Saturday, April 17, 2010

I am getting many inquiries as to what happened in Tallahassee regarding Commissioner Jennings. Anyone know? Please contact me via e-mail.

This is what I am hearing.  From what I understand, what happened earlier this week in Tallahassee will be made available to the public on Wednesday.  This includes all documents related to the ethics matter and there may even be a transcript of the proceedings available.  No one will confirm or deny without anonymity, but rumors are swirling around - coming from a source deep within the Cara Jennings camp - that the Florida Commission on Ethics found "probable cause" for the complaint.  Again, nothing is official and all this is conjecture prior to the release of the official documents on Wednesday of next week.

Stay tuned for more information.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lake Worth commissioner Jennings to face state ethics panel over financial disclosure lapses

Click title for link to PB Post article. The first sentence from the article:

City Commissioner Cara Jennings will drive to Tallahassee today to appear before the Florida Commission on Ethics, where she faces an investigation over her failure to list home loans as liabilities on financial disclosure forms for three years.

New Lake Worth neighborhood group targets crime, hears from commissioners

Click title for nice, positive PB Post article on new neighborhood association in LW.

Palm Beach public works employee, contractor charged in corruption case

Click title for link to Palm Beach Daily News article. These are serious charges. Three Public Works administrators placed on paid administrative leave.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

EMBED-Auto Tune the News #9: UNITED NATIONS AIR GUITAR - Watch more free videos

Jackson Memorial Hospital Revises Policies to Respect LGBT Families

In a move that sets a new standard for Florida hospitals, Jackson Memorial Hospital has adopted a comprehensive set policies and procedures that respect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) families. Equality Florida applauds Jackson's new policies and we're working hard to ensure that hospitals across the state meet or exceed this new standard.
Last year Equality Florida helped form the Committee for Fair Visitation, a coalition of more than a dozen local, state and national organizations working to ensure our families are respected and protected at the most vulnerable times in our lives. Our committee formed in the wake of charges that Jackson had refused, for eight hours, to provide Janice Langbehn access to her partner of 18 years, Mary Pond. Mary slipped into a coma and died. Last September, the court rejected a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal on Janice's behalf ruling that no law required the hospital to allow her and their three children to see Mary.

The Committee for Fair Visitation continued a dialogue with the hospital for over a year. It was clear from the start that senior officials, including Jackson's CEO, Dr. Eneida Roldan, were sincere in their commitment to a thorough review of Jackson's policies and to ensuring that those policies treated LGBT families with respect and support. Staff and administrative leaders have worked closely with the LGBT community to upgrade hospital policies and training procedures with the goal of making Jackson a model for how hospitals should treat gay and transgender families and patients.

The important improvements at Jackson include:a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression;>a patient's bill of rights that demonstrates the hospital's commitment to providing quality care for LGBT patients;>and a visitation policy that updates the definition of family to include same-sex partners and other people who may not be legally related to a patient.Equality Florida sends our heartfelt thanks to Janice Langbehn and her children for their tremendous courage in sharing their story. Their willingness to speak up sparked the conversations that have changed the policies at Jackson Memorial. When I spoke to Janice earlier she said she was glad some good had come from tragedy.
"It gives me and my family some comfort to know that by sharing our story we have helped to change Jackson's polices for the better," Janice said today.

These are crucial changes. What Janice Langbehn experienced represents the greatest fears of gay couples. No one should ever enter a hospital worrying that they will be barred from their loved one's bedside because the person behind the desk refuses to recognize your family, and with these new policies, Jackson has set a very high standard for valuing all families including LGBT families. We hope other hospitals across Florida and our state legislature will move quickly to join Jackson in creating these vital protections.

Equality Florida would like to extend our deep appreciation to all who participate in the Committee for Fair Visitation and especially Lambda Legal and the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) for their strong leadership through this highly productive process.


Stratton Pollitzer
Deputy Director, Equality Florida

A peek into the world of famous architect Philip Johnson...

This is what happened at the 8:30 a.m. City Commission/Selection Committee meeting...

