Select Page

Dear Friend:

Happy New Year! 2020 was a tough, difficult year. We all look forward to 2021 being much different and better. There are reasons for optimism.

Since my last newsletter last June, much has happened nationally but also locally here in Naples. It has been a period when our City has had to address the consequences of the pandemic that continues to grip us. At the same time, City Council has had to attend to the many other issues that come before us as a matter of course.

In this issue of my newsletter, I want to bring you up to date on Naples City Council activities and accomplishments over the last six months – the period since Council reconvened on July 29 after an abbreviated summer recess through our most recent meeting in December. During that period, Council held 9 regular meetings, 10 special meetings (including 3 public hearings on our budget), 6 workshops, and 5 Community Redevelopment Agency meetings. A lot of meetings! And some very long ones!

But much was also accomplished. Described below are what I consider to be the most important items that we have been addressing, which I have organized into six categories: 1) protecting public health and safety; 2) protecting the environment; 3) improving our quality of life; 4) addressing redevelopment in our City; 5) maintaining fiscal responsibility; and 6) implementing ethics reform.

1. Protecting public health and safety

The Vaccine: City Council has no greater responsibility than to protect the public health and safety of Naples residents. As this newsletter is being written, there is great uncertainty about how and when vaccines to curb the coronavirus will be made available in necessary numbers in our community.

Responsibility for development and distribution of the vaccine lies with our federal and state governments. To say this is not to evade responsibility and accountability at the local level but to simply state the facts. Even Collier County (and other counties in Florida) plays a limited role in this effort, since the “county” health departments which are organizing vaccine distribution locally are state agencies, not under local control, reporting to the State Department of Health.

So the vaccine distribution effort is a federal-state effort with the distribution plan developed by the Governor in each state, influenced by federal guidelines.

That said, both the City of Naples and Collier County do have an obligation to take any measure they can to ensure that our area receives and efficiently distributes its fair share of vaccines. As we have learned, distribution points are evolving to include grocery stores, pharmacies, hospitals, and stadiums and arenas. We all know about – and many have experienced –frustrations with the rollout. It is a work in progress, controlled at the state level.

Over the last several weeks, I have worked with City staff to make sure available information about the vaccine distribution process is posted and updated on our web site (click here for more info. on vaccine distribution). We also are sending this information to residents directly and through homeowner associations.

And I continue to look for ways that City and County officials can communicate with our colleagues at the state level about how to improve the current process.

It is clear that some patience will be required. With a new national administration about to take office and lessons learned from the early weeks of this process, I am hopeful we will see much improvement in the weeks ahead. It will continue to be important to monitor this, and be ready to communicate to State officials, elected and appointed, our concerns.

The Mask Mandate: As we all know, the decision on whether to implement some form of a mask wear requirement in Naples became a point of great controversy for Council over the past six months. The decision before us was whether to opt into a Collier County mask mandate enacted last July or adopt our own version. Taking either one of these two actions seemed to me a common sense, practical way for our city government to protect the health and safety of our residents and visitors during this pandemic of uncertain intensity and duration.

Surprisingly, Council chose in July and again in October to neither opt into the county ordinance nor pass our own resolution. I voted in the minority on both occasions, urging Council to take action. In addition to my concerns over public health and safety, I believed that having a consistent set of rules for both the County and City would benefit our business community as well as residents and visitors.

Fortunately, several councilors changed their views over time and on December 21 Council voted 4-3 (Christman, Blankenship, Perry and Price voting in the affirmative) to pass a resolution that requires masks in businesses, at public events, and in public places where social distancing is not possible. (Click here for more info. on City Mask Order).

Recent progress on the vaccine does not reduce the need for our residents and visitors to wear a mask when entering a business or public place, or when walking on busy public sidewalks and streets. According to respected health authorities, we will need to continue to protect ourselves and others by mask wear and other measures for many months to come as the vaccine becomes not just available but widely administered – “shots in the arm”, as is said.

