Public Interest vs Narrow Interest

This week I had the opportunity to sit down with the leadership of the Gainesville Firefighters’ Union with the hope of obtaining their endorsement. I felt pretty good about my chances because my campaigns, both this year and last year, have focused on preserving core services while opposing projects that are beyond the scope of a city government.

Last year, I did not even get a chance to have this interview, as the Union endorsed Craig Lowe without shopping any other candidates. After he was elected, Lowe led the charge on pulling half of the Fire Department’s budget out of the general fund and creating a new Fire Services Fee, which was to be paid for by churches and non-profit’s as well as private and commercial properties. The University still pays nothing, although they are big users of fire services.

I am proposing that we place fire protection back where it was before, and downsize less important city services and projects, which should be on the back burner during an economic downturn.

It was because of my position, in spite of my desire to put fire and police FIRST in the city’s budget, that my opponent got their endorsement. Even after getting their fire services fee, the city is facing an even bigger budget shortfall than last year. But this does not matter at all to the Firefighters’ Union because they got their fee, and that is apparently all that matters.

If I am elected, the Firefighters are going to get their money, no matter what. They are an essential public service and they do a great job. They are one of the things you pay for when you cannot afford a golf course, a one-stop homeless center, roundabouts, narrowing the roads, a tree-burning power plant, and highly questionable building projects. And those are the things the Firefighters’ Union were willing to overlook to get their fire services fee.

More previews of what our irresponsible city commissioners have planned for us

Here is a flyer with information we should have seen before our mayor and city commissioners committed us to a tree-burning plant. This document shows the following items of interest:

  1. Biomass is dirtier than coal
  2. It does not use the best available technology
  3. There are significant health risks
  4. It’s financially risky
  5. It threatens our natural resources

Most people in our community have the impression that our city commissioners are environmentally responsible. This is simply not true. They and past commissioners dragged their feet for almost 30 years while the Koppers toxic waste site kept seeping poisons deeper and deeper. It will not be much longer before it reaches our drinking water.

Now they want to burn trees to make our electricity. This is supposedly to “save the planet” from Global Warming. So, they are going to destroy the planet to save it. And in the process, your GRU bills are projected to go up EVEN HIGHER!

Vote March 15th to turn back this man-made disaster: the City’s Tree-burning Biomass plant!

Flyer about our own Biomass Plant

Eight Reasons to Vote March 15th

I just got an email from former city commission candidate Mason Alley, and it contained this compelling list of reasons to make your voice heard in the only way that matters: VOTING!

Take it away, Mason!

Reducing lanes on Main Street
Besides the disruption to local businesses, commuters, etc., because of this decision, we’ve lost state funding and are now taking on an estimated (and ongoing) $400,000 per year in maintenance.  If you haven’t been down there lately, visit Main Street.  We’ve spent more than $8 million dollars to “streamline our roads” (the city’s words, not mine), reduced two lanes and created two bike lanes in the process.  Less cars.  Less business.  More bikes for the same small percentage of bicyclists.  Public protests.  City votes to reduce lanes anyway.

City Commission 1, People 0

Taxing Churches and Other Non-Profits
By failing to fund basic services (police, fire, roads) first, the Commission ran a deficit and voted to create a new tax in the form of a “fire assessment fee”.  Churches are now taxed by square-footage for fire protection services instead of supporting community ministries.  Public protests.  City votes to tax churches and non-profits anyway.

City Commission 2, People 0.

The Bio-Mass Plant
A former commission refused to fund upgrades to our clean coal plant more than a decade ago and lost the opportunity to save $100 million in the process.  Now, they’ve voted to give a  30-year guaranteed contract to buy energy from a private company who will build a private power plant (they own it, we don’t) on our public utility lands.  A couple of problems here — a) Isn’t the whole idea of the public owning the utility that we actually own it?  b) A good portion of the contract between the city and private utility has been kept from the public because of “trade secrets” — we just have to trust the commission made a great deal for us.  3) the “fuel” for this plant is woodwaste product.  Our “harvest area” (where we have to get this product) is a 75-mile perimeter that reaches all the way to Jacksonville — we basically need all of the woodwaste from that area to feed our plant otherwise we have to seek out other bio-fuel sources (ie “Trees”).  If Jacksonville decides to build a plant, don’t you think they’ll probably be looking for woodwaste in that same general area?  Public protests.  City votes to build bio-mass plant anyway.

