to over-interpret the governor’s reaction. I’m sure he is no anti-Semite. I’m also 99.9% positive he didn’t even write the letter himself. But for Crist’s sake, why didn’t an aide do a Wiki search on this movie and figure out the nature of the film?

I’m going to get a Texan female friend of mine to send in Debbie Does Dallas. Maybe I can get a response from Crist thanking “the good women of Texas” for their, uh, “generosity.” If so, that shit is totally going on eBay.

St. Pete Second Meanest City in the Country (toward the homeless)

In a distinction our fair city probably doesn’t want, the National Coalition of the Homeless named St. Petersburg the second meanest city in the country toward homeless people.

No surprises here. As the 200-page report from the NCH says, St. Pete has passed numerous laws outlawing basic activities like sitting on the sidewalk and carrying a shopping cart full of stuff. I’m sure the recent lawsuit initiated by some local homeless didn’t help.

Here’s a snippet from the report:

Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed 6 new ordinances that target homeless people. These include ordinances that outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown, prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property, and make it unlawful to sleep outside at various locations. In January 2007, the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender announced that he would no longer represent indigent people arrested for violating municipal ordinances to protest what he called excessive arrests of homeless individuals by the City of St. Petersburg. According to numbers compiled by the public defender’s office, the vast majority of people booked into the Pinellas County Jail on municipal ordinances were homeless individuals from St. Petersburg.

St. Pete joins three other Florida cities: Gainesville, Bradenton and Orlando. The fact we beat Orlando is amazing considering their ridiculous, mean-spirited campaign against bums. Man, we lose to The Mouse Trap every time.

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Loren Cass, a St. Pete based film, finally receives theatrical release

Some good news on the home front, folks. Loren Cass, that beautifully produced film by local creative and first-time filmmaker Chris Fuller, is set to premiere at a New York City theater. The well-established distribution company Kino International bought the film earlier this month.

In case you haven’t seen it, Loren Cass is a dark portrait of St. Pete youth set in one of the city’s bleakest times, the period following the ’96 riots. Here’s a snippet from my 2006 profile of the movie:

A few major films — Ocean’s Eleven, Health — have used bits of St. Pete as a backdrop over the years, but Fuller’s movie goes beyond just a few shots of the Pier (although they are in there, too). It features the city itself as a crucial part of the story line.

“St. Pete is in my blood,” Fuller says. “There’s a lot of shit here. It’s got a rich history and an often disturbing one at that.”

The film chronicles the coming of age of three St. Pete adolescents, their lives tied to the cycle of violence, suicide and destruction that surround the city after the ’96 riots. Cale (Lewis Brogan) and Jason (Travis Maynard) drive the streets, drinking and brawling, while Nicole (Kayla Tabish) keeps falling for the wrong men. On a chance encounter, Cale meets Nicole at her job, starting a fruitless relationship, while Jason spirals more out of control.

FILMSTILL_070Although Fuller is an amateur (he has no formal training in filmmaking), Loren Cass is hardly sophomoric; it has the persuasive acting, stellar soundtrack and quality look of a studio production. Fuller started writing the script while still in Canterbury High School, and immediately after graduating spent almost four years shopping his project around to various private investors. He raised a viable amount of cash (he won’t divulge the actual amount but says it’s in the thousands). During the same period, he found the actors he wanted, including Tabish (Girl Next Door) and Jacob Reynolds (Gummo, Road to Wellville), a New York-based actor born in St. Petersburg.

“Everybody I’ve met has some connection to St. Pete,” Fuller points out. “It’s like that Kevin Bacon shit.”

FILMSTILL_180In fact, almost all aspects of the film, from the soundtrack to the actors, have ties to the city: Locally based boxer Ronald “Winky” Wright and Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela contribute to voiceovers; ‘burg denizens like musician Matthew Bistok and street poet Mike Glausier make up part of the supporting cast; the soundtrack’s haunting trumpet is the work of St. Pete’s Jimmy Morey. Fuller reached across the bay and enlisted the help of strip club magnate Joe Redner, whose Production Services and Systems donated some of the equipment in exchange for “profit points.”

