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the flog

Conservationists Score Major Win

Environmentalists around the state cheered today when Florida Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in favor of organizations that had sued to require the state to use funds earmarked for land acquisition, restoration and management of those lands under the terms of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment.

In 2015, nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice wrote, "The Water and Land Conservation Amendment requires that, for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million."

In the unsurprising, if disheartening, tradition of Floridian lawmakers (medical marijuana, anyone?), since the amendment passed overwhelmingly with 75 percent of the vote in 2014, the legislature has continued dipping into the money pot for other uses, such as staffing and overhead costs, which many viewed as contrary to the intent of voters.

Consequently, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of environmental organizations—including the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, the Florida Wildlife Federation, Florida Defenders of the Environment, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida—to force the state to comply with their view of the terms of the amendment.

Today, they have a win.

"Protection of Florida's lands is critical to protecting Florida's waters," said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman in a release. "Today's ruling is a stunning victory for our state's wild places, rivers, springs, residents and future generations."

It is likely the matter is headed to the appellate court. Calling the verdict "a clear abuse of judicial authority," Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Pasco County) told the Orlando Sentinel that they "are confident it will be overturned on appeal."

Nevertheless, plaintiffs and other environmentalists are celebratory today. In a separate …   More

the flog

Tony Allegretti, Executive Director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville Resigns Unexpectedly

In a surprise move reported by WJCT, Tony Allegretti, the executive director of the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville decided to step down today. In his resignation letter, Allegretti wrote that he plans to focus on a "significant opportunity" and his family's "entrepreneurial ventures."

Allegretti has been a long-time proponent of Downtown Jacksonville and the Urban Core. He was the Market Manager of the Riverside Arts Market and one of the founders of Art Walk. He has served in the CCGJ executive position since 2014 and says that he plans to stick around to help with the search and settling-in of the new director. He also has previously publicly stated (as WJCT reported) that he never saw this position as lasting longer than 5 years (many, many folks to answer to), and that he is very proud of all he has been able to accomplish during his stint at the helm.

"I'll cherish my time leading the Cultural Council and I'll remain a resource and strong advocate for the organization and the entire massive, beautiful arts and cultural community," is the sentiment upon which he ended his letter.


the flog

Riverkeeper Announces Town Hall Series about Flooding, Rising Waters

The St. Johns River offered a swirling backdrop to a press conference at Friendship Fountain today as the St. Johns Riverkeeper announced a series of town hall meetings about flooding and rising waters.

Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said that the goal of the meetings, which kick off later this month, is to "bring the community together ... so we could talk about long-term strategies to make ourselves more resilient as a city and as communities."

Attendees will be afforded the opportunity to hear from scientists and other experts, including people who have studied the issue from a historic perspective, and share their thoughts, concerns and ideas.

"We want to make sure they have an opportunity to be heard," Rinaman said.

As this is the first day of hurricane season, many around the nation, and perhaps especially in Northeast Florida, which has been impacted by hurricanes in both previous years, may have storms and floods on the brain. Last year, Hurricane Irma brought unprecedented flooding to parts of Jacksonville, some of which are still not fully recovered. In fact, a man from Ken Knight Drive, a community particularly damaged by the storm, who was scheduled to speak at today's event, cancelled to help a neighbor fix a roof that has had tarps on it since the storm last September.

The Riverkeeper is embroiled in a lawsuit trying to stop JaxPort's dredging project currently underway in the St. Johns River, to deepen the shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet; the dredging will likely increase storm surge and flooding. In a release, The Riverkeeper noted that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that "even smaller, 'high frequency' storms could increase storm surge and the maximum water levels in the St. Johns River by an additional 12 percent due to the current dredging project." That could be the difference between soaking the yard and flooding the home in a low-lying riverfront community like Jacksonville, and its outlying and oceanfront …   More

the flog

Recycle Fishing Line at These St. Johns County Locations

It may not seem like much, but fishing line can be a deadly form of litter. Birds and other marine life often don't see the thin, clear strands, and can become entangled or accidentally eat it, often resulting in serious injury or death.

Also known as 'ghost gear,' discarded fishing line and tackle contributes to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds, turtles, fish and other marine life—with larger gear such as nets trapping creatures as large as whales—resulting in slow, agonizing demises, according to World Animal Protection. ABC reported last year that the organization estimates that as much as 640,000 tonnes of such gear is left in the oceans each year, and can remain there for up to 600 years.

