Saturday, January 26, 2008

Report from 9/18 Commission Meeting - Discussion of Charter Amendments

This is a re-post of an item related to two of the proposed charter amendments that will be on Tuesday's ballot. This contains an analysis of the positive effect of eliminating the run-off elections. Upon further thought and study, I am not for extending the terms of Commissioner and Mayor from two to three years. Not talked about here is the issue related to whether or not the Fire and Police Chiefs will be required to live within the City limits by ordinance. I choose "No" on this item, as I believe it is important for public safety officers of that rank to live in the City they serve - as currently required by the Charter.

So - my votes for the three municipal ballot measures will be NO to term extensions, YES to elimination of run-off elections and NO for requiring residency of the Fire and Polices Chiefs to be determined by ordinance.

After much emotional public comment, the Commission voted 3-2 to direct the City Attorney to prepare two ordinances - one to extend the future terms (not the existing Commission terms) to three years and one that would eliminate the run-off election. Commissioners Jennings and Golden were against. Commissioner Golden made a statement that she didn't understand why we went to November elections and didn't see the benefit in more people coming out to vote. She also didn't think Thanksgiving was a reason to not have a run-off, etc. Commissioner Jennings thought it was an abuse of their power that a majority of the Commission could put an item on the ballot. The citizens, however, had to go around door to door and gather signatures. She said that if this had been done through petitioning, then she might think differently.

This is what I said during public comment:

“Regarding the Charter Amendments relating to the term of office and run-off election, I am in favor of having the citizens vote on these items. I believe that three years makes sense. There is more continuity and gives Commissioners an extra twelve months to be productive and not be overly political. This will help tone down our current highly charged political atmosphere. If people complain about how bad things are now, I believe that they are a product of our two year term/run-off form of elections.

“I think it’s best to begin after the existing terms have expired – I am not extending the existing terms of any seated Commissioner or Mayor.”

As for the run-off, I am for the elimination of them. Turn out for municipal elections is low in relation to the total number of registered voters, so are we really getting the representation of the majority in a run-off? I don't think so.”

The ordinances will be coming back to the Commission for final approval and then they will have to approve the ballot language. The election for these would coincide with the January 29th Presidential Primary.

After the meeting, I had some of the following thoughts. I keep going back to the question "50 percent of what?” for run-off elections. We have 40,000 people in this city, of which about 15,000 are registered voters. In a good year for a presidential election we may get 7 or 8 thousand to turn out. For a municipal March election, it hovers between 3 and 4 thousand. The underlying principle is that our elected representatives should reflect the wishes of the majority of citizens. I would argue that the half of the 3 to 4 thousand does not represent a majority opinion and the 50% run-off threshold is an unachievable ideal. It does provide a ready tool for those motivated to elect a candidate.

Boiled down even farther, it's 50 percent of the people that come out to vote on that day. If the election were held a day before or after, the result could be different. That's why holding this precise 50 percent figure to who comes out on a particular day doesn't mean much, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, 50 percent appears, at first glance, to be a rational number that would represent the majority - as I pointed out, for a number of reasons, it doesn't achieve its intended goal. A better measure is really who gets the most votes. If you are really worried about someone getting into office with 7% of the vote - in a 13+ candidate field - then you could lower the threshold for a run-off to 35%. At least then you wouldn't be pretending that the winner of the election had a majority of voters.

Finally, three year terms are equal to the appointments on the majority of City representative boards. This would now parallel Commissioner terms of office if changed to three year from two year terms.

Valet Parking in Downtown

If you have been downtown recently on a Friday or Saturday night, you might have noticed a valet parking operation which sets up shop on South J Street in the first block south of Lake Avenue. As far as I am aware this has gone on for about year. Some people say that they operate on Thursday nights too, usually when there is something going on at the Playhouse.

The following e-mail to Paul Boyer, Laura Hannah and Sharon Jackson bears the date of October 2006. This was while I was still Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board and probably about the time the valet parking began.

I vaguely remember Laura Hannah acknowledging receipt of my e-mail, but really didn't offer any satisfactory explanation or response to the questions raised in it. Now and then I would ask Sharon Jackson to follow-up on it and we all know that Paul Boyer was about to leave around this time. I resigned from the Planning and Zoning Board mid-December to run for office. Season came and went and they ceased operating.

Well, the valet is back and many of my questions are still valid. Recently, I discovered some other anomalies that make one wonder who is sanctioning this and how.

The first question in the e-mail asks who is running it. From the signs that I took pictures of last Saturday, it's a company (?) by the name of Valet Florida. The next question asks are they properly insured and bonded? We just don't know. The last statement/suggestion in the e-mail talks about a better location for it would be on the side streets, rather than on Lake Avenue. This was addressed, but there are still problems with the location and impact to traffic on Lake Avenue.

The fourth and fifth items in the e-mail require some exploration. This is what I was told by a gentleman involved with operating a business on South J.Street. Apparently, after the "early bird" crowd leaves L'Anjou - around 7 p.m., they leave open on-street parking spaces. As soon as the cars vacate the spaces, the valet operators put this sign up to block the public from parking in PUBLIC spaces.

Notice at the bottom of the sign there is a reference to City of Lake Worth Ordinance 21-33(I). I went to and found that section of the Code. However, the list of regulations runs from "A" to"H" and does not include "I" as indicated on the sign. So, I penned the following e-mail query to Pam Lopez, City Clerk:

I asked her if this was the current 21-33 section of the code and if any amendments have been made recently related to valet parking or if any changes have been made to that section at all. Her response was that there has been no ordinance recently regarding valet parking and that Sec. 21-33 is the current code.

