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Sarasota Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013 4 years ago

Our View


If you put yourself in their shoes, you can understand their angst and what we’ll call their “Sarasota NIMBYism.”

These are the property owners on Lido Key, whose beaches have become critically eroded, and the property owners on Siesta Key, who are fighting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed dredging of Big Pass to renourish Lido Key.

Both constituents fear the consequences to their properties. If Lido Key beach isn’t maintained and continues to erode, we know the obvious eventual calamity. But if New Pass is dredged, some Siesta Key residents fear, that loss of sand could damage their properties and their famed Siesta Key beach.
Everyone has selfish interests at stake.

And so the NIMBYism has begun. Classic neighborhood behavior on the west coast of Florida. Sometimes it seems residents here must have invented that acronym.

But here are the unavoidables: 1) Maintaining the beaches, and 2) Dredging. They are facts of life in this region and must be done, however much residents and environmentalists object.

The challenge is making the best choices for both.

Beach maintenance became an unavoidable reality on the Gulf Coast because of long-standing — for good or bad — development too close to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s necessary on two levels for sure. One is to protect individuals’ property. Another level is to protect the economic value of the beaches for the greater community. They and the Gulf provide economic sustenance here. Without them, we’d be little more than a Yeehaw Junction.

Surely everyone who lives on or near the beaches knows this. And to fight it is delusional. This is part of the price to pay to live here and close to the beach.

Once you get beyond that, the next two choices are tougher: 1) how best to maintain the beaches; and 2) how much to spend to maintain them.

Take the first — how best to maintain them. For decades, dredging sand from nearby sources in the Gulf of Mexico has been the accepted and most economical method. And it still is.

To that end, taxpayers spend millions of dollars on Army Corps engineers and private-sector experts searching for the most economical and compatible sources of sand. Taxpayers place their faith and trust in these experts not only to find economical, compatible sand but also to determine the future consequences of their choices might be.

And likewise, it’s incumbent on these experts to make convincing cases to taxpayers and property owners for their choices.

Indeed, that process is underway now. As Milan Mora, Army Corps project manager, told Siesta Key residents recently: “It’s not a plan set in stone.” State officials still need to sign off on it.

The process is working as it should. And all of this — the fact Lido Key beach must be maintained; the fact sand must be dredged; and the fact the approval process is working — should not have to make the Lido Key residents feel compelled to mount a PR campaign in support of the Big Pass dredging and to battle the NIMBYs.

To be sure, all affected residents — on Siesta Key and Lido Key — would be wise to stay engaged in the process and help the Corps make the best choices.

Meanwhile, those residents fighting the Big Pass dredging might keep these points in mind as well:
All of our beaches — from Anna Maria Island to Manasota Key — are linked in this coastal chain. One always affects the other; they cannot be maintained in isolation.

Likewise, those who object to the dredging of Big Pass should see that by choosing to own property near the beach and near the pass, they must accept certain consequences. One of them is this: As long as millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars subsidize the maintenance of the beaches and thus the protection of their private properties, these residents have forfeited complete control of their destiny. Life is all about choices and their consequences.

+ Privatize St. Armands’ park
What a fiasco. And it’s a complicated one.

That is, the issue of managing events at St. Armands Circle Park.

St. Armands Circle Park is a great venue for events. Tourists and shoppers always swarm the famed retail center, so the park is a great place to showcase goods and wares.

At the same time, the St. Armands Circle merchants and their stores’ property owners are wary of what goes on in the park. Rightfully, they guard St. Armands Circle’s image and reputation closely. There’s a good reason you never see any two-bit swap meets or heavy-metal rock concerts in the park.

Then there is a third element — the residential neighbors. They are just as particular about what goes on in the park. They especially bristle when big events overwhelm their streets with cars and people.

And finally, there is the matter of which groups are permitted to use the park.

It’s always a tug and pull.

On top of all of this, the city’s rules for St. Armands Park (and other city parks) are a bureaucratic fiasco.

It’s ridiculous what the city requires to obtain a permit for an event. Indeed, sit in on a St. Armands Circle Association board meeting and if you listen to the chiseling costs the association must pay for police supervision, park clean-up, permitting, etc., your jaw would drop. All that for this little park?

Predictably, the fact all of these groups have their special interests and the fact the city bureaucracy ultimately controls the use of the park, it’s no surprise to see what has occurred — the squabbling, fighting, accusations of favoritism and special deals and the usual ugliness and politics that comes with government intervention.

If anyone thinks the nonprofit St. Armands Circle Association is awash in cash because of underhanded deals, go ask its board members. They’ll tell you they’re exhausted from their version of Groundhog Day — seeing in their financial statements every year there is never enough money to buy new Christmas decorations or promote the Circle as it should be promoted.

Here’s a fix: Knowing the merchants and residents are so particular about what happens in St. Armands Circle Park, they should buy or lease the park from the city. Turn its operation over to the private sector.

In Manhattan in New York City, a nonprofit conservancy controls and operates Bryant Park. What used to be a dumpy, disgusting, dangerous public park is now clean, thriving and a joy for New Yorkers. Since its privatization in 1996, it has not required a single dollar from New York City taxpayers.

If the management of St. Armands Circle Park were in the hands of a private venture, we guarantee that would end all of the accusations and squabbling over blackout dates and who is or isn’t allowed to conduct events.

It is a long-proven fact that when property is left in the hands of the “public,” the results typically bring what is known as the “tragedy of the commons” — the abuse and misuse of the property. When an individual has ownership, he has the incentive to maintain and improve the value of the asset. He has the incentive to create a benefit for others for his own selfish interests. Government has no such incentive.

+ Privatize Five Points, too
Come to think of it, Sarasota’s downtown merchants, landowners and residents should do the same: Privatize Five Points Park.


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