Wednesday, May 07, 2014

How to Get Approval for a Development Plan

I sometimes amuse myself by watching my governments at work.  It's a government geek's pleasure to observe such events.



The video above is a good example of the Key West city government cooperating with a private citizen to do something good.  It's also a great example of that citizen doing a bang-up job of presenting his ideas to the city in a way that almost guarantees that he'll get the approval he seeks from the City Commission.

510 Eaton St. Key West


That church-like and theater-like building on Eaton Street has been largely vacant for the fifteen years that we've lived here.  It was once a performance stage featuring a variety of entertainments, including as a "discotheque".  (You remember discotheques, don't you?)

There's a second building on the property that was once offices, but they became vacant too.  The owner-applicant intends to tear that portion down and to build a single-family residence there.

The agenda item at the City Commission hearing was the culmination of a process designed to carry the application through all of the required approvals, and was guided by Trepanier & Associates, a local firm that does that kind of work for many developers, large and small.  

The segment that begins at just after 2:00 minutes is what impressed me most.  It's the owner's plea for approval.  He could't have done it any better.


Sunday, May 04, 2014

Rockin' in Key West

They're really rockin' in Boston
In Pittsburgh, Pa.
Deep in the heart of Texas
And round the 'Frisco Bay
All over St.Louis
And down in New Orleans.



They're rockin' in Key West, too.  At least they were last night when The Doobie Brothers played a concert at the Truman Waterfront to a crowd estimated at 2500 - 3000 people.  

 We were rockin' too, earlier today, when the wind kicked up and the tide was changing.  The
Betty Sue
Betty Sue was rocking pretty good, although not uncomfortably. 

The weather that caused this has passed over us now and it's quite a spectacular day.  Bright sun, blue skies and high, wispy clouds, fresh breezes, and a temperature of 79º combine to make today a perfect day to throw the windows and doors open and bring the outdoors inside.

Even though the Truman Waterfront is still just a scarred stretch of waterfront land, waiting for the city to actually do something to it, the venue is still a pretty great place for events like the one last night.  It was called "Keystock", like Woodstock -- yeah, it's a corny name but it'll probably catch on.

Tickets were $45 general admission and there was VIP seating at a higher price.  Parking was $10.  I'm waiting to see who posts pictures and to see how it was laid out.

Bill Blue told me that The Doobie's performance was quite good, better than he expected, and that it brought to mind all the great music that the group wrote and performed over the years.  

It's hard to imagine that a band of old men can have a 45-year career and still pack in the crowds; but then I remember that the Stones have already done their 50th anniversary tour.


Friday, May 02, 2014

Keys Hospitality

We're noticing a spate of news about hotel properties in the Florida Keys lately.

Today we spotted a press release announcing the purchase of Parrot Key Resort in Key West by Hersha Hospitality Trust, a Philadelphia-based Real Estate Investment Trust that is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  Hersha owns and operates high quality, upscale hotels in urban gateway markets. The Company’s 51 hotels totaling 8,120 rooms are located in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Miami and select markets on the West Coast.

The 148-room resort was purchased for $100 million dollars from its developer, Pritam Singh.

Another article in Travel Weekly  reports on changes in the Keys hotel markets as new resorts open and existing properties get refurbished and rebuilt.

Key West hotel availability has been constrained for the past two years as five hotels along South Roosevelt Boulevard, the gateway road into Key West, are demolished and rebuilt to open in the summer under new names and management.  These will restore 519 rooms to availability.  In addition, a new downtown hotel being constructed at Key West Bight by The Singh Company will also open later this year.

These openings are very likely to further tighten already-high apartment prices as the hotels staff up crews to operate them and service guests. In the upper Keys workers are already being bused in from mainland Florida between Miami and Key Largo.  No one seems sure where lower Keys workers will be found and where they will be able to afford to live.






Sunday, April 20, 2014

Evil Phone Companies

One might think that living on an island 160 miles from Miami could at times be inconvenient.  And one might be correct if thinking that.

These things are many and varied. We should say something about that. Maybe we will.

But here's an inconvenience that exists independently of location.  It has to do with Sprint, the mobile  service provider.

We have stores here for three of the four of the major nationwide service providers: AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint.  There's also a store for Metro PCS, now a subsidiary of T-Mobile, the fourth nationwide major company.

