Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe reflected on the city’s progress throughout the last year at the annual State of the City address Wednesday afternoon.
In a 20-minute speech, Poe shared the city’s accomplishments and failures, with occasional cameos from city commissioners and local leaders. He discussed topics from homelessness to social justice.
WUFT News fact checked and added context to some of the statements the city included in the address:
(Mayor Lauren Poe:) In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, organizers worked cooperatively to work with city community members, including the Gainesville Police Department, to hold peaceful and powerful demonstrations, continuing Gainesville’s long-standing commitment to protecting our neighbors’ right to peacefully protest.
- Fact check: Gainesville was one of about 30 U.S. cities that held a “March for Our Freedom” protest in May following Floyd’s death. Organizers urged the community to stay peaceful and use the event as an opportunity to spark awareness of police brutality. After the event, William John Connelly drove his car into protesters, according to police. There were no serious injuries, and Connelly was charged with six counts of aggravated assault. The protest was the largest of several others during the summer and fall that called for ending racial injustice and defunding the police. The protest was the largest of several others during the summer and fall that called for ending racial injustice and defunding the police.
As a city that celebrates creative expression, we also saw an opportunity to have local artists illustrate both the challenges and possibilities of social justice in America through art. The social justice mural project was your city’s public declaration, a vow to create a future where everyone feels safe, welcomed and loved.
- Fact check: Gainesville’s 352 Walls program selected 12 artists to paint social justice-themed murals in parks and public spaces in December. Each artist received $450 to cover art supplies. The city used funds saved for its 150-year celebration after it was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artwork was painted at Possum Creek Skate Park, Cofrin Nature Park and Oakview Park as well as areas around the Martin Luther King Multipurpose Center and Porters Community Center.
Working with the newly expanded Police Advisory Council, GPD has continued to implement many forward-thinking approaches to policing, including procedural justice training, youth programming and a highly successful mental health co-responders program.
- Fact check: Following national discussion about police brutality, the city commission added an extra seat to the council, making it 11 seats. When reviewing applications in December, the commissioners decided to extend the deadline because it needed a younger and diverse applicant pool. However, several residents were frustrated that the city increased GPD’s budget and demanded reallocation of funds. Poe responded to concerns, saying that the city spent the funds on art programs, teachers and mental health specialists instead of more sworn police officers.
(GPD Chief Tony Jones:) Before this team was deployed, surely the last resort was to take this person to jail, or whatever the case may be, or detention. But what we have now is a mental health specialist paired with a police officer, and we look for other alternatives. It has saved this community countless dollars of incarcerating individuals. But even more, it has helped those individuals in their road of recovery.
- Fact check: GPD partnered with Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in 2018 to found the city’s first co-responder program. The team is composed of a police officer and a mental health clinician trained in crisis intervention. In data from April 2018 to March 2019, the program curbed 89% of the 583 individuals it encountered from being arrested, instead opting for mental health treatments.
Following the recent pedestrian deaths of two University of Florida students, the Gainesville Police Department, University Police Department and Alachua County Sheriff’s Office are working to prioritize education and enforcement surrounding our traffic laws…. We continue to work with the Florida Department of Transportation on roadway systems that will help ensure that human error does not result in severe injuries or fatalities.
- Fact check: GPD, joined by other local agencies, gathered on the lawn of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Jan. 30 to announce that it will increase enforcement of traffic violations. As University Avenue is a state road, GPD cannot change speed limits, traffic lights, speed bumps or extra walkways. The department also unveiled Gator STEP, a program aimed to focus on crosswalk, pedestrian, speeding and scooter safety violations.
(Ariella Bak, Community Resource Paramedic:) We’ve been able to reduce emergency room visits by about 30% and hospital admissions by 60%. And both of those values hold a significant cost saving, not just to the patients, but to our health care system and insurance companies as well.
- Fact check: The program reduced hospital admissions by 60% and emergency room visits by 40% through 38 patients in 2019, according to Gainesville Fire Rescue’s 2019 report. A similar report for 2020 is not yet available.
Our CRP unit launched a mobile testing program and administered nearly 900 free COVID-19 tests to vulnerable neighbors. Vaccination distribution is now underway in partnership with the Florida Department of Health, mirroring the successful model of health care delivery.
- Fact check: The CRP unit partnered with the Florida Department of Health in May to offer mobile COVID-19 tests in an outfitted RTS bus. It visited two areas of the city per day, with the locations available on the city’s calendar. The health department partnered with UF Health and distributed about 1,100 COVID-19 vaccines Feb. 8 at Touchdown Terrace in the largest vaccine event to date.
(Jon DeCarmine, Grace Marketplace Executive Director:) Overall, we expect to see the entire Dignity Village campground close after just about a year with absolutely no arrests, no displacement and by providing options to people that are really driven by what they wanted and needed.
