Dr. Val Zudans
In the past, Vero Communiqué has submitted questions to candidates running for local offices, such as Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River County Hospital District. Once again, we have submitted ten questions to the six candidates running for Vero Beach City Council. All candidates agreed to participate, except Jay Kramer, who indicated he “had not decided” to do so. We are pleased to share answers from the other five candidates to our ten questions.
1a. The sale of the Vero Beach electric utility to Florida Power and Light is top of mind. Are you for the full sale and under what circumstances?
1b. Also, would you support a partial sale if the total sale does not go through?
“It is a moot issue.”
1c. Do you believe a partial sale would result in the South Beach and other customers subsidizing Indian River Shores customers?
“IR Shores is almost all residential. The commercial and industrial properties (like Piper, Publix, etc.) in the city and county are very likely the biggest users of electricity.”
2. In order to sell the Vero Beach electric utility, Vero Beach would have to exit its’ contract the Florida Municipal Power Agency. All of the remaining 19 cities would have to agree to allow Vero Beach to exit. Do you think all 19 members would allow Vero Beach to do so?
“Yes, as long as a truly pro-sale majority is elected. The FMPA does not want to come under regulation and will likely go along with a pro-sale council. If an anti-sale majority gains control they could probably convince at least one FMPA member to object because an anti-sale majority could claim they are acting on the will of the people.”
3. From 2010 to 2016 the Vero Beach City Council budgeted $ 3,639,660 for various storm water projects and expended $ 2,683,239, a $ 956,421 short fall. According to a 12/11/15 article in Florida Today, Jim Waymer wrote that “Storm water is the No. 1 problem” facing the Indian River Lagoon. While Brevard County, FL residents voted overwhelmingly for a half-cent sales tax to fund Indian River Lagoon clean-up projects, the Vero Beach City Council voted not to give any further consideration on charging City residents a $ 5.00 monthly fee to protect the Lagoon. Should this $ 5.00 fee be reconsidered and if not, why not? If reconsideration resulted in enacting the fee, what projects do you feel should be undertaken?
“Stormwater management is one of the pillars of lagoon restoration. The nitrogen and phosphorous entering the lagoon from stormwater are the nutrients responsible for algae growth. The other pillars of lagoon cleanup are ocean flushing in areas away from inlets (water pipes exchanging ocean water to dilute nitrogen and phosporous and increased salinity in the lagoon near Vero Beach where there was once an inlet), muck abatement to remove muck blocking light for seagrass growth (the bottom of the food chain), and oyster matt projects (one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day). Rather than Dick Winger’s regressive stormwater tax, there are better sources of funding for those vital projects including getting at least a portion of the Big Blue site on the tax roll.”
4. What is your position on the Comprehensive Land Use 2035 POLICY Plan? And what is your position on the role of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council in our City planning?
“The last Comp Land Use plan was passed in 1992. They are due every 7 years. So, we are 18 years overdue and nothing bad has happened from non-compliance. This recent pressure to do something quickly is a red flag. If nothing bad happened due to 18 years of delay, then we can make sure that this comp plan is fully vetted by the representatives on city council and the community and home rule is maintained. With regard to TC Regional Planning Council, I will not vote for anything that delegates our home rule to regional planners.”
5. Inspired by Coral Gables, FL becoming the first city in Florida to ban the use of single use carry out plastic bags by retailers, there is a movement afoot to ban plastic bags in Vero Beach’s 32960 and 32963 zip codes. The goal of the movement is to get enough signatures of support to bring a proposal before the Vero Beach City Council to have the Council follow along and adopt Coral Gables’ ban. Would you support such a ban and why?
“Before passing more laws, I would start by encouraging the interested groups to begin a public relations campaign for why citizens should voluntarily choose to not use plastic. I would encourage them to fundraise and provide reusable bags. I would encourage them to speak with Publix, Walmart, the chamber of commerce, and other businesses in town about phasing out plastic bags voluntarily. I would suggest that they develop a sticker that merchants can place in their windows that say “Plastic free for the lagoon” or whatever logo they think best. And I’m sure there are many more clever ideas that advocates could come up with to influence behavior. When the public understands the impact of their decisions, the vast majority want to do the right thing and are willing to voluntarily change behaviors. It is a matter of education. Passing a new law restricting what citizens and businesses are allowed to do is not my first choice for government.”
6. At a recent South Beach Property Owners Eminent Speakers Series Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss suggested that Indian River County’s South Beach property owners enter into a conversation as to whether they should be annexed by Vero Beach. Should they desire to be annexed, do you support having the City Council enact an ordinance to annex South Beach, which would lead to two public meetings, followed by a vote of the registered electors of the annexed property?
