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

Monday, October 6, 2014

Mote is Doing it Again: Claiming Their Caviar is Sustainable

The October 6th 2014 Sarasota Herald-Tribune features an article about Mote aquaculture that repeats Mote's claim that their caviar operation is sustainable. I've been challenging this assertion for years, with no discernible success. 

Read my 2011 blog posting here, which provides three arguments against their caviar being sustainable.  

Or read the newspaper feature here. 

An excerpt appears below. 
Excerpt from online version of the article. I did not add the question mark.

Friday, September 5, 2014

From 31 to 103: How Six Palms Aged 72 Years in 72 Days!

When I first heard the official Downtown Improvement District narrative about the 26 cabbage palms on North Palm Avenue, I was told all twenty-six were "dumped" there when adjoining Bay Plaza Condominium was built in 1983. "Dumped" was apparently a reference to be being planted without benefit of being located with landscape architect's ruler or french curve. The implication was that this was an accidental landscape with no history and no intention.

But I was suspicious because I'd been doing business in that row of buildings since 1975 and I didn't recall a palm-free period. Still, even the Reagan-era date meant the palms had been in place nearly one third of the City's existence, suggesting they couldn't have been completely intolerable. On June 22nd I posted a blog entry that read:

"The Palm Avenue Twenty-Six are planted in front of a single story building that was built in 1954. I'm still trying to find out when the palms were placed there, but I suspect they have been there for many decades. These may actually be trees with historic import."

Since I routinely use historic aerial imagery in my teaching and consulting, I turned to PALMM, which is not a palm database, but rather the Publication of Archival Library & Museum Materials. I was surprised to find there wasn't much I could use. I resolved to head out to the County History Center, which was wisely moved from the storm-vulnerable, but historic, Chidsey building (near the Bayfront) to just east of Cattleman. There I found a gorgeous 1957 aerial photograph that covered downtown. Then on July 9th, I posted this:

The building was built in 1954, and it seemed unlikely there was just lawn between the storefronts to the curb from 1954 until 1983. So I drove out to the Sarasota History Center and looked at their beautiful 1957 aerial photograph of downtown. That picture was taken on March 10, 1957 and, lo and behold, it clearly shows a row of palm trees in front of that block. Because the canopies are full in the photo, and because it takes transplanted palms a while to recover and grow a new dense canopy, I think the odds are excellent they were planted in 1954, when the building was built. 

Looking south, the two dark rectangles are the 1954 building and the dark circles are the palms.

The cabbage palms had just aged 26 years in 17 days! More importantly, it meant the narrative being promoted by the DID was wrong, and at least some of the trees had been there more than half the City's existence. But the image seemed to account for eleven of the trees at the most, not twenty-six. After dining downtown, my wife and I walked over and discovered there were two completely different sets of cabbage palms. Read about that finding here.

On July 14th, my blog posting contained the following bombshell:

"Now an anonymous researcher has produced a photo from 1925 that shows a row of cabbage palms lining that section of Palm Avenue. That means some of the palms have been there 89 years, nearly three times the age that the Downtown Improvement District thought was relevant and clearly making a case that these palms have some historic significance. 

These aren't simply palms seen by Jerry Springer, Stephen King, and Dick Smothers, these are palms Mrs. Potter Palmer drove by, palms seen by Jimmy Stewart, Emmett Kelly, and Mackinlay Kantor. Palms that survived the great depression. Palms that were there when servicemen trained in Sarasota and when the war ended on August 14, 1945. The City failed to undertake any meaningful due diligence to determine the history of the landscape they have been proposing to replace.

Since they are healthy and established in the photo, one has to wonder how much further back they go." 

Magenta arrows point to the location of the palms.
Blue arrow shows the Woman's Club, now Florida Studio Theatre.
El Vernona Hotel, under construction, is shown in the upper right.

Five days had passed and the palms had aged another 32 years! Some of them were 89 years old - nearly as old as the City. Not only that, the palms in the clear photo had full canopies, indicating that they were not planted in 1925, but had been there at least one, and possibly many more years.

I was convinced they were more than 90 years old and returned to the History Center to carefully page through old facsimiles of the Sarasota Times. I wondered if we should be celebrating their centennial instead of plotting to kill them. I started looking in the 1913 editions. I found a June 12 1913 front page article discussing Palm Avenue street improvements, but that article didn't mention palms. I found a September 11, 1913 article that stated the Woman's club had paid for cabbage palms to be planted on Main "between the bank corner and the depot", but there was no mention of Palm Avenue.  In December of 1913, it was reported that "only one of palmetto cabbage set out on Park Day has failed to survive although planted in salt and newly dredged from the bay." In 1914 they were discussing whether to plant camphor or water oaks on Mango (now Central). In March a column advocated "The expenditure of a comparatively small sum would line every highway in Sarasota with trees that in time would be one of the city's proudest possessions." That article went on to suggest Eucalyptus robusta, water oaks, camphor, maple, cinnamon, Chinese fan palm, silk oak "and, if a competent tree warden is to be engaged, have all the varieties of citrus growing along the highways." In April Mr. Ludwig donated 40 cocoanut palms for planting in the Bayfront Park. An April 27th meeting of the Woman's Club reported receipts of $82.50 "For planting palm trees".  In August of 1914 the Council spent $200 to purchase and set out over 1,000 eucalyptus trees on 25 foot centers. On and on with downtown landscaping news, but no mention of cabbage palms on Palm Avenue. It seemed as though the possibility that some of the palms had been there a century was an unlikely prospect.

