Gov. DeSantis soon will allow Palm Beach County to enter a modified Phase 2 reopening from COVID-19 restrictions. Are Boca Raton and Delray Beach ready?
A city spokeswoman said of Boca Raton, “We’re almost there now.” Phase 1 was more dramatic because it was the beginning of a return to pre-virus life. Many business owners had begun planning for the next steps as they reopened.
Under Phase 2, restaurants could allow dining at 75 percent of indoor seating, though guidelines from the governor’s task force advise continued emphasis on outdoor seating. Retailers also could move to 75 percent of space, as could gyms, fitness centers and movie theaters.
Bars could reopen at 50 percent and would have to follow seating restrictions. For now, however, the county has modified its request to exclude bars at Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s request because of the George Floyd protests.
With beaches open, Boca Raton officials, the spokeswoman said, now are getting many requests to reopen athletic fields for youth sports. Park playgrounds remain closed under a county order. The county might change that if the governor allows a move to Phase 2.
DeSantis allowed entry into Phase 1 even though the county hadn’t met the guidelines set by the governor’s task force. Friday’s request for Phase 2 reopening came as new cases in Florida began to rise. Sunday marked the fifth straight day of cases increasing by at least 1,000.
In addition, the county issued the request after an unannounced meeting of the seven commissioners with county administrators. As The Palm Beach Post reported, the commissioners muted their microphones.
Robert Weinroth, whose district includes Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, said, “I have some misgivings” about sending the letter to the governor “without convening” the commission in public. He had asked County Mayor Dave Kerner for a special meeting to discuss Phase 2. Kerner refused. Weinroth notes that it has been 80 days since the county’s declaration of emergency shifted most policy decisions to Kerner, County Administrator Verdenia Baker, Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson and County Attorney Denise Nieman.
But Weinroth agrees with the decision. Though he would not characterize himself as “eager” to reopen further, Weinroth had said Friday that the issue was “ripe” for discussion. Despite the rise in cases, Weinroth said he looks at hospitalizations and deaths as the key metrics. He also noted that cases were rising rapidly in Martin and Hendry counties — Palm Beach’s northern and western neighbors — “and they were included in Phase 2 without any question.”
Compliance will be key. “Phase 1 took some work initially,” Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas said, “but has leveled off.” Acknowledging the “spikes” in cases, Gretsas said, “Phase 2 is likely to have the same effect.”
Boca Raton “has not had a lot of complaints” about non-compliance, the spokeswoman said. When complaints come, a code enforcement officer responds. The city has written no citations, though some complaints might to the Department of Professional and Business Regulation.
Phase 2 also calls for cities to resume normal meetings, with limited in-person public attendance. The council chambers in Boca Raton and the commission chambers in Delray Beach, however, are old and not meant for social distancing. DeSantis’ Phase 2 would be modied already for bars and also could allow the cities to continue meeting virtually.
The governor’s task force advises that Phase 2 only should follow a “successful conclusion” of Phase 1. Did that happen in Palm Beach County? Apparently, we must assume so.
George Floyd protests
George Floyd protests in Boca Raton and Delray Beach made the protesters and the cities look good.
In Delray Beach, 16-year-old tennis prodigy Coco Gauff spoke to a passionate, peaceful, diverse crowd of her frustration as an African-American. “I’ve heard many things this week,” Gauff said, “and one of the things I heard was, ‘Well, it’s not my problem.’ So this is what I have to tell you:
“If you listen to black music, if you like black culture, have black friends, then this is your fight, too. It’s not your job, it’s not your duty to open your mouth to say, ‘Lil Uzi Vert’s my favorite artist, but I don’t care what happened to George Floyd.’ Now how does that make sense? So I demand change now.”
It was the same in Boca Raton on Saturday near Mizner Park. On Monday, city council members praised Chief Michele Miuccio for her actions and those of officers. The department also noted that it already has enacted the reform proposals that the Campaign Zero group calls #CANTWAIT. Among them are a ban on chokeholds, a requirement that officers take every means to de-escalate confrontations and a “duty to intervene” if someone believes that another officer is violating policy.
Summer camps can operate
The Palm Beach County School District has reversed its decision not to open facilities for summer camps because of potential virus infections. Despite that change, a city spokeswoman said Boca Raton still does not plan to run city-affiliated camps this year.
Camino Real redesign
Non-virus business in Boca Raton and Delray Beach proceeds, though perhaps more slowly.
When the city council approved the Camino Square project for a site in the southwest corner of downtown Boca Raton, the issue was potential traffic problems along Camino Real west of Dixie Highway. City staff and the developer agreed on a redesign of the intersection at Camino Real and Southwest Second Avenue.
One component of that redesign was the city acquiring a 10-foot slice of the parking lot for Fresh Market, CVS and a pack-and-ship store. That center forms the southeast quadrant of the intersection. On tonight’s city council agenda is approval of the acquisition, with compensation for the property owner.
Boca Brightline update
Work on Boca Raton’s Brightline station also continues.
Another item on Tuesday’s agenda would authorize the city to join with Virgin Trains USA — Brightline’s parent company — in seeking two grants from the Federal Railroard Administration that would be part of the city’s matching costs. One could reduce Boca Baton’s share of the parking garage expense from $11.4 million to $9.9 million.
Delray Beach workshop
At today’s workshop meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will discuss three election-related proposals.
Two would change the qualifications for city office and how the city receives election results. The third involves an early voting site for Delray Beach. Two possible locations are the community center and library. As the staff memo indicates, each has potential problems.
School Board to discuss reopening
I offered some early thoughts last week about reopening public school campuses in August. At 2 p.m. Wednesday, the Palm Beach County School Board will hold a workshop meeting with reopening as the main topic. It will be the first major board discussion about how to reopen safely.
Those interested can watch on local government TV channels or livestream the meeting here.
The school district also is surveying parents. To respond, visit palmbeachschools.org.