To its credit, our City also last fall entered into a partnership with Naples Community Hospital – “All Heroes Wear Masks” — to encourage the use of masks and to increase their availability. This program will continue to be of great assistance in reminding all of us of the need to adhere to the basic steps to protect ourselves during this pandemic – wash our hands, maintain appropriate physical distance, and (most importantly) wear a mask.

2. Protecting our Environment

When I was elected to City Council in 2019, I made the protection of our environment the centerpiece of my platform. I did so because it was clear to me that City Council had given short shrift to this for too long, and that real world circumstances — worsening and more frequent storm events, continuing sea level rise, and the impacts of red tide and harmful algal blooms — were of increasing concern to residents.

Our recent outbreak of red tide is a reminder of what we last seriously experienced in 2017-18. Why has this happened again and what can we do about it?

For insight on the first question, I turned to Dr. Michael Parsons, Professor of Marine Science at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School and a member of Governor DeSantis’ Blue-Green Algae Task Force. Here is what he told me:

“Based on the best scientific evidence available, we think the red tide blooms initiate when the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico moves eastward toward the West Florida Shelf which causes waters to upwell and move toward the shore. The fact the bloom was delayed this year (red tide usually starts in September/October) suggests this scenario happened later this year than in the past. The fact that the bloom happened soon after the Lake Okeechobee water releases would be coincidence under this scenario, but the timing will buttress arguments that these releases contribute to red tide. The bloom was worse in Collier County/Naples this time because currents and winds kept the bloom mass closer to shore and closer to Naples itself.”

As far as what can be done to stop or limit red tide, the answer is little right now. Red
Tide is a natural event known to have occurred in the Gulf waters for at least 500 years. But we can support continuing research, and particularly investigation into the possibility that red tide is intensified by discharges into the Gulf of waters degraded
by harmful algal blooms (such as from the Caloosahatchee River and its tributaries).

Residents also should know that our City carefully monitors these outbreaks and takes action when and where it can to address the impacts. For example, it became clear that the recent red tide event was causing an unusually large fish kill in Moorings Bay, and that winds and currents were not helping take the fish kill out into the Gulf. The City then engaged a private contractor to spend several days collecting the fish and disposing of them in an appropriate fashion.

Many of us have experienced the respiratory effects of this current red tide outbreak, which has been especially concerning in the current pandemic period. New research is underway on the human health impacts of red tide, cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) and, perhaps most importantly, their growing interaction and confluence. We are likely to understand much more about this in the years ahead.

While our City may be limited in what it can do to address red tide and harmful algal blooms in the near term, there are many other ways we can act locally to improve our environment. Here are three recent actions:

Mangrove Protection: In November, Council requested that the State of Florida delegate authority to our City to protect our precious remaining mangroves from development. Responsibility for this now rests at the state level and development proposals that involved significant removal of mangroves are too often routinely approved. We are optimistic this authority will be granted; once it is, we will be able to exercise better mangrove protection (click here for more info. on mangrove protection).

Lakes Management: There is a network of 28 lakes in our City that receive stormwater from private residential and commercial properties, as well as from public streets and other public lands. The purpose of these lakes has always been to detain and clean this stormwater before discharging it into our Bays and the Gulf. These lakes are a key element in the City’s stormwater management system. But many continue to suffer from poor water quality and years and years of deferred maintenance.

After a decade or more of study but little action by the City, Council in 2020 stated its clear intention to make lake clean-up and restoration a top priority. The City has now developed an inventory of our lakes prioritized based on their water quality impact on the water bodies into which they discharge (Naples Bay, Moorings Bay and the Gulf).

Council also agreed that it would use the revenue the City currently receives from the special one percent County sales tax (approved by voters in 2018) for use in reclaiming our lakes.

Already, we are seeing positive action. On October 19, Council approved 60% Design Plans for reclamation of three lakes (Spring Lake, East Lake and Fleischman Lake) that discharge into Naples Bay. This work, which will involve some dredging and new treatment technologies, will take place in 2021.