Meanwhile, City staff had been busy challenging these findings. They had one shadowy 1970 photograph where it appeared to some as though there might be no trees at all. Another had trees in that location that looked to someone as though they were "canopy trees*" (meaning not palms), but the canopies of the trees in the picture were clearly spherical, suggesting cabbage palms, and not oaks, etc. Someone else had a friend who was a car buff who was convinced it couldn't be a 1925 photo because the model years of cars shown were from the 30s. The "friend" was discredited when it was pointed out that the photo included a image of the El Vernona hotel (AKA John Ringling Towers) under construction, a building that was started in 1925 and completed in 1926. After meeting with staff they conceded that some of the trees were quite old and accepted the 1925 date as legitimate.

Then I went on vacation to a location that lacked both phone and internet service. When I reestablished on contact with the electronic world on September second, I found an email from a source with a subject line: Palm ave Palms - I told you so! Attached was a copy of a Sarasota Times front page from October 12 1911 with a brief article:

Palm Trees Planted
There is nothing that adds to the appearance of a street so much as shade trees and good sidewalks. On Palm and Gulf Stream avenues the tile sidewalks are completed from Main street to Banana avenues, and large cabbage palms planted outside the walks every ten feet for the entire distance. The driveways across the alleys have been hard surfaced, making Palm avenue one of the most attractive streets in town. 

The palms had gone from being 31 years old on June 22nd to being 103 in just 72 days! Yes, the palms had aged 72 years in 72 days -- all based on research that anyone interested could have done for free (although I contribute to the tip jar at the History Center). Volunteers had been pushing back the date on average one year every day.

So it turns out some of those palms have been there longer than Sarasota has been a City since Sarasota was incorporated as a City in 1913, (as a Town in 1902).

At least six cabbage palms have been in that location at least 37,584 days and, until recently, the City was going to yank them out, and send them to the landfill unaware of their steadfast service, their unlikely perseverance, and their cultural legacy.

Although hundreds were probably planted in 1911 (on ten foot centers-- probably over 350 trees if they were planted on both sides of Palm and Gulfstream from Main to 41, which was Banana at the time) the six or seven remaining may have the best return on investment in the history of the City.


For those keeping count, the combined total of page views for these
various postings on the palms of Palm Avenue is
1,120 page views as of September 9th.


Factoid: If you went on a downtown treasure hunt,
trying to find things that people built or placed downtown prior to 1912,
more than half of them would likely be
the cabbage palms on North Palm Avenue,
because so few things remain from that period.

* For some reason, local officials and staff have taken to calling dicotyledonous trees "canopy trees" despite the fact that all trees have canopies unless they are dead (or temporarily leafless as a result of being deciduous). The City has no definition of a canopy tree and it is clear from the photo below that the palms' canopies produce copious shade, while the briefly deciduous gumbo limbos planted next to the parking garage produce far less. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review of Sarasota Observer Editorial on Palm Avenue Palms



+ Misplaced priorities
 We had to love the comments of Sarasota entrepreneur Dr. Mark Kauffman about the palms on Palm.These are the 26 palm trees that were slated for removal two years ago but won a reprieve last week, thanks to the T-huggers.

Said Kauffman: “I tried to count the number of orange trees on Orange Avenue, lemon trees on Lemon Avenue. There are no hills on Hillview Street, no mounds on Mound Street. I couldn’t find any coconuts (on Cocoanut Avenue) — I couldn’t find any of those things.”Kauffman (who should know better because of his general commitment to Sarasota history) is making fun of one of Sarasota's shameful secrets -- the "mounds" that were on Mound Street were important archaeological sites, remnants of Sarasota's first bayfront residents that were callously destroyed for road base because they were handy and no one cared about that pre-colonial legacy. This is roughly comparable to quipping that he didn't see any Indians at Indian Beach -- there's a reason for that and its nothing to be proud of.

And he's simply wrong about no coconuts on Cocoanut. Mark Famiglio made a point of planting some at the FSU College of Medicine. 

