Monday, January 30, 2023

Reynolds of Sierra Club: Protect Grand Trees

Please email the County Commissioners and tell them not to weaken protections for Grand trees, and come to the public hearing Tuesday, January 31st at 1660 Ringling Blvd.

From: Gayle Reynolds

Dear Commissioners,

The Manatee/Sarasota Sierra Club urges the Board of County Commissioners not to weaken protective policies for grand trees, to allow developers the right to determine the health, function and value of grand trees and if it should remain or be cut down for housing and commercial development.
There are many reasons to value and protect grand trees in the urban environment:

  1. Trees reduce carbon pollution directly through sequestration and indirectly by lowering the demand for energy.
  2. Trees reduce the heat island effect and mitigate the effects of climate change.
  3. Trees play critical roles in controlling stormwater runoff, improving water quality and protecting surface waters from sediment and nutrient loading. 
  4. Trees reduce the amount of runoff flowing into stormwater and sewer systems and decrease soil erosion.
  5. Trees provide habitat for birds and endangered wildlife species.
  6. Many municipalities consider trees as utilities and include them as part of their stormwater management plans.
Nonpoint source pollution results from stormwater carrying and depositing contaminants into surface and ground waters, contaminating drinking water sources and adversely affecting the health of plants, fish, animals and people. Nitrogen and phosphorus feed Karenia Brevis and destroy sea grasses, marine ecosystems and endangered wildlife.   
Excess volumes of runoff from the conversion of forested lands to impervious surfaces from overgrowth and urban sprawl, cause stream scouring, property damage as well as loss of aquatic habitat and floodplain connectivity.

For the past twenty years, this board has incentivised development to occur through the use of "mitigation." As reported by Sarasota News Leader, Benderson Development recently clear cut every Grand Tree on the 24-acre Siesta Promenade site.  Despite the county identifying grand trees on the property, every tree on the parcel at U.S.41 and Stickney Point Road was removed. Sarasota County conceded to Benderson Development to mitigate the removal of these mature trees with the promise of planting 509 new trees. This mitigation occurred without public input and without transparency, via emails and edits to the original approved site plan.

Eighteen years ago Sierra's Conservation Committee lobbied Sarasota County Commissioners to stop issuing "after the fact" permits to developers who prematurely moved earth, clear-cut land and habitats and killed endangered species without permits.

A reporter for the Pelican Press, Jack Gurney, wrote a series of articles on the plight of Gopher Tortoises, when developers were burying tortoises alive with earth-moving equipment. Jack's articles created an outcry in the community and the Board of County Commissioners sanctioned and passed a Pre-clearing ordinance and an Earth Moving Ordinance.  
The County owes the public an explanation as to why Benderson was allowed to clear the Promenade site without permits, when staff and the developer knew that permits were required.  
  • Where is the oversight?  
  • When citizens invested untold hours getting these illegal practices stopped in the past, why are developers confident they can ignore regulations now? 
  • Because the Promenade property is located in a busy urban area, citizens noted that illegal construction was occurring without the required permits. But what happens when Lakewood Ranch South clear cuts hundreds or thousands of acres of agricultural lands and habitats east of I-75?  
  • Jensen clear cut land on Lorraine Road and many miles east out Fruitville Road, out of sight, where public access is denied and no one checks to see if wildlife, grand tree and habitat studies have been done, the required permits issued for preclearing, earth moving and the relocation of endangered species?  

This Board claims that Sarasota "stakeholders" are demanding that protections for Sarasota’s Grand Trees must be diminished, when clearly the rules applied to most trees in this county are inadequate and illustrate that Sarasota County trees need MORE protections, not less. 

Sarasota County Resource Protection and Development Services must be responsible for oversight of land development sites and impose realistic fines for illegal pre-clearing of trees and habitats, earth moving, destruction of grand trees and killing endangered wildlife. Developers break environmental laws and ordinances with impunity, because the fines imposed are so miniscule, they're but a small cost of doing business.

Are citizens expected to trust the developer to oversee themselves and do the right thing, pay mitigation fees and save grand trees that don't benefit their site plans and bottom line?

The Sierra Club urges Commissioners to vote NO on weakening protections for grand trees.


