Siesta Seen

Siesta falls from No. 1 to No. 17 on TripAdvisor’s Top 25 U.S. Beaches list; Google erroneously reports the temporary closure of Siesta Beach; co-owner of CB’s Saltwater Outfitters offers thoughts on proposed ‘Ethan’s Law’ in Florida Legislature; oral arguments set before Court of Appeal in Cosentino case; shorebird nesting season underway; Condominium Council guest speaker addresses insurance issues; Condominium Council to host March 9 meeting via Zoom; and the Condominium Council offers an update on island bicycle thefts

This is a view of Siesta Beach at sunset. Image courtesy Sarasota County

After being recognized in 2020 as No. 1 on TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Top 25 Beaches list for the United States, Siesta Key Beach fell to No. 17 this year.

The new No. 1 is St. Pete Beach, followed by Ka’anapali Beach on the island of Maui, in Hawaii, as No. 2.

Other Florida beaches that snagged spots on the latest list were Madeira Beach, at No. 9; Ormond Beach, at No. 12; Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, at No. 13; Pensacola Beach, at No. 15; Treasure Island Beach, at No. 16; and Clearwater Beach, at No. 18.

Altogether, seven beaches in Hawaii were honored, putting it in second place beyond Florida for 2021.

Based on 7,816 reviews on TripAdvisor, Siesta Beach received 4.5 stars, The Sarasota News Leader found in reviewing materials on the TripAdvisor website. The Siesta listing notes that the beach is “known for its clean, hard-packed sand.”

TripAdvisor cited 5,160 reviews for St. Pete Beach, which also earned 4.5 stars.

And while Ka’anapali Beach had 4.5 stars as well, TripAdvisor noted 9.203 reviews for it.

Out of all the reviews for Siesta Beach, 6,205 rated it “Excellent”; 1,104 marked it “Very Good”; 105 gave it a “Poor” rating; and 97 marked it “Terrible,” TripAdvisor’s website shows.

One review, posted on Feb. 23 by a person from Jacksonville, gave the beach five stars. Nonetheless, the person wrote the heading, “Do not come here.” The review adds, “No really!!! Stay away. I’m local and we love our gorgeous beach, we just don’t love the crowds.

“But no seriously. These beaches are some of the most beautiful you will ever experience. The sand is pure white. It squeaks when you walk on it. If you’re lucky you’ll see dolphin playing in the surf.

“Just PLEASE take your litter with you. And don’t play your radio loud. Be silent and listen to the sounds of the beach bits good for your soul,” the writer added.

This is a sign that the Gulf & Bay Club management has placed on its part of Siesta Beach to warn people off its private property. Contributed photo

Another review, posted on Feb. 19 by someone from Alliance, Neb., gave the beach only two stars. That review said, “Stay on the public beach. All amenities are available including clean restrooms. Don’t trespass on private property. Restaurants are very good.”

A review dated Feb. 18, which was written by a visitor from Dijon, France, offered one star. “Sure the beach is fantastic but parking stinks. We drove around for 45 minutes and never had a spot open up. This was on a Thursday,” the person pointed out.

The News Leader found numerous five-star reviews posted this year from visitors over the past few months who had traveled from such places as Allentown, Penn.; South Dakota; Berkley, Mich.; Concord, Mass.; Evergreen, Colo.; and Rome, Ga.

That Georgia visitor wrote, “The beach may be one of the widest beaches I’ve been to. From the point you first hit sand to the water, I would say it is a good 100-150 yards! There is plenty of space to set up and enjoy a day at the beach!

“The sand is as white as sugar, and unlike the panhandle sand, it seems more tightly packed, easier to walk on, which was nice. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue!

“The highs everyday during Thanksgiving week [were] in the low 80’s. My wife and I definitely got our share of sun!! The water was slightly cool, cooler than we are accustomed to swimming in. I believe while we were there the water temperature was around 76-78 degrees. So during the day, it was a bit chilly. However, once the sun set, of course the air temperature dropped which made the water feel much better!