Of all the plant-based names selected for downtown streets, the only street to have significant numbers of namesake plants installed appears to have been Palm Avenue. We can make a joke out of that, or choose to respect the decision of our city's founders.
Three cocoanut trees Dr. Kauffman apparently couldn't find on Coconut.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Image Sarasota Tree-lovers Never Saw

Following the testimony of fourteen citizens in support of the trees, 
The City Commission voted unanimously to go back
and try to address flooding issues while saving the palm trees. 

The Motion (Chapman) : "I move to delay the project to determine the feasibility of resolving the flooding issues while saving some or all of the existing palm trees." Second (Snyder)

Watch a summary here starting at 3:52
The City of Sarasota maintains that it held over twenty public meetings at which the public could have objected to removing 26 cabbage palm trees from one block of Palm Avenue. That's probably true. It is also true that not one individual in all those advertised meetings mentioned anything about saving any of the palms.

That is going to change Monday night, August 18th at the City Commission meeting. 

Please be there and bring a friend. (If you can't make it, send an email - addresses below)

The City would like to believe no one showed up to speak for the trees because everyone either liked, or at least accepted, their plans to kill the palms (they were not going to relocate them). I believe no local tree lovers or history fans showed up because no one ever saw the image below:

X marks the spot.  Every x a native cabbage palm targeted for death.
Once citizens learned the implications of the city's proposed landscaping changes, pressure developed and built until City staff finally announced they would suspend work on the project pending direction from the City Commission. That will occur at the meeting that starts at 6:00 pm in City Hall on Monday August 18th. This is our last best chance to save the historic trees. 

But that suspension did not stop them from working to move their original project forward. The Downtown Improvement District Board (the entity that initiated the project) recently voted (after a half hour PowerPoint presentation from City Staff and the Landscape Architect) to recommend to the City Commission that the City move forward with the project as originally designed. They also have a signed document from merchants that want the project to go forward as designed. Their big concession- instead of killing the palms - move them somewhere else. Along the way I received something between an interrogation and a civics lesson. Click here to review that strange exchange.


Some of the palms have been in that location for 90 years, a fact the City neglected to research.

• This is Palm Avenue, repeat, Palm Avenue.

• The palms create dense shade, are very low maintenance, are native, and are OUR STATE TREE.

• This is most pedestrian friendly section of Palm Avenue. Pedestrians can use the sidewalk, or walk on turf from the sidewalk to the curb.

• An independent review by an arborist has found them to be healthy.

• Three separate City policies specify that there should only be one species of tree there (that is the case now, they are proposing two or three).

• Another City policy directs that "All reasonable efforts should be made to maintain and protect existing trees in the public space or right of way." Downtown Greenspace Policy V.3

• The City never held a public meeting it was scheduled to hold. Instead they talked privately with merchants, and property owners.

• The Downtown Improvement District actually has the following goals: "Be the place to go to avoid 'anywhere and everywhere' of the American suburbia." and "The place must be unlike those of competitors, recognizably different."

We need a good turnout.  Being right is not enough -- we need to demonstrate that lots of people object to the destruction of our natural and cultural heritage just to "mirror" the landscape in front of a parking garage. Please be there and bring a friend. (If you can't make it, send an email.)

City staff will be presenting several options:

1)Keep the project as designed and transplant the existing eligible palm trees off-site. There is no implied warranty on the transplanted palms. This will increase project costs by approximately $7,000.

2)Keep the proposed sidewalk as designed
a)Temporarily remove existing eligible palm trees during construction and transplant back to the site. Survival rates will depend on health of the trees and no implied warranty will be provided. This will increase project costs by approximately $8,000.
b)Plant new palm trees instead of proposed canopy trees in the approved design. New palm trees will include a warranty. There is no projected cost increase.
c)Plant new palm trees instead of proposed canopy trees and transplant existing eligible palm trees off-site. New palm trees will include a warranty. Transplanted palms would have no implied warranty. This will increase project costs by approximately $7,000.

3)Delay the project to determine feasibility of resolving flooding issues while saving some or all of the existing palm trees. This will add approximately $9,000 cost to the project for up-front engineering costs, if determined feasible, additional construction costs may be required. This option will delay the project by a minimum of 3 months. 

I have been corresponding with City staff about variations of their 2a option - ways to keep all the trees by moving them offsite and then back again. I have arguing to replant the historic trees in their original locations. It is too soon to tell if some common ground can be reached. But you should feel free to argue on behalf of Option 3. -- going back and respecting the trees from the start. That's what they should do, but it would cost more and require them to concede they erred, so they keep looking for ways to salvage their existing design.

Here are the email addresses for the Commissioners.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Chair of DID asks: Does Jono Miller have standing to challenge this project??

At the DID (Downtown Improvement District) meeting this morning  (August 5) Steve Stancel and Phil Smith (the landscape architect) spent a half hour presenting a PowerPoint leading to the DID voting to recommend to the City Commission to move forward with the project as planned. Their only concession: relocate the palms to some other location. 

