Tuesday, September 26, 2023

BocaWatch’s Hypocrisy on Jeremy Rodgers, Other Notes From Delray and Boca

We could spend many long beers examining the misrepresentations and continuing bias of the BocaWatch website. With Boca Raton’s election less two weeks away, however, one item deserves mention.

BocaWatch recently slammed Councilman Jeremy Rodgers (pictured above), who is seeking another term in Seat C, for his supposedly bad record on development. The item cited 13 votes since Rodgers took office in March 2015. Those approvals, the BocaWatch item declared, would combine to create a development “tsunami.”

Before we get to some of Rodgers’ earlier votes, let’s discuss the five votes cited since last April. In order, Rodgers voted for the 322-unit Boca Colonnade, the 193-unit 375 Royal Palm, the 384-unit Mizner 200—now called The Monarch Boca Raton—the 70-unit Ocean Palm and the 284-unit 5201 Congress.

Because of these votes, BocaWatch implies, Rodgers is not “resident-friendly.” That’s the bumper-sticker label BocaWatch applies to elected officials and candidates the site likes—notably Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke and Monica Mayotte, who’s running against Armand Grossman in the Seat D race. Indeed, BocaWatch often looks like O’Rourke’s personal Facebook page.

Yet the supposedly “resident-friendly” O’Rourke voted right along with Rodgers to approve all five of those projects. More recently, she was part of the unanimous decision to approve 475 Royal Palm, a 48-unit condo near the Palmetto Park Road Bridge.

So the slam at Rodgers is BocaWatch hypocrisy. The website has “endorsed” Rodgers’ challenger, Kim Do. She has lived in the city for less than a year and has served on no city boards. Yet BocaWatch has blessed Do as “resident-friendly.” The blessing may be linked in part to the fact that Rodgers has challenged BocaWatch Publisher Al Zucaro on social media.

BocaWatch also falsely states that Rodgers “favored the commercial development of our waterfront parks, in spite of overwhelming residential support to the contrary.” That refers to the Wildflower property, which was not a park when the city was negotiating to lease the roughly two-acre site for a restaurant. Rodgers nor any other council member ever favored “the commercial development of our waterfront parks.”

As stated, Rodgers did vote for University Village and Via Mizner’s second and third phases—94 luxury condos and a Mandarin Oriental hotel. No one spoke against that project, probably because it should greatly improve the developing south end of downtown.

University Village did draw opposition from some neighbors near Spanish River Boulevard. The council responded by making several significant changes, including a much wider buffer between the 80-acre project and surrounding neighborhoods.

One final note: All the projects in question came with staff recommendations for approval. Few required any technical deviations. The University Village plan the council approved actually would create less traffic than the original version. It was an upgrade.

Some residents may have reasons to vote against Rodgers. Just don’t base any of the reasons on what BocaWatch writes about Rodgers.

Grossman’s anti-Mayotte video

Since we’re talking about campaign deception, Armand Grossman put out a deceptive video as part of his campaign against Mayotte in Seat D.

The ad didn’t come directly from Grossman’s campaign, but it came from a political action committee—the Responsible Neighbors Alliance—run by Grossman’s consultant, Todd Richardson. It advises viewers to “tell Monica Mayotte and her big developer buddies ‘Enough is enough.’” It features the generic construction-related traffic jams that Zucaro used regularly in his failed campaign against Mayor Susan Haynie.

Mayotte, though, has taken almost no money from developers or their representatives. Taking such contributions doesn’t make a candidate bad. Grossman would agree. He’s taken some of those contributions. But Mayotte is hardly the candidate of “developers.” The Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Grossman. The ad is false.

And campaign war chest totals

Grossman began his campaign by loaning himself $50,000. According to the latest finance reports, Grossman raised about $17,000 during the first 10 days of February. That makes his total roughly $73,000.

The contributions include $3,000 from developers and their representatives. Grossman also received $1,000 from the Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. Grossman qualified at the last minute after Robert Weinroth dropped out to run for the county commission.

Curiously, Grossman lists only $503 in expenditures, even though I’ve received three mailings from his campaign. His consultant’s group has sent out two anti-Mayotte mailers, but Responsible Neighbors Alliance lists no contributions or expenditures. We may not know until after the March 13 who is financing the group’s activities.

Mayotte raised $1,800 during the recent reporting period. She lists about $44,000 in overall donations, including a $25,000 personal loan. Almost all of her donations are for less than $100. Mayotte has spent more than half of her total.

Paul Preste also is running in Seat D, though he knows nothing about the city and has been reluctant even to share his address. Preste has $850, all of it from himself.

In Seat C, Rodgers raised $1,825 for the most recent period, giving him about $63,000. As with Grossman, Rodgers’ new total includes $1,000 from the chamber of commerce. Rodgers lists $16,600 in expenditures.

