Friday, December 8, 2006

Need for Broader Geographic Representation on Advisory Boards

I can't help but think that if the composition of the Planning and Zoning Board - currently or at the time we reviewed and made a recommendation to the City Commission regarding the Sunset Drive property - included representation from residents living west of Dixie Hwy., the City would not be experiencing the discord as it relates to that issue to the extent that it is. Ever since I have been a member of the Planning and Zoning, Historic Resources Preservation - we have not had representation from the western part of the City. The predominate representation has been from the College Park, South Palm Park and Downtown areas of the City.

With broader geographic representation, I think a greater understanding of how issues affect the entire City would take root. The 5-2 recommendation of approval for that particular project by the Planning and Zoning Board might well have been different given a more geographic representative mix on the Board. I would think that the end result would be the same, however there would be a such greater understanding.

I didn't want this to get lost in the post regarding the ballot measure. One of my priorities as a City Commissioner would be to appoint representives on our advisory boards from all areas of the City - and that ultimately there would be balanced representation. Neighborhood associations would be a good place to look for qualified and concerned residents that are willing to serve.

The following was received in an e-mail from Jack Simons in response to the above:

Wes,Who would argue with geographic representation on
P&Z and Historical, except of course if it was accomplished only at the expense of not selecting the best qualified.I
have observed you for 3 years in your capacity on P&Z. While I do not think you vote politically, I am concerned that the supposedly objective function of P&Z may appear to be compromised with the implication that geographical
representation will lead to fewer objections from the public.It is hoped that you establish Neighborhood Associations in all areas of LW and that they have
recorded remarks submitted to P&Z at part of Staff presentation like Staff Comments on Site Plan Approval.Wishing you good health and happiness for the
Holidays and New Year,Jack

Thanks for your response Jack. I guess what I am saying is that since we have had a long-standing imbalance in representation on the board that when we make appointments to advisory boards, we make an attempt to appoint qualified people from a variety of locations throughout the City. We need to be aware of any geographic imblance that we may be creating. It may be possible to arrange applicants for boards to be sponsored by each commissioner - who would identify qualified persons from their district - and then go through the vetting and interview process as the Commission does now.

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"Super Majority" Ballot Issue

The above is text from the petition that has been circulated through the City of Lake Worth. You might have seen the article by Nicole Janok in the Palm Beach Post yesterday which reported on the filing of the signatures with the Supervisor of Elections. They have now been delivered to the City Clerk and will likely be on the ballot in the March municipal elections. I happened to be quoted in the article and referred to the "Super Majority" as a misnomer and that it should be called a "Super Minority" measure since it tilts the table in favor of the minority faction of the Commission - currently our 2 of 5 votes on the City Commission for most major decisions.

What didn't make it in the paper was my expression of how this goes against one of this nation's foundations of democratic governance - that of majority rule. It is really a bedrock of our democracy in the United States. Given that, I would be surprised that people would approve such a measure. However, scaring people into signing and voting for a petition has become a pastime for a group here in Lake Worth. For example, the following is an excerpt from their second page of the petition document:

Now, we can all agree with the first sentence of the above. If you look at the zoning map and future land use for the City of Lake Worth, you will realize that nearly half (acutally 43%) of the City is single or two family residential. Most of that area east of Dixie Hwy. is also further protected by historic districts. The second sentence is misleading - it states the Lake Worth City Commissioners regularly overturn zoning laws that protect our neighborhoods by only 3 votes. In reccent history, there have been two former single family lots (on my street, by the way) that were rezoned to multi-family to allow the Courtyards project to proceed. The other rezoning was part of an annexation of a 4 acre parcel from unincorporated Palm Beach County into the southwest portion of the City. (Without going in to great detail here about that annexation, future land use plan change and rezoning, you can do a search on this site for "Sunset" and that will take you to a complete summary).

Let's assume that the total amount of residential land that was "up-zoned" (a term which is also misleading) was 6 acres in the recent history of Lake Worth. That represents less than .36% (that's a third of one percent) of the total amount of single and two family residential land within the City. This hardly qualifies as something that is done "regularly" by the City Commission. The residential re-development in the form of multi-family projects along Federal Highway conformed with the long standing zoning designations and densities in place on the property. The Hammond Park project currently under construction just north of the downtown area along Dixie Hwy. actually was part of future land use plan change from commercial to residential, along with a corresponding zoning change - same for the Courtyards project at the north end of Dixie Hwy.

Let's touch on the term "up-zoning" which is widely used by the people behind the petition. There are many aspects to any zoning district - there are dimensional requirements and limitations, a list of permitted uses and uses that are permitted by special exceptions (meeting higher standards) and other provisions. In the process of adjusting these regulations over time (which the City is about to undertake next year in the form of a "re-do" of the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Code) there is not a clear interpretation if more than one change is made if that is up-zoning (meaning allowing more building, etc.) or down-zoning (tightening the requirements in the zoning district).

If you read the petition language above, you will see that it refers to any change - not just up-zoning as many of the proponents assert. As part of the finalization of the Master Plan process this coming year, there will be areas that we are tightening the regulations, especially in the residentially zoned areas around the downtown - further protecting the historic character of that area in line with the Zoning-in-progress that is already in place. The same provision in the ballot measure would apply to that area and the adoption of our new Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code.

