Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Haiti story you won't read

Click title for link to article that appeared in Salon about the heart-wrenching new Haitian "normal" of the post-earthquake Port-Au-Prince. The contrasts at the end of the piece will make you reel.

Wringing Art Out of the Rubble in Detroit

Wringing Art Out of the Rubble in Detroit
Published: August 3, 2010
Detroit’s particular brand of civic and economic decay has also drawn something unexpected: a small but well-publicized movement of artists.
Click title for link to article which appeared recently in the New York Times.  It describes the seedlings of creativity sprouting amongst the rubble that used to be a city called Detroit.  As you read, some of the images suggest what the anarchist faction in our city of Lake Worth see as the future for our community.  However, you won't hear Commissioners Jennings or Mulvehill talk about the urban wasteland that needs to be in place before such a scenario takes root.  That is indeed their vision for Lake Worth and both have been successful backing the city in the corner through a cavalcade of actions which have conspired to leave Lake Worth in last place among Palm Beach County municipalities as it relates to "children-at-risk" and the greatest decreases in property values two years running.  And now, these conditions serve as a basis for declaring a State of Urgency in attempt to break the unions - another form of organization that perpetuates the middle class consumer oriented society they wish to destroy.

Does Lake Worth have to become Detroit to achieve their collective vision?

Oh, and do not think that somehow Commissioner Jennings is not running for re-election.  Look for an elaborate "fluff" piece put out by the Ministry of Information (aka the Palm Beach Post) about her "reluctant announcement after hearing from so many of her people that she must run again, etc., etc. and so forth and so on." the last day of the qualifying period.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Big thanks goes out to Phyllis for the corrections and filling in the blanks regarding the Madison/Milton Bridge Project!

I've made revisions to the original post - FYI.


If we can relate to others on the basis of equanimity, our compassion will not depend on the fact that so and so is my husband, my wife, my relative, my friend. Rather, a feeling of closeness toward all others can be developed based on the simple recognition that, just like myself, all wish to be happy and to avoid suffering. In other words, we will start to relate to others on the basis of their sentient nature.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Click here for THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA ruling on the Constitutionality of Proposition 8

Finding that Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage, is unconstitutional.

Rebuilding of Madison, Indiana - Milton, Kentucky Bridge

I thought that this item may be of interest.  Much of my time this summer has been spent in Madison, Indiana.  Much more on Madison later, its historic downtown area and a project that I have been involved with that involves a historic building.

View Larger Map
But this item concerns the bridge that spans the Ohio River.  This is the view of the bridge from house where I have been staying, taken yesterday.
It's a rare span over the Ohio River.  The other nearby river crossings are 26 miles away (Markland Dam, between Gallatin County in Kentucky and Switzerland County in Indiana and another 45 miles away in Louisville, Kentucky.  It was built as a two lane fixed bridge.  The 10 foot lane width in each direction remains today.  Due to structural concerns, the weight limit on the bridge has been reduced to 15 tons.  Before the bridge was finished in 1929, a ferry provided service for traffic between Milton, KY (small population) and Madison, IN (around 13,000 people.)

The bridge is about to be rebuilt to modern lane standards (12 feet wide) with an eight foot breakdown lane on each side, plus a bicycle lane - no break down lane exists now.  The new span will be 40 feet wide.  There will also be a pedestrian bridge cantilevered onto the western side of the bridge.

The bridge currently carries approximately 11,000 vehicles a day - that is after the 15 ton load limit was imposed last year.  There will be a ferry that will handle what is predicted to be half that volume.  There is much concern about the closing of the bridge and the establishment of ferry service during the period when the bridge is out of service.

There is a website devoted to re-construction of the bridge - you can reach that by clicking here.  There is an animation video - along with a film of the 1929 dedication.  Check out the gallery section too.  There are also pictures of the original construction and other historic photographs.  As I mentioned, more on Madison's historic downtown later, but the location of the bridge - where it will be re-built - did not meet with favor from preservationists.  They preferred a location farther west from the historic downtown core.

Interestingly, stimulus money is only paying around $20 million of the $131 million project - about a sixth of the bridge reconstruction.  The bridge happens to be entirely within the State of Kentucky as the state line is actually along the northern or Indiana shore of the river, but money for the reconstruction is coming from both states.  There is also money being allocated to historic preservation mitigation.  Much of this is covered in the linked website.

Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons pleads guilty to extortion, perjury, gets no jail time

Click title for link to PB Post article.
FYI - I am traveling today and headed into the Internet "boonies" and it may be a while before I am able to post comments. Don't let that stop you :)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Thoughts on former County Commissioner Koons...

It is always a sad day when the news comes that an elected official falls from grace.  Unfortunately, we have had our share of these days in Palm Beach County.  When I worked for the city of West Palm Beach, Jeff Koons was a Commissioner and Mayor before the charter change to a strong mayor system.  He had his detractors, as elected officials always do, but I knew him to have a level head on his shoulders and generally act in the best interest of the public.  While a County Commissioner, Mr. Koons was an advocate for many planning related issues:  mass transit, redevelopment of blighted urban areas and preservation and enhancement of natural areas.  It was this last area where he met his "Waterloo."

This whole episode is ironic in that he didn't have to go to the lengths he did - beyond the law - to further the project in question.  Most people were supportive of the concept and liked the project.  So, in a way, it comes across to me that he chose the wrong people to cross.  The group that he threatened had money and privilege.  They had the connections to get the attention of a Grand Jury and initiate an investigation that ended up in Mr. Koons' arrest.

But this whole episode makes me wonder how many other times this elected official and others use the power of their office on those that might not have the money or the privilege or the connections?  Those are the people that we don't hear about.  These are the people that receive taps on the shoulder late at night, when a local business owner is told "we don't like you."  They are the ones that are stonewalled through city processes left wondering who they have to talk to or promise what to whom.  These are the same people that are treated differently if they support the wrong candidates and then written off as "it's just politics." These people do not have the resources of the group that Mr. Koons aggrieved.  These are the people that I worry about.

And, when you think about it, these people without resources are usually the ones that we deal with in Lake Worth.  Many have been wronged by the city, in my opinion, and actions are pending in the courts on many of these matters.  But how many have been blocked or hurt due to the action or inaction or violation of a state law that don't have the resources to pursue their claim?  Maybe they have too much to lose if they make noise and file a complaint.

You can fool some of the people all the time.  You can fool all of the people some of the time.  But you can't fool - or take advantage of - all the people all of the time.  Let this be a warning to our elected officials that the laws mean something and, if the stakes are high enough and the "egregiousness" is great enough, someone will have the ability to pull back the curtain and the gig will be up.

Absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

Appropriate Reminders: Open Government and Sunshine Laws in the State of Florida

Having been a member of many public boards in Florida, I have had the opportunity to hear many board attorney presentations on the Open Government and Sunshine Laws under which public boards operate.  It's important to note regarding what is public information and what is not public information: Any record may be considered public information if it deals with an item that would likely be dealt with as a public matter and may be subject to a decision at some point in time by a public or elected official.  This is not only referring to the official e-mail address, for example, of an appointed or elected official.  This can mean non-official e-mail accounts and communications on social networking sites.

The important point here regarding the Sunshine Law is that two people sitting on the same elected or appointed board cannot discuss an item that would likely appear before them at a public meeting where they would be asked to vote on such an item.  An elected or appointed official cannot use "conduits" to relay information to another elected or appointed official on an item that is likely to come before them at a public meeting.  Two or more members of the same elected or appointed board or commission constitutes a meeting under the Sunshine Law - the meeting would have to be publicly noticed, held in a public place and minutes would need to be taken and made available to the public.  Telephone conversations and communication with "go betweens" do not meet this standard.

Please click here for more information.

Robo calls continue...

Many people are being called two and three times with a female voice saying, "Don't hang up!"  The voice offers you choices for an energy evaluation, press 1, or not to receive this call again, press 2.  They mention something about a $3,700 stimulus package.  Anyone with further information, please post under comments below.

Who is paying for this?  What information is being collected?

Jeff Koons Resigns

Click title for link to PB Post article.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Jeff Koons jailed, to face judge on charges of extortion, perjury

Click title for link to PB Post article.  Please note that one of the violations concerned the "Sunshine Law" - just sayin'.

Monday, August 2, 2010

What I did on my summer vacation - Part Two

One of the field trips I made during the travels outside of Lake Worth - yes, a world exists outside the city's boundaries - was to Columbus, Indiana. It's a medium-sized city, southeast of Indianapolis, of about 40,000 that has taken hold of modern architecture and made it its signature.  Can you say "branding?"

