I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Disastrous Deal for Taxpayers: The Beach Club Lease Renewal of January, 2018

The Beach Club lease renewal will result in lease fees that are so incredibly low, the unrealized revenue to SRIA/Escambia County will amount to $50 Million dollars over the life of this lease term.  How was this allowed to occur?

The 128 unit Beach Club condominium complex at Pensacola Beach recently renegotiated their lease with the Santa Rosa Island Authority.

The original 1949 lease had been amended in 1985 (but this amendment was not recorded) and it was amended again in 1985 a second time (recorded).  The original lease was set to expire in 2048--but instead the Island Authority renegotiated this renewal, ahead of schedule and on VERY favorable terms for Beach Club.  This happened in 2017 and the parties signed a new amendment in January of 2018--starting the clock on a brand new 99 year lease.

Because of the changes made to this renewal that was just completed and finalized this year--the properties on this land will only pay ad valorem taxes on improvements, not on the land.  The property's owners will pay a lease fee to the SRIA.

This lease fee, according to the property appraiser, is a total of $23,593.78 yearly----- or just $184.33 per unit per year!!

This amount of a lease fee for such a valuable piece of Gulf-front property is ridiculously low, so much so that I feel it is borderline scandalous.  Why was this rate negotiated down to such a small amount?  Who decided this was appropriate?  Why are the taxpayers that own this land being treated so unfairly in this deal?   These are questions I am asking and that I will continue to ask until I get a good answer.  So far I have received no good answers. (Similarly priced condominiums on the Gulf of Mexico in Perdido Key pay in excess of $4000 MORE yearly in taxes and fees as do the 128 owners of Beach Club now as a result of this "re negotiation.")

Meanwhile, a quick look at section VI of the second amendment to the original Beach Club lease, signed in 1985, clearly states that the minimum rent [lease fee] will be $25,000.00 or $500.00 per unit per year, whichever is greater.[EMPHASIS ADDED]    So why is the lease fee only $184.33 per unit 20 years later in 2018 when the minimum per unit 20 years ago was $500 per unit?  Why?

This same section, section VI, goes on to state that the rental amounts will be tied to the "CPI, 1967,

Monday, December 17, 2018

Unpacking the Beach Lease Mess Part II: Fixing the Problem Going Forward

Although we may not be able to fix some very bad deals (For Escambia County) that were negotiated in the past, we MUST reform the re negotiation process going forward.  This MUST happen.  

As I've discussed at the last meeting, and as I discussed here, here, and here--there is a massive problem with the way several recent "re-negotiations" have been handled at Pensacola Beach.

Several have and/or will lead to a staggering loss of revenue for the taxpayers going forward.

Some are questioning now whether the most egregious of these renewals can or should be "unwound" because the terms are so destructive to the taxpayers that own these properties.  

We shall see how that unfolds....

Meanwhile, we must fix the problem going forward, we MUST prevent this abuse of the taxpayer from EVER happening again in the future.  I have put together a simple, multi-step plan that I believe will solve the problem, make things right, and address this issue going forward.  It goes like this:

   --Establish a moratorium on ANY more large condo lease renewals by SRIA and without BCC    authorization until a standard process and standardized lease models/templates can be put into place with the SRIA.

1       --No renewals of any existing “Master Leases” ever.

2     -- No leaseholder shall be compelled to renegotiate any executed, lawful lease prior to expiration         UNLESS such a leaseholder makes the affirmative choice to do this. (in other words, if the status quo of your lease is to your satisfaction, you do not have to make any changes to what you are paying now-if you want to renegotiate early—you can)

3      --Homestead property that currently carries a perpetually renewing lease and pays full ad valorem         

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Unpacking the Beach Lease Mess Part I: Who Owns the Beach?

The subject of Pensacola Beach leases draws lots of heated opinions and positions.  I only care about insuring we don't ever again get taken to the cleaners via pennies on the dollar lease arrangements with the owners of million-dollar condos on the Gulf...

Last week the BCC had a good discussion on the various problems with the leases on Pensacola Beach.  For those that are interested, the video of that discussion is here.

The problem with any discussion about leases, lease fees, and taxes--is that other issues get brought into the discussion to conflate the underlying topic....then the discussion devolves among those various "camps" of folks that have differing agendas.  Beach Lease Holders that pay full ad valorem taxes on improvements and land+ Lease fees, Condo Owners that pay ad valorem taxes just on the improvements and not the land + Lease fees,  The property appraiser, The SRIA, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, Activists that want to prevent fee-simple title from ever being granted to private parties for any part of this land, and last but not least, the Lawyers on both sides of the issue who make lots of money fighting over valuations of appraisals and other aspects of the leases and taxation.

For my part--I simply want equity by and between lease holders going forward.  I do not want to re-litigate the past, nor do I want to discuss the distinctions between fee-simple title and leases.
Should million dollar condos on the Gulf at Pensacola Beach pay about half the amount of taxes and fees of what million dollar condos on the Gulf in Perdido Key pay?

In short, I simply want to insure that a "Beach Club" type lease renewal NEVER again happens to the taxpayers.

