Saturday, March 14, 2009

No City Commission Packet Available on-line for 3/17 Meeting

Usually these are available late Thursday or Friday prior to the next Tuesday meeting. I wonder if it will magically appear over the weekend - or it will be Monday or even Tuesday before it's available. I like to review it during the weekend when there is a little more time to do so.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Gov. Charlie Crist selects Steven Abrams to be Palm Beach County commissioner

Taken from my driveway this morning a little after 7 a.m. EDST

Former Largo city manager who became woman now a finalist for job in Lake Worth

Interesting. I missed the audio from the meeting - there were problems with the feed from City Hall. Click title for related PB Post article. I guess we still live in a time where this is "headline news." Someday we will get past a time when someone's sexual identity and/or sexual orientation isn't highlighted in such a manner. Mayor Clemens came out against bigotry in the article and said we only are concerned with the qualifications of candidates for such a position. Hurrah!

Significantly, one person not on the list is someone that Colonel Half-truth and other merry-makers saw as the "ideal" candidate. At least sanity prevailed in the assembly of the short list of candidates. It appears that visitations by the candidates will be during the first week in April, with a decision soon to follow afterward.

Let's hope the "drive-thru" style city manager is no more with Mr. Baldwin's departure. We have a chance to select a person that will be a resident, full-time City Manager invested and engaged in our community when all is said and done. Some familiarity with planning and zoning issues would be a "plus."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I wonder if this was on a Tuesday or Wednesday?

Ocean Rescue Statistics - Lake Worth Beach - 2007 and 2008

These are statistics from the city regarding ocean rescues at our beach property. Click on the image for greater detail. The table above is for the year 2007 and the one below is for the year 2008, less data from December. Note that the 2008 data would likely not include Tuesdays and Wednesdays in October and November since that is after the start of the current fiscal year. This is when the policy went into effect saying that the city would not have lifeguard coverage at the beach on those two days.

The column at the extreme right is a little hard to read, but it indicates the number of times the beach has been closed due to threat of lightning. The other columns from left to right are: Rescues, Minor Medicals, 911 calls, public assists, preventative rescues, lost/missing persons and sharks.

Below is the section of the City's Code of Ordinances relating to lifeguards at our beach:

Sec. 7-3. Compliance with regulations posted at beach; obedience to lifeguards.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to swim in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean which lie east of the city, specifically the municipal ocean beach owned by the city, except and unless such person complies with the notices posted on such beach by the city.
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to disobey any reasonable command of a duly employed lifeguard of the city that is designed to protect the public and/or public property in the use of the municipal ocean beach.
(Code 1956, § 7-1; Ord. No. 86-12, § 1, 3-17-86)

Sec. 7-4. Swimming at beach when no lifeguard on duty.
It shall be unlawful for any person to swim in the waters of the municipal beach when an official lifeguard of the city is not on duty at the beach.
(Code 1956, § 7-3)

Here is a letter from the United States Livesaving Association dated January 28, 2009. In the letter they plead for the city to provide lifeguard coverage seven (7) days a week:

Clearly we need seven (7) day a week coverage at our beach. What was the Commission/Mayor/staff thinking by implementing such a dangerous precedent? Judging by the statistics provided by the city, there is much more being done by the lifeguards than swimming rescue. The beach can be a dangerous place - particularly for those not familiar with the area - tourists! And, we all know that an emergency situation doesn't depend on the day of the week.

It's interesting to note that estimated attendance is up in 2008 from 2007 - even though December is not included in the statistics. That means that in 2008 over half-a-million people visited our beach. That's equal to the attendance of five (5) Super-Bowls!

Please remember this irresponsible action when you go to the polls. Remember, this is the same crew that brought you the trash calendar. At least that was just a nuisance and not a life-or-death matter.

Perhaps John G's could step up with a contribution to fund those two days a week to partially make up for the public subsidy they have received for 35 years.

City: 'Unsafe situation' at Lake Worth beach

Click title for reference to a story that Channel 5 aired yesterday. It's about how the city doesn't have lifeguards at the beach on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Joe Kroll, acting as city spokesperson, calls it an unsafe situation and that for the next six weeks, they will staff the beach with guards for all seven days. After that, who knows?

I have some information which I will post later today that itemizes the number of instances where assistance of some sort was rendered to beach-goers. This information is generated by the city and, I assume, was available to Commissioners and staff prior to making the decision to not provide lifeguards at the beach two days a week. You will be amazed that our Commission would violate its own ordinances and not have a lifeguard presence given the volume of incidents.

Let's just say for now that sharks are not familiar with the concept of Tuesday and Wednesday.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

E-mail Alert from Equality Florida: Gov. Crist Appoints Judge James Perry to Florida Supreme Court

With Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells retiring this month, Governor Charlie Crist today lived up to his promise to appoint a more diverse court. He resisted intense pressure from ultra conservatives and appointed Seminole County Judge James Perry to replace Justice Wells.