A former planner colleague of mine and I spent part of a late afternoon there wandering around the downtown and checking it out.  I've included a slide show of what we saw, but I recommend that you take a look at some of these YouTube videos too that show the extent of modern architecture in the city and the importance the community gives to this identity.

Oh, and if you happen to go there for a visit, I would highly recommend this place:
The location has a rich history which is outlined on its extensive menu.  Currently owned by Powerhouse Brewery, it features micro- brews and other beers that are not mass-marketed.  When I went there (twice, the other time was with my father on the way back from somewhere), I had the Ahi  Tuna Tacos.  There is all kinds of food on the menu and is known for having the best tenderloin.  It's one block east of Washington, the main street through the downtown.  My dad had the mushroom burger, which he enjoyed as well.

Today at Lake Worth Utilities - report from local correspondent:

OMG! Went to pay my Lake Worth Utility bill today and the office was packed... I never seen so many people. Most seem to be complaining about the water side of their bills... Note the 58 on the sign on the wall... Over 100 tickets had been pulled at the time of the photo... How much more do we need to suffer on the yoke of mismanaged gov't? The hallway outside was packed with people...It was a mad house!  The people in the hall were waiting with tickets for a representative.  This is the only the line to pay your bill...

Another thought about the Park of Commerce...

The location of the Park of Commerce for Lake Worth politicians in perfect - it is somewhere "over there."  It's position west of I-95 provides the perfect "cover" - it's an abstract notion and there is no construction activity - or will there be - going on to draw attention to it.  It is not a visible and urgent matter to the general public.  It's not like the Lucerne, or townhouses or the beach that are much more in the public eye. One could argue that it is more urgent than many issues in the city but, partly due to the short terms of our elected officials, no one really gets to be held accountable.  This is part of the reason why progress has been so slow with the development of the infrastructure there.

So, the moral of the story is to be an educated voter and realize that some of the issues that the city faces are abstract - not something easily seen.  Don't let our elected officials have an opportunity to sweep this one under the rug.
And, due to its visibility and automatic accountability, that's why we don't see any emphasis on commercial redevelopment along Dixie Hwy. or other major corridors east of I-95.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Lake Worth looking to give boost to obscure Park of Commerce

Click title for link to the Palm Beach Post article which appeared in today's paper regarding the Lake Worth Park of Commerce.  You are going to hear a lot about it during the election season, so I thought it was time to add some reality to the story here.  I am afraid you will hear the candidates say that this is the answer to the city's declining property values and it will make it seem that it will be easy as turning on a light switch. This couldn't be farther from the truth.

It can be a place for future employment centers and substantial tax base, but the prospect for that is over the long term.  I would say in the five to ten year horizon - not next year.  The Park of Commerce is currently being peddled as some sort of economic "panacea" that will solve all our problems and that it is all due to the current Commission and the city administration.  Do not believe it.

Below is an over-inclusive representation of the Lake Worth Park of Commerce boundaries.  In reality it doesn't include all the properties along Lake Worth Road and those along 10th Avenue North.  Depending on who you talk to, it might include the some of the area east of Boutwell Drive and north of 10th Avenue North - but that would likely depend on the nature of the type of project.  The overall size of the "park" is about 320 acres plus or minus.
Somewhere around 2003, the city entered into an Interlocal Agreement with Palm Beach County that included the annexation of properties that were formerly in the unincorporated area of the County.  Before the agreement existed, there was a lot of confusion regarding which properties were under which jurisdiction - the County or the City of Lake Worth.  This led to a lot of finger pointing about whose responsibility to enforce code issues it was and, therefore, some properties were tremendously blighted - code enforcement and regulatory nightmares.  

The Interlocal Agreement gave a period of time for the city to annex properties on a voluntary basis and give property owners an amnesty period to come into some sort of compliance.  I believe that fees were waived for annexation and land use plan changes.  Many property owners took advantage of that period of time under the agreement - some did not.  

The situation is improved from what it was prior to the annexation of these properties, but there are substantial obstacles that lay in the path of any "targeted" employer that thinks it is possible to pull permits for a site and building in the near future.

The article mentions a grant given to the city by the Economic Development administration for $250,000.  It has been about a year since the announcement of that grant has been made.  It was only through a high degree of persuasion to the current City Manager that the city came up with the required $250,000 matching money.  This was added to the budget after the current year's budget had already been approved, but the city knew about the grant award long before that event.

