Friday, December 31, 2010
Following the arrow above will take you to a series of 27 charts showing the latest data related to home sales, foreclosures, affordability, mortgage delinquencies, etc.
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Click here for NINETEENTH STATEWIDE GRAND JURY First Interim Report A STUDY OF PUBLIC CORRUPTION IN FLORIDA AND RECOMMENDED SOLUTIONS
Six sustainable communities stories to watch in 2011 | Kaid Benfield's Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC
FPL customers report problems with utility's 'reflective roofing' program - South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
By the way, I put this movie together long ago now, but just added music to it. It's a great track of Sarah Vaughan singing "Over the Rainbow."
3:00 PM Inspector General Ordinance Drafting Committee,
4:00 PM Ethics Ordinances Drafting Committee, both in Government Center
McEaddy Conference Room, 12th Floor, 301 N Olive Ave,West Palm Beach
These meetings are open to the public and will also be broadcast live on Channel 20. Click here for link to County meeting schedule.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
This actually indicates a settling of a long-time feud. The Post's editorial board made a big stink in opposition to Channel 5 selling their former waterfront site to a developer of a high-rise condo. Before that, they were partners much like what is being talked about here. The Post then aligned itself with Channel 12 - that never really paid in off in any benefit for either party - or the public for that matter. Channel 5 overlooked the Post and favored a relationship with the Sun-Sentinel. I guess the grim realities of the future of print media and local broadcast TV finally made them bury their swords.
But will it amount to better journalism? I'm not optimistic - if anything, the Post may follow Channel 5's lead and not cover local political issues, other than elections. There is a gaping hole in the coverage of local issues since they don't drive the ratings. That's why blogs like this are appearing to fill the void. We already know that the Post just spits out what it is given in a press release, with little original investigative reporting. Maybe more of a merger is on tap in the future that will eliminate what we know as the print edition of the Palm Beach Post entirely.
In the mean time, we can hope beyond hope that the editorial board ceases to be the public relations arm of the current Lake Worth government regime - and that Channel 5 doesn't churn out fluff pieces weekly for the darlings of the dais. Not likely, but one can hope reality seeps into the picture at some point in time.
Click title for link for information on Ray Stannard Baker.
This might be the form of what would happen with transit trains on the FEC (east) tracks. Listen for the link from trains to development.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Meanwhile, let's use $6 million from the city's cash portfolio to improve the casino building at the beach. This will not be the economic panacea those on the dais say it will be. Look for the same tenants to be there, in a slightly improved format. This is what is going to send legions through our downtown and single-handedly raise property values all across the city? Look at our shuttered downtown stores, our vacant lots along Dixie Hwy., entire buildings and lots mothballed along Federal Hwy and the long road to payoff from the Park of Commerce. High utility costs - including WATER - are part of the unattractiveness of a Lake Worth location - whether a residence or a business. But these high rates are not the only thing turning people and businesses away - much of it is the sum total of the decisions made by the PBP darlings of the dais.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
There are a couple of things that come to mind, being a former bureaucrat myself and one that deals with large organizations on a daily basis. The first thing that I have come to realize is that re-organizations are time-consuming processes that, while they are happening, makes the wheels of the organization grind to a halt. Usually, they only are put in place to "fight the last war," when new challenges are just around the corner that need to be anticipated and not reacted to. Think of the Maginot Line as a classic example. During this, chaos reins and projects that should go forward, don't and projects that shouldn't sometimes do. Another remembrance of dealing with these three departments is that staff turnover was always an issue. It seemed that just when you were starting to make some progress with a staff member, they either left, were transfered or let go and you were directed to someone who just got out of school. Usually this meant that you had to go back and re-do certain steps or re-address issues that had already been resolved. What is contemplated here might have portions of all of these factors - which would be contrary to the ultimate intent of making regulation more rational.
