Jan Kaminis oral history

Material Information

Jan Kaminis oral history
Series Title:
Environmental lands acquisition and protection program oral history project
Platt, Jan Kaminis
Guidry, Joe J
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
Physical Description:
1 sound file (29 minutes) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Environmental law ( lcsh )
Tampa (Fla.) ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


Joe Guidry speaks with Jan Platt of the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program [ELAPP]. In the interview, Platt recalls her early life in Florida, along with her family life that inspired her love for boating and fishing. Platt recants her entrance into Politics, and the various projects that would soon shape the Conservation of Recreational Lands Program. Platt concludes the interview expressing pleasant approval of how ELAPP has succeeded.
Interview conducted on January 12, 2017.
General Note:
The interview was initiated by Andrew T. Huse.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Joe J. Guidry.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
035292448 ( ALEPH )
998840597 ( OCLC )
E21-00002 ( USFLDC DOI )
e21.2 ( USFLDC Handle )

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text Joe Guidry (JG): This is Joe Guidry on January 12th, 2017. Im interviewing former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt at the Jan Platt Library. So, Jan, Id like to ask you, first, where you were born and raised.
Jan Platt (JP): Well, I was born 80 years ago in St. Petersburg, Florida, and I have lived in the state of Florida ever since, so Im a native.
JP: Well, we camemy dad was teaching school at the time that I was born. And he taught about a year, and then he moved to Tampa; we moved to Tampa, in South Tampa, for a short period of time. And then, when World War II broke out, he went with the Department of the Navy, and he was in Dunedin. We lived in Dunedin, and we lived in Lakeland. He worked with Donald Roebling in the development of the amphibious tank that Donald Roebling designed. And so, we moved back to Tampa from Lakeland when the war ended in 1945, so we lived there ever since.
JP: No, my dad was born in Tarpon Springs, and my granddad had Anclote Marina engine works at Anclote River, so we always had access to boats.
JG: So that explains your love for boating and fishing. What was Hillsborough County like, when you were here growing up?
JP: Well, you know, when I was born 80 years ago, there were 1.7 million people in the state of Florida. Today, there are 20 million. And that population for the state is almost the population of Hillsborough County today. I was blessed, in that my dad was an avid fisherman, and so, he and Ihe had no sons, so I was his partner in fishing. And we would fish the lakes, the streams, the bayous, the rivers. Any body of water that was there, my dad and I would fish. And, over the years, it would just kill me to see the development that was destroying all those wetlands. There was one stream that we fished in, in Town and Country and area, where the water was crystal clear. It was the only place that I ever sawum, oh, what are they called? What are those water animals? Black?
JP: Otters. There were otters in there, and you could see the bass. And when Town and Country got developed, that stream was used as a stormwater outfall and was destroyed, and I just continued to see that over the years.
JP: Well, when I was in high school at Hillsborough, I went to Girls State and was elected to the Supreme Court, and that inspired me to seek a career in government. And so, that is what also inspired me to go to law school. And so, I went a year to law school at the University of Florida, where I was very unwelcome. I was the only woman in the law school. They would heckle me. The instructors would say, Ms. Kaminis, would you please describe whats in your briefs? And everyone would snicker. It was the most unit was the worst experience Id ever had. But anyway, so I stayed a year, and I made my grades, and I made the mistakeId been offered a scholarship to Duke [University], and I didnt accept it. I should have. But anyway, so I came back to Tampa. And so, what was your question?
JG: How did you get involved in politics? Well, when you came back, did you go to work then?
JP: Well, then I taught school at Hillsborough. For a year, I taught American history. And then I became a field director for the Girl Scouts. But what inspired me to run was my sisters untimely death. She was six years my junior, and she battled cancer as a very young woman. And she died on March 4th of 1974. And the next day, [Dick] Greco resigned from office, and there were three seats open on the City Council, and I said that life is short, and you have to do what you were trained to do. And so, I announced that I would run for city council. And Ive dedicated my career to her.
JP: Yeah. So I probably would never have run if that had not happened because I did it because of her passing. So all of my friends and her friends got behind me when I ran for office, and Ive always been sort of apolitical. Even though Im a registered Democrat, I vote Republican; I vote the issues. Im just pragmatic.
JG: As I remember, you (inaudible) for office, good government, ethics was sort of the focus, as it was throughout your career. But the environment came a little later. Or was it a priority right from the start?
JG: Was there any issue that really brought it to the fore when you were on the council or the commission?
JP: Well, you know, I was known as Commissioner No-Vote. Voting no, I had more no votes that any other single votes of anybody who has ever served in the county commission. And Tom Ingles(??) did that count. And its because I would vote no on all these rezonings [sic] and articulate why that rezoning was a bad idea. And so, every time a rezoning came up that was approved, where they would let somebody pave over a Cypress Head or something like that, I would articulate why that was a bad idea. And my mom told me that a well articulated no can be as positive as a yes, and I believe that. So with all those no votes, they were aimed at saving the environment.
JG: And how did ELAPP first come to you? How did you get the idea for ELAPP? How did that develop?
