Last Tuesday, I went to the Jacksonville City Council meeting. As is the case every time I go, I learned a lot.
My principal reason for going: a resolution that was under discussion, from Councilman Warren Jones, to ask HUD to defund the Section 8 apartment complex and crime emporium Eureka Gardens, located off the scenic wonderland that is Cassat Avenue.
The reasoning was sound. There are more murders in Eureka Gardens, a 400-unit complex built in 1968 (and unimproved since), than there are in many Florida counties. The security is, well, nonexistent from what I could see. I was up there a few weeks back, covering a Ken Jefferson sleepover event, and the only cops I saw were part of the Jefferson entourage. There was no secure perimeter fencing. There was no attempt to ensure that malingerers who lived outside the complex weren’t coming in and causing trouble. It seemed that despite all of the ink that’s been spilled about the blood that’s been spilled, recurrent body counts are just the cost of doing business.
There was a total of one (1) public commenter from the Eureka Gardens complex. A woman who has been there since 2006 has turned herself into the go-to source for media comments on the reliable sequence of misery and tragedy at this Westside tenement. Now, why she was there for close to a decade with all hell breaking loose is beyond me. But she told Council about feeling like she deserved a purple heart for being there, like she felt as if she had PTSD, and that she got no recourse when she sent Alvin Brown a letter in 2013.
So the Eureka Gardens proposal gets one speaker.
Meanwhile, the proposed closing of a 450-foot-by-60-foot river access point in Avondale — which entailed the ceding of large swaths of riverfront land to two adjacent landowners — got dozens of speakers over a period of a couple of hours.
Some were pro; some were con. The people who wanted the river access closed down, including local fixer lawyer Paul Harden, made emphatic cases predicated on public safety. People smoke weed up in there, they said. Fishermen drink, they said, and even use salty language as they drop lines into the brackish water below. People poop in there, and leave their beer cans, and their hypodermic needles, and build encampments. And the worst part? When people park in front of it, no one can see what’s going on down there.
This is a big deal. What good is a surveillance state if every square inch isn’t covered? If every rogue movement can’t be monitored, what exactly did our freedom fighters battle for? It’s enough to make you want to turn your flag pin upside down.
The people who want to keep the access point open, meanwhile, argued that the spot is magical. Fathers teach their kids to fish there; children play pirates; meditative types meditate. In a city where you can’t go three feet without someone cutting you off in traffic, it is that rare gift: a bucolic retreat.
In a different city, a different time, spots like this would be treasured. Now? They are feared. It was left to Councilman Jim Love, who represents the area, to try to be the honest broker between the two sides. Without, you know, offending anyone.
Of course, Love didn’t introduce this measure; it was Tricky Dick Clark who brought it forth, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with his district (During the meeting Clark sat silent and allegedly wanted to cut out early, but Council President Clay Yarborough nixed his request).
The people of Avondale will be fine. They are upper-middle-class and practically everyone in that area is a property owner. Odds are, a mutually agreeable solution will be found. They always are when you pay that much in property taxes and political contributions. Getting to yes requires a capital outlay.
The people of Eureka Gardens? They have no such outlay and everyone knows it. When the lone speaker from Eureka Gardens was up front, Councilman Bill Gulliford sardonically read the apartmentfinders.com review talking about “hoodrats” living there and police sirens that are so soothing, they help residents sleep at night, and “weed and alcohol on every corner and in every doorway.”
No such disrespect was demonstrated to my neighbors in Avondale.
You can call Gulliford’s jokes a manifestation of “white skin privilege” if you want. You can also call it being tone deaf to a reality, which is that apartment complexes that concentrate hundreds and hundreds of people without real recourse — who cannot figure out a way out — are breeding grounds for despair and self-destruction that no perimeter fence or perfunctory checkpoint will remedy.
The people there are without hope. And Jacksonville has no answers for them. Perhaps if Eureka Gardens shuts down, they can all move to water taxis. The city of Jacksonville has no issue paying for those no matter how much money they lose.