A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Sleight of Finger?

If you're like me and enjoy professionals who use misdirection and banter to mislead an audience, you should have been at this afternoon's (July 1 2013) Sarasota City Commission meeting. 

Perhaps because I grew up in Jersey, I've always enjoyed the pitchmen at the State Fair and on the Boardwalks (think Ron Popeil) who could get you interested in buying something you really had no need for. Pitchmen like Popeil and Billy Mays relied almost solely on banter (and excited audiences that unknowingly functioned as shills). 

Then there are the magicians, mentalists, and pickpockets who escort your attention somewhere else while the real "magic" is happening precisely where you are not looking.

And then there is a certain class of attorneys who also can use both banter and misdirection to great effect.

Today the City Commission was trying to determine what it means to "maintain" a channel. They were supposed to discussing it in the abstract, but everyone ended up referring to a particular situation now facing the City.

One of the presentations in favor of dredging this new channel through healthy seagrass where no channel exists (see my earlier posting (City's Ego Trumps Its Eco in Seagrass Dredging Issue ) used a series of black and white aerial photographs in an attempt to persuade the commissioners that a discernible channel existed up until relatively recently. 

If you look at the 1970 aerial image below, you'll see a scoopy basin protected by a curving wall or breakwater. That's the basin of the folks that want to dredge a channel to deeper water and they claim they are maintaining an existing channel.

It may be a little hard to interpret the 1970 image. Can you see a defined channel out to deep water there? Maybe not, but there are clearly some darker patches. They might be deeper water, or they might be seagrass --  it is hard to tell on a grainy photography from 43 years ago. 

If we mapped the darker areas, we might get something like the image below. You can see the basin is dark, certainly dredged, and there is a darker area close to the shore north of the subject parcel. But it would be hard to say there is a well-defined channel, in my opinion. What do you think? Can you see a channel? You can go back to the previous image if you find my darkening misleading. If you think you see one, mentally sketch it in.

Now, attorney Getzoff showed the commissioners several images from different years in rapid sequence, and on each she made a slashing downward gesture with her finger, as suggested by the graphic below. She did this multiple times, always with a comparable downward swipe. You can see this tracks one of the darker areas on the 1970 image above. Using this gesture she was attempting to persuade the commissioners that a channel had persisted for many years and that her client simply wanted to re-establish it. Maybe you also thought there might be an old channel there? 

And you can see that finger swipe alignment coincides with one of the darker areas shown above.

But was that the alignment of the historic channel? Inspect the 1948 aerial image below. You can see the basin is there and some areas have been disturbed, presumably by dredging. But where is the Getzoff finger swipe channel?

Here's my try at identifying the disturbed areas in 1948. Would you agree? But is there any sign of a "swipe channel" more to the south? I don't see one. Bear in mind this is 22 years before the 1970 image, so the channel, wherever it was, should have been much more distinct.

Below I've superimposed the 1948 darker areas (bear in mind they may or may not actually be deeper) on top of the 1970 darker areas I depicted earlier. It looks like in 1948 there was a darker area that extended more or less perpendicular to the shoreline, especially when compared to the 1970 darker areas.

So I "borrowed"  from a contemporary GoogleEarth image the location of the six channel markers that are supposed to define the "channel" the owner wants to "maintenance" dredge. 

Of course placing six pilings in the bay doesn't create a channel any more than placing six blue lights on your lawn creates a runaway. But this 1948 image pretty clearly establishes that the historic channel ran perpendicular to the shoreline. 

And if I superimpose the permit application drawing on the 1948 disturbed areas (below), it becomes even more obvious that the historic channel alignment that they are seeking to maintain (even though there is no channel now) has nothing to do with the more southerly "swipe channel" the commissioners were encouraged to focus on.

And if we superimpose those six pilings onto the 1970 image, we see they are aligned perpendicular to the shoreline to the north. Of course, if you go back to the first image, you'll remember there was no clear channel visible in that area (and we are talking way back in 1970-- no channel discernible even at that time).

What attorney Getzoff was doing with her downward finger swipe (suggested in yellow below) was a manual gesture that appeared to be an attempt seduce the commission into believing there was a persistent channel. She did this by misdirecting their attention to an area that looked darker on her images, but which has nothing to do with the area they are proposing to dredge.(It does cross the area, but at a radically different angle.)

What can be said of her presentation? Well, I don't really know, but I've come up with three hypotheses: 

a) she is so unfamiliar with her client's project that she has no real idea where the channel was historically, or

b) she may actually think the former channel diverged from the shore at something like a 120 degree angle even though there has never been a channel there, and that is not where they are proposing to dredge, or

b) she knows exactly where the channel was historically and was using her finger to in an attempt to deliberately mislead the commission.

I don't claim to know which, (you can suggest additional explanations using the contact form on the upper right) but it was a fascinating and aggravating performance that had several of us in the audience impolitely murmuring and shaking our heads. Of course, we were afforded no opportunity to challenge or correct her misleading prestidigitation. 

I can only hope the two commissioners that voted against a common sense definition of "maintain" were not swayed by that sleight of finger. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment. Anonymous comments will not be posted. Others will be screened for appropriateness, but not position.