JP: Well, I kept seeing lands destroyed, and there was no wayenvironmentally sensitive lands destroyedand there was no way for the government to save them, other than to block it through a zoning. And, unfortunately, the commission was always controlled bya majoritythe majority of the commission was always controlled by the developers, so I didnt have any hopes of doing that. I always remember that there was a corner out on Dale Mabry and I think its Lake Fern Road, where there was a beautiful Cypress Head, and it was swamp, and they voted yes to destroying it and let a bank be built there. So it appeared to me that the only way to save lands is to buy them and to have an avenue to save them through purchase. And so, in 1987, the [Tampa] Tribune did a series of articles aboutoh, whats his name?
JP: Gus Muench and his boys. He was a crabber down in south county. And the Tribune did an article about some little islands offshore that were up for sale for developers, as well as the shoreline being for sale. And so, I called Gus and went down, and he took me in a boat, and we toured those islands. In fact, one of the islands has an Indian mound on it. Beautiful. And so, I thought, Weve got to save this property. And thats when I came up with the idea of the environmental land program and used those islands and that property as the focal point. And, whats interesting is, its been on the ballot three times for voters to tax themselves to buy environmentally sensitive lands. And, every time, the measures pass by over 70 percent of the voters. It just tells you that the public, in general, wants to save those lands, and it sends a message to the elected officials that there are 70 percent of the people out there who are interested in it. So, hopefully, it had a change on some of those rezonings [sic], but I cant attest to that. But at least we were able to start buying lands.
JG: Did you face some obstacles and challenges in getting this through and getting it on the ballot? Was there much opposition from other commissioners?
JP: Well, not really because it was going to have to go to the voters; the voters were going to have to decide it. And the landowners had to agree to sell. It was not taking land from individuals; it was a joint decision. So that it was an avenue, for people who owned environmentally sensitive lands, to get paid for it, rather than having to work with a developer to pave it over. So it had that positive aspect of it.
JG: Were there any other people? I know Gus. We mentioned Gus. Any other people who were on the forefront with you who were very helpful during that period?
JP: I cant remember that. I dont remember. I know the media was very strongly in support.
JG: Yeah. I remember. Did ELAPP, did you see that as complementing other environmental efforts? I know
JP: Oh, absolutely. Because it enables the government to buy lands that abut the lands and the bay, so that it would save mangroves. And one of my issues has always been to improve the bay, which was going downhill. And so, this provided a funding source for purchasing lands abutting the bay, so that they would not be developed.
JG: Because you found out you didnt believe that regulations, in and of themselves, were sufficient?
JP: No, no. They werent because you had a lot of weak people in public office, and you still do. I mean, the developers, the development community, large contributors, basically speak very loudly behind the scenes.
JP: Yes, and I think one of the keys for its success is its citizens committee that has been the one to review the sites and to make the final decisions. And that gives great strength to the purchasing of the lands because you have a broad-based citizens group that has reviewed all the parcels and made a recommendation. And then they make a recommendation to the board of county commissioners, and that gives it great strength. So weve been very fortunate.
JG: Have there been any problems that you know of? Or anything that needed to be improved or worked on?
JG: Are there any ELAPP purchases or accomplishments that are particularly, that you thought were really major? I mean, they all, the whole, in total
JP: No, I wouldnt put any above the other. Let me just say, as an 80-year-old resident of this state, it was killing me to Cypress Heads mowed over, mowed down, and then the swamps filled with sand and buildings going up on it. I mean, that was where we were headed until we had this program.
JP: Yes, in fact, SWFMD has been a partner in purchasing some of it. Theyve had money that they would partner with ELAPP funds and purchase some of the properties. And then that [Florida Forever] that Martinez came up with, he modeled it after this.
JP:  Yes. Thats where he got the idea. He saw what a success it was. And thank goodness he did because, then, this is statewide. But I think were the largest local land-buying program in the state.
JG: Is there anything I didnt ask about ELAPP that I should have, that we shouldve discussed?
JP: Here is the thing I did find, [reading] Largest local land acquisition program in Florida. Weve bought 61,000 acres.
JG: And have you ever encountered any opposition to ELAPP at all? Was there any, for instance?
JG: Okay. Well, the program is named for you, Jan. How did you feel when the commission did that?
JP: I was very surprised and awestruck. And it was Kevin Beckner who did it at a county commission meeting. I had no knowledge that it was going to occur. So I was very surprised and grateful.
JG: Well, its well deserved. Nobody championed it more than you. And, when it did go up for voters, you were always at the forefront of leading the campaigns. I think, at the last one, Bob Martinez was with you. And it received bipartisan support.
JP: Yes, it has. And its over 25 years old now. We had the 25-year anniversary not long ago, out at one of the sites. Nineteen eighty-seven, what is that? Its 30 years old now.
JG: Well, I also wanted to ask youyou were also very involved in cleaning up Tampa Bay issueshow you feel about the progress that has been made. Do you feel like adequate attention is still being given to it?
