Exploring the joys of parking meters, Donald Trump, Xanax and the media

Editor & Publisher

No wonder SSRIs and Xanax and Fentanyl are washing over the national psyche like one large mind-soothing wave.

The world is seeking to insulate itself, crawl into a psychological womb, cut down its daily dose of anxiety and simply numb the onslaught of modern life.

And those not busy heading to general practitioners and psychiatrists, who in minutes classify everyone and anyone into their diagnostic wheel, smoke themselves in dysphasia through marijuana so strong Jimmy Hendrix is trying to crawl out of his grave.


A tragic chorus Trumps all

We merely exist in an era of ridiculously divisive rhetoric.

We live in an era when President Donald Trump is eviscerated daily by most every news organization — for good reason. Yet at the same time, a chorus of self-righteous indignation among the opposing media members is equally as nauseating as the President’s most strange, callous and bizarre remarks.

The fact is, the media is in a loop if dependency — Trump provides an endless detritus of positions and views and comments and the media each day acts shocked and surprised and we are supposed to marvel until we grow numb.

And as soon as Trump is absent in the nightly news, ratings fall.

The fact is, big personalities win in an environment of mass media. Think Clinton, JFK, Trump, Eminem, Kanye, Oprah, SpongeBob.

Gandhi, Jesus, James Joyce and Pablo Neruda would never make it in today’s America. They would be marketed as the names of cheap perfume remaindered at TJ Maxx.


The Chihuahua who ate the Wall Street Journal

The era of investigative journalism, thought-out commentary and informed decision-making has retreated into a past few remember — it must be Googled nostalgically when and if we have time.

It is all about hits on the Internet and ratings on television. We are in a world of Marshall McLuhan on Methamphetamines with our social networks guarded by Mark Zuckerberg and financial decisions yelled by the Mad Money host who sounds like a barking Chihuahua who ate the Wall Street Journal and is vomiting into a microphone.

I counter the onslaught through anger and resentment.

I dislike celebrities, politicians and most so-called personas of the media. It makes my life easier.

“Trust the art, not the artist” as John Lennon uttered to Yoko just after he was shot. If he were shot today, Yoko would have scrambled to get one last selfie to upload and checked for likes later in the evening.

Oh, I forget I had something to say in this editorial space. I would hate to use language as a means to no end.

I want to raise an issue looming like red tide over the whole Downtown region — the wafting approach of paid parking meters.


We can all agree we do not like parking meters

It is something we all can agree on. We do not like paid parking meters.

Who does not feel a rush of endorphins when driving on St. Armands Circle in season or on Main Street when a parking space suddenly opens up just in front of you? For a moment you actually love the person who is leaving as if to say, “Thank you. You are a great human being and made my day.”

Especially if you are in a rush it feels like victory.

Sadly, that feeling is rare. More often than not, the west end of Main Street and the entire Circle is clogged. That is where the meters will help. But of course we have one problem — the City of Sarasota.


Parking is paid with good intentions…

The City means well. It wants to offset a deficit in its parking department that is running in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. It also has predicated paying for the bonds that financed the St. Armands parking garage under construction with paid parking revenue. It was all a great idea when the studies were done.

And now the City is cherry picking data and insisting the paid parking will help everyone and everything. The staff says parking meters will shore up the parking budget, pay for the garage and usher in a renaissance of business activity that will grow the tax base.

In fact, Parking Division Manager Mark Lyons implied so much money will be generated through parking meters that the busts of the five sitting commissioners could be fashioned by Jorge Blanco as the central artwork in the future roundabout at US 41 and Gulfstream Avenue.

Last week, the City formally approved in a 3-2 vote the parking meter plan for Downtown and the Downtown meters are slated to be in place and operational by next summer. Commissioners Hagan Brody and Shelli Freeland Eddie voted against the idea, but the majority prevailed.

In many ways the program will allow those who want to park for free or are broke the option of using the garages for free for up to two hours.  Those who want to park directly on the Circle or on Main Street and a few secondary streets will have to pay.

Part of the frustration over the issue is the timing. The parking meters on St. Armands Circle are slated to go into operation as soon as the garage is finished in the lot behind the Columbia Restaurant. That will be by the end of this year.

Brody said that the Circle parking meters be put on hold until the Downtown parking program starts in May and they should go on-line concurrently. City Attorney Robert Fournier, known for his power in maintaining the status quo, said that idea would not be feasible legally because of the bond commitment for the parking garage.

Mayor Liz Alpert then hushed Brody at the meeting and rebuffed his sentiments. Brody called Alpert “rude” to which she disagreed and countered, “I am not rude.”

Willie Shaw made the motion to implement the paid parking program Downtown and again, Brody protested. Brody lost the vote and the parking is on its way.


When all else fails, claim victory…

So let’s look at where this might go wrong.

First, realize the City implemented paid parking as recently as 2013 in Downtown and then tore all the meters out after their infectiveness coupled with a general disdain for the operation. We are told the new meters will be user-friendly and users will fall in-love with the smart phone applications that will vibrate and alert them when time is running out.

In the end, we should be supportive of the goals of the meter program. Those goals are to spur customer turnover for merchants and charge a small fee to cover the cost of the City parking program. And some of the precedents of working in other cities are palpable.

What is worrying is the implementation. Our City has a troubling record of weak management of its assets. Look at the debacle of the Lido Beach Pavilion plan. Look at the lease at Marina Jack, which is unfavorable to the community. Look at the Golf Course and Ed Smith Stadium cost overruns that go on and on. Look at the history of the meter program. Look at the inability to plan its own waterfront.

And then look at the poor planning in implementing paid parking at St. Armands Circle just prior to season after a harsh red tide experience. Concurrency in implementation is a hallmark of planning.

So I hesitatingly say, “Let’s support this plan. Let’s see if the payment system is simple and efficient. Let’s see if the revenue projections are met.”

If all else fails, City Manager Tom Barwin can come back and recommend yanking the meters out and tossing them in the bay as an artificial reef. And then he could take credit in a press release for his vision of upcycling.

Stranger things have been done.

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