Right out of the gate, Commissioner Maxwell, while still expressing his support for the project and the need to make the decision today, put forward a motion to not authorize whoever they chose today to incur any project related expenses before the City identifies how it is going to pay for the project going forward.  He cited the current budget shortfall in the current fiscal year, unresolved audit issues, many contingent liabilities and the current encumbrances in the beach reserve fund.  He put that in the form of a motion, which died for lack of a second.  Commissioner Jennings responded that she couldn't support the motion since she thinks that work with the building may be tied to the timeline for the County's $5 million.  City Manager Stanton responded that nothing they would be doing today would authorize money being spent - that the direction would be to come up with a contract in two or three weeks that they would then have to approve.  She thought by that time they would have a better idea on where the city's finances were and how we will be funding the project.

Then discussion centered around the actual ranking of the firms.  Commissioner Jennings started off and listed her favorites as REG, BRPH and Beilinson.  She then reminded everyone that this takes the place of what would have been a "shopping mall" at the beach - thank you Ms. Cara Jennings for being an elected official that prefers to perpetuate a myth that continues to polarize the city.  She later went on to compare these proposals presented by architectural firms as being much better than the proposals presented by Heddrick Brothers and Greater Bay.  Commissioner Jennings apparently has trouble distinguishing between apples and oranges.  The past proposals were about a public/private partnership that never had an architectural component to them - that would have come later had the city not broken the contract with the private partner in the deal.  Her justification for her favorites were that REG presented the strongest mix of green and historical elements and was the most local.  Beilinson was strongest on the historical aspect of the project, but not so on the green building portion.  BRPH was a big firm and she thought they could do the work cheaper than others due to their size.

Commissioner Golden said that we should respect the past, but look toward the future.  She said that she never experienced the 1922 building and it was there only 25 years so that should not guide the future direction.  She has a problem with "retail behind arches."  (?) "Net zero" is what she is looking at - meaning neutral environmental impact.  She mentioned the names of Beilinson and Living Design Group and wanted to make sure the building represents who it serves and the people that use it.

Commissioner Mulvehill recalled the 'saving of the building" from demolition last year and claimed that there is now consensus in the community to save the building and not build new.  She saw this project as one with a historic experience and a beach experience.  Beilinson went beyond the what was readily  apparent as historic reference of the 1922 building and she appreciated that.  BRPH brought some good things in energy-wise and that they were involved with the tenants in working to save the building.  She thought Living Design Group had a forward thinking design.  The choice is about expertise and creating a destination.  Slattery did a lot of work in Key West on the oceanfront.  She said we are working with an existing building and it won't be all new.

Commissioner Maxwell wanted to "piggy-back" on Commissioner Golden's comments.  He said that it is important to remember the past, but we can also look to the future to make sure it is sustainable.  There is an opportunity to bridge the old with the new.

Mayor Varela pointed out that he started out his college career wanting to be an architect.  He said that architecture helps set the values of a community - not only about age, but in significance.  He thought it was great to be part of a process where they are setting the course for the next 100 years of our community.  His three firms were Living Designs Group - the most green, REG - the most flexible and had the most comments from the public in support and Beilinson/Gomez -  did a good job incorporating the past, present and future.

They filled out their ballots and staff went to tabulate.

Commissioner Mulvehill broke the silence by saying that she would be in favor of putting together some sort of fund raising effort, thinking that it would do a lot to bring the community together about the project.  She called the beach businesses "brave" to stay in a building that was threatened by closure last year.

The result came back and it was:
  1. REG - 13 points
  2. Living Designs Group and Beilinson - 14 points
  3. BRPH - 20 points
  4. Slattery/Song - 22 points
Commissioner Mullvehill attempted to interpret the results as BRPH being third, but was corrected.

They then had another ballot to determine the order of numbers 2 and 3.  Living Designs Group came in second with 7 and Beilinson came in third with 8.

The meeting then adjourned.

I am happy with the choice.  As loyal readers know, REG worked on many projects at the Mar-a-Lago Club and did the design for the golf course clubhouse at Trump International.  As Director of Projects for Mr. Trump at the time, Rick and I worked together navigating the complex regulatory environment.  One of my fondest professional memories is the meeting that Rick and I had with Philip Johnson in his "Glass House" in New Canaan, Connecticut.  

Congratulations to Rick, his firm and the entire team - they will do a good job for the city.