THERE IS NO "I" AS INDICATED ON THE SIGN! We have a situation where someone is preventing people from parking in otherwise public parking spaces and charging for the service to park their car in public spaces. And, they are citing a part of the City of Lake Worth Code of Ordinances that at worst doesn't exist and at best isn't available for the public to inspect.

Back to my story about what is happening on weekend nights on our downtown streets. After the barricades go up, the valet allows cars to park in those spaces when the occupants pay $5 . I understand that if people protest - and I hear that they do - they actually move the barricade and let them park in the space anyway. When asked by this person who operates a business on J Street why they are preventing people from parking in PUBLIC parking spaces, the valet pointed to the sign and the referenced ordinance. Then, he said that, "Don't you think it classes up the downtown to have valet parking?" and the business owner responded "No, what I see you doing is chasing people away from my business!"

Meanwhile, on Lake Avenue, traffic is backing up in the first block east of Dixie - not a welcoming image at the entrance to our downtown. Imagine waiting in a queue on Lake Avenue for a while, then being strong-armed to pay $5 for an otherwise PUBLIC space that you could have found yourself without a valet. Wouldn't your time be better spent looking for a FREE public space on your own anywhere in the downtown that is a legal parking space - without a valet "classing things up"? Besides the spaces on South J Street, they park cars here, there and everywhere - probably sometimes on private property. Do they have an arrangement with those property owners?

What should happen with a valet operation in our downtown is that the operator should lease an unencumbered parking lot in the general area (the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, between L and M Streets, comes to mind). The entire operation could then be moved to the middle of the downtown (L Street) and the valet could run back and forth to that parking lot. Then we would actually be adding to the supply of parking in the downtown - not taking away from it and suddenly making people pay for public parking spaces.

Here is an image of the valet stand with the sacred seal of the City of Lake Worth prominently displayed on it - where is the money going for this and how is the City sanctioning it? How is this helping our downtown businesses?

A view of J Street with the cones in front of public parking spaces:

Friday, January 25, 2008

Busy Week!!

(Click on the image above and you'll see something interesting)

Lots of work stuff going on, which is good! Had a great time at Karaoke Wednesday night, which helped to break up the week. But there wasn't much time to do anything else, including post on the blog. But, here we are at the threshold of a weekend and I should have time to devote to a backlog of ideas and thoughts about Lake Worth. In the meantime, have a nice night!

I plan on continuing a series on downtown issues. If you have any that you would like to chat about, let me know about them by posting under the comment tab at the bottom of this post.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Save Our Downtown!

Walking back from the Cultural Plaza on Monday night, I passed by this sad sight. Another retailer (a rare breed to start with) in our downtown is going out of business. Surely a sign of worsening economic times, but also symptomatic of a host of issues and problems in our downtown commercial area.

The following are "snippets" of e-mails that started out relating to the building just east of the Lucerne, at the corner of Lake Avenue and M Street. I am happy to report that it is now in the final stages of renovation and it is a great improvement from how the building looked at the time these e-mails were exchanged.

If you take a look at my e-mail (I have removed the e-mail addresses that this chain was circled amongst for privacy.) The message talks about the situation with the building I mentioned. At the end of the e-mail, I mention an idea and one of my campaign platforms. That was the idea of a "Downtown Summit" where all the stakeholders (property owners, business owners, employees, residents, etc.) would get together and focus on issues/strategies for improving our downtown - both physically and economically. If I had been elected last March, it would have been one of the first things I would have called for as a Commissioner.

Since that time, the Commission and Mayor have spoken very little about the downtown. They did vote to lower the parking space fee from $15,000 per required parking space to $7,000 per space - a good thing. But there is so much more to talk about our downtown. By not seriously inventorying and working on issues impacting downtown, we run the risk of more sad sights like the two pictures above.

The Mayor happened to be copied on this e-mail chain. Notice the date of the e-mail below - July 7th. Notice also that in the e-mail he says that he will be hosting (?) a Downtown Summit this fall after the City gets through the budget process. That was in September 2007.

We are still waiting Mayor.

I urge you to contact your favorite Commissioner(s) and Mayor. Remind them of the importance of a healthy downtown commercial area and request that the Mayor follow through on his promise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Truth Matters Returns Tonight @ 8 p.m.

Join me and Greg Vannier as we host another Truth Matters show. Click here for the live feed of the show. You can also find it on the homepage. Questions and comments for and about the topics we will be covering can be found on the message board.

It'll be nice to get back on the area and review the many things that have gone on in our community since the last show back in November.

Things I thought about discussing: the idea of the day laborer center on the shuffleboard court property, the status of the Sunset law suit, the economic conditions generally and the economic condition of our downtown specifically, valet parking in the downtown and a whole bunch of loose ends that no one seems to care about (beach, casino building structural report, 431 N. L Street, crime, etc.)

Hope you can make it!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Martin the Mailman Benefit - South Shores Tavern

It was still a little early when I got there. Great band playing and had a nice lunch. It's still going on. Plan on dropping by sometime this afternoon.
They are having a raffle with a lot of nice prizes and things!
I am sure you join me in wishing Martin good luck in a speedy and complete recovery.

In Honor of Martin Luther King, Jr....