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12/17/2009

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

We’re getting commuter rail! Soon, you’ll be able to get there from here and back again and stuff.

A pretty slight representation of the state Senate voted during their special session Dec. 8 (27 yea, 10 nay) to finally take the infrastructural leap of faith that will connect imaginary place Poinciana to imaginary place DeBary for those who commute.

While the facts are pretty clear – $432 million for 61 miles of CSX track for the SunRail project, $13 million to $15 million in annual subsidies to subsidize South Florida’s flagging Tri-Rail and another annual $60 million toward establishing Florida Rail Enterprise, the umbrella beneath which all things “passenger” and “railroad track” will fall – the rhetoric is denser than a DeBary fog (which we imagine is pretty dense).

There is the minor “scandal” of the recent “explosive” discovery of three e-mails named after breakfast foods sent among Florida Department of Transportation staff, but “Wafflegate,” as the wags are calling it, is a nonstarter cooked up by the same folks who never liked SunRail in the first place.

Local mayor-with-legacy-on-his-mind Buddy Dyer immediately issued the kind of postcard statement he presses next to dead flowers in his political scrapbook: “One hundred years ago, Henry Flagler’s railroad brought Florida into the modern age and laid the foundation for the Florida we live in today. A century later, a new kind of rail transit has arrived in the state of Florida – a transit system that sets the state on course for a more prosperous future for generations to come.” Presumably, he was wearing a top hat when he said this.

The project is projected to come with 10,000 jobs immediately (cue “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, all the livelong day”), followed by 250,000 more jobs and $8.8 billion in magical economic development over the next quarter-century. More important is the leverage this will supposedly provide the state in its quest for American Recovery and Reinvestment federal funds. The Department of Transportation has applied for $2.5 billion to fund a far more exciting high-speed rail that will zip you from Tampa to Miami and back. Shopping!

While city and county officials – including mayoral hopefuls Bill Segal and Linda Stewart – applauded the victory, those populating the anti-tax short bus were quick to chime in with sad faces. U.S. Rep John Mica, R-Winter Park, told the Palm Beach Post that the whole passage was not unlike a recent kidney stone: “They were equally painful,” he said. Meanwhile, teabag king and Orange County mayoral downer Matt Falconer issued a scathing statement calling the deal that would ultimately give CSX $660 million for doing nothing “another corporate welfare program.” He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore.

“Because of these events, when I am elected Orange County Mayor I will place on the ballot the Orange County Taxpayer Protection Act,” he fumed in an e-mail. “Quite simply, the act will amend the county charter to require voter approval of government expenditures above $50 million (excluding education and public safety).”

Guess Falconer won’t be on the Love Train.

The city installed red-light cameras at eight intersections in September 2008, despite the fact that the Florida Department of Transportation and the legislature repeatedly shut down attempts to make the cameras legal tools of law enforcement. Instead, local governments issue the tickets as civil penalties and keep themselves in business. The policy has produced 27,185 tickets between September 2008 and the end of October 2009 in Orlando alone; seven more cameras were added two months ago, bringing the annual point-and-click price tag to $855,780.

Well, fear not, armrest vigilantes. Political strife often inspires entrepreneurial carpetbagging. In other words, there’s an app for that. The makers of PhantomAlert – an Android app and GPS download – have assembled a national (plus Canada!) database cataloging more than 250,000 traffic enforcement annoyances that you should be aware of, including red-light cameras, speed cameras and speed-limit drops. And, if you buy their press release, their subscription numbers are soaring! Lifetime access comes at a cost of $99.99, while a one-year subscription is $39.99. Before you get too excited, realize that, in addition to being well-marked at intersections, red-light camera locations are pretty readily available with a quick search of the Google. Also, if you’re paying $100 for eternal (and soon to be illegal) use of your smart phone while driving, you might just be stupid.

Postal customers at the Colonialtown location, 611 Mills Ave., have been enlisted in the fight to keep that office open. Apparently it worked!

The postal service announced in mid-November that even after cutting $10 billion last year, it still ran at a $3.8 billion loss, and is expecting even bigger losses next year. Hundreds of post offices are being considered for closure nationwide. Here, they were talking about closing the Lockhart, Colonialtown, Pine Hills, Lee Vista and Arthur “Pappy” Kennedy locations. Now, only Lee Vista is still on the chopping block.

Members of the American Postal Workers Union and community activists circulated petitions to make their displeasure known.

That’s just fine with the postal service, says Gary Sawtelle, postal service spokesman for the Orlando area. “We include public input in the process. We expect it, we want it and we encourage it.”

While each potential closing might not save much, the postal service is looking to cut wherever it can and doing a “floor to ceiling” reorganization, Sawtelle says. “It’s not just retail. It’s everything. We are looking at everything.”

If you find yourself imprisoned by a compulsion to wrap and rewrap presents until empty Scotch tape dispensers are littered everywhere – telling a tragic tale about who doesn’t love you as effectively as empty booze bottles would – then we have an e-mail for you. Casting producer Nathan Carden, a real nice guy, is on the hunt for “patients” for the next season of A&E’s Obsessed. Not only can those with obsessive-compulsive disorder sign up for $10,000 to $15,000 worth of cognitive behavior therapy provided free of cost (save the cost to pride and privacy), but anyone at all can recommend their favorite sufferer of OCD for treatment.

Just give Nathan a call or e-mail (310-341- 2500, ext. 8248, or obsessed@tijuanaent.com) and he’ll use the skills he’s picked up working on Intervention, Supernanny and World’s Strictest Parents to weed you out like the poser you are, or navigate his way to your doorstep for a New Year’s visit lickety-split. The producer says he’s not looking for any “grotesque” manifestations; cutters, hoarders and addicts don’t qualify.

Carden wants OCD-ers who aren’t doing disgusting things and who want the best treatment money can buy, without use of medications. The show has a “70 percent success rate,” he says. But time is slipping away; Carden and team will arrive in Tampa shortly after champagne toasts and will be headed back to Hollywood after a week of house calls. And he doesn’t mind a drive over to Orlando to find the dysfunction he’s looking for. Don’t let him down.

And from the News You Don’t Care About Desk comes this: We’ve moved!

That’s right, admirers (and haters and the indifferent), we’ve got some hot new office space. Showing up at our old place, 100 W. Livingston St., right across the street from the downtown bus station, will only net you stares from those dudes at H20 Church and possibly a trespassing citation. You’ve got to move your groove to 1505 E. Colonial Drive, second floor, if you want to hold a quorum with us, mang. Our new offices are so freakin’ posh we even have an elevator. Stop by and drop off an office-warming gift. We like alcohol.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com
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