Candidates Avila and Ross answers questions – A re-run

December 7, 2017 5:00 p.m.

Editor’s Note: The Fernandina Observer is re-posting the questions to and answers from candidates Avila and Ross and posted on October 5, 2017 prior to the General Election. Every year, the Fernandina Observer presents questions to candidates vying for seats on the Fernandina Beach City Commission. We have removed the comment option from this post in order to focus attention on the candidate’s position on issues that impact our community. The runoff election takes place Tuesday, December 12.

Fernandina Beach City Commission Candidates Orlando Avila (L), and Ronald “Chip” Ross (R)

Candidate Orlando J. Avila
Group 3
Phone: 904-955-3122
[email protected]

Biographical Information

My family and I moved to our home in the North 14th Street area of Fernandina Beach from Yulee in October 2014.

Occupation: Owner, All American Ship Agents, LLC

Government Service: Conditional Use and Variance Board

Why seeking election?:  I am running for City Commission because I believe in being a citizen servant. This is our home and we are committed to our community and I want our city to continue advancing while maintaining its unique culture.

Volunteer/Community Service: Nassau County Foster/Adoptive Parent Association, Florida State Foster/Adoptive Parent Association, Amelia Lodge No. 47 Morocco Shriners, Fernandina Beach Shrine Club, Leadership Nassau, Class 8, Fernandina Maritime Exchange

Candidate Ronald “Chip” Ross
Group 3
Phone 410-394-0220
[email protected]

Biographical Information

I believe our beaches, tree canopy, wetlands, historic district, residential neighborhoods, and local businesses need to be preserved, protected and nurtured. I am running for City Commissioner to preserve the great little town we all chose to live in.

My wife and I live 3 blocks north of Center Street in the historic district. In 2008 we bought and renovated a 100 plus year old house.

I am an Emergency Medicine physician practicing on the island. My experience in the Emergency Department has made me acutely aware of the health and social challenges confronting our City.

What is your vision for the Amelia Riverfront and how would you pay for it?

My vision for our riverfront is that it be a working waterfront that:
• is compatible with our historic downtown,
• increases public access and public open spaces,
• promotes waterfront and downtown businesses
• mitigates the threat of flooding.
• returns the marina to profitability, and
• revitalizes North Front Street.

For the MARINA, I support:
• Fixing the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! That includes repairing the fuel station, the main outer dock and the pedestrian walkways. This would be paid for through borrowed money reimbursed by FEMA, and State and City funds.
• Reconfiguring the docks south of Brett’s into linear docks to mitigate the siltation problem, which requires repeated dredging.
• Extending the docks north of Brett’s. This offsets the loss of dock space when the docks south of Brett’s are reconfigured. Extending to the north would be paid for through a Big P grant, grants from the state, FIND funds, and City funds. This northern expansion was recommended by the City’s marina consultant (ATM) in 1996 and it is the underlying reason the City purchased the Wade-Vituro property on N. Front St.
• Expanding the mooring field (located across the river from Brett’s) by increasing the number of mooring balls from 12 to 71. This will generate more revenue for the Marina, at minimal cost, and add foot traffic downtown. This would be paid for with FIND grants and matching City funds.
For the UPLANDS (the proposed park area between downtown and the river’s edge), I support:
• Proceeding with Parking Lot A engineering and determining the condition of the concrete bulkheads and Brett’s pilings to be paid with City funds.
• Developing an updated plan for Lots C & D (the area south of Atlantic Seafood) and E (the lot just west of City Hall) based on the results of the City survey. This should be done with City staff and community involvement.
• Constructing Parking Lot B (money for this is in the new budget and engineering for it has been completed and paid for) when the engineering for Lot A is complete (these two lots are linked and engineering for both should be completed before construction begins on Lot B).
• Constructing Lot A after Lot B is completed. To be paid for with impact fees and City funds.
• Determining the future of Atlantic Seafood, the Boat Ramp, and the Wade-Vituro land side property.
• Constructing Lots C, D & E after completing construction of Parking Lots A & B. This would be paid for with impact fees, City funds, and grants.
• Developing a plan for improving North Front St. that eliminates the blight. This is a complicated issue since it involves private property along the river. The City will need to work with the property owners to improve this area.
• Continuing pursuing opening the Alachua Street crossing, either as a pedestrian-only crossing [preferably] or a vehicle & pedestrian crossing. Develop a plan that integrates future use of the Wade-Vituro property and the crossing. The cost of a pedestrian crossing is approximately $30,000 while the vehicle and pedestrian crossing would cost in excess of $800,000. The pedestrian crossing does not require approval by the State of Florida.

What is your vision for the Amelia Riverfront and how would you pay for it?

The Amelia Riverfront has been a hot topic for several years, even before I moved into the city. I would like to see a Riverfront which includes a fully operational marina and a park area which can host events, have an area which can be used for educational purposes in conjunction with local universities, state colleges and our school system. There are currently plans in the works that the sitting commissioners are working on with city staff which may be viable as a starting point and expanded as time goes on and finances permit.

I am a proponent of public/private partnerships and would seek out local companies which have a vested interest in a vibrant waterfront form a cooperative agreement with the city, county, port authority, state and federal governments along with non-profits like the St. Mary’s Riverkeeper and FIND.

How would you address community concerns about beach and downtown parking?