So let's just boil it down and start with the basics, and work our way down to what matters, and to do this we will ask some rhetorical questions.  (then I'll provide answers that are my opinions and what I believe to be true with supporting facts, however I am open to any dissenting opinions)

1.  Who is the lawful OWNER of ALL the property that was deeded to Escambia County via the 1946 Public Act of Congress and subsequent 1947 Conveyance granted to Escambia County---including those portions that currently lie in Santa Rosa County?

Answer: The Citizens of Escambia County and NOBODY ELSE! (But multiple, subsequent sub- leases of various portions of this land have been made by Escambia to Santa Rosa County, and to private parties in Escambia County.  And multiple leases have been made between Santa Rosa County and private parties on the portions of properties leased to Santa Rosa County that lie in Santa Rosa County)

2.  Was it, and is it, legal for Escambia County to enter into leases, including leases that are perpetually renewing, for portions of this one large property that was given to Escambia County by the Federal Government in 1947?

Answer:  Yes--(otherwise someone would have challenged the underlying legality of the granting of these initial and subsequent leases  in court at some point--or the courts would have at some point weighed-in on this question and invalidated these leases at some point over the course of one of  the court's multiple "cracks" at this question during litigation over the last 5 decades on various aspects of beach leases.....)

3.  Is there a distinction to be made between Ownership of Beach Land under Land Title Law and Equitable Ownership of  the same Beach Land for Tax Purposes under the Law?

Answer:  YES--1000% yes  (More than half of the leases made by Escambia County to various 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

How $92 Million Was Given Away, and Nobody is Held to Account, Part II

Fixing the beach lease renewal process will help stem the subsidies from Escambia County Taxpayers for expensive properties on Pensacola Beach...

As we explained in Part I, the SRIA renegotiated two large condominium leases in 2016 that will result in $92 Million in unrealized income for Escambia County taxpayers over the term of those leases.

Congratulations to the individual owners of these condominiums for being on the positive side of such a favorable deal!  Good on ya!

But Escambia County and the SRIA are the losers here, because this creates a situation where millions and millions of dollars have been left on the table.  And taxpayers of Escambia County are and will be the losers.

Right behind these two 2016 condo complex renewals will come many more.  If we don't modernize the fees and standardize this process, just imagine how much revenue will be left "on the table" when these condos come in for renewal-----if we leave the rates unsustainably low as was the case with Beach Club and Emerald Isle??

That's why the disastrous method utilized currently to "renegotiate" these leases must be standardized and fixed on today's market rates.  Otherwise, Escambia County taxpayers will continue to absorb the subsidies that are being given to beach property owners via overly generous lease renewals.

How, you ask, does this affect Escambia County taxpayers?

Here's how.

Many of the services provided on Pensacola Beach are subsidized by Escambia County.  The less the SRIA takes in via leases, the more the county will have to pay (subsidize).  It is inversely proportional.

Here are some current examples:

Above:  A comparison of taxes paid by beach properties compared to mainland properties

Public Works and roads crews for Pensacola Beach  $2.5 Million Dollar subsidy from Escambia County Taxpayers

Via De Luna resurfacing?  $1.3 Million yearly paid for from County Funds.

Sheriff's Law Enforcement Services?  Subsidized more than $50,000.00 per year by Escambia taxpayers.

So we have to fix the lease renewal process going forward, we must.  This is the only way to insure everyone is paying a proportional amount for the services received.

This is an important issue I will stay-on until it is fixed.

How $92 Million Was Given Away, and Nobody is Held to Account, Part I

Two (2) ill-conceived lease renewals at Pensacola Beach in 2016 will cost Escambia County Taxpayers more than $92 Million in un-realized revenue over the course of these particular lease terms.  This should not have happened, and it should never happen again.

In 2016 a lot was going on.

There was a campaign going on, and it was drawing lots of attention.

There were local campaigns, and folks were pre-occupied with a lot of stuff.

I had my hands full with my own campaign for BCC in 2016.  I was busy.  We all were busy. I wasn't on the Board of County Commissioners yet.

Amid this backdrop, two very important things happened that will cost Escambia County Taxpayers a TON of money going forward...  How much, you ask?   How about this.  Get Ready.


This is a tremendous sum of money and the taxpayers should not have been subjected to this steep a loss---but the deal is done, it happened, and there is no going back and unwinding it.

This is what we lost..... But how did this happen??

Two condominium complexes on Pensacola Beach "Re-Negotiated" new 99 year leases at ridiculously LOW per year, per unit lease fee rates for their respective Gulf-Front properties in 2016.

The immediate impact is the lease fees for these properties are significantly less than what similar properties in Perdido Key are paying.  When one looks at the delta between what similar properties in Perdido Key pay and what these two complexes in Pensacola Beach will pay--it is inconceivable to the average could this have been allowed to happen?  How?

There's a huge delta between Pensacola Beach property tax payments and what similar properties in Perdido key, above, pay.

Because we don't have a time machine and we cannot go back after the fact and "unwind" these deals-the only thing we can and should do going forward is to learn from our mistake. We should never, ever allow the taxpayers to be treated so badly.  Ever.

So how do we fix this going forward?  Here is what I propose....

From now on, ANY new lease with SRIA, any renegotiated lease, should be required to be either

A.  Perpetually renewing, which courts have determined will pay ad valorem taxes on property and improvements


B. Renegotiable at 99 year increments--which will preclude ad-valorem taxation.  But such leases will, and should, however, pay a MARKET RATE lease fee to SRIA for the land portion of the property, complete with escalation clauses worked into the renewal to insure the lease fees keep pace with inflation.