And on December 16, Council approved a new Pilot Program for Swan Lake, located in the Park Shore neighborhood. This program – a partnership of the City and the Swan Lake Association of homeowners – will involve treating the lake with organic products to reduce soluble nitrogen and suspended organic material in stormwater entering the lake, as well as eliminating muck at the bottom of the lake. The City will regularly test the lake to determine its health and the benefit of this treatment. Given that this lake flows directly into Moorings Bay, it is a particularly important element in our overall strategy for achieving excellent water quality across the city.

I have personal experience working with the residents of Spring Lake and (especially) Swan Lake to develop public/private partnerships with the City to clean and restore these lakes. I have learned that each lake must be individually evaluated as to what is the best plan. No “one size fits all” approach works. The progress at Spring Lake and Swan Lake can become a model for developing appropriate solutions at other lakes in the years ahead.

Gulf Shore Boulevard Beach Outfalls Project: City Council this fall approved key actions to keep the Gulf Shore Boulevard Beach Outfalls Project moving forward. This project – – which will be the largest stormwater management project undertaken in the history of Naples – is aimed at removing existing old outfall pipes on Naples Beach and replacing them with new larger pipes that will be able to discharge more (and cleaner) stormwater further into the Gulf. This project will benefit an 1,800-acre drainage area that will be served by this project, a critical improvement.

Council reviewed this project in June before adjourning for summer recess and then
discussed it further at meetings in September. We reached consensus on the scope and parameters of the project to maximize stormwater management and water quality benefits, including a decision (reached in December) on the location of a new water main to serve the area.

More work is needed to define the water quality treatment components that will be employed to meet or exceed existing state standards.

This project will be a complex undertaking with major short-term construction impacts for residents. Construction is slated to begin in the summer of 2021 and continue in phases through 2023. The benefits will be significant. And Council has asked staff to provide regular updates to ensure the project remains on budget and schedule. (Click here for more info. on the project.)

3. Improving our Quality of Life

City Council approved several actions this fall that will directly improve the livability of Naples and the quality of life for our city residents.

Banning noisy leaf blowers: The City approved on October 21 an ordinance banning gasoline powered leaf blowers and restricting the use of electric or battery powered leaf blowers to those that do not exceed 65 decibels (as shown on the manufacturers label affixed to the leaf blower). Council was particularly influenced by evidence that gas powered blowers create a greater noise problem by emitting a lower frequency sound that can permeate solid structures. They also emit significant amounts of hydro-carbon pollution.

A one-year transition period from the passage of the ordinance was approved in order to allow reasonable time for landscape companies and others to purchase equipment that complies with these new requirements.

Expanding resident beach parking: In December, Council approved a pilot program to convert parking spaces along the beach for beach parking permits only. 363 (out of total of 1,039 total metered spaces) have been converted to beach permit stickers only effective January 1, 2021. The purpose of this action is to provide more opportunity for City and County residents who have beach stickers (there are over 133,000 of them) to find parking at or near the beach.

As part of this action, Council also approved a modest increase from $2.50 to $3.00/hour at the remaining meters and changes to parking ticket charges — all aimed at offsetting the impact to the City budget of reduced parking meter revenue. (Go here for more info. on beach parking changes.)

4. Addressing Redevelopment in our City

In 1994, Naples created under State law a Community Redevelopment Area as well as a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to oversee improvements to this area of the city. Since that time, most of the focus of the CRA has been on the Fifth Avenue business district and nearby areas west of Rt. 41 like 8th Street. This was certainly appropriate at the time and CRA investments contributed significantly to the redevelopment and commercial success of Fifth Avenue that has occurred over the past 25 years.

City Council serves as the board for the CRA and last April I was elected by Council to serve as the CRA chair. I have a professional background in urban redevelopment as well as personal interest in this field, and I am honored to serve in this role. My personal view is that it is time to broaden the focus of the CRA to the area east of that road. This will allow the CRA to better identify needs and opportunities in the 10th Street commercial corridor (“The Design District”), in River Park, and in other under-served parts of the CRA.

