ST. PETERSBURG Four Tampa Bay mayors were questioned Wednesday about how the region should react to climate change.
They all spoke about transportation.
How many people took the bus to St. Petersburg today? Ken Welch, the Mayor of St. Petersburg, asked for a banquet hall filled with engineers, planners and government staffers.
No one raised a finger.
I didnt either, Welch said. He pointed out that cars powered by gas create fossil fuel emissions which heat the planet.
It all comes back to transportation and buildings, stated Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard. Here is where we produce the majority of our greenhouse gases.
Jane Castor, the mayor of Tampa, called for a cultural shift. She said that mass transit in Tampa is about more than two people in an automobile. We need to change our mindset.
Woody Brown, Largo Mayor, explained that it is difficult to get people to walk in the sprawling Pinellas County.
The discussion Wednesday of the second day The Tampa Bay Regional Ressiliency Leadership Summit highlighted the fact that efforts to address climate changes in Florida are interwoven with other fundamental, hard to conquer issues.
The state spends hundreds upon millions of dollars to protect its coastlines from sea level rise by funding projects such as stormwater drains upgrades and seawall constructions. Scientists disagree. To reduce global warming, people must decrease their use fossil fuels.
According to the mayors, this will mean reshaping Tampa Bay’s lifestyle.
One possibility is to give up some land that floods frequently. Because of future storms and sea level rise
Welch stated that there will be areas of the city that we shouldn’t rebuild long-term. He also noted that more than 40% of St. Petersburg is located in the Coastal High Hazard Area. This area is at risk of flooding during Category 1 hurricanes.
These concessions are not easy or common. Hibbard indicated that Clearwater’s barrier island are susceptible to flooding. Clearwater Beach, Island Estates, Sand Key and Island Estates only make up about 7 percent of the city’s total territory, but they contribute 40 percent to its tax revenue.
The mayors recommended improving the energy efficiency in public buildings, encouraging more solar energy projects, and purchasing electric cars.
Although climate change is a global issue, its effects are felt at the local level. The United States has seen city and county leaders lead the response to extreme heat and sea level rise, particularly in South Florida.
Castor mentioned plans to place solar panels on top a new city service center and the convention centre in Tampa. Brown said that 56 hybrid vehicles are available to Largos’ police force.
Welch stated that public transportation is still a major obstacle.
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He said that the region needs buses to get people to their destinations in a matter of minutes, even if it is at night or on weekends. We will never catch up if we don’t fund the basic bus service.
Pinellas and Hillsborough have failed to bring more rail and bus services to the bay area with 1-cent sales taxes in the past decade. Pinellas voters rejected a tax, while Hillsborough residents voted for it in 2018. However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the measure last year.
Hibbard indicated that CSX rail lines cross Pinellas and could transport additional passenger trains. There could be more housing in vacant industrial properties located near the tracks.
He said that we will need pockets with greater density and intensity to make transportation work. Since I arrived in this state in 1979, density has been a dirty term.
Castor stated that transportation is often the largest expense after housing. Castor said that making it easier for people to get around Tampa Bay could reduce emissions. She also suggested that it could make it more affordable to reside here, given the rising rents and high prices.
Castor said that local leaders will need to work more together to attract state- and federal money, as cities have done in Miami-Dade.
She said that we don’t do that in the Tampa Bay area. The mayor later added:
We must look beyond the obvious benefits of Tampa Bay and consider the problems we all face, as they are the same.