REG Picked Top Architectural Team for Casino Building Rehabilitation

More coming on what happened at City Commission/Selection Committee meeting soon.

Click here for a selection of letters of recommendation in support of REG.

Click here for Press Release from the Downtown Jewel Neighborhood Association re Post Office Landscaping Project.

Monday, April 12, 2010

And another thing...

The irony is not lost on me that suddenly the amount of retail space on the beach property and how much the city wants might be at odds with the land use and zoning designation.  I know the Beach and Casino future land use designation was repealed as part of the last Comprehensive Plan submission, but I am not sure if the zoning changed back.  If not, the land use is inconsistent with the zoning and the zoning district has to be changed too.  If the building size increases, then we may be increasing the size of a non-conforming building - which you can't do - supposedly.   Then we are back to a point in time before the other land use and zoning change that everyone thought would "over-commercialize" the beach.

Is it possible to be any more consistently inconsistent?

Music by which to contemplate the saga of the Lake Worth beach...

Volume 8, Chapter XVII Lake Worth Beach - Casino Architect Selection - continued

Back to the primary issue of the day: the selection of the architectural team that will prepare the design and construction documents to rehab the building.

To really appreciate the nitty-gritty related to the firms, their qualifications and approaches, you have to suspend consideration of the following factors:
  • The city is being sued for breach of contract related to a previous public/private partnership to redevelop the beach.  The court has not dismissed the suit, even when asked to do so by the city.  The lawsuit could result in damages being paid by the city in the range of $40 million.  The city's annual general fund budget is about $33 million.
  • No permanent funding source for the rehabilitation of the casino building has been identified.  According to the city manager, funding of architectural services will come from the beach reserve fund. That fund may have about $1.2 million in it, but some of it is already encumbered through commitments to Kimley-Horn, the civil engineer for the beach property redevelopment.
  • Current tenant leases are way below market; how much so is yet to be determined.  A market analysis is underway, but I am suspicious about the objectivity of the report expected out in about three weeks.  Don't ask me why I am suspicious specifically.  All I can tell you is that I have been around long enough to know what to expect.  The degree to which tenants' lease rates will be raised by this commission is in question.  Will they ultimately be high enough to support payment of a revenue bond, or at least a substantial portion?
  • There is still the perception that this is the tenants' building and not a building owned by the taxpaying citizens of Lake Worth - this paradigm shift has to take place before the previous issue is resolved.
  • All of the respondents talked about the requirement that the building be brought up to current code, or the soon to be revised building code, standards.  One of those is related to accessibility and ADA requirements.  No one has done an analysis of how much space will lost by expanding or creating new ADA accessible bathrooms in particular.  The minimum "clear area" radius requirements eat up a lot of space that may be currently being used for restaurant seating or retail floor space.  Some of the improvements may render some tenant spaces difficult to fully utilize.  This should be a consideration during the market study.
  • Other sources of funding for a bond issue include the possibility of pay parking lots in our existing downtown.  Think of the policy implications of this.  The city would be using revenue from downtown parking lots, which their very existence may deter people from visiting downtown businesses.  Those businesses lease space from private sector property owners at market rates.  Money from these pay parking lots would then go to support a bond to improve a public building with private tenants that may or may not have a market rate structure.  Anyone else see the problem with this?
  • This process will be used as window dressing for the incumbents running for re-election this November.  As to how much tangible progress this represents is left for debate.
  • The city has a thirty-five year record of inaction as it relates to beach redevelopment.  That record does not inspire confidence.
  • We should understand that the estimates of construction/project costs by any of the teams are VERY preliminary and will have little relation to the final figure.
  • Regardless of who does the project or when it's done, it remains a very challenging one.  Municipalities that have their collective "poop in a group" would find it difficult.  How our city, which can't claim any prize of bureaucratic efficiency, will actually be able to pull this one off is a question worthy of asking.
All that being said, we can acknowledge that this 19 acre property is the city's flagship public property.  Given its status, it deserves an ICONIC statement about what the city of Lake Worth represents as its highest ideals.  It was clear during the presentations on this past Saturday that there are three paths the city can choose in creating a building worthy of icon status.  One would emphasize green building techniques, one would stress historic preservation and the other could combine elements of both.