It has to be one or the other, this is only fair.  It can never again be a re-negotiable lease with a lease fee that is at the 1946 level.  This is nothing but a ripoff.  So we have to fix it by allowing the lessee to pick between two options as I have listed above.

If we do this, we will never, ever, again be taken to the cleaners like we were with the Beach Club and Emerald Isle Condo lease renewals in 2016.

We will fix this, it is time, and it is fair.

Competition on a Level Playing Field is Good and it is Fair

Our Local New Car automotive dealerships give a significant boost to our local economy yearly--as is illustrated above.  Is it too much to ask to help insure they are treated fairly? 

The issue of "Pop-Up" Car Sales has been a concern that the Escambia County Commission has dealt with before.  But nothing was done.  The proverbial can got kicked last time this issue came around.

The problem continues.

And this time we will solve it.

We have a situation where our "brick and mortar," well-established dealerships have to compete with out of town firms that come to Pensacola, set up tents in parking lots at University Mall or the Fairgrounds, and try their level-best to undercut our locally-owned, well-established car dealerships.

They often times send flyers out in advance, flyers that lead some to believe they have actually "Won" something.  Once these unsuspecting locals show up, they are pressured to buy a car.  A certain percentage of these persons can be "qualified" for a loan (albeit at high rates)--and the "contest " where someone thought they won a prize becomes a situation where an unsuspecting local is sold a vehicle at an inflated price with not fallback protection if the car falls apart or breaks down.

NOPE--these guys are long-gone by the time the problems start.  And folks get stuck with lemons in many cases--with NO RECOURSE.

The Free Market Capitalists might not like it-----but the bottom line is fairly simple;  regulations are necessary, and they are good.  And regulations are fair and they actually foster competition if they are done properly.

We will craft an ordinance that will be fair to all car salesmen---local and out-of-town.  But there will be built-in safeguards to protect consumers and to insure warranties offered are actually backed up, and that all sales of cars are done via licensed dealers who compete on a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.

Once we do this, I think we will see less and less of the circus tent, pop-up car sales.

And this will be good for consumers, and this will be good for folks locally.

This should have been an easy win, something easy to fix a few years ago.  We will fix it right this time, though.

Speakers at Public Forum: Is there a Potential Compromise?

I have developed what I feel may be a good compromise on the issue of speakers at our meetings sharing minutes.  I will present it tomorrow and we will see if it garners support....

I relinquished the chairmanship of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners last month, and a lot has happened in the short period of time since I handed the gavel to my counterpart in District 3.

We brought in a new member to our board, Robert Bender from District 1.

We began a new policy--which I think is outstanding and I strongly support--where we will start doing one of our two monthly meetings during the day and combine it with what was previously an "agenda review" meeting held during the day. 

This change will allow us to be more efficient, and will free-up staff to concentrate on doing their day-in, day-out jobs in the afternoons following this new, daytime meeting.  (Under our previous format, we did two monthly review meetings where we reviewed the material prior to that night's regular meeting.  Then, we would do  a second meeting the same date, except at night, where the same topics would be covered.  And our entire compliment of senior staff was expected, and were, present at both meetings.  It was what we always did but it was inefficient.  Kudos to Chairman May for making this very good change) 

Under Chairman May's new initiative, the second meeting of the month will be during the day, and will be a combination of what was previously a day review and a night meeting.

And this is a great idea I strongly support.

But one thing has changed that I think still might need some minor tweaking.......

The Public Forum speaker's rules have also been changed abruptly...

We previously would allow speakers who did not wish to speak the opportunity to "cede" minutes to another speaker who wanted to speak on the same topic.   And some speakers would get multiple citizens to "cede" minutes to them so that they could expound on a topic beyond the simple 3 minute time limit.

The newly imposed rule disallows this prior practice.  Everyone can and will be heard, but nobody can "give" minutes to their fellow speakers.  That's the new rule
While I believe this new protocol has it's attractive qualities---I do think there are some issues which require more time to describe.

I also think there are some folks who do not like to speak publicly.  This policy effectively boxes them out.

So here is where I think a compromise may be appropriate--because there is nothing wrong with a person compromising, as long as that person is not compromising his/her integrity or going against a core value/belief.

I believe it is fair, and also efficient, to allow a LIMITED amount of sharing of minutes at public forum. 

The CONs of the current Policy:

--If we tell folks they can no longer "share" minutes, this all but guarantees that more speakers will speak now, and they will more than likely read scripted speeches and take the maximum time.

--folks that are afraid of public speaking may stop attending out of frustration

--fewer will not simply "wave in support"--but rather speak for their full allocation of time to make a point about their anger over the new policy.  This may make meetings go longer

A SUGGESTED COMPROMISE  (Below is my suggested compromise that I will bring up tomorrow)

1.  Allow for sharing of minutes on a limited basis
2.  Speakers who want to speak receive the full 3 Minutes.
3.  Speakers who want to cede time to another citizen can either speak for 3 Minutes themselves or  if they so choose, they may cede a maximum of 1 minute.
4.  No more than "5" speakers can cede time to any one person, and any person receiving minutes ceded from other citizens may only receive a total of 5 minutes of ceded time.
5. No individual speaker can speak for more than 8 minutes total

I believe if we can massage the current policy, we can still be efficient and simultaneously we can keep alive a long-running practice that encourages citizen input.  In short, I think we can achieve a win-win compromise.

