For the first time, the Jacksonville City Council’s newly installed Social Justice and Community Investment Committee on Monday voted on a bill.
Councilman Matt Carlucci said he’s been working on a proposal for a “long, long time” that would set a goal to spend at least one-third of the Jacksonville Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) infrastructure money in the portion of the city that was within the boundaries prior to consolidation in 1968.
“It appears to me that this area, and others, too, have been left out, and I thought for five years to concentrate on that target would be a good thing to do,” Carlucci said.
Carlucci’s proposal uses the city’s boundaries from 1962, five years before the vote to consolidate the city and most of Duval County. The area includes the Urban Core, Downtown, the tip of San Marco, and portions of the Westside and Northside.
The money is specifically for infrastructure, including better roadways, water and sewer lines, and street lights.
“They need drainage. They need sidewalks for the kids,” Carlucci told WJCT News. “Sometimes you can find some sidewalks in those areas, and the sidewalks are lower than the street. When it rains, the kids have to walk on the street and not the sidewalk in order to keep from going to school with wet shoes. There's just so many needs out there that have gone unmet.”
The bill would also create a report card-like evaluation system to help the council track whether they are meeting the 33% spending goal. It would sunset after five years.
Some City Council members, however, didn’t feel favoring the pre-consolidated portion of Jacksonville over other districts would be enough.
“The configuration of all of our districts right now look radically different from what was [proposed] at consolidation,” said Councilwoman Brenda Priestly-Jackson. “And because of that, I know I have 70,000 plus neighbors in District 10, and there are areas that are challenged throughout my district, with some having a greater need than others.”
At previous meetings, the committee has stressed the importance of helping the northwest quadrant of Jacksonville, which includes Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10. Carlucci’s bill only touches portions of those districts.
Councilman Michael Boylan, who represents part of Mandarin, said he felt the spending goal would leave other areas like his without proper help as well.
“There’s hardly a day goes by that I don't hear from a constituent in the Mandarin area who's talking about street conditions and drainage,” Boylan said. “And there's still a conversation out there [about] how Mandarin and the area was basically undeveloped and pretty much ignored during the consolidation process.”
Carlucci said there will still be another two-thirds of the CIP plan to help with infrastructure in other areas of the city.
“There will be capital improvement dollars hitting those areas as well, but I'm basing my premise on the fact that the pre-consolidated city limits have gone without much improvement for many, many, many years, and they were the vote that was needed to make consolidation happen,” Carlucci said.
Carlucci also mentioned that after five years, the CIP could shift its focus to other areas in need.
Despite some disagreement, the bill still earned Social Justice Committee’s approval, 5-2. It will now go before other standing committees.
Also at the meeting on Monday, Councilman Randy White brought up his idea to spend $250,000 to tear down old, abandoned buildings in struggling districts, including 7, 8, 9 and 10.
White brought in Michael Chao, the city’s chief of municipal code compliance, to discuss the process of tearing down buildings that are not in a healthy state.
“We have multiple properties that the owners have walked away from, and it becomes a blighting influence on the neighborhood,” Chao said.
In 2019, his department tore down 212 structures, Chao said. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has fallen so far this year, to 87 structures.
Of the 87, 79 were located in Districts 7 through 10.
While the committee has no money to spend on special projects, Councilman Reggie Gaffney said at the last meeting he was working on moving some money from his District’s Community Redevelopment Agency to instead work on needs throughout the entire community.
Other Council members brought up other projects, including a proposal for a new sports complex at Clanzel T. Brown Park that would largely be funded privately, and a proposed mental health program for inmates in Duval County.
Councilman Ron Salem also said he spoke with the State Attorney Melissa Nelson’s office, along with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and he expects there to be new policy introduced soon regarding the release of police body camera footage.
“I suspect we will have a release of that policy in the very near future,” Salem said.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.