“When we planned our trip here we saw that it had been rated the #1 beach in the USA. We now know why! You will not be disappointed coming here for a vacation!” that review concluded.

In contrast, a person from Seattle who visited in October 2020 gave Siesta only two stars. That person wrote, “The sand was nice, the water was calm, and the sun was shining. That being said this has to be one of the most crowded beaches I’ve ever been to in my life. It seems to be a competition of how loud and big your group could be. There were seven large speakers blasting at full volume just in a 30 yard radius in a foreign language. Not a great place to relax and enjoy the natural scenery. After sunset there was loads of trash left all over the sand. Disgusting! Locals told me that the number one beach award has ruined the public beach and the calm island vibe is gone.”

And speaking of Siesta Beach …

This is the Facebook posting Sarasota County staff had to correct. Image from Facebook

On the afternoon of Feb. 28, a reader alerted the News Leader that Google was reporting that Siesta Beach was temporarily closed.

Sure enough, when the News Leader undertook a Google search, it found the link to the county’s website with a red bar below photos and a map that noted, “Temporarily closed.”

The News Leader contacted county Communications staff about the situation on March 1. Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester replied, “Siesta is not closed. Unsure why Google is listing it as such, but we’re working to resolve it.”

When the News Leader checked Google after hearing from Winchester, the “Temporarily closed” banner was gone.

In a follow-up email later on March 1, Winchester reported that staff had been unable to learn why Google provided the false report.

Then, on March 3, Winchester offered more information.

“Sarasota County is coordinating with Google to update listings for Siesta Key Beach and beach access points,” he wrote in an email. “Once complete, any changes to pertinent information such as hours of operation and addresses will have to be approved by county staff.

“In addition,” Winchester pointed out, “Sarasota County will continue to update listings for all county parks, preserves, reserves, recreation centers and athletic facilities.”

A Key business owner offers thoughts on proposed ‘Ethan’s Law’

Mason Tush. Image courtesy Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce

Mason Tush, whose family owns CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, took a few minutes out of a hectic day this week to talk with the News Leader about the bills filed in the Florida House and Senate that would require any operator of a motorboat less than 26 feet in length to wear an engine safety cutoff device, which automatically would stop the engine if the operator were thrown overboard.

Called “Ethan’s Law,” in memory of a child who died after an incident last November involving the Sarasota Youth Sailing program, the bills were filed last month by new District 72 Rep. Fiona McFarland and Sen. Joe Gruters, both Sarasota Republicans.

“Florida regularly ranks as a top state in number of boating accidents and fatalities, according to recent government reports,” a news release from McFarland’s staff pointed out. Since 2015, 95 formal reports have been filed regarding accidents involving an operator who fell overboard, 79 of which resulted in an injury or death, the release added.

The bills would allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), county sheriff’s office personnel and marine safety officers on waterways to enforce Ethan’s Law, the release pointed out.

Tush told the News Leader that he feels the bills should specify the types of vessels that really need to be the focus of such a law, including rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and boat tenders. Both have low freeboards, he noted, which makes it easier for an operator to fall overboard.

These are rigid inflatable boats (RIBs). Photo by Hopson Road/Stephen Flanders via Wikimedia Commons

Persons who drive jet skis already are required to have the kill switch devices tethered to them, he added.

And even if Ethan’s Law won legislative approval and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it, Tush pointed out, “It’s going to be basically unenforceable.”

FWC does not have nearly enough officers on the water to ensure compliance with laws already on the books, Tush indicated. For example, he said, “People blow through the manatee zones every day,” but ticketing for such violations is rare.

He was referring to zones on the water where the sea creatures commonly gather. State law requires extra slow boat speeds in those areas to try to protect the manatees from serious injury and death.

Oral arguments scheduled in North Beach Road appeal

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal has announced that it has “provisionally set” Siesta resident Mike Cosentino’s North Beach Road case for oral arguments at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, April 13.

The panel assigned to that hearing comprises Judge Matthew C. Lucas, Judge Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim and Judge J. Andrew Atkinson. “The panel is subject to change without notice,” the court says on the case docket.