I'll suggest this as a compromise tomorrow, we shall see how it is received by my peers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tomorrow We Begin the Process of Hiring a New Administrator...What Should the Salary Be?

Peer counties we selected to survey for salary levels are shown above...The average administrator in this survey group is paid in excess of $200,000 yearly.

InWeekly did a piece on this topic last week, and Sunday the PNJ made this a feature article in the local section.

Tomorrow we will begin the process of searching for, selecting, and offering a contract to Jack Brown's replacement.  We will be getting a new County Administrator.

The staff has put together a thorough agenda chock-full of information for tomorrow's special workshop on this topic--for those interested in reviewing this information, it is here

For my part it will be simple.  When we whittle it down to the short list of very well-qualified candidates, I will sit down and speak with each candidate individually, face to face.  I'll want to know about their track record in solving intricate, complex issues.  I'll want to hear about big successes these candidates have achieved.  I'll want to discuss their view on providing leadership and guidance to the board.  These will be essential to my eventual selection, because I am looking for someone who will bring solutions and plans.  It is not good enough to wait and hope that the board will know enough to be able to tackle every job;  this is what we pay the administrator for.  And we will pay them well, because we need a good one.

Tomorrow will be an interesting meeting!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

How Did Escambia County Get to Single Member Elected Districts for County Commissioners?

This subject came up the other night at the County Commission Meeting.  Several speakers asked the following question:

How come individual commissioners are only voted in by citizens that live within their individual commissioners' districts?  How come the entire county can't vote for every district commissioner, like it is done in Santa Rosa County (and all the other counties in America)?

As was discussed in the meeting, this is because of a 1970's era lawsuit that was successful and that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

This screenshot of an article from the 1984 Pensacola Journal lays out the chronology of how this practice came to be locally...Interesting......

How Bogus, BS Lawsuits foster Disdain for Lawyers and the Law, Part II

Was it, and is it, "ethical" for lawyers to team up with plaintiffs to sue small business owners, Counties, Cities, and others, en masse, making fortunes for themselves and their plaintiffs---under the guise of providing greater access for disabled individuals?  I say the answer is NO!

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Discrimination, The Unruh Civil Rights Act, The Unfair Business Practices Act, and Accessibility to Public Places.

In 2002 I had just opened my third and fourth businesses, respectively, when I was hit with my first lawsuit as a small business owner. I was leveraged and I was vulnerable so the timing of the lawsuit, at that point in my life, could not have been worse.  The suit itself was ridiculous--it was bogus.

A disabled person, confined to a wheelchair, a person who lived in the San Francisco Bay area--500 miles away from one of my establishments in the southern California City of La Mesa-- "suddenly" felt the need to come down  and have a beer at my place.  At least that's what he claimed, anyway.

But the truth of the matter was his complaint was bogus, the basis was bogus, and it was part of a scheme to make money under the guise of expanding "access" for persons with disabilities.

This was a serial litigant that had an attorney filing cases on his behalf and they were all making money at the expense of small businesses statewide.

Now, nobody would ever argue with expanding access to public accommodations for folks with disabilities.  The problem was--I was never given a chance to fix the problem before I was sued and hit with demand letter. .    Nope.  Like that pop-song by Drake --it went 0 to 100 real quick.

Conveniently, if I agreed to play along, the suit would be dropped, the lawyer for the plaintiff would be paid, the plaintiff would be paid, and everyone would be happy....eventually I had to hire my own attorney, threaten to sue my own insurance company (Lloyds of London) to compel them to kick in

How Bogus, BS Lawsuits foster Disdain for Lawyers and the Law, Part I

Bogus lawsuits fueled by greed lead to negative perceptions of lawyers
The County has recently been hit with a B.S., BOGUS Lawsuit.  It is infuriating on several levels, and it gave me a moment of Deja-Vu as I read the complaint.  I've seen these before.  More on that in Part II.

These sorts of complaints, these baseless, bogus suits happen frequently and they create a negative perception of lawyers and the law.  I have personal experience with these as a small business owner, a school board member, and now as a county commissioner.  And I have discussed these sorts of things, at length, with my brother (who himself is a lawyer).

Because my brother is a lawyer and now he is a judge, I have had a long running "shtick" that I use on the unsuspecting and the ones that know me--when the subject of lawsuits, lawyers, and the law invariably comes up.  "I HATE all lawyers, except for one."  People that know my brother typically chuckle.  Of course it isn't true, it is a gross exaggeration.  But there is a tinge of truth there, no question about it....

My new "shtick" I use since my brother became a judge goes like this....  Someone says something, in passing, akin to---"Hey Jeff, I saw your brother the other day..."--which is not an infrequent comment I hear---to which I quickly reply with one of the following three variations "I hope the sentence he handed you was fair" or "I apologize for his horrible conduct" or "I hope you ended up on the right side of the verdict." [Insert sound of a rimshot]

It's all in good fun-----until it's not.

You see--when you are served papers--when you are sued personally or in your capacity as a business owner, when the allegations are bogus--It becomes serious very quickly. Most folks may never

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Read The FDOT Project Manager's Written Update on 9-Mile Road Widening Project in Beulah.....

