Letter to the Commissioners:
This is to urge you not to make a bad situation worse by approving an ordinance precluding fee simple title for Pensacola Beach leaseholders.
As you’re all well aware, the group known variously as Save Our Beaches, Save Pensacola Beach, or just the “yellow shirts,” initially impelled by one very politically connected and strident organizer -- motivated in her “crusade” (her own word) by an admitted long-standing personal grudge against developers -- has managed to seriously mislead the citizens of Escambia County regarding the fee simple option.
First we had the group’s unrelenting campaign of misinformation, based on entirely groundless fears that a simple change in the form of ownership of the already private leaseholds abutting the public beaches would lead to rampant over-development and loss of public access. Over time, and with moneyed assistance, they managed to convince many thousands to sign a petition to “save our beaches,” as if our public beachfront lands were ever in any danger whatsoever, which in fact they never were. But all those signatures presented at his office served to convince Senator Bill Nelson, facing an imminent re-election campaign, to withdraw his co-sponsorship of the federal legislation needed to allow conveyance of title to Pensacola Beach taxpayers.
The group then lobbied former commissioner Grover Robinson, clearly under considerable political pressure of his own as he approached his mayoral run, to include a referendum on last November’s ballot that managed to continue the deeply misleading culture of the crusade, first by trumpeting at some length the preservation of non-leased lands – a measure the BOCC had already resolved in favor of, and which virtually everyone in the county would heartily approve – but then tacking onto the end (after many voters may well have stopped reading) the group’s very short statement retaining the restrictions of the 1947 federal deed. (As you’ll recall, Grover intended that second part to say instead - truthfully - that the BOCC had no position on fee simple, but the yellow shirts simply wouldn’t have it.)
I doubt there’s anyone within range of your own voices who doesn’t know someone – maybe several someones - who didn’t fully grasp the ramifications of that ballot referendum, not only because it was rather stealthily designed to lure “yes” votes on its opening surface, but because, as stated above, the citizens who listened to the anti-title crusaders in the first place were terribly misled. And then there were those who, like Andrew McKay of WNRP radio, were well-informed but understandably misconstrued the intent of the 1947 deed’s mention, thinking it was to apply going forward to the preserved, non-leased lands only. Doubtless there were yet other misinterpretations. In sum, this was a poorly designed, double-issue referendum, and its overwhelmingly positive but suspect results should most certainly not be considered the valid basis for an actual county ordinance forbidding fee simple title for leaseholders.
It’s clear there’s been a rolling snowball effect of the above unfortunate circumstances, all growing out of one person’s supposed bad experience with a Perdido Key developer (Perdido Key being, as we know, an entirely different animal), so it’s now up to you five -- with your leadership and statesmanship and individual strengths -- to stop any further bending to the will of a very loud but utterly misguided group of individuals who’ve skewed this issue all to heck, stubbornly refusing all efforts to provide them the facts, instead taking their frenzied fear-mongering tactics to the citizenry of our county and seriously misinforming them in the process.
It’s utterly appalling, and we pro-fee-simple folks don’t know where to turn, except to you. As some of you may recall, I used to write about all this in occasional Pensacola News Journal viewpoint pieces, but the PNJ’s highly biased-against-title executive editor has since effectively silenced my voice, refusing to publish another of my (hopefully) informative opinions, saying I’d already “written extensively on the subject,” even though almost a year had passed while the PNJ continued to further mislead the public. Seems to me that should make each of you as angry as it does me.
Because I’ve often been accused (including by myself) of being incurably verbose, I’ll stop here, but will send a supplemental email for those who have the patience to read more, providing additional evidence of just how rampantly pervasive the misinformation and just plain lack of fact remains on the fee simple issue in this county.
Meanwhile, both my husband and I – who, by the way, would in fact pay substantially more ad valorem taxes under fee simple than we do now – urge that you stand firm and refuse to further tie your own and future commissioners’ hands (even if only politically) on fee simple, which we fervently hope may someday be seen in its true light -- as the very best and most logical solution to the awful mess that now exists as to Pensacola Beach leases – a mess which may well prove an even bigger snafu as the years wear on, and which serves to feed continuing tension between island and mainland citizens. It’s just wrong for the county on so many levels!
History will be your judge, so please take the long view. Do the right thing now and refuse to institute an anti-title ordinance.
- Linda & Arnold Leithner
Thank you Tom Jardine for setting the record straight and helping create this letter.