A study by CDM is underway to assess the infrastructure needs of the entire park.  The article lists them as follows:

"...the needs study will make suggestions for improvements such as widening and connecting roads, installing traffic signals, burying power lines, building a telecommunications grid and putting in landscaping, street lighting and drainage work. The upgrades are intended to improve conditions for existing businesses and to lure new companies."

This is a "study" at this point in time that will be completed later this year.  Completion of a "study" does nothing to complete the required work.  Given the extent of some of the improvements, it wouldn't be wise to attract an employer of any size until that work is done - the entire layout of the park and existing property lines may change due to infrastructure work involved.  Drainage is listed almost as an after-thought but is really the major issue that must be address across the entire 320 acres - that amounts to a lot of pipe and a lot of disruption of the current conditions.

Once we have identified the needs, according to this study, then we will need to pursue funding sources.  What are those going to be?  Is the city going to establish a Business Improvement District - similar to a CRA - to assess properties and support a bond for those improvements?  Is the Federal government going to have anything like the stimulus project grants in the next few years to fund these sorts of improvements?  Does the city have its own resources to make those improvements?  Do we ask an employer, that we are attempting to "lure" to put up money for the improvements?

One thing that the article doesn't mention is the notion of traffic concurrency - proving that there is enough capacity on the roadways.  That amount of acreage could potentially support a lot of building square footage - beyond what is already existing.  Given the current way we get around, primarily in single passenger automobiles, that uses up a lot of capacity on the adjacent roadways.  10th Avenue North has had a "CRALLS - Constrained Roadways at Lower Levels of Service" designation for a very long time.  What this means is that the road can't be expanded physically to accommodate all the traffic that is there now, let alone in the future.  Any project within the Lake Worth Park of Commerce of any size will be up against this wall.  No one has addressed this issue - that has to be done through the County and the State of Florida - initiated in some way by the city.  Much can be made of the nearby connections to transit, residential areas and Palm Beach State College.

Beyond this - click on the image above and look at the "mobile home courts" present in the Park of Commerce.  What is going to happen to them?  This land use issue has been before the City Commission before, with many of the residents of those "mobile home courts" in attendance.  The Commission, at the time, gave them assurances that they wouldn't be forced out.  Is this still realistic if the city really wants this to become an industrial park that it can market to employers?  How does it fit into the overall layout and the time schedule for park development?

Then we have to consider our electric utility - do we have enough capacity to serve a large user of electricity - I remember hearing that the city told one such employer to look somewhere else due to that very issue.  With the highest commercial electric rates in the state of Florida, do we have a chance of attracting any large employer compared to other locations? We are also under the strictest water control measures in Palm Beach County right now - what impact would that have for an industrial user of water resources?  What sorts of green building standards is the city going to employ for new development here?

I'm not being a "stick in the mud" here, but these are all realistic questions that - beyond the study that is currently underway and the work that has been done to date - the city has a lot on its plate that it must resolve before anything substantial moves forward in this area.

Forever, I have maintained that Lake Worth has an under-staffed and under-appreciated Planning and Zoning function.  All these questions are the long term questions that can be addressed by a fully staffed and funded planning department - something that other communities that compete with us have and utilize to the fullest extent.  After this proposed budget is approved this year, the planning and zoning staff for Lake Worth will be almost non-existent - with the additional demand of a separate historic preservation board.

Good luck everyone!

Robo Calls - Already?

I'm hearing various reports about some robo calls - you know, the ones that you get around election time.  They usually say "Don't hang up!" and then start with a spiel.  This spiel seems to be about energy savings, getting rebates, etc.  They say press a number on the phone to get more information.  And what exactly would that information be?  Trying to get voter identification for the coming election?

Remember this?
Are these robo calls part of the pre-campaign period for Commissioners Jennings and Mulvehill?  I understand that these mailers (above) were paid out of the left over campaign account(s) of Commissioner Jennings.  It is not coincidental that these robo calls are coming out before the qualifying period and being used as a way to collect voter identification.  Has anyone ask the official status of those who worked on the the Census Complete Count Committee?  Are they still being paid by the city to do this promotional effort?

If you have received a robo call recently, it would be great if you could share a little more detail about the content of the call and if you have gone on to the next step and asked for additional information.  Please respond by clicking the comment tab at the end of this post.  Thanks.

Delray Beach's CRA celebrates 25 years: Officials look ahead to next 20 years -

Click title for link to Orlando Sentinel article - great exposure for Delray.