City Commission Seat 3: David Bellamy

1) Interests and Reasons for Running

A) Tell us a little about yourself, where you live, and your involvement in your neighborhood (issues impacting your neighborhood).

I grew up in Tallahassee, in the Betton Hills neighborhood. I’ve been a policeman, and I’m currently a doctor. My family has a history with being involved with community affairs. I currently live in the Buckhead neighborhood.

B) What event(s) led you to run for elected office?

Not discussed.

2) Comprehensive Plan Update Process

A) Are you familiar with the comprehensive planning process and its role in guiding growth and development, and protecting neighborhoods?

 Yes, very aware and has been studying it closely.

B) What role should citizens have in deciding on growth and development policies for our community?

There has to be a better way for the City to get citizen engagement and input.  I participated in the event where there was a powerline proposed for the Buckhead neighborhood and the City led community input events. There were mid-level managers available, posters were put up, but questions were met with generic answers.  I didn’t feel like any of the input given was ever going to see the light of day. Another event I went to was for the Northwood Mall property, which was on a grander scale but there were no high-level policy makers, only one City Commissioner.  Ideas were written on a whiteboard and then it was folded up taken with the City reps. I didn’t feel like these were ever seen by people with real say in events.

Groups like ATN need to come out in force and demand that real change take place. It should come from two directions, citizens and groups coming out in force and the City needs to change the way they handle citizen input and make it more efficient. As an example, look at the current City Commissioner meetings, citizens must wait for the end of the meeting to be heard.  It could be a 2 – 6 hour meeting, and then only allowed a 3 minute timeslot to speak and then there is no feedback. There just has to be a better way to get citizen input.

3) Process Used to Decide on the Use of Public Properties

What role should citizens and neighborhoods have in deciding on the use of public properties and how do you think and how do you think that should work, for example in the development of the Northwood Mall site?

The neighborhoods need to get organized and show up in force to say here’s what we would like to see, here’s what we will tolerate, and here’s what is not acceptable and make sure their voice is heard.

At the Northwood event I went to, I didn’t think that any of the comments were going to get very far. Certainly, a neighborhood that is seriously going to be changed by development right next to it needs to have a very large say in what is going to take place and what will be done.

As can be said for many cities, neighborhoods are what make Tallahassee, Tallahassee. The trees, the small roads.  I grew up in Betton Hills, and those small roads were a paradise. Those neighborhoods must have a say in what will affect them adversely.

This includes public and private land.  As long as the focus is on neighborhood expansion or urban infill, this will require that neighborhoods that have old Tallahassee homes in them will end up with multi-family condos right next to them on zero lot lines.  It’s not just public land encroaching on a neighborhood, it’s more private land encroaching on neighborhoods because there is no good way to deal with the Comp Plan.  Those that only want urban infill, we are forcing home builders to put homes on every postage stamp (sized lot) in Tallahassee with zero lot lines.

While everyone in Tallahassee says they don’t want to expand at all, but then we see new neighborhoods pop up on Thomasville Road on a narrow strip of land, well everyone gets upset about that…. That is urban infill. When you say that we will fill every available area in Tallahassee, that’s what it is.  There is no perfect answer.

Right now, we are encouraging property owners to maximize the value of their property with houses too big for the lot, zero lot lines and some have multi-family like condos. These are popping up everywhere.  There needs to be a release valve turned on so that property builders don’t feel like they have to cram everything they can into every postage stamp piece of land.

My mother helped write the original Tallahassee Comprehensive Plan.  Before 1985 you could get a building permit on the back of a napkin.  A lawsuit at that time resulted in the requirement for a Comprehensive Plan.  My mother was on the City Commission until 1987 and helped write the first Comp Plan that took effect in 1989.  It has not been substantially changed since then and as a matter of fact, we have lost between 10 – 17,000 acres of land from the Comp Plan because it was close to Lake Jackson.  Years later it was determined that these were protected wetlands and the city would never build there.

4) Growth and Development Decisions

A) ATN believes that growth and development decisions are key to making urban neighborhoods walkable, bikeable, and livable. Do you agree? If so, what specifically would you propose to implement these concepts?  

I absolutely agree. I think most of the new developments are coming with sidewalks, near roads with bike trails so a good job is being done with that now in new developments.  This needs to be done by going back with the older neighborhoods that don’t have those services.  We need to allow home builders to be able to plan ahead for these services they will slowly buy up all the unused land and build unaffordable housing there displacing the residents who can’t afford to move back into the neighborhoods they were displaced from.