Click here to thank Gov. Crist.

Last month, we wrote and asked you to contact Gov Crist and express your support for a more diverse court. The response was enormous. Nearly 2,000 Equality Florida members sent messages to Gov. Crist and he responded today. Judge Perry will become the second African-American Justice on the court.

Gov. Crist has already appointed several extremely conservative judges and the ultra right-wing American Family Association (AFA) saw Justice Wells' retirement as an opportunity to lock down the Florida Supreme Court with conservatives.

Send a note to Thank Gov. Crist for resisting intense pressure from the AFA and keeping his promise of a more diverse Florida Supreme Court.

Closely monitoring this process and letting our voices be heard on the appointment of Supreme Court Justices is critical to securing full equality for LGBT Floridians. The Supreme Court will play a pivotal role in deciding many of the issues that affect our lives, such as overturning the anti-gay adoption ban, currently heading to the court.

Take Action - Click here to Thank the Governor. Tell him that you support his appointment of Jame Perry, a well qualified judge, who truly reflects the great diversity of our state.

E-mail to City and CRA staff regarding distribution of leaflets in the downtown

I brought this up at the CRA meeting last night and put together an e-mail to Joan Oliva and Rachel Bach this morning. You can click the title for the section of the code where language regulating this is contained (in the left frame, click on "Chapter 3 - Advertising" - this is where all the Charter and Code language can be found on the Internet. I encourage you to bookmark it or add it to your favorites.)

Here is the e-mail:
Joan and Rachel:

I brought this issue up at last night's CRA meeting. More and more people are distributing handbills and the like on cars in the downtown area. Since the CRA is contracting with someone to clean the area, I am afraid these are adding to the work they already have to do. There is a whole section in the City Code - Chapter 3 Advertising that says that this sort of advertising is not permitted. In fact, I thought that there was even a "per piece" fine for this sort of thing - although I didn't see it referenced in the ordinance.

I know this comes at a time when businesses are struggling and this is inexpensive advertising. But, it is illegal and contributes to the waste stream. Currently, this is not being enforced. I suggest that we either enforce what is on the books or repeal this entire section of the code.

Your thoughts are appreciated. I have included the code language below for your reference.

Wes Blackman

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The "Real" take on Hometown Democracy...

Daisy Lynum is an Orlando city commissioner and president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials.


'Hometown Democracy' would disenfranchise voters

By Daisy Lynum
March 6, 2009
Only 46,000 petitions short of reaching the 2010 ballot, Hometown Democracy is again in the spotlight.
There is little doubt that the folks behind this proposed constitutional amendment chose a clever (albeit terribly misleading) name for their idea. However, as voters, we have an obligation to analyze the facts.
Every community in Florida has a "comprehensive-land-use plan." The folks behind Hometown Democracy would force voters to decide the hundreds of changes these plans undergo yearly.
At first, Hometown Democracy sounds tempting. However, in reality this amendment will dampen voter participation in government and cause underprivileged citizens to suffer most.
The argument that Hometown Democracy will empower voters is a sham. If passed, Hometown Democracy will disrupt our daily lives. Even small communities will be required to fund elections for each proposed comprehensive-plan change -- not just major projects, but even minor details.
As a result, voters -- not elected representatives -- will be expected to decide 200 or 300 comprehensive-plan changes yearly. Complex planning material will be condensed into 75-word ballot summaries. As citizens are deluged with technical background materials, our state's hospitals, schools, churches, work-force-housing areas and other key redevelopment projects may be lost in the mix. To the dismay of our neediest citizens, many will not be built in a timely and efficient manner. Planning for these vital community improvements will become virtually impossible.
Furthermore, the size of a Hometown Democracy ballot will disenfranchise voters. Between managing two jobs, paying the mortgage and raising kids, many working Floridians will lack time to read hundreds of pages of planning data. Most will be discouraged by seemingly endless ballot questions. Thousands will drop out of the democratic process entirely.
Who could blame them? At the end of the day, Hometown Democracy won't actually give decision-making power to citizens -- it will take it away.
In the long run, Hometown Democracy will trample on issues of community justice. This amendment will not only disenfranchise many voters, it will also remove power from those most affected by land-use changes. Residents of wealthier neighborhoods will pay for expensive campaigns to force unwanted development -- jails, landfills, sewage sites, etc. -- onto less-privileged communities. Poorer communities will suffer in a system that rewards those with money.
In the end, Hometown Democracy bypasses the representation these communities have through city and county commissions by outsourcing major planning decisions to the ballot box. This amendment will make it easy for the majority to trample on rights and freedoms of the minority. Having lost recourse and representation in government, less-fortunate citizens will simply have to live with the results.
Floridians deserve better growth management, and that must happen. Voters want to be more involved in the local-planning process, and that must happen, too. But we must always guard against a "wolf in sheep's clothing" like Florida Hometown Democracy.
If you want better growth management, a stronger economy and a real voice in public planning, then steer clear of this amendment. Hometown Democracy will make the system far worse, not better.

