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

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.

1 comment:

  1. Go get em, Jono. Those trees have found their voice, and it is yours.


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