Would-be may­ors ad­dress cli­mate

Tampa may­oral can­di­dates vow strong poli­cies on what’s been a low-key is­sue so far.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY CHAR­LIE FRAGO Times Staff Writer

The seven can­di­dates run­ning for Tampa mayor have a va­ri­ety of an­swers on how to ad­dress cli­mate change.

TAMPA— Trans­porta­tion and af­ford­able hous­ing have dom­i­nated Tampa’s may­oral race so far. In fo­rum af­ter fo­rum, in ev­ery corner of the city, neigh­bor­hood groups and civic or­ga­ni­za­tions have pep­pered the seven can­di­dates on how they would dis­solve grid­lock and slow gen­tri­fi­ca­tion’s roll.

Cli­mate change, sur­pris­ingly, has been a sec­ond-tier topic. De­spite nu­mer­ous stud­ies that say Tampa is at high risk for flood­ing and ris­ing sea lev­els, the prob­lem is men­tioned in­fre­quently at fo­rums, when it’s men­tioned at all.

Across the bay, St. Peters­burg has plunged ahead with a sys­temic plan to com­bat cli­mate change, re­cently win­ning a grant of tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance from the foun­da­tion of for­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Mean­while, en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates says Tampa has been slug­gish in its re­sponse to what they see as an ex­is­ten­tial threat.

“As much as I ap­pre­ci­ate pot­holes, wa­ter main breaks and base­ball sta­di­ums, this is a topic that has been given short shrift,” said Kent Bai­ley, chair­man of the Sierra Club’s Tampa Bay Group, which is plan­ning a Feb. 20 fo­rum on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues at Hills­bor­ough Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s Ybor cam­pus.

“Tampa is ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change,’’ Bai­ley said. “We should be lead­ing the na­tion. In­stead, we seem to be drag­ging our feet.”

Although it hasn’t been a high­pro­file is­sue, the can­di­dates have staked out po­si­tions rang­ing from for­mer po­lice Chief Jane Cas­tor’s prom­ise to in­stall a sus­tain­abil­ity of­fi­cer in her ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­tired banker David Straz’s vow to cre­ate a task force

of in­ter­ested cit­i­zens to work with his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

City Coun­cil mem­ber Harry Co­hen was the first can­di­date to make re­siliency a talk­ing point at sev­eral fo­rums in early Jan­uary, driv­ing home that the city’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity could even­tu­ally lower its bond agency rat­ings, mak­ing bor­row­ing more costly.

“Tax­pay­ers are go­ing to be pay­ing the bill and that is the cru­elest tax that can be im­posed on the cit­i­zens. It means that peo­ple will be pay­ing the same amount of money and getting less,” Co­hen said at a Jan. 16 fo­rum hosted by the Down­town Part­ner­ship.

Co­hen has ad­vo­cated higher sea­walls, raised road­ways and plant­ing man­groves, in­clud­ing around MacDill Air Force Base. When Congress looks at an­other round of base closing, he said, they’ll take re­siliency into ac­count.

“They’ll be look­ing at which cities are tak­ing the steps to pro­tect their as­sets,” Co­hen said at a Jan. 15 fo­rum at Ar­ma­ture Works.

Small busi­ness con­sul­tant To­pher Mor­ri­son has touted his sup­port of a pledge to make the city run on 100 per­cent re­new­able en­ergy by 2045. Mor­ri­son also re­leased a “Green City” plan that in­cluded pledg­ing to plant 100,000 trees to help soak up wa­ter and re­duce flood­ing.

“We can­not out-en­gi­neer Mother Na­ture, but we can co­op­er­ate with her,” Mor­ri­son has said at re­cent fo­rums, ex­plain­ing his tree pro­posal will in­crease green space needed to ab­sorb heavy rains.

For­mer county Com­mis­sioner Ed Tu­ranchik, also an early sup­porter of the 100 per­cent clean en­ergy pledge, fre­quently men­tions his Sierra Club or­ga­niz­ing bona fides at fo­rums. He has been en­dorsed by many lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

“It’s an ex­is­ten­tial threat to Tampa. Clearly,” Tu­ranchik said ata Tampa Bay Busi­ness Jour­nal fo­rum last week. Tu­ranchik said he will be a strong advo cate for dereg­u­lat­ing the en­ergy mar­ket to en­cour­age the move to­ward so­lar, wind and other forms of sus­tain­able en­ergy.

City Coun­cil mem­ber Mike Suarez said there is no one so­lu­tion to the threat.

“We’re be­hind the curve, be­cause of the amount of money we’ve put into it,” Suarez said at the fo­rum, adding he would make it a pri­or­ity as mayor.

An idea floated by Suarez at sev­eral fo­rums is to re­duce the city’s ve­hi­cle fleet, us­ing rental cars as needed and con­vert­ing what re­mains to nat­u­ral gas or elec­tric-pow­ered ve­hi­cles.

Re­tired Judge Dick Greco Jr. fo­cused on the next gen­er­a­tion.

“It starts with ed­u­ca­tion, We need to have chil­dren learn how to save our en­vi­ron­ment,” said at a South Tampa fo­rum on Jan. 30.

Although not di­rectly re­lated to car­bon emis­sions, Greco Jr. praised the city’s plan to con­vert highly treated waste­water to drink­ing wa­ter to re­duce ni­tro­gen flow­ing into the bay.

Straz, who said at the South Tampa fo­rum that he sup­ports the 100 per­cent clean en­ergy pledge, re­cently de­ferred to Co­hen’s ap­proach.

“Be­ing a man of very few words, I agree with Harry,” Straz said at the Feb. 5 fo­rum.

Aside from hir­ing a sus­tain­abil­ity ad­vi­sor, Cas­tor stresses her ex­pe­ri­ence as po­lice chief vis­it­ing ar­eas around the state wrecked by hur­ri­canes. Dis­as­ter re­cov­ery is an im­por­tant part of re­siliency, she has said at sev­eral fo­rums. And ma­jor storms will dam­age the most pre­pared city.

Since the city hasn’t done much yet to be­come more re­silient, Co­hen said, it’s not wed­ded to ex­ist­ing tech­nol­ogy and can in­no­vate.

“We can then ex­port our ex­per­tise,” he said. “We can be pi­o­neers.”

CHAR­LIE FRAGO | Times

Tampa may­oral can­di­dates, from left, Jane Cas­tor, Harry Co­hen, Dick Greco Jr., To­pher Mor­ri­son, David Straz, Mike Suarez and Ed Tu­ranchik ap­pear at a fo­rum at Blake High School on Tues­day. They of­fer dif­fer­ent ideas to pro­tect Tampa from cli­mate change.

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