Saturday, October 2, 2010

Meaningful things that will be meaningless if Amendment 4 passes...

Palm Beach County is going through it's Evaluation and Appraisal Review (EAR) for its Comprehensive Plan.  Click here for a summary of scoping meetings focusing on major topic areas that will be addressed in the EAR process.  This represents just a small part of the work needed to prepare a county-wide revision to the Comprehensive Plan. All this work would be made moot by the meaningless maximum 75 word ballot language that would accompany each proposed change to a Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  It also represents an opportunity for the public and all interested parties to be part of the process in the public review of the existing plan.  Do you think anyone will take this opportunity?  Those that want Amendment 4 to pass would think Commissioner Jennings' method of not participating in the review and formulation of the plan is fine since all that is needed on her part is to change the plan at the last minute.  This is what would happen if Amendment 4 passes - regardless of the objective work and facts contained in a Comprehensive Plan, a vote of NO would make all the work that went into a change to the plan moot.

I guess that's what those in favor of Amendment 4 want.  Think "creationism" versus evolution.

Lessons in Propaganda - Ripe for Campaign Season - Timeless

Friday, October 1, 2010

Many comments waiting...please be patient.

Letter to PB Post Editor: Lake Worth needs leaders who will help businesses

Click title for link to Letters to the Editor section where Greg Rice's letter appears.  There is another local blogger that uses the Royal We to describe her fondness for the incumbent Commissioner Mulvehill.  For some reason that is beyond comprehension, this other blogger thinks that this Commissioner's record is pro-business and claims there are new businesses are opening in Lake Worth.

This blogger asks, "Where?"  She can't mean the downtown where long time businesses are shuttered and the vacancy rate is more than 50%.  It can't be along Dixie Hwy where the most common sign along the stretch in Lake Worth is "For Sale" or "For Rent."  The south end of West Palm Beach looks downright prosperous in comparison.

Could this apparent economic disparity be due to the exorbitant commercial electric rates made possible by the City Commission making sure that they are the highest in the state of Florida?  That's part of it.  The other part may be due to increasing water rates that punish heavy commercial users of water - rate increases that were voted for by the incumbent Commissioner Mulvehill.  Or is it due to the inefficient building permit process?

Lake Worth - for the past two years - has had the largest decrease percentage-wise in property tax value of any Palm Beach County municipality.  Maybe having a Comprehensive Plan that is still not in compliance and a lack of a workable zoning code contributes to investors choosing other locations, without the inherent strengths of Lake Worth's location - to build or establish places for employment of Lake Worth residents.

The other blogger also places a lot of importance on the rehabilitation of the Casino building at the beach as being some sort of economic salvation.  This relatively small project will only be slightly larger than the building that is there now and won't attract many more than the current facility.  It's also being financed internally by the city through the use of what sounds to the common resident like "playing the float" or "kiting checks" - with the promise of some White Knight bank financing that will come in when the project is finished.  Really?  Prove it.

So yes, we need to move from the past and emerge to a new economically prosperous future.  Commissioner Mulvehill had her chance and failed miserably.  The other candidate, McVoy, sits at the right hand of current Commissioner Jennings.  We can expect the same results from him.

FYI - October 4th (Monday) is the last day you can register to vote in the November 2nd election...

Click title for link to Supervisor of Elections office.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giant Sloth found at one of South Florida Water Management District's projects

I helped organize a talk at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters that will be taking place this coming Monday.  These are pictures of a fossilized Giant Sloth that was found during one of their projects.  The focus of the talk will be evidence of an ancient population in Florida that lived in and around what look like geometric mounds.  The talk is being given by Christian Davenport, Palm Beach County Archaeologist.  I will try and snag some images from his presentation and post them here later.

Vegas errr...Lake Worth Casino Pool Parties?

An answer for what to do with our pool at the beach?  Think of the possibilities.

Also click here for interesting article on a "death ray" caused by reflections from a Las Vegas hotel on a pool area called "solar convergence."

