Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy Fourth of July Everybody!

Dalai Lama

A compassionate attitude opens our inner door, and as a result it is much easier to communicate with others. If there is too much self-centered attitude, then fear, doubt and suspicion come and as a result our inner door closes. Then it is very difficult to communicate with others.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The taxpayers are burning

Click title for link to opinion piece from the PB Post.  Lake Worth is getting a pat on the back for holding firm on the tax rate, even at the expense of public safety.  However, the large female with the horns hasn't sung yet.  The City Commission set the millage rate at the limit of 10 mills, including the MSTU for county fire services - the thinking being, you can always lower it, but you can't raise the rate after the initial one is set.

I have yet to be convinced that the city is in a realistic bargaining position to win over the three unions to cut pension benefits, convince PBSO to accept an amount less than their original 2008 contract - three fiscal years later and/or get concessions from the county fire deal.  And I hope that it is not likely that the city will implement pay parking in the downtown - for reasons already laid out here.  The risk is not worth the reward.  I also don't see this Commission approving red light cameras.  Both measures are the only new revenue generating ideas in this proposed budget.

As soon as someone shows me that these groups agree to reductions, then maintaining the 4.999 millage rate is realistic.  Beyond that, what sort of time frame and money are we talking to mediate the issue with the unions?  No one has talked about that yet.  Until there is something concrete, it is not realistic to think we will not raise the millage.

What this preliminary budget document represents is the beginning of a negotiating position - nothing more.  That is the reason that it is such a bleak assessment - an accurate one - but the first time it is being admitted to by the administration or those on the dais.  This is noteworthy and an opportunity, if someone wants to take it.

This is what I am gathering what happened regarding CRA appointments...

Granted, I am somewhat at a disadvantage since I was not present, or listening and am spending time with my father this summer in southern Indiana.  I have communicated with those that would know and multiple sources, if there is something to know.  And this is what I know at this time, which is not much, which speaks to the sorry state of affairs with our City Commission.

Lisa Wilson, who applied for a position on the CRA and was hunted down relentlessly by phone and other means, to no avail, withdrew her application.  Why she was even considered as a potential applicant is questionable as her organization leases city property and her organization's operations have been the subject of CRA funding requests.  While not necessarily disqualifying her from sitting on the CRA board, the dogged pursuit of her raises questions about the City Commission's direction and intention.

 Apparently, one of the people appointed wasn't even there and wasn't interviewed and - get this - one that was appointed didn't even apply to be on the board.  Now that's a new concept!

The entire process went on for hours and hours, spanning two nights.  Commissioner Maxwell had sense enough to leave the meeting and was not present for the vote.  People who need to know who is on the board - which really is all of us - are not getting answers from the City Manager or City Attorney.

Needless to say, this is the board that is charged with the administration of $23 million of Neighborhood Stabilization Funds issued by the Federal government and with a timeline that those funds need to be spent.

If anyone can add some more detail, feel free to do so under the comment tab below.  In the meantime, join me in song.

Willa Cather

The sun was like a great visiting presence that stimulated and took its due from all animal energy. When it flung wide its cloak and stepped down over the edge of the fields at evening, it left behind it a spent and exhausted world.

For more on Willa Cather, click here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

No, this isn't campaigning, can't be...

FaceBook post and mailer from High Saint and Queasy- Deity District #2 Commissioner Cara Jennings notifying the world that she is hosting a Save Energy and Save $$$$ Workshop" - her and the City of Lake Worth "Conservation Guys"(branding?) - The dates and times are on the reverse.  If you call or e-mail her know too that they are getting your voter ID information for what is surely going to be non-stop marches on the hapless and helpless City of Lake Worth.  This is in the realm of a "best defense is a good offense" strategy and it is laid out by sophisticated people who know what they are doing and are professionals.  

She knows she is weak on the utility rate issue and people are upset, how better to counter the swell of discontent than to shower the people with this announcement in advance of campaign criticism and in advance of filing to be a candidate - without using her campaign war chest and do it under the city's banner. She knew she was weak on neighborhood issues, so we get a fluff piece by the Palm Beach Post talking about her tropical oasis in her neighborhood, ignoring the fact that there is city-owned property less than a block away covered with graffiti and open to the "traveling" public.

How can anyone be against conservation?  How can anyone be against "saving money?" Everyone likes "free" things and "$3,000 grants."

How are the three dates and corresponding events not campaign events?  Have we no shame?  Staff should be the contact for more information, not one of our elected officials WHOSE DISTRICT JUST HAPPENS TO BE UP FOR ELECTION THIS NOVEMBER!

Paid for by the city, I am sure, through the $.4 million dollar expected Conservation Program line item in this year's city budget, soon to be $1.4 million - a 255% increase coming from your pockets!

We need to understand the sophistication of this prolonged hostile takeover of Lake Worth, it's many tentacles and disciples.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'Pain' predicted as Lake Worth budget proposal calls for 4-day workweek, benefit cuts, plus parking meters and red-light cameras

Click title for link to PB Post article.  I failed to mention the "red light" cameras - that's not going to go over well with a lot of people.  They are finding now that intersections with them are contributing to rear end accidents as people are panic stopping, rather than just proceeding through the intersection.  I have concerns about the extent of cameras and visions of Big Brother, as I am sure others do too.

There was also an article about how Commissioner Jennings was kicked off a County board by the County Commission for not watching an ethics video.  She explained it away in a later edition of the article as a board that she hadn't served on in a year and kept sending the form back to them indicating same.  You can read about it by clicking here.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Parking Meters in Downtown Lake Worth? We'll be singing...

