Sentiment among elected officials in Boca Raton may have shifted toward support for medical marijuana dispensaries, but the staff remains opposed.
At tonight’s meeting, the planning and zoning board will consider an ordinance that would end the ban on dispensaries. The staff memo recommends denial because administrators “continue to have serious concerns.”
Those concerns arise out of the rigid legislation that Tallahassee crafted to implement the 2016 constitutional amendment that voters approved by a margin of nearly three to one. Cities and counties must allow dispensaries anywhere that pharmacies can operate.
Boca Raton’s legal staff investigated whether the city could work around the “highly restrictive” law. They could find no option that would have a reasonable chance of surviving the expected lawsuit.
Residents who have spoken against the ban emphasize the need for patients to have easy access. The staff responds that three dispensaries in Deerfield Beach are within a mile of the city line. Two others are roughly two miles west of the city. Palm Beach County allows dispensaries in unincorporated areas.
City administrators clearly fear that the dispensaries will proliferate. They also may worry about the potential legalization of recreational marijuana. An amendment could be on the 2020 ballot.
Council members Monica Mayotte and Andy Thomson have been the most supportive of the ordinance. They also are the newest members of the council. It may come down to a vote from Mayor Scott Singer or council members Andrea O’Rourke or Jeremy Rodgers. The council probably will get the ordinance next month.
But what about vaping?
For all the concern in Boca Raton and elsewhere about medical marijuana and the perceived dangers of selling it, there’s been no concern about other products that are a proven health risk.
Those would be electronic cigarettes, which makers have used to hook teenagers on nicotine. The Palm Beach County School District is suing JUUL, one of the largest e-cigarette makers, for targeting students with flavored products and creating a new generation of addicts.
Vaping shops operate all over Boca Raton and Delray Beach. A bill in the Legislature would impose a statewide ban on flavored e-cigarettes, but anti-regulation Republicans might listen more to lobbyists than public health experts. President Trump talked tough about a federal ban, and then backed down after lobbyists said the move might cost jobs.
Cities and counties in other states have approved restrictions on vaping. Perhaps Boca Raton and Delray Beach—which also bans medical marijuana dispensaries— should consider acting. I’ve asked Boca Raton’s communications department if the city has any options. I will update when I hear back.
Key West climate change summit
I noted Tuesday that the annual regional climate change summit is taking place this week in Key West. Boca Raton and Delray Beach are among the governments that have sent representatives.
One of the many responses available to local government is the Community Rating System. It classifies cities and counties based on programs to reduce the impact of rising seas. If communities are aggressive, residents can save money on flood insurance premiums.
Boca Raton previously had improved from a Class 8 rating to a Class 7. The lower the number, the better. Delray Beach just announced that the city also has gone from an 8 to a 7. Each higher category brings a 5 percent reduction in policies.
According to a news release, the savings citywide will be $450,000 for residents who have policies through the National Flood Insurance Program. More savings could come after a Federal Emergency Management Agency audit in December of what the release called “best practices in floodplain management.”
Delray Beach generally has been ahead of Boca Raton on sustainability. One reason is that Delray Beach suffers much more—and much more regularly—from tidal flooding. One coastal neighborhood in Boca Raton floods occasionally and so does Lake Wyman, but that’s about it.
At this point, Boca Raton plans no similar study. A spokeswoman, however, said the city is requiring that new and renovated seawalls be built to FEMA’s upgraded height, under the latest flood elevation maps, of four feet. One example is the new Wildflower/Silver Palm Park.
Almost a year ago, Delray Beach officials presented a consultant’s report on vulnerability to flooding. It looks out 75 years and recommends projects to make the most vulnerable areas more resilient. It estimated the cost at almost $400 million. The city got some of the projects onto a Palm Beach County priorities list, in hopes of getting grant money.
Some South Florida cities have approved massive seawall rebuilding programs, covering public and private property. Complaints about deteriorating seawalls can lead to code enforcement cases. Repairs require a city permit and approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Boca Raton’s new sustainability director, Lindsey Nieratka, presented a plan to the city council in July. For now, the political will on sustainability may be stronger in Delray Beach. The city commission banned single-use plastic straws. The Boca Raton City Council backed only a voluntary plan to reduce use of the polluting straws.
But Boca Raton also has been a regional leader in recycling water, despite early public hysteria.
Accordingly, the city recently received recognition for its In-City Reclamation Irrigation System (IRIS). It provides partially treated—non-potable—water to parks, golf courses and homes for landscape irrigation. According to the city, per capita use of drinking water is down 20 percent in the last decade.
Climate change is Florida’s existential issue. Cities have no choice but to emphasize sustainability. I’ll update with what comes out of the Key West conference.
Sea turtle count
On the bright side, Delray Beach had a record year for sea turtle nests—361—despite the erosion from Hurricane Dorian. The old record had been 304.
The great majority were loggerhead nestings. City officials estimate that the season—March 1 to October 31—produced roughly 20,000 hatchlings. A news release credited the record to public awareness campaigns and changes in lighting that reduced disorientation that causes hatchlings to crawl toward land rather than the ocean.
Happily, Boca Raton also had a record season, with 1,324 nests. The previous record was 1,178 in 2013.
Crime follow up
Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer got back to me to explain his newsletter remark about crime being down in the city even though the year isn’t over.
Singer cited the police department’s presentation showing that Part I offenses through October had declined 10.2 percent from the first 10 months of 2018. Part I offenses include the eight crimes—murder, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, larceny-theft and arson—that cities report to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which produces the state’s annual Unified Crime Report.
The department notes that the October numbers “are subject to change, based on continuing investigations and reclassifications.” Whatever the numbers for 2019, though, the long-term trend is astonishing. Crime in Boca Raton is down 55 percent from 30 years ago.
Boca Regional donation
Boca Raton Regional Hospital announced this week a $25 million donation toward the capital campaign called Keeping the Promise.
The gift comes from Toby and Leon Cooperman. According to the hospital, it is one of seven eight-figure gifts toward the $250 million campaign that will help to finance two new patient towers, the parking garage and a new power plan. The campaign has raised $152 million.
The Coopermans live in New Jersey but they also own a home in St. Andrews Country Club, where their gift was announced on Tuesday. Their names will be on a medical arts pavilion at the remade campus.
The release quoted Leon Cooperman, chairman of New York-based Omega Advisors, as saying, “We have referenced many times the Talmud, where it is proclaimed that a man’s net worth is measured not by what he earns but rather what he gives away.”
According to the release, the Coopermans—longtime philanthropists—have signed the Giving Pledge and intend to give away all their money. Leon Cooperman, whose net worth has been estimated at $3.2 billion, recently made news writing an open letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren that criticized her idea for a tax on wealthy Americans.
One of Delray Beach’s annual highlights comes with the lighting of the city’s 100-foot Christmas tree tonight. After decades of using a wooden tree, Delray Beach bought the aluminum structure in 2017. The event at Old School Square begins at 5:30, with the lighting at 7:15.