Tonight's (3/10) CRA Meeting Agenda

You can click on the title for a direct link to the agenda, along with the back-up information. I choose not to comment on items before a CRA meeting as it could be construed as a way to talk to other Commissioners regarding items on the agenda - outside of a regular meeting and thus be a possible violation of the Sunshine Law. I posted an Attorney General's opinion to that effect earlier which related to Sunshine Law implications for blogs and discussion boards. What I try to do is post about what happens after the meeting takes place to avoid the issue.

You can e-mail me if you have questions, comments or concerns on any item. Thanks!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I really miss March elections for Lake Worth...

That was such a fluke that the ballot measure passed two years ago. This coming Tuesday would have been the election day for Lake Worth. Eight more months of our present Commission. We will have a slightly lower turn-out this November as it is not a presidential election year. It will be interesting to see what the total number of votes will be for municipal candidates. I also wonder if we will have any ballot issues? We have a while to think about it. Meanwhile, good luck to all candidates of our sister municipalities running in this election and may the best person win!

Fiji: Future Home of Wayward Lake Worth Developers

Prediction: Fresh from collecting their settlement monies, courtesy of the current "progressive" majority on the City Commission, former Lake Worth property owners/developers form a colony on the South Pacific island chain. There they enjoy their retirement, some at a very early age, and learn the ways of the islands.

Reflections on last Tuesday's (3/3) City Commission meeting...

Last week was really busy for me as you can probably tell since there hasn't been a lot of original content on here for a while. In between the other things that make up my life, I was able to listen to the 4 hour+ City Commission meeting. I finished the second half of it yesterday. Today, I'll catch the audio of the hastily called Wednesday meeting regarding the design criteria agent/Michael Singer proposal, etc. If you haven't had a chance to listen to the regular meeting on Tuesday, click the title for a direct link.

The important things that jumped out for me were some items brought to light under general public comment, the City Attorney contract, change in order of City Commission agendas, Commissioner Jennings bringing back the Gulfstream appeal and Mayor Clemens' comments at the end of the meeting.

There were some people that spoke during public comment on unagendaed items that related to the Sunset property. Apparently, our long factional nightmare is not over. There is a movement afoot to down-zone the property to SF-7. In doing so, I guess people have a hard time understanding the ramifications of the Bert J. Harris Act on takings. They might want to bone up on the law and learn how such an action could result in a textbook case allowing the owners of the property to retire comfortably in Fiji on the taxpayers' dime. One of the more vocal cheerleaders for such an action indicated that the four acre property, if zoned SF-7, would allow for 28 new units plus the historic house already on the property making for a total of 29 single family dwellings. This man thought that represented some sort of compromise and that the developer would be satisfied with his return on their investment.

This is where Colonel Half-Truth went completely wrong. Each acre has 43,560 square feet. The minimum lot size in the SF-7 zoning district is 7,500 square feet. Each lot can contain only one dwelling unit - the reason why it is called "single family" zoning. The minimum frontage for the lot is 75 ft and each lot has to be accessed by a dedicated public road right-of-way. Given the geometry of the parcel, the space needed for road right-of-way and space for a turn-around, and especially if you have to preserve the historic (of which 2/3 of which was built in 1980) house on the property in its current location, you would actually end up with somewhere between 12 to 16 lots. I understand there has been a graphic prepared a long time ago which shows such a layout that would meet code requirements. As soon as I get it, I'll post it here. In the meantime, it's important to note that the number of units possible under SF-7 zoning is not as simple as multiplying 7 units times the number of acres. I am sure that experts will be pointing this out in a court of law should this gentleman's desires come to pass.

As I have commented many times before, the annexation, land use plan change and rezoning was a complicated issue and resulted in a split recommendation from the Planning and Zoning Board and a 3-2 approval at the City Commission level. I won't go into all the details now, but you can search this blog for the word "Sunset" (upper left hand corner) and you will retrieve relevant posts on the subject.