Along the way, Chairman Ernie Ritz allowed me to speak and used the opportunity to ask me a series of questions (and he managed to include a civics lesson along the way). The basic drift seemed to be that I had no right to be challenging a project of the DID. Here's a transcript I would label 95% accurate. The video of the meeting will be posted online. 

RITZ: But Mr. Miller, I’ve got to ask you some (unintelligible).


RITZ: Do you own any property, commercial property, in the DID?

MILLER: Not a square foot.

RITZ: Are you then, therefore you are not a taxpayer in the downtown improvement district?

MILLER: I am not. I’m a, I’m a customer of two businesses . . . well, one business that is no longer there and a current business in that block.

RITZ: Did you attend any of SEMCOM 2010?

MILLER: No, I sure didn’t.

RITZ: Have you attended any of the workshops in the past three years?

MILLER: No, because there was no announcement of what was involved.

RITZ: Do you live downtown?

MILLER: I do not. Although I have. I’ve lived on Main Street and I’ve lived on Third Street. And I watched the trees that were planted for the veter . . . the people that died in the First World War, I watched those oaks be removed because, as, um, Mr. Smith stated, when you plant oak trees, they are too big to be an urban tree.

RITZ: Well, Mr. Miller this is a project that was voted on the majority of the taxpayers in the downtown improvement District.[i] This is what they want. And, I back up our taxpayers that we represent. I would say my, my observation is to go forward with the plan that we have all drawn up for the last three years and we have had so much input, it is unbelievable.[ii]  It’s just that you’re comin’ in at the very end, and you, you are certainly in the minority. And I wonder, I wonder if you even have standing? How can you, where do you live anyway?

MILLER: I live between the Ringling Museum and the Jungle Gardens in the City of Sarasota.

RITZ: (Unintelligble)

MILLER: I certainly am.  And I’m a downtown . . .

RITZ:  (INTERRUPTING) I know. And that’s like me goin’ up to the North Trail and telling those people I don’t like what you’re doing. Well, too bad.

MILLER: Well, I think you should if you don’t like what they’re doing. You know, I’m a downtown person*, I shop downtown, I probably eat downtown once a week, my insurance agent is in that block, um, I started shopping in that block in 1975 at Donnellys, and, um, here’s what I would say:

I think it is totally appropriate to consider the taxpayers and the people that are contributing to the DID, but I think you also need to consider the other citizens, the people that are actually the customers, and there’s gonna . . , I can tell you, we may be in a minority, but there are a lot of people that are very upset about the potential of these trees being removed -- particularly in light of their historic relevance – they may be, in fact, the oldest, um, deliberately planted landscape trees in the City of Sarasota.[iii]

RITZ: That’s one of the things about the United States of America, and that is that the majority rules- that’s the way we select Presidents[iv] and Senators and that’s the way we make decisions. And the majority rules here. I have in front of me, a signed document from all the people who own property down there. And they want this project to go forward as drawn.

MILLER: That’s fantastic.[v]

RITZ:  So that’s where I would stand. I would say we should go forward and do the will of the people who we represent.

MILLER: Okay, well, I got a little confused at my first meeting, because um, it seemed  like you were a Downtown Improvement District, which I took to mean you were trying to improve downtown, but I heard Mr. Moran say you are a downtown business district. If you are trying to improve the downtown in general I think you need to take into consideration the views of the people that shop downtown and not just the merchants and property owners. And those people’s views have not been incorporated to date. You can have twenty meetings, but if no body shows up to participate, then . . .

RITZ: (interrupting) Those meetings were advertised in the newspaper.

MILLER: Were they advertised, were the implications of removing 26 native trees advertised in the newspaper? Or did it just say meeting of the Downtown Improvement District?

RITZ: Mr. Miller you have to understand that you are a very, very small minority. And the majority of the people have spoken and they want us to go forward and build what they perceive is the best for their business (emphasis added).[vi] We didn’t call ourselves a business improvement district, because we are not just about the businesses, we’re a Downtown Improvement District.

MILLER; (interrupting) Okay, well you need to change your website,[vii] because there are several references to Business Improvement District on your website.

RITZ: Okay

MILLER: I’m sorry I’ve taken too much of your time, but I did want you to understand the historic significance of these trees and the fact that contrary to the assertions that the public knew what was going on, the public was never informed about this.

[i] I’ve asked for clarification about this since it seems unlikely that the taxpayers in the Downtown Improvement District actually voted on this specific project.

[ii] I haven’t found any evidence of any input. I think it is entirely possible that no citizen ever showed up at any of these meetings to express concern about removing the palms. To me that is prima facie evidence that the City failed to advertise the fact that these trees were slated to be removed.

