By Greg Jackson
Before I get started let me make this abundantly clear: when I say "we," I really mean "I" or "they." And when I say "you," that literally and figuratively means "you", as well as "I", "they", and quite possibly "we all." Since I have made myself as clear as mud, let me tell you the predicament you (or "we") may find ourselves in if I (or you, they or we) decide we just do not care about the future of the community within the
Apopka Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) boundaries. Allow me to provide some background:
In early 2015, Apopka-area business owner Rod Love and I took up the fight and began working to address needs of Apopka’s underserved areas. After realizing Apopka had a dormant CRA with funds that could be used to address community needs, Rod Love and I went to every City Commissioner, as well as the Mayor to encourage the resurrection of the Apopka CRA. I appreciated the honesty of some commissioners who admitted that they had no idea what a CRA was or what it could do, so I provided pertinent information and examples of how CRA funds could be used to help underserved communities.
Fast forward to today, it could be said that Rod Love and I fought to revive the Apopka CRA and it is back; albeit, not in its most effective form. We fought for funds to redevelop the underserved community and there are now basic grant programs (however, nowhere near $600,000 for a parking lot). We fought for affordable housing, and now there is talk of providing funds for impact fees on new construction (not quite what is needed for residents who want to have their dilapidated dwelling places renovated, not to be displaced, but it is a start.) We asked for community policing innovations and soon the Apopka Police Department will ask for funds from the CRA for a program to put officers on the street to make business owners feel safe (no comment). Yes, the Apopka CRA is coming to life as Rod Love and I fought for, but the fight is not over, and mainly because the Apopka CRA funds are not being allocated in a fair manner to benefit the most affected members of the community.
In comparison, when minor decisions were suggested for Errol Estate, the Commission actually had a meeting in Errol Estate and asked its residents for input. However, with the area referred to as “South Apopka,” before diverting nearly a million dollars from that community, which sits within the CRA boundaries, the Commission or CRA Board, did not spend a single, substantive minute seeking input from those residents or business owners about how they would like to see their community utilize CRA funds. But, in all honesty, I cannot completely fault the Commission for this. You see, time and time again residents from the underserved community have given every indication that they will not show up – at the voting polls or commission meetings – even when it is to discuss the future of the community they call home. But let me stay on task with the CRA.
If you have read my columns outlining the disparate use of CRA funds and thought to yourself "something isn't right here," but you have not attended a single CRA or council meeting to question the use of those funds, you are doing a disservice to yourself and the community. And because of this, you are a source of frustration. But, if we can put our "friend hats" on for just a moment, let me say I do not
completely blame you. That is because 85% of CRA board members and executive directors across the State of Florida have no idea how to utilize CRA funds to address underserved communities effectively. They read the words, but do not take the time or effort to fully digest the meaning of the words found in Chapter 163, Part III. So, I do understand to some extent why Apopka's CRA feels $600,000 for a parking lot
is an acceptable expenditure of CRA funds. But, I also understand why 90% of other CRA boards or directors, who have contacted Rod Love or myself to ask about this project, think this is a poor use of Apopka CRA funds and will draw the attention of the Florida Legislature yet again. What I do not understand, however, is how Apopkans can sit back and say nothing. It is the disinterest of Apopkans that has me now
questioning my willingness to keep up the fight to ensure the fair allocation of CRA funds in Apopka, or should I focus on other communities seeking help. To put it into other terms, it is like a prosecutor fighting for a victim's rights, but the victim refuses to testify or speak out against his or her assailant; in those instances, the prosecutor drops the case and the bad act goes unaddressed. But, if that is done here, who will
resume the fight for the equitable use of CRA funds? Only one CRA Board member seems willing to speak out against the unfair and disparate allocation of CRA funds while the others say nothing. And based on the outcome of the upcoming election, there may be no voice at all to speak up for the underserved community, because quite frankly, Apopka Commissioners and CRA Board do not fully understand the underserved community or its needs. And if no one is left to speak out or fight for the underserved community, we all lose – in my humble opinion.
Greg Jackson is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Florida, a military veteran, current Orange County District 2 Representative on the Board of Zoning Adjustments, and General Counsel for the Community Redevelopment Agency. He has been as an active member of the Central Florida community for nearly 20 years. He was most recently a candidate for the Florida House District 45 seat.