From the article:
"It is one thing to ask experts in their relative field for advice; it is another to ignore their advice without justification," glass film manufacturer Nichols E. Ashton wrote the builders of the Vdara hotel back in November 2008."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two Municipalities Adopt Ethics Laws Prior to Referendum

Click title for link to press release.  An excerpt:

The Commission on Ethics announces the adoption of the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics by the cities of Lantana and Boynton Beach. Second reading of the adoption ordinance and inter-local agreement took place September 27 in Lantana and previously on September 21 in Boynton Beach. They will become the first municipalities to come under the jurisdiction of the Commission on Ethics once the interlocal agreements are ratified by the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners. Ratification is likely to occur in October, prior to the countywide referendum which will appear on the ballot in the upcoming November elections.
“The town believes that we do not have to wait until the November ballot for us to do the right thing,” said Lantana Town Manager Mike Bornstein.
Lantana Mayor David J. Stewart stated that, “even though we are a smaller town we believe this is a big issue that needs our full support.”

I doubt that we will see any rush for Lake Worth to independently adopt the County's Code of Ethics.  So far, the notion of ethics is something that is talked about and used as an election ploy, but little else here.  Ethics is about transparency and fairness.  We have few examples to draw from in Lake Worth.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

FYI - PUBLIX Groundbreaking Ceremony Scheduled for 9/29 is postponed due to weather forecast

I'll let you know when it is rescheduled. In the meantime, stay dry.

Click here for link to a great letter: In 75 words or less, why Amendment 4 is ridiculous

Should Amendment 4 pass, ballot language of Comprehensive Land Use Plan changes would be limited to 75 words.  Imagine the uproar if public comment were limited to 75 words.  And some people think that this is democracy?  Some Comprehensive Plans are close to a thousand pages.

Instead of living in a representative democracy, it would be better termed a "misrepresented democracy."


Monday, September 27, 2010

Just-in-time Run-off Campaign Treasurer's Report from Suzanne Mulvehill

RE-POST - this is from the run-off election in 2008 - same story.

Two more anti-Gulfstream Hotel contributions from Celi and Maroney - remember the appeal is coming up at the first meeting in December. Ed Grimm, Board Chair of the Lake Worth CDC and BIG Cara Jennings' contributor joins the party. Along with an attorney (is this the one brought in to help with the casino?), a food service supplier and more beach tenants with the addition of Benny's on the Beach.

Can you say "Special Interest Contributions?"

Suzanne Mulvehill's and Commissioner Cara Jennings' Special Interest Contributors

RE-POST - This is a record of the campaign contributions from casino building tenants from the 2008 election.  Commissioner Mulvehill is taking credit for saving the casino building - with a big push from the tenants to do so.  How are the tenants going to benefit from the rehabilitation of the casino building if they have to be out of the building for 15 months or so or more?  We are being told that the city will not be paying for relocation costs.  How do the current tenants benefit from rehabilitating the existing building?  When the city commission chose the architect last spring, one of the major questions was whether or not the tenants could stay in the building during construction.  Something is not adding up - unless the real news is waiting until after the election?

I think it's important, especially due to the grandstanding done by Commissioner Jennings prior to the election, that we look at the campaign treasurer reports of her campaign and those of the candidate for whom she is "Door Knocker Coordinator." Without going into great detail, the main parts of the "anti pay-to-play" ordinance were that you could not except campaign contributions from a "professional business entity" if they had a current contract with the city or could possibly have one in the future, if someone did come before the Commission with business that was not foreseen at the time the contribution was made then that Commissioner or Mayor would have to return the money and that the limitation apply to relatives of the contributor as well.

Those that voted against the ordinance probably saw the unworkable nature of this "ethics" ordinance in that it is difficult to determine if you may have a contractual arrangement with the city in the future. Also, most campaign accounts are closed out soon after the election. With my campaign, there was no money left. If I had won and was in a position where I would have to refund the money according to the requirements of the "anti pay-to-play" ordinance, where would that money come from? And the point is, it already had been spent for its intended purpose - to get a candidate elected. Refunding it would not lessen the "debt" owed to that person or entity. There might be a need for the Commissioner or Mayor to recuse themselves from voting, which would be above and beyond state law.

What it would do is send a chilling effect to those "professional business entities" that either currently do or want to do business with the city. Like is the case in so many rules and regulations, they are usually targeted at the last situation where some questions arose regarding contributions and Commission actions. It would also benefit those candidates that do not tend, or at least appear, to rely on contributions from such "entities." Hello Commissioner Jennings.