I wrote the following note on January 25th:
I have been without a phone for over two weeks now, due to the misleading information provided to me by SprintCares representatives and the company's intransigence in dealing with people who are out of contract and who want to take their phones to a different service provider. 
Here's the background:
I called Sprint at around the time my two-year contract expired and asked to know how I would go about unlocking the two iPhone 4s models we had on contract.  After being given a run-around by several Sprint representatives, being told different things each time I called -- that the phones could be unlocked, that they could not, that they could in certain cases; and after reading that Sprint had signed on to a CTIA agreement to allow unlocking once contracts were fulfilled; and after enlisting the support of the carrier I chose to migrate to (T-Mobile if you must know), I proceeded to ask Sprint for the unlock codes that would allow me to have the phones unlocked, and -- wonder of wonders -- they sent me two such codes, known as MSL Unlock codes in an email that read, in its entirety:  
"Can you please email us at SprintCares@Sprint.com with your phone number so we can provide you with the MSL to unlock. *AJV"
From @SprintCare on Twitter 1/9/14 
The two unlock codes, one for each phone number followed. 
But Sprint refused to tell me how to use the unlock codes, so I once again turned to T-Mobile to see if they would help.  They were eager to do so, but told me that until Sprint updated a database at Apple known as the Activation Data Base.  They even went so far as to call Apple on my behalf and confirmed that the phone was not unlocked in the Activation DB.  ONLY SPRINT CAN UPDATE THE ACTIVATION DATA BASE, AND THEY REFUSE TO DO IT!  It is allowed and done for someone who wants to use another phone service internationally, but absolutely not for domestic use with any other carrier. 
After 15 years as a mostly satisfied Sprint user, and after asking for a reduction in my monthly cost to something close to what T-Mobile offered me to switch (and who do not lock the phone to their own network), I made the move.  I relied on the fact that I had the MSL codes to begin the process of transitioning, and now I have a phone that doesn't work with Sprint and can't be activated at T-Mobile until the unlock is completed. 
I filed a complaint with the FCC, similar to what other customers have advised doing, but that doesn't give me a useable phone. 
Once I am free from the evil practices of an evil company I will NEVER again do business with Sprint and I'll advise everyone I know to do the same.  
It's a hell of a way to run a telephone company.  It's a hell of a way to run any kind of company.

In the end I was unable to make the switch and had to crawl back to Sprint to get reinstated on their service.  At some point I'll be free of Sprint and I've vowed to never consider them as a supplier.  That will probably come when it's finally time to upgrade phones.  For now though we'll continue to use the iPhone 4s' that we both have.

UPDATE 5/2/14
I am distressed to read recently that Sprint may now buy T-Mobile.  If that happens its likely to lessen competition and will probably destroy both Sprint and T-Mobile.

Ma Bell anyone?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Customer Service

I got an email this morning from SunPass.com thanking me for my patronage and allowing them to serve my transportation needs.  They also wished me "happiness, joy and safe travels this holiday season."

That was nice of them, I guess, but it left me a little puzzled.  After all, I haven't gotten anything similar from the Garrison Bight, and I paid them almost $6,500 this year.  Neither did the good folks at the electric company acknowledge  me and thank me for buying all my electricity from them and paying them almost $1,000, and always on time.

SunPass is Florida's Turnpike's preferred method of collecting tolls from its users.  Over the past couple of years the turnpikes have eliminated pretty much all of its toll booths and switched over to an electronic combination of SunPass, and Toll-by-Plate for those not using in-car transponders.

The Florida's Turnpike self-identifies as Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, a term I don't remember seeing before.  They've also adopted the motto, "The Less Stressway".

This got me thinking about a conversation I had last night with a neighbor here on Marlin Pier who just recently sold the houseboat he and his wife have owned for several years.  Their decision to sell was motivated partly by some frustrations they've had with city management of the marina and experiences they've had in interactions with staff  up to and including the City Manager.

My neighbor owns and operates several large rental properties in other parts of the country, one of which is a very large campground (several hundred campsites) located in the midwest near the Canadian border.  He told me that he regards the people who rent from him as his customers, and that he owes them the duty of great customer service in exchange for the rents they pay to him.

My own experiences in dealing with employees of the city (and that includes members of the City Commission since they are paid for their services) have been decidedly mixed.  In general, I find that the higher one reaches into the hierarchy, the more authoritarian the interactions become.

Here's one example:

Several months ago, someone decided that the large Waste Management trash compactor that services the 90+ boats that are moored here, had to be turned around so it would be easier for the haul-away trucks to exchange the compactor when it became full.  At the same time, the city added four large recycling bins for paper, glass and other recyclable trash.