Gayle Reynolds
Conservation Chair
Manatee/Sarasota Sierra Club

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Call to Action - Sarasota’s Grand Tree Protections Are Not Enough

To: Sarasota County Stakeholders

    Email cc: County Commissioners Moran, Smith, Detert, Neunder and Cutsinger, County Administrator Lewis

Call to Action - Sarasota’s Grand Tree Protections
Are Not Enough

Date:   1/21/2023

Dear Friends, Business Associates, Acquaintances, Sarasota Institutions,

What more will it take to open our eyes to the destruction of Sarasota County’s natural beauty?

Despite certain protections for twelve species of Grand Trees, our County Commission will meet on January 31, 2023 to discuss further relaxing current rules to allow the “Grand” developers of Sarasota the right to determine whether a grand tree should remain or be cut down for housing.

Pictured below: Example of current Grand Tree ” preservation” in north Sarasota County.
Surrounding forest of tall pines was cleared to complete a townhouse complex.  

Despite certain protections that are lawful such as existing land planning codes, future land use designations or county preserved lands, time and time again our elected county commissioners have sought “input from stakeholders” and bowed to the recommendations of developers, the “One Percenters” of our beloved Sarasota County. 

For the past twenty years, our commissioners have greenlighted development to occur by use of mitigation. 

As reported by the Sarasota News Leader, Benderson Development recently clear-cut every Grand Tree on the 24-acre Siesta Promenade site. Despite the county identifying grand trees on the property, every tree on the parcel at U.S.41 and Stickney Point Road was removed, including nine maples, 26 oaks, 55 palms, 16 pines (two Grand Trees) and 17 trees of other species.

Sarasota County conceded to Benderson Development to mitigate the removal of these mature trees with the promise of planting 509 new trees. This mitigation occurred without public input and without transparency. This deal was done via emails with tweaks to the original approved site plan.

Mitigation, if you are not familiar, is when a small swath of useless land held by either the county or developer is traded for a desirable piece of land deemed buildable by the developer and the county. It doesn’t matter if the desired property is a bog or home to a bald eagle.Those trees and other natural assets are going to be paved over. It’s a sham of a land trade, and we, Sarasota’s stakeholders, are also getting paved over in a different sense.  It’s all smoke and mirrors. Mitigation ain’t saving a thing.

Turn the page to 2023 and now, in lieu of mitigation, the County Commissioners claim that Sarasota stakeholders are demanding that protections for Sarasota’s Grand Trees must be diminished. Last fall, Commissioner Maio even claimed that Grand Trees are “perishable items.” Apparently he is now a certified arborist.

On January 31, 2023, our Commission will vote to approve an ordinance which loosens protections for “grand trees,” including live oaks. I have read Sarasota Municode in relation to trees and grand trees. It appears that the rules applied to most trees in this county are lax and clearly from the picture above, illustrate that Sarasota County trees need MORE protections, not less.  Those protections must occur today. 

Please email our Commissioners and tell them to vote No on January 31st.

Email to: or
Individual Commissioners:,,,,
County Administrator:,

Please share this message with friends and neighbors who care about quality of life in Sarasota County. We are running out of time, each day, swaths of trees in Sarasota County are being chopped down.

We, the majority stakeholders, of Sarasota County demand the following regarding Grand Trees:

  • The county must retain all current and existing protection for Grand Trees. 

  • The county must implement preservation protections designating grand trees as the following:

  • Economic value provided by Grand trees are a financial eco-bonus to the county budget.

  • Home values remain higher in established old growth-maintained trees.

  • Decrease impact of heavy rain and flooding through tree canopies which slow heavy rain and decrease flooding impact.

  • Decrease utility costs and overuse of energy resources for tree canopy cooling to most homes and roads, reducing use of air conditioning and watering needs. 

  • The county must implement and strengthen Tree Code. Grand Trees must be used as centerpieces of beauty, history and preservation. 

  • The county and developers must share and advertise Sarasota County as a destination where Grand Trees are as much of Sarasota culture and heritage as our abundant arts, science, charities, beaches, and natural habitat. 

  • It is proven that engineers and planners know how to work and design around grand trees with more than a hundred years of life. 

  • Mitigation for Grand Trees is not an option unless:

  • Every option to save the tree or trees has been exhausted, reviewed by the stakeholders (Sarasota citizens) and allowed public input to prevent further scraping of trees whether deemed Grand Tree or a someday “Grand Tree” that is growing to adulthood. 