The parking concerns have been addressed over and over. The resent survey and study completed by a committee headed by Chief Hurley was very well done. It had some options that can be explored over the course of time as needs warrant and budgets permit.

How would you address community concerns about beach and downtown parking?

Downtown Parking
I live 3 blocks from Center Street and walk to the restaurants and stores downtown. With the exception of Shrimp Fest and the 4th of July it is rare that there is not parking within three blocks of any restaurant or store. At certain times to find a parking space within a block of a restaurant or store is challenging. For the disabled and elderly this presents barriers to visiting these facilities. It is also a possible deterrent for some shoppers.

To address this issue I would concentrate on enforcing the 3 hour limits on “premium parking spaces”, continue to try to reconfigure the parking arrangement on streets to accommodate more cars, create more disabled parking spaces, and refurbish and build sidewalks with proper lighting to make a 3 block walk a safe and pleasant experience.

Beach Parking
One of the most coveted pieces of real estate on the Island is approximately 9 feet wide and 20 feet long — it’s a parking spot at the beach.
As more and more “day trippers” from off the island, come to the beach, parking within a block of the beach will become more challenging. Additionally new development [proposed Salt Life Restaurant and several proposed boutique hotels] will create more pressure for parking. There are a finite number of places you can park cars within a block of the beach. We need to decide who gets to park close to the beach – the disabled, city residents, hotel guests, or whoever gets there first. Paid parking will not reserve parking for the disabled, city residents, and hotel guests.

To begin with, the City needs to identify where there is a lack of parking and when the lack of parking occurs. We then need to have the difficult conversation of who gets priority for those limited parking places. Then can we craft a plan to decide how to proceed.

How would you address both environmental protection and private property rights in considering development projects?

I am a proponent of protecting individual private property rights, it is a cornerstone of our republic. Protecting our rivers, beaches, and wildlife are also important to me. There is a balance that can be struck. The reality is that a small municipality on a barrier island has a finite amount of developable land, Fernandina is no different. Burdensome and excessive regulation discourage investment in residential and commercial properties but smart regulation and simplified permitting processes encourage investment and redevelopment. Again, a balance can be struck. We have a plethora of already developed properties that are unoccupied and waiting for the right investor to come in and redevelop it. Making it so the permitting process is streamlined and simplified for redevelopment has a twofold benefit:

a) it revitalizes an area previously left vacant, thereby bringing a new business or expanding an existing business, with more jobs and positive economic impact
b) it encourages developers and investors to think proactively by utilizing existing developed commercial space rather than developing green space. It may not be a permanent solution, and will not please everyone but it is a viable compromise.

How would you address both environmental protection and private property rights in considering development projects?

I would follow the law. Under Florida Law any development in the City is required to be consistent with the City’s award winning Comprehensive Plan. Once a jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan has been adopted all development, both public and private, must be consistent the comprehensive plan.

The Florida Appellate Courts in the Pinecrest Lakes decision have opined, “the statute is framed as a rule, a command to cities and counties that they must comply with their own Comprehensive Plans….The statue does not day that local government shall have some discretion as to whether a proposed development should be consistent with the Comprehensive plan. Consistency with a Comprehensive plan is therefore not a discretionary matter.”

Where do you see potential savings for City operations?

In the short term, I think the City runs an efficient operation. Two glaring exceptions are the recent expenditure of $11,000 for consultants to spend a day visiting with the City Commissioners to determine the scope of a waterfront development proposal and the spending of 4.9 million dollars for an airport terminal building. I opposed both expenditures.
For the long term each future purchase, whether equipment, vehicles, software, buildings or parks must be evaluated not only on the original cost but also on the cost of future maintenance and operation.

Each department needs to develop strategies that trim cumulative spending while also maintaining—and hopefully improving—the services on which so many constituents depend.

Where do you see areas of potential savings for city operations?

Often, candidates for public office take one extreme or another when it comes to budges and spending. They either want more spending, or less spending, and some think it’s just right. Some want to raise taxes to increase revenues for pet projects, others want to slash and burn. Taking a more methodical and pragmatic approach is in my opinion a good strategy. Making cuts to projects and programs has repercussions, and unless you’re in the seat I don’t think one can fully grasp the effects of one’s decisions.

I believe elected officials and their appointees are the stewards of the people’s treasure and to squander it is unacceptable. When economic conditions result in lower revenues, we must do more with less and when the economy is up, revenues increase allowing for more spending, and ideally saving for lean times.

Taking the approach of doing more with less, even with increased revenues may seem counterintuitive to some, but I believe that maximizing efficiency in government operations is key to gaining and maintaining the people’s confidence in their elected leaders. Having a BA in Public Administration, I subscribe to the philosophy of applying business principles to governance.

As candidates whose goal is to eventually be elected members of the City Commission, we do not have the luxury of being involved with the day to day operation of the city from the inside. We must rely on city personnel, budget documents, workshops, and regular meetings to make complex and difficult decisions when it comes to cutting some program or personnel, or choosing one project over another. The reliance on those personnel that are involved in the day to day operation of the city where we can find ways to save the city money. Incentivizing efficiency and rewarding personnel who find ways to save the city sizable amounts of money is a proactive approach to maximizing the use of the people’s treasure. The is no good answer to this question that will please everyone, but it is a question that should be asked and discussed often.



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