The politicking begins…
Almost everyone on the Boca Raton City Council is running for something. And it shows.
It showed during Tuesday night’s meeting, when what should have been straightforward approval of the Ocean Palm condo turned into nearly two hours of political performance art.
The council previously approved Ocean Palm, on the southwest corner of A1A and Palmetto Park Road, as a six-story project. Because of demand from residents of the existing condo who wanted to live in the new condo, the developer was back with a seven-story project. It was hardly a major change.
As before, Ocean Palm met or exceeded all key requirements. As before, the Riviera Civic Association spoke in support. As before, almost everyone agreed that the developer had done a wonderful job of working with residents and proposing a project that would enhance the area. It will displace the old condo and a fading retail plaza, and the developer could have built a hotel, which the neighbors didn’t want.
Only a resident of the Marbella condo farther south objected. Her fellow residents, poor dears, aren’t back for the winter. Couldn’t the city delay a decision and do business on a schedule that suits snowbirds? Fortunately, the council didn’t indulge her.
Approval should have taken 30 minutes—45 minutes tops. Instead, it took nearly two hours. Council members asked questions that the staff memo had answered. Each wanted to pronounce himself or herself more satisfied than everyone else about the glorious outcome.
As noted, however, almost everyone is a candidate. Mayor Susan Haynie is running for county commission—in November 2018. Councilman Scott Singer is running to succeed Haynie—in March 2019. Councilmen Jeremy Rodgers and Robert Weinroth are running for reelection next March. Weinroth is expected to run for mayor himself.
Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke, who was elected in March, isn’t running for something, but it doesn’t matter. She joined in, making a point of saying, “I’m the hardest on the landowners.”
Sigh. Actually, the whole thing was hard on people who had business later in the meeting and any residents in person or watching at home who wanted the council to discuss the major topics at a reasonable hour. So let’s get to those topics.
Medical marijuana in Boca
On medical marijuana dispensaries, Boca Raton adopted the Mitch Katz Compromise.
Katz is a city commissioner in Delray Beach. He and his colleagues faced the same question as their counterparts in Boca Raton: Do we allow dispensaries wherever pharmacies are allowed, or do we ban them? The Legislature gave cities and counties no other choices.
An early surprise came when Councilman Weinroth switched from supporting a ban to opposing it. Councilwoman O’Rourke also opposed the ban, saying she wanted to “protect the vote.” Roughly three-fourths of voters in Boca Raton favored last year’s constitutional amendment that legalized medical marijuana.
Mayor Haynie remained opposed. Councilman Rodgers remained cautious. So did Councilman Singer. All worried about the lack of local control. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser understated when she said the enabling legislation contains “a lot of uncertainty.”
Such as: Could a dispensary, which receives and sells the marijuana, also include a grow house? No one knew. This is not surprising. The Legislature opposed medical marijuana, and thus fashioned enabling legislation that will make it as hard as possible to follow the public’s will. Example: Patients can get only edible marijuana. They can’t smoke it. A lawsuit has challenged that prohibition.
Some kind of action was necessary. The moratorium Boca Raton has maintained—while waiting for that elusive clarity from Tallahassee—expires Nov. 8. And if the council didn’t impose a ban now, the council likely couldn’t impose a retroactive ban without subjecting the city to expensive litigation, as Frieser warned.
When Delray Beach reached this point, Katz suggested that the commission ban dispensaries but review the issue in a year or earlier if the Legislature gives local governments more flexibility. The commission agreed. So with a “What’s the rush?” attitude, the Boca council took a similar approach, with Weinroth the only dissenter.
Boca Raton does not have the sober home/opioid issue that Delray Beach does. Despite the research showing that marijuana is not a gateway drug, Interim City Manager Neal de Jesus—who soon will again be fire chief—and Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman urged the commission not to add marijuana at this time.
So Delray Beach can see how the dispensaries shake out in Boynton Beach and Boca Raton can check what happens in Deerfield Beach. Both cities have allowed the dispensaries. Because Palm Beach County also has done so, Boca Raton patients can obtain marijuana as close as the intersection of Powerline and Palmetto Park roads. Marijuana also is available by mail.
Critics might accuse elected officials in Boca Raton and Delray Beach of watching “Reefer Madness” too many times. Actually, they were just being properly careful.
And the golf course
Having dispensed with marijuana, the council prepared for the big issue of the evening: which company might buy Boca Raton’s western golf course.
As I had predicted Tuesday, council members regarded the offers from GL Homes and Lennar like gourmands eyeing stale TV dinners. They had been dreaming of $73 million, the pre-contract prices.
After further review, the companies had adjusted those numbers. GL was at $60 million, saying that restrictions on sections of the property dropped the amount of land GL could develop. Lennar was still at $73 million, but the contract contained so many contingencies that no one could be sure how much the city might net.