  • Fatal rotting, blight, etc. has been verified and documented by a certified and accredited environmental expert/arborist with no connection to the county or land developer.   

Thank you for your consideration of our comments and request. 


Adrien Lucas

Sarasota County resident

Source: Sarasota County Grand Trees published 2015

Sarasota News Leader published 1/15/2023

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Will Sarasota County's New Administration Center violate the principle of walkability?

To: The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners:


Tomorrow, January 18, 2023, you will be asked to approve a change to the interconnectivity element of the Fruitville Initiative Ordinance - an element that until now has remained in force despite other developers within the Initiative having requested to be excused from it. The entire premise of the Initiative, as put forth at charrettes held by Stefanos Polyzoides in 2010, invoked a model of a walkable mixed-use community. The Interconnectivity component was the core enabling element that guaranteed a grid of streets to render walkability possible.

Original Plan for Interconnectivity:

Revised Plan removing interconnectivity from the County Administration site (lower, far-right parcel):

Bottom right parcel without street grid

Having held all the other developers to this component, Sarasota County is now coming before itself - that is, this Board - to ask your permission to not be held to this core standard, with regard to the construction of the new Administration Building on a site known as parcel F7.

In its documentation, the applicant (Sarasota County) presents no site plan or other information explaining why this exemption is necessary. It would seem reasonable to ask the applicant for a detailed rendering of its plan, if such exists, or at the very least, some clear and sufficient explanation of why it is seeking this dispensation that has been denied to all other Initiative stakeholders. 

This seems even more significant when it's understood that this plan to flout the core value of walkability is for the county's Administration Center -- the tax-funded building serving as the County seat. Surely the public deserves a look at what architectural design the county has in mind, and an understanding of why the plan for the new symbol of Sarasota governance has to undermine the organizing principle of its own forward-looking Fruitville Initiative ordinance.

Consider that when this Board was asked to allow a completely incompatible plan presented by Benderson Development in 2015, it unanimously voted to deny that request. The vision of the Initiative was intact then, and deserves not to be ignored in 2023.

Please take this item from the Consent Agenda and request a public hearing that would give you and the public a first look at a project that can and should embody the values and vision of the people of Sarasota.


Tom Matrullo
Citizens for Sarasota County

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Do Grand Trees need to make way for development?

Grand Trees

On 1/31/23, The Board of Sarasota County Commissioners will vote on an ordinance which loosens protections for “grand trees,” including live oaks.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger was the first to address the Grand Tree issue during the Oct. 11 regular meeting, followed by Commissioner Michael Moran. 
A chart that Herman showed the commissioners suggested that Section 54-586(2)(c) of the County Code remain in place. That calls for staff to allow the removal of Grand Trees on platted lots for either safety reasons or if the location of a Grand Tree “would unreasonably prevent the Development of a Lot.” 

Chair Alan Maio pointed out on Oct. 11 that he had had many discussions with county residents regarding Grand Trees on platted lots. “Unincorporated Sarasota County has a lot of 80 by 100-foot platted lots,” he said. “Anyone who thinks [otherwise] is mistaken.” A Grand Tree might be “right square in the middle” of one of those, Maio continued.

Sarasota News Leader 10.13.22: Commissioners Cutsinger and Moran push for more flexibility in removal of Grand Trees to allow for new developments

From Adrien Lucas: 
Tell them to vote NO!

Individual Commissioners: - Mike Moran - Mark Smith - Nancy Detert - Joseph Neunder - Ron Cutsinger

Please share this message with friends and neighbors who care about quality of life in Sarasota County.

Thank you!

Public can attend New College Board Meeting Jan. 31

New College has set a Board of Trustees meeting for Jan. 31, 3 - 5 pm. It is open to the public. Those interested to learn a little about the Board, including the six new members appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, will find mini-bios here

Herald Trib 1.15: New College's legacy is on the line. Now's the time to protect it

Friday, January 13, 2023

Sarasotan designs new logo for the Right to Clean Water


“A ‘Right to Clean and Healthy Waters'" is a green amendment crafted specifically to meet the legal and political challenges in Florida” - Joseph Bonasia, Communications Director for

A call to support the right to clean water in Florida

In 2020, the Orange County Charter Review Commission placed a charter amendment on the ballot. It was designed to guarantee that Orange County waters had a right to be clean and free of pollution. The amendment also granted all county citizens the right to clean water. It passed with 89.2% voter approval.