So, let's see how this would apply regarding the filed treasurer reports from candidates Mulvehill and Jennings. Now, there was a judgment call that I made regarding whether or not these contributors represented a special interest. As proposed, the ordinance would have applied to a "professional business entity" which I believe includes non-profit organizations. There are also individuals with legal actions against the city and I might have been able to more inclusive in who would fall into this category. But for the sake of this discussion, I limited that to one situation in particular where someone is about to come before the Commission on an appeal of a Planning Board decision.

Anyway, this is what I was able to extract from the reports. Here is Suzanne Mulvehill's. I do not have the benefit of having her "run-off" election treasurer's report. This is just money given prior to the general election.

Let's deal with the first two contributors on the list which I just touched upon. Both have been vocal opponents of anything that the Gulfstream Hotel has proposed and against what was approved by the Planning and Zoning Board related to our signature historic hotel. Mr. Celi currently has two lawsuits against the City which challenge the denial of an appeal of a PZHRPB decision related to the hotel property. It is my understanding that he has appealed a third decision and it will soon be appearing on a City Commission agenda. I have it on good authority that the item was about to appear on last Tuesday's City Commission agenda, but was moved to the Commission's first meeting in December. You can draw your own cause and effect relationship. Mr. Celi did not contribute to Commissioner Vespo's campaign. The City Commission has to sit as an "impartial arbitrator" when they hear the appeal. We shall see.

The rest of the contributors on the above list are all tenants or relatives of tenants at the casino building on the city's beach property. No surprise then that Suzanne Mulvehill is working on their behalf trying to preserve the current sweetheart deals each have at our oceanfront property. The difference between market rate lease rates for oceanfront retail/restaurant space and what they have been paying really represents a subsidy by the tax paying residents of the City of Lake Worth. These people would be especially interested in continuing that status quo. If elected, would Suzanne have to return the campaign contributions gathered from these "professional business entities" due to their contractual relationship with the City in the form of their leases? Could she vote on anything related to the beach property? If she did vote, whose interest would she be representing - the tax paying residents of Lake Worth or the private business interests of her contributors? Remember, money given in the election would already have had its intended effect if she is elected. Returning the money after-the-fact (from where?) means little.

Now we have Commissioner Jennings' list of what I think are special interest contributors. The first two are only a problem if the IBEW represents workers on the city payroll and if Adopt-a-Family has a current (I think they do) or future contractual relationship with the City - according to Cara's proposed ordinance. You know the one that she keeps hitting Commissioner Vespo over the head with. Mayor Jeff Clemens actually suggested during discussion of the "pay-to-play" ordinance that the term "professional business entity" shouldn't apply to non-profit organizations. Mayor I beg to disagree with you as we shall see concerning the next grouping of Commissioner Cara Jennings contributors.

Now, I have known Ed Grimm for a very long time. While not a close acquaintance, I remember him from my early days in Florida when I worked for the City of West Palm Beach. He is a nice guy and I have enjoyed working with him on the CRA - both of us were appointed at the same time earlier this year. Ed is also Chairman of the Lake Worth Community Development Corporation Board of Directors. I know this since he has represented himself as such at various public meetings and the information appears on their website - that information is a recent addition. It is entirely possible that Ed's father (I assume), he and his wife are close personal friends of Cara Jennings and/or REALLY believe in the job she is doing for the City of Lake Worth that two of them contribute the maximum amount to her campaign. Add to that the contribution from the Lake Worth CDC's executive director and the fact that Commissioner Jo Ann Golden is project manager for the Lake Worth CDC and the picture gets a little cloudier. Just where does the City end and the Lake Worth CDC, a private non-profit organization begin? Aren't there a lot of surplus land arrangements with the Lake Worth CDC and the City? Aren't there other programs where both entities share an involvement? By bringing up these questions I am not saying that what the Lake Worth CDC does is in question or that they aren't serving the public good. But doesn't this seem to be at the least a very "cozy" relationship? How are the taxpayers of the City represented when items related to the CDC come before the Commission? In a fair and balanced manner? Are there other arrangements that we may not know about?

And then we have Celi and Maroney on Commissioner Cara Jennings' reports as well as Suzanne's. Hmmmmm. I wonder which way she will vote on Celi's appeal when it comes before the Commission? Maybe the same way she has the two times a similar appeal has come before the Commission - to overturn the Planning and Zoning Board's decision.

