Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shuffleboard Courts as Day Laborer Center??

The big item on the agenda last Tuesday was the issue about using the building at the shuffleboard court property as a "Resource Center" or, better put a Day Laborer Center. The following is the back-up provided for the discussion under the New Business portion of the agenda:

I attended the meeting and spoke asking questions about the prospect of this. More on that later on.

Before leaving to go the meeting, I happened to see Commissioner Jennings on Channel 5 News talking about the issue. She was at the shuffleboard courts. They interviewed her and many of the shuffleboard players that were present. It's funny, but in my 15 years of being a resident of Lake Worth, I never saw the shuffleboard courts being used. But, apparently there is an active group that uses the facility. The players that were interviewed seemed to keep things in perspective - the underlying theme seemed to be: "The times, they are a changin'." None seemed to make to the meeting. Maybe some did, but they at least they didn't speak during public comment.

But there is a reason they may have become "numb" to the environment found on Lake and Lucerne Avenues, west of the FEC railroad tracks. That is because in December, the City Commission made it illegal (a word that was used a lot Tuesday night in many contexts) to pick up laborers and essentially directed them to the shuffleboard court property. The City Commission has "directed" these individuals to this area. I am guessing that some of them might feel a sense of relief that at least now they would congregate in the building there. Just conjecture on my part.

Public comment on the topic was decidedly against moving forward with negotiating a lease of the property to these non-profit organizations. There were people with strong thoughts on immigration and the fumbling of the issue by our federal government. Those same people believed it was wrong for a branch of government (a municipality) to essentially sanction and facilitate the hiring of these workers. Others were concerned about the proximity of this location to our downtown and the negative influence in might have on adjacent buildings and commerce.

My comments were along these lines. During the interview I witnessed on Channel 5, Commissioner Jennings talked about how this would "formalize" and already existing situation and that if the Commission decided to move forward, the group's operation could start in a couple of months. I commented that this made it seem that the key could be given over without much trouble or impact or respect for other laws/codes. One set of rules that is near and dear to my heart is zoning. No surprise here.

You see, the property happens to be zoned "Public Recreation and Open Space" (PROS) and has a similar future land use designation. Guess what! That happens to the same zoning designation as our beach property and any other park within the City of Lake Worth. The beach would be something different by now in anticipation of the long awaited redevelopment project, but for the lawsuits and the bungling of the future land use change issue. I digress.

So, I pointed out that there is no allowance for a day laborer center in any zoning district within the City of Lake Worth. If the existing zoning is kept intact, then that "use" could be added to the list of permitted uses or uses allowed through special use permit approval. But, adding that to the PROS district where now you can only have "open air recreation" or "essential services", would allow that use in ANY park throughout the City. I don't think we would like to see a day laborer center in Bryant Park, for example. And if it was allowed, but limited to this property? It would be called "spot zoning". Something we heard as a rallying cry regarding the beach.

At this point, my "irony meter" was in the red zone. As we all know, Commissioner Jennings is an ardent guardian of keeping the beach as a "park" and doesn't like the redevelopment project's proposed "intensification" of that park. HELLO - the shuffleboard court property is a PARK and this proposal would bring another use that is not allowed anywhere in the City and establish it here. Besides the City has probably turned away numerous day laborer centers by citing zoning laws in the past - now it would be sanctioning one in its own urban park.

I actually did offer the Commission a way out. That would be to rezone the property to "Public" - (P) and change the land use the same way. It is the same zoning of the City Hall property, allows recreation and many other uses - administrative offices, etc. But it still doesn't permit day laborer centers and that use would have to be added somewhere in the regs.

Regardless of the process used to rectify the zoning and land use situation if this were to go forward, it would take time to properly re-zone the property and go through the amendments to the comprehensive plan. And, the process would open up the opportunity for those not in favor of the other aspects of such a center to block that process. Again, the beach is a good or bad example of this, depending on your point of view.

I also brought up the concern if we end up with the center operating out of a City building, what if someone gets seriously injured while on a job they got by being there in OUR building? We are also not going to solve the problem of people working and not being paid at all or adequately for their labors.

Where do I stand on the issue? During the campaign, I thought that we should follow the Town of Jupiter model for their center - meaning a non-profit organization would run the center ina City building. However, the shuffleboard court property is not the place for that. It may seem to some like this is the easy answer, but I think that easy answer would have a lot of unintended consequences.

By the way, Commissioners Jennings, Golden and Mayor Clemens voted yes to have staff work on a lease for the property. It also sounded like staff was going to create a list of issues for the Commission to review. The Mayor made it seem like this was the next logical step after the Commission's action in December and he wanted to deal with one non-profit, not two. Commissioner Golden referred to the 1954 coup in Guatemala that overthrew a democratically elected government and that this was the consequence of that act.

Things that make you go hmmm.

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