Second District Court of Appeal Judge Susan  Rothstein-Youakim. Image from the court’s website

Rothstein-Youakim is a Sarasota native who graduated from Pine View School in 1987, her court biography notes.

Atkinson was born in Gainesville, but he was reared in Bradenton, where he graduated form Manatee High School, his bio says.

The docket does include the caveat, “Should the assigned panel of judges decide that the court will not benefit from oral argument, the attorneys or parties will be notified by order no less than two weeks before the scheduled date.”

Although Cosentino’s nonprofit Reopen Beach Road originally was a co-plaintiff in the action, the Tampa attorney he hired last year to assist with the appeal withdrew in mid-September 2020.

Therefore, the docket points out, “Reopen Beach Road, Inc., is foreclosed from filing additional briefing, participating in oral argument, and filing any post-decision motions.” The docket references the Second District Court of Appeal’s ruling in the 1966 case of Nicholson Supply Co. v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n of Hardee County, which concluded “that a corporation cannot represent itself and cannot appear in court without an attorney.”

Cosentino originally filed his case in June 2016, after the County Commission voted 4-1 to vacate a 373-foot-long portion of North Beach Road starting at the Columbus Boulevard intersection.

The case also involves the two county Charter amendments he wrote as a companion effort to overturn the board decision and prevent future vacations of portions of roadways on waterfronts. Although both amendments won passage in the November 2018 General Election, a Circuit Court judge ruled them invalid because of their conflict with state law.

If indeed oral arguments are conducted on April 13, Cosentino will go it alone in trying to persuade the Court of Appeal that the 12th Judicial Circuit Court’s final order in favor of Sarasota County should be overturned.

Shorebird nesting season underway

The young woman who has managed Audubon Florida’s Shorebird Stewardship and Monitoring Program in Sarasota County the past several years is back on duty, she announced in an email this week.

“It is March 1st, and you know what that means,” Kylie Wilson wrote: “[S]horebird nesting season has begun!”

Wilson added that she is hopeful “that we will have another successful season!”

This is a pair of snowy plovers. Photo courtesy of Kylie Wilson

Then she pointed out, “If you follow along on our Sarasota-Manatee Bird Stewards Facebook group then you may have seen that Snowy Plovers are already scraping and pairing up on both Siesta and Lido! The birds are getting started earlier than usual,” she added, “which means volunteers will be needed sooner than expected. We will likely be doing trainings virtually again this year, so stay tuned for details on that.”

She added, “To make sure that you continue to receive stewardship and nesting updates, please fill out [a] volunteer interest form (if you haven’t already).”

Wilson provided the link to that document:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSftXArvxh2UT21eNNhKCkCA9WM9TKFmxHeeKU3uRYOKct2eRg/viewform?usp=sf_link

Condominium associations’ insurance issues addressed

During the February meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council (SKCC), Mike Angers of Brown & Brown of Sarasota, an insurance firm, discussed a variety of issues of import to condominium owners and associations, the Council reported in minutes of that session.

The following were key points he made, the minutes noted:

  • Global losses and past hurricane events affect current insurance pricing. The carriers that handle property and wind damage policies in Florida are mostly the same carriers that are writing policies around the world that involve catastrophic events.
  • Increased premiums, fewer carriers writing policies and tougher underwriting guidelines are a result of past fires, earthquakes, mudslides and other events that resulted in extensive damage.
  • The pool of insurance companies covering property on the Key is very limited; therefore, few options are available.
  • Except for property and wind policies, an average increase of 20% has been noted in premiums, with reports showing the range is between 7% and 100%, depending on specific situations. Coverage for roofs is “a huge concern for all carriers,” the minutes pointed out.
  • Expect an average increase of 10% in the expense of federal flood policies, with reported numbers in the range of 7% to 16%.
  • One way to reduce premiums for hurricane coverage is to increase the deductible from the typical 3% to 5% range. This, of course, means added risk for the insured.
  • A question was asked about whether condominium associations can join together to reduce their insurance costs. “This can no longer be done,” the minutes said. Moreover, associations no longer can pursue self-insurance.
  • One way insurance carriers are managing to lower premiums for clients is to reduce the amount of coverage. “Look at policies carefully,” the minutes cautioned.
  • Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which is the Florida pool for those who have problems obtaining policies, is declining coverage under certain conditions. “For example, you must have an annual appraisal,” the minutes said. For another example, insurance companies can decline coverage on the basis of the age of a roof.

