Westshore Alliance Tampa Mayoral Candidate Forum

Much appreciation to the Westshore Alliance for hosting a Mayoral Candidate Forum on Wednesday morning, January 23, 2019. As promised, here are my answers to each of the questions that we were asked at this impressive, well-attended event.

Question 1: With the recently approved 1 percent transportation tax, how will you prioritize transportation projects in Tampa to ensure funds are spent equitably throughout the city

When we consider how to spend the All For Transportation money, the top priority has to be safety. To this effect, we need to invest in better roads and Complete Streets.  We must invest in mass transit so that we can reduce congestion. And we need to ensure that all of these things happen in all of the neighborhoods, with the very first priority being that kids can get to school safely.

Question 2: Hillsborough County now has the highest sales tax in the state; what measures will you consider to reduce the cost of doing business in the City?

As your small business candidate for Mayor, this question is extremely important to me. Even though Tampa has the highest sales tax in the state, overall, it isn’t that high by national standards. A part of my platform is to empow local small businesses to run their business more efficiently and maximize their profits while still creating incredible impact in the community. I want to create incentives for local small businesses to be hired for local projects rather than sourcing these resources from companies outside of the city. I want to ensure the proper training to teach small businesses how to manage their money better. Most small businesses have limited cash flow because they don’t know how to manage their money. I’ve worked with hundreds of small business owners on accelerating their scalability and maximizing profits. 98% of Tampa’s economy is due to small business, so it’s crucial that we focus on training and resources and programs to help them succeed. We should also have a large-scale educational program about the availability of TechHire grants, and we need to bring on more grant writers to get more federal money. There are plenty of grants available for small businesses, but grant writing is a skill that has very steep learning curve. Small businesses need to know that these grants are available, and they need even more help acquiring these grants. It is an economically smart thing for our city to do. Lastly, we must speed up our permitting. I want to streamline the permitting process using artificial intelligence and machine learning so that we can take the process from 6 weeks, which is what it takes currently, to less than 6 hours.

Question 3: How will you include business community representatives in an advisory role to assist you as you consider City initiatives that would impact the local economy and the business community?

As a small business owner myself, I understand these needs deeply – this is personal for me. I want to have representatives from each business district who can share grievances and work closely to help identify problems and solutions that are extremely localized. I’m more than open to having a council that is representative of the entire city. Small Business Saturday is a terrific start, but this should be our mindset every day; to patronize small businesses first. When we do business with a local company, 70-cents of every dollar that we spend stays in Tampa. When we do business with companies outside of the city, only 30-cents of every dollar stays here locally. I’ve succeeded in business because I have surrounded myself with high caliber advisors from all over the world. This won’t change when I am the Mayor. I will continue to surround myself with smart people who know more than I know about the important issues in order to create effective change.

Question 4: The Tampa Comprehensive Plan designates Westshore as one of three business centers targeted for increased growth and development. What tools and incentives will you put in place to encourage additional real estate development and job growth in the district?

I will work to make it easier to get permits for transit-oriented development and mixed-use development. The permitting process right now is tedious and annoying for everyone involved; no human should be doing it. Permitting is something that we should be using artificial intelligence and machine learning for so that the turn-around time can be reduced drastically. Another thing is to ensure that development codes match transit-oriented development and mixed-use development so that our building codes take the accessibility of mass transit into account and ensure walkability by combining commercial building with retail and residential. Additionally, our parking codes are woefully outdated. I propose that we eliminate marking minimums. Parking minimums add unnecessary costs for developers, and they can pass on the savings to the renters or the buyers who do not own cars. Plus, we must ensure that we have connected roads/mass transit options near all large-scale commercial development projects. For Westshore in particular, I will focus on creating transit system options, like adding a circulator (as Mark Sharpe is doing in Tampa’s !P District) and creating more safe biking lanes in this area so that driving isn’t always your best option.

Question 5: About one third of employees in Westshore commute from outside of Hillsborough County, and millions of travelers arrive at Tampa International Airport. Tell us how you will work with your colleagues in Pasco and Pinellas to make sure Westshore is accessible to their residents and tourists.

I am a Collaboration expert. I literally wrote the book on the “Collaboration Economy.” Who better to get the leaders from adjoining regions to join forces for the betterment of Tampa Bay than an expert in collaboration? I will focus on regional transit planning–meaning that when we talk about transit options, we aren’t just talking about transit options within the city, we are talking about transit options for all of Tampa Bay in order to create a more wholistic and complete transit system. This will make our region more competitive; thus making each city and neighborhood more competitive. A deal needs to be good for the entire area.  A deal that is good for Tampa but Bad for Pasco or Pinellas is a deal that’s bad for the Tampa Bay Region. We must focus on regionalism, because we won’t become a global power without collaboration on a local, regional, national and even international scale.

