It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.
Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was.
Asshole Daytona Beach City Commission & Volusia County Council
It’s one thing when politicians have the wool pulled over their eyes.
It is quite another when they willingly put their head in a bag and allow themselves to be led around like a poleaxed ungulate with a ring in its nose. But in either eventuality – it is you and I who pay the price for their strategic lack of due diligence and situational awareness.
That is just one of the problems inherent to an “economic development” sham that permits massive corporations to ramrod projects that will have long-term detrimental impacts on the community to remain hidden under the cloak of a mysterious cryptogram until it’s too late.
In this case, the super-secret: Project Tarpon.
Regardless of how many times our ‘Rich & Powerful’ tell their bought-and-paid-for elected chattel how smart, witty, intelligent, and popular they are – it is times like this when politicians must wake up in a cold sweat – shocked by the realization they are little more than dull tools of a pernicious system, fueled by big money and influence, that they have no control over.
A convenient arrangement that relies on the political insulation of plausible deniability – a tactical ignorance that allows embarrassed elected officials to mewl and grovel to their royally pissed off constituents, “Had I known what I was voting for, this never would have happened. . .”
Otherwise, how could any responsible decisionmaker live with themselves after voting on something in the blind without a clue as to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a project’s multilayered impacts on their community?
Last November, the Volusia County Council voted unanimously to approve a $2.7 million proportionate share agreement between the City of Daytona Beach, Daytona 634 Development, LLC, and the County of Volusia – along with an extension of Pelican Bay Drive that will connect the Amazon fulfillment center’s driveway to busy Beville Road – and dump traffic from the 2.8 million-square-foot warehouse facility at the east entrance to the tony Pelican Bay golf community. . .
According to a short report prepared by County Engineer Tadd Kasbeer, which, I am told, was a last-minute addition to the council’s November 2, 2021 agenda (?), said, in part, “In order to mitigate the traffic impacts to County thoroughfare roads in the vicinity of the proposed residences, the parties have agreed that Daytona 634 Development shall make a proportionate fair share payment to the County.”
(Proposed residences? Sounds like Tadd forgot to change his boilerplate, eh? Whatever. “Close enough for government work,” as they say. . .)
Both measures passed with no discussion from the normally chatty councilmembers – beyond Chairman Jeff Brower yammering, “For the purpose of the public…I will let you know there has been a lot of discussion with councilmembers with staff, and apparently this seems to everybody, including me, that this will be a benefit for future economic development opening up this area. . .”
Guess they got it all out discussing our fate with “staff” in some backroom at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center – because our elected representatives were mysteriously quiet as church mice when it came time to vote. . .
Then, just one month later, obviously aware of Volusia County’s approval of the proportionate share agreement and Pelican Bay Drive extension, the majority of the Daytona Beach City Commission enthusiastically approved a development agreement – including some $4 million in corporate welfare incentives to the wealthiest online retailer in the universe – allowing construction of the Amazon Fulfillment Center on a promise of $15 an hour warehouse jobs.
To his credit, Commissioner Ken Strickland cast the lone dissenting vote on the corporate welfare scheme.
At the time, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu – whose district (and neighborhood) is directly impacted by the project said, “We need the economic growth. We need more jobs. I think bringing this project in will help bring more industry to our community.”
“I love this project,” Cantu swooned when voting to approve the warehouse, “I think it will put us on the map.”
Oh, it put us on the map all right. . .
Even if she wasn’t aware of the Pelican Bay Drive extension, is it possible the majority of the Daytona Beach City Commission did not realize that, by its very nature, a colossal industrial warehouse comes with 24/7 heavy cargo and employee traffic?
They do now.
According to reports, Commissioner Cantu recently described the situation as a “nightmare.”
Why the about face?
Apparently, Commissioner Cantu has come to the stark realization that she and her fellow elected officials were kept in the dark. Now the good citizens of Pelican Bay and interests along Beville Road (read: voters) have boiled into an angry hornet’s nest – rightfully concerned that the coming congestion, truck traffic, and gridlock will tank property values and sound the death knell for their gated community.
Because it will.
Ask yourself what your elected officials failed to consider when they were helping their friends at NASCAR land the biggest fish in the pond: Do you want to live at the business end of an industrial warehouse’ alimentary canal?
