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Tampa Mayor Candidates 2019: Topher Morrison

Topher Morrison

WUSF Public Media asked all seven candidates for Tampa Mayor to answer a questionnaire outlining their stands on some of the major issues facing the city. 

The questions focused on critical issues including transportation, affordable housing, growth, the attraction of high-paying tech jobs. They also were asked about their visions.

Here's the response from businessman Topher Morrison:

1) Transportation:

What are your plans to ease transportation woes in Tampa?

I’ve created a 20-page transportation plan. You can read it by clicking this link: www.topherformayor.com/transportationplan

To summarize, my top priorities are:

1. Safety: Make Tampa the safest place to walk, bike, and drive in the Southeast and save hundreds of lives on our streets by redesigning them for everyone.

2. Mobility: Double transit ridership in Tampa with transit that isn’t stuck in traffic by looking at rail, bus rapid transit, and urban aerial gondolas as solutions.  

3. Affordability: Make transportation choices affordable and offer people a choice to effectively give up their cars and get around easily and accessibly.

4. Innovation: Embrace new technologies, ensure that everyone has access to these innovative solutions and be a leader in implementing them.  

5. Equity: Bring these improvements to every single neighborhood in order to connect our neighborhoods together, so that everyone in Tampa, including our disabled, have access to more jobs.

Do you support using transportation taxes for expanding the existing trolley line in Ybor City and downtown?

The All For Transportation initiative has provided us with money that can be spent directly on improving our transit systems. I will use some of this money for the updating and expansion of the streetcar system. And then, I will go the county and request them to match our investments.

After that, I will approach the state to match the city and county investments giving us a 4:1 benefit ratio making sure we stretch each dollar as far as it can go.

I have found a state-of-the-art technology that can build better roads for the city at a lower cost.

By purchasing this equipment, we can build roads for the city that are owned by FDOT, Tampa or the state of Florida, the ones that the streetcar runs on, and look for state and federal grants to help with this.

Do you support starting up light rail; or bus rapid transit that brings commuters from Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas Counties?

Yes. I am in favor of high-frequency urban rail in Tampa. Although when it comes to bus rapid transit, I want to ensure we have real BRT and I am committed to fighting for that. We have some very knowledgeable experts like Kevin Thurman, Chris Vela, Josh Frank, Christine Acosta, and many others, in Tampa and I will seek their input before approving any plans. I have explained both of these in detail in my comprehensive transportation plan at www.topherformayor.com/transportationplan.

And the fact that this question only asks about light rail and bus rapid transit is indicative of the social conditioning that has people stuck in the past. Who says transit has to be a bus or a train? There are other solutions outside of America that are being used, so I’m not only in favor of BRT and rail, but also in favor of other innovative ways to transport high numbers of people in new and exciting ways.

What about the Tampa Bay Next plan to expand Interstate 275?

I am not in favor of expanding the lanes on any freeways. I am in favour of transit corridors and would like to work with the proponents of this plan to redesign it where it actually makes sense, but as it stands right now, it’s a non-starter. We cannot continue to sacrifice quality of life for economics. While the Tampa Bay Next will be great for creating regional transit, it will do so at the expense of quality of life for our residents, and that isn’t a trade off that makes sense.

Freeways create blight, additional lanes on freeways encourage more congestion and decrease air quality, increase noise pollution and impact our communities negatively. There are better solutions, but they involve putting our residents first, not special interest groups that get rich off of building freeways.

2) Affordable housing:

What is your plan to ease the affordable housing crunch in the city of Tampa?

We need to update our zoning and our building codes such that affordable housing isn’t a bribe to give developers more density, but in fact is a requirement in order to develop in the first place. We have barely scratched the surface of what we can do for workforce housing in Tampa and need to be more purposeful in finding large employers that have high commuter percentages to incentivise their workers to live within walking distance.

Do your plans include using city-owned land to lease to private developers?

Yes. By incentivizing private developers to do the right thing, we can create stronger and more affordable communities. We need to work towards building affordable, attainable, and accessible housing options for all our residents.

Will you push to build more public housing?

Yes. We need to use our empty city-owned lots to build public housing. This DOES NOT cost the taxpayers more money. In fact, it does the opposite. For example. Every homeless person in Tampa costs tax payers $40,000 per year, but it would only cost tax payers $12,000 per year to house them. And bonus, it’s the right thing to do.  

