Beaches to Open Tuesday, But Hostility Over Reopening Continues

south florida
Palmetto Beach

Beaches in Boca Raton and Delray Beach will reopen fully on Tuesday. Perhaps residents in both cities then can move on to more important matters.

One can understand a certain level of impatience and frustration after more than two months of COVID-19 restrictions. Roughly 13,300 people in Boca Raton and West Boca bought decals that allow unlimited access to beach parks. They miss the outlet, especially with children home from school.

Even after all this time, however, there remains a high level of misinformation about who ordered what. Among the misinformed, there remains an alarming hostility. Both were present during the Boca Raton City Council’s workshop meeting Tuesday night.

Some speakers alleged that the city had violated the Americans With Disabilities Act by opening only the beach itself but not the parks. By not allowing vehicle access, they said, the city had discriminated against parents with disabled children. The action also was “elitist,” one speaker charged, favoring those who lived near enough to walk or bike.

City Attorney Diana Frieser responded that because the city had closed all the parks to everyone, Boca Raton had not violated the ADA. So much for the latest attempt by residents to brush up on constitutional law.

Previous speakers and some council members also had wondered whether the city could open the parks just to those annual passholders. City Manager Leif Ahnell said such a move could jeopardize federal money for beach renourishment. With that money comes the requirement that municipalities allow access to the general public. Non-residents also can use the parks. They just have to pay a lot more.

Some residents don’t understand, but little about reopening public facilities is easy, because so much is different. Cleaning public bathrooms no longer is routine. Disinfectant procedures are more detailed. The risk to city employees is higher.

Boca Raton and Delray Beach also had wanted to coordinate the opening of their beaches with openings in Broward County. Officials in both cities feared a surge — there’s a COVID-19 term — of people from the south. Miami-Dade County residents flocked to Naples when beaches opened and failed to practice social distancing. The beaches then closed.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said at one point that South Florida counties would open together. But then Palm Beach County asked for, and received, permission from DeSantis to go first, ahead of Broward and Miami-Dade. County Commissioner Robert Weinroth urged that faster timetable, even though he represents Boca Raton and Delray Beach, which had worried about that surge.

“I thought,” Weinroth told me Wednesday, “that we had reached the point where we needed to do something, or we might have had a revolution.”

With Broward set to open beaches Tuesday, that coordination apparently will come, however haphazard. Full reopening, with parking and bathrooms, will start that day. Delray Beach City Commissioner Ryan Boylston said he and his colleagues also wanted to avoid “being inundated” over Memorial Day weekend and thus had waited to resume full access. “You can’t just flip a switch.”

Beaches may be reopening, but park playgrounds remain closed. That’s also an order from Palm Beach County, not Boca Raton or Delray Beach, despite the continuing misinformation Ahead lie much bigger issues than beaches, such as how to reopen schools in the fall. Surfing and sunbathing, however, are about to return. Now we’ll see if those who clamored to reopen the beaches follow the rules.

Boca libraries open–for takeout

Delray Beach already has allowed its library to open at limited capacity. Next week, Boca Raton will allow its libraries to offer restaurant-style takeout. Patrons can order a batch of titles online and pick them up as if they were pizzas. There is no date for reopening the interior of the library.

Rader steps down

State Sen. Kevin Rader, whose District 29 includes Boca Raton and West Boca, surprised people by announcing that he won’t seek re-election this year.

State Rep. Tina Polsky — a Democrat, like Rader — had filed paperwork to run for the seat. That could indicate that she and Rader had discussed his dropping out and giving Polsky an edge. On Wednesday, however, former state Sen. Irv Slosberg — also a Democrat — filed his own paperwork. Qualifying ends June 12. Whoever wins the primary likely will win the general election for the Democratic-leaning seat.

FAU updates reopening plans

fau

I wrote last week that Florida Atlantic University had not made plans for whether to resume on-campus classes in the fall. This week, the Board of Governors — which oversees the 12 state universities — said FAU and others should prepare to reopen when the academic year begins in late August.

The board, however, left it to the universities to determine how they will make that happen. A spokesman said, “FAU is following guidance from the state as well as the State University System’s Board of Governors as we develop our plans for fall operations. Once approved by the board, details will be communicated to the university community first.”

FAU contract extension

Speaking of FAU, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District this week extended its contract with the university for 10 years. Under the agreement, the district can rent soccer fields on the FAU campus for youth teams. Such an agreement has been in place for 31 years.

Hanyie trial delayed again

Former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie

The trial of former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, which was supposed to start last fall, may not take  place in July.

The Florida Supreme Court has closed state courtrooms to jury trials through June because of COVID-19 restrictions. Haynie’s trial is scheduled to begin July 21.

Certainly, though, the closings have created a backlog. Bruce Zimet, Hayne’s attorney, said it is “uncertain” whether Haynie’s trial will start on schedule. It has been more than two years since Haynie’s arrest on seven public corruption charges.

Virtual worship continues

New information reinforces how grateful Boca Raton and Delray Beach should be to clergy members who continue to hold virtual worship services.

One church in Georgia and another in Texas resumed regular services when their states allowed them. That was the wrong decision. Church leaders and members quickly tested positive for COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new cautions about large gatherings. Its report cited the case of a church in Arkansas. After in-person services resumed, 35 of 92 people who attended tested positive. Three died.

More important, 26 people outside the church tested positive. Prohibiting large gatherings isn’t designed to protect only those who attend. It’s designed to protect the community.