Saturday, November 20, 2010

More on my water bill - October 2010 as an example...

This is a portion of my utility bill for the latest month.  Now, you can see the extra digit in the gallons used to reflect "hundreds", in addition to what used to shown as just one digit meaning "thousands."  According to this, I used 3,000 gallons of water last month.  If I divide the total water charge of $24.31 by 3 (water is billed per thousands, now hundreds of gallons used), I get a rate of $8.10 per thousand.  This is not including taxes and not including sewer.  Sewer, in theory, should be the same as the water charge.  This is higher than any of the rates quoted in the recent PBP article.  

Am I missing something?

What happened here?

Yesterday morning, I got a message on FaceBook from a neighbor of mine in College Park along with this picture:

What he was showing me was what his water looked like coming out of the tap.  He called the utilities department and they were sending a lab technician out to check it.  He later found out that they had flushed the hydrant on his street and a "gush of something" came over their way.  The lab technician said that the water was indicating a low chlorine level.  The city said to flush the lines - run your faucets, showers, etc.  This included the hot water in the water heater tank.  Eventually, the water cleared in about twenty minutes - I wonder how much water that used and I am sure they won't get a credit on their water bill for the extra water used.

Just another day in our city.  My house was seemingly uneffected.  Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing before?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Steel Magnolias - at the Lake Worth Playhouse

Saw the show at friends and family night yesterday - very well done with some classic lines.  This is the stage version, which is different from the movie version - it never leaves the beauty shop.  A fun night - check it out before it's over on December 5th!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Amazing Green Roof in New York City: The Public Transit Bus by Green Roots

Click title for link to article.  Click here for link to "Bus Roots" website.

In response to Russ' comment under "The Lucerne..."

I tried to respond there, but my response turned out to be too long as a comment.  It deserves a more prominent place anyway, so here it is.  Here is a link to the original post.

Russ - You raise a lot of interesting points and I'll try to take them in order.  In my assessment of the Lucerne, I observed that the process was flawed and that was a supreme understatement.  The project was driven by the need to make it palatable for the developer - one could argue that was too primary a goal throughout the process - and was designed, in almost every way, before an architect or anyone with design sense looked at what the deal told the design to be.  The number of units, parking spaces, amount of retail and ultimate CRA subsidy spawned the design.  Hence, we have a building that is not about the context of the downtown environment, but reflective of the way the deal was constructed.  By the time it reached the Planning and Zoning Board, the "deal" had been struck so any variation in the design would have "killed the deal" as it might have affected the number of units, stories, parking spaces and retail space.  So the "deal" was the tail wagging the "dog" which turned out to be the building we have to live with for 50 or more years.  Even so, it has had some positive impact on the downtown and we will never know the road not taken.

One thing that could have helped us along another road would be a full time, fully and appropriately staffed Planning Department.  For the size of our city, that should be four professionally degreed planners and at least one of those should have a degree in urban design or architecture.  From time to time, we would have people on the Planning and Zoning Board that were architects, or had some sort of architectural scholastic background and their input was invaluable.  In the ebb and flow of things, they would eventually get off the board and we would be looking for someone with that skill and experience  - which was surprisingly difficult to find.  In fact, while I was on the board, we had a hard time finding a diversity of people (especially as it relates to geographic location in the city) to sit on the board, let alone recruit for architectural expertise.  We did have an abundance of good landscape architects on the board - which can be an architect's best friend to cover up bad architecture.  Another board (like an architectural review board) would have the same if not more problem in recruiting people with the correct combinations of experience - rather than end up with a bunch of political, litmus-tested appointments as we do now with the split of the Planning and Zoning and Historic Resource Preservation Boards.  At some point too, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a person or project that is trying to make it through multiple boards multiple times - it can be a frustrating and iterative effort - and a deterrent to quality redevelopment.  Like it or not, we are competing with the processes in other municipalities.

One of the weaknesses of zoning approvals is that it is difficult to regulate based upon market factors.  You can ask for market studies, but most are worth the paper they are printed on and are results-oriented to justify approving the project.  During the boom and bust cycles of the South Florida economy, everyone is looking at the same market data and dealing with the same lending environment.  Do not be mistaken:  the most recent boom and bust was brought on by the easy availability of credit for these sorts of projects so that, as George W. put it, we can all be part of the "society of ownership."  Well now we are the society of foreclosure.  You can regulate appearance, mass, height, number of units or square footage, but market timing is not well regulated through zoning.  I don't know of a process that could work uniformly and not discriminate between projects - unless it is waiting for road capacity improvements or other infrastructure projects.

