Thursday, May 23, 2024

Boca Brightline Dilemmas & Delray’s Ordinance to Protect Renters

In Boca Raton, you don’t mess with the library.

That lesson became clear during last Monday’s workshop meeting. Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke told colleagues that she would pull from the next night’s regular meeting agenda authorization for the city to buy and install parking meters at the downtown library and nearby areas.

Apparently, many Brightline passengers are not parking in the garage next to the library. Rather than pay the $7 fee when booking online, they are parking for free in spaces reserved for the library. The cost is $15 for same-day tickets.

In his memo to the council, City Manager Leif Ahnell said the meters were necessary “to effectively manage the availability of public parking…with the opening of the Brightline station.” Ahnell said, “The city has determined” that meters would be the best option.

No one from “the city,” however, bothered to alert the council before “the city” was ready to buy 240 meters and necessary kiosks to dispense tickets. Ahnell put the item on the consent agenda with many others. Council members usually approve the list with a perfunctory vote.

Not this time. Here were the optics:

Brightline passengers are willing to pay $34.50 for a morning trip to Miami—$102 for a premium ticket—but are unwilling to fork over $7 for parking. Boca Raton’s planned response was to inconvenience less-affluent residents who lack home Internet service and use the library’s free computers or just like to spend the day in the library as their way to get out.

Deputy City Manager George Brown stressed that library patrons wouldn’t have to pay. They would get three free hours. They would validate their tickets at a kiosk inside the library.

OK, but what about the extra hassle for a mother trying to get two small children in and out of story hour? What about people who come in the evening for community meetings? What happens when people come in large numbers for early voting?

As discussion continued with vague answers from the staff, O’Rourke said, “We have not communicated. This is going to be very complicated.” Boca Raton’s is the only Brightline station that is part of a municipal complex. And the library understandably has special status.

Two representatives of Friends of the Library spoke. They reminded the council that they had raised similar questions during debate about Boca Raton spending $10 million on the garage. They envisioned “20 or 30 people lined up at the kiosk” and meters discouraging people from coming to the library at all. One said, “Why would we do this?”

For now, the city won’t. Council members asked the staff to post signs saying that the parking is reserved for the library. In addition, the city will try to direct more patrons to the spaces inside the garage that also are reserved for the library. Brightline also has a role to play, assuming the city asks. The matter may come back to the council in several months.

Ahnell fussed that enforcing the parking rule without using meters might mean hiring people. Actually, it might just mean less of a bureaucratic response and an awareness that, however much the Brightline station might mean to some people in Boca Raton, the library means more.

Boca residents ask for more Brightline trains

Rendering of Boca Raton’s Brightline station

Speaking of Brightline, council members say that residents are asking for more trains to serve the Boca Raton station.

O’Rourke said she has received “complaints” that many trains each day pass without stopping, thus cutting travel options. The current schedule, she said, prevents commuters from reaching West Palm Beach before 9 a.m. For people wanting to attend a night Miami Heat game, the last train north doesn’t stop in Boca Raton.

Singer added that he has heard similar complaints. Brightline representatives have told him, Singer said, that more trains will be coming. The problem is “logistics.”

Drucker tried to elaborate. The tracks in Boca Raton, Drucker said, are not ready to handle more volume but will be prepared “in a few months.” She didn’t explain how the tracks already handle those trains that whiz past without stopping. No one asked why Brightline apparently hadn’t warned of this limitation before the station opened.

A company representative emailed, “Brightline is thrilled with the response for our new service in Boca Raton.” According to Brightline’s January ridership report, about 42,000 of the roughly 157,000 passengers were from Boca Raton and Aventura in Miami-Dade County. “We believe the ridership for these stations will continue to grow.”

Currently, 11 northbound and 11 southbound trains stop in Boca Raton each day. On March 4, the representative said, there will be 10 northbound and 12 southbound. The company also will add late “Buzzer Beater” trains after Heat games. But the schedule will change again, the representative said, when the Orlando station opens this year.

National Transportation Safety Board investigating Brightline deaths

Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the deaths of two people two weeks ago when a Brightline train struck an SUV in Delray Beach. And on Friday came a strange, new twist.

The incident happened at Lindell Boulevard and Old Dixie Highway. Though the West Palm Beach-Miami corridor is the deadliest in the country, all fatalities to date have occurred because drivers or pedestrians were on the tracks illegally.

Now, however, the Delray Beach Police Department has assigned its traffic homicide unit to the case. According to witnesses, an SUV was stopped on the east-side tracks—with the gates down—when a freight train on the west-side tracks passed without hitting the vehicle. Soon after, a Brightline train on the east-side tracks struck the SUV.

Investigators identified the occupants as 82-year-old Arthur Jacobson and 77-year-old Bette Jacobson. Property records show that Bette Jacobson owned a unit in Kings Point, the large retirement community west of Delray Beach.

Because of that NTSB investigation, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast has asked the Federal Railway Administration to delay Brightline’s expansion to Orlando. Mast represents northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Residents of Martin and St. Lucie counties have opposed Brightline—even going to court unsuccessfully—because the trains will be traveling at 110 miles per hour and there is no station in the area. It’s unclear whether Mast can affect the expansion at this point.

Delray to introduce ordinance to protect renters

At today’s meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will introduce an ordinance designed to protect renters.

The city has modeled the proposal after similar rules in Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach. If approved, landlords would have to give 60 days’ notice before ending a lease or raising rents by more than five percent. In December, the planning and zoning unanimously recommended that the commission approve the ordinance.

Commissioners also would have to set penalties for violations. Though such laws are modest compared to the scope of the problem, Tallahassee may intervene. The Legislature will consider bills that prevent local government from enacting any form of rent control. Lobbyists could pressure legislators to ban all local ordinances that apply to landlords.

Delray PD’s new service population advocate

The Delray Beach Police Department has a new “service population advocate” for the city’s homeless.

Chief Javaro Sims hired Rosanna Johnson a year ago. She left the department after just five months. A spokesman could not give a reason for her departure.

Johnson’s replacement is Yazmin Salguero. The spokesman said her position continues to be financed by a $300,000 private grant. Sims has said that he hopes this position can complement the work of the department’s advocate for those in recovery. In 2021, Delray Beach passed an anti-panhandling ordinance that critics said unfairly targeted the homeless. Commissioners said the motivation was public safety.

The grant runs for another two years. Sims told me last year that he hopes to include the position in his budget even after the grant money is gone.

Status check for Delray officer charged with misconduct and theft

A status check is scheduled for Wednesday in the case of Delray Beach Police Officer Jacaria Stringer. She faces one charge of official misconduct and one of grand theft.

According to the charging documents, Stringer on seven occasions in 2020 and 2021 collected her salary while claiming to be on military leave. Investigators, however, determined that Stringer did not attend her Army Reserve training on those dates. The amount of salary comes to about $6,500.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement handled the investigation. According to the court file, Stringer did not give a statement, based on advice from her attorney.

Delray to host community forum for golf course bids

delray beach golf club
Delray Beach Golf Club

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Delray Beach will hold a community forum for residents to hear from the six bidders seeking to renovate the municipal golf course while developing a portion of the property. The event will take place at the golf course clubhouse on Highland Avenue.

Each bidder will discuss its proposal and take questions. Commissioners asked for the proposals after deciding not to commit city money for the estimated $15 million it will take to renovate the course.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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