* And when I say I am a downtown person, I mean: I have lived on both Main Street and Third Street
• I shop at the Farmer's Market, Whole Foods and 10th Street Publix every weekend I am in town
• I'm a Burns Court Cinema member and also watch movies at Hollywood 20.
• We've had a P. O. Box downtown continuously since 1975.
• We eat in a downtown restaurant at least once a week

[iii] We have a photograph of some of these palms in place in 1925 and since they have full canopies that means they were there at least a year, making 90 years in that location. The city is not convinced they are the same trees.

[iv] Just worth noting that is NOT how we elect Presidents.

[v] This was meant as a neutral acknowledgement of his statement, presented without sarcasm.

[vi] Note that the people he is referring to are the business people.

This certainly seems to suggest it is a Business Improvement District
[vii] See screenshots of the DID webpage

Check the center button on the bottom row.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

City To Propose False Dilemma for North Palm Ave Landscape


The City of Sarasota, which we understood had suspended work on the North Palm Avenue Landscaping Project and was going to seek advice from the City Commission on August 18th has apparently been hard at work re-jiggering and re-framing the project and will be presenting the Board with a false dilemma. (See City document below)

A false dilemma is "is a type of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which limited alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option." Wikipedia.

My favorite false dilemma as a child occurred when my mother asked if I would rather take a nap or a bath. In this case the City is providing three options, two of which are extremes (think hot porridge and cold porridge) and the middle option is supposed to be "just right".
Unfortunately, that middle option reflects a complete misunderstanding of the trees they seem so hell-bent on removing. 

One option (#3) is the do nothing option and that is clearly unacceptable due to the sidewalk flooding that the City has ignored for years.

Another (Option #1) involves going ahead as planned with the project, even though it is contrary to numerous adopted City policies and ignores the historic status of some of the palms, which have been there AT LEAST 89 years. I would argue this is unacceptable. 

The middle bowl of porridge in the City's view (OPTION #2) comes in several flavors, BUT THEY ALL INVOLVE REMOVING ALL THE PALM TREES!

The  "b" and "c" versions involves REMOVING ALL THE PALM TREES, planting them somewhere else and then implementing much of the original design except that the Hollies and Tabebuias  (and the Thrinax?) would be replaced with brand new (presumably cabbage) palms. "c" includes a warranty on the new palms, "b" doesn't. Neither plan insures the existing historic palms would live in their new location. 

So what about "a"? "a" involves REMOVING ALL THE PALM TREES and then bringing them back again (also with no guarantees).  The City claims this is necessary due to some unspecified underground utility issues. This is crazy -- the palms do not need to be removed to add sidewalk, adjust the drainage, or whatever. These are not oaks or pines -- they are used to having most of their roots removed and surviving. 


The City should be clearly defining what problems they are trying to solve there (and identify the criteria for success) and there should be a commitment to 1) being compliant with existing City policy, and 2) starting from a premise of saving as many existing trees as possible on site. 


Instead the City has homed in on the intolerable sidewalk flooding and is planning to present the City Commission with a false dilemma. Let me be perfectly clear: All the sidewalk flooding could be addressed and eliminated without removing any of the existing palm trees. 


If the City is not going to do it right (defining the problem and criteria for success at the front end) and instead jump to the solution for what they now seem to see as a flooding problem, let me suggest what that solution would look like.

1) The elevations of the Bay Plaza driveway where they meet the sidewalk are changed so that stormwater does not make a left turn and head down the sidewalk. 

2) The turf/sod between the sidewalk and curb are regraded so that the turf (or hardscape) is lower than the existing sidewalk -- that will enable any water on the sidewalk to drain street-ward. The cabbage palms do not care if six or eight inches are lowered in their vicinity. (Y'all have seen cabbage palms with virtually all their roots shorn off, traveling on flatbed trucks to a landscaping job. Removing a quarter of the roots would be minor in comparison.)

The City's current pitch appears below. Clicking on the pages should enlarge them.

The DID implemented the plan to "mirror the other side of the street".
How many of you think of flowers when hollies are mentioned?

Yeah, they are very obsessed with consistency. And nothing would make Palm Ave more boring than consistency. 

As far as I have been able to determine so far, none of the voting entities mentioned above were told by staff that
1)the design was not compliant with numerous officially adopted City policies, or
2) implementing the design would result in the elimination of 26 native trees from Palm Avenue. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Herald-Tribune Covers Palm Ave Story

Tucked under the headline PALM AVENUE PALMS' FUTURE IS AGAIN SHAKY, the Sarasota Herald Tribune's Ian Cummings ran a story on July 20th 2014. Although the piece mis-identified me as a "retired professor of Environmental Studies" the article, which appeared on the front page of the second section, is a fair summary of the issue.

I was not interviewed for the article, so it doesn't reflect the more recent discovery that some of the palms were visible in a 1925 photo - making them at least 89 years old in that location.

The article, somewhat ominously, quotes Tim Litchet that "Now, we are hearing from people on both sides"  suggesting a campaign by parties unknown to reduce shade, decrease pedestrian opportunity, violate adopted City policy, and disrespect our natural and cultural heritage on Palm Avenue.