What also seems to be missing in this transition teams analysis is what needs to be controlled and what doesn't need as much control. We need an authority, the state of Florida comes to mind, that would regulated what are called "urban growth boundaries" around our major and not-so-major metropolitan areas. These are lines, usually established by counties, that are meant to be the ultimate limit of urban services - water, sewer, storm drainage, schools, etc. If these aren't enforced by an entity that has a greater interest other than the local government in mind, then we have a problem. Much more emphasis has to be placed on the importance of redeveloping areas that are blighted, forgotten or thrown away. If we can direct re-investment into these parts of Florida at the expense of not reaching further out of a metropolitan center, we can go a long way in planning land uses that are sustainable, with smaller carbon footprints, and take advantage of existing infrastructure. This has to be a policy shouted from the highest levels of state government to every municipality and local government in order to work. The only thing that I saw that vaguely looked like this policy in the transition document was "Let cities be cities." However, who is defining what a "city" is and how is this going to be implemented or enforced.
I am not encouraged by what I hear coming from this transition team. I really think we do need some state oversight in Florida as it relates to local comprehensive plans. Otherwise, I think we will become a state filled with sprawling development patterns - even more so than now - with older communities like Lake Worth left with fighting for the scraps or, as is now the case, chasing development away in a vain attempt to win the last war.
I'll be monitoring news related to this topic and keep you informed.
"Here's a look at the Community Calendar. The City of Delray Beach is kicking off the season with its annual holiday parade. Festivities get underway at 6 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue. This year's theme is "Disco in December." It's free. Okeechobee is also getting into the holiday spirit with the Christmas festival in the park which begins in the park at 9 this morning and it will end with a parade at 6 p.m. And if you want to head a little further south, you and your pup can go to "Bark-a-Paloosa" - all dogs are welcome for a special day at the green market in Pompano Beach. There will be a dog wash benefiting "No Paws Left Behind"...If you have an event that you would like to announce, go to WPTV.com and click on the Community Calendar link..."
And then this for Lake Worth:
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and it might be a little bit of a headache for motorists trying to make their way through downtown Lake Worth today. The city will have its annual holiday parade starting tonight at 6 p.m. You can expect road closures on Lake Avenue today from 3 to about 9 p.m. and also road closures on Lucerne."
This is a perfect example of what happens when you have someone who knows where to send what information. It seems that the city of Lake Worth announcement only consisted of a press release from PBSO about road closures. This is useful information for some, but creates the image and the thought in people's minds that they need to avoid Lake Worth during the times of the road closure. This announcement, since it came from PBSO, and had no other relevant information, ended up in the "hard" news section of the program.
In contrast, under the Community Calendar portion of the broadcast, the public learns about all the holiday fun happening in Delray Beach, Okeechobee and Pompano Beach. Delray also had a parade as part of their festivities, but no announcement about street closures and the like - which there surely were, no doubt.
Where would you have liked to go on that Saturday if you lived in Wellington or Jupiter? Another example of the need for a public information officer - or, short of that, someone that would act as one and know what they're doing in a part-time capacity.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
And from Christmas present, in support of one of our fine Lake Worth residents and community leaders, from the same neighborhood. This is in response to a dialog from the other blogger:
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Last week, I made it a point to put the Tuesday morning City Commission work session on my calendar. I wasn't sure what all I would attend at first. When the day came, for some reason I was up early and decided to take in as much of the show as I could. I arrived at City Hall a little before 8 a.m. and nestled down in one of the comfy pews there for the next three and a half hours.
The first order of business was the City Commission meeting as the Audit Committee. It turns out that the City Commission itself is the Audit Committee. Now we also have the Finance Advisory Board (FAB) that appears to be in a state of limbo at the moment. And we also have the mandate, my interpretation at least, for an Internal Auditor that works at the pleasure of the City Commission - in the same way as the City Manager and City Attorney do. This is what the City Charter says about the required Internal Auditor position:
City Charter - Article 1
During the adoption process of the current fiscal year budget, the City Commission confirmed that it didn't need an Internal Auditor, after getting a weak opinion from the City Attorney that the position was not required according to the City Charter. This is consistent with one of City Manager Stanton's early decisions to not renew our Internal Auditor contract since they didn't need anyone else raising more questions. Let alone the fact that our independent audit of the City's annual financial report uncovered numerous exceptions and conditions needing correction over the past several years - all of which seem to perennially appear on the next audit.