On Monday, Commissioner Cantu – a resident of Pelican Bay – hosted a public information forum to educate her neighbors and discuss growing citizen concerns, something many residents across the Halifax area feel should have come well before these elected dullards blindly approved the behemoth without a clue what they were voting for.
According to a report in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, several other now-concerned city and county officials also attended the meeting – including Amazon’s biggest cheerleader, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry – who reassured his distraught constituents that he and his fellow caught-by-surprise policymakers will “…be supportive to make the best of the situation.”
Whatever that means. . .
Look, I am having a tough time believing that those astute members of the Volusia County Council and Daytona Beach City Commission – who every election year flood our homes with glossy mailers billing themselves as our best and brightest – could be that gullible or ill-informed.
Is it possible that those we have elected to represent our interests were treated like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed bullshit – by their own less-than-transparent bureaucracies until the Big Money players got what they needed from them?
I’m asking. Because none of this makes sense – or instills confidence.
Now those same well-connected elected officials who sit high atop the dais of power – our political elite who rub all the right elbows at invitation-only soirees, accept massive campaign contributions from the same ‘movers & shakers,’ and blithely make decisions that impact our lives and livelihoods – would have us believe they have been duped like the rest of us?
Bullshit. Not possible.
Or is it?
And, if so, who in the gilded Tower of Power will be held accountable?
Trust me. Our elected elite either knew or should have known – and no one is fooled by the faux-indignation, political posturing, and handwringing these elected chameleons hope will assuage the very real fears of their constituents – homeowners and area businesses that are justifiably worried about their future.
And it is time we place blame where it belongs.
In my view, those who permit these enigmatic ‘pig in a poke’ economic development shim-shams, then paint themselves as misinformed rubes, should be held accountable.
If senior staff intentionally misinformed the elected officials, they have an obligation to get to the bottom of it – and take definitive action to stop the backroom chicanery and gross lack of transparency that has destroyed We, The Little People’s trust in our local governments.
In my view, if our elected officials are sincere, they will start by disbanding the facilitators at Team Volusia – those high-flying opportunists who perpetuate this warehouse/logistics economy that will have our children’s children moving boxes from point A to B to survive (until their job is automated, anyway) – throw them out of their comfortably appointed and publicly funded offices – and return the economic development function to local practitioners at the municipal level who have a personal stake in protecting the character of their communities.
Then, cut off the firehose of public funds and expensive spiffs that underwrite the for-profit projects of speculative developers, billionaires, and wealthy corporations who hide behind confidentiality agreements while gorging greedily on our hard-earned tax dollars, skewing the playing field, as government continues to pick winners and losers in the marketplace.
Elections have consequences. So does stupidity.
And now you know. . .
Quote of the Week
“Watts also shared some facts and figures from traffic studies done to determine the impact of the Amazon facility that will be located between Bellevue Avenue and Beville Road just east of Williamson Boulevard.
He said there would be about 630 truck trips to and from the distribution center every day, and about 3,000 employee vehicle trips every 24 hours as the workers come and go from the 100-acre site in their personal cars and trucks.”
–Cobb Cole Attorney Mark Watts, who represents the new Amazon Fulfillment Center’s landlord, NASCAR, as quoted by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “New Amazon warehouse truck traffic worries Daytona residents south of Beville Road,” Tuesday, January 11, 2022
And Another Thing!
This one’s important.
I hope you will indulge me for devoting this entire Angels & Assholes column to the widening mystery surrounding the Amazon Fulfillment Center, and, more importantly, the astonishing lack of transparency and foresight of our pompous elected and appointed officials who take such perverse pleasure in belittling our concerns and input.
If there is one thing my massive ego enjoys it is being proven right – and this steaming pile of horseshit is dripping with “I told you so” irony. . .
But the behind-the-scenes machinations that brought us here are far more important than that.
How is it possible that no one in a position of power in Daytona Beach had any inkling that a 2.8 million-square-foot warehouse would have concentric and radiating impacts throughout east Volusia County?
If Daytona Beach City Attorney Robert Jagger signed the proportionate share agreement with Daytona 634 Development, LLC, and the County of Volusia, how is it possible City Manager Deric Feacher and his bosses who make the decisions were not aware?
