Gainesville resident Adrian Hayes-Santos, a candidate for the city’s District 4 commission seat, looks to improve after-school programs for children and Internet costs and install a five-tier system for utility rates.
Hayes-Santos, director of the University of Florida’s entrepreneurship master’s programs, is running against attorney Jim Konish in the March 15 city election.
He recently discussed some of the issues affecting Gainesville with WUFT News, and here’s what he shared:
For years, elected officials have promised to take steps to improve the economic situation in east Gainesville. What can you promise that won’t just be more of the rhetoric of years past?
We have to look at greater projects than just small ones — that’s how we’ll actually make a difference on the east side. One of those is the Alachua County Fairgrounds. That’s an area that we can develop. I also think that Tacachale [developmental disability center] — that’s a big area there. That’s actually our largest employer on the east side, but it also has a lot of unused land that can be developed, as well.
So my main focus will be working on, “How do we bring substantial, large projects?” Working with the county, working with UF, working with Santa Fe College, and the chamber, as well. …
I also think that we need to worry about quality of life on the east side, too. So funding our park’s master plan will bring millions of dollars to invest into our parks, after-school activities and really just increasing quality of life on the east side.
Another step I want to work on is bringing affordable broadband Internet. If you don’t have Internet access, you can’t search for a job. You can’t apply for a job. The school board is moving their schoolbooks online, as well. And that’s a huge disadvantage to people who don’t have that access. So by expanding affordable broadband Internet access throughout our community, we can actually make a real difference on the east side and really throughout Gainesville, as well.
Other than Butler Plaza, the Standard and the downtown hotel construction projects, what other major developments do you have in mind to enhance the local economy, attract outside businesses, raise the city’s profile and facilitate local job growth?
Where I’d like to make more development is in our downtown area — the Innovation Square, the Innovation District. That’s an area that’s been set aside for that. It’s an area that’s a perfect location to really bring university students — and really everything that comes out of the university — and tying it to the city.
Another district is the power district that’s just south of downtown. That’s an area that kind of is a perfect location, that right now is an industrial wasteland. But it’s close to downtown. It’s in between Depot Park, which is just south of downtown, and the park is going to be coming on the line this year. These are two areas that we really should push forward for development. Also along Hawthorne and Waldo Road are areas that we should focus on. …
We need to make sure that quality of life is high in our city. I want us to be a world-class parks-and-arts city. Building an amphitheater downtown and Depot Park — these are steps that we need to do to actually attract companies to come to Gainesville.
The Florida Municipal Electric Association numbers for December 2015 of residential bill comparisons show Gainesville electric rates higher than any other city in the group. The city commission, regarding GREC and the biomass plant, have talked about audits, outages allowing other power to be used, the NAVIGANT study and even buying the plant. All that notwithstanding, what are you going to do to help reduce these highest-in-the-state electric rates for customers of Gainesville Regional Utilities?
Our rates are too high. One of the things, actually, that the city commission just did is they voted to increase rates. They increased rates on 74.8 percent on the city residents — mostly on lower-income residents by moving from a three-tier system, that we had before, to a two-tier system.
My proposal is to actually bring in a five-tier rate system. This will allow us to have gradual changes in rates [and] allow more conservation rates, as well. So if you use less power, you should pay less. It also helps lower-income residents, as well. This will lower rates as soon as that’s implemented.
Another thing that we need to look towards is exploring purchasing a plant. GRU, they know how to run power plants. We’ve done a good job at that. We don’t need to have someone run a power plant for us.
If we take it on, there’s going to be huge costs savings, not only in interest rates that we would pay but also in efficiencies. We don’t have to have a whole other societal structure that’s running GREC right now. It would all be under GRU.
So talking to the CFO of GRU, there really are millions of dollars in saving if we look toward purchasing a plant — which would then, almost immediately after we purchase it, would be able to bring our rates back in line with the rest of the state.
So these are two ways that we can really kind of actually make significant differences without putting the city in any financial harm.
Why do city commissioners and the mayor deserve a pension from taxpayers?
City commissioners are part-time employees for the cities. They are city employees. They do city work every day. So that’s why they probably should get a pension, as well. …
But if city voters and city residents want to take that away, that would be up to them. City commissioners are the representatives, and they should be paid however the city wants to pay them.
What are your plans and what is your vision for the future of Grace Marketplace and Dignity Village?
I think that the city government needs to work towards building pathways to success, and I can’t think of a better place than that than the Grace Marketplace.
This is actually a place where my opponent and I have a very different opinion. He wants to privatize and cut city funding for the Grace Marketplace, but I think that we need to actually make sure that [the Grace Marketplace is] a success — that we keep on keepin’ on supporting the Grace Marketplace.
These are people that need our help, and this where we can actually create pathways to success for our homeless in our community.
