Hurricanes tend to make us hit a personal pause button and, at least temporarily, appreciate things like roofs, air-conditioning, family.
Hurricanes also tend to do this for a city.
Sometimes they not only put a pause on the hot-button issues of the day, they tend to wash them away.
So as Dorian made its slow crawl past us, that was one of the questions about its aftermath.
A.G. Gancarski, the indefatigable Jacksonville correspondent for Florida Politics, even did a Twitter poll recalling what happened during and after Irma: “Two years ago, hurricane prep and news cycles after ended what passed for a Confederate monument debate. Will Dorian reset/freeze narratives in Jax Politics in a similar way?”
While social media votes have about as much scientific validity as my personal weather forecasts, I’d guess that the 60 people who responded to this question aren’t a bad representation of North Florida. Seventy-three percent said no, Dorian didn’t freeze these narratives.
I’d go even further. If anything, Dorian only served to emphasize and amplify some of the big issues of the day — schools, JEA, Lot J, murder.
Before Dorian, we were immersed in a debate about a half-cent sales tax referendum for a district with some of the state's oldest schools. As Dorian was forming, the City Council voted to withdraw a bill, with several members making it clear they believe charter schools should be given more of the tax pie.
Even with schools closed during Dorian, this issue didn't go away. If anything, the storm provided a reminder of some of the differences (and different standards) for traditional public schools and charters. By and large, charter schools are much newer (one reason why it's absurd to simply use a per-pupil formula for infrastructure dollars), but they aren't mandated to be built to the same standards.
When people left their homes and headed to public shelters, where did they end up?
Eleven of the 12 hurricane shelters were traditional public schools, staffed by school administrators and custodians. The 12th was a community center.
• JEA sale.
Although this supposedly was put on hold before the last mayoral election, the beer sweat had barely dried on the inauguration napkins and the idea of selling JEA was back, moving faster than the mayor’s favorite Jay-Z lyrics.
During Dorian, this issue didn’t fade away. Again, if anything a slow-moving hurricane gave people a lot of time to think about their utility and its ability to keep the power on.
Is a public or private utility better at preparing for and handling hurricanes? Beyond what would happen to their monthly bills, this might be the biggest question people have.
It’s wrong to turn this into a simple black-and-white answer. Like seemingly everything with utilities, it’s complicated. But I think it’s safe to say many in Jacksonville have positive views of JEA’s storm preparation and response through the years.
They also worry about how a private utility, perhaps based elsewhere, would respond when storms hit here and elsewhere — and, beyond that, whether they would be handed an extra bill by a company that tends to make nice profits, rain or shine or hurricane.
After Hurricane Irma, Florida Power & Light said it cost $1.3 billion to restore power. It asked to add a surcharge to customers’ bills, starting shortly after those customers ended up paying a surcharge for Hurricane Matthew costs. (This is headed to the state Supreme Court after FPL came up with another plan, using tax savings.)
FPL was hardly alone. Duke Energy, the Orlando area’s biggest power provider, asked for its customers to pay $381 million in Irma costs. Meanwhile, city-owned utilities around the state relied on FEMA to cover substantial costs — and many, like JEA, said they didn’t plan to bill customers extra to make up what wasn’t covered.
At this point, public opinion in Jacksonville is firmly against selling JEA. Another hurricane scare didn’t change that. If anything, it likely solidified it.
Go back to the start of this decade. It started with encouraging news, a New Year’s headline in the Times-Union saying of 2010: “Jacksonville homicides below 100 for the first time in almost 30 years.” When we reach Jan. 1, 2020, there will not be a similar headline.
The drumbeat of murder in Jacksonville has picked up, particularly this year. Dorian didn’t stop that. Ten people were shot in three days. One was killed, bringing the homicide tally for the year to 108.
• Lot J.
While the attention will shift Sunday to Nick Foles and what happens on the TIAA Bank field when the Jaguars open another season, Dorian served as a reminder about something else, something that isn’t going away now that this storm has passed.
Our water — from the ocean to the St. Johns River — is rising.
When Mayor Lenny Curry ordered evacuations during Dorian, the maps included the area with Lot J.
In late July, Curry approved a tentative deal to have taxpayers pay more than $200 million for Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s $450 million development next to TIAA Bank Stadium.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t build along our water, that we should turn the entire riverfront into empty grass lots (although there should be greenspace). But if we want to live up to the words of a certain political committee and build some things that last, we need to be talking more about climate change, resiliency and other words that, all too often, some local and state leaders have avoided.
In North Florida, football and hurricanes are a part of fall. And in some ways, they’re similar. They make us pause and come together.
We should enjoy Sunday. Because, win or lose, the big issues that were here before Dorian will still be here when City Hall opens Monday. This storm didn’t wash them away.