Newer developments do a better job planning for walkable, bikeable and well-lit neighborhoods.  We need to retrofit older neighborhoods and to plan for them so they don’t get run over with new development.

B) In your opinion, has the Commission done enough to equitably share tax dollars and guide growth and prosperity generally, and more specifically, to implement the Southern Action Plan? What else should we do to ensure growth is equitable and benefits all of our citizens?  

Step 1 with equity is to treat our underserved areas the same way we treat our Northeast Tallahassee. Simple things like picking up the trash from empty lots, cutting back the growth at City parks, make sure all the lights are working.  So, for starters, all we have to do is apply the same standard of care to our underserved areas as we do our Northeast areas.

I met with the Griffin Heights neighborhood association, and they mentioned that it would be nice to have a median with grass and flowers growing on it that would cheer up the place.  That’s what’s on the Northeast side of town, so they aren’t asking for anything special, they’re just asking for the same.

Step 1 – treat all our areas the same.

Step 2 – another way to address economic discrepancies is to allow careers to come to Tallahassee.  While I love Tallahassee the way it is, I’m also aware that the way Tallahassee is, is not good for everybody. We have to sacrifice some to allow the impoverished to have good careers that will change the economic disparities.  A minimum wage of $15 an hour job at a big box store is not a career.  This is only $31,000 a year at $15 an hour where $41,000 is considered a functional level of poverty for single mother with one child. Changes must be made to help our poorer neighbors.

For instance, when the Office of Economic Vitality finds a company that wants go to the airport or Innovation Park to provide careers, with 401(k)s, matching contributions, pensions… it has to be allowed or we have to admit that I only want to help the poor, if it’s no skin off my back.

It’s harder to fix economic disparity than it is to offer the solutions. If you provide good careers that people can be proud of and can learn a trade that they can take anywhere in the United States, that’s how you fix economic disparities.

We almost had Honda Jet that wanted to come here and build their jet airplanes at the airport in the poorest ZIP Code in the state, 32304. That would have provided jobs that you could take anywhere.  A jet engine mechanic can go anywhere they want making 6 figures.  But because so many people claiming they want to help the poor were unwilling to allow that to happen, we ended up with our poorer neighbors still not ending up with careers.

And going back to the way you stop it, is don’t allow people to buy up the land in our underserved areas and develop it into properties that the previous residents can’t afford. Especially when you consider right now that there is nowhere else for them to go.

5) Commissioner/Staff/Management Roles

What do you see as the appropriate role between staff and the commission in decision making? 

The staff needs to provide as unbiased information as possible to allow the commissioners to make an educated decision. The staff should not be coming to the Commission with a predetermined outcome that they want and should only provide the information that leads to that outcome. But that is a two-way street in that the Commissioners need to make it clear to their staff that this is what they want. And if the Commissioners are given numerous options with quite a bit of information, the Commissioner needs to be willing to invest time in studying that. Some Commissioners do take the time to review while it seems others allow the staff to tell them what to do. It is a two-way street in that if you are demanding the information, you have to be willing to invest hours in reading it.

I want unbiased, unfiltered information that I can interpret on my own and then ask them more pointed questions if there are any vagaries I need to figure out.  It does no one good for staff to show up with the predetermined answer and with information that would only lead you to that answer. Unfortunately, I think some folks in leadership like that. But I also think that some that demand more information don’t educate themselves on the very thing they demanded.

6) Issues of Interest to Candidate

Are there one or two issues you would like to work on and/or take leadership on as a Commissioner? 

The main thing is the quality of life in our impoverished areas.  We’ve got to fix crime, poverty, and provide affordable housing. I have been speaking to many people on the Northside and I have been able to convince the ones that beforehand were skeptical that you need to invest in our town.  You don’t have a poor area, you have THE poorest in the state.  You don’t have a high crime area, you have THE highest crime area in the state and investing in our impoverished areas with crime control, affordable housing, whatever it is. It’s a cliché, but it is a rising tide that will raise the entire city.  You can’t have a healthy city with those two monikers.

Think of how many businesses have clients fly into the airport and then won’t drive them down Lake Bradford Road. If you have an area of the town that you are embarrassed of, that is unacceptable, especially when we are not a city that is that big and we are relatively well off.  It’s really just been a matter of not putting our nose to the grindstone and fixing it.  This is not Chicago where we don’t have the resources to fix it… we have the resources.  It’s a matter of applying attention to it.  And again, in Step 1, I would like to think I could have some immediate effect on this if I win. Demanding that services be applied to the Southside, and to our impoverished areas just as they are anywhere else in town.