Now let's talk about practicalities and implications here. Hypothetically, let's say there is a proposal that makes it to the City Commission for exactly what the proponents of the petition want to prevent - rezoning from a single family district to a multi-family district. Under the current code (according to majority rule, an excepted standard in our democratic process), the rezoning would require at least a majority to pass - a vote of 3-2. Let's say that A,B,C vote for approval of the rezoning and D, E vote against. Now, under a super majority rule, D and E individually have the power to overturn the desire of the majority. If either vote for or against, they determine the outcome of the proposal. That places a lot of power in the hands of one person who could be unduly influenced by anyone interested in the result. Do we want to institutionalize this in our City Code? Remember, this would apply to any change in the Comprehensive Plan, zoning or land use designation. Coincidently, this will be a big work item at the Planning and Zoning Board and City Commission for the next two years.

Our election cycle in Lake Worth is already a short two years. If some action by a Commissioner so infuriates you, you can and should remember that come the next election cycle. You would either vote against that Commissioner/Mayor by voting for their opponent or you would run against that person yourself. That is the essence of our representative democratically elected government. We also have to realize that of the 15,000 some registered voters in the City, only about 5,000 or so come out for a large turn out municipal election. Thus, the fate of our future rests with a minority of registered voters and an even smaller minority of the 40,000+- residents of the City of Lake Worth. Do we need to allow for a further distortion of majority rule by adopting a super-majority stand as it relates to land use decisions - effectively creating a super-minority? I think not.

I know that this is quite a lengthy explanation of my view of the process and the implications. Do you think that each one of the persons who signed the petition was given as full an explanation and that each one understood the implications? Do you think that they were given the examples that I gave about the limited amount of "up-zoning" that has taken place in the City of Lake Worth? If so, then the item deserves to be placed on the ballot. I personally doubt that each person who signed the petition had a thorough understanding of the measure.

But, be that as it may, the measure will be appearing on the ballot for our next municipal election on March 13th. Please choose wisely when you vote "yes" or "no" on the measure.

Personally, I choose to vote against the measure.

I would like to hear what you think by commenting here. Thanks and let's be true to our representative democratic traditions - including the free exchange of ideas and information and the right to agree or disagree with one another.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Another busy week...

Time to catch up on a couple of things. With this dreary, cool and wet weather today, it's a good time to cocoon myself in the house, dogs by my side, and put together some entries together for posting here. We had the City Commission meeting this week, our Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the Stakeholders Advisory Committee meeting, announcement that the "Super Majority" petition garnered enough signatures to earn a place on the March 13th ballot and more. So, there is a lot to discuss.

Also this week, I was an impromptu guest on the Lunch Box hosted by Jim Stafford at along with John Rinaldi of the Sabal Palm House. If you'd like to check out our discussion, you can click here and it will take you to the archived show area of the site. I'll be appearing on Live Show with Jim on Sunday night at 7 p.m. discussing my eight year stint on the Lake Worth Planning, Zoning and Historic Resource Preservation Board. Be sure to dial your browser there and have a listen.

Tomorrow, I plan on being a spectator for the Holiday Parade and hope to bump into some of you. If you see me there, stop and say "Hi" - it would be nice to chat.

Also, for your information, I have added a link to the Supervisor of Elections website where you can register to vote if you have recently moved or for whatever reason are not currently registered. Just click on the link on the right side of the page (under the picture of the tower on the corner of the current City Hall) and fill in the required information. The deadline for registration for our March 13 municipal election is February 12.

Thanks for checking out my blog and stand by for more entries.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Great People, Nice Day

This was a real nice day. I fired up my printer and prepared all sorts of paraphernalia for my campaign - table tents, name tags and business cards. This was in preparation for my first organized fundraiser. The Blogger-sphere seems to be having an issue with the posting of pictures and I have some real nice ones of the event - so those will be coming shortly. But, let's start with the first stop of the day.

My good friend Nancy Jarrell (who I hope to have as my volunteer coordinator - Coach Nancy - I need to get her a whistle to hang around her neck!) joined my and we have some pictures from that too. And, lucky day, we have pictures now! Timing is everything. That's Nancy and me in front of the tree at Tea's Etc. - 1800 Block of North Dixie Hwy. - right next to John Paxman's office. They have been there for a year, but decided to hold an open house in advance of the holiday season. Stop in and check them out - they are direct importers of loose teas from around the world. A nice addition to the Lake Worth retail community. And, who did I bump into - none other than my friends Charles and Ray (also known as "Ray/Charles" in Karaoke circles). I haven't seen them in a while and believe me - they were a real scream (literally) at Karaoke! I hope they come back and share their unique style with us at a Thursday night session.

So, after sipping some tea and having some nice nibbles, I dropped Nancy off and went on to Mark Geier and Bill Martin's for my first fundraiser. I should say "fun" raiser! I met some wonderful people, mostly neighbors of Mark/Bill and it was a great chance to get to meet some of their neighbors and their concerns/issues about being a homeowner in Lake Worth. This was really my first stop on the campaign trail. Thanks also to Jim Lewis who helped with the food and organizing the event.

North O is one of my favorite streets in Lake Worth. The house where we gathered was built in 1948 and the homeowners are lucky to have pictures of the house under construction and with it as a newly finished. I remember seeing the property with a friend who was looking for a house at the time right before the new owners purchased it about 8 years ago. Mark and Bill have really transformed it. The pool is a great addition.

Here are some pictures from the event:

And what would a political event be without a candidate and baby picture! That's little Eva looking cute.

"Political advertisement paid for and approved by Wes Blackman for Commissioner – District #3"