JP: You know, I have always been amazed at how that came about and how successful its been. And, you know, it required various businesses to change the way they did business, and I dont think anybody had knowledge that what they were doing was harming the bay. And I would say, in particular, the power companies because they were burning coal; youd look up at the smoke stacks at TECO [Tampa Electric Company], and there would be this brown smoke coming out. And they boughtthey own acres upon acres of coal mines because that was their way of powering their plants. But, once it became knowledge that that smoke, when it came down on the bay, was doing considerable damage, they changed and without much opposition. And so, I make a point, every time I go on the bay shore, to look across and see and make sure that thats still white smoke. And it is white smoke.
And Mosaic [was] the same way. Because their gypsum stacks had no holding ponds, the water would run down from the gypsum stacks right into the bay. And, once we made it very clear that that was harming the bay considerably, then they built holding areas around those gypsum stacks, so that the water does not go down into the bay. Now, the governments were a little bit harder, too. You know, to change their sewage treatment costs a lot of money. Hillsborough County built a new plant and, ultimately, the City of Tampa did too, and Pinellas, so that it made a complete change in the way governments handled their sewage and their stormwater too. But, you know, its just being aware of the facts and the impacts, and they knew it was ultimately in their best interest that the bay be saved, and it has been, thank goodness.
JP: I think that came after it. I mean, that was putting a stamp of approval on what was already going on.
JP: It sort of affirmed that we were on the right course. And I first became involved with it when I was president of the Suncoast Girl Scout Council, and we were building a Girl Scout Camp Wai Lani in Pinellas County on the gulf. And we were going to be the only saltwater Girl Scout camp in the Southeast. And, lo and behold, Pinellas County decided to put a sewer plant in close proximity and was going to have a 19-inch outfall go right along our campsite and dump the water into the bayinto the gulf. And so, I was president of the Girl Scout Council, and so I called Roger Stewart, who I had read about, and told him what was going on.
And he came over and told me; he said, Jan, the water that goes out of sewage plants in our state are primary treatment, which means no treatment, that you flush the chain, and what goes down the toilet comes out in the pipe, no treatment. And so, I and the Girl Scouts became very vocal in the media about what was happening and what the laws were. And so, Pinellas County scrapped the idea of that sewage plant going, the pipe. And that was the first reclaimed water discharge in the state. Because what they did with thatthats what waters Innisbrook.
JP: (laughs) So that was a win-win. And see, it made it. We publicized about sewage treatment. And see, at the same time, I was captain of the Mainsheet Mamas at the yacht club. And we would sail and see all this stuff floating. And so, we, all together, worked to have the City of Tampa change its sewage. So when I ran, they were some of my strong helpers, those sailors. Because, again, thats how that got in the mediathe fact about that Girl Scout camp.
JP: That was in 72, 1972.
JG: And where was the Girl Scout camp?
JP: Wai Lani. That was off of [Route 19 Alternate], just north of Tarpon Springs, sort of around Palm Harbor.
JP: There is development in the area, but its still got a lot of the natural plants and everything, and kids can go up. They have theoh, what is it? The cabins are upstairs because it was built with floodplain standards. So theyre upstairs, and they can look out and see the bay. At the time, it was the only saltwater campsite. I think [there are] probably some more by this point.
JG: Are there any other things that you helped effect on the commission that really helped the Tampa Bay? I mean, I know ELAPP has been a huge help, but theres a lot of other issues
JP: Well, and when I was on the regional planning council, I helped form the Agency on Bay Management. It was my idea to bring together all of the regulatory agencies and governmental agencies, as well as environmental volunteers, together on a regular basis, in an organized way. And we called it the Agency on Bay Management. And wed meet monthly, and its still in existence over in St. Pete. And that was an opportunity for all of the various bay issues to be discussed and solutions to be found. And its still in existence, and Im still on it. Because there was a need for people to put their heads together and come up with solutions. Its easy to criticize, but its more difficult to find the solutions.
JP: Oh, see, being with this walker, and then I take pills where I cant be in the sun, so Kevin offers for me to go. He goes on a regular basis, so I kind of do it through Kevin and Emma.
JP: Oh, oh, until just recently, just until Ive had this cancer. Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And we gave our boat away to Peter Clarks group the other day, the last couple, donated it to them. And Im just so thrilled to see my granddaughter.
JP: Oh, she does, and my son and daughter-in-law. And were the recipients of their catch. (both laugh)
JP: Well, I was happy to catch anything. And, you know, in the bay, youre fortunate because you can catch a trout; you can catch a redfish; or you catch a snook. I mean, any of the three. And theyre, all three, good to eat. And theyre all spunky fish, so I was happy to catch any of them. And then, when I was a kid, we didnt have a boat in the bay. We would walk and crab and trip and all that. Out of Tarpon [Springs], we had a boat that had cabins and all, and we would go fish out around Anclote Key and that kind of thing. It was always fun to go out there and catch bigger fish.
JG: Oh, I bet that was. Well, Jan, is there anything else that you would like to discuss on your environmental efforts in Tampa Bay, ELAPP, anything I mightve overlooked or forgot to ask?
JP: Well, I just think it requires constant vigilance to make sure that everyone still, not only appreciates the bay, but continues to protect it and not to be afraid to stand up and speak out because the bay is too important.


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