Sierra Club Healthy Air Campaign Wins Grassroots Victory for “Greenlight Pinellas”
After two years of educating the public, organizing members and activists and building coalitions with both progressives and business leaders, Sierra Club’s Florida Healthy Air Campaign triumphed Tuesday night over those who would have us remain dependent on oil and a transportation system that requires all to own and drive cars for every trip. By a 6-1 vote the Pinellas County Commission voted to put the “Greenlight Pinellas” transit plan on the November 2014 ballot after a public hearing at which more than 100 supporters turned out to pack both commission chambers and two floors of overflow space.
During the three-hour public hearing, 45 supporters spoke in favor, presenting a diverse range of perspectives for why the last metropolitan area in America without a multi-modal system, and Florida’s most densely populated county, should increase its investment in transit. Aside from a half dozen of the Tampa Bay region’s top business leaders, all citizens speaking in favor were members of the Healthy Air Campaign team, Suncoast Sierra members, or activists with allied progressive groups who responded to our request to show up and stand up for cleaner, greener transportation choices.
The outcome of Tuesday’s public hearing was a direct result of our campaign’s work in the Pinellas side of Tampa Bay to achieve this milestone. For the past 18 months, Sierra Club has turned out supporters month after month, meeting after meeting, in substantial numbers at every significant opportunity to demonstrate support and influence decision makers, completely overwhelming and frustrating well-organized and persistent extremists who had brought the Pinellas transit plan to the very brink of extinction prior to our beginning our public engagement. Across Tampa Bay we have also succeeded in Hillsborough County moving forward to the point of committing to its own transit referendum within the next 2-3 years, as that County responds to new public demand for transit options after a 2010 failed ballot referendum in an effort that was totally devoid of the grassroots organizing and public education that Sierra Club has used to build support on both sides of the bay in the last two years.
From Sierra Club’s viewpoint, we advocate for moving beyond our current dependence on oil by offering new, cleaner and more affordable options that will slash or eliminate how much oil we use: from convenient electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to safer streets for bikes and pedestrians, to making it possible for anyone to take a bus or train any time to get anywhere. When people take transit, their carbon emissions and smog-producing emissions of nitrogen oxide are cut in half vs. what their tailpipe would have emitted had they driven a car. Indeed, travel by bus or train is about as effective as driving an electric car charged by electricity generated by utilities burning coal or natural gas in reducing one’s personal contribution to air pollution and climate change.
At the same time, as an active member of business organizations that also endorsed the plan, we agree with our Tampa Bay Beaches and St. Petersburg Chambers of Commerce that the Greenlight Pinellas plan will remove the region’s primary barrier to the kind of sustainable economic growth, development and land use that we all want to see. In doing so, Sierra Club has emerged as a respected and responsible partner in this effort, demonstrated recently as Suncoast Chair Lisa Hinton stood as 1 of 4 key supporters speaking at a press conference at St. Petersburg City Hall, along with the president of the St. Pete Chamber, Chair of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the St. Pete City Council and the Chair of the Pinellas County Commission.
|Suncoast Sierra Club Chair Lisa Hinton speaks at Dec. 5 press conference at St. Petersburg City Hall|
We look forward to playing a key role in 2014 in helping build public understanding of “what’s in it for me” for Pinellas voters learning about the Greenlight Pinellas plan, as we also continue to organize support for green transit services across the bay in Tampa. A total transformation of transportation in America’s region most in need of green transit options is now within our reach, due to the organized support consistently expressed by our members and diverse allies.
Phil Compton, Regional Representative: email@example.com
Sierra Club Florida Healthy Air Campaign - a partner of Greenlight Pinellas
1990 Central Avenue St. Petersburg, FL 33712 727-824-8813, ext. 303
St. Pete Tribune coverage of County Commission approval of transit ballot referendum
WMNF radio: Greenlight Pinellas approved with outpouring of support