That's why St. Johns County Parks and Recreation and Florida Fish and Wildlife have joined forces to participate in the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program (MRRP). According to a release, monofilament recycling stations can now be found at these locations in St. Johns County: 

·        Boating Club Road Boat Ramp: 615 Boating Club Rd., St. Augustine

·        Doug Crane Boat Ramp: 1039 Shore Dr., St. Augustine

·        Exxon Beach Access: 2700 S. Ponte Vedra Blvd., Ponte Vedra Beach

·        Moultrie Creek Boat Ramp: 4805 Shore Dr., St. Augustine

·        Palmo Road Boat Ramp: 8600 Palmo Fish Camp Rd., St. Augustine

·        Palm Valley Boat Ramp: 383 S. Roscoe Blvd., St. Augustine

·        Porpoise Point Beach Access: Porpoise Point Dr., St. Augustine

·        Riverdale Park Boat Ramp: 981 CR 13, Fruit …   More

folio arts

Through Their Travels

The annual Through Our Eyes exhibit, mounted by the Ritz Theatre & LaVilla Museum, is always one of the highlights of the year in art.

This year, the museum is providing 20 artists with the opportunity to exhibit their works in Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The chance to show works abroad doesn't just reaffirm the museum's commitment to area artists of the African diaspora, it illustrates the nuanced richness of artists making works in Jacksonville, who call the city home, and how those works cross physical and ideological boundaries.

We wholeheartedly wish the artists an amazing journey (as this year, they certainly took us on one). Through Our Eyes 2018 is on view until June 7.

The artists include Rhonda Bristol, Richlin Burnett-Ryan, Christopher Clark, Overstreet Ducasse, Annelies Dykgraaf, Dania Frink, Etta Haygood, Jamal Jones, Erin Kendrick, Marsha Hatcher, Yuzly Mathurin, Gil Mayers, Traci Mims, Ahyanna Nakia, Suzanne Pickett, Adrian Rhodes, Pablo Rivera, Weldon Ryan and Marcus Williams.


the flog

Guns But Not Money


This piece has been edited from its orginal version, in accordance with the clarification below. 


For the past two decades, Florida education policy has been decided in a top-down manner that gives little or no consideration to educators, parents, or locally elected school board members. Not only does the legislature pass ideas that give Alice in Wonderland a run for her money, they want local school districts to jump through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole while taking valuable teaching dollars away from our children. This year, local autonomy, a cornerstone of so-called "conservatism," is being challenged on many fronts. Two of the most pressing issues are testing requirements for graduating seniors and the plan to send armed, non-law-enforcement personnel into our schools.

Ashley Smith Juarez was the single Duval County School Board member who spoke out against the armed-school-employee inanity, aka HB 7026, which was signed into law on March 9. The "Guardian Program," as it's been dubbed, was passed in the wake of the tragic Valentine's Day killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Juarez told WJXT that she is very worried about potential liability issues for the county. Duval County School Board Chairwoman Paula Wright is on record saying she hopes that the district will be able to recruit retired police officers and military personnel for the jobs.

Superintendent Patricia Willis bemoans the cost, as does former board Chairwoman Becki Couch, who cites the recurring tendency of the legislature to underfund their laws.

Reports estimate that even with dedicated state funds for the guardian program, the district will fall about $600,000 short of the cost of full implementation, not counting future liabilities. The cost increase comes at a time when the district is carving into its reserves to offset a $62 million budgeting shortfall.  So while we're scrambling to arm …   More

the flog

Forget Trump

The left wing of America encompasses a wide variety of interests and differing opinions, but it is nonetheless in full agreement on Donald Trump: Misguided reasoning and moral depravity have defined his rise to and time in the presidency. Consequently, some left-wingers may think it best to harness this shared resentment to fuel Democratic and otherwise left-leaning campaigns in the 2018 midterms, but it would be dangerous to do so. A Trump-centered midterm push would suggest that the left wing of America is merely the lesser of two evils, rather than a trustworthy group that can create meaningful progress for America. In order for the left to mobilize its base, it'll need to promote a message that points to a way out of the currently embarrassing and destructive political situation, instead of one that just laments it.

In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump invoked two particularly despicable features of the conservative wing: He ignored empirical fact in favor of self-promotion, and he demonstrated in far too many instances that he has little respect for anyone who does not offer him their full-fledged support. These behaviors, however, do not detract from the fact that Trump convinced people of the importance of voting for him-something that Hillary Clinton ultimately failed to do.

The left should recognize that, at the very least, Trump made political participation significantly more important. A great number of voters chose, consciously or not, Trump's apparent political philosophy: an elite-centered plan in which we ignore any socially inclusive agenda, embrace the advancement of the familiar, and give greater financial freedom to those who are already reveling in it. Trump identified his target base, came to understand its particular socio-political anxieties and then constructed a plan that addressed those anxieties head on. While this exploitation was largely unethical and self-furthering, it was, at its core, a basic political strategy: …   More

the flog

Advocates Save Goliath Grouper … for now

For nearly two decades, it has been illegal to harvest goliath grouper, a long-lived fish species indigenous to Florida's reefs that can weigh up to 800 pounds. This week, conservationists have reason to celebrate; thanks to their efforts, the ban remains in place. But that could change in the near future.