Work on the project to widen 9-Mile Road from two to four lanes through Beulah has slowed to a crawl.  The FDOT project manager has provided a written explanation of the reasons for this....

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is the entity that is managing the project to widen 9-Mile Road.  This project's completion date has slipped, the work has slowed, and I have been contacted by numerous frustrated residents in Beulah that feel as though the work on this  project to 4-lane the section from Beulah Road to the Interstate has all but been abandoned....From one recent email:

" The 200 meter section from the new bridge to the I-10 ramp has not been worked on. The road from the entrance to Nature Trail to the new bridge appears to be pretty much completed. Why has nothing further been completed?  The small area, once completed, will alleviate traffic problems. The short 100 meters of road under I-10 was torn up but never repaired. So, a two lane section has been rendered useless to a single lane traffic heading east..The primary sections of the U.S.’s interstate system were built in about 35 years. And, that was begun in the 50’s.  I am not very impressed with today’s competence that cannot build and finish a 1-2 mile stretch of road in Escambia County in two years.  Frankly, all involved should be embarrassed."

The FDOT project manager, to her credit, immediately responded to a request I made for an update on this project.  Below is her email update on this portion of the project, specifically:

"Thank you for your interest in the Nine Mile Road widening project. Work is currently focused at the tie-ins near the connection between Leisure Lakes RV Park and Beulah Road. Crews are concentrating on completing the exposed portions of the work in an effort to minimize potential erosion. The project has received a substantial amount of rain over the last several months and this has impacted the ability of the project team to productively work on the roadway embankment, subgrade and limerock base. The rains have also impacted the ability to grade the ditches and place the concrete ditch pavement. Regrettably, it seems every time the crews grade the ditch, adverse weather conditions cause a delay.

On the other end of the project limits, near the I-10 interchange, the team recently received approval of the final design from FDOT for the driveway at Spectrum Systems (3410 Nine Mile Road). Crews have worked to relocate the water mains and water service in this area. It is critical to get this driveway constructed so the new stormwater retention pond and associated drainage can be completed. Once this is accomplished, crews will be able to return to work widening the remaining

Saturday, December 1, 2018

First Official BCC - NFCU Meeting on Future of OLF 8 Held This Week

NFCU has created very preliminary draft renderings of how they conceptualize their development of 100 acres of OLF 8;  the BCC has said we will sell  NFCU 100 acres in exchange for a Market Price and the creation of 300 additional jobs...

The Escambia Board of County Commissioners has given clear direction to staff:

--Begin the process of negotiations with NFCU regarding their written offer to purchase 100 acres of our soon-to-be acquired OLF 8 field in Beulah.

--Begin discussions with NFCU regarding their written and verbal offer to pay for a Master Plan for this property based upon the parameters specified in our unanimously approved RFP for selection of a firm to implement this plan.

(The county unanimously approved a compromise draft document that will guide the development of the plan for the field, a document that maintains the focus on creating jobs, keeping the county in the running for a $30 Million Dollar grant to create a minimum of 1000 good jobs, and adding some amenities while FULLY considering the needs of the Beulah Community in this development)

So Thursday of this week the first kickoff meeting between staff and NFCU was held in Beulah at the NFCU campus.

Now, this was a very preliminary meeting, as we do not yet own the property. 

(The property will transfer to the county in the next several months when some final paperwork is concluded.  In late February or early March of  2019-- there will be two (2) ceremonies memorializing this profound land transfer deal between Escambia County and the US Navy--one will be held at Whiting Field's newly constructed OLF X in Santa Rosa County, and then one will be held at OLF 8 in Beulah on the same day.)

At this Thursday meeting representing NFCU were Kara Cardona, Kimberly Adderholt, and a representative from the NFCU General Counsel's office.  For the county, it was acting administrator Amy Lovoy, Assistant County Attorney Matt Coughlin, and from the county attorney's office, Meredith Crawford.

Topics of discussion, according to folks that were in the meeting with whom I have spoken, included forming a selection committee to rank planning firms for the master plan, and the make-up of this committee.  Additionally, the 100 acre portion of the field that NFCU wants was also discussed, however price, terms, and other issues have yet to be ironed out.  This will require appraisals of the portion of the field that NFCU has expressed a desire to acquire.  (NFCU has created and circulated some initial, preliminary renderings indicating how they envision utilizing the field--as indicated by the draft rendering above).  At this meeting Thursday, county staff asked NFCU if they were prepared to make a formal, written offer via a purchase offer document for the 100 acres--as this has yet to happen.  They did not do so at this meeting.

The other important discussion centered around insuring a planning process where no one party (neither NFCU nor the County nor any particular citizen) exerts undue influence.  As a way to prevent this, an initial concept discussed was for the County and NFCU to jointly fund and hire a

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Progress Report on Intersection Project at Beulah Road and Mobile Hwy

This graph indicates the current status of the project to improve the intersection and add a traffic signal at Mobile Hwy and Beulah Road.

The project to improve the intersection at Beulah Road and Mobile Highway is moving along--albeit not as quickly as anyone wants.  There have been some delays, but the project is moving forward.

As you can see from the most recent progress report, above, the contract is essentially at a 70% completion stage right now, and the anticipated date of final completion is now slated to be March 2, 2019.

