Sunday, June 29, 2008

"From the roots up": Notes on the 12th Annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference

"...we are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions." Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

The 12th Annual Florida Neighborhoods Conference brought some of Florida's most dynamic people together in Tallahassee this past week for three days of conversation, networking, exploration and celebration. Imagine the energy when you combine hundreds of grassroots activists, many of whom have been the catalysts for major change in their communities. They talked, schmoozed, toured, learned, argued, danced and partay-ed.

Sen. Bob Graham kicked things off with a hilarious account of how his career began somewhat inauspiciously when he got kicked out of his third pre-school. Along the way he said:

"We are past the point of top-down government. . .. We're now in an era where our solutions and our energy come from the roots up."

In a way, that was the watchword of the entire event, where Grassroots organizers shared their experiences, and gathered insights from some of the people who have made it their life's work to fight to reclaim the dignity of a more open and just society.

There were workshops about process: Legislative process, advocacy, even one about building healthy relationships with government officials. There were nuts-and-bolts sessions on code enforcement, event planning, affordable housing, senior safety, revitalization, environmental custodianship, disaster preparation and more. There were awards, music, and superb food, thanks to the hard work of Tallahassee Neighborhood Community Services Director Tom Lewis (right) and his staff. Lewis seemed to be everywhere at once, always calm, always making things go right, and always giving - of his time, his care, and gifts from a seemingly bottomless treasure chest of door prizes.

Speaking of giving, one of the themes that resonated through the event was something articulated by southwest Florida activist Michael Raposa in his talk on Asset Based Community Development: "A gift is not a gift until it's given." Everyone in a neighborhood has something to offer - and you really don't know what you're capable of, or what your neighborhood is capable of, until each person starts using his or her gifts.

This was also the theme of Michael Chatman's stirring keynote address: much of what we do depends on choice, not on chance, except often we forget, or unlearn, our potential, glued by fear or pain to our immediate circumstances. He spoke movingly of how his life nearly got derailed by a brutal father and an impoverished upbringing - until, with the help of others, he recovered his own potential.

Debbie Marks of Sarasota's Neighborhood Services invited residents from Sarasota, including John Krotec and this writer to talk about some of our neighborhood groups' organizing experiences. Marks' team works within the county's planning department as a liaison between the government and communities who are facing the challenges of improving themselves without the extra oomph provided by strong dues-collecting associations that exercise deed-restrictions.

The key is to get people to be involved - because, as Raposa said, if people don't build the playground themselves - if they wait for the government to do it - not only will they have a long wait, but when it's built, it won't last if people don't feel like it's part of them. When your own blood sweat and tears are in that playground, you're going to fight for it like it's your family.

That message resonated in many forms over the three days through keynotes, side conversations, workshop discussions that turned the Tallahassee Conference Center into a hive of activity.

There's no way to do more than give a few highlights:

  • Tallahassee Mayor John R. Marks III shared a video about the transformation of Frenchtown in his city, calling neighborhoods as "the lifeblood of the community."

  • Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, packed a semester's worth of insight into her presentation on "smart growth" -- brilliantly explaining community land trusts and pointing to new directions in land use that bring together high-quality development with affordable living.

  • John Krotec (with Debbie Marks, left, and Teresa Mast) of the Fruitville 210 Community Alliance in Sarasota told a rapt audience how he knocked on 1,200 doors when a big box developer threatened to overwhelm his community, and how he learned (1) how nearly everyone believed they were helpless in the face of government and big business, and (2) how today, having defeated that developer, 30 invigorated communities have come together with a lively sense of what ordinary people can do when they begin to talk and to care.

  • Care was also the theme of Michael Raposa's speech as he accepted an honor for his years of community work. Raposa's message was loud and clear: the future of your community lies with you -- "don't let anyone tell you it's not worth fighting for."