Over time, I noticed that people were leaving large items next to the compactor, things like furniture, appliances, construction materials, and the like.  I went to the marina office to ask what was happening  with those large things left on the ground, sometimes obstructing easy access to the compactor.

It just happens that I know,  from previous property management experience, both private and public, that Waste Management's contract with the city for residential waste includes a requirement that WM pick up what they call Bulk Trash from residences at least once a week.  WM provides that pickup with a large dump truck equipped with a hydraulically-operated clamshell bucket.

The Marina Manager told me that at present the bulk items are loaded by marina staff into a city-owned truck and driven to the Waste Management transfer station on Stock Island, where it is dumped for further processing.

I suggested that it might be more efficient and cost-effective to carve out an area near the dumpster as a bulk items area, and then to have WM pick it up on their regular routes around the city.  The manager agreed with me, and he called the local WM general manager, who also agreed that WM should pick up bulk for integration into the recycle stream.

However, when the Marina Manager told his chain of command manager, an assistant City Manager, of the budding agreement, the Assistant City Manager negated it.  I asked the Marina Manager if he knew why; he said that he didn't.

Meanwhile, the compactor sits in an area that's been excavated for several weeks and surrounded by barriers.  Bulk trash continues to be dumped around the compactor.

And so, coming back around again, it makes me wonder why governments don't interact with citizens as customers, but instead, do it as the Hoi polloi, the great unwashed, the public, the rabble.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

The People United

... Will Never Be Defeated.

This is the kind of stuff you learn when inspired by a piece of music.

I'm on iTunes shuffle rotation, in a large playlist that's part of my library.  The song, "¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!", performed by Inti Illimani w/ Manu Chao, came up and immediately caught my attention.

We have two bumper stickers that we feel reflect the essence of our philosophy.  I keep them on the portfolio that I take with me when I'm going to need to take notes on paper, which isn't so often any more.

The first is the One Human Family sticker, which in its fullness reads: All People Are Created Equal Members of One Human Family.  It's the Official Philosophy of Key West, Florida, adopted by resolution by the City Commission in October 2000.

The other sticker reads Can't We All Get Along?  The sentiment, of course, came from Rodney King of Los Angeles, who was brutally beaten by a gang of LAPD officers in 1991. The sticker was introduced at the Key West Chicken Store and was handed out or sold there.

 (King actually said, "Can't we all just get along" but that wouldn't have fit as easily on a standard bumper sticker.)

The Apple sticker, which we also have on our car, shows that we are an Apple Computer family with a preference for using Apple Computer products.  Most of us do.  

Years and years and years

75 years:  not yet, but soon.  I'm finding it a little hard to get hold of the idea that next year I'll be 75 years old.

51 years: in September Janet and I celebrated our 51st wedding anniversary.  Unlike last year, number 50, this was no big deal.  We exchanged cards, enjoyed a dinner at The Grand restaurant (50% off the entire bill for locals), met a couple from Ohio who were celebrating their first anniversary, first day that is, not first year.

They bought us each a dessert, we chatted for a while, and they're coming here today for drinks and lunch on the deck.

14+ Years: since we arrived in Key West the first time.

12 Years:  that we've actually lived in Key West, since we left for two years between 2002 and 2004.

2 years:  since we bought the first home we've ever owned here in Key West, our houseboat, the Betty Sue.

Abandonment? No!

Really, followers, I didn't mean to abandon you the way I did.  Nothing new here since February.  I won't blame you a bit if you've moved on, as I seem to have done, to other places such as Facebook, Linked In;  to other devices such as smart phones and tablets; and to other pursuits such as Netflix and getting out in real life.

But if you're still here, and you really want to Jones on the Key West vibe, I have suggestions.

ConchScooter's Key West Diary
My go-to blog for Key West and its environs from a location viewpoint is still ConchScooter's Key West Diary. Michael (for that is his True Name) has been writing consistently about Key West and the lower Keys since 2007.  He practices photojournalism and decorates his very good writing with much very good photography of what he sees as he travels about the area with his faithful canine companion, Cheyenne.

You can read about Michael here.

Sloan Bashinsky's Good Morning Key West
Sloan Bashinsky is, at first, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. *  His approach to Key West, its citizens, its politicians, and its institutions is rarely gentle, often confrontational, and sometimes bordering on cruelty.  But he is honest even, it would seem, in his belief that he is guided by a band of angels who direct his actions.  He is prolific.  He speaks constantly and at great length, and like the walrus, about many things.