This project will be an incredible improvement for this rapidly growing portion of Beulah--and it should not have taken as long as it has to get it done.

But March 2nd will be here before we know it, and the improvement to that intersection will make this stretch of roadway in our community much safer--so I say "better late than never!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lots of Issues Discussed Today at our Coffee With the Commissioner Event

We had a great turnout this morning for our monthly "Coffee with the Commissioner" event.

Many very good topics were discussed, to include:

1.  Traffic, and traffic signalization

2.  Growth, and managing the growth in District 1

3.  Need for more sidewalks and bike paths

4.  Need for builders to build and provide sidewalks when they build new subdivisions

5.  Some neighborhood specific issues

6.  County's road crews and ensuring ROW areas are properly maintained

7.  Beach leases and the Fee-Simple bill

You can watch the facebook live video of the event here

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Return of Fee Simple??

Some folks want us to start the fee simple battle all over again........

The PNJ has a story out on the electronic edition today about the return of the fee simple bill that would allow for private ownership of leased properties at Pensacola Beach.

The Escambia Board of County Commissioners has taken a 5-0 vote to adopt a position on this topic of "no position."

We also passed a preservation ordinance that was the result of a lot of discussions, compromises, and gnashing of teeth.

We then put a non-binding referendum on the ballot-- just a few weeks back--- that passed by an overwhelming majority of Escambia Citizens.

So no, I do not think the fee simple bill is coming back.  That's my guess, that's my observation.

I'm told that Santa Rosa County is pushing hard for a return to the fee simple bill so that property owners in Navarre Beach can get fee simple title to their properties out there.

I don't know how that happens if step one is getting Escambia County to agree.  This will be an interesting conversation going forward.

For my part, I just want to see us get to a point where the lease structure is more equitable for current leaseholders out on the beach,  I want to make sure no more condo complexes get the sweetheart renewal deal the Beach Club recently negotiated (to the detriment of Escambia County as the owner

NW District 1 Advisory Committee Meeting Next Monday

The next meeting of the NW District 1 Advisory Committee will be happening next Monday evening, at 6:00 PM in the cafeteria of Beulah Middle School.

The agenda, backup, and other information has been placed on the MyEscambia website, and can be accessed here.

As is always the case, interested members of the public are encouraged to attend, this meeting is open to the public!

Compromise Draft RFP for OLF 8 Keeps Jobs as the Focus

The Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting last week to work out a request for proposals document  (RFP) for the master-planning of OLF 8 that the Board, Navy Federal Credit Union, and nearby residents could all agree upon.

As I discussed in this blog post last week,  and as I was quoted in the PNJ's piece on this meeting from last week-- I felt the meeting went exceptionally well.

I was happy to see the board maintain jobs and job creation as a primary focus of this project going forward--as evidenced by the language regarding our Triumph Gulf Coast application being left in the final draft that the board unanimously approved at the conclusion of the meeting.

This working draft, which will guide the master planning process going forward (regardless of who pays for this--county or NFCU) is linked here.

I would encourage all who are interested in this project to give this document a read. 

As I said before, nobody gets everything they want in a compromise--but this compromise left the most important aspects of this project intact and as priorities--Jobs and the County's $30 Million Dollar Triumph Gulf Coast Grant---and it is for this reason this draft got my support.

Thursday of this week, the separate discussions between NFCU and the county will begin regarding NFCU's offer to pay for the master planning of the OLF 8 property.

I'll be following these discussions very closely, and reporting on them here on my blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Coffee With The Commissioner This Coming Wednesday

We will be having our monthly "Coffee with the Commissioner" event this Wednesday, November 28th at the Hardee's at Pine Forest and Wilde Lake Blvd in District 1.

Stop by and let's talk about how we at the county can better serve you the constituent!

(And this is a casual, informal event; no agenda, no topics off limits)

Hope to see you this Wednesday!

On WCOA's Good Morning Pensacola Today

I'll be the guest later-on this morning on WCOA's top-rated Good Morning Pensacola radio show.

The singular topic of discussion will be OLF 8, jobs, and the County's $30 Million Dollar Triumph Gulf Coast Grant Application--and how all of this ties in with the HUGE victory we had in our recent special meeting by approving a compromise RFP document for this property that:

1.  Still focuses on using this field to create good jobs for the county.

2.  Still focuses on the Triumph Grant.

3.  Allows for the planner to incorporate aspects of Regional Significance into the plan (in order to help us win the Triumph Grant)

4.  Allows for the incorporation of some amenities that have been requested by local Beulah Residents and Navy Federal Credit Union.

This compromise document represents a win-win for Beulah Residents, NFCU, and the citizens county-wide!

Listen to the Podcast Here

Escambia County Wins DOAH Appeal!

This land use battle went back and forth like Forest Gump playing ping pong.....costing private citizens' time, legal fees, county staff time, and all kinds of time at BCC meetings.......

County attorney Alison Rogers and her staff are to be commended. 

They achieved a very nice win  yesterday that ends---unequivocally, unambiguously, once and for all-and rather unceremoniously- a long running and expanding land use argument that essentially began with a disagreement between the county, one citizen, and one property owner that has bounced back and forth at meetings and online like Forest Gump's ping pong balls. (was that a run-on sentence?)

But now all of that is over.   finally. finito!

The county was right and the pro se petitioner in this case was wrong, it's really pretty basic and that's the way this ends..

