The End is Near … for panhandling in St. Pete

UPDATE (10:55 p.m.): After a marathon council session, the ordinance passes.

Tomorrow, the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to ban all street solicitations from city roads, including panhandlers, newspaper hawkers and charity volunteers carrying boots.

Frankly, I’m upset. Mostly because I had a really cool blog video I was going to do focusing on panhandlers and their really uninspired signs.

If you’re planning on going to the meeting at 6 p.m. and speaking, I’d suggest you read two things:

The first is an article I wrote about panhandling back in 2008 called “When Panhandler’s Attack.” Hopefully, you get my sarcasm.

The second is an e-mail I received from a friend, G.W. Rolle. He is formerly homeless and has an interesting perspective. He doesn’t like panhandling either, but instead of a simplistic solution, he decided to start a street newspaper. Like other street newspapers across North America, he wanted to convince the panhandling homeless to sell these papers instead of begging. This new ordinance could kill those plans.

Read his thoughts after the jump.

 Continue reading 

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 …

Feral cats invading Pinellas County (and my backyard)

I first met Frisky about three weeks ago. It was a short interaction. I came crashing through my back gate with a load of groceries; she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her.

Oh, a new cat, I thought. Maybe it’ll make friends with the other stray cat that haunted this side of Crescent Lake – a large, tenacious stray tabby with absolutely no fear. His torn ear and smashed in face gave the impression the cat had been hit by a car – or several.

But this new cat seemed less street-savvy. She was dark grey, striped with darker grey, with a large head plopped on a much smaller frame. Her ribs stuck out. She had obviously not eaten as well as the other strays.

So, I began leaving cans of cat food outside. Last year, in one of my more unusual interactions at Crescent Lake, I inherited about a dozen cans of Nine Lives cat food from an odd couple staying at the motel across the street.  These very distraught folks had lost their cat, Tiger, who turned up in my backyard. I know this because I came home one day to find an older, shabbily-dressed man climbing out from under my deck.

“Uh, who are you and what are you doing?”

“Oh, Tiger, Tiger, my cat, she’s escaped and under-”

Hi reply was broken by sobbing from his girlfriend standing behind me.

“Oh, please, PLEASE, HELP ME FIND TIGER!”

They left after I assured them I would capture the cat. Tiger must’ve thought they were as crazy as I did because he came out about five minutes later. I scooped him up and dropped him off at the couple’s hotel room. They were so happy I found Tiger that they gave me a dozen cans of cat food, for what use I don’t know. Perhaps to offer to Tiger when he showed up again.

I never saw Tiger, or the couple, again. But I did begin to see this new grey cat,  usually for just a few seconds at a time. Every other day, I left a can of food for her. I never saw her approach, but the can was always empty the next day. That cat was so skittish; in fact, I almost stopped leaving cans out, fearing I was giving the possums or raccoons a free meal.

Which is why it was so surprising when, one day, the cat suddenly came right up to me, purring, meowing loudly and trying to force its furry little body inside my house.

Immediately, I began to see a lot of her. She brushed up against my leg every time I stepped outside. She purred and tried to jump in my lap when I sat down. And she meowed. Constantly. For hours on end. When I went out to my car, she followed me meowing. When I stepped out on the porch, she followed my voice around the house and began another round of meowing. One night, when my friend Sal stopped by to chat on the porch, she meowed for over three hours straight.

It took me two days to figure out why. This cat was, well, feeling frisky (hence her name). She was in heat. Sure enough, over the next, Frisky presided over her own harem under my deck. I saw a lot more of the tough tabby, a fatter grey cat who only appeared on the weekends and a few other felines I’d never seen before, no doubt attracted from blocks around by Frisky’s incessant meowing.

“Great,” I groaned. Little baby Friskies all meowing on my back porch. I shuddered at the thought. Unfortunately, I was (and am) working constantly and there’s just no time to take her to the free spay clinic.

Coincidentally, feral and stray cats are in the news again.

According to a report by the St. Petersburg Times, there are an estimated 100,000 stray cats roaming Pinellas County. County officials have known about the problem for years, but this year they decided to create a focus group to study the issue.

From the article:

Tuesday, the group presented the results of the yearlong study at a special commission work session at the Pinellas County Courthouse. Commissioners agreed to take the group’s suggestions to promote spay and neuter education, support and expand the spay and neuter programs for low-income citizens at Pinellas County Animal Services, and share resources like the county’s Animobile with nonprofit animal groups.

Doesn’t it seem like this should have been done years ago? After a year-long study, you’d think they’d have some more, uh, innovative ideas. Well, at least they aren’t going to go around killing them all as the Clearwater Audubon Society suggested.

I’m happy to say Frisky is no longer in heat. But she is still hanging around, meowing and generally trying to adopt me as her owner. Unfortunately, I can’t have a cat. Too many reasons to list here. So, if anyone can help, please e-mail me.

She’s very loving, I can assure you.

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?

342981276_17e57112a6

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!

or

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)

Track St. Petersburg crime in your neighborhood

Hey, congrats to the St. Petersburg Police Department for making it to the 21st century!

Next month, Chief Chuck Harmon will officially unveil the SPPD’s participation in CrimeReports.com, a crime map tracking service for us common folk. For the very crime-conscious neighborhoods of St. Pete, this is fairly exciting. CrimeReports.com allows you to search your neighborhood for crimes, provides e-mail alerts and maps all the sexual predators throughout the city.

Best of all for reporters like me, this site can easily track crime trends  in certain neighborhoods. Hey look! A homicide on the north side. I don’t remember hearing about that!

If you want to hear the official ra-ra over the site, Chief Harmon is leading a presentation at the Sunshine Center on Oct. 6 around 7 p.m.

Best of G20: The People’s March

On September 25, the last day of the G20 conference, several groups organized a “People’s March” from the University of Pittsburgh campus through downtown. Weeks ago, the city granted a permit for the march and accompanying rally, but that didn’t stop scores of riot cops from escorting the estimated 5,000 protesters through the city. At one point, the crowd stretched eight blocks long, the hodgepodge collection of activists chanting, beating drums and holding every manner of protest signage. Here’s the people that stood out:

Continue reading

A guide to following the G20 if you’re not in Pittsburgh

Due to the limitations of my stay in Pittsburgh, and the annoying fact that my phone can’t even Tweet, this blog is not the best resource if you’re stuck at work in Tampa or Des Moines and want hour-by-hour protest action.

But even if I did have those capabilities, the only way to get a true picture of what’s happening on the ground in Pittsburgh is to read a variety of independent media. So, here’s what I’m looking at:

Pittsburgh IMC By incorporating Twitter feeds, video, audio and loads of photos, this local Independent Media Center is one of the best resources to catching some crazy anarchist protest or the latest arrests.

Mobile Broadcast News I met the guy running this site a few days ago and he’s one hard workin’ videographer. Check this site a few times a day for quality, edited video and interviews.

Pittsburgh City Paper‘s blog Although they don’t update often enough and sometimes over-snark, I usually enjoy the alt-weekly take on events — an equal skepticism of the G20 conference and the protesters, topped with a little humor and local advocacy.

Look hard and often!

Tampa Tribune blames blog theft on technical difficulties; bloggers pursue issue

The plot thickens over the Tampa Tribune‘s theft of bloggers’ work:

  • Local bloggers tell me TBO.com may have taken posts from the local blog aggregator TampaBLAB for the last three months. Notable point: bloggers must sign up to TampaBLAB to have excerpts of their blogs posted on that site; TBO.com took blog posts without any such agreement.