I am not a resident of the City of Key West so I shall not be voting tomorrow.
The big question facing voters is whether or not to approve a study to consider whether or not to widen the main ship channel into Key West harbor.
If the voters say yes that would set in motion the search for funding, supposedly none from the city itself, and then if the study supports the notion of widening (and who doubts that it would?) then will come the hunt for permits and so on and so forth. All this to allow dredging of the ship channel to allow more and bigger cruise ships.
The sentiment against widening the channel is fairly obvious: we don't need bigger cruise ships bringing more people to an already crowded corner of the island and besides dredging will most likely cause more damage to the marine environment.
The sentiment in favor of dredging seems to come mostly from business interests in the city, which seems hardly surprising. That the Federal Government would require an Act of Congress to issue permission to essentially create a new ship channel does not seem to pose a problem to the backers of the study.
I think its easy to have a knee jerk reaction in favor or against any possible dredging (I'm against it at this stage) but the question this debate raises in my mind is what sort of vision or growth plan does the city of Key West have? As far as I can tell there is not now nor has there ever been a plan to map out the city's future.
I have always liked the idea of creating a pedestrian zone in the evening at least on Duval Street. I think it would be fantastic plan but proposals to try such a thing were abandoned after merchants excluded from the proposed zone complained it would be too successful and would take customers away from their stores. Only in Key West is a sound urban plan ditched for fear that it might work.
The vote will tell all but I suspect going into the election that a majority of city voters oppose the study. One local business has been flying the opposition flag with a message that "Enough Is Enough" and I think a lot of people feel that way. Cruise ship passengers bring money to the city but there is a lot of sentiment, rightly or wrongly that they don't spend much, don't spread it around and being known as a cruise ship destination denigrates the city's quality of tourism appeal.
The paper's local cartoonist Mac hit it on the head last Sunday as s/he usually does.
But even if there should be a hidden majority in favor of the study, and motives in this town are frequently obscure at best, it doesn't mean dredging starts next week. If the study proposal is approved it would mean that the path to considering what to do next would be open. And that is one big reason opponents would like a solid no vote tomorrow, to shut everything down before it starts.
The fact is however that developers never give up. I've seen this over and over again and I'm sure you have too. If the study is voted down this time I'm pretty sure it will come back again in some different form.
What it comes down to is how does the city want to look as the future becomes the present? Should Key West be a resort for the rich, a playground for the privileged or should it stay as is? Or something else? I wish this vote whichever way it goes would open up a debate about the future of the city.
Me? I'd like to see more bike paths, a pedestrian zone on Duval, maybe most of the street with cross streets allowing traffic and then I'd like to see the city handle the homeless problem. Not the working poor who get more help than you might expect in this very expensive town. I'd like to see the police the courts and social services address the actual bum problem. The mayor wants to create a day center to help integrate the homeless into the working world, but I fear the professional mooches who call Key West home would have none of that.