Monday, July 14, 2014

New Discovery Pushes Back Age of Palm Ave Cabbage Palms

When I started this quest to save as many of the Palm Ave. cabbage palms as possible, I was being told they had been "dumped" there in 1983, making them 31 years old (in that spot). The pejorative verb and Reagan-era origin suggested these trees were expendable.

Then I did some investigating at the County History Center (and left them a tip -- its a great resource). That pushed the date back to 1957, nearly doubling their age at that location to 57 years. 
1957 photo shows palms lining North Palm Avenue.

Now an anonymous researcher has produced a photo from 1925 that shows a row of cabbage palms lining that section of Palm Avenue. That means some of the palms have been there 89 years, nearly three times the age that the Downtown Improvement District thought was relevant and clearly making a case that these palms have some historic significance. 

These aren't simply palms seen by Jerry Springer, Stephen King, and Dick Smothers, these are palms Mrs. Potter Palmer drove by, palms seen by Jimmy Stewart, Emmett Kelly, and Mackinlay Kantor. Palms that survived the great depression. Palms that were there when servicemen trained in Sarasota and when the war ended on August 14, 1945. The City failed to undertake any meaningful due diligence to determine the history of the landscape they have been proposing to replace.

Since they are healthy and established in the photo, one has to wonder how much further back they go. 

Panoramic view of Palm Ave from 1925 shows rows of cabbage palms lining the street.

Magenta arrows show the row of palms. 
Green arrow points to the Women's Club
(now Florida Studio Theatre) 
on the corner of Palm and Cocoanut.

Friday, July 11, 2014

City Staff Recommends Re-thinking Palm Tree Removal

Friday July 11

Tim Litchet, Director of Neighborhood and Development Services for the City of Sarasota, announced today that the City is putting the plans to remove 26 palm trees from the 1262-1274 block of North Palm Avenue on hold pending direction from the City Commission. The full text of the announcement appears below. 

While no explanation was provided for the time out, it was becoming apparent that earlier efforts to solicit input from city residents regarding the tree removal and new landscaping failed to attract the attention of many who would prefer to see the palms remain. In addition, new information regarding the historic status of some of the trees was overlooked earlier in the decision process.

"Mr. Miller, this email comes to verify our conversation this morning where I informed you that I had met with Marlon Brown, and he has directed that staff bring the Palm Avenue palm tree issue to the City Commission on August 18th to review the status of the project and to get any further direction from the City Commission that they may wish for staff to consider.  Staff will prepare an agenda item that will suggest options including building the project as approved, not building the project,  redesigning  the project to save as many of the palm trees as possible while doing our best to improve drainage, and/or delaying the project until we have newly adopted code standards to work with related to the efforts of the Urban Design Studio.  I will provide you a copy of that agenda item in advance of the meeting."

As noted in the announcement above, today's decision does not mean that the trees will be saved, only that the impending plans to remove them will be considered by the City Commission and that the trees are not immediately threatened. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fascinating Facts about the Palm Ave 26

Truth is Stranger (and more interesting) than Fiction

When I first went to my first Downtown Improvement District meeting on June 25th, I was told what seemed to be the official DID narrative about the palms in front of the 1262-1274 block of Palm Avenue. The palms, I was informed, were all "dumped" there in 1983 when Bay Plaza was built. Mr. Kauffman, a DID board member is certainly entitled to his opinion of the cabbage palms (and he has made it quite clear he hates them), but, to quote Senator Moynihan, he is not entitled to his own facts.

His denigrating verb choice (dumped) suggests they were pushed off a truck and somehow grew into more or less vertical trees. That didn't happen. Someone went to the trouble and care to plant the Bay Plaza relocation trees there. He would have you believe there were no palms there previously and the palms at risk today have only been there a modest 31 years.

Cultural History is interesting, Natural History is interesting, but the intersection of the two is Fascinating!

I have been doing business in those storefronts continuously since 1975, and I didn't seem to recall a time when there were no palms there. The building was built in 1954, and it seemed unlikely there was just lawn between the storefronts to the curb from 1954 until 1983. So I drove out to the Sarasota History Center and looked at their beautiful 1957 aerial photograph of downtown. That picture was taken on March 10, 1957 and, lo and behold, it clearly shows a row of palm trees in front of that block. Because the canopies are full in the photo, and because it takes transplanted palms a while to recover and grow a new dense canopy, I think the odds are excellent they were planted in 1954, when the building was built. 

Do I know for sure they are cabbage palms? Nope, can't prove it, but consider the state of the local nursery industry in 1954. True, there was Reasoner's, but the wide variety palms available today was not just there. The canopies are consistent with cabbage palms, and they are clearly not Royal or Cocoanut palms. So, having looked at aerial images of thousands of cabbage palms, I was pretty sure that in 1957 a row of probably 11(maybe 12) cabbage palms graced that block. 