Decades ago goliath groupers, a curious and slow-moving species that historically ranged from Florida to Brazil, became a popular fishing target, which, coupled with habitat loss, sent the species into rapid decline. Harvest was first restricted, then prohibited entirely in 1990. In 1994, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added the goliath grouper to the list of critically endangered species.

Since then the goliaths have slowly recovered, though the speed of their recovery is subject to conflicting opinions. In 2006, NOAA Fisheries removed it from the "species of special concern" list; it is still considered critically endangered by IUCN. Many believe that the species lost much ground it had gained in the record freeze of 2010, and has also been impacted by red tide, poaching, etc. Since 2004, three attempts to assess the stock have failed to pass peer reviews. Scientists remain unsure of how many goliath grouper there are.

In the last few years, a handful of anglers have begun complaining about goliaths snatching game fish off their lines, and blaming them for low yields on reefs popular for fishing, claiming that goliaths are eating up all the reef fish. Advocates believe that overfishing, pollution and habitat loss, rather than predation by goliaths, have decimated reef life. Scientists' analysis of goliaths' stomach contents have found that the vast majority of the grouper's diet consists of baitfish or crustaceans, rather than gamefish, the Miami Herald reports. Further complicating the issue is a finding that mercury levels are too high in goliaths for humans to safely consume them, which conservationists believes calls into …   More

the flog

Constitutional Revision Commission “bundling” smacks of lazy, sloppy, political manipulation

Historically, Florida's Constitutional Revision Commission has been well regarded as an honorable, non-partisan, and diligent institution tasked with analyzing the state's constitution, and proposing changes to the voters.

This year, however, their hard work is at risk of being undermined by commissioners who are seeking to "bundle" distinct, and sometimes, conflicting, ballot items into single proposals.

For example, commissioners are seeking to bundle a proposal that, if enacted, would demand three separate changes related to our public schools: the loss of local control of charter schools, enshrinement of civics education into the constitution, and term limits for school board members.

Many proposals going into these bundles could be easily handled by the legislature. In fact, civics education is already alive and thriving thanks to former Florida House member Charles McBurney from Jacksonville.  He led the passage of the "Sandra Day O'Connor Civics Education Act" in 2010, creating a civics curriculum for middle-schoolers. As a result, Florida's middle school civics-literacy rate has nearly tripled the national average-all without amending the state constitution.

The "civics education" ballot item has been bundled with murkier, more controversial items in order to gain more votes for the latter. Shame on the CRC members for thinking we don't know better.

Voters who want part, but not all, of a bundled proposal would have to choose between the following options: (1) Vote "yes" for the whole thing, including the items they might not want; (2) Vote "no" for the whole thing, including the items they might want.

Either way, proposal "bundling" dilutes the power of voters.  And the practice smacks of laziness, sloppiness, and political manipulation on the part of the entire CRC.

Please contact CRC commissioners now, and ask them not to bundle proposed constitutional amendment items.

Instead of having their choices watered down by …   More

the flog

Ready Player One

Nostalgia is a fickle and addictive emotion. It's like going back in time with your DeLorean/Tardis, snatching those rose-tinted glasses off of your own six-year-old face and slipping them on like Horatio Caine as you rocket off towards the Andromeda Galaxy with a copy of the Hitchhikers Guide in the passenger seat and the obligatory David Bowie cassette blaring Star Man and Space Oddity out of your sonic-laser speakers.

It's like mainlining a pure shot of dopamine. It comes in hard and fast, but then reality comes back with a vengeance. It smacks you in the back of the head and stomps on your rosy glasses as they hit the ground.

Nostalgia has been playing, and will probably always play, a role in the world of filmmaking. What easier way can you can grab the attention of those both young and old? Just look at some of the most popular films and television shows of the past eight years. You have the 80s reincarnated with Stranger Things (2016) on Netflix, Star-Lord cranking Elvin Bishop and Cat Stevens in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Scott Pilgrim fighting his girlfriend's evil exes Street Fighter-style in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and second rebirth of the Star Wars franchise--third if you count the animated Clone Wars series.

All of these examples use nostalgia to some degree. Whether it be homage, pastiche or parody, they dig down into the recesses of our brains where our adolescence resides-presumably where it's been hanging out with Seth Rogen, smoking weed, eating pizza and playing video games this whole time-and dangles these gems of low-hanging dopamine fruit in front of the cave, trying to get a bite.

Now, with Steven Spielberg at the helm-arguably the inventor of the blockbuster and the target of much of our nostalgic tendencies-Ready Player One (2018) comes crashing into theaters. In terms of today's film goer, it's like giving Scooby and Shaggy the key to the Scooby Snack factory.

Set in the year 2045, the world is on the brink …   More