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is Fuller’s use of recognizable north side landmarks — like, for instance, the nondescript house on 10th Avenue N., where Beat legend Jack Kerouac lived out the last year of his life before dying of alcoholism. These touches, from shots of the old orange and white city buses to the alley behind the State Theatre, add a realistic local texture to the film, creating what Fuller calls a “St. Pete-based Catcher in the Rye.”

loren_cass_poster_11Hopefully, the movie will play in its hometown at the Muvico cinemas or at least Tampa Theater. When I contact Fuller about that possibility, he shared my enthusiasm, but he’s not yet sure. So far, Kino plans to hold screenings in L.A. and Chicago in addition to NYC. But even if we don’t see a screening locally, Kino will release Loren Cass on DVD by the end of the year.

If you want to read more about Loren Cass, check out the website here.

Did you really have to lay me off?

Do Florida employers really have to lay off so many workers during this recession?

Perhaps not, says Sheri McWhorter, president of the local company Workplace Legal Solutions and a certified member of the Florida Bar. In an article for the Bay Area Business Magazine, McWhorter cites a little known provision in Florida unemployment law that allows companies to reduce employee work hours while the state gives those employees pro-rated unemployment compensation to make up for the lost money.

It’s called Short Term Compensation and it might actually save some companies money in the long run.

Here’s a snippet:

Florida is one of 18 states in the country offering a Short Time Compensation (STC) program to assist employers in reducing payroll costs, while keeping their workforce intact.  Under the STC program, employers reduce employees’ work hours by between 10 and 40%, and employees receive prorated unemployment benefits to help replace earnings lost due to the reduced work schedule.  The goal of this voluntary employer program is to help businesses reduce payroll costs during the down economy by using unemployment benefits to offset the cost of full time wages, while allowing them to maintain their workforce rather than laying off full-time employees.  This way, when the economy improves, employers can increase the work hours of their existing employees rather than having to recruit and hire new employees, which may also help reduce future recruitment and training costs.

STC plans provide an alternative to layoffs by enabling businesses to apportion payroll reductions across a larger group of employees than they would have in the absence of an STC plan.  For example, rather than lay off 20% of its workforce, an employer might reduce the work hours of its entire workforce by 20% (i.e. move from a 5 day to a 4 day workweek).

Read the rest of the article here.


Mayor Iorio snubs CAIR

It’s the hottest story on TBO.com for the last few days: After pressure from “interest groups,” Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio renounces “CAIR Day,” the annual recognition of the city’s Muslim-American community. The mayor has proclaimed “CAIR Day” every year since 2005.

For those who may not know, CAIR stands for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a “civil rights group” that attempts to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding,” according to their Website. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, CAIR has been a controversial organization that some say is anti-Semetic and sympathetic to terrorist groups.

But the Tampa chapter, while in the news frequently over two high profile cases, hasn’t garnered the outrage that some other chapters have. Nonetheless, the mayor’s spokeswoman says, Iorio is distancing herself from the group. But she won’t give any specifics.

This is an interesting move on Iorio’s part. As I’m sure she is well aware, she risks losing this political constiuency. Plus, it could make her look intolerant and bowing down to some anti-Muslim activists with a clear axe to grind. So what could she have found that made her wary of endorsing this group?

After a little research, I think I know why: According to some news outlets (of the semi-true, right wing variety), the FBI severed some ties to the group back in January over suspected funding of Hamas. This has always been a backdrop to some CAIR criticisms, but seeing it in national news is a new one.

From FOX News:

The FBI is severing its once-close ties with the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, amid mounting evidence that it has links to a support network for Hamas.

All local chapters of CAIR have been shunned in the wake of a 15-year FBI investigation that culminated with the conviction in December of Hamas fundraisers at a trial where CAIR itself was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.

An official at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington confirmed to FOX News that his office directed FBI field offices across the country to cut ties with local branches of CAIR.

The new policy marks a major shift for the FBI, which has long been close to CAIR. The agency has previously invited CAIR to give training sessions for agents and used it as a liaison with the American Muslim community.

I couldn’t find this info on any other news source. Is it because FOX scooped them? Nonetheless, the FBI has distanced itself from the group. And with Iorio weighing a political run in the next several years, if CAIR turned out to be related to Hamas, she’d have an instant attack ad ready for her Republican opponent.

But also recognize this: There are always two or more sides to every story. For example, CAIR claims the FBI deceived them, so the group stopped cooperating in some investigations. Perhaps they are referring to the myriad of informants hovering around that community.