Shortly after placement on the ballot, however, the state legislature preempted the authority of local governments to pass such laws. Because of this, a lawsuit using the new amendment to protect wetlands in the county from development was challenged by both the developer and the state. The lawsuit was dismissed, but the appeal is being prepared.

Work began immediately on a state constitutional amendment because the constitution can’t be circumvented.

The 2024 ballot is a feasible goal. Many new venues, such as virtual meetings, now were available for our organizational meetings and presentations to members of organizations supporting the effort. Consensus developed quickly to focus on one amendment and leadership changes occurred. The Florida Right To Clean Water (RtCW) campaign for a state constitutional amendment began coming together both in its legal form and development of the statewide network that would function in each county or region.

Working closely with the new leaders, I mentioned my proposal for a redesign of the logo that would be important for attracting voters who were not committed participants in “things environmental.” 

Joseph Bonasia, Southwest Florida RtCW leader, described it as “a new and improved logo, for a new and improved amendment”:

Now we in Sarasota need to provide our fair share of the required signatures on petitions. That is where you come in. We need your signatures on the petitions and we need your help getting others (at
 least five friends).

At you can get the petition — then mail it to the Fort Myers address.* Find answers to questions about the campaign, and see the growing support: League of Women Voters,, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Waterkeeper chapters among them. If you can, join the volunteer effort in any way convenient for you — become an ambassador or a captain. Even if you are not a Florida voter, with a little volunteered work or a donation you can participate in this clean water effort.

It is up to us to get this question before the voters — so they may decide whether to guarantee that we have the clean water we have been pursuing fruitlessly for decades — instead of things just getting worse.

*Mail to:
(Political Committee)
13300 S Cleveland Ave, Ste 56
Fort Myers, FL 33907

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Chances are, Rufo hasn't read the Classics, and knows nothing about education, or anything else.

DeSantis seeks conservative overhaul at Florida liberal-arts college

(Images and links added by editor)

By Ana Ceballos and Jeffrey Solochek Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau Updated January 06, 2023 2:46 PM 

Florida Gov. DeSantis has targeted public universities and their curricula on race, racism. Florida Gov. DeSantis has targeted public universities and their curricula on race, racism. Rebecca Blackwell Associated Press 

TALLAHASSEE Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a group of hard-line conservative loyalists Friday into leadership positions at the New College of Florida, a move that comes as the Republican governor plots a remake of the state’s higher education system. 

Several of the appointees are vocal opponents of gender- and race-related education issues that have fueled the right’s culture wars in schools. They were picked as DeSantis, who is eyeing a potential 2024 White House run, vows to fight “philosophical lunacy” in the schools. 

The new appointees will now help oversee the Sarasota college, which has a reputation for being one of the most progressive higher-education institutions in the state. 

Of the six appointed by DeSantis, the marquee names are Christopher Rufo, a conservative activist who helped turn critical race theory into a conservative rallying cry, and Matthew Spalding, a government professor at Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college in Michigan. 

Rufo and Spalding have backed DeSantis’ proposals targeting critical race theory, a 1980s academic legal concept holds that racial disparities are systemic in the United States, not just a collection of individual prejudices. 

DeSantis also appointed:

▪ Charles R. Kesler, the editor of the conservative Claremont Institute’s publication, The Claremont Review of Books;

▪ Eddie Speir, the superintendent of Inspiration Academy, a private Christian school in Bradenton that has as its mission to “cultivate, nourish and inspire students, using a mentorship model to develop an integrated life of faith from the inside out, in an environment of family, care and love.”

▪ Mark Bauerlein, a pro-Donald Trump English professor at Emory University, whose latest book, “The Dumbest Generation Grows Up,” casts a critical eye on education for giving up on the classical canon and instead allowing students to choose for themselves what they want to learn. 
▪ Debra Jenks, a New College alumna who currently is a securities mediation lawyer in Palm Beach County. 

These individuals were picked, in part, because New College needs a new direction, 

DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske told the Herald/Times in an email. “NCF needs new leadership that sends a clear and attractive signal to students, throughout Florida and nationwide, that this is an institution intending to remain humble in size yet nation-leading in its approach to ‘innovation’ and ‘excellence,’” Fenske said. 