This black and white photo from 1957 clearly shows a row of palms
(with a gap ) in front of the 1262-1274 block of Palm Avenue.
This is a view from the North, looking South.

What became of the palms that celebrated their semicentennial in 2007?

Seeing the 11 or 12 palms in the photo begged the question: what happened to them? I tried looking at the landscape architect's map to see if any lined up, but that seemed inconclusive. Then, this evening, July 9th, Julie and I went to look.


We arrived in the evening, after eating dinner on Lower Main in one of our favorite restaurants: Two Senior Eaters (Thezla is an attentive server). The first palm, the furthest east and closest to the building was hard to interpret, but then things became clear. Seven of the 57-year old palms are still there! And, of course, it is quite likely that they have been there 60 years. How do we know? Because they look completely different than the more recent Bay Plaza rescues. 

Four Distinct Differences

First of all, they are planted in a more or less straight line. Second, they are the palms closest to the storefronts. Third, they are a completely different diameter than the more recent palms (much smaller), and fourth, most show a swelling where the trunk suddenly gets wider. 

That's where natural history and cultural history collide. The skinnier 57 year-old trees came from a locale with relatively poor growing conditions. When they got transplanted to Palm Avenue, the conditions were more to their liking, and the trunks got beefier. Go see for yourself. The Bay Plaza palms were coming from a block away, almost undoubtedly the same soil -- and their trunk diameter consequently doesn't show that variation.

A living natural/cultural history lesson. 

So right there, on little 'ol Palm Ave., are 26 palm trees attempting to teach us about our city's history. And some of them have been there for probably 60 years (unarguably 57).  Go check them out - you'll enjoy telling your friends or children about how the two batches of trees tell some of the story of Sarasota.

Better Hurry.

But you had best hurry, because the City of Sarasota is planning to remove every single one of them in just a month or two. Every 31-year old tree, and every 60-year old tree, and they will be replaced with two hollies, two Tabebuias, and eight Thrinax palms. And when they are gone, you'll be able to tell your friends and children how Palm Avenue used to have Palm stories. 


If you are wondering why all these trees will be removed, the answer is simple. So that side of the street will match the side of the street next to the parking garage.

So that side of the street will match the side of the street next to the parking garage.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sarasota's Plan for Palm Ave. Far Worse Than I Suspected

I first got interested in the City's plan to remove 26 cabbage palms from Palm Avenue because of my deep interest in and understanding of our state tree. But the more I learn about this project, the worse it gets. City staff tried to make me feel as though my suggestions were contrary to adopted policy, so they provided me with several folders containing their policy. What I learned is that the City has routinely ignored their own policies.

The City was supposed to promote retention of existing trees. They didn't. They were supposed to protect existing trees in the right-of-way. They didn't. They were supposed to provide shade trees. They already had them and propose to replace them with less shady trees. They were supposed to have canopy trees. They already have them and are proposing to get rid of them. Three separate manuals said they were supposed to have only one species of tree. They are proposing three. They claimed they were "undergrounding" utilities. There are more utilities aboveground in their proposal than exist now. They were supposed to favor trees with clear trunks and high canopies. They didn't.


And they claimed they wanted to provide a better pedestrian experience and a more walkable community. But their proposal will have 20 times less pedestrian space than exists now. In the graphic on the left, the public can walk on the green sod and the sidewalk adjacent to the storefronts. But the graphic on the right shows the landscape bed that will be packed with mulch, ground covers, shrubs, and a few trees. Bottom line: the City's proposal will result in far less walkable space than the present condition.

The next meeting of the Downtown Improvement District is Tuesday July 8th at 9:00 am. Please consider making the scene. If you can't, contact a city commissioner and let them know this is scandalous.

See also my previous post: Saving the Palms of Palm Avenue

Sunday, June 29, 2014

View from the Mainland

I was there 284 days ago, on September 18th 2013, when the Corps of Engineers showed up at a Sarasota County Coastal Advisory Committee meeting to pitch their hole-in-the-shoal solution to Lido Key erosion. I spoke and objected to both the process and the content of the proposal. I was there on October 22nd when the Corps pitched the idea to a joint meeting of the County and City Commissions and once again I complained. Since then I have appeared on a Tiger Bay panel, posted blog entries, given public presentations, and had a guest column printed in the Sarasota Herald Tribune. My objections have been consistent and, for someone with no financial or familial interests in either Lido or Siesta Keys, I suspect I have been one of the more engaged stakeholders. Aside from digging a deeper foxhole, the Corps has not shown much interest in alternative approaches, negotiating, or otherwise engaging the public, but now there is some reason to be optimistic.