Bashinsky presides over three primary blogs:  Good Morning Key West; Good Morning Florida Keys; and Good Morning Birmingham.  He has a dense network of collaborators and informers in his circles. His detractors consider him to be either crazy, stupid, or rude -- sometimes all three at the same time -- but I find his ruminations helpful in understanding some of what goes on around here in the back channels, outside the mainstream.

I have many other sources for gathering and receiving information about what interests me about -- well, just about anything -- but in particular about Key West.  Newspapers, web sites, mailing lists.  I've mentioned many of them over the years here.  Some are still around, some are not.  Regretfully, we lost one of the best ones when the Citizen newspapers closed down Solares Hill for economic reasons.

I began this blog in 2002, just after leaving Key West to go back to New England.  I wrote in it a lot more between 2004 when we came back and 2009.  I also started several other blogs dealing with things other than, specifically, The Real Key West.  You'll soon find a list of them over in the right column under links - as soon as I update them.


If there's a reason for me to keep this blog alive and active, it's in the graphic.  Even without an update in over a half-year, the blog still gets about 500 visitors a month.  I've never thought seriously about ways I might monetize that kind of traffic.  If I had an extra couple of thousand dollars right now, I'd think about replacing the aging MacBook that Captain Outrageous bought for me in 2007.

Anyway, this is what I decided to do on a fair Sunday morning, with gentle breezes blowing, my massive iTunes library shuffling song in the Jazz genre, and bacon, eggs and biscuits digesting in a coffee bath in my gut.

Hello, is there anybody out there?  Is there anybody in there?  Just nod if you can hear me.  Is there anybody home?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Word of Warning

We who live here pretty much know this.  Tourists may not.

The suggestions of alternatives are spot on.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Outrageous Memory



Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the passing of Captain Outrageous, a.k.a. Norman Taylor. Some people know that Norman Taylor, born in Ohio on April 13, 1940, changed his name legally to Captain Outrageous in 1999. He did so in order to have that name printed on that year's mayoral election in which he ran against four other candidates - and in which he finished in third place with only 339 votes against the winner, who had 3,125.

It was a Quixotic campaign for the Captain, driven largely by the impending loss of his trailer home lot on Green Street to developers.

Taylor claimed to have come to Key West in the early 1980's as a dropout from a successful business career in Ohio. I know for certain that he was here in the 1990's because he opened and operated a small café, restaurant and bar on White St. called the Last Straw. But I've yet to meet anyone who knew him in Key West prior to the 90's.

At any rate, yesterday was a day of remembrance for me and a few others who were his close friends at the time of his death. He was my age, 4-1/2 months younger. We got along well and spent many days and hours working together at the art gallery he opened on Caroline Street around 2004.

The times we spent working side by side were often punctuated by discussions about many things philosophical in nature. I believe that we were mentors to each other in a variety of ways and that we both gained something from our relatively short (two years) friendship.

So yesterday was a day to remember those times and to honor the memory of a good man.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Traffic


Total Visitors 109,002
30 December 2006 - 28 January 2013

Whoa, I didn't know that I passed the 100,000 visitor mark
some time during the last year.
In roughly six years, that translates to 18,000 a year.

Not insignificant.

Music

When I was in the fourth grade I joined the boys' choir at Our Lady of Pity (Notre Dame de Pitié) church in North Cambridge, MA.  We were called Les Petit Chanteurs de Notre Dame and sang both in church and outside of it.  I was a soprano then and learned to sing well enough, but teaching musical at a theoretical level wasn't part of the program.

Later, in high school, I joined the band, having failed to make the baseball team as catcher, nor anything else.  They at first gave me a baritone horn as my instrument and then a clarinet, but my lack of a musical background and an inability to read music led to me being reassigned to carry the front end of the bass drum in parades and at football games while the others played.

Yet I soldiered on, and after settling down in family life and the world of work, I tried to learn keyboards, drums, violin, guitar, harmonica, and tin whistle and came up with the same result.

So I decided to become a musical audience and to try to understand music from the listener's side, and to learn more about the structure and form and function of music that way.  I remember listening to the radio as a vary young child in my grandmother's kitchen as her aunt worked there doing laundry, cooking and such while Memére worked outside the home.  This was the 1940's so the songs played on the radio were of that era and so were the singers.  To this day I remember the lyrics of many of those tunes and can sing along when I hear them played.

By this time you might be thinking, "What has any of this to do with Key West?"

Here's the bridge.

