The Gainesville City Commission requested a special Senate meeting with UF’s Student Government Sept. 19 to discuss transportation and traffic safety concerns as well as student housing and sustainability issues.
Commissioners Cynthia Chestnut, Desmon Duncan-Walker and Reina Saco did not attend the meeting.
Senate President Oscar Santiago Perez (Change-District D) called the meeting to order at 7:36 p.m. — with 53 senators present — and adjourned at 11 p.m due to the Reitz Union closing.
City commission community forum
The meeting kicked off with the community forum, where commissioners get to address Senators’ public comments.
Commissioners Bryan Eastman, Casey Willits and Ed Book presented their goals for increasing pedestrian safety, which included expanding sidewalks and trail networks, pedestrian activated buttons and enhancing bus stop accessibility.
“In the end, our goal is zero deaths, zero pedestrian deaths,” Willits said.
Gainesville was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation totaling $10 million to improve the amount of density, add more street lights and shrink lanes on University Ave., Eastman said.
The grant’s funds included $8.1 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation and $2 million from the city as clarified by city manager Cynthia Curry.
Sen. Catherine Giordano (Gator-District A) asked the commissioners how safety concerns can be addressed around the area she lives in, which is predominantly populated by women and their respective sororities.
Gainesville Police Chief Lonnie Scott addressed Giordano’s public safety concerns by explaining the Gainesville Police Department has increased the number of traffic stops and officers in unmarked vehicles.
“If you are concerned about safety, then you have to communicate with us,” Scott said.
Senators raised concerns about RTS and possible improvements to the system.
Mayor Harvey Ward said expanding routes is expensive and fully-staffed drivers are hard to find, but the city is always hiring.
“You would not find a transportation system in America that is fully staffed,” Ward said.
Ward addressed housing concerns, stating that Gainsville was awarded a housing and urban development grant of half a million, which goes towards improving parts of east Gainesville.
Willits also addressed other concerns over exclusionary zoning. After the 2022 election cycle, commissioners re-evaluated exclusionary zoning and walked back its previous 2022 October implementation with a 4-3 vote last April.
The contentious decision now prohibits building apartment complexes in historically Black and traditional single-family neighborhoods.
“I will die on the hill that exclusionary zoning is racist and classist,” Willits said.
Graduate Sen. Gangano brought attention to the significant number of graduate housing units that were removed by UF.
Ward advised that students should advocate for higher wages, and Willits said students should join the Graduate Assistants United (GAU) union. The union has been bargaining for higher stipend packages, family paid leave and health care over the past four years.
Passed bills and third readings
The Senate first unanimously passed SSB 2023-1220 — The Authorization Ordering Senate Budgetary Funds Towards Establishing The Student Government Regional Transit System Application Project, authored by Sen. Asif Islam’s (Change-CLAS).
The bill seeks to disburse $2,000 from the 2023 - 2024 Fiscal Year Budget line entitled “Senate” under “Administrative Account-602” to create the SG RTS App project.
The project seeks to create an app that is capable of functioning on a variety of devices and operating systems, does not crash as frequently as the current RTS app, is regularly updated, features faster refresh times to provide more accurate real-time tracking of the buses and features a more user-friendly interface, according to the uploaded PDF of the bill on SG’s website.
The Senate also passed a resolution celebrating and proclaiming Bisexual Awareness Week and the importance of sexuality inclusivity at UF, authored by Judiciary Chairperson Jonathan C. Stephens (Change-District D).
Senate held its third reading of several bills including The Indigenous Land Acknowledgment Act, which was previously vetoed for an alleged “inappropriate overreach by the Legislative Branch.”
The bill seeks to require the reading of an Indigenous Land Acknowledgement before some Executive and Judicial Branch events.
Presented by Stephens, senators debated heavily. The veto was overridden by the Senate in a 42-10 vote.
“Indigenous folks are part of this student body,” Stephens said during a presentation of the bill.
The next bill read again was SSB 2023-1097 — The Office Hour Transparency Act — which seeks to have office hours placed on the “Executive” page of the Student Government website to provide more transparency for when executive branch officials are available, according to the submitted PDF of the bill.
In a vote of 34-18, the previously vetoed bill was also overridden by the Senate.
Vivienne Serret is a UF journalism and criminology senior, reporting for The Alligator's university desk as the student government reporter and managing editor for The Florida Political Review. She loves debating, lifting at the gym and singing.
Kat Tran is a second-year journalism major and is the City & County Commission reporter for Fall 2023. They are also interested in a pre-law track (entertainment law). You can find them daydreaming about rainbows, unicorns, and sunshine in their free time. Currently, they are recovering after seeing Lana Del Rey live.