Siesta Seen

Sen. Gruters trying a new tack to ban smoking on beaches; trolley ridership figures remain strong; Siesta Chamber may shift quarterly members’ meeting schedule this year; and Condo Council members hear advice from representative of Sarasota insurance firm

‘Smoke-Free Zone’ signs used to be posted at county beaches. File photo

Once again, Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota has set his sights on banning smoking on the beaches. For the 2020 session of the Legislature, however, he is taking a different tack from the one he followed for the 2019 session.

Instead of trying to achieve a statewide ban, Gruters’ new measure would allow counties and municipalities to restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and public parks that the local governments own.

Senate Bill 670 also would prohibit smoking in state parks.

The bill specifies, “Municipalities may further restrict smoking within the boundaries of public beaches and public parks that are within their jurisdiction but are owned by the county if doing so would not conflict with a county ordinance.”

The bill does point out that the regulation of smoking is the state’s purview.

It was filed on Oct. 25, 2019, with state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Melbourne Republican, as co-sponsor.

The last action on Gruters’ bill took pace on Jan. 6, when it was put on the Senate Community Affairs Committee agenda for Jan. 13, Florida Senate records show. Earlier — on Dec. 13, 2019 — it was referred to the Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee.

Companion legislation — House Bill 457 — was filed by state Rep. Chip LaMarca, a Republican who lives in Lighthouse Point. On Nov. 7, 2019, it was referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee, the Health Quality Subcommittee and the State Affairs Committee, legislative records show.

If the measure passes this year, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signs it into law, it would take effect on July 1, Florida Senate records say.

A report of the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy notes that of all the trash collected during its 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, cigarette butts held the top spot, with a count of 2,412,151. As the report put it, that was enough butts to line the distance of five marathons.

The results of the organization’s 2018 International Coastal Cleanup again had cigarette butts at the top of the list. That year, however, the total reported was more than double the 2017 figure. The butts in 2018 added up to 5,716,331.

The Ocean Conservancy created an app called Clean Swell, “which allows volunteers to upload cleanup data in real-time to the world’s largest debris database,” its website explains.

This graphic shows results of the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup sponsored by Ocean Conservancy. Image courtesy of Ocean Conservancy

Last year, Gruters’ smoking ban bill was referred to four Senate committees, but none of them scheduled a hearing on it.

The 2020 Florida legislative session will begin on Jan. 14 and end on March 13. The early start reflects the fact that 2020 is a Presidential Election year.

March 3 will be the last day for regularly scheduled committee meetings, according to the Florida Senate’s calendar.

Breeze ridership remains strong

The Siesta Key Breeze waits for riders at its regular stop, in front of Morton’s Siesta Market in Siesta Village. File photo

The Siesta Key Breeze open-air trolley completed the final quarter of the 2019 calendar year with strong numbers, based on the data Lisa Potts, communications specialist with Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) provided to The Sarasota News Leader this week.

The figures follow for those last three months:

  • October — 20,435.
  • November — 25,440.
  • December — 25, 204.

In the late fall of 2018, Siesta — like other county areas dependent on tourism — was struggling with the aftermath of graphic national publicity about the red tide bloom. The county’s Tourist Development Tax (TDT) — or “bed tax” — revenue was down close to $145,000 from October 2017 to October 2018, according to data from the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office.

The revenue dropped again from November 2017 to November 2018 — a decline of almost $57,000, the Tax Collector’s Office noted.

Finally, by December 2018, the TDT revenue showed a small climb. The final report for the county’s 2019 fiscal year — which ended on Sept. 30, 2019 — showed the December 2018 revenue up $10,020.86, compared to the amount collected in December 2017, the Tax Collector’s Office reported.

With far fewer visitors on the Key in late 2018, the News Leader did not routinely request Breeze ridership figures.

However, in the trolley’s first year of operation — 2017 — SCAT told the News Leader that the trolley had 8,793 riders in October and 15,443 in November.

For another comparison, in July 2017, the Breeze recorded 25,506 riders. Given the traditional influx of visitors over the July Fourth holiday, Siesta is a very busy place for at least part of that month. Still, the ridership numbers for November and December of 2019 did not miss that July 2017 mark by much.

Chamber’s quarterly membership meetings may shift

Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Chair Eric Fleming (left) listens to Director Mark Smith during the August 2019 quarterly meeting for members. Rachel Hackney photo

More than a few Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members may have wondered why the January newsletter did not list quarterly membership meetings. When the News Leader this week contacted Chamber Executive Director Ann Frescura to ask why, she had a perfectly good explanation.

Because of the holidays, Frescura said, she was unable to reach both outgoing board Chair Eric Fleming, a Siesta attorney, and incoming board Chair Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, to confirm proposed dates.

Frescura added that she hoped to accomplish that this week.

“We didn’t forget about it,” she said of the schedule with a laugh. “We’ll get it all figured out.”

Frescura also noted that she is hoping to adjust those meeting dates this year to make them align better with the traditional concept of endings of quarters. If that works out, she continued, the first session would be in March, instead of February. Then the final quarterly meeting of the year would be in December.