Key West is a great place to listen to music.  Live music, the kind that really matters (IMHO).  Last night we went to a birthday party for a local musician, Jimmy Olson, at his home.  Jimmy is a pianist of some accomplishment and performs locally, playing and singing the standards of a different era than this one.  He appears to know a very large catalog of music by heart, and can play and sing almost anything, given sheet music.

Fortunately there are venues where performers like Jimmy can perform for appreciative audiences.  He also has a wide circle of friends who are similarly talented and gives them the opportunity to sing along with him, or to take over his seat at the piano and perform on their own.

We enjoyed such a performance last Saturday at the Gardens Hotel and it turned out to be thoroughly enjoyable.  A visitor from Cleveland, Joseph Iacobucci, sat down and regaled the small crowd with songs he wrote about Cleveland, Los Angeles and Washington, DC.  He made me think of, and I told him so, the Capitol Steps.

Gianna Skyy
Jimmy is also mentoring a friend of ours, Gianna Skyy, as she begins to develop a following among the musical cognoscenti.  Gianna had three performances last week, first at a fundraising event on Friday at Cowboy Bill's, on Saturday at the Gardens Hotel, and then with Jimmy last night at his birthday party.  She has a strong voice and can belt out a song, and now she's building up her songbook with covers of Adele and others, and some of her original songs.  She's definitely a budding talent.

We still love places like The Green Parrot, Smokin' Tuna, et al.  Yesterday we even travelled to Boondocks on Ramrod Key (MM 27.5) to hear Bill Blue and the Nervous Guys perform at a benefit for Habitat for Humanity of Key West and the Lower Keys.  Bill Blue is kind of the house band for Marlin docks and the rest of Houseboat Row, one of our own, and a venerable blues man since back the 1960's.

All in all, the incredible music talent here blesses me, fascinates me, teaches me, and sustains my life-long interest in music as an art form.

Maybe I'll join a Kazoo band.  I think I could handle that.

Or I could just whistle a happy tune.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Key West City Website

The City's website has undergone a transformation, and it seems to be an improvement.  One interesting feature I noticed is that it is available now in dozens of languages.  Here's Vietnamese:


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Key West the Newspaper

The Blue Paper, as it has been known since the beginning of its 20-year run in Key West, died at the end of last year when its first and only publisher, Dennis Reeves Cooper (PhD) threw in the towel.

Now we hear that it will be revived, at least in name, and will take on a new role as an on-line publication focused on investigative journalism.  Arnaud and Nadja Naja Hansen Girard are the power couple behind the revival.  They purchased rights to use the name from Cooper and are preparing to re-launch the 'paper' sometime in the near future.

The Hansens Girards were behind the investigation that led the Federalistas to declare that ownership of Wisteria Island remained in the hands of the United States, and that the claim of ownership by the Bernstein family is moot.

I look forward to the re-appearance of the Blue Paper.


NAS Key West

UPDATE:

Here's the Navy discussion in particular.

Military Leaders Warn Congress of 'Hollow' Force | Military.com

NAS Key West is a major Naval facility here in Key West.  It's importance to the economic well-being of Key West and the lower Keys is large.  In addition, the U.S. Army maintains its Special Forces underwater training base here, and the U.S. Coast Guard also maintains a significant complement of forces here as well.

A large measure of what goes on here involves training  -- fighter pilot training, Special Forces training, and more.  The expenditure of Federal dollars in the Keys is in the many millions, and much of it flows into  City, County and State coffers in the form of salaries, local expenditures for infrastructure services, and sales taxes paid by the military and civilian workers who make up a significant portion of the local population.


But it's almost a foregone conclusion that the military budget will be reduced to a smaller portion of the American economy, as wars wind down and dollars are shifted to areas of greater needs and more productive uses of our national investment capital.


The overall impact of the Navy and its allied branches on the Key West economy is much larger than that of the cruise ships that ply the harbors here.  It might well be time for City leaders to contemplate the impact of a diminished military presence here.  The last time it happened, the City was left desolate and broke.  If it happens again the results, although perhaps not as dire as those of the 1970's, will be felt throughout the Keys.

And, lest it seem as if I'm arguing on behalf of the military leaders, let me point out that they are describing the effect of budget cuts, and it appears to me that they are really saying that its the failure to fund budget increases that will impact its missions.  I'm all for a strong military defense capability.  Not such much for wars of adventure.  We should NOT be the world's police.

Remember old Ike and what he said about the military-industrial complex?  No doubt that Chuck Hagel does.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.
 
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