There was also an item on the agenda concerning the order of public comment and the ability to reconsider previous items. I am glad to report that public comment will now be heard after every item on the Public Hearing, New Business and Unfinished Business sections of the agenda. I still think we need the ability to comment on consent items - if a comment slip is submitted on a consent item, it should automatically be pulled. But, that wasn't discussed as a possibility. They also changed that a Commissioner doesn't have to be on the prevailing side to bring back an item for reconsideration. Commissioner Jennings brought up that people could just vote for an item so that they could bring it back in the future at the next meeting. (Funny, because she may have just done that related to the Gulfstream matter) These changes should go into effect at their next regular meeting. A change previously made will also begin at the next regular meeting - that being Commissioner Comments coming after Presentations.

Regarding the City Attorney contract, I have many mixed feelings. I had a lot of interaction with Larry Karns as City Attorney during my term on the Planning and Zoning, Historic Resource Preservation, Nuisance Abatement and Sign Appeals Board - yes, it is all those things. As chair of the Board, I never really felt that Mr. Karns was engaged in what was transpiring in the meetings. As we know, land use and zoning issues are legally sensitive actions and I thought, at times, that it might have been better off not to have him attend as his presence gave the impression that we actually had legal representation during the meeting. After leaving the Board in December 2006, I have come to think of Mr. Karns as sort of a "Columbo" character. You would never expect him to come up with the "goods" on behalf of the city, yet he prevailed in most, if not all, of the major actions leveled against the city. I also thought that he could have done a lot more in publicly communicating the status of cases before the Commission and the public. I do agree, as was mentioned in the meeting by Commissioner Lowe and Mayor Clemens, that, on the whole, he acted at the direction of the various City Commission's which he served. Remember, the City Attorney reports to the City Commission - not the City Manager.

Of those that commented and of those Commissioners that voted to curtail the contract with Mr. Karn, the sentiment that kept being expressed was that the new City Attorney should represent the new composition of the Commission, be more progressive and act to promote "social justice" - this by looking out for the citizens. They also thought our new attorney should be more "environmental" in focus than the current.

The new City Attorney will be an important choice for our community. In fact, I am not so sure that it shouldn't be a law firm instead of one individual. And, we need to realize, that while environmental and social justice activism may be a good thing - is it something upon which we are willing to spend our limited resources? Does it make sense that Lake Worth lead the charge and start taking cases to the highest courts in the state and the nation? Or, do we want a City attorney with a more defensive rather than one with an activist bent? These are all things that need to be discussed prior to signing a new contract with whoever is chosen.

Again, I wish Mr. Karns well, but the bottom line is that while successful defending the city against legal actions, he could have been much more proactive in the way of advising various boards and the City Commission. One of the events that I attended this week was with a group of local professional planners. Many of them know of my involvement in Lake Worth and they without fail pointed out the firing the City Attorney was another example of turmoil in Lake Worth. Perception is reality for some people. Let's hope there is, in the end, a productive purpose and we take advantage of the opportunity for a new perspective.

By the way, Commissioners Jennings and Mulvehill, respectively, made and seconded a motion to terminate the contract in 30 days. They eventually agreed to change the motion to terminate in 90 days. The vote was 3-2 with Mayor Clemens and Commissioner Lowe dissenting.

Commissioner Jennings brought back the Gulfstream appeal under new business. She said she was hoping that she wouldn't have to do this, but found out that someone in Public Works (John Lamb) didn't see the plan after the changes were made base on his initial comments and concerns. Rachel Bach explained that the city contracts for engineering services to review the matters she identifed and the applicant satisfied the city's consultant that they concerns had been addressed. It apparently didn't make it back around for a final o.k. to public works. Rachel Bach also brought up that by the time this application went through, everyone in the city staff was to have been trained and have access to the HTE system. As of now, neither has happened and until it does, things like this may happen. Commissioner Jennings - concerned about process since it wasn't something she was in favor of to begin with - wanted to be sure that in the future, the process would be addressed. And she still thinks there is some issue with the easement in the alley - how many times do we have to go into this anyway???

Finally, among his closing remarks, Mayor Clemens talked about all of the internal improvements that have happened over the past two years and thanked City Manager Baldwin for contributing to that. What changes are these that he is talking about? Why can't we residents see and experience them when we deal with the city? Do you think that he believes his own story?

Economic developers: Housing slump has made PBC affordable again


Jorge Pesquera, president of the Palm Beach County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he's organizing the county's numerous artsy events and festivals into a comprehensive directory on the CVB Web Site so the events can be marketed and touted. He cited, for example, Lake Worth's recent street festival. "I want to elevate the image of those events," Pesquera said.

Greater cooperation with city chambers also will help boost community events and the unique characteristics of nine distinct areas of the county, such as the equestrian events in western Palm Beach County. And, despite the economic crisis affecting all municipalities, Pesquera still would like to see a line-item in cities' budgets that includes tourism marketing.

Click title for link to interesting PB Post article - remember the "Affordable Housing Task Force?" I remember having to explain the law of supply and demand to many people here during the last boom. This article sums up that explanation.