There was so much more -- as they say, you had to be there. But that's even more true in part because something is not happening - not yet, anyway - inside Florida's community organizing network, as far as I can tell. I spoke about this briefly at the conference, and would be remiss to not mention it in closing. You "had to be there" at the Tallahassee Conference in part because the resonant messages and human guidance of neighborhood grassroots activism - at least in Florida - have not yet tapped into the powerful tools coming online through social media networking.

Across the globe a revolution is taking place in media that parallels the call to rise up that was heard so eloquently in Tallahassee. "Turning things around" has a potent corollary here: it means taking back your own voice. It is no longer necessary to wait for your conference, your issue, your neighborhood -- to gain the attention of the nightly news before you feel justified in thinking it's important. Mainstream media finds itself in a new environment in which people are speaking up for themselves. Communities are building identity, vision and purpose through blogs, websites, online groups, and a host of new and developing social media. The key is to connect, and that means not just to write about your community, but to link to others.

There's a fine book entitled Small Pieces Loosely Joined by David Weinberger that captures the essence of what social media can mean for community organizing. It lies in the power of linking, which in turn rests on a key difference between physical objects and digital realities. The real world," says Weinberger, "is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together."

When you create a social space on the Web, you can link to others, driving the power of your attention to flow to them. The gift of that link ignites a spark, so individuals and communities begin to connect - to reach out, to notice each other and to be noticed, to link to each other and be linked to.

This turning toward others drives new links -- consider, on the level of individuals, the explosive power of Facebook, or mySpace, which claims 110 million active users a month. People are discovering common causes; their communities of interest are self-organizing online and passionately sharing best practices. And unlike the real world -- where today's mainstream media reports are tomorrow's hamster fodder -- these new media voices, dialogues and activities continue to persist in the ever-present, open and transparent digital record.

I don't mean to suggest that social media will singlehandedly perform technological miracles. It's up to people to take control of these tools - many of which, like Blogger, Google sites, Groupsites, Newsgroups, Outside In, Placeblogger and more are simple to use -- no need to be a geek -- and free. With these tools and others (have a look at the Deliberative Democracy Consortium), neighborhoods can progress toward becoming full fledged communities by connecting creatively with each other and to an abundance of resources

The real world isn't prone to move itself to purposive, vibrant action. But if we begin to speak in our own voices, connecting our neighborhoods to the extraordinary voices and resources of other neighborhoods, community coalitions, schools, group sites, community aggregations, blogs and forums out there, we might find that turning the world upside down, in the words of Senator Graham -- reclaiming the voices of where we live, working together from the grassroots through neighborhoods to the communities and institutions that are the fabric of society -- just got a whole lot more powerful.
- Tom Matrullo

More images from the Conference can be found here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rich Site

This useful chart of home sales in Sarasota County comes from this page.

There's a great deal more information there, much of it demographics and real estate-related, e.g. "Percentage of Sarasota county residents living and working in the county: 85.6%:

This data is linked to from the superb Fruitville 210 Community Alliance website. It's a site worth exploring.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Citizens Patrol Update


Let me introduce myself. My name is Ted Cover. I live at 4102 Parry Drive. I will be handling scheduling of the Citizens Patrols.

The next Citizens Patrol training session will be Tuesday, July 8 at 6:30 p.m. (immediately before the regular Community Group business meeting). The location is Sarasota Baptist Church, Room 100.

My home phone number is 379-0758. You can also contact me by E-mail at

The Citizens Patrol needs two volunteers for each of the following nights:
  • Sat. June 28
  • Fri. July 4
  • Sat. July 5
  • Fri. July 11
  • Sat. July 12
  • Sat. July 19
  • Fri. July 25
  • Sat. July 26

Patrol duration is two hours. Start time for the patrol is up to each team. Start time may be any time between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Please respond by email. I will get back to you confirming your patrol day and time. I have the magnetic signs for your vehicle, and the log book. I also have a Sheriff's Department cell phone should anyone not wish to use a personal cell phone.

