Last night former St. Pete City Council member turned paid Yes for Greenlight consultant Jeff Danner went toe to toe with Randall O’Toole representing No Tax for Tracks. The event, held at the Disston Neighborhood Association drew about 100 to the audiance. Those wearing Greenlight T-Shirts jeered and literally gave the middle finger to those in disagreement and constantly interrupted the moderator and speakers to shout at the stage. Danner was clearly outclassed, doing his standard stream-of-consciousness presentation woven together with a strong dose of “Trust me” and a smile. Randal O’Toole, an economist and national transit expert presented fact after fact on rail failures around the country and the PSTA’s own failures in its Greenlight Proposal (as well described in this detailed analysis on the Greenlight plan).
Mr. O’Toole pointed out how transit ridership has dropped 25% in Portland since 1980 despite massive rail and transit spending there beginning in ’90’s. He pointed out how “light rail” is the lowest capacity of transport and that a double decker bus would achieve more capacity if that was the true goal of the Grenlighters. Mr. O’Toole pointed out that Transit-Oriented Development (defined as 1/2 mile within rail stations) is always subsidized by the taxpayer and rich developers get even richer while their costs are covered by others. He pointed out that the proposed Greenlight Train, which doesn’t even go to Tampa, will require a $1 billion loan, with $700 million in interest payments making the train actually cost about $3 billion. This true cost of the train is not mentioned by Greenlight in their campaign designed to create the highest sales tax in the state. To an audience member who shouted “you don’t even live here”, he pointed out that he can “read data” and that it is true whether you live here or not. He pointed out how we have one of the worst managed transit systems in the country with an average bus ridership of 8 per bus while that in Honolulu is over 25 per bus!
Mr. Danner stumbled through his presentation, offering basically no facts and all platitudes and “visions”. He stated this was a great way to “remake the community”. He didn’t say in who’s image. He actually stated that Pinellas County is “losing population” which must have come as a major surprise to the PSTA and Greenlight supporters who have routinely claimed we need to build for an anticipated added population of 200,000 (page 2 of their taxpayer-funded propaganda)! Danner is actually agreeing with the facts that show we will not grow any population for next several decades according to State of Florida estimates! There is a phenomenon for when a politician accidentally tells the truth, but it occurs so rarely, no one has a name for it yet!
Mr. Danner stumbled on the question of “why not just raise sales taxes 1/2 cent and expand the bus system?” He stated that this is what the “community wants” referring to the carefully choreographed, PSTA-Greenlight run meetings that pushed the plan on the community. Those who disagreed were told to sit down and not given the chance to speak publicly. The real answer of course is that the rail and land developers can’t get rich off of busses, only on subsidized “transit oriented development” and the contracts to build the needless train.
Mr. Danner was asked why the train stations stopped short of the black neighborhoods in St. Pete and Clearwater and why there would be no “transit oriented development” in those areas. The train is planned to connect pretty condos in downtown St. Pete to those in downtown Clewarwater. Mr. Danner stated that those in black neighborhoods could “walk to the train” or take a bus. Never mind that the train is no further south than 1st Ave. S starting at about 8th st. It seems that the train is for the rich areas of town and that the land developers don’t feel that money can be made from Transit-Oriented Development “investments” in the neighborhoods of south St. Petersburg. Why is this not another issue of Transit apartheid like in other places around the country?
Mr. Danner made another possible faux pas that was really more of a threat. He pointed out that “people are going to pay for this thing no matter what”. That is likely true since even when voters reject rail boondoggles like this, the planners and fat cat developers never stop. Just look at the Hillsborough effort for a 2016 tax hike despite the rejection by 58% of voters there in 2010.
There is a reason voters are rejecting Greenlight Pinellas here in our county by a 12 point margin. They don’t want the highest sales tax in the state to pay for a bunch of false promises and a train that no one will ride! Mr. Danner got his clock cleaned, but the spin will certainly be different. Kind of like the spin of a rail train wheel on the pavement as it goes right down the middle of the East Bay drive medians. No thanks.