- Fact check: Dignity Village had no arrests or known cases of COVID-19. DeCarmine also says that Grace Marketplace has reduced homelessness across Alachua County by 36%
(City Commissioner Reina Saco:) With these new protections, we’ll have inspections of rental properties. We’ll know where they are. We’ll know that they’re safe and decent housing for all of our families.”
- Fact check: The ordinance requires landlords pay $120 annually per rental unit and subjects them to inspections every four years. Their properties must also meet safety and energy standards.
(City Commissioner David Arreola:) I think that Gainesville did better than most cities, and I think we did as well as any of the best cities in Florida in responding to the pandemic because we took it seriously from the beginning. We took the guidelines seriously, and we asked people to trust us.
- Fact check: Weeks after the pandemic hit Florida, the city commission declared a state of emergency and limited occupancy of restaurants and businesses. During a joint Gainesville-Alachua County meeting in March, City Commissioner Adrian Hayes-Santos made a motion to make face coverings mandatory in the city. The Alachua County commission voted to reinstate a countywide mandate just six hours after removing the requirement.
To meet the most immediate needs of our neighbors, the city reallocated existing financial resources and CARES Act dollars to provide working capital grants to local businesses and provided temporary financial relief on rent, mortgage and utility payments through the GNVCares Program and the coronavirus relief fund. In total, the city’s recovery and relief efforts provided more than $1.5 million in financial assistance to support more than 100 businesses and 700 neighbors.
- Fact check: The programs were funded with more than $1.5 million pulled from the city’s general fund. Data about how many businesses and neighbors benefited is unavailable.
Our Gainesville Police Department, public works department and Gainesville Fire Rescue joined forces with local faith-based organizations to help distribute nearly 656,000 pounds of food to more than 119,000 individuals through the community’s Farm Share program. Free drive thru COVID-19 testing at Citizens Field was part of a comprehensive outreach effort in East Gainesville to ensure residents had ready access to testing, personal protection supplies and educational information about the coronavirus.
- Fact check: A Farm Share event in March 2020 provided more than 40,000 pounds of food in East Gainesville. Data about the partnership is unavailable.
In partnership with the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce, the city launched a successful eight-week grab-and-go food program, providing access to nutritious meals for vulnerable residents while also offering much-needed cash to our local businesses. Over eight weeks, Feed GNV served more than 3,100 meals to vulnerable residents and fostered local partnerships with 42 different restaurants.
- Fact check: Dozens of local restaurants agreed to participate to distribute lunch and dinner. Data about the partnership is unavailable.
Streatery GNV couples relaxed regulations for street-side dining and open containers with an expedited review process to help restaurants serve more patrons while adhering to COVID-19 social distancing recommendations.
- Fact check: The city expanded outdoor seating permits, suspended select parking fees and closed some roads. West University Avenue was one of the roads, and the 1700 to 1900 blocks were closed 24/7.
(City Commissioner Harvey Ward:) One of our goals as a community, as a city is to be 100% renewable regarding energy by 2045. We’ve made a huge step toward that in 2020 by implementing the beginnings of a 50 megawatt solar farm for GRU’s [Gainesville Regional Utilities] fleet.
- Fact check: Gainesville was the fifth city in Florida to commit to eventually running on only renewable energy in 2018. GRU reached an agreement with Origis Energy to add 50 megawatts of solar power in May 2020.
Working with the USDA, Grow Hub, Working Food and Beaten Path Compost, Gainesville’s solid waste division has embarked upon an 18-month pilot project to recycle organic materials and keep the potent greenhouse gas methane out of the atmosphere.
- Fact check: Gainesville began a food waste and composting pilot program after receiving a grant from the USDA in September 2020. The program begins in April and will only cost the city $17,000 aside from the $51,000 tied to the federal grant.
Through a new Edible Groves project, the city is planting fruit and nut trees in public parks that all neighbors will be invited to enjoy. The city will also be working over the coming year with community partners to explore opportunities to enhance the city’s community garden program and to support small markets in low-income communities to sell healthier food options.
- Fact check: The project has already begun in Fred Cone Park, Smokey Bear Park and Bountiful Boulevard. The city states that it will improve access to health, local-grown food while also having environmental impacts, such as producing oxygen and increasing species diversity
Thanks to our Wild Spaces, Public Spaces half-cent sales tax, in this year alone, renovations at Albert Ray Massey Westside Park, A. Quinn Jones Museum, The Hippodrome Theatre and Northside Park have made a visible and lasting impact for our community.
- Fact check: The city improved Albert Ray Massey Westside Park’s baseball fields, added new turf, reconstructed a ramp and built a new accessible viewing area. The improvements cost close to $810,500. It also installed A. Quinn Jones Museum’s security system and renovated storage. No information about cost was available. The city renovated the Hippodrome’s first and second floor lobbies, which cost slightly less than $200,000. It also built a bridge in Northside Park‘s golf course, costing about $9,500.