“I attended this event and there is a small group of south beach residents interested in joining the city. Their leader’s number one issue is short term rentals (against Airbnb, etc.); they prefer the city’s ordinances restricting short term rentals over the county policy. I’m doubtful that the remainder of the south beach residents, many of whom I have spoken with, would be willing to pay higher taxes for just the short-term rental issue. They also seem satisfied with their current police coverage from the Sherriff’s office. Finally, there is distrust because of experiences with Vero Electric. If somehow there was no rate increase and the vast majority people of South Beach genuinely wanted to be in the city, then we would have to take them seriously and, as Mayor Moss said, enter in to a conversation.”
7. In the late 1970’s the City of Vero Beach enacted an ordinance outlawing vacation rentals for less than 30 days. In the last legislative session Florida State Representative Mike Larose and State Senator Greg Steube introduced companion bills that “A local law, ordinance or regulation may not …prohibit…vacation rentals.” Originally, the bills “did not apply to any local law, ordinance or regulation adopted on or before June 1, 2011.” However, Senator Steube subsequently filed an amendment to his bill that would delete the June 1, 2011 provision except to extent the rental is offered by a “person who is currently serving on active duty in a branch of the United States Armed Forces or owned by a disabled veteran with a service-connected evaluation of such disability of 30% or more, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.” It is likely that Representative Larose and Senator Steube will be back with similar companion bills, that if passed, would nullify Vero Beach’s 30-day rental ordinance except to the to the extent of the exception above, which would place the City in a position to monitor who or who doesn’t fall into that category. Are you aware of this threat and what action should the City Council be taking to address it?
“I am for home rule. Tallahassee should not be deciding our planning, zoning, noise ordinances, etc. We need advocates in Tallahassee to argue our position. That includes Representative Erin Grall and Senator Debbie Mayfield. I know both legislators well and will continue to communicate our community’s desire to maintain home rule on ALL issues. Also, the Florida League of Cities 2018 legislative action agenda has priority number 1: “Local Self-Government.” A city council member can join this fight along with them in Tallahassee; I plan to do so.”
8. Once Vero Beach’s Big Blue power station is removed, what would you like to see the City do with that property?
“Vero Beach residents must have some form of direct access to the lagoon from the mainland. I am in favor of doing the will of the people. I have walked door to door in the precincts and this is the second most common area of interest after the sale of the electric. “What happens next at the Big Blue site?” They are saying that they want public access to the water. Many ideas have been suggested by the public including some type of restaurant open to the public, shops, possibly a marina, and areas to put paddleboards, kayaks, and sailboats in the water. FPL’s excellent decision to move the transmission lines to the old postal property will maximize the potential that the Big Blue property will improve the quality of life in our community. In any plan for these sites, there should be no increase to height limits and leaders must be respectful of the residents in nearby neighborhoods. It is essential that at least a portion of this property go on to the tax rolls to relieve the tax burden on middle class citizens. And finally, according to the city charter, this all has to go to referendum, so it is essential that it is a plan that has the public’s full buy-in.”
9. What would you propose to improve the parking in Vero Beach, particularly on the Island in the proximity of Ocean Drive? Are you in favor or metered parking?
“I am in favor of not re-inventing the wheel. There are ideas that have worked elsewhere that we should first try them before even considering metered parking. As stated in Larry Reisman’s columns on this issue, Stuart has dramatically improved their downtown parking by utilizing “electronic chalking” and frequent golf cart shuttles. I have heard opponents say “we already tried the shuttles.” But,we did not have the electronic chalking where tags are scanned and it is immediately known whether someone exceeded the 3 hour limit in that zone. With electronic chalking, hotel workers will choose to use the free parking and shuttle from Riverside or some point yet to be identified as an all day parking lot. I have asked Karen Deigl at GoLine whether they would reconsider the shuttle if a stricter “electronic chalking” were initiated that strongly encouraged workers and people who wanted to spend more than 3 hours in the oceanside area to use the all day lots. She gave no promises, but said that they would at least consider it. I will follow through and make the case once we get electronic chalking. There may also be a need for better lighting at Riverside to ensure the safety of people choosing to park there. Interestingly, that same electronic chalking technology may be quite useful in identifying outstanding warrants and making our community even safer. It is my understanding that the Indian River Shores cameras have worked better than expected.”
10. If Vero Beach Mayor Laura Moss were to run for reelection, would you support her?
“Yes. I think that she is an excellent ambassador and advocate for our city. There is not a single public event that occurs in this city where she is not present. She has also been attending all of the FMPA meetings along with our city manager and even visiting other FMPA cities to seek their support. Getting the FMPA to approve our sale is the only remaining hurdle once we have a contract and she is the councilwoman leading the way. Her “coffee with the mayor” has been an excellent opportunity for transparency and direct access to our community leaders. She has been cautious about this and is thoroughly vetting the Comp Land Use plan. And, all else being equal, I think it is great to have a female leader among a historically and currently male dominant council.”