First let me say that there was no discussion about the position of Internal Auditor at this meeting. It was simply a presentation by TCBA Watson about the upcoming audit they are contracted to do for the city. Apparently they did some early work in September that was termed an "interim audit" which included some tests of the payroll system and direct deposit arrangements. The auditors seemed to stress the importance this year of injecting some unpredictability into their process. There are a series of standards related to establishing what "independence" means as it relates to the relationship between the auditor and the city. The audit firm cannot have other business with the city and likewise there can be no familial relationships between members of the firm and the city. Essentially, a "firewall" is built between the preparation of the city's financial statements and the auditors. The auditors depend on federal interpretations about independence, as well as principles of their own accounting profession. There are sometimes when the two conflict and for some odd reason, the federal government has interpreted that if an auditor makes a material finding, that conflicts with their independent role. Looked at objectively, one would say that is why they are hired in the first place and such an interpretation would tend to discourage reporting of material findings. The auditors thought that this interpretation was subject to revision and that they would rely on their professional accounting principles to not be crippled by this ruling.
They will be using and examining the city's IT systems. One of the areas that they want to place focus on is where vendors may have "unusual relationships" with the city in the way of having someone associated with a vendor also being on the payroll. Funny they should be bringing this issue up at this point in time due to the relationship between REG and our new Planning and Preservation Administrator.
The audit, when complete, makes its way to the state's Auditor General, who is the ultimate authority. The auditors must identify whether the city meets any of the 14 standards necessary for the declaration of a financial emergency. If a city meets 3 of the 14 standards for an emergency, the city can be put on a "watch list." Apparently, the city is NOT on that watch list now. The bulk of the actual audit will take place from mid-February through mid-March, with a presentation to the Audit Committee (also the City Commission) at the end of March.
Some of the questions posed by the Commission were revealing. Vice Mayor Suzanne Mulvehill commented about the need to look at the whole utility billing process and that we cannot have a situation where an employee was involved in double-billing and pocketing cash payments made on some accounts - apparently someone was caught and let go recently for doing just that. She also made a point to determine whether the city's collection agency - some people that are usually "in the know" were told by those who would be in a position to know that the city didn't have a collection agency for delinquent accounts - was living up to collecting what they said that they were collecting and if the city was getting all the money it deserved from collections. Commissioner McVoy admitted that he "was not a financial wizard" and suggested a simple report card at the end of the audit that would grade the city's performance in a number of different areas of the audit.
Finance Director Steve Carr indicated that many of the "exceptions" found on previous audits would continue through this years audit. It seems that many of the comments relate to the city's fixed asset inventory and the control system for the city's fixed asset is in "disarray." He said that there is a 1300 page inventory of the city's fixed assets. Thus ended the Audit Committee meeting.
- City's Regional Sewer System and East Central Water Reclamation facility.
I was all juiced up for this one as I thought we were going to hear about the city's client municipalities' lawsuit against the city for improper billing. Well, such was not the case. The only inkling that attorneys are raking in the fees on this one came from a discussion generated as a result of the presentation which indicated that our customers (the ones that hold the city in low regard) cannot easily switch to be a customer of another owner of the Regional Sewer System. If you look at page five of the presentation, the owners are all identified. Owners of the majority of the capacity would have to be in favor of any change and reallocation of capacity. The owners are very protective of their own available and unused capacity as that represents the potential for future growth. The gist of the presentation was a review of the facility, new legislative requirements and regulations and the need for an expansion of the system to meet these new requirements. This can be funded when current debt is retired and new debt is incurred in the coming years.
