Chabad case going federal
The lawsuit by two Boca Raton residents who allege that the city conspired with a Jewish congregation has gone to a federal appeals court. The plaintiffs’ latest filing is more of the same.
Gerald Gagliardi and Kathleen MacDougall—you can see her on the BocaWatch website conducting interviews—have lost twice in their lawsuit against the city and Chabad East Boca. And they haven’t just lost. Each time, U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra has granted the city’s motion to dismiss. Gagliardi and MacDougall haven’t been able to persuade Marra that they even have a case.
But now, the plaintiffs argue not just for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to hear their argument. They want oral arguments.
Plaintiffs can’t appeal, though, based only on the fact that they lost. They have to demonstrate that the trial court ruled wrongly. So weak is their argument that they try to borrow for another case against the chabad.
That lawsuit, in state court on behalf of a separate plaintiff, challenged the 2015 approval of the chabad’s facility on Palmetto Park Road near the beach on the grounds that city rules didn’t allow a museum as part of the project. The court ruled against the chabad, which then withdrew its development application.
But the chabad could refile with an application that doesn’t include the museum/exhibit hall. So Gagliardi and MacDougall—who in their first filing made clear that each was “a member of a Christian religion”—continue to claim some supposed damage from a building that does not, and will not exist. They continue to claim that Boca Raton violated the First Amendment ban on establishment of religion by cutting a deal with the chabad to put the congregation’s new home on East Palmetto Park Road near the plaintiffs and not east of Mizner Park, the chabad’s preferred site that Golden Triangle residents opposed.
In this latest filing, Gagliardi and MacDougall continue to insist that allowing the chabad would increase the risk of flooding on the barrier island. Yet as city staff noted, the chabad is less intense than some use of the property the city could allow.
As I have said for two years, one wonders whether approval of a Christian religious center would have resulted in all this legal action. One also wonders why Art Koski—who deals with regularly as executive director of, and attorney for the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District—took this case. I will have more on the chabad lawsuit when the city files its response.
Final Delray CRA seats filled
The Delray Beach City Commission has filled all four seats that opened on the community redevelopment agency board.
At its June 20 meeting, the commission chose Annette Gray and Allen Zeller for the final two vacancies. The commission previously appointed Morris Carstarphen and reappointed Chairman Reggie Cox. The four-year terms took effect July 1. Cox will have to leave the board in 2021 because of term limits.
As I had hinted, Gray got a second chance. Commissioner Shirley Ervin Johnson nominated Gray on June 6, but she failed on a 2-2 vote, with Mayor Cary Glickstein and Commissioner Jim Chard voting against her and Shelly Petrolia joining Johnson in support. Mitch Katz, though, was absent. He and Petrolia often vote in sync. Both wanted to abolish the CRA board and put the commission in control.
Sure enough, at the next meeting Katz used his nomination on Gray, whom the commission approved 4-1. Chard switched his vote to yes. Glickstein remained opposed, saying that he preferred someone who lives within the CRA. Gray lives west of Interstate 95. On her application, Gray said she wants to “realign the board with the true mission of a CRA and improve fiscal responsibility.” Gray owns a real estate firm and a marketing firm. She lists herself as an adjunct professor of Palm Beach State College and Broward College, though the PBSC website does not name her as a faculty member.
Petrolia then nominated Allen Zeller, who has served on homeowner associations but no city boards. Zeller, though, has been a Delray Beach resident for 14 years and brings to the CRA board a lifetime of relevant experience as a land-use attorney in New Jersey. “The regulations there are a little different than they are in Florida,” Zeller told me, “but the concepts are the same.”
Zeller, who now lives in Lake Ida, said he began following city issues with the Atlantic Crossing and iPic projects, both of which the Marina Historic District has monitored closely. Though Zeller’s background was part of his appeal to a commission seeking change at the CRA, another surely was his description of the CRA as a “bloated, out-of-touch agency with poor governance that has abused its mission.” The commission approved Zeller’s nomination unanimously.
Delray rewarded for improving at-risk students’ reading performance
I reported on June 20 that Delray Beach won its third All-America City award. During that night’s city commission meeting, Mayor Cary Glickstein detailed some of the important numbers behind that award.