Do those on the dais of power really expect us to accept that senior staff members kept them in the dark – intentionally withholding key information regarding the extension of Pelican Bay Drive to service Amazon and other planned industrial/commercial development in the area – a road that will connect the 100+-acre Amazon campus (and whatever is secretly planned for nearby acreage also owned by NASCAR and Volusia County) with the already congested Beville Road?
According to an excellent report by Eileen Zaffiro-Kean writing in The Daytona Beach News-Journal this week:
“The racing giant will be pursuing a rezoning for the property next to the Amazon first-mile distribution center, but Watts said he’s not authorized to discuss what NASCAR is considering for the adjoining land.
NASCAR also kept its plans for the new Amazon warehouse quiet until the name had to be revealed publicly to ask Daytona Beach city commissioners for a property tax break. That happened at commissioners’ Dec. 1 meeting.”
This corporate intrigue and secret compartmentalized information strategy reads like a John le Carré novel.
Thanks for the heads-up, NASCAR. So much for being good neighbors and civic partners, eh?
In my view, the myriad issues surrounding this unfolding debacle speak volumes about the “trust issue” that permeates local governments – an ugly glimpse at how an institutionalized lack of transparency in the hallowed Halls of Power can cut both ways – leaving those with political accountability vulnerable to criticism and taxpayers holding the bag.
With some of the biggest names in local business and government playing things close to the vest – many are rightfully concerned about ‘what comes next’ – while those we have elected to represent our interests play the role of Sergeant Shultz, “I know nothing! Nothing!”
Call me paranoid, but this one bears watching.
You may remember that last summer I cautioned Daytona Beach City Commissioner Stacy Cantu for her attendance at an exclusive cocktail party held at the publicly funded One Daytona shopping and entertainment complex, which is wholly owned by Daytona International Speedway, where “50 of Daytona Beach’s most influential leaders” attempted to carve out some private time with new Daytona Beach City Manager Deric Feacher.
At the time, I took a lot of flak for suggesting the gathering was, at the very least, ‘poor optics’ – having the look and feel of an exclusive club – one that barred us rabble who pay the bills – in my view, a function intended to cozily pair politicians with those who donate to their campaigns, some of whom have received millions in public tax breaks, infrastructure, and incentives.
Although other area elected officials were invited, for good or for ill, only Commissioner Cantu accepted. I think she felt I made more out of it that it was – and maybe so.
But now, an assurance Mr. Feacher made following the party is raising eyebrows.
During this swellegant soiree, the crème de la crème of the Halifax areas civic, social, and business upper crust noshed on hors d’oeuvres while subliminally explaining to Mr. Feacher which side his bread is buttered on. . .
The exclusive guest list was laden with heavy hitters, to include NASCAR Executive Vice Chair Lesa France Kennedy – and His Royal Highness King J. Hyatt Brown – along with a coterie of lesser ‘movers & shakers’ all seeking to set the tone for Mr. Feacher’s tenure.
At the time, Mr. Feacher was quoted in The Daytona Beach News-Journal promising that he would never do anything “illegal, immoral or unethical,” and “…vowed to steer clear of any “under-the-table deals” and clandestine conversations.”
“It’s not going to happen,” he said.
I guess Mr. Feacher knew why our civic elite had assembled that evening, even if Ms. Cantu did not. . .
Admittedly, I was critical of Ms. Cantu’s appearance at the private party, which included many of the same names associated with this latest “nightmare” – especially one that physically excluded the media (until someone inside made the wise, if begrudging, decision to let a News-Journal reporter into the gilded space) – a situation of concern in an environment where one needs a program to figure out all the players and connections.
When murky issues like this latest intrigue become known (and they always do) it makes We, The Little People rightfully suspicious of who knew what and when.
That is why perceptions matter.
This one is about to get interesting – and you can bet in coming days there will be some powerful players around town trying to convince Ms. Cantu and her colleagues why granting a change in zoning designation for property surrounding the Amazon warehouse is so important to their political future. . .
This latest debacle proves that – like the out-of-control development on-going west of I-95 – what happens in Daytona Beach affects the entire Halifax Area, and it is time those we elect to represent our interests understand that we will no longer sit quietly while the ‘Rich & Powerful’ shape what remains of our community while destroying our quality of life to quench their insatiable greed.
That’s all for me. Have a great weekend, y’all!