Electric vehicles were the hot topic during the regularly scheduled Gulfport City Council meeting at the Catherine Hickman Theater, Tuesday, October 20 at 6 p.m.
On multiple occasions, since swearing in this past April, Councilmember April Thanos has encouraged other city council members to look into transitioning city vehicles to electric or hybrid vehicles, to include police vehicles.
Dory Larson, the electric vehicle program coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy gave a presentation about the availability and benefits of electric vehicles.
“The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a regional membership organization that promotes responsible energy choices to ensure clean, safe and healthy communities throughout the Southeast,” according to Larson.
“We have tried to answer all of Ms. Thanos’ questions in regards to alternative vehicles,” said City Manager O’Reilly.
Mayor Sam Henderson, Councilmember Paul Ray and Police Chief Rob Vincent spoke in opposition.
Most city vehicles, especially those needed for public works, are pickup trucks meant for heavy-duty tasks.
According to Larson, there are no electric or hybrid pickup trucks available at this time.
“I’m not against electric vehicles,” said Mayor Henderson. “I don’t want to do this prematurely and cripple the ability of those departments to do their jobs.”
Ray brought up the logistics of electric charging infrastructure needs. According to Ray, commercial charging stations can cost up to $11,000 and only charge two vehicles at a time.
Where would the charging stations be located?
His concerns included the need to charge vehicles overnight for employees who take their vehicles home who are generally on 24-hour call.
“Would we need to supply these employees with commercial charging stations?” asked Ray. “There’s a lot of stuff we need to go through and create an infrastructure plan before we commit.”
Vincent voiced his concern about the additions required for police vehicles.
One of the evening’s resolutions was to approve four new vehicles for the police department – three patrol vehicles and one SUV for Police Explorer tasks and transporting participants.
“In light of conversation around electric vehicle use for police, I did a lot of looking at other agencies that have them and what they’re doing,” said Vincent. “I can tell you that there are some concerns about the aftermarket equipment and how that aftermarket equipment is put into the vehicle.”
According to Vincent there is no market standard on installation of lights and prisoner partitions.
“In the event that something bad happens, I don’t think in any event it’s appropriate for a representative of the city to tell the family or the jury for that matter that we said this should be a police car,” said Vincent.
Until an electric car manufacturer is willing to label and approve a certain car as a police car, Vincent will remain skeptical.
Other concerns included value deprecation, resale value, vehicle warranties and maintenance costs over time.
Council did not rule out the idea of electric vehicles, however the consensus was that there are multiple details to work out before purchasing them for the city.
Masks Not Required at Polling Places
Council unanimously approved a contract with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections to lease City Hall for the purpose of the March 9, 2021 municipal election. This decision stirred conversation about the upcoming November 3 election.
The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, which leases facilities from Gulfport, will not require face coverings for voters during the November 3 election.
According to City Manager O’Reilly, although the City of Gulfport requires masks inside city facilities, the rules are dictated by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections per their lease agreement on that one particular day.
“My concern is that there is a perception that you are interfering with someone’s ability to vote,” said O’Reilly. “That’s a much bigger picture than wearing a mask – that’s a federal lawsuit. We have to be cautious.”
“I spoke to the office of Supervisor of Elections,” said City Clerk Lesley Demuth. “So, what’s going to happen is that all poll workers will wear PPE. PPE will be available for poll workers and for visitors.”
Demuth continued: “There will be no mandate to interfere with someone’s ability to vote. There will be no mandate because it is your constitutional right to be able to vote.”
Home Occupation Do’s and Don’ts
COVID-19 has made working from home far more common. Paul Ray, who said he’s worked from home for the majority of the year, expressed concern about the impact on neighbors and neighborhoods.
Originally the biggest concern for home occupation was deliveries increasing traffic in the area and possibly causing disturbances. Most neighborhoods see delivery trucks from UPS, Amazon, and more multiple times throughout the day, every day.
“This is an evolution since the city created the home occupation statue in the city charter,” said O’Reilly.
The main takeaway? If the primary business address is a residential address, the business must obtain a business license. Not every Gulfport district allows this, however. The two primary places for live/work occupations, or mixed-us zoning, are the waterfront district and the 49th Street corridor.
In Gulfport, people who work from home without a business license cannot receive commercial deliveries or customers at the location.
Work done at the residence must be low intensity, generate as little traffic as possible, with no customers or other employees unless they reside at that location. There must be no evidence that a business is located there; it must blend in with the neighborhood.
However, most complaints about violations are relatively unenforceable, according to Fred Metcalf, Director of Community Development.
Bryer Hall Lease to the Gulfport Historical Society Passes First Vote
The Gulfport Historical Society plans to expand their footprint in Gulfport by leasing Bryer Hall and turning the location into an artist hub known as the Gulfport Arts Center.
“The plan is to open the Gulfport Arts Center to rotating artists throughout the year,” explained President of the GHS, Cathy Salustri. “Local artists will be given priority and extra incentive to both display their art and teach their art, at the former City of Imagination location.”
The GHS plans to kickstart events and classes after the first of the year.
A second reading confirming/denying the lease will occur at the November 17 city council meeting.
Events to Look Forward To
Gulfport Grassroots and Keep Pinellas Beautiful have organized a city-wide clean up on Saturday, November 14 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Find Gulfport Grassroots on Facebook for more.
Gulfport Historical Society plans to restart walking tours in November.
Gulfport Votes 100% will host Community Day on November 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Village Courtyard.
Meeting Locations and Changes
The November 3 City Council meeting is cancelled due to the election. Starting November 17, meetings will reconvene at City Hall.
Overheard at the October 21 Gulfport City Council Meeting
“I know we’re in a theater, but nonetheless let’s not make it a production.” – Mayor Sam Henderson before in-person public comment
“Gulfport has the most beautiful attractions you could have: alleys. Our alleys are masterpieces that we should consider paving with brick.” – Resident Lawrence Burke during public comment
“We created the budget now it’s time to start spending the money on what we said we were going to spend the money on.” – Henderson
“Wearing masks aren’t politics.” – Vice Mayor Michael Fridovich