Question 6: The planned re-construction of the Howard Frankland Bridge and Westshore interchange could potentially cause years of gridlock in Westshore. As mayor, what will you do to work with FDOT to provide mobility options to maintain and promote access for workers and residents in the District?

Before any interchange or bridge work is started, I would encourage FDOT to construct the intermodal center on the land they already own that is currently occupied by Charlie’s Steakhouse and the Doubletree Hotel. As FDOT has already done in other Florida cities, I would encourage them to fund the capital costs of new public transit routes to Westshore and to commit to also funding the operating costs of those new routes during the entire time of construction, since they are creating inconveniences for the locals. FDOT should provide circulator shuttle bus service between the new transportation intermodal center to strategic locations in the Westshore Business District, clustered around the major employment centers to offset the last mile issue. And, I would encourage major construction work to be done during off peak hours. Beyond that, there are many innovative strategies that other global cities have implemented, like giving an incentive to businesses who are willing to change or stagger work hours or by creating a rideshare app to free up congestion. According to a study by HART, 2% reduction in traffic reduces gridlock…EVERYWHERE!!!  Before we spend billions of dollars, why not try some alternative programs and use prize-based innovation systems to create new ways of commuting to work using traditional methods.

Question 7: The Tampa future land use plan envisions more density and more uses on Westshore’s major corridors. But, West Shore Blvd. is a county road and Boy Scout Blvd. Kennedy Blvd and Dale Mabry are state roads. How will you work with the county and state to encourage improvements consistent with future land use?

It’s in the interest of the state and the county to cooperate with the city and ensure their development is in alignment with our vision for the city.  But currently, they aren’t getting leadership from the city, they are getting compliance and acquiescence. I’ve met with engineers of FDOT and while one could argue they’ve earned their reputation in the past, there is a changing of the guards happening and we are starting to see more innovative work from them.  For example, Tampa St. and Florida Ave, also owned by FDOT have installed curb extension on them. I would have never thought they would have done that even 5 years ago, but they are coming around. Transformation on transportation happens when leaders know how to stand up and share a vision that is undeniable.

Question 8: The most recent Westshore Alliance survey of residents and workers identified several areas where Westshore needs improvement. In addition to traffic congestion and walkability, more public spaces were a top priority. Explain your plan to create public spaces for the nearly 15,000 residents and 100,000 employees in Westshore.

I will stress the importance of creating Third Places. The first place is one’s home, the second place is one’s work.  A third place becomes somewhere one goes to decompress, relax and feel happy. It is these kinds of open design destinations that make people fall in love with their cities. Third places serve help you relax and wind down so you can return to work rejuvenated. (After all, owning a small business can be stressful!) Parklets, parks, and cafes serves as terrific third places.

Question 9: Westshore has evolved into an urban neighborhood, but there are still open drainage ditches, flooding issues, streets without sidewalks, and a lack of neighborhood connectivity. This is reflected in other parts of Tampa, too. Outside of transportation, what is your biggest infrastructure priority and how will you address it?

Long before you sent us these questions I created a video sharing my priorities for Complete Streets. (I would also refer back to my answer to Question 1, rather than being repetitive for the sake of this article.) Environmental infrastructure is next priority because if Tampa goes under water, there will be no city to work in, play in, or live in…or in my case, to govern. I have published a comprehensive Green City Plan that will explain how I will address environmental infrastructe in great detail from below the ground, on the ground, and above the ground.

Question 10: What policy initiatives do you propose to ensure the city plays a tangible role in encouraging the inclusion of affordable units near the city’s major employment centers, including Westshore?

I am very passionate about Affordable Housing, because it relates back to my entire platform which includes social justice, environmental impact and transportation.  We must give incentives to developers to create affordable and workforce housing, we must eliminate parking minimums, and we must focus on transit-oriented development and mixed-use development (which has been addressed in Question 4 for the sake of brevity.) As this pertains to Westshore, the workforce housing policies must allow residents to be able to find a place to live easily and affordably.

Question 11: In 2013, the city, county and Westshore Alliance co-funded the Westshore Public Realm Master plan. How will you work with the Westshore Alliance to implement the plan?

This plan is tremendous because it is so important to listen to the community, as they are the ones who know what they want and what they need, not someone sitting behind a desk in City Hall. One of the main things that we need to do is to invest in the Drew Park CRA. The area has been under-managed and has been forgotten; and now it has low density. We need to stimulate this area to get it back in action. This will help one third of Stadium Area, and will ripple out to help other surrounding areas. We need to hire an economic development expert to reinvigorate this area. Because Drew Park is designated as a CRA, every extra dollar earned will go back into the CRA fund to reinvest directly into the neighborhood to help the area economically, environmentally and socially.