Our Citizens Watch and patrols do make a big difference. Here is the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department report for Lake Sarasota for May 2008:
  • There were no juvenile incidents.
  • Vandalism: 5/2 4:42 p.m. 4102 Parry Dr.
  • Theft: 5/5 10:19 a.m. 4142 Parry Dr.
  • Theft: 5/18 3:06 p.m. 6735 Mauna Loa
  • Theft 5/30 6:39 a.m. 6834 Tema Ln.

Thank you,
Ted Cover
Lake Sarasota Community Group

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Resource for Lake Sarasota

We're building a Google Site for LSCG - check it out here, kick the tires, let us know what you think.

Lake Sarasota in the News

Hearty congratulations to the hardest working beautifiers in Lake Sarasota!

Homegrown beautification

Published Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 4:30 a.m.
Last updated Wednesday, June 11, 2008 at 2:41 a.m.

Despite lacking a homeowners association — a handicap for any neighborhood effort — a small group of Lake Sarasota residents are working with the county to improve their area of town.


The Lake Sarasota Community Group meets the second Tuesday of each month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Sarasota Baptist Church, 7091 Proctor Road, Room 100. For more information about the group, visit

It started simply with picking up trash in the medians. Then they asked for help from code enforcement to gently persuade neighbors to cut their grass and clean up around their homes, though they first asked the neighbors directly.

"They said, look, we're really trying to fix the neighborhood; will you help?" said Debbie Marks, core service program coordinator with county Neighborhood Services. "And it usually works." It is her job to help homeowners associations or groups such as the one in Lake Sarasota get their efforts off the ground.

Encouraged by their early success, the Lake Sarasota residents -- called the Lake Sarasota Community Group -- sought and got a grant for entry signs to their neighborhood and did the landscaping around the signs themselves.

The group had its latest victory last week hammering out an agreement with the county for 20 to 25 oaks, weeping podocarpus and autumn cypress trees to be planted in their medians. The lack of a homeowners association, though, complicated things.

Lake Sarasota is a neighborhood of 1,600 homes just east of Interstate 75 on Bee Ridge Road. Though it once had a homeowners association and deed restrictions, lack of activity caused the association and the restrictions to lapse, leaving the neighborhood without a legal entity to represent it.

But the efforts of the tenacious little group of residents got the county's attention -- and its help.

"We've expended our own time and energy and money to do things ourselves, and the county appreciates that," said Laura Mathis, one of the group's members.

According to the agreement between the county and the group, the county will tend the newly planted trees. The county did not ask the residents to tend existing trees but told residents the trees would be removed if they become hazardous. Existing trees, including large, old Canary Island date palms, had been tended by individuals in the area for years. Budget constraints meant those trees could not be added to the new trees the county would plant and maintain.

With no legal entity to sign for the neighborhood, both the county's Urban Forestry Program and Neighborhood Services had to work out a special deal with the residents.

Demetra McBride, urban forestry manager for the county, kept it simple and just sent a letter to the residents saying that if the trees ever become a hazard, the county has a right to take them down.

"If they are not provided for and they decline to the point not of being unsightly, but if they become a risk, we'll come out and remove them," McBride said.

McBride said planting of the new trees will begin in the next three to four weeks.

Studies show that trees capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. They filter pollution and improve air quality, and they raise property values 5 to 9 percent.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Survey via Scope

Please take a moment to review and give your opinion on the following 4 Growth Scenarios for the Tampa Bay region (yes, Sarasota & Manatee County too!). These scenarios have been created from citizen planning sessions hosted by diverse regional partners as part of the "My One Bay" regional planning project. I encourage you to share with friends and colleagues. We can make a difference.

April Doner

  • 1226 N. Tamiami Trail, Suite 202
  • Sarasota, FL 34236
  • P. (941) 365-8751
  • F. (941) 365-8592
  • Web

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

June 10th Meeting: A brief summary

A summary of last evening's General Meeting:

County liaison Debbie Marks informed the group that $5,546 remains from an original $10,000 grant from the county. The county would like the community to decide how to best use the funds before year's end. This will be an ongoing topic at future meetings -- if you have some thoughts, come to a meeting and let us hear from you.