St. Petersburg OKs community gardens; related: benefit at Shuffleboard courts

It’s another great day — for community gardens — in St. Petersburg: The St. Pete City Council approved zoning for community gardens in the city, provided a few conditions are met. A great step for the city, environmentalists and especially those intrepid gardeners in Bartlett Park. (Of course, I prefer my community gardens to be guerrilla affairs, but that’s another blog post.)

So, to celebrate, the group behind the veggie liberation front (Green Florida) is holding a fundraiser at the Shuffleboard courts tonight. Catch all the info here.

(In case you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, here’s a link to the first article ever on the Bartlett Park community garden. Let’s just say I know a good thing when I see it.)

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it

600 central

Oh, how St. Petersburg’s city leaders love to ignore history.

I read with interest yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times article on the 600 block of Central Avenue. Basically, city leaders are scrambling over themselves about the sorry state this block is in.

A little memory refresher: This block is the one in downtown St. Pete that has all the vacancies and “No Loitering” spray-painted on the storefront glass. It’s become a haven for some downtown street people, graffiti taggers and hipsters in various states of inebriation after a visit to the Emerald.

So what’s our fair city to do? Well, they want to “revitalize” the block. But they don’t mention that back before 2006, this block was already thriving with unique local small businesses.

There were bohemian joints like the Surreal Bowl and eccentric boutique shops like Woodies Hat Box, all centered around one of the city’s historical treasures, Crislip Arcade.

That is, before another developer — Gerald R. Pacella of 601 Central Ave LLC — came in, bought that part of the block and evicted all the shops to construct a bunch of condos. Condos that never saw the light of day. Another developer, Thomas Gaffney of Oldsmar Land Holding Group, bought the property in 2008. His intentions are not yet known, but some Google sleuthing shows his company likes to hold on to property and then sell it to the highest bidder. He’s already mentioned to the Times that he has no plans to refurbish the storefronts.

While preservationists are calling for, well, preservation and some cultural leaders want, well, cultural space, City Councilmember Leslie Curran is lobbying for art galleries, because you know, she owns one. But she cares a lot about the arts, too, as evidenced by her push for the firing of former city’s cultural affairs manager Ann Wykell.

Oh, and this is the same Leslie Curran who voted for the previous developer’s condo wet dream back in 2006 along with the rest of the City Council at the time. Other city officials and downtown leaders backed that sale, too:

“It’s an evolutionary kind of thing,’’ said Don Shea, director of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “The uses that evolved in that block in the last few years are not the highest and best.’’

Now, after selling part of Central Avenue’s soul to developers, city officials are once again throwing money at a problem they created:

Last week, the city began removing old benches and pruning trees on the street. In coming weeks, benches with bumps that deter sleeping will be added, along with better lighting. Sidewalks will be cleaned and parking spaces restriped.

This focus on the 600 block of Central is also part of the city’s efforts to “bridge” the different districts of downtown. Curran is leading a workshop this summer on that. Neighborhoods should tell Curran they don’t need any more of her “help,” lest the rest of St. Pete end up like 600 Central Avenue or, perhaps worse, Baywalk.

As for the problem of homeless and graffiti taggers? Just send them on over to the offices of 601 Central LLC and tell those developers to deal with the mess.

(Photo Credit: unprose/Flickr)

Another Sunday, another Bill Maxwell column about the homeless

Jesus, will someone please remove Bill Maxwell’s foot from his mouth?

The St. Petersburg Times columnist is back at it again this week with another tirade about the homeless. Well, I guess it’s less a “tirade” then a little piece of self-congratulatory nonsense.

For those of you that remember his last column (memory refresher here), Maxwell has his undies in a wad over the homeless folks in his neighborhood doing all sorts of nasty homeless things like giving mean looks and living out their cars. He was especially mad at the Salvation Army for allowing these bums anywhere near his neighbors, as if the Salvation Army could ring a bell and bring back its patrons.

Anywho, judging from the first few paragraphs of his new column, Maxwell got reamed by the city’s citizens for being such a heartless asshole. Nonetheless, Maxwell is taking some credit for getting the ball moving on some new changes at the Salvation Army:

Here are three specific changes that will begin on July 2: Individuals no longer will be permitted to take up residence outside the building; the 100 beds in the shelter will be available only those people who show need; and those who seek help must indicate that they want to be “more productive members of society.”