From the order:

"Contrary to the Petitioner's contention, the MU-S FLU category's primary focus is on a mix of uses in a suburban area. See Findings of Fact Nos. 6-8, above.      Indeed, the FLU element of the Comp Plan expresses a purpose and intent to encourage mixed- use development..Also, the Petitioner's focus on the differences between the MU-S and Mixed-Use Urban (MU-U) FLU categories in the Comp Plan was misplaced. The premise that the HC/LI zoning district implements the MU-U FLU category better than it implements the MU-S FLU category was not the issue to be determined in this proceeding.   Rather, it was whether the Ordinance, as amended by the Remedial Ordinance, amending the HC/LI zoning district in the LDC is consistent with the Comp Plan..All other contentions not specifically discussed have been considered and rejected...Based on the foregoing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, it is

ORDERED that the Ordinance, as amended by the Remedial Ordinance, amending the HC/LI zoning district in the County LDC, is consistent with the 2030 County Comp Plan."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Value of a Fair Compromise

Nobody gets everything they want in a compromise, but sometimes compromise is precisely what is needed to move a project forward...

Yesterday's meeting of the Board of County Commissioners produced several significant-albeit nuanced-victories.

The most profound outcome came from our discussion and eventual compromise on OLF 8 (and our jobs project for that location).

This OLF 8 project was conceived, enacted, and funded--from day 1-- as an economic development project to create jobs for all Escambia County residents.

But as we came closer to the point where we would actually acquire this 636 acre Beulah property from the Navy--a growing number of folks wanted us to scrap the jobs aspect of the deal and instead develop the property solely as an amenity for local residents and/or as an "attraction" for visitors and residents of  Beulah.  These folks did not want any additional good, high-paying clean-tech, high-tech jobs to be produced with this land---in direct contrast to the original intent of the project.

That's why, when these folks took the staff's initial RFP draft, they removed mention of the triumph grant, regional economic significance, and other important verbiage.

Staff and I took their version, and I added back the language about adhering to the spirit of our Triumph Gulf Coast grant (which may pay us as much as $30 Million Dollars if we create a minimum of 1000 good-paying jobs on this property) and the regional significance language which is essential if we are to win this grant.

Although I do not support any additional residential units being constructed on this property for many good reasons, my chopped version of the RFP still maintained the language  that "all options should be considered by the master planner in order to bring the highest and best value for the taxpayers with this land."  This included reference to mixed use development and housing---even though I don't support this because I do not feel we need any more.  But I was, and am, attempting a compromise.

So at the meeting, one speaker made some recommendations that were not profound and one of my counterparts made some suggested changes that did not dramatically alter the direction of this document-- and nobody suggested the removal of the reference to job creation on the site--so I agreed to the changes and the full board moved forward to a 5-0 compromise on an RFP document for the master planner that all parties could be happy with.

In a situation like this, with multiple persons and entities involved with various agendas and differing visions for this land---NOBODY is ever going to get everything they want.  Never going to happen.

But it was profound, and significant, that we were able to reach a 5-0 on this contentious subject via this compromise.

Round 2 comes next as the BCC and staff evaluates a proposal from NFCU to pay for a Master Plan for this property.  This next step will be complex, and it may take several months for staff and NFCU to bring something to the board for our action.  But as I have said at several meetings---step one for this project is and always was creating an RFP all stakeholders could live with---one that maintained the focus on jobs and not loosing our $30 Million Dollar triumph grant ----regardless of who it is that will eventually pay for the plan to be produced.

And we completed step one yesterday via a compromise that was fair.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Property Rights, Development, and the Government's Role in Growth

Residential Construction has exploded in Beulah, blowing out our infrastructure.  Now what, allow more--on one of the last big parcels in Beulah, one that the county controls currently?!?

Beulah is growing, it has been for years.  When I came aboard the County Commission, in late 2016 less than two years ago, this phenomenon was already well under way and I knew it coming in.

I get it, and now it is my problem, I inherited it, yes, but now I own it as your county commissioner in this district.

And we all get it.

Developers want to make money.  We all want to make money.

So residential development has blown up in Beulah because it is close to the freeway, close to town, and close to Navy Federal Credit Union.   Land WAS (used to be) affordable-- So it was the perfect location to build, and it created the perfect storm in terms of traffic.

Because the infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth.  Everyone knows this.  I know it because I live here and we here lived here a long time--way before the growth explosion happened.

So now we are at a crossroad.  Infrastructure is planned and under construction around Beulah.  More is Planned.  We will get another interchange within the next 5-8 years.  That's coming.  4-Lanes for 9-Mile Road?  Yes, that's coming late next year. Improvements and traffic signals on Mobile Hwy--check, they're coming.  fixes to north south county roads (Klondike, 8-Mile Creek, Beulah Road)?  In planning right now as we speak.  A modernized fire station, it's coming.  Elementary school?  (needed but not up to us, up to ECSD).  I say all of this to say this:  Typically, infrastructure follows growth--it's just the way it works--otherwise the government builds roads to nowhere, bridges to nowhere, and airports that are not essential.  Growth drives infrastructure unless you live in a High-TAX blue state that charges exorbitant, destructive development fees like Mello-Roos fees in California for instance.  Luckily and thankfully, we're a red state and a red community.  We don't do that here.