The City Commission had questions about available gray water and none is currently available for use by Lake Worth through this system. Home-based gray water uses are highly regulated by the state building code and are generally thought to be prohibitive in cost and equipment for individual home applications. It doesn't sound like that will be an option anytime soon. It just seemed to me that the city - those officials represented on the dais, elected and appointed, were pleased with this situation as it left the city's customers with little recourse. Message being sent to local governments and others all over south Florida - beware of dealing with Lake Worth and avoid doing so if you can at all costs.
Casino Building Rehabilitation Project
Next up was the item I was most interested in and the main reason why I set this morning aside to attend the City Commission workshop. Click here for part of the package submitted to the Planning and Zoning Board for review. Drawings at 95% complete will be available after the first part of January. The project will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Board for their review and approval at their January 5, 2011 meeting - this will then go to the City Commission in February. Total leasable square footage is 12,363 on the first floor and 13,056 on the second floor. These includes areas that are outdoor that can be leased for short or long term purposes if the city decides to do so. Permitting is expected to take place in April and May of 2011 with groundbreaking in June of 2011.
One of the most surprising parts of the presentation was that the issuance of a "red tag" by the villainized former building official reaps a substantial benefit for the city in that the improvements identified as part of the red tag will not count in the overall budget for rehabilitation. Thus more can be done without triggering the imposition of current code standards, subjecting the project to much higher costs. Savings from this were plowed into building systems that contribute to the LEED certification rating for the building. There is room for installation of photo-voltaic panels on the roof, but the panels are not included in the budget. They are looking into the possibility of a loan/lease or pilot program with a manufacturer of solar panels given the high-visibility of this project. The building as rehabilitated is 3,500 square larger than its existing footprint. A cistern for water storage has been explored, but it's thought that it wouldn't provide enough benefit to make sense for the entire building. They are exploring the possibility of looking into the pool and perhaps a re-design of it would be possible for use as a cistern. There might be money out there from the state for documentation of the building's history and explaining the use of green building features - this is something that could be done afterwards and would not count towards building rehabilitation costs. There is a grant that has been applied for the interpretive signage that would point out environmental aspects of the coastal location and other site improvements that use or promote environmentally sensitive aspects of the project. Higher ranking LEED certification will be dependent on the provision of mass transit to the site. The team is 80% sure of the structural qualities of the building but will not be 100% sure until demolition begins.
My capsulized assessment: The team has done some good work, but I have a major problem with the switching of hats by the project manager to a city staff person in charge of review of the site plan as explained in a previous post. I believe the city is exposed by improving the building, expanding the building and introducing new uses (catering) that do not meet the former Comprehensive Plan future land use designation of Public Recreation and Open Space. Remember, the city's current Comprehensive Plan - the one that was updated with Evaluation and Appraisal Report recommendations - is still not-in-compliance according to the Department of Community Affairs. This quick switch from preparer to reviewer will help ensure that this point is not delved into too deeply, if at all. I also don't think permitting by the various agencies will necessairy be a walk in the park. I have also heard from reliable sources that the "selective demolition" will surprise many by its extent. Maybe those that attended the Circle of Light demonstration can join me there after the "selective demolition" to inspect how much of the building is actually left. The information regarding how the issuance of the red tag helped out the project is indicative of the importance of professional objectivity and how, even if something is politically unpopular, professionals must still be allowed to do their job. This is something that the city could learn to do throughout the organization and then become more responsive to the public - an less influnced by prevailing political winds.
Other things heard during the week:
There was an e-mail exchange between a business owner on Lucerne and the city manager about the lack of holiday lights along Lucerne Avenue. The city manager suggested that the business decorate its own street tree in front of the business only to be told by the business owner that they have done that before and code enforcement told them they couldn't do it and that it would have to come down. There were other things contained in the communication that were really not called for in official city correspondence. Let's just leave it at that. The point here is that Lucerne is as much of a downtown commercial area main street as Lake Avenue and should be equally covered by any holiday display - or other decorations throughout the year for that matter.