The National Civic League based the 2017 awards on cities helping at-risk students, especially with reading. Delray Beach, Glickstein said, set up a system to share data with the Palm Beach County School District. Among other things, the city learned that 10 percent of at-risk students—with lower incomes, from broken homes—were chronically absent. Missing school is an obvious risk factor. Glickstein said the rate is now down to less than 1 percent.
Another problem is the summer slide or slump. At-risk children lose ground during vacation while students from stable homes get their work reinforced and prepare for the next year. In 2012, Glickstein said, only 60 at-risk children were in summer programs. That number is up to 1,100.
Delray Beach faces a huge task. The data showed that 70 percent of at-risk children in kindergarten through third grade were not reading on grade level. Children who haven’t caught up by the third grade likely won’t ever catch up. Poor reading then affects work in other subjects that depend on reading ability.
Glickstein noted that children of parents who attended college hear 30 million more words in the home by the time they are ready for school than children whose parents didn’t attend college. Glickstein acknowledged that even the best effort can’t even out all of that imbalance, but he noted correctly that programs like the one in Delray Beach could help give such children “fair access to the starting line.” By 2020, the city hopes to have doubled the number of at-risk children reading on grade level.
Boca wants to step-up its schooling
Though Boca Raton has far fewer at-risk students than Delray Beach, the city council expressed interest in a greater education role for Boca at its goal-setting session.
Scott Singer proposed that the city have a liaison with the schools. He also asked about providing a mental health counselor at Boca Raton and Spanish River high schools to deal with issues such as bullying. There was talk of help for Boca Raton Elementary, which many of the city’s less-affluent children attend.
Greater involvement would be good policy in many ways. For many years, the Boca council seemed to care only about what city schools received under the still-bogus state grading system that often more reflects the socio-economic status of the students and parents than the school’s actual performance. For the record, almost all schools in Boca Raton or that draw Boca Raton students scored an ‘A.’ Boca Raton Elementary, Boca Raton Middle and J.C. Elementary got a ‘B.’
Singer’s ideas would push the city to look beyond the superficial, just as Chicago wants to require that all high school graduates have a college acceptance letter, plan to attend a trade school or an apprentice program or join the military. Businesses seeking to move, expand or start always consider the education system, for their employees’ children as a source of talent. The need in Boca Raton may differ from those in Delray Beach, but the goals may be just as important.
Boca Raton announced last week that the city has installed three more electric-car charging stations. Two are at City Hall. The other is at the Spanish River Library. Boca Raton previously installed a charging station at the Downtown Library.
According to a release, the stations can handle two cars at a time. Municipal Services Director Dan Grippo called the first station “a success” and said the city wants to support and encourage drivers of electric vehicles.”
Proposed senior living facility clashes with property land-use
The Boca Raton City Council may face a tricky vote soon on a different sort of project.
A developer proposed to build the Boca Raton Senior Living, Wellness and Medical Care Campus on five vacant acres along Congress Avenue near the Delray Beach line. The complex would include a 115-bed adult living facility, a 36-bed memory care unit and a clinic. The developer proposed a partnership with Boca Raton Regional Hospital, which would bring the expertise of its Marcus Neuroscience Center to the memory care facility and run the clinic as an urgent care center. The hospital recently got permission to turn the former Blockbuster Video store downtown into an urgent care clinic.
As the staff report noted, however, Boca Raton has designated that area Planned Mobility Development. Projects within such areas are supposed to reduce the impact of traffic. The medical campus would create more traffic, the staff said, and more demands on the city’s emergency services. It would require a land-use change. The report finds the project “incompatible” and recommended denial.
That’s what happened. Board members Larry Cellon, Kerry Koen and Janice Rustin praised the project and the presentation by attorney Michael Marshall, but they voted to recommend that the city council deny the needed approvals. Arnold Sevell and Larry Snowden voted to endorse the project. Chairman William Fairman and board member Richard Coffin were absent.
The project likely will go to the council for the July 24 or Aug. 22 meeting. There seemed to be agreement that the project is high-quality and might fill a need. Sevell said he discovered, through doing work for his business, that roughly 17,000 people age 85 and over live in that neighborhood. The question will be whether that neighborhood is the right place for the project.