St. Augustine Mayoral Candidates Debate Sea Level Rise, Panhandling

Aug 17, 2018

Incumbent St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver debated one of her two challengers, former County Commissioner Bill McClure Friday morning on radio station WSOS. Candidate Jackie Rock, who was not part of the debate, will also be on city residents’ primary ballots in the nonpartisan race.  

McClure said the city isn’t better off since Shaver took office. If elected mayor, he said infrastructure, vagrancy issues and traffic will improve. Shaver said if she’s reelected, the city will see more results on infrastructure and mobility, but she also wants real progress on affordable housing and for the city to continue to be a leader in addressing the challenges of sea-level rise.

Watch the full debate here.

  • Sea-Level Rise

Shaver: She said she keeps sea-level rise maps in the car to explain the issue to people. According to a city vulnerability analysis, by 2030 there could be 1-and-a-half to 2 feet of sea-level rise.

“The moat will fill in around the Castillo,” Shaver said Friday. She added the state determined the city’s wastewater plant is vulnerable, and there’s $2 million in the city’s capital plan to harden it.

McClure: When asked if he believes in climate change, he said, “We have temperature differences in the ocean.” He added, “This is also a financial issue. You have a national flood insurance program that needs to be looked at. It’s funded by the taxpayers, and everybody loses when you have a major catastrophic event.” He said changing height restrictions would help.

  • Flooding

Shaver: Combatting flooding is one of her top priorities. “The city has made incredible progress with very little dollars,” she said. She said the city has been focused on help from the Army Corps of Engineers, and she’s tapped many other agencies for funding. “Chasing money is a big part of it,” she said. She added in the meantime the city has gone forward with “duct tape solutions” including special valves and a pump station to reduce flooding in the city’s core.

McClure: He said the city doesn’t have a revenue issue, it has a spending issue. “After four years to say, ‘We’ve got a duct-tape solution’ is really not the answer,” he said. He said flooding affects homes, businesses and cars, and St. Augustine needs stronger leadership when it comes to infrastructure.

  • Panhandlers

This year the city enacted new rules limiting where people can ask for money.

Shaver: Laid out city statistics saying there are roughly 1,800 homeless people in St. Augustine. She said crafting an ordinance to limit panhandling was very difficult, but said it’s working because business on St. George Street say they’ve seen an improvement, and crime is going down. She said the city is doing the best it can to support the homeless. “We get the least federal dollars per capita for homeless people of any county in the nation,” she said. Shaver said the city is getting money to put in about 100 units of  “supportive housing” for homeless people who suffer from mental illness or addiction. In addition she said dozens of city agencies support the homeless.

McClure: Does not believe the city is doing a good enough job addressing panhandlers. “I think the mayor’s view is that we have homelessness in New York. We have homelessness in San Francisco, and so we’re just going to have to live with it. I completely disagree. I think we can do better,” he said. McClure said panhandling hurts businesses and the city’s image. He said most professional panhandlers are habitual offenders, and state statute says habitual offenders can go to jail, “and you go to jail for a long time.” He said working with all tiers of government to get the homeless who want help and resources is important.

  • Traffic and Parking

Shaver: “Traffic is getting worse. The way we’re managing it is getting better,” Shaver said. She said the city has been managing cut-through traffic in many neighborhoods.She added the city is also working with the Florida Department of Traffic on the problem. Shaver said a city study shows there’s enough parking because the main city parking garage operates at 60 percent capacity. “Our congestion downtown is caused by people circling around and looking for a parking place,” she said. She said the city is working on getting parking pricing right.

McClure: He said infrastructure and  parking are part of the traffic issue. McClure said it’s important tourists pay for parking. “I think that we really have to have offsite parking where we have tourists that actually pay for those shuttles. Then we have places for employees to come downtown and work, and then we’ll just improve the overall infrastructure,” he said. He also said an additional parking garage would be helpful.

The Florida Primary is August 28. If one the the three mayoral candidates gets at least 50 percent of the vote plus one, they’ll be St. Augustine’s next mayor. If that doesn’t happen, the top two candidates will be on the November ballot.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.