One other point made during the February meeting, as noted in the minutes, is the fact that 114 condominium associations are on the Council’s membership list, but only 92 had paid dues thus far for 2021, Treasurer Ginger Spencer reported.

“If your Condo has not yet paid for 2021, the SKCC encourages you to do so,” the minutes added.

Siesta Key Coalition to be focus of March 9 Condominium Council meeting

Mark Spiegel addresses the county commissioners on Jan. 26. File image

During their next meeting — at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 9 — members of the Siesta Key Condominium Council will hear an update on the activities of the Siesta Key Coalition.

Organized last year to fight the proposed hotel projects that will need County Commission approval to exceed Key zoning regulations, the Coalition has been growing steadily over recent months, President and CEO Mark Spiegel has told the News Leader.

The Condominium Council is among the members of the Coalition, a March 1 email blast points out. “This organization is well represented and deserves your Condo Association support in this fight,” the email blast adds.

The Coalition, which is a 501(c)(4) corporation, has been featured on a dedicated Siesta Key Association webpage. However, leaders recently created their own website, the Council email blast notes: https://www.skcoalition.org.

A question-and-answer session will follow Spiegel’s March 9 presentation, the email says.

For details about how to register for the meeting, which will be conducted via Zoom, email skcondocouncil@hotmail.com.

Condominium Council follows up about reported bicycle thefts

About two months ago, a condominium association that is a member of the Siesta Key Condominium Council reported a bicycle theft and asked if such cases had become frequent on the Key, the council reported in another recent email blast.

Sgt. Arik Smith, who leads the Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta, did advise the Condominium Council to stress to its members “that bikes should be kept in a secure area and locked up at all times [emphasis in the email].”

Casa Mar is one of the condominium complexes that has reported a theft in recent weeks. Image from the Casa Mar website

“A request for information was sent out and a number of Condos responded,” the email added. “These responses are shown below,” it noted:

  • Gulf & Bay Club — “[No bicycle thefts] reported but we are protected with security cameras, gated and have 24/7 guard service.”
  • Somerset Cay, which is located near the southern part of Siesta Key — “We have not experienced any reports of theft here, but I will make sure I share if we do see any incidents arising.”
  • Casa Mar — “[W]e had an American flag stolen off our front flag pole on January 12th.”
  • Paradise Cove —“A couple of years ago there was a rash of bike thefts on Siesta.” Deputies “broke up a ‘bike theft ring’” and arrested a couple of individuals. “Recommend checking with the Sheriff to see if others are reporting thefts. Locking bikes in a secure area and video surveillance may help discouragethieves.”
  • Turtle Cove —“I noticed a very new looking turquoise bicycle leaning against a sign pole in the [Siesta Public Beach] pavilion lot. It was there all day and all evening. It was gone the next day, but something made me believe it may have been stolen and left there. The [Siesta Key Breeze] trolley stops in that lot so if that was the case, the person who may have stolen it could have hopped on the trolley back up the key, or gotten a ride with someone possibly. It did look like a bike that one of our neighbor Inns or condo properties would supply to their guests.”
  • Gulf and Bay Bayside — “We have had no bicycle thefts in the past year or more.”
  • White Sands — “We have probably had at least 5 or more bicycles stolen in the past month. We have made police reports. [Such incidents happen] usually on Sunday nights, and [the culprits] have bolt cutters to cut the locks and chains off of the bikes. They are only taking the really good bikes and leaving the others behind.”
  • White Sands — White Sands Village had three bike theft incidents, “all on Sunday nights.”

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