Hard Candy – Resolved

Published in the December 26 edition of the Gabber Newspaper.

  I don’t make resolutions. Mostly, I don’t make them because I don’t believe there’s one day where you can make sweeping changes to your life – at least, not successfully. It doesn’t seem practical to revamp things all at one time. 
  But for cities? Change can – and often times, should – come in grand, sweeping gestures. 
  For those of you who can’t get enough of Facebook, hop over to the Gabber’s Facebook group, Gulfport Ideas and Opinions. There you will read (among other things) a lot of chatter about what Gulfport can do better. Yes, some people post there for what I would assume to be their sole purpose of proving that they cannot properly differentiate between their posteriors and a hole in the ground.
  For most people, though, I’m reading and hearing a shift in Gulfport’s mentality. We are no longer the rathole by the bay where people move to have low rent shacks or, as happened 30 years ago, people came to buy booze after other cities stopped selling alcohol. We are an option for new families. We still have retirees, yes, but we have younger people, too. Last Saturday morning at “Brunch with Santa” I was no longer the youngest person in town without homework, not by a long shot. 
  So since Gulfport has changed, at some point, should it have resolutions? I still cringe at the word, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea to think about our future. Since it’s impractical for city management to do so and expect those goals to outlast the next election, I thought I’d give us all a list on which we could build. So here they are: my non-resolutions for Gulfport.
  1. Fix the damn sewers already. Seriously, I understand we’ve *always* been a debt-free city, but if we don’t do something soon, I fear we’ll turn into Venice. I’m all about boating, but not through rivers of human waste. 
  2. Quit trying to copy the beaches. We will never, ever, ever be a beach like Pass-a-Grille or St. Pete Beach. Ever. Give it up. However, look at St. Petersburg’s waterfront: public access, marinas, trails, and commerce. Yes, I said it: commerce. I cannot say enough that I favor a Coney Island-style setup on the beach. Build a boardwalk, add a ferris wheel or merry-go-round, and bring on more boat races and vending activities that capitalize on our waterfront. How do we pay for it? Lease the space, with heavy regulation. Right now, the beach makes us almost no money. Let’s look at monetizing our waterfront with an eye, of course, to the environment. 
  3. Do something real for families. Our playgrounds are great, and so are some of our rec center programs, but let’s think more about kids. With so many artists in town, how do we not have more art programs at the rec center? What about soccer leagues or a city-run volleyball program? I’m not an athlete (catch me running one morning and you’ll see what I mean), but I do know that sports help kids, and since we seem to have more and more of the little creatures lining our streets, it probably wouldn’t hurt to give them something to do. 
  4. Implement real art programs. Could someone tell me how St. Pete Beach and not Gulfport has a facility like Suntan Arts Center that offers all means of art classes? And don’t point to the building; Gulfport also leases a city building to an arts group at a much better rate than St. Pete Beach gives Suntan, and so far I can’t register for a drawing or pottery class. Why? 
  5. Take care of Clam Bayou. Yeah, yeah, I know. You’re all tired of hearing about Clam Bayou. Too bad. If you want me to stop talking, call your council member and tell them to adopt a management plan that includes water quality testing, public education about the bayou, and perhaps even a plan whereby the city takes the state project a step or two further and buys back dredged land to become part of the bayou. It worked, it seems, on the St. Pete side. Want to know more? Start with a paddle through Clam Bayou; looking at it from the bike trail or someone’s back yard doesn’t show you the whole picture.
  6. Deal with crime on 49th Street. I want to stop hearing how Gulfport and St. Petersburg can’t seem to agree on the priority level for dealing with crime on 49th Street, and I swear to the god of chickens and ducks that if one more person calls it a “perception” of crime they are going to “perceive” my foot in their – uh, maybe I shouldn’t go there. But St. Pete has a new mayor and his communications director lives in Gulfport, so I hope we can actually start to talk about the punitive damages St. Pete’s inattention to 49th Street has done to Gulfport businesses and residents. I’m also hoping that St. Pete’s exorbitant tax rate allows Mayor Kriseman to hire more people to police the corridor and help the residents on his side of the street rise above the fear they live with day to day.
  7. Stop thinking poor. I know that some folks read this list and throw up their hands in frustration, saying, “Great, Cathy, but how do we pay for all these things?” Here’s my answer: Fees for services and, where warranted, higher taxes. I could sugar coat that, I guess, but why bother? I can tell you this: I’m tired of feeling like we’re a “poor” city and we have to subsidize everything for our residents. Yes, I want us all to enjoy a great quality of life, but beyond public safety and public access to the library and parks, I don’t see why we have to make everything free all the time, for everyone. It’s OK to charge for things, Gulfport. Not all of us are poor. Some of us have worked very, very hard not to be poor and resent being treated like we live in a welfare city. In all my years in talking to people about Gulfport, not one person has said to me they moved here for the low tax rate or how many free programs the city offered. 
  It’s time to evolve, Gulfport. Are we resolved to evolve together, or do we want to live in the past?
Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com. You can add your own Gulfport resolutions on the Gabber’s Facebook group, Gulfport Ideas & Opinions. Twitter users, tweet your resolutions with the hashtag #GulfportResolutions. We’ll print your ideas in an upcoming Gabber.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.