There are empty lots in Bond where it’s okay to throw trash.  I don’t mean a bottle but there are bags of household garbage and mattresses and the City doesn’t come clean that up. Can you imagine that in Killearn or Southwood?

7) Votes on Key Issues

A) If you had been a commissioner during the vote to expand the Urban Service Area to include the Welaunee Arch (2800 rural acres) north of I-10, how would you have voted? Explain your answer. 

My understanding is that we were expanding that for unknown time, future development. I think if we’re going to grow incrementally, for now, then it needs to be for known projects. To just expand because some day we may need it doesn’t seem like the greatest plan. And to be honest, I don’t know if once we expand does that mean now that we have to put infrastructure in?  Such as power lines, roads, sewer for a neighborhood that we don’t know when it will be built.

I understand that we are going to have to modify the USA in some areas I’m not sure that modifying for something that has an “unknown time of need” was the way to go.

B) How about the vote to give $27 million of Blueprint money to FSU for stadium upgrades? Explain your answer. 

I don’t think almost anybody who voted for Blueprint thought it would go to the FSU Boosters. I don’t think this was a good investment and I would have voted no.  But more importantly, I believe a better leader could have come out of there with a better compromise. The fellow I’m running against didn’t really get worked up about it until the third meeting but by then the solid rocket booster had been lit, it was underway.

He refused to meet with the president of the Boosters, and when I bring that up he says “why would I meet with him? That would be silly.”  I say that is the whole art of negotiating.  You go to the Boosters and say I’m going to do my best to stop this unless we can come up with a compromise because I think $10 million had been accepted by many in the community as a decent compromise. I would have gone to the Boosters and said I’m going to fight you tooth and nail and you may lose, or we can compromise, and we’ll hold hands and announce it together on the steps (of the stadium).  Who know what we may have been able to achieve? But you can’t achieve anything without talking.

The only thing we got out of Jeremy fighting it was a hostile workplace complaint.  Now granted it was ruled that the City did nothing wrong but that was by a company hired by the City to tell the City if it were culpable.  Not exactly an impartial group. And they still said Jeremy needs to take a mediator to talk to Pingree. This is not good leadership when you are told that you have to take a mediator with you. The other thing we could have done, and I would have fought hard for, if it’s going to go through let’s at least demand some tangible things in return from FSU. One of these could have been, FSU is getting a psychiatry residency.  We could have demanded that a certain number of those residents work in our underserved areas where we know mental health issues are present but accessibility to mental health care is almost zero.  Things could have been done, but instead we got $27 million gone and $14,000 in fees for a hostile workplace. The short version is “no” but I think a better leader could have gotten a compromise out of it if they worked on it in a constructive way.

8) Additional Comments We appreciate you sharing your time and thoughts with us.  Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to tell us yet that you would like our neighborhoods to know?  

One thing I would like to see the City get more engaged in is helping with the cost of affordable housing.  Right now, if a house builder was to go to one of our underserved areas and build affordable housing and they bought a set of lots, the lot would be at least $50,000 and then they would spend about $60,000 putting in water, roads and because our permitting process is not the smoothest, it could take them 2 to 4 years to get it fully permitted.  So now they’ve invested $110,000 plus around 3 years of paying for these empty lots before turning a shovel.  Now if they build as cheap as they can, an affordable house for $140,000… it’s now a $250,000 house.  For a third of your income to pay a mortgage for this $250,000 house with a $10,000 down payment you got to make an income of $70,000.  The median income in Tallahassee is $25,000.  So, when people tell you they want affordable house I am here to tell you it is mathematically impossible right now.

I’d like to see the City do a better job of saying that when we receive an unsolicited offer on downtown property that the City will never use, maybe instead of asking for money we should tell them that what we want is for them to go find this property for us and we will trade you.  Then the City can permit the lots at cost to the City and permit the kind of building the City wants, meaning that we make sure it’s built with quality, and they put out a request for proposal for builders to build it.  Maybe even offer some financial support to smaller builders that often get left out in the cold.  And you build in a percent of profit.  We want them to build homes for $140,000 with X% profit, so come and bid on this. The permits would already be pulled, the roads built… all we need you to do is come in and build the house.  Now houses can start to be produced for $140,00… now we’re talking affordable housing.

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