City Commission Votes to Remove Benches at Five Points

The removal is for a three-month trial period starting when the smoking ban goes into effect.

Just last month the Sarasota City Commission in Selby Five Points Park. The city would space benches out to discourage massing of people. 

Three new commissioners and a month later, the benches are now slated to be dismantled and removed after a unanimous vote on Monday. 

"I feel we’ve reached a critical mass," said newly elected Mayor Suzanne Atwell. "We need to look at what happens over the next few months. What I’m finding is, we’ve reached a level where we need to do something."

Earlier in Monday's meeting three concerned citizens, including Jim Lampl, presented a packet to the commission that showed the spacing of benches did not have the desired result. He showed various pictures of masses of people gathering around park benches. 

He requested the city remove the benches for a trial period to see what effects their removal would have.

"Although it's legal to use the benches, [transients] are there for six and eight-hour shifts," Lampl said. "The essentially monopolize the bench for the entire day. 

"Even though we've gone from six [benches] down to three, we still have massing," he added. "It really hasn’t cured the problem."

Lampl cited the removal of benches around the shell fountain at Lemon and First Street as an example of how removing benches didn't hurt, but helped downtown. 

The commission agreed.

"There is a difference between helping and enabling people," City Commissioner Shannon Snyder said. "[We need] to be going after the enabling part and not affecting the other part."

Commissioner Paul Caragiulo said removing some of the benches has shown some progress but more needs to be tested. 

"There has been some progress with some of the benches being moved," he said. "But to fully realize the potential, they would all have to be removed for a period of time."

The City Commission voted 5-0 to removed the benches for a three-month trial period starting when the already goes into effect later this summer. 