Joan Oliva, executive director of the CRA, was treated to a tirade of orchestrated complaints at the Tuesday night CRA meeting. The topic concerned renewal of her contract for employment. By the way, the NSP2 Grant ($23 million) covers 75% of her salary. The new reason to say "NO" is that the city doesn't have any money for raises or anything else for that matter - how can we fight our battle with the unions if we act like we have money to spend? After the grilling, the CRA finally came around and approved a 5% increase. The packed house proved that a "certain someone" can still rally the troops and fill the chamber if need be.
I heard that Annabeth Karson approached applicants for a sports bar on 10th Avenue west of I-95 after their presentation to the Planning and Zoning Board saying that she is aware some of the city commission may have problems with their project. She said that she could help them as she has good contacts with the city commission. Just think - Ms. Karson, Lobbyist - has a ring to it doesn't it?
There seems to be a lot of misinformation about the use of the City Hall Annex and what will be happening with the City's museum. Seems that there are discussions going on about having the Palm Beach County Historical Society take over the running of the museum - not Palm Beach County as reported by the other blogger. The discussions surround the possible leasing of the building or part of the building to the Historic Society - which would pay part of their lease up-front in cash - something that the city urgently needs. Misinformation about the "giving away" of the building has reached the City Manager and others - one can almost hear the door shutting on this opportunity before it has time to ripen.
That's all for now. More later.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Friday, December 17, 2010
Living in Lake Worth and paying attention to things going on, one gets used to the unusual, the uncommon and the unprecedented. Once in a while, something happens that is so blatantly questionable that what you have seen before seems insignificant. This is one of those moments.
When I worked for the City of West Palm Beach as a planner (1989 to 1993), I had the pleasure of working with and getting to know William Waters. At that time, he went by "Dale", his middle name, and I will forever think of him as "Dale", not William - but that's my problem and has nothing to do with the situation before us. I have great respect for William as a fellow professional planner and was pleased to know that he would be working with REG on the Casino rehabilitation project. William made the presentation at Tuesday's City Commission work session on the status of the project and reported that the application for site plan approval had been submitted to the city. The item is to appear on the Planning and Zoning Board's agenda of January 5, 2011.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? What is wrong is that we have a professional planner involved in the preparation of a site plan application that the same professional planner will be in the position of reviewing as one of the first orders of business. One does not put oneself in a position where you review your own work product. This is a blatant conflict of interest, in my opinion, as the city residents, who pay Mr.
Walters' salary, cannot be assured of total objectivity in review of the site plan. To be marching forward under this cloud, brings into question the motivation of people responsible for making this decision. That this question of integrity and apparent conflict of interest can even be raised is disturbing. Here Lake Worth is with its most conspicuous project - the beach and in an age of heightened ethical awareness, supposedly, and the city has allowed a situation to evolve to a point that brings into question the integrity of that process. I am surprised that the players here allowed this to happen and seem to be supremely comfortable with this decision.
Part of being a certified planner is adhering to a code of ethics. AICP Code of Ethics. One of the "Aspirational Principles" is as follows:
A: Principles to Which We Aspire
This is transparency? Can we practice what we preach? If we go forward, at least we need to bring someone else in who has the qualifications to review the application prepared by Mr. Waters.a) We shall exercise independent professional judgment on behalf of our clients and employers.b) We shall accept the decisions of our client or employer concerning the objectives and nature of the professional services we perform unless the course of action is illegal or plainly inconsistent with our primary obligation to the public interest.c) We shall avoid a conflict of interest or even the appearance of a conflict of interest in accepting assignments from clients or employers.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Yours truly will be giving a PowerPoint presentation on the history of planning in Lake Worth.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
"The unions have continued to assert that the city is in a strong financial position," Stanton said in an e-mail. "That is contradicted by the assessed valuation of the community tax base, a $3.2 million projected operating deficit in fiscal year 2012, $58 million in unfunded accrued pension liability and the high cost of operating and reinvesting in the community."
The taxable value of Lake Worth property has dropped dramatically in recent years, from a building-boom peak of $2.1 billion in 2007 to $1.1 billion this year.