City Commission 3, People 0.

The various commissions have talked about this ad nauseum but we’re still having the same basic discussions that they were having 15 years ago.  Meanwhile Koppers’ holding company Beazer East delays (and why wouldn’t they?) and poison continues to seep towards our groundwater.  In the same time, the city has managed to provide leadership and find tens of millions of dollars of funding to clean up fertilizer run-off from our creeks.  Not a bad idea, but if the house is on fire, I’m not worried about refreshing the paint in the kitchen…  Public begs for some substantive movement on this issue, any kind of clean up.  City keeps “fighting the good fight” and nothing happens.

City Commission 4, People 0.

The “Bathroom” Ordinance
Countless years and hundreds of taxpayer hours spent on researching how transgendered individuals are discriminated against here in Gainesville, even though by the city’s own studies there were only 12 of them and there had never been a registered complaint of discrimination.  Then a divisive, poorly written law that made it legal for any male to use women’s public bathrooms, changing rooms and other public facilities based on only their “inner sense of being” a particular gender.  When the public pushed back, they were reprimanded and lectured by the city commission who them spent public money to wage a public relations campaign for the law that “the public” was complaining about in the first place.  Public fights back hard. City Commission scolds and votes in the ordinance.

City 5, People 0.

Zoning for Adult Businesses
There hasn’t been much press about this one, but last year the City Commission voted to create special zoning for adult businesses — including adult book stores, exotic dancing, etc. — even though no one had petitioned them to do it.  Their reasoning?  One day someone will ask for this zoning and instead of fight them about it then, we’d rather create a place for it now.  Kind of like trying to fight crime by only inviting the mob to your house but making them promise they’ll stay in the guest room.  When voting to pass this ordinance, then-Mayor Hanrahan lectured that since no one from the public was there to speak against it, she didn’t want to hear anybody complain about it when it eventually became a problem.  Public stays home.  City Commission votes in vice.

City 6, People 0.

Reducing Lanes or Lane-size on 16th Ave
The city and county commissions wanted to reduce lanes on 16th Ave so they could add more bike lanes.  County Commissioner Mike Byerly is on record that he wants driving “painful” to force us out of our polluting cars, free us from our dependence on polluting fossil fuel, and stop our harm to the natural order.  City Commissioners have been less vocal but continue to vote for reduction.  The public protested and asked to turn the sidewalk into bike paths and leave the lanes alone since most of us still drive cars not ride bikes.  The new plan is to ignore the public’s wishes, reduce the lanes (making driving more dangerous) and create new bike lanes on the road (making biking more dangerous).  Public ignored.  City Commission pushes ahead with their agenda.

City 7, People 0.

Meal-Limits for the Homeless
130 hungry people a day are allowed to eat a meal at St. Francis.  Number 131 and everyone after that is turned away.  Meanwhile we’re spending $5 million dollars on a “one-stop center” far enough out of town that we can keep those in need both out of sight and out of mind.  Legislation to prevent those addressing a need.  Lots of money to fix a lot of less of the same problem. The protests against this particular law are constant and ongoing.  Protesters include the left, the right, the independents, the church-goers, the atheists and everyone in between.  The City Commission doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, religious belief, veterans status, sexual preference or gender identity — on this issue, it ignores them all.
City 8, People 0
Do you notice a trend?  The People keep protesting, the City Commission keeps moving forward with their own priorities and their own narrow agenda.  And when it’s time to vote, the people stay home.

8.5% of voters decided on this Commission in the last election.  42 people elected the Mayor.

The only way to change the agenda is to change who’s making it.

Please be a part of the change.