Lastly, these are public reports and they are meant to be looked at and studied to see if there are potential relationships that the public has a right to know about. And, if not me, who is going to do this?

I also found it interesting that Commissioner Cara Jennings mailed her last (G4) report in on the day that it was due - an acceptable method to avoid a fine. But that meant that the City didn't receive it until November 3rd - the eve of the election. This from a person who insisted that her campaign report would be posted on her website immediately when it became available.

Let's have a shot at preparing an omnibus ethics ordinance and address the serious flaws in the one as proposed by Commissioner Cara Jennings.

Another day on Dixie Hwy in Lake Worth...

This post is from before, but the YouTube video is ready now.  Here it is.

A business owner on North Dixie caught an older gentleman ripping out one of their juniper bushes right in front of their business this morning.  It seems that the same gentleman has a space were he sells "landscaping material" in pails at the Lake Worth Flea Market - under I-95. That flea market has long been thought of as a place to sell appropriated goods.

Added recent comment summary in column to right...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

After decades of contention, a plan to restore the Lake Worth Casino

Click title for link to PB Post editorial on current beach casino and property renovation plan.  A second charrette was held yesterday at the LW Golf Course Clubhouse.  I ended up not attending, but from what I hear it was lightly attended.  There were some contractors present who may end up responding to the RFQ - we should know during the middle of October who responds.  And that was the next step that was talked about yesterday.

Some things that are still concerning include the permitting for a building seaward of the coastal construction line, unforeseen budget implications, slippage already present in the schedule, permanent financing of the improved building and relocation details related to existing tenants that are interested in being part of the project.  The budget assumes a contingency of $500,000 for pilings - structural supports under the existing slab which will likely be required due to the building's location east of the coastal construction line.  What is not explored are the time implications if such an eventuality ends up being part of the project.  Another $500,000 of the $6.5 million projection is a pile of other possible changes.  No where have we seen what the budget will be for tenant relocation during construction.

Interesting that the opinion piece mentions an early 2013 opening for the finished project.  Here is what the business plan for the project completed just last month says:
So it looks like we have had a six month extension of the project schedule already.  While there are three different financial projections based on worst, better and best - all of them assumed the same time schedule.  Time is money and not looking honestly at the time variable is troubling.  The building will be delivered as a shell, with tenants responsible for finishing the space.  This time is not part of the timeline.

Also concerning is what I am hearing from two candidates' camps that are running, ones that I will not be voting for, that think a vote for the other candidates is a vote against doing the beach.  Here we go with the age old strategy of making the beach a pivotal political issue and putting words in the mouths of opposing candidates since it will motivate people to get the polls.  I don't want to put words in the mouths of the candidates that I am supporting, but it is my impression that they are not against this project, they are simply concerned about certain important issues are not being addressed and swept under the rug for purposes of the election.  

That is the problem with our polarized political spectrum in this city - honest debate is discouraged and villainization is encouraged.  I am also deeply disturbed that an official city document - the RFQ for the construction manager at risk - contains a fabrication that previous projects involved the selling of the building to a developer.  A 20 year lease is not selling the building to a developer.  And don't forget we have the unresolved legal issue in the form of a multi-million lawsuit that has yet to be resolved.  Where does that fit into the financial projections?

Can someone explain how this "bank loan" is going to work?  What is the security for the loan?  If it involves the good faith and credit of the city-at-large, why is this not a general obligation and subject to referendum?

And I am beginning to wonder if the small scale nature of this project will have this massive economic catalytic effect that the PB Post, Commissioner Mulvehill and most of the Commission think that it will have.  The ocean isn't going anyway and is a constant draw regardless of what sort of building is there.  Will this project be "iconic enough" to send 500,000 people a year to the beach?  What will be the real economic benefit to the city?  Yeah for doing something, but are we again underachieving our potential?

The headline of the opinion piece is also wrong due to the word "restore" being used.  Yes we are planning to re-establish a tower at the northeast corner of the building - but this is new construction.  The same can be said for the entire second floor over the northern half of the building - it's also new construction.  How can that be restoring anything, really?

If you attended the charrette and want to add your commentary, please do so through the comments tab below.