Of the six, there are three architectural teams that I believe are capable of delivering the sort of iconic statement that needs to be made at this property, in no order of importance:  Beilinson/Gomez, Living Designs Group and REG.

Beilinson/Gomez comes with a lot of historic preservation experience and presented a very literal approach that melds the 1949 design we see today with a recreation of the original 1922 design.  Linking the two is a modern element from the current day which symbolically says we did this on purpose.  It clearly demonstrates the progression of design and building philosophies over the span of the 20th Century.  They were also the only ones to secure documentation from the State Historic Preservation Office regarding which period would be deserving of a potential designation as a national historic landmark - the current 1949 design. (I am expecting a copy of that letter and will post it when it comes through.)

It was funny.  On Saturday, after the presentations, I was talking to someone who came later in the day and she asked me which one or ones that I was leaning towards.  When I identified this approach, she said that she didn't like it, that it "makes the city look schizophrenic."  And I responded, "You don't think this city is schizophrenic?"  Both of us had a nice laugh acknowledging that pretty much represents Lake Worth.  'Nuf said.

The other iconic path the city would pursue would be a cutting-edge example in environmentally sustainable development.  That would be best achieved by Living Designs Group.  This is a complete break from the past and would say that the city of Lake Worth is all about the future.  That future is making sure that the built environment will better co-exist with the larger biosphere that supports life on earth.  It could serve as a redevelopment model for Lake Worth and lead the way for other communities as well.  A significant amount of grant dollars could be brought forth to help fund the project and, in the process, bring other national and international stakeholders into support of the building's ultimate success.

My bet for the best hybrid version - a mix of the two - would be REG.  Rick Gonzalez would also have the potential to orchestrate and bring private money into the project.  This is something that really has not been considered to date and its importance shouldn't be discounted.

But, a caveat, since we are doing this a little backwards, with the public input coming after the selection of the architect, what ultimately will be built may be completely different than what is represented in renderings.  That's why Mayor Varela pointed out that the skill that will be most important in who the city selects will be the ability to be flexible.  So whoever our elected officials can guess would bring this trait to the project will probably get the contract.  That is something that you usually learn about after you get started, so good luck to y'all in making that determination.

Reminder:  The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning, April 13, at 8:30 a.m.  Internet audio should be available for the meeting.

Community Supported Agriculture

Yesterday, I packed up the car and went out to Loxahtachee to visit Swank Farms.  It was part of a Palm Beach County Planning Congress event.  This is group of Palm Beach County planners and related professionals that has been in existence since 1975.  It first started out as more of a policy making/advisory board to the Palm Beach County Commission on land use and zoning issues.  By the late 1980s it had morphed into more what it is today.  Now it is part social and part educational group for local professional planners and others.  Many of our events, such as the one yesterday, allow members to earn continuing education credits to maintain American Institute of Certified Planners status.

We were treated to a couple of different presentations related to local and sustainable agriculture.  One of the more important ones that might have direct Lake Worth implications is the creating of community gardens.  Amy Stelly talked about a small lot in the Pleasant City area that was changed into public open space with edible plants - thus the term landing on for zoning purposes. The garden was funded by the Quantum Foundation, through the West Palm Beach CRA - conduit for the grant.  She talked about the fact that much of our urban areas are essentially "food deserts" - where people rely on what is fast, cheap and convenient - but also contributes to obesity and the host of other public health issues.  This represents a small, but important and symbolic step in correcting the problem.

Given that I have heard Commissioner Mulvehill talk about this concept before, I invited her to be part of the event.  She attended and I think she got a lot out of it.  You can see her in one of the pictures when we were in the greenhouse.

The meal consisted of about 90 percent of produce and other products that are part of the Community Supported Agriculture program here in Palm Beach County.  Dak of Pizzeria Oceano served as chef for the event.  His restaurant is on East Ocean Avenue in Lantana, just behind the Walgreens.  Check it out sometime and mention that you heard about it here and through the Planning Congress.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Architect Presentations 4/10 - Casino Building

Yesterday, my day was spent in the City Commission Chambers listening to the final presentations from the potential architectural teams for the Casino building re-do at the beach.  There were six teams; three presented in the morning and three presented in the afternoon.  All were given an hour total - about twenty minutes to present and the bulk of the time to answer questions from the Commission.