Some brainstorming took place on how to get more people out to the meetings. Some thought more people might come if the meeting were earlier - 5:30 p.m. instead of 7 p.m., for example. Or, to meet in cool months at the park rather than at the church. Others suggested various sorts of incentives -- raffles, guest speakers, hot-button issues. What do you think? Let us know, either in the comments below or at

Another lively round of discussion turned on how to handle complaints from residents about code enforcement issues more effectively. As foreclosed homes are snapped up by absentee owners who become landlords, the community runs the risk of seeing an increasing degree of homes inhabited by multiple families, with the usual blighting factors - cars and trucks parked on lawns, additional traffic and litter, etc. One suggestion: hold a meeting that would educate the group on how to usefully gather complaints, inform landlords, and get results from Code Enforcement.

The trees for the Mauna Loa medians should begin to be planted by the County's foresters in about three weeks. These plantings will be maintained by the county until they are well established, and the cost is not coming from our grant.

No new stop signs were authorized for Mauna Loa at the latest Traffic Advisory meeting. Residents of Lake Sarasota spoke for and against the petition for up to three additional signs.

Ted Cover is asking for volunteers for Citizens Patrol. Ted is the new coordinator and will be asking volunteers to tell him when they can be available for patrol.

From Ted:
The next Citizens Patrol training session will be Tuesday, July 8 at 6:30 p.m. (immediately before the regular Community Group business meeting). The location is Sarasota Baptist Church, Room 100.
My home phone number is 379-0758. You can also contact me by E-mail at .
As Ted said, the next General meeting follows the training session and starts at 7 p.m., July 8. Note: We are a non-profit, non-dues-collecting, non-deed-restricting group of residents whose sole aim is to make our community more safe, beautiful, and humane.

A message from the elections supervisor




For immediate release

Media contact: Tel 941.861.8606

SOE appeal to voters: Help us test the system!

Sarasota, June 11, 2008 – Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said today she will conduct a mock election next month to test the functionality of the county’s optical scan voting system that will be used in the fall elections and beyond.

All Sarasota residents are encouraged to help test the upgraded system by voting at one of the three SOE offices in Sarasota, Venice, and North Port between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8.

The main objective is to give voters a chance to vote a ballot on the upgraded system before the two major fall elections and to ensure the system is accurate and reliable,” Supervisor Dent said. “We will test components of the system leading up to and including ballot tabulation, and including tabulation of absentee ballots,” she added.

Voters will be asked to sign in when they arrive at the polling place and will be given a mock election ballot to vote. Each voter will then feed the voted ballot through the optical scan tabulator at the polling place. An AutoMARK voter assist terminal will be available in all three polling locations to help voters with disabilities mark their ballots.

The mock election exercise is open to the public and will include a full canvass of votes, including absentee ballots, by the supervisor and county commission members and audit to ensure that the voting and tabulating equipment is operating properly.

Also on July 8, at the voting equipment facility at 1001 Sarasota Center Boulevard, SOE staff will be putting the remaining optical scan tabulators to the test by running a pre-marked test deck of 250 ballots through each one to confirm that they tabulate accurately. This test will begin at 8 a.m. and is open to the public, on a first-come, first-serve basis. Space is limited. The July 8 testing is in addition to the testing of all equipment that is conducted, as a matter of policy, prior to every election in Sarasota County.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Community Group meets Tuesday, 7 pm

Tuesday's General Meeting of the LSCG will offer updates on the following:

The agreement formalized between the County and the Group regarding plantings in the Mauna Loa medians.

The results of today's 2 p.m. Traffic Advisory Committee meeting at which LSCG representatives will petition for additional traffic calming measures, in particular, stop signs, on Mauna Loa.

An update on Citizens Patrol - next training session July 8th.

Along with Yard of the Month, treasurer's report and any other new business as may occur.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Green Tips

Want to rid your mailbox of junk mail? Calculate your carbon footprint? SAve on AC? Use less paper? You'll find useful tips on this and more here:

Thanks to Laura, who puts together the LSCG newsletter among many other things, for the links. The newsletter will be coming out soon.