Back Out of Biomass

I have been opposed to the biomass plant since 2007, when I asked Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan, “Does wood burn cleaner than coal?” She may not remember me asking her that question at the candidate forum at the Matheson Center, but it was one of those anonymous notes from the audience that I scrawled on slip of paper and gave to one of the forum volunteers. It was a direct question that deserved a straight answer, but we all got the tap dance instead. There are different kinds of emissions; some are greener than others; it’s comparing apples and oranges…time’s up!

I am not a scientist, but as a citizen, I know I must arrive at a conclusion if I am going to participate in the democratic process intelligently. I had already talked to educated people who were for biomass and others who were against it. They were all very compelling. In the final analysis, we all have to boil the complex down to the simple. I decided that it was a step backwards to burn trees for energy. I knew we had to progress from coal and oil at some point, but I did not believe that wood was the right direction. I also knew that fossil fuels burned more cleanly and efficiently than they did in the past. I think we can still squeeze more refinements out of this technology while we experiment with new ideas. I also think we need the low cost of coal to keep a downward pressure on the price of new energy.

As new commissioners were elected, we still seemed to be going full speed ahead on biomass, even though I don’t recall a robust debate on the subject. I also wondered where all the environmentalists were in this process. I had always assumed that our city commission was “green”. So I was perplexed that Gainesville was on a course to be called a “Tree City” for an entirely new and unforeseen reason.

I got into the Mayor’s race last year because, with a week to go before qualifying ended, I could not believe that a credible candidate had not stepped up to oppose the seven-year incumbent commissioner, Craig Lowe. I mean no disrespect to Richard Selwach, but I did not think he had a broad enough appeal to get voters motivated to show up. I think Richard is a great guy and an important voice of dissent in our city’s political process, but I knew he was not a campaigner.

I don’t want to relive the Mayor’s race, but I bring it up because it was the first time the people of this city had a chance to weigh in on biomass and Koppers, the other environmental embarrassment, at the ballot box. What I learned from the campaign was that the word “biomass” is not descriptive enough for people to grasp. They’ve been told it’s a carbon-neutral, green technology, and they just swallowed it whole. But, when you keep calling it a tree-burning power plant, the light goes on. People really don’t want this.

But is it a done deal? Until they actually build it, I don’t believe it is. And we are not the only community to be re-examining plans to build a tree-burner. Other plants are being canceled. There is hope. There is also an election this March. You will have a chance to place 3 commissioners who are against the tree-burner. I am one of them. I am running at-large, so if you are a city resident and registered to vote, you can make a big difference. If you live in District 2, you can elect Robert Krames. If you live in District 3, you can vote for Rob Zeller. We will do whatever we can to stop the tree-burner. Do whatever you can do by making sure you vote March 15th.

For your edification, I give you these links to peruse:

The Energy Justice Network – Medical and Health Associations Opposed to Biomess

The Florida League of Conservation Voters has summary documentation on adverse effects of Biomass plants – includes documentation on effects of particulates-PM10 & PM2.5

Stop Spewing Carbon

Environmental Working Group

Massachusetts Forest Watch

The Dogwood Alliance

Burn Up the Biosphere and Call it Renewable Energy

Manomet Study

Peak Soil:  Why Cellulosic Ethanol, Biofuels are Unsustainable and a Threat to America’s National Security

Gainesville Sun:

Former Mayor Tom Bussing:

The Campaign is Moving!

The holidays are finally over, the campaign is officially kicked off, and we have begun reaching out in earnest. Our Campaign Kickoff was a successful event. We got a much needed infusion of cash, which means we will be ordering signs this week. We also did some canvassing in NW Gainesville on Saturday. That was a learning experience, even as we got commitments for sign locations.

This was a productive weekend, but things will only get busier. If you look at the calendar page, you will see that we are getting invitations to all the candidate forums. I also have 2 appointments with the FOP and the Gainesville Professional Firefighters as they decide who to endorse this election cycle. I am excited about our prospects in this race. Please get on board by going to the volunteer page and sending me an email. And don’t forget the Donate page. We will need quite a bit more than we have now if we hope to reach all the voters that we will need.