January 27th 2012
St. Petersburg: Nothing SAINTLY About It!
by Charmaine Smith Ladd
Somebody grab the Brasso: St. Petersburg’s halo is badly tarnished! For a city who sports the motto of “Always In Season,” with their proposed anchoring ordinances it appears St. Pete is attempting to replace their friendly olive branch with a thorny Russian Olive branch and advertise instead: “Always Off Season” to cruisers.
Essentially, what St. Petersburg’s ordinances propose is no access to downtown St. Pete for cruisers visiting the area. Is this the way to treat tourists? Imagine arriving by car and seeing a sign at the City Limits stating “Non-residents limited to a 72-hour stay.” Is this the Wild Wild West of old, “Hey stranger, we don’t like your kind ’round here. You best be out of town by sundown.” Am I in a time warp? Is this the Twilight Zone or is it the 21st century and someone has laced Florida’s oranges! It is all nothing short of madness.
To ban liveaboards from anchoring is totally contrary to FL Statute, in fact it is blatant discrimination. There is absolutely no justification for it. It is as if to say anyone who lives aboard their vessel and does not navigate the waters is guilty of something and considered an undesirable. This rationale will ultimately lead to Florida returning to the “No Liveaboards Allowed” status they had years ago in marinas. Most marinas allowed it, but on the down low so as not to get a rise of their neighborhood watch monitors. Many of us have worked very hard to quell the fears marinas had of those who chose to live aboard. If we allow this to be done to liveaboards, then cruisers will be next. Of this, I have no doubt. These municipalities want you either in the cookie cutter mode of society or you’re out. This is the 21st Century, but apparently Florida does not know times have changed. Prejudice is prejudice–be it against color, creed, or aimed at those who live aboard a vessel rather than a house on land. Ignorance always fuels such prejudice. This situation is no different in that regard.
What St. Petersburg will have to do is define when a cruiser becomes a liveaboard. This is the danger of their ordinance. Many cities already have tried to do this. Most recently in Stuart, the city in Florida that in 2008 had an ordinance stating after 72 hours at anchor a boat becomes a “Liveaboard.” It was immediately challenged and removed. This is the can of worms that St. Petersburg is opening again. It is an enormous problem. Derelict vessels has become “Derelict People.” Some cannot see through their greed and fear that either the derelicts will rob their house when they are gone, or that a boat on the water has a better view than they do! Either way, it’s ridiculous.
The Pilot Program is perpetuating myths that allow those who only really want a clear view of the horizon a manner by which to kill the dream of living aboard. There are no other reasons as the excuses drummed up simply do not wash. We all know that millions of gallons of raw sewage gets dumped into Florida waters quite routinely. The septic systems for the homes that built where there used to be swamp (basically all of Florida) are not adequate and constantly seep or spill over into Florida’s waters. Sewage from boaters is nothing in comparison. Even the Department of Environmental Protection does not blame boaters for the pollution of Florida’s waters: they know better. We have orange groves that use fertilizers that pollute our waters, golf courses don’t stay green naturally. These pollutants all come from LAND. Should we as boaters begin to demand golf courses and orange groves be banned and houses torn down because they are the largest contributors to pollution in Florida waters? That would be absurd, would it not?
Now that the cat is out of the bag on the ridiculousness of using boater sewage as a health issue that should be regulated, the powers that be are no longer using it. Yet it still remains on the Pilot Program agenda as an objective with which to be dealt. That is irresponsible, in my opinion, as it is misleading and arguably an untruth. So that takes us to the derelict and abandoned boat problem.
If only these areas would deal with that very real problem: derelict vessels. Derelict vessels most often are those that have been stored for years. You know the “fixer uppers” that people can’t seem not to buy but purchase and let it for years. At some point, someone takes it off their hands for a few dollars and it continues to sit. Out of sight, out of mind. It sits there and rots. Most of these stored vessels are owned by those who live on land.
There is a lot of ignorance about the lifestyle of those who live aboard be they cruisers or not. As if those who do are an alien species to be eradicated. The freedom to choose one’s lifestyle is there for everyone. Sure, there are bad apples in every walk of life…as we all know, there are millions more on land than on the water, yet severely restricting or ridding waters of inhabited boats will make the world a better place? It is laughable.
Rather than resort to blanket ordinances that infringe on the inalienable rights of others in their pursuit of happiness, those who complain about boaters need to realize they do not own the water. Their ordinances are Constitutionally unsound because there are laws in place to handle those who break the law — be they on the water or on land. USE THEM. But give someone an inch and they’ll take a nautical mile! The adage doesn’t quite go that way, but tailoring it to make a point here certainly fits.
To the powers that be in St. Petersburg, you are not listening to your public. It is evident to me that the waters of St. Petersburg are being held as if owned by those who live in homes there. If we allow such reasoning to go unchecked, waters held in the public trust for use by the public will be gated and available only to those in similar tax brackets — just as their land communities are. It will never end.
The Pilot Program, in my opinion, has done far more harm than good for the State of Florida. We are throwing the baby out with the bath! The remainder of the States are laughing at us…one of the oldest Ports in the U.S. should know by now how to get it right and be an example of how things can work amicably between sailors and landlubbers. But noooo. The world must think mainland Florida has lost its mind. You can’t kill sailing and living aboard, people…remember, it’s how you got here!
Tourists are tourists, commerce is commerce, and effectively your proposed ordinances are saying “We don’t want you here.” If you say that to citizens of the US, what do you say to foreign visitors? It’s shameful. President Obama is pushing hard to tout America as THE place for tourism. I don’t think St. Petersburg got the memo. So suck it up and get out the Brasso. Restore the saintly shine that halo of St. Petersburg and let it be the Port of the PUBLIC. Shake out your Unwelcome Mat and replace it with a Welcome Mat! Live up to your motto: “Always In Season.”
Charmaine Smith Ladd, SSECN Special Correspondent & Representative
Executive Director, Mariner’s BARR (Boaters’ Anchoring Rights & Responsibilities)
Great report! The sad thing is that the laws they propose don’t solve the problems they say they are worried about. Derelict boats aren’t anchored in downtown St. Pete, and in any case existing laws can and should be used to take care of them. All these laws do is impact legitimate transient boaters who wish to visit St. Pete. I have read elsewhere that occupancy in their mooring field is very low–this is also a push to try to force people to pay for those moorings.