Kim Do, Rodgers’ opponent, is mostly self-financed. She has about $33,000, including a loan of $30,000. Do also entered the race very late.

Boaters speak out on launch plans

Remember all that talk of a grandiose plan that would link the Wildflower property and Silver Palm Park? Proponents were giddy. Of course, the boat launch at Silver Palm that might get in the way of those plans. Perhaps the boaters would be fine with the city moving the launch north as part of the Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park makeover?

Apparently, the boaters are not fine with it. During Tuesday night’s meeting, Boca Raton City Council members discussed the opposition expressed at an outreach meeting the previous evening. Boaters didn’t like the prospect of being farther from the Boca Raton Inlet. Neighbors didn’t like the idea of traffic and noise from motorized launches, compared with kayaks and canoes.

Having some connection between the Wildflower and Silver Palm probably still makes sense. But a joint plan that, as some envisioned, would make the roughly six acres into Boca Raton’s version of San Antonio’s Riverwalk seems far less likely.

Councilwoman O’Rourke said the council got “very, very clear direction” at Monday’s meeting. “I heard the community.”

It was interesting to hear that from her, since O’Rourke had been one of the council cheerleaders on the grandiose Wildflower-Silver Palm plan, at one point implying that the boaters wouldn’t mind moving. O’Rourke based her 2017 campaign largely on the deceptive ordinance from a petition drive by neighbors who didn’t want a restaurant on the Wildflower.

The other advocate was Scott Singer, who broke with the council in 2016, declaring his opposition to the restaurant. Singer held a community event to discuss alternate uses of the Wildflower. On Tuesday, Singer was hanging in, calling for “more outreach” and questioning whether the comments Monday reflected the community.

Mayor Susan Haynie said parking for boaters at Rutherford would be problematic, given the shape of the lot and size of some vessels. She also heard that moving the launch would not increase capacity.

Perhaps now the council will direct the city’s consultant to make the Wildflower a part of the waterfront plan, not the whole plan. Gene Folden, chairman of the Marine Advisory Board, told me that Silver Palm could use some upgrades that make the park nicer for boaters and non-boaters. Restrictions on who could use the launch could reduce boat traffic.

If the ordinance had not blocked the city from finalizing the lease, a restaurant that would pay rent and provide a waterfront amenity and public access might be ready to open on the Wildflower property. Those who opposed it now should scale back their dreams.

Quiet zones on the way

Brightline trains keep blowing their horns, but a spokeswoman said Wednesday that the company has told the Palm Beach Transportation Agency that all quiet zone improvements would be complete by the end of this month.

Once that happens, cities can apply to the Federal Railway Administration for the quiet zone. It would remove the need for trains to blow their horns. All candidates running in the Boca Raton and Delray Beach elections would vote to establish the quiet zone.

MSD resolution

Things got emotional Tuesday night when the Boca Raton City Council discussed a resolution in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

Council members heard from a city resident whose niece was among the 17 victims. He has children in Boca Raton schools. They heard from students and parents who worry about safety. They heard from a drained Frank Barbieri, the school board member who represents Boca Raton and has been working with administrators on post-Douglas safety changes.

March 14 has been designated as a school-walkout day to call for tougher firearms control. Barbieri acknowledged the sentiment, but he is asking local students to stay on campus “because we can’t protect them when they leave.” When West Boca High students walked to Stoneman Douglas, Barbieri said, police were at every intersection. Boca Raton officers were at every city school the day after the shooting.

The resolution, which Councilwoman O’Rourke proposed for discussion, calls on Congress and the Florida Legislature to increase resources for mental health, improve school safety and perhaps enact “reasonable firearms legislation.” It has no force, but many communities in Florida are passing them. Councilman Singer noted that the city has been working the Faulk Center on getting more counseling for the city’s high school students.

Councilman Weinroth asked about Boca Raton joining the Broward County city of Weston in its lawsuit against the state law that criminalizes local officials who try to pass firearms restrictions. City Attorney Diana Grub Frieser said she would monitor Weston’s action and report back.

Haynie said the response to Douglas “isn’t one thing. It’s many things.” That goes nationwide, not just for Florida.

Delray school violence resolution

Similarly, a school violence resolution is on Tuesday’s agenda of the Delray Beach City Commission. It’s much more focused on firearm regulation, calling for a ban on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, and for raising the age for firearms purchases to 21.

Mayor Cary Glickstein said he also wants to watch what Weston is doing.

“I like the concept. For change to come against the backwater thinking in Tallahassee, the means and methods must be a ‘hub-and-spoke’ approach.”

He compared the Douglas response to the strategy on sober homes: “Where there is no single solution, we will change gun laws only by confronting them from multiple directions: voter registration—particularly among new voters coming of age—political campaigns and elections, lawsuits against multiple defendants, corporate/consumer demands, and constitutional amendments that harness true majority thinking over elected majority stonewalling.”

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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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