Rufo lives in the Pacific Northwest

Rufo celebrated the appointment by declaring: “We are recapturing higher education.” 

‘Recapturing higher education’ 

As DeSantis kicked off his second term in office on Tuesday, he made clear that he plans to focus on reshaping the state’s higher education. In particular, he said, he wants to make sure his administration eradicates “trendy ideologies” from the classroom. 

“We must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” DeSantis said during his inaugural speech at the steps of the historic Florida Capitol in Tallahassee. 

Then, DeSantis’ office made public a memo that it had sent out to state colleges and universities asking the for information about resources they are putting into activities and program related to diversity, equity and inclusion and critical race theory. 

“As the Executive Office of the Governor prepares policy and budget proposals ahead of the 2023 Legislative Session, it is important that we have a full understanding of the operational expenses of state institutions,” Chris Spencer, the director of DeSantis’ Office of Policy and Budget, wrote in a memo Dec. 28. 

The information need to be submitted by Jan. 13. It remains unclear exactly what will be done with the information once it is collected. 

Signs of a major shake-up

As word spread of DeSantis’ appointment to New College on Friday, reaction from academics came swiftly via social media. 

“Terrible news,” tweeted Ohio State University political science associate professor Benjamin McKean. “DeSantis is aiming to destroy New College.” 

Acadia University politics instructor Jeffrey Sachs wrote, “With leadership like this, how could college NOT educate freethinkers?”

Rufo lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and three sons, according to his website. He caught the attention of national figures, like DeSantis, during the pandemic after frequently appearing on conservative media outlets to criticize the concept of critical race theory. 

Eventually, the ire against the theory became a rallying cry for conservatives, many of them in Florida. And DeSantis tapped into those ideas to build a reputation as a warrior. He has often declared that Florida is where “woke goes to die.” 

When Rufo tweeted his enthusiasm for the appointment, he drew a barrage of congratulations from conservatives, including Erika Donalds, the wife of U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, who was nominated this week for U.S. House speaker. 

Hillsdale connection

Spalding’s appointment to marks another instance in which Hillsdale College is helping DeSantis reshape the state’s higher education system. 

“I am honored by the appointment and look forward to advancing educational excellence and focusing New College on its distinctive mission as the liberal arts honors college of the State of Florida,” Spalding said in a statement Friday. “A good liberal arts education is truly liberating and opens the minds and forms the character of good students and good citizens.” 

Hillsdale President Larry P. Arnn called DeSantis “one of the most important people living,” during the Hillsdale National Leadership Seminar in Naples last February. And the Times/Herald found that the private Christian college was among several national groups that helped the governor develop a civics education training program for teachers that some educators said was seeped in “Christian fundamentalist” overtones. 

READ MORE: DeSantis’ ‘full armor of God’ rhetoric reaches Republicans. But is he playing with fire? 

DeSantis chief of staff James Uthmeier told the National Review that the administration intends to convert the college, which has under 700 students, to a classical model akin to that of Hillsdale College. 

Twelve years ago, Hillsdale College set out to reshape public education through the growth of charter schools and in recent years has expanded its reach in Florida’s education system. 

And in Florida, Hillsdale’s influence has been seen in the state’s rejection of math textbooks over what DeSantis called “indoctrinating concepts,” the state’s push to renew the importance of civics education in public schools, and the rapid growth of Hillsdale’s network of affiliated public charter schools in Florida. 

Arnn, Hillsdale’s president, was appointed by Trump to chair the president’s Advisory 1776 Commission, which was formed to “advise the president about the core principles of the American founding and to protect those principles by promoting patriotic education,” according to Spalding, who Trump appointed as the commission’s executive director. 

Spalding is also the vice president for Washington operations and the dean of the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale’s Washington, D.C., extension 

Hillsdale’s digital digest, Imprimis, features the writing of conservative thinkers like Christopher Rufo, who has worked with DeSantis to combat issues like critical race theory and gender identity. The publication also includes articles with titles, like “The January 6 Insurrection Hoax,” “The Disaster at Our Southern Border,” “Gender Ideology Run Amok.” “Critical Race Theory: What it is and How to Fight it,” and “Who is in Control? The need to Rein in Big Tech.” 

This story was originally published January 6, 2023 2:30 PM.

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