So, that being said, I do not know what the current vacancy statistics are for the Lucerne (perhaps one of the readers knows?) or for the other projects that were approved during the boom period.  The one that hurts the most is the office/retail building at 2nd and Federal - that should be better utilized, but I think other Lake Worth factors - read "utility costs and reliability"  are hurting the lease up of that building.

I too agree that the "Old Bridge Park" - i.e. parking lot - was one that we should have gone forward with - it's timing was off and the Mayor then overplayed his hand.  The fallout from the failure of that is still seen and experienced through the vacant lot north of the Post Office, another park(s) in the western part of town, etc.

Yes, we had the DPZ plan in the early 90s and then we spent over $1 million on a Master Plan in the 2000s the results of which were come to be during one City Commission meeting - a total waste of money.  How many planning staff do we have now - none?  Lake Worth has never realized the benefits of planning, but for its original layout - its bones are saving us from total ruin.

Thus, we will continue to see new buildings such as Publix - only if the private sector thinks its worth the risk of trying anything in Lake Worth.  These buildings will be reviewed by political hacks and all will praise the beauty of the emperor's and empress' new clothes - until the electorate is awakened by that still, small voice of reason.

Nuff said for now.

Water company wants OK to raise already-high rates

Click title for link to PBP article - notice the picture of former Lake Worth resident, candidate and former chair of the Electric Utility Task Force. From the article:

Lake Osborne residents who use up to 6,000 gallons a month are paying $5.01 per 1,000 gallons, compared with the average of $2.16 per 1,000 gallons per month that residents pay in other nearby communities. Aqua wants to increase its rate to $6.49.

FYI - the rate per thousand gallons for my October bill is $8.10 per thousand. I used a total of 3,100 gallons during last month. This rate, higher than any quoted in the article, is before three more years of scheduled rate increases to fund the Reverse Osmosis plant.  Aqua buys water from Lake Worth and resells it, but that is still lower than what I paid as a small user of water in October.  Where is the outrage?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

First Regular City Commission Meeting after Election 11/16

Click title for agenda and back-up material.

ROLOH Neighborhood Association Meeting 11/18

ROLOH neighborhood assoc. mtng. This Thursday Nov. 18th at 7pm at Lake Osborne Presbyterian located at 2101 6th Ave South. $5.00 dollars raffle tickets for a chance to win a $500.00 Gift Certificate for WebMark Digital Productions good for a professional HD digital production of an event of the winners choosing or a digital musical photo album professionally created with pictures submitted by the winner. See details under "Community Contributions" tab.

Town of Jupiter - Noise Ordinance Revisions

In the wake of updating and initiating the noise ordinance in Lake Worth, I thought there might be interest in what the Town of Jupiter is doing regarding the same issue.  Click title for link to the staff back-up material that is part of second reading tonight at their Town Council meeting.

While you're at it, poke around their website and see the amount of information available there and how easy it is to find what you are looking for - notice too that Podcasts are available for some meetings.

A few months ago...

I received an invitation from Lynn and Marty Weisberg who are organizers of the Retired Educators Social Club.  They are located in greater Boca Raton.  The invitation was to speak at their November meeting on immigration and its impact on urban planning.  I gave the talk yesterday before almost 70 people.  I brought them up to date on immigration and citizenship statistics from the U. S. Census Bureau and then related Lake Worth's experience in dealing with the unintended consequences of a new population of people.  You can read my notes from the talk by clicking here.

I got a lot of good feedback and it was great seeing a group of people wanting to be engaged in the critical topics of the day.  Thank you Lynn and Marty for the opportunity to speak!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Royal "We"...Rolled out by the other blogger...

Shannon and Phil Materio receive the "Big Dreamer" award from the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce - a 30 plus year presence on Dixie Hwy.  Congratulations Phil and Shannon!

WE are impressed!

Ethics rules: Broward, Palm Beach County cities prepare for stronger ethics rules - South Florida

Click title for link to Sun Sentinel article.

The Lucerne...