I don't have a lot of time today since I am taking part in a Community Supported Agriculture demonstration in Loxahatchee this afternoon - hoping the rain holds off.  I will highlight some important information and revelations from yesterday here.  I have my rough notes from the meeting and you can read them by clicking here.  They are typewritten, but still in a bit of shorthand.  I plan to elaborate more tomorrow.

First of all, this is a textbook example of the cart being put before the horse.  You have already read my analysis of the city's questions posed for the respondents.  It was clear the presentations yesterday that nearly all threw back the questions to the city regarding the use of the second floor, what will happen with the first floor and if additional retail space is available.  All of these are part of a scope of work that the city must decide based upon analysis of the amount and use of space, projected revenue based on same, etc.

This is where I want to make a plug for a professional planning staff that is equal to the demands of a city of our size.  While chairman of the PZHRPB, I pleaded with members of the Commission and the city administration for a director, a secretary, two planners for current work on applications and the like and then two comprehensive planning people to staff our planning department.  One of those positions could be designated the city's urban designer, depending upon education and experience.  Given the lack of development activity now, you could pare back the positions for current work.

But, you ask, what do comprehensive planners do Wes?  Comprehensive planners work on longer term projects: text amendments to the comprehensive plan, amendments to the zoning code based upon trends and problems being experienced through the zoning review process, attending neighborhood meetings and holding charrettes as needed for special projects.  Think what would have happened with the south Bryant Park re-do if we had held a charrette before work began, everyone would have a buy-in on the work to be done, the project could be bid accordingly and we wouldn't have the Chinese fire drill we had with the current project.

As I was sitting there yesterday, I asked myself how different this discussion and process would be if we had developed a scope of work based upon city-sponsored charrettes on the topic and then go out for an RFQ or RFP for architectural services - so that what we decided that we want could be designed and ultimately built.

The way we worked it this time was to really have no idea other than say we are going to be using the original building.  As I have said before, it is my strong opinion that, with the limited amount of money the city has and the public nature of the project, this is the more complicated and expensive way to go.  It would be nice if we could at least have a cost analysis what the difference is between demolishing and building new - or keeping the existing building and rehabilitating.  Due to the involvement of public money, I think the taxpayers should know the cost/benefit of the final decision.  Demolishing and rebuilding new would ease the logistics of tenant relocation, code issues and better site plan integration.  But at this point, we have no hope of seeing this type of analysis.

Given this, we heard how the various teams would run charrettes and how they would achieve community consensus.  This after we already asked them how they would address the project in architectural terms - that's how we ended up with renderings and their vision for the building.  This is going beyond asking for qualifications of the firms and runs the risk of the city being called on using ideas from an unchosen architect in the final product.

Here are some of the juicier things learned yesterday and assorted opinions:

  • The city entered into a contract with a market analysis firm to determine market rents, draw of the property and casino building for a cost of under $15,000.  This will be available in about three weeks.  From there, the Commission will have to decide how much, if any, it will continue to subsidize the tenant leases.  This will plug into the final financial model for the project.
  • The Commission will be meeting at 8:30 a.m.Tuesday to determine the top respondent and direct staff to negotiate a contract.  What is the rush and why is this being done at an early Monday morning meeting?
  • One of the potential funding source, to support an eventual revenue bond, is making certain parking lots in the downtown pay lots.  Not only do I think this is a flawed policy as it is using revenue from another area of the city to support the beach, it may do harm to our already economically fragile condition found amongst our downtown merchants.  The only time that we should be doing that is if we actually built an over-size parking garage in the downtown to support retail and restaurant activity, restrict parking at the beach and direct all beach parking to the downtown.
  • There is not a lot of grant money available to support historic preservation projects.  One of the respondents produced a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office which said that national designation would only be likely if the city stays with the current 1949 design.  Anything else would be a gamble and would entail preparing an argument for a designation for a hybrid project or a purely 1922 themed project.
  • There is more grant money available for "Green" projects and deadlines are coming up right away.
Time is up for me now.  More later.  Hope this gives you something to chew on in the meantime.