Over the past several months, the CRA has begun to take some meaningful actions in this regard. Perhaps most importantly, the CRA board approved on December 1 what we are calling the “41/10 Master Plan” initiative. We will engage a top-quality planning consultant firm to prepare a master plan and vision for the area bordered by Route 41 on the west, Goodlette-Frank Road on the east, 7th Avenue North on the north, and 5th Avenue South on the south.

This planning effort will not only look at typical physical development issues like streets repair, stormwater management, lighting, sidewalks, and the like, but also develop a vision for how the 10th Street business district could continue to evolve into a “3rd business hub” for our City. It is an exciting opportunity, much like in 1994 when the City engaged the renowned planner Andres Duany to develop a vision for the future of Fifth Avenue. This new planning process should begin this spring and will include multiple opportunities for public input.

Another significant development occurring on the east side of our CRA is the proposed development by the Gulf Shore Playhouse (“the Playhouse”) of its exciting new theatre complex. The Playhouse is moving forward to construct a new building on land it owns on 1st Avenue South near Goodlette-Frank Road.

Over the last several months, the City and the CRA has worked closely with the Playhouse to carry out zoning changes and other land use related actions to accommodate this important development, which will allow it to develop a world-class professional theatre company here in Naples. In the coming months, additional actions will be considered by the CRA, including a partnership between the City and the Playhouse to construct a new parking garage to serve both the theatre, other businesses (existing and projected) in the area, as well as Baker Park right up the street.

Finally, the CRA has also begun to look at opportunities to expand affordable housing in Naples, particularly in the River Park neighborhood. One first such opportunity could involve acquisition and redevelopment of the Gordon River Apartments. The goal would be to create a new, quality affordable housing development on that site — one that could provide new housing options for residents while also supporting the sustainability of the broader River Park community.

5. Maintaining Fiscal Stability

In the midst of everything else, City Council carried out its annual responsibility to pass a budget for the current fiscal year (10/1/2020 – 9/30/2021). This always is an important process — the budget must dovetail with agreed upon City priorities. It involves hours of briefings by City department heads to Council.

I am happy to report that the budget passed by Council on September 21 included a rollback of our millage rate from 1.18 to 1.15, something that would not have been thought possible back in March when the pandemic first hit. However, as we all now know, the city and county real estate markets have actually prospered over the past year with increased sales and price increases. More people are moving to Naples, which is good news for the City budget, given its dependence on real estate taxes and fee revenue from resident usage of water, stormwater, solid waste and other city services.

This is also good news in that it gives City Council more flexibility to carry out important projects related to areas like environmental protection and community redevelopment, all within current tax levels.

6. Implementing Ethics Reform

As many of you know, prior to being elected to Council in April 2019, I served as Executive Director of Ethics Naples. Ethics Naples proposed in 2017 a referendum on an amendment to our City Charter to establish a city ethics commission and a new ethics code. The proposal was subsequently stymied twice by City Council in 2018 as it sued Ethics Naples to block a vote by residents on the amendment.

Fortunately, Ethics Naples prevailed in court and in May, 2020, the newly elected City Council referred this for placement on the August 18 primary election ballot. City voters then approved this amendment with 62% of the vote.

In September, City Council, as required by the amendment, appointed its representative to the new Naples Ethics Commission. That individual is Susan Jones, a Port Royal resident. She joins John T. Cardillo, Dudley Goodlette, John Lehmann, and Laird Lile on the Commission, each of whom were appointed by other designated authorities.

The new Ethics Commission has six months, or until May 18, to prepare for City Council approval a new ethics code for the City. Given the shortcomings of our existing code and its administrative processes, this will be a welcome step forward for our City – one that will provide benefits for many years to come.

My hope is that we will have a new city ethics code in place by the time Council adjourns for summer recess next June.

I hope you found this newsletter informative. There’s a lot to talk about right now!

As always, I welcome your feedback or questions. All towns have challenges and Naples is no exception. But we are fortunate to live in a great community that has the resources to address them. The other required ingredient is the political will to do so. I will continue with your input and support to do all I can to identify the right priorities and push for action on them.

Best regards,

Ray Christman
Naples City Council
735 8th Street North
Naples, Florida 34102