GL’s pitch amounted to: Lennar’s offer stinks. It has “more liability” for the city “even than mentioned,” said Vice President Larry Portnoy. Lennar’s pitch amounted to: We’re big and solid. Lennar’s market value on the New York Stock Exchange is about $13 billion. The city “can make a lot more than $60 million,” Vice President Bruce Grundt said. “We’re the biggest for a reason.”
The council’s reaction amounted to: We want a higher number from GL, and we want more certainty from Lennar if the deal goes south. “We need a better prenup,” Councilman Weinroth said to Grundt. To Portnoy, Weinroth grumped about the $13 million “haircut.”
Under the council’s rules, the bidders could adjust their price but couldn’t change the contract terms. Following the haphazard path this negotiation has taken, council members began pushing GL to go higher. It was like being in a car dealership: What would it take to have you (the council) like our offer?
There was recess, after which GL raised its offer to $65 million, though the company reduced its deposit from $4 million to $2 million. Council members Rodgers and Singer tried for $68 million, at which point GL Senior Vice President Alan Fant said that was his final offer.
So the council took it. For now. There still must be a final vote on Nov. 14. The council still could decide against selling the course, which would be wrong for two reasons.
First, council members boxed themselves in by previously agreeing to underwrite bonds for the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District to buy and renovate the Ocean Breeze course. The council still could back out, but the city has set things in motion. Does Boca Raton need two 27-hole golf courses competing against each other?
Second, council members need some perspective. Not long ago, the price for the western course seemed more like $40 million or $50 million. Though the price is down from its stratospheric level, would the council really be unhappy about clearing $65 million? And if the closing doesn’t happen in 18 months, the land won’t go bad.
The city also got lucky. The process got far too informal at times. Yet it came down Tuesday night to one big company—GL—that was able to pivot and raise its offer on the spot and a bigger company—Lennar—that as a publicly traded firm has an investment committee and is more bureaucratic. Lennar’s executives thus have added fiduciary responsibilities.
Mayor Haynie noted that the city “is not the usual land seller.” The council, she said, has its own “fiduciary responsibility.” Council members appear to have exercised that responsibility. This deal could look much better than it might have after a six-hour meeting that didn’t need to be nearly that long.
After debate on the golf course, Haynie asked for public comment. No one rose. Chuckles came from the audience.
“Everyone’s laughing,” Haynie said, “and I don’t know why.” Only one person had risen to speak on the marijuana issue. Compare that to the dozens who showed up to oppose a ban on personal religious displays at Sanborn Square and approval of Chabad East Boca.
This sort of apathy is what can allow a small group of residents who do speak regularly to seem far more important and reflective than they really are.
Boca Raton never stops recruiting businesses. At recent meetings, the city council approved two disbursements from the economic development fund if the recruitment succeeds. The first was $45,600 for Project Cloud—the actual names of the companies always stay secret—to match a state contribution of $182,400. The other was $30,000 for Project Wizard. The state promised $240,000 and Palm Beach County $30,000.
Katz disputed the account in my Tuesday post of how Ryan Boylston decided to challenge him for Seat 3 on the Delray Beach City Commission.
Boylston said he switched from Seat 1 after meeting with former Commissioner Adam Frankel, who also has filed for the seat. It will come open in March because incumbent Shelly Petrolia is running for mayor.
Katz doesn’t believe that the timetable as he understands it supports Boylston’s version. Katz claims that Boylston first met with him and talked about how they could work together on the commission. “I thought Frankel was going to run against me,” Katz said. For the moment, Frankel has the Seat 1 race to himself.
“I’ve had a lot of happy hours with Ryan Boylston,” Katz said, adding that the two have attended their children’s sports events. “I plan on running a positive campaign.”
In Delray Beach, “only” three of the five commissioners are running for something. Two of them, however, now are running against each other.
Jim Chard is opposing Petrolia for mayor. Like Weinroth and Singer in Boca Raton, Chard and Petrolia sit next to each other on the dais in Delray Beach. When I asked Petrolia on Wednesday if their campaign might affect the commission’s work for the next five months, Petrolia said, “I don’t see a problem.”
Petrolia considered running for reelection and not running at all before seeking the mayor’s job. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought I could do it.”
In my Tuesday post, I noted that in last March’s election Petrolia had supported candidates who lost badly—one of them to Chard. What has she learned?
“You must be fully funded. You can’t run a campaign on a shoestring.” Petrolia already has loaned herself $25,000 and raised an equal amount. Petrolia distinguishes herself from the two surrogates by saying that campaigns are about “how people relate to others. I’m not those people,” she said of Kelly Barrette, whom Chard defeated, and Josh Smith, who Shirley Ervin Johnson defeated. “I have a record.”
Petrolia said she backed Barrette and Smith because she thought they could do better. “And I’m not so sure I was wrong.”
Drug take-back day
Saturday is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Pharmacies and police stations will accept any unused and unwanted prescription drugs. Organizers cite a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that 42 percent of opioids prescribed for post-surgical pain were not used. There are many sad stories of children getting into their parents’ opioids.