Michael Shay talks with Ann Frescura during the Nov. 1, 2016 Siesta Key Village Association meeting, one of the last gatherings of that group before the Chamber absorbed it. File photo

No quarterly session was conducted in November 2019 because of the intense time commitment of Chamber staff and directors in the management of the Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, Frescura explained during a conversation with this reporter in early December 2019. The timing of Thanksgiving was another factor in the cancellation of that gathering, she noted.

During the Jan. 6 discussion with the News Leader, Frescura also pointed out that when the quarterly meetings began in 2017, they ended up on a bit of an unusual schedule, with the first conducted in February.

That was partly a result of the Chamber’s absorbing the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) at the end of 2016. The Village Association traditionally had represented business owners on the Key, but many of its leaders also were long-time Chamber directors. Finally, both groups felt the best option was for the Chamber not only to take over the SKVA’s responsibilities but also to expand long-time SKVA events so businesses on the southern part of the Key could participate in them more readily.

Tampa Spiritual Ensemble to perform at Siesta Key Chapel

The Siesta Key Chapel Arts Serieswill present a concert by the Tampa Spiritual Ensemble on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 4 p.m., organizers have announced

The ensemble comprises professional singers from the Tampa Bay Area, a news release notes. Directed by Shenita Berrian, this concert will include music celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the event will take place on the weekend before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the release adds.

A $10 donation per person is requested at the door, the release notes. The Chapel is located at 4615 Gleason Ave. on the north end of Siesta Key. For more information, call 349-1166.

Condo Council releases Dec. 10, 2019 meeting minutes

In minutes of their Dec. 10, 2019 meeting, leaders of the Siesta Key Condominium Council have highlighted a number of comments of their guest speaker, Mike Angers, vice president of Brown & Brown Insurance of Sarasota.

Angers began his presentation by citing the amount of insurance losses experienced globally, the minutes said. “Specifically, for 2017 & 2018 — $219 billion!” the minutes pointed out.

Rate increases are driven by industry losses in general, “not just local experience,” Angers told the members, according to the minutes. An insurance company re-insures its policies through a network of re-insurance companies, he explained. “These companies have taken a substantial global hit in the past two years and are increasing rates to your insurer,” the minutes added. Condominium associations should make sure that their brokers “shop” their policies, Angers emphasized. The market has become more competitive, he added, and,  “[n]aturally, older condos get fewer bids. Aged buildings tend to have more problems such as older roofing components.”
Angers further explained that flood insurance is limited to $250,000 per unit, “so don’t take out duplicate flood insurance on your own — it’s a waste of money,” the minutes quoted him. “With that said, nothing precludes you from buying supplemental insurance above [$250,000]” from Lloyd’s of London, for example. In effect, these supplemental policies have a $250,000 deductible, Angers noted.

“Contents are another matter — you should insure what you think is necessary,” the minutes quoted him.

In the event of a catastrophic loss, he pointed out, Sarasota County regulations dictate how a structure should be rebuilt. “Mike feels the county would be reasonable in the implementation of rebuilding guidelines,” the minutes said.
“Take pictures of all aspects of your condo” to have them ready in the event of future claims,” Angers told the members.

In addressing structural features of buildings, Angers explained that frame walls and roofs are the lowest rated; masonry walls and frame roofs have the next best rating; and masonry walls and concrete roofs are the highest rated, the minutes added. “Associations should be proactive about their roofs — schedule annual inspections and repairs,” the minutes continued.

Normally, a condo association should obtain a mitigation survey. Surveys are usually required for obtaining individual homeowner policies, the minutes said.

However, in circumstances in which old roofs that have not been rehabbed, Angers said, completion of a mitigation survey actually might result in a higher premium, the minutes noted.

This is the first page of a flyer Mike Angers distributed to Condo Council members on Dec. 10, 2019. Image courtesy Siesta Key Condominium Council

Regarding liability insurance, Angers said, “The trend is for insurers to put more exclusions in the policy and/or add deductibles for liability claims.” Among such exclusions, the minutes continued are those for firearms and other weapons-related claims; a construction-related claim (for example, someone trips over a cable in the construction area); and insured versus insured exclusions. “This means that if the owner or family member is injured, coverage will not apply,” the minutes explained. Directors of an association “should carefully review the policy because the insurers are not going to highlight [the exclusions] for you,” Angers told the members, as noted in the minutes.

Each association should consider having a catastrophe plan, Angers continued. He “mentioned that restoration companies such as Servpro and WrightWay” will send someone out and then prepare a catastrophe plan “at no cost or obligation to the condo. However, a cat plan will not result in an insurance credit — it’s just a good thing to have,” the minutes said.

Yet another piece of advice he offered, the minutes continued, is “Allow your broker to obtain insurance bids on your behalf. It is counterproductive to contact insurers on your own.”

Finally, the minutes said, “How to save money on premiums? Consider increasing the deductibles on your wind/property and flood policies.”