Oops, I forgot about the Noise Ordinance, maybe we won't hear anything.

Can we at least enforce the 4 hour limit that is currently on the books, without milking the public for more revenue and jeopardize the fragile economic climate already in the downtown?

Hands Across the Sand a Success - Our Design for the Beach, Not-so-much

It was great to hear that there was such a fantastic turn out - around 800 people - for the Hands Across the Sands event at the Lake Worth beach yesterday.  The gathering was part of a worldwide protest against offshore drilling for oil - made all the more poignant by the current gushing oil well in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.  While BP and others associated with this particular rig are to blame for the current disaster, what is it that made us dig for oil one mile beneath the ocean in the first place?  The answer: Our insatiable demand for oil and its by-products.

What other risks have we taken that endanger our survival on this planet to satisfy our lust for oil and fossil fuels?  How many times do we have to be reminded of our perilous addiction to this resource?  The Energy Crisis of the 1970s awakened many to the need to diversify our energy resources and many of the renewable sources - such as wind, solar and Geo-thermal - got a big push from that set of circumstances.  But then we got lulled into the comfort of cheap oil during the 80s and the 90s - with a few major hiccups in the form of the Exxon Valdez and other like accidents.  But, for the most part, we kept paving our way to further dependence on oil and gas,  and on the fossil fuel burning single passenger automobile to the detriment of other alternatives.

Notice that I used the term "paving our way."  Cheap land and government/developer money for roads, along with reliable machines in the form of mass produced automobiles, made it practical to live away from city centers.  One could work in a downtown location and go home to a "bedroom" community at night and weekends.   A two career couple, each with their own car, could pick a place in between each other's place of employment and meet in the middle during their non-work hours.  Overtime there were many other alternatives over older, already developed communities that had a newer housing stock, more space between houses, gated communities offering the illusion of more "security."  Suddenly, the Lake Worths of the world were left wanting - for people, for wealth, for investment to support its already in place infrastructure.  Instead of maintaining what was already built, huge subsidies were building new infrastructure easily reachable in a 20 to 30 minute drive to housing, employment and shopping.

Look at Detroit - the automobile, source of its fleeting riches, is what ended up killing the city.

The result of all that and its effect on Lake Worth is laid out in plain, hard facts in the proposed 2010-2011 Budget, just released by the City Manager.  I will have more to say about what is laid out in the budget document and, in particular the City Manager's transmittal letter.  In a nutshell, she states in a very matter-of-fact way, that even though we have experienced more than a 40% decline in the value of our property tax base over the past three years, we can maintain our 4.999 millage rate, not lay anyone off and not diminish our level of service.  All we need to do is thus: and this is a great understatement, 1) tell the Sheriff's Department that we are going to pay you less than originally agreed upon in our initial year of your contract to provide police protection to Lake Worth - forget about any increase as agreed upon in the contract, 2) do the same with Palm Beach County fire rescue and 3) break three contracts with the city's unions.

How did we get in this position?  The City Manager says it's because the city has been "submissive" in soliciting development.  I'm not sure where she came up with that term, but Lake Worth has been actively hostile to the prospect of any redevelopment opportunities, save for the efforts of the CRA, but more on that later.  It's like we did everything we could to hasten the fall of the city of Lake Worth - but again, more on that soon.

But getting back to the beach, the ocean and saving our environment, how do those who proclaim Lake Worth as a "progressive, environmentally aware and protective" city explain that our vaunted Micheal Singer beach plan looks like it came out of 1950?

Here is what the beach looks like today, a product of 1950s thinking:
The current plan for the beach as approved by our "progressive" City Commission:

Lots of asphalt there to park 613 fossil fuel burning, environment imperiling cars - including 10 convenient spaces for Casino building tenants' cars.  Really not that much different from the current, basic auto-dominated plan when Lake Worth's Dixie Hwy was lined with mom and pop motels housing tourists from the cold north - who came to Lake Worth on US 1 in their cars.

Meanwhile, one of the new revenue sources identified by the City Manager in the budget is metered parking in the downtown.  Here is where she talks about it in her transmittal letter.
The justification is that more South Florida cities that have "viable downtown areas" are using parking meters there as revenue sources.  I don't know about you, but the number of vacant store fronts that we currently have in the downtown area doesn't scream "viable", let alone thriving.  Aren't we still teetering upon a "possible economic recovery" -  I haven't seen one yet.

The point here is that we could do something visionary that would serve as an example of how an environmentally responsible community reacts to adversity and honors its most important piece of public property - on the ocean.  A place where people gather en masse to protest against drilling for oil in the ocean.  We could concentrate parking in the downtown for the beach, shuttle people to it in alternative renewable fuel vehicles and return them to spend money in our downtown.  We could initiate a parking validation program to encourage people to shop and get their parking paid for in the process.

In the meantime, we wait for a commercially viable alternative to gas fueled vehicles, or bike or walk, which are viable, but not for everyone in every circumstance.  But, no, we will keep electing "leaders" that say that they are visionary, have massive "fluff pieces" in local newspapers showing how they are more environmentally sensitive than any mere mortal, and keep doing the same thing that we have done since 1950.

Dalai Lama

It’s very important not to misunderstand what is meant by the idea of overcoming our self-cherishing attitudes. We are not saying that a spiritual practitioner should completely ignore or abandon the goal of self-fulfilment, rather we are advising him or her to overcome that small-minded selfishness that makes us oblivious to the wellbeing of others and to the impact our actions can have on them.