TBARTA Board Seeks Input from Sarasota

Monday, June 02, 2008

Students in Government

Hello Everyone,

If you know of any youth in your neighborhoods who would be interested in a summer program with STAR (students taking an active role in government) please forward this on. They must be in 9th, 10th, or 11th grade.

Thank you so much.

The STAR Leadership Training provides high school students with a unique opportunity to contribute to our community as decision makers. STAR members will have the chance to take a leadership role in things that matter in Sarasota County and have their voice be heard.

STAR is a 60 hour leadership training that focuses on teambuilding, communication, civic engagement and leadership skills that will empower youth to use their voice as they serve their community. At the completion of the training, youth may be eligible to serve as active, voting members of governmental advisory boards (city and county) or as a member of a non-profit board of directors.

Through the training, youth get the opportunity to….

§ Challenge themselves - learn something new!

§ Voice their opinion - in a decision-making role in Sarasota County.

§ Meet new people - students and community leaders from all over the county.

§ Make a difference! Many people talk about improving the world – here’s a chance to do it!

§ Earn community service hours for creating and implementing their class community project and continue to earn community service hours as they serve on a committee.

We are now accepting applications for our Summer 2008 session. Applicants must be entering 9th, 10th or 11th grade in order to participate. The program is completely FREE… we take care of all the training materials and we also provide lunch. Attached is a copy of the application, our calendar of classes for this summer and a brochure with more information about our program.

The Summer 2008 session begins on Tuesday, June 10th…. We will be hosting a Parent/Student Orientation on Tuesday, June 3rd from 6pm-7:30pm at the Pine View School.

Applications must be received prior to the Orientation on the 3rd. Applications can be submitted by mail, e-mail or faxed to 941-922-8099.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or if I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at the number listed below.

Thank you!

Yolanda Mancha

Youth Civic Engagement Coordinator

Community Youth Development (CYD)

4409 Sawyer Road

Sarasota, FL 34233


Traffic Calming Meeting coming up

Lake Sarasota's petition for additional traffic calming measures is on the agenda for the Traffic Advisory Council meeting for June.

The meeting begins at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 9th at the County Administration building, 1660 Ringling Blvd. The Lake Sarasota request for additional stop signs on Mauna Loa is fourth on the agenda. The County has placed two signs on Mauna Loa to notify residents of the meeting.

Taxable values fall 17 percent

SARASOTA COUNTY — More than $10 billion bled from the county’s tax base last year, a decline that translates into a tax cut for many, but more layoffs and a $40 million budget shortfall for the county.

The biggest drop came in North Port, where more than $2 billion was shed from the city’s tax base. That amounts to one third of the taxable value of all homes in the county’s second-largest city.

Venice’s tax base contracted by 18 percent, Sarasota’s by 13 percent and Longboat Key’s by 10 percent.

Part of the drop stemmed from voters approving Amendment 1 on Jan. 29, doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000. Most of the county’s 17 percent decline in taxable values came from a reduction in property assessments because of the slowdown in the real estate market.

See also:

Florida's Save Our Homes tax benefit loses luster

How could Save Our Homes, designed to lower taxes, permit a tax increase at a time of falling home values?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

3% Financing for Lago/Jarvis Water Lines

Paperwork from the County indicates that Lake Sarasota residents have the option of choosing 3% financing to cover the "water capacity fee."

If you do the math, that 3% figure may seem misleading. Essentially, it's 240 payments of $15.09 over 20 years. If one paid 0% interest, the payments would be $11.33. Over 20 years, the total paid is $3621.60. If paid in full up front, the total is $2720. So the cost of financing the bill in actual dollars is 33% more.

Was this a misprint in the describing documents? No, it's the result as figured with the compound interest calculator used by the county utility. And according to the utility, it's accurate, the math is right.

The point? Always do the math for yourself, so you know what's what. "3%" sounds pretty low - and financing might still be the way to go. But it seems wise to know how much it's costing in actual George Washingtons.