TJ May 17, 2011 at 11:41 AM
The taxpayers paid for the benches, leave them alone. Why don't you just put parking meters next to the benches since you have done that to free parking already. Seriously, you all need to worry about much bigger things in Sarasota County. In the face of discrimmination, you are violating human rights. Transients hang out at the library too, that is just the way it is, they are people, unless they are a threat to society and committing a crime, let the less fortunate have some dignity, not all homeless people chose to be that way.
Alex Greene May 17, 2011 at 01:52 PM
So just because the SPD is incapable of removing loiterers I am deprived of a place to sit in a public park. If every city in the world took this same approach there wouldn't be a bench in Central Park, Hyde Park etc. Lets stop punishing the citizen for the actions of a few.
TJ May 17, 2011 at 03:25 PM
They do not just hangout in your neighborhood. Just because these people have nothing, and you have something, does not mean you have the right to think that removing the taxpayers benches will stop the issue. Imagine if Jesus discriminated against those less worthy, where would we be now? Benches are all around this town, they are in parks, along busy thoroughfares, etc. What next, take up the sidewalks? Obviously they have not created any harm to anyone or they would not be walking our streets. This problem is not an isolated situation, it is everywhere, downtown is thriving very well, so obviously the benches have nothing to do with your complaints. You just do not like what you see. Sorry, you don't own the air you breathe either. Get real.
Donald Cogswell May 17, 2011 at 06:27 PM
The commission voted to remove the benches as a temporary measure to help the situation. Using the benches is a privilege to be shared by everyone. Unfortunately, many of the vagrants have been abusing this privilege and hurting local business in the process. There was a petition to remove the benches signed by over 88% of the residents located at 50 & 100 central. They represent the tax payers as well as the businesses on First Street that signed it. Many of us downtown are working hard to put programs in place to help the homeless. However, we also care about the local businesses and residents.
Richard Martin May 17, 2011 at 06:34 PM
What a disappointment--and the first meeting of a new commission no less--looks like the commission is determined to remain one of the meanest cities to the homeless. Business as usual--let power prevail and the poor suffer.
TJ May 17, 2011 at 08:43 PM
88% of residents who live near the benches - voted to remove the benches. Imagine that. Did you all have a party down at City Hall with the commissioners too? Just to let you know, you may live in that area but you do not own that area, regardless if you own residential or have a vested interest in a business downtown, you can't dictate who can sit where and on what unless you own that spot, which you don't. Use the police in the future if there is a problem. Don't go whining to the City Commissioners because you have an issue, we have enough real issues in this county.
kkr May 17, 2011 at 11:39 PM
http://www.thedailysound.com/011311-SANTA-BARBARA-PANHANDLING-REMOVE-BENCHES READ: LINK ABOVE Santa Barbara spent 50,000 dollars to remove there park benches. Is this where Sarasota is getting there idea? Just look up on Internet what everyone else is doing and we will just do the same. Instead of this town taking the problem in there own hands and solving what the real problem is. Oh I forget when you are only using one hand that is kind of hard to do. That is what I have seen happen gradually as I live in Sarasota and have owned property downtown for 12 yeas, ran a business downtown for 3 years. NO PLANNING IS WHAT I SEE! THIS TOWN IS INTO REMOVING THINGS INSTEAD OF SAVING OUR CITY... That's why you do not see the QUAY , or The RINGLING HOTEL, well I have a list of the HISTORICAL THINGS WE HAVE LOST, and now park benches. WHAT WILL WE HAVE LEFT, IT DOESNT TAKE A GENIUS TO SOLVE MOST PROBLEMS IN THIS TOWN BUT, THEY SEEM TO OVERLOOK ALOT OF THE REAL PROBLEMS IN DOWNTOWN AND GET RID OF THE GREAT THINGS WE DID HAVE, WELL WHEN YOUR ONLY USING ONE HAND I CAN UNDERSTAND WHY.
kkr May 17, 2011 at 11:39 PM
My dad who lives downtown and is handicaped, I guess when he is walking from the library and would like to sit down for a moment there will be nothing to sit on. Or better yet ask the STARBUCKS COFFEE OWNER, who had to use there monies to fence in there sitting area because the homeless were taking all of there seats outside, or when my daughter goes to the library and we have to sift through the bodies on the stairs to get to the entrance. Naples stopped there loitering with laws and rules and so could we. Sarasota never wants to correct real problems that is why we spend such unnecessary tax dollars on one handed problems, that are never solved and swept under the rug and who suffers we do the tax payers. There are truely homeless people who need to be taken care of and that is understood, but there are rules for everyone and they need to be inforced.
kkr May 17, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Naples have loitering laws, and in Naples, Florida it is illegal to be homeless. You will get arrested if you are in an area for a period of time. Come on Sarasota enforce some laws keep what tax payers pay for, we would like a beautiful downtown to go to, but right now business are only suffering because THE CITY OF SARASOTA ARE NOT TAKING CONTROL, for one you do not build a million dollars Salvation Army blocks from where you are trying to get the wealthy and the upscale Restaurant, and shops to survive, you know it was a mistake allowing that project and now, you cannot do anything about it... Don't make another mistake take care of the problem inforce the laws..... If you are going to pay to have park benches removed, then pay securtiy officers to keep traffic moving (loitering).. The smart thing to do..
susan WHitcomb May 17, 2011 at 11:54 PM
I can not believe that this is the solution. Since when do homeless people run the city? We have lovely parks and now we cant sit and enjoy them. Are you kidding me??????? They congregate , urinate and yell obcenities all day and night and thats OK??????? The Sarasota Police just need to constantly monitor and tell them to move. Do we have a loitering code? We also have a guy who seems to have made Palm and Main his residence.........it is so nice to sit at Epicure and eat dinner and be looking at that. Sarasota has spent alot of money making that corner a pleasant area to meet friends and socailize......now we have a homeless guy with all his belongings and signs to look at ??? PATROL......PATROL...... PATROL.... and let us have our City back. Susan Whitcomb
Richard Martin May 17, 2011 at 11:59 PM
Spoke with another former Mayor, Elmer Berkel, at the Civic League today. He arrived by bike and expressed his disappointment that one of his long-time and most favorite routines has now been banned. He told me he loves going to Selby Library, checking out a book, and before he's bikes back home, he reads the first chapter sitting on a bench at Five Points Park. Maybe a book-in or sleep-in is in order....Memorial weekend?
TJ May 18, 2011 at 12:01 AM