What about requiring a percentage of new privately-built apartments to be subsidized at below-market rates for those who qualify?

Yes. I support this because we need more inclusive residential spaces. It is a well-known and scientifically backed fact that urban spaces today are still segregated when we look at where people live. If we truly want to fight for inclusion and diversity, we need to ensure that people from all socioeconomic backgrounds feel welcome in all parts of our incredible city. We canupdate our zoning and codes to allow developers greater density so they are not negatively impacted on their margins as well.

3) The innovation economy.

What can Tampa do to attract higher-paying jobs in the technology, start-up and other cutting-edge industries?

We need to focus on creating these jobs right here in our city. We have incredible entrepreneurial talent at our universities and in our communities and it is our job to harness that and empower these people. The !p district initiative is doing great things in this sector and our city needs to back their work. We also need to look at the startups from up and coming industries and provide them with the support systems they need. I have worked with some of the most innovative companies in the world over the last 15 years and small business is part of my main platform. I will be the biggest supporter for this community.

Should Tampa use city dollars to attract outside businesses, like what the statewide economic development agency Enterprise Florida is doing?

The only way we should be using city dollars to get outside businesses is by directly investing in our local small businesses. Research shows that big businesses move into cities that have thriving small business ecosystems. The big problem here is that when most people talk about attracting outside businesses into the city, they actually mean recruiting. And there is a subtle but  clear distinction: when we recruit, we roll over and provide them with tax benefits which shifts the burden on to the hardworking middle class small business owners; when we attract, we are simply creating an amazing city that is so appealing that businesses want to move in without costing us any money and willing to pay their fair share of taxes. To be clear, I am not anti-big business. We will continue to play that game but our game will be smarter and will be one of attraction, not recruitment. When we attract, we can still offer incentives, but with specific clawbacks in place that if the business does not live up to their end of the bargen, then incentives are reversed and the city recups and incentives previously offered.

4) Managing growth.

Do you support changes to zoning, allowing for higher density housing, or allowing taller buildings in established neighborhoods?

Absolutely. One of the things I have been very vocal about is the need to change our codes and zoning within the city. All our code should reflect the values of a city that is striving to be more pedestrian friendly and less auto-centric. We need to prioritize access for active transportation, mixed use development, and high density for retail and residential development.

How do you balance the need to grow with the desires of existing residents?

I understand the delicate balance between increasing our development and preserving our history. I want to manage our growth in a way so that we can not only preserve the buildings who add character to our neighborhoods but also the people who have called those areas home for generations. A neighborhood that loses these types of residents is a neighborhood without a soul and I am committed to ensuring that we are not growing at the cost of losing the people who make a neighborhood that neighborhood.

5) Big picture.

What is your grand vision for the future of Tampa, such as the recent developments along the Hillsborough River in downtown?

I have a bold vision for the city of Tampa. One where our name carries with it a powerful brand recognition. This is important because all cities of influence have a very clear brand associated with them. I’ve written about this extensively on my website and this is the direct link: https://topherformayor.com/the-rooftop-city/

Now on our path to becoming the rooftop city, the residents of this place may take over and develop something altogether different on their own, like what happened in Portland, OR when the city was trying to push the Rose City brand but the residents continued to enforce that they were weird until the city finally acquiesced and now their motto is, “Keep Portland Weird.” But that type resident involvement won’t happen unless the city is willing to kick things off and start moving in a direction.

The Rooftop City is a direction we can head and if someone else has a better idea, I’m wide open, but so far one of the other candidates have come up with something original. They just want to become the second of something already out there, like “the East Coast Silicon Valley” I don’t have any desire to be the second of anything. I want us to be the best of whatever we do and hit #1.

What would you like to see here, if you could make it happen?

A community of people who are open-minded, can disagree without being disagreeable, and are willing to work together for the common good.

I would like to see us open doors of possibility to alternative transit solutions that are working in other areas of the world with great success. I don’t think transit has to “look like transit” typically looks. For example, Urban Aerial Gondolas are being developed all over the world because people have realized they are an effective, enjoyable, clean, and efficient way of travel.  We have such beautiful views all over our city but nobody gets to enjoy them as much as they could because they are on the ground. Who says you have to travel on roads?

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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