Just this week, on one of my many trips downtown (this time to buy dog food from Paws on the Avenue), I stepped into Starbucks for a quick refreshment.  Out front, by the door, was a guy in his late twenties or early thirties with his dog by his side.  He had nestled himself in a corner between the main door and one of the windows and serenaded those walking by or sitting outside (there were many) with his guitar.  This was like 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.  When I went in, there were about ten people scattered around inside, most on laptops taking advantage of the free wi/fi.  Some were using it as a space to meet people, read or do work.  From what I remember from many previous visits, this was a medium to light day in terms of the crowd there. Many people I know make regular trips to Kilwins - I try to avoid places like that since it seems that I only need to smell ice cream to gain weight - the same goes for fudge.

I met someone over the weekend who lives in the Lucerne whose daughter works at Kilwins - right below their unit.  Talk about a short commute!  This person loves living there and specifically chose downtown Lake Worth as a location cause she wanted to be in an active downtown.  She talked about how she loves to have the windows open, go out on her balcony and hear the various bands and types of music that are played at night along Lake and Lucerne.  In fact, she can tell what time it is by the type of music being played and the direction that its coming from.  Being on one of the higher floors, she gets the benefits ocean breezes.  She liked the security that comes from living in the building and probably wouldn't have chosen the location if she didn't have that benefit.  She would have been uncomfortable being a single woman living in one of the downtown's cottage properties, for example.  A couple weeks ago, I met another single woman that lives in the Lucerne and had equally high satisfaction with her location for many of the same reasons.  Our current City Manager, she told me, strongly considered living there, but for the negative political "aura" that surrounded the building.

Look at the area immediately surrounding the building.  The building directly to the east of the building has been recently re-done, in rainbow colors I may add, and the retail bays are nearly full.  It is one of the few complete buildings in the downtown that have had an extensive face-lift in the past ten years.  Paws on the Avenue moved from their previous location immediately across the street from the building.  Studio 205, whose owner was against the Lucerne, seems to profit from the increased traffic and since opening of the building next door put in a take-out window and generally expanded the newsstand area to meet demand for reading material.  It's also kitty-corner from the former Lake Theater which is soon-to-be the new home of the Palm Beach County Cultural Council.

So despite it being used as the perennial "bloody shirt" during various Lake Worth election campaigns as a symbol of all that is wrong with redevelopment and "growth," it is hardly a "pox" upon the downtown.  In fact, it enhances it in many positive ways.

When it came before the Planning and Zoning Board back in 2002 (that's right - eight years ago!), it was I think my first or second meeting as Chairman.  It was presented to us by staff after being through the CRA - who was involved in subsidizing the deal.  Part of the project included a significant number - something like 100 or so - of parking spaces that were going to be reserved for the public at-large and not restricted to owners of units in the building.  This would have further helped the downtown's parking supply and help insure success of the retail operations in the new building and stimulate others throughout the downtown.  We also were presented architectural renderings which showed a varied parapet roof treatment that relieved the "boxy" nature of the building as it stands today.

That was one of the key changes after it made it out the Planning and Zoning Board's doors that evening.  That change happened in the building department - after one of our concerned citizens wanted to make sure that the building was not a micron over 65 feet in height.  There went all the ornamentation along the roofline.  Also, after it made it out our doors the one time that the building came before us, the parking spaces reserved for the public at-large were removed.  That should have triggered the project coming back before the Planning and Zoning Board, but it never did.  I maintain that I would not have voted for the building without public parking as a part of it - that it my mind made it worth the public subsidy.  The other reason I voted for the building was that it was a way of injecting people with incomes that could afford to live in this new condominium into our downtown - encouraging them to spend their money locally without having to get in their vehicles and leave the community with their dollars.  I think we can now see the benefit from that.

So the process was flawed, but the building is built and not going anywhere soon.  I stand by my decision - made with 7 other people on the board at the time (I think the vote was unanimous or close to it.)  I also remember, for all the attention being paid the building and the financing of it at the CRA and the City Commission, that it was one of our most lightly attended meetings - ever!  So, it comes a some surprise that during election time, it is the Lucerne that is hung around my neck and others as being indicative of what is wrong with the city and "what came before."  In fact, this last time, the PBP chose to compare my vote way back in 2002 to be somehow equal in gravity to the mistaken decision by my opponent to not support the takeover by the sheriff's department.  I think the relative importance of the two decisions are hardly equal in terms of eventual negative public policy impacts.

So, next time you are downtown, think about how different our "vibrant downtown" may be without the Lucerne.  You may come up with some surprising answers.