How do you plan to minimize the financial burden of the Empowerment Center on the people of Gainesville at the same time it says it needs more money for expanding services, infrastructure and security?
I think we should look toward state funding, working more with the county and UF and Santa Fe College, as well. If we don’t help these people, if we say, ‘We want to arrest them and throw them in jail,’ it costs something like $27,000 a year to have someone in jail.
For a homeless person, if they were helping out at Grace Marketplace, it costs $3,000 a year.
So we can actually make a real difference and help them bring them back into our community and helping them move forward. That’s what I think Gainesville is about. It’s about a place that wants to help people.
There has been much discussion surrounding the renovation and opening of Bo Diddley Plaza. How are you going to ensure to the taxpayers that their new community center will not be overrun by the homeless who have previously been know to loiter and linger around the park and dissuade those who paid for it from enjoying it.
I think renovating the Bo Diddley Plaza is a great move forward for the city. One of the major things that I would like to do is have our downtown not just be a cultural hub for our city but also for our region, as well.
I serve on the [Community Redevelopment Agency’s] downtown redevelopment advisory board that voted to move forward with the redevelopment of the downtown plaza. So I think this — and tied with Depot Park and building an amphitheater — are ways that we can actually create a very strong culture in our city and bring people together.
I think Grace Marketplace is another place where we can help people who are homeless and create pathways to success. And I think that everyone working together and being collaborative on how we deal with homeless will both create a great downtown that has diversity but also is helping people move forward in their life.
What will you do to cut taxes in Gainesville?
I talked about [this] a little earlier, but moving from a two-tier plan to a five-tier plan will allow for us to lower rates for our people who have lower income and conserve more electricity. Also exploring purchasing the plant will allow us to have immediate cost savings there — bringing our GRU rates in line with the rest of the state of Florida.
I also think expanding affordable broadband Internet throughout our community is another way that we can help lower the costs for everyone in our community. …
So I also think another way we can do this is really by concentrating our development downtown and increasing the density in that area, which will allow us to really spread the burden of taxes across our city. …
If we’re able to increase our density downtown and have a larger tax base, then we’ll be able to lower the tax rates for everyone in our community.
How do you make Gainesville more business-friendly considering the already high utility costs and what some business people espouse as having a reputation of not being business friendly?
I went to school for finance. I have a business background. I worked in start-ups for about six years. I’ve owned small businesses. I’ve worked for many start-ups in our community.
I understand the perils that happens when you’re owning a small business: having to meet payroll, having to deal with some of the regulations in our community, as well. So I think we need to move towards, “How do we [encourage] our city employees to help companies move forward?” instead of just saying, “No, that’s it — you need to leave,” and say, “Hey, how can we help you?” Maybe there’s a different way around this problem here.
So I think it’s really about having city employees, having the city government be more citizen-centric. That’s how we can actually make a difference with businesses in our community.
How big an issue is crime in this city, and what do you plan to do to fight crime and improve policing?
Crime is problem. … We do need to take steps in this area. I think community-placed policing is a way that we can maybe move forward on this: bringing the police, getting them out of their police cars, onto the street and talking with the community. When you have the repertoire with your local police officer, you have a better community. You have a community where people look out for each other. That’s one way you can do that. …
People are looking for jobs, as well, and moving towards economic development. When we can have economic development [and] create jobs for people, they’ll be less likely to commit crimes, as well.
Also, we need to look towards after-school activities, too. Between 3 and 6 o’clock is the largest time where there’s crime by juveniles. It’s also the highest time when there’s teen pregnancy, as well. So we need move toward, in the city, to make sure there are children activities between 3 and 6 o’clock for all children across our community … either that’s tutoring or sports or science or arts and culture.
Kids after school need to have something to do.
At least one city commissioner has suggested the police chief be put under the direct supervision of the mayor instead of the city manager. What do you think about that idea?
I think it’s something I would be open to. It’s something to explore. I think there’s probably some pros and cons to it. So on the city commission, I would definitely be looking forward to exploring ways that we can make sure police and crime and lowering our crime are top priorities in the city.
What is your position regarding underage patrons being allowed into drinking establishments and the local business people saying they rely upon underage drinking for “three quarters of his business?”
The state of Florida already kind of regulates drinking, underage drinking, and they do it pretty regularly. I think that that’s their license. If you sell alcohol in this community, you’re regulated by the state of Florida with their alcohol department at the state level.
I think that’s really who should be regulating alcohol use in our city. I think we should (move) towards how do we make sure there’s activities for those 18 and up under 21 so they don’t have to go out and drink. But I think we really should be leaving that up to the state in terms of regulating alcohol use in our community.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Donald Shepherd as the candidate running against Jim Konish for the District 4 city commission seat. It has been updated to reflect that Adrian Hayes-Santos, the director of the University of Florida’s entrepreneurship master’s programs, is the candidate running against Konish in the March 15 city election.