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Climate change, transit and jokes aplenty at Suncoast Tiger Bay’s ‘State of the Bay’

The fate of the Tampa Bay Rays was barely broached.

Suncoast Tiger Bay annual State of Tampa Bay event Thursday was a bundle of laughs mixed in with the occasional snipped of information about the three cities that make up the Tampa Bay metro area.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos shared the stage to tackle issues ranging from combating climate change to improving mass transit.

But one of the hottest topics facing the region — the fate of the Tampa Bay Rays — was hardly broached except for an ongoing joke about sending the team to Clearwater.

“Rick and I have decided that we’re going to give the Rays to George as a parting gift because they have individuals who can afford [to have them,]” Castor said.

She was referring to Scientologists who own a disproportionate amount of Clearwater’s downtown and who have undeniably deep pockets. Former Tampa Bay Times Political Editor-turned political consultant Adam Smith quipped back that Clearwater should name the new stadium, “Dianetics Field.”

On climate change, the three mayors responded to a different sort of question when one attendee asked the group to convince her not to sell her house and move out of Florida as a result of climate change.

Kriseman floated a couple of statistics from the World Bank — the Tampa Bay region is the fourth most at-risk in the entire United States.

“When you think about that, that should give you some pause,” Kriseman said adding it doesn’t mean it’s time to pack up and move just yet. “What it means though is that we all, the three of us, we have a lot of work to do.”

He praised his administration’s work on climate resiliency pointing to the new St. Pete Pier that is almost complete exceeding FEMA standards for climate resiliency, among other ways Kriseman’s administration has tackled the issue.

Castor touted her administration’s passage of a $400 million stormwater and infrastructure passage, the largest in the city’s history. But she also issued a directive to residents.

“How we can reduce our carbon footprint? Things as seemingly simple as recycling,” Castor said, asking to listeners to stop tossing pizza boxes in the recycling bins. “All of the recycling that we take to the recycling facility we have to come back and take two thirds of that out and take it to our waste to energy site.”

Cretekos reminded people that, while tackling climate change is crucial work, the most major effects looming will affect future generations.

“Not one of us has to worry about leaving right now,” he said. “If the sea level were to rise one foot in Clearwater we would still have a beach. We would still be the best beach town and people from Tampa and St. Pete would be coming to Clearwater. We need to take responsibility now for future generations.”

Mass transit also plays a role in combatting climate change by giving residents options to get out of their vehicles.

Kriseman and Cretekos both deflected questions about whether or not Pinellas County should go back to voters with another transit referendum. Residents rejected a 1% sales tax measure in 2014. Instead, both pointed to successful ferry transportation — Kriseman’s Cross Bay Ferry and Cretekos’ ferry that takes beachgoers from the mainland to the beach.

Kriseman also touted a still-under-consideration 41-mile express bus route connecting downtown St. Pete to Tampa and then to Wesley Chapel along Interstate 275.

“That’s the kind of regional transit options we have got to start giving to people,” Kriseman said. “If you’re a student and you live in St. Pete and you go to USF Tampa, that drive is miserable.”

The trio of Tampa Bay area mayors also lamented the Florida Legislature’s ongoing attempts to usurp local control through a steady flow of preemption bills. Going against Tallahassee was particularly hard for Cretekos, the only of the three mayors who is a Republican.

“I find it difficult as a Republican to have a Republican legislature tell us that they in Tallahassee know what’s best for our communities,” Cretekos said. “The government closest to the people is the best.”

Kriseman and Castor both echoed that sentiment. One of the preemption efforts lawmakers try to tackle every year is eliminating or scaling back on Community Redevelopment Areas. Those are geographic boundaries established to create a special tax base for which local communities can fund economic development projects in economically challenged or downtrodden areas.

Miami has misused those funds in the past, leading to calls for massive reform.

“Just because they might do something in Miami that isn’t working doesn’t mean the rest of the cities should be punished,” Kriseman said.

Some other highlights: Kriseman bragged that his city, once nicknamed “God’s waiting room” now has an average age of 41. That’s lower than the region.

Cretekos, who is leaving office this year, joked that he would be joining former Mayor Bob Buckhorn to begin a “Two Mayors and a Car” rideshare service.

“That is going to solve the transportation problem because everyone is going to ride with the Mayr in his car,” Cretekos said.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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