I must be totally blind. Have lived here since 1992 and you are telling me that the library I frequent as well has a sleuth of homeless people sitting in your way? Sorry; they have security there and they do a fine job, vagrants are not sitting on those steps. Sorry to hear your father is handicapped. This just goes to show that removing the benches for a "study" was the bright idea of a select few. Every county has its own enforcement rules. As for being illegal to be "homeless", gee, I guess there must be alot of "illegals" all over the country. Just remember; not everyone is as fortunate as others, you can't seriously think removing benches will stop the problem, well maybe from your view they won't be sitting there, but they are not leaving town because of the benches. Sorry. Put the benches back, the taxpayers paid for them, you don't own the town, don't try to manipulate it.
Ash sas May 18, 2011 at 12:11 PM
Just another example if this city has the ear of rich dowagers and bored housewives.
Donald Cogswell May 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM
The Selby library is patrolled now and clear of vagrants due to actions of those in the community. There was a huge problem at the beginning of this year which has now been solved. The benches are a temporary move until the no smoking ban is in place. We are also working to have the mass feeding moved to another location. We are also currently organizing the purchase of a facility to help the true homeless who want to be helped. You should not be mad at the commissioners at all. They did their job and listened to the people. Again, there was a petition which had the support of over 88% of the residents. I praise them for listening to the consensus of the people.
TJ May 19, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Sounds like you have a private island. Your 88% vote count would be less if the taxpayers had an opinion. The library has always had security. The city has always had the police. The city has homeless people, just like every other city. In your quest to prove a point, everyone lost what they paid for. If they were violating any law on the books, then you would have a point. I have sat on those benches many times, I never had to ask anyone to leave. Taking benches away is not going to solve the problem, they will sit somewhere else. Until they sit on your private real estate, don't feel that your 88% speak for the rest of us.
John Garvey May 20, 2011 at 05:47 PM
It seems that the 88% speak for the people who live in the area. I cannot blame them for their concerns. The well intentioned (I want to believe) New College students did nobody any favors by feeding the vagrants in Selby Park. Thankfully I believe they have gone elsewhere, perhaps to their own backyards to pass out soup, though I highly doubt it. There is plenty of help available for those who need it in Sarasota. Drug addicts and alcoholics who refuse it do not need to be enabled. I'm guessing my property taxes paid for those benches and for the park to be maintained and I appreciate those looking for solutions to making downtown Sarasota as safe and scenic as possible. Of course there will always be those who find those ideals offensive in order to feed their hunger to be as politically correct as possible to impress their peers. Oddly, or not so oddly, they rarely actually live in the areas discussed but want to impose their views on those that do. It's often the way it is. Think I'll resign from the debating society for the glorious weekend ahead.......or maybe longer.
Raquel Magana May 22, 2011 at 03:32 PM
The only way to make a decision in tryth is to first accomplish an experiment in which all of the folks with a voting "right" in this are put to the test of what being homeless entails. Imagine the ego that you would not have... the sense of loss, injustice, and sadness that a homeless person endures daily. These benches give them a sense of belonging to our community as they sit a watch, and hope for a day when they can be in different shoes. The overcrowded shelters and their rules of who and what and when... imagine that being your position to be trapped in. This is the true reason for the removal of the benches, it is truly the removal of what you are proposing are equal to dogs. Why not just call the pound then instead of taking metal, painted green, benches out of the brick they sit upon? THEY ARE people.... even if ever so small in comparison to yourself. They have dreams too. Changing the approach to appreciation of their lives would mean a possible seat back for your fat asses. Give them some hope by talking - saying hello - small talk - hey! I bought you a sandwich when I went for my own lunch today, are you hungry? you can give it to a friend if not.... - make a positive influence on the world and start right in front of you. Let the benches stay. Make a stand for the human factor.
TJ May 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM
Transients were a part of the downtown area BEFORE the benches were put there. Anyone who has lived in our beautiful county for years would know that they hang out at the library. That did not stop the construction of our new libary at its current location. While all of you are busy analyzing the difference that it has made since you removed the benches, thought I might share a little insight and perhaps shift your focus a little. Public transportation aka: bus line; people come and go all day long in and out of the downtown area. Why don't you now redirect that bus route downtown and do another study, see if that helps the situation. Just keep up with your creative thoughts and studies, just to let you know, your prejudice has resulted in a direct discrimination of a class of people you feel do not belong in society. The percentage of these transients verses the citizens who have lost their privilage because of a select few who believe they have done their due diligence in making a decision that has affected more than themselves, leaves the rest of us wondering whether you all have overstepped your boundries to satisfy your own agenda.
Donald Cogswell May 26, 2011 at 01:29 AM
The removal of the benches was a temporary move to allow time to get the smoking ban and feeding ordinance in place. If you don’t like it then I encourage you to put together your own petition and present it to the commission. Maybe you can get some of the vagrants to help… oh wait I forgot that would be work….
missy June 08, 2011 at 03:09 PM
The statistic is that the transient population makes up 1% of the population here in Sarasota yet they commit approximately 40% of the crime. Not hurting anyone TJ? Check again. The majority of the homeless I have personal encountered are affected by alcohol and drug issues, or severe mental health problems. They are receiving free bus passes supposedly to help them to find work, but that only turns the SCAT busses into a free place for them to hang with their buddies and escape the heat while reeking of alcohol and spouting profanities. If they truly wanted work they would find it without the need of a free pass. I also was approached by a woman trying to sell her free pass for drug money. Where did this crumbling of society begin? The men I grew up admiring, men like my father who had a strong work ethic, devotion to family, integrity, ambition and purpose, where did these men go? The street scum have none of these qualities, they are parasites who feed off government handouts and all they can steal. I have no sympathy for people who are lazy leeches on society.
TJ June 08, 2011 at 03:52 PM
Point is, benches were removed, they are not owned by the community that surrounds that area, they are owned by the taxpayers of the entire county. As for your crime stats, 40% of the crime in Sarasota County is not specific to transients, nor specific to the transients in the downtown area. Take a look at mapkeeper.com, it will update you daily on who is being arrested, most are citizens who live in sarasota county. The removal of the benches would not eliminate the transients from that area, they do not need benches to exist.


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