Meanwhile, private developers have purchased properties in Beulah that are zoned a certain way, with the intention of developing said properties.  And once these properties are zoned by the county and purchased by private individuals, and once these private individuals jump through the development review hoops to get approval for construction--they have the RIGHT to build what they have planned!

It's called private property rights--and I am a strong supporter of private property rights, within the bounds of zoning by the county, in order to manage growth appropriately.

So now that the growth train has left the station out here--what are the only means by which we can mitigate the impacts of more out-of-control residential growth?

1.  Plan.  I have impaneled a 9-member, BCC sanctioned committee to study this issue and bring a master plan concept forward to the citizens in order to help address this issue going forward.

2.  Look closely at up-zonings.  I have voted against the last three that did not meet the public interest (i.e. they would have exacerbated the current traffic and infrastructure problems in Beulah).  I'll continue to vote against these and PUD's that don't help the situation out here dramatically--unless there is a compelling reason not to do this.

3.  Don't exacerbate the problem with Government-Owned property.  We will soon own OLF 8 in the heart of Beulah and we will decide how it is to be zoned.  Tabula Rasa.  Blank Slate.  If we make solid decisions with how we allow it to be zoned and developed--we can help mitigate the out-of-control growth in residential construction out here that has blown out our infrastructure.  If we're smart.  If we allow more high-impact, high-density, traffic-exacerbating residential construction on this soon-to-be acquired property---then we are only making the problem worse.

I won't vote to make things worse.

"Town Center" coming to Beulah?

Project 52, a new mixed-use development in Beulah directly across the street from NFCU and adjacent (east) of Nature Trail--will have retail, restaurant, and other amenities to include a "Town Center" feature.

I have recently been told about and I have seen conceptual drawings for "Project 52"--a soon-to-be constructed mixed-use development coming to Beulah.

Interestingly-a large component of this development will be a "Town-Center" concept at the northern boundary of the property--directly across the street from the sprawling NFCU campus in Beulah.

And with 9-Mile road having pedestrian and bike friendly sidewalks installed on a two-mile stretch from the interstate to Beulah road as a part of the 4-lane project currently under construction--this creates a very walk-able community.  This is something many have been clamoring, congratulations! you go, voila!  It's coming!

There will be walk-able spaces, retail, restaurant, and a medical office facility--as well as over three hundred residential apartment units--within the footprint of "Project 52".  (This project is directly adjacent to the Nature Trail Subdivision, and adjoining the 68 Ventures mixed-use project [Pathstone] that is directly to the east.)  Pathstone, like Project 52, will contain additional restaurant, retail, and even more housing options---- 982 units total---all built in a walk-able manner complete with sidewalks--directly across the street and within walking distance of NFCU's campus and very near the on-ramp to I-10.

Once both of these properties are built-out and online--the nearby residents and employees of NFCU will have even more of  a walk-able, bikable option for housing, restaurants, retail, and other quality of life amenities very close to where they work....all built and provided by the PRIVATE sector--as these sorts of amenities should be in my opinion.

The Residences at Nature Creek, another nearby residential development, is already well under way with their construction across the street from Pathstone and Project 52, on the north side of 9-Mile road--directly adjacent (east) of the NFCU campus.  This development will have 232 more, new single family homes and apartments once construction is completed--within walking distance of NFCU.

So the million dollar question is this:  With so much residential construction already completed in Beulah, and with so much coming online and under construction near NFCU already--including this new "Town Center" (within walking distance)---And you can see it all in this diagram, here---why in the world would we consider allowing for the development of even more high-impact, traffic-

Friday, November 16, 2018

Escambia County: A Classy Organization that Says Farewell to Departing Members with Class

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover C. Robinson IV for his 12 years of public service to Escambia County

This afternoon was an occasion to celebrate Grover Robinson's 12 years on the Escambia Board of County Commissioners as the District 4 Representative--and Escambia stepped up for the occasion.

The county staff did a superb job of organizing, planning, and putting on a nice goodbye party for one of our own that will be leaving after giving 12 years of service to this board.  How classy, what a class act Escambia County is! 

Grover was presented with a framed proclamation, a very nice plaque, and a parting gift as well as a nice celebration for friends, family, and other elected officials to attend. 

Appetizers, beverages, and just an opportunity to say "Thank You" to a member that has given a significant portion of his life to this board in public service.  That is the right thing to do.

Other boards locally that do nothing for their departing  members beyond a small plaque should seek to emulate the County's method for honoring elected representatives that are leaving. It's appropriate, and it is classy.

In speaking with staff today, I was told  "Yes, we do this for all of our commissioners that leave the board."  "We provide food and beverages and a nice gift for the commissioner who is leaving--as a respectful gesture of thanks and gratitude."

How refreshing this perspective is compared to other organizations with which I have worked.

What a classy organization full of great people. 

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover for his 12 years of service to Escambia County

As Grover himself said it today...."We are fortunate in Escambia County that we have the finest citizens working for us!"  He is right!--

I can't say enough great things about this staff...professional, courteous, respectful, knowledgeable,  and timely with information.  What a great place to serve as an elected official.  I am blessed to have the honor of serving here and I am thankful!

And we wish Grover much success in his new role as Mayor of the City of Pensacola as we say good bye to him--he's going to do a great job for the citizens!