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Sarasota Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013 3 years ago

Our View


It’s so easy to get in our cocoons and silos, and block out reality.

Separate scenes:

Scene 1:

Talk to Rose Chapman, executive director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service Sarasota-Manatee Inc. She will tell you how important it is for our region to be able to help those families that straddle the edge. That need a place for at least a year — a year — where they can have the time and security of retraining themselves or improving their skills and not have to fret and stress over where they and their children are going to sleep each night. Three months, six months doesn’t cut it, Chapman says.

And they need to be able to find jobs.

Phil Tavill, president and CEO of Children First, will tell you how his organization is able to take care of 500 of Sarasota County’s most vulnerable children, age birth to 5, for those families that cannot afford day care. He says he has a waiting list of 300.

Like Chapman, Tavill says, one of the keys to helping these families is having living-wage employment.

More and better jobs here.

Scene 2:

At the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations panel discussion Nov. 11, CONA President Lourdes Ramirez and Vice President Cathy Antunes articulated that organization’s opposition to easing any of the county’s development restrictions in its infamous 2050 plan. That’s the plan that imposes high-hurdle restrictions on development east of Interstate 75.

CONA is adamant that new development should happen first in urban areas closer to the coast. That area already has utilities infrastructure that can absorb population growth with no additional cost to taxpayers.
In other words, they hold on to the battle cry that opposes “suburban sprawl.”

Meanwhile, there’s the city of Sarasota, where city zoning laws put tight caps on housing densities and building heights.

Together, the 2050 plan and the city’s density restrictions are impediments to population growth, economic growth and job growth.

Now put the above two scenes together. You have leaders of organizations that serve the poor calling for more job opportunities for their clients so they can have a better chance of avoiding homelessness and living more productive lives.

And then you have the leaders of neighborhoods calling to continue tight development restrictions that limit growth out east, while at the same time saying they want development pushed to the urban core where city ordinances prohibit increased densities, which in turn raises the cost of housing development downtown.

What’s more, let’s be honest. Although Ramirez and Antunes will say there are plenty of places for new “infill” development in Sarasota proper (west of I-75 and east of Tamiami Trail), there is a reason it doesn’t occur. Obviously, it’s not economically attractive or viable; otherwise, Neal Communities would be building there.

Here’s the point: It’s likely not going to matter much what homeless expert Robert Marbut recommends be done to address Sarasota’s vagrancy/homeless problems. If you believe, as we do, that a rising tide lifts all boats, then Sarasotans need to come out of their cocoons and silos and realize that this community needs a larger middle class. It needs a pathway for those at the bottom to move up; to be able to obtain an entry-level job and move up to living-wage jobs and have the opportunity to move up to high-paying jobs.

But this cannot be done without a growing economy. And in Florida, the most fundamental ingredient required to have a growing, expanding economy that offers a variety of level of jobs is population growth.

Population growth brings economic growth. It brings more choices, more jobs and more opportunities.

When CONA’s leadership and members stand firmly against growth (they call it sprawl), and when the city of Sarasota stands against higher densities, they are sentencing this region to what it is now — a community of largely have and have nots, with nary a middle class in between. Homelessness will not go away.


For more than 15 million American TV and newspaper fans, he has been known as the Jewish half of the Catholic-Jewish “God Squad.”

Rabbi Marc Gellman and Catholic Msgr. Tom Hartman — “the God Squad” — since 1995 appeared regularly on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the “Imus in the Morning” radio show, their weekly cable TV program and in a nationally syndicated newspaper column.

Gellman and Hartman filled a media vacuum that addressed God, religion and ethics far different than the approach of the Sunday morning TV evangelists. For them, it wasn’t showbiz or all about money. It was to educate in a thoughtful way — spiced with clever humor.

One of their overarching themes: We know enough about how we are all different but not enough how we are the same.

Gellman brought his message to Sarasota Monday morning, Nov. 18, as the keynote speaker of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Sarasota-Manatee Inc.’s annual Grace Rosen Magill Lecture at Michael’s On East.

Rarely will you see such a gifted speaker. With his white hair, round spectacles and bow tie, he could remind you of a modern, albeit rabbinical, Mark Twain. The real-life stories that he weaves through his lecture are the gift-wrapping around his thought-provoking messages.

Gellman told his Sarasota audience, for instance, of the poor man across the street. Gellman said when he asked his students who that man was, they replied: “He’s nobody. He’s just the poor guy we see every day across the street.”

But Gellman reminded his audience: That Mr. Nobody “is the image of God walking across the street.”
Said Gellman: “Ask yourself if there is a greater feeling in life than finding your best friend. The love you feel in that.” And then he said, “Ask yourself, ‘Do I have a dear, close friend of a different religion, a different race, a different nationality?’

“Interfaith dialogue that matters in our world is when you look across the fence and talk to someone who is not like you,” he said.

Gellman also told his audience what he believed to be “pure charity.”

“It doesn’t involve any self-interest,” he said. “When you give to a charity that cannot possibly help you, you get a sense of a true act of selflessness.”

When an audience member asked Gellman how he responds to people who blame the world’s ills on religion, Gellman told how he and Msgr. Hartman always handled this question the same way. They asked their audience members to write down the names of the five people whom they believe contributed the most good to the world and the five who contributed the most evil to the world.

“The answers are always the same,” Gellman said. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi are three names that almost always are on the good list. Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung always end up on the evil list.

What does that tell you about religion? he said.

Osama bin Laden, said Gellman, was a bit different. “Bin Laden used religion to motivate people to be terrorists.”


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