Here's my take on the current situation: 

Lido Key residents are understandably preoccupied with the current status of their beach, which has made them susceptible to desperation-driven decision-making because the Corps proposal has seemed to be their only hope. Their reluctance to negotiate reflects the Corps' pouty insistence that nothing can be tinkered with. While desperation of the Lido residents has made their position more motivated and powerful, it doesn't address any of the real-world obstacles that need to be overcome. These include the threat of additional legal actions from Siesta Key, the Corps re-starting the scoping process, the need to undertake a variety of studies and environmental assessments that must precede permitting, and the ultimate uncertainty of federal funding. These obstacles could easily take two to three years to address and even then there is no guarantee of federal funding. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saving the Palms of Palm Avenue

I am on a quest. A quest to find out what the City of Sarasota (as represented by the Downtown Development District) thinks twenty-six cabbage palms are doing wrong.

The Palm Avenue Twenty Six

The palms (ironically?, tragically?) are on Palm Avenue between Coconut and Main. This end of Palm is referred to as North Palm (shortened ominously to NPALM in City-speak), but this is the part of Palm that is turning almost due west.

The Bay Plaza building in the center of the image wraps around the site in question
In the image below you can clearly see the dense, spherical palm canopies (and the dense shade they produce).

Compare the dense shade produced on the south side of the street with the plantings on the north side.

I don’t think there is much question that the two most engaging streets in downtown Sarasota are Main Street and Palm Avenue. Thousands of towns have Main streets, but Palm avenues are far rarer those who find themselves on a Palm Avenue anywhere deserve to be rewarded with a palmy experience that affirms the subtropical potential promised by the name.

There are many palms on our Palm Avenue between Coconut and Ringling and they represent many species. Intriguingly, the densest aggregation of palms are found on this short (150 foot-long) block. These palms are not solitary specimen trees in planters or emerging from the sidewalk, but rather a collection of 26 palms emerging from a lawn – sort of a micro-park.

We know it is parklike because there is even a sign advising people to clean up after their pets. It is the only area along Palm Ave. between Coconut and Ringling where there is a non-trivial patch of grass – grass that the adjacent merchants and not the City maintain.

The presence of this sign recognizes the de facto status as an unofficial "micro-park".
The palms happen to be our State tree, the native cabbage palm. A professional arborist recently described these 26 trees as exhibiting “good vitality and no signs or symptoms infection”. The trees are low maintenance and, being planted so close together, they produce deep shade. The area is extremely pedestrian friendly – people can, and do, walk through the palms on the grass, or use stepping stones. The narrow palm trunks afford great views of the businesses adjacent to the sidewalk.

These are the 26 palms the City of Sarasota wants to take down and send to the landfill and replace with two hollies, eight (freeze sensitive) thatch palms, two Tabebuias and two poisonous shrubs.

Let me repeat: replacing 26 mature shade producing trees with two hollies, two tabebuias, eight small palms, and two poisonous shrubs. The ground cover will either be paved or covered with “groundcovers or pine bark mulch” that will convert the open access, pedestrian friendly area into hardscape and planter beds that signal “keep out”.

This represents approximately 35% of a $240,000 project, so somewhere around $85,000 to $100, 000 to rip out a steadfast, low maintenance landscape and replace it with something new and presumably trendier.

I know what you are thinking. Why? Why would the city spend somewhere around a hundred grand to repudiate trees that have been quietly doing the city’s bidding for decades? That's my question as well.

The Palm Avenue Twenty-Six are planted in front of a single story building that was built in 1954. I'm still trying to find out when the palms were placed there, but I suspect they have been there for many decades. These may actually be trees with historic import.

I've been told (in emails) that the goals of the city were widening the sidewalks, upgrading the landscaping, “undergrounding” of utilities, and adding ornamental street lighting. I understand there was also a drainage or flooding issue that needed to be addressed. If, in fact, those were the five actual front-end goals of the project I am confused because I suspect virtually all of those goals could be achieved in that location without removing any of the palms.  

The City has scheduled a site visit on July 1 when I hope to get to the bottom of why every single one of these trees is slated to disappear. My fear/suspicion is that instead of starting with the existing landscape and modifying it to reach their goals, they started by assuming all the palms would vanish and they could start with a clean slate.

View from the parking garage across the street

As mentioned earlier, this is a project of the Downtown Improvement District (DID),  creature of the Sarasota  City Commission. 

I was speechless to see that their website features a photo of Charleston, a City whose landscaping hallmark consists primarily of cabbage palms (known in South Carolina as palmettos). More irony. Any group intending to improve Charleston would be run out of town on a rail if they proposed removing more than two dozen palmettos.

Actual image from DID website, ostensibly representing their admiration of the use of cabbage palms in Charleston

If you happen to know any of the five directors of the DID

Ernest Ritz

Mark Kauffman

Eileen Hampshire

Thomas Mannausa

Ron Soto

Please contact them and encourage them to reconsider this unfortunate proposal that will trigger an outpouring of outrage from citizens who are currently unaware of the threat.