The latter change is a huge leap for the Salvation Army. It is known for aiding all comers. Some officials believe the time has come to stop enabling individuals who have no intention of improving their lives.

I find all that very interesting in light of a recent conversation I had with another Salvation Army neighbor. My source, who I have no reason to doubt, said he talked to Major George Patterson about these issues right after Maxwell’s column, and the Major mentioned that Maxwell had never approached the Salvation Army before writing that first article. Only after publishing the article did Maxwell set up a meeting with the Salvation Army director.

But for this latest column, Maxwell did talk to Mayor Rick Baker and Police Chief Chuck Harmon, who — by all accounts — are the most sympathetic homeless advocates in the city. In fact, these two men thought that homeless people living in tents was so horrible and undignified, that they ordered the police and city workers to slash those tents!

But don’t be dissuaded, Maxwell says, those tent slashing days are over. We’re in the age of legal manuevers that just make it a crime to hang out on the streets if you have no where else to go.

Ironically, and maybe he was going for that, Maxwell makes reference to a recent federal lawsuit that accuses the city of trampling on the constitutional rights of the area’s homeless. Here’s part of the press release I received a few days ago:

Southern Legal Counsel (SLC), Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday on behalf of a class of homeless plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of a number of ordinances and practices that target homeless individuals living in St. Petersburg.


Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed six ordinances that target homeless individuals, including four different ones that make it unlawful to sleep, lie down or recline outside at various locations throughout the city and prohibiting the use of temporary shelters. The other ordinances outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown and prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property.

“The City of St. Petersburg has essentially turned the issue of homelessness over to the criminal justice system. Subjecting homeless individuals to an endless cycle of arrest, incarceration and homelessness under these city ordinances and practices wastes valuable city and county resources and is ineffective in addressing the root causes of homelessness,” said Kirsten Clanton, a staff attorney at SLC.

I wrote about these ordinances here and here. The latter article is appropriately headlined, “Don’t sleep so close to me.” And really that’s what this is about. People who are uncomfortable about those on society’s fringes, and instead of dealing with the problem, human-to-human, they try to solve them through “sweeping” laws that invariably hurt those who least can afford it.

So, when the city of St. Petersburg spends $100,000 or $1 million defending against this lawsuit, and your precious little parks don’t get mowed or you have to pay more in parking fines, remember Bill Maxwell and the rest of the ‘burg who thought it easier to criminalize homelessness than tackle this difficult problem with some sort of tact and compassion. Not to mention, legality.

UPDATE #1: Peter Schorsch is reporting that, per one of his sources at the SPT, Maxwell may retire. We could only hope …

UPDATE #2: Some folks who actually have conversations with the homeless in their neighborhoods have recently written me (and the Times) with much more eloquent arguments against Maxwell’s article. Here they are after the jump:

Continue reading

Hillsborough County residents to Catholic Charities’ tent city proposal: NIMBY!

STOP_tc_hcSpeaking of the homeless, some Hillsborough County residents crying NIMBY packed a county land use hearing earlier this week, trying to convince officials to deny a permit for a tent city much like Pinellas Hope.

Catholic Charities, the same group that set up Pinellas’ tent city, wants to put up a similar camp on 6410 E. Hillsborough Avenue near Harney Road, on a piece of property they own. When neighbors found out about the proposal, they organized fiercely against it with images like the one to the right (OMG! Syringes!). One East Lake Park woman even created a little group: Stop Tent City. They even have T-shirts. Yes, T-shirts!

The residents do have some good points — Pinellas Hope isn’t located near a neighborhood and Catholic Charities is counting on tax dollars instead of their own wealth to bankroll the project — but the rest of the site is filled with a lot of misinformation on how much the homeless want to be homeless and how a large percentage are snowbirds. They also complain that the homeless would be so far from social services. But where were these people when the city of Tampa began harrassing the homeless downtown? Hillsborough County’s street people have been pushed from one side of the county to the other when some neighborhood complains about them. Now, in this recession, the number is growing rapidly and there just is not enough shelter space for them.

Of course, residents are just falling over themselves about the poor conditions inside the Pinellas tent cities and suggesting alternative plans for more dignified housing (as if a tent is worse than sleeping behind a dumpster). But what happens when the permit is denied? Does anyone honestly think any of these residents will be helping Catholic Charities implement another plan?

Maybe these Stop Tent City folks could get together with Bill Maxwell. He might like one of those shirts.