Imagine my surprise Friday morning when I woke up to dozens of emails from furious yet civic-minded citizens in our sunny city on the bay. I had no idea endorsing candidates on ThisWeekInSarasota.com would cause such a flurry of anger. Half of the emails were complimentary, while the other half were downright threatening. For a good Southern boy who only wants to please people, it was mighty alarming to have to deal with. So, I did what any good boy raised in the South would do. I ignored the negative ones and went outside to putz around in my garden.
There I was, dancing to Rihanna and planting tomatoes, when my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number and gambled whether or not it would be a lover or a hater on the other end. My ego got the best of me. When I answered, I heard the voice of Richard Dorfman. He sounded, well---how shall I say it---pissed?Richard insisted that I had misrepresented him in my article. I explained that I'm not a hard-hitting journalist, I'm an opinion writer; but if I had misrepresented any of his views in the article I would be more than happy to publish the necessary changes.
"So what do you want changed?" I asked. Richard hemmed and hawed for a bit, then admitted that it wasn't what I had written that bothered him, but what I hadn't written. He explained that on the day of our telephone conversation, he had been surrounded with chaos while working hard on his campaign over at The HuB, and didn't have the time or focus to give me the answers he would have liked to.
"Do you know how chaotic that place is?" he asked me. Being one of the original founders of the HuB (and no longer involved at all), I sympathized with the chaos he was probably experiencing. Richard then apologized for being so short with me when I interviewed him and asked me simply to write an update that detailed his views.
My first question was, "Why do you care who I endorse?"
"Matt," he replied, "you have a huge distribution." Well, pitter-pat goes my heart, Richard Dorfman! You know exactly how to use those negotiating skills to get more press. So, rather than attending my friend Patrick's birthday party I'm typing this up at midnight on Saturday.
Now before we go any further, I think it's important you see these photos of me as a child. If you have the inkling to write me hate mail, just know you are being a hater to this sweet-hearted, tow-headed child. If you have the inkling to write me a nice letter ... well ... bless your heart.Richard and I talked three times on Friday. We debated certain issues and we saw eye-to-eye on others. Here are Richard's clarifications and my own take on his ideas, sorted by issue:
The Noise Ordinance
Richard declared he would work side-by-side with Paul Caragiulio to change the noise ordnance downtown. He will work to extend the hours of listening pleasure by one hour every night. I was happy to hear his absolute strong stance on the issue. Again, I still don't think the noise issue is a magic bullet that will create a more circular economy in Sarasota. It won't create more jobs. It won't solve our immediate budget woes and it won't keep our students in town. However, it's a step in the right direction that I support strongly (as do all the candidates except for Pete Theisen and Susan Chapman).
Richard spoke with neighbors in the neighborhood who could be getting a shiny new superstore on their doorstep, and his conclusion was the neighborhood wanted the box store. In Richard's words, "I shop on Main Street and it's a lot of money. Main Street decided that's the market. Wal-Mart is coming in to Ringling Shopping Center and there's a whole other part of the city who wants to shop at Wal-Mart and not Main Street. It's a market economy we live in, and we can't regulate that because it's a slippery slope. Main street adapted to the more expensive stores, and if Wal-mart did not think there was the demand for their product they would not build it. There's a demand for Wal-Mart."
I asked Richard about the loss of jobs our mom-and-pops would face when Wal-Mart opened. "I agree, Matt," he said, "Wal-Marts put mom-and-pops out of business in different parts of the country, but I don't know how you legislate against that stuff." Richard went on to explain that we needed less expensive stores on the outskirts of downtown for downtown residents to have access to cheaper products. I offered the examples of Portland, OR and Asheville, NC, which do a great job of supporting local businesses over multi-national chain stores. They're cities that Sarasota residents and leaders often cite as models for our own development. I pointed out how those communities invest in educating the public on why shopping local was a great idea. Richard insisted, "It's not the job of the city to teach people how to compete with Wal-Mart." Respectfully, I still disagree.
Richard really wants affordable housing and I asked him how we were going to achieve that.
"It's in rental housing, that's how," he said. "I've spent so much time focusing on the North Trail and I think that's a good spot for it. The size of the units needs to range from 500 to 1500 square feet and it does not need to cost an arm and a leg. Rent needs to be $500 to $600 for someone who makes $30,000 a year. How will we get this done? On North Trail, we will have to increase the density from 35 units per acre to 50 to 75 units per acre. You have to get density with a mixed-used application for a developer to make money. The retail could be clothing, Starbucks, Kinko's, whatever. I think you need some decent paying retail operations to subsidize profitability on the project. If we have four acres and we can build 11 units and have 300 new people to service more development. We will be creating a whole new industry, jobs in the retail spaces and hopefully jobs for the Newtown neighborhood which has a current 30 percent unemployment rate. We would have 600 new eyes on the street looking out for crime. To do this we have to change the zoning, and I'm willing to work on that."
I asked him, "What about the retail in this development?"
Richard explained, "We want better retail on the trail. We don't want dollar value stores on the trail. The current stores are ugly and that needs to be changed."
Hold up a minute. Ugly stores that need to be changed? I thought. Well, what about the giant discount superstore on Ringling we've been talking about? You know, the one we shouldn't be allowed to regulate or change. But then I thought, I'd sure like to make it to my friend's birthday party, and just banged my head against the wall instead.
I love the North Trail vision that we've been talking about for the 11 years I've been living in the city. I don't want to speak for the neighbors on the North Trail, but I can't imagine they will support doubling the density from 35 units to even 40 units, much less 75 ... and I'm also not sure we have the infrastructure to support it, but I'm sure Dan Lobeck will weigh in on this in the comment box below to let us know. I like Richard's ideas, and after talking to him again I believe he is a nice guy who wants good things to occur for Sarasota. The problem is we have two different opinions. Good luck candidates. I'm sure you'll be happy when this is over.