Curfew in Delray, But Not in Boca. Plus, How to Hold Meetings?

coronavirus cases in boca raton
Mizner Park

The disjointed, confusing government response to COVID-19 continues.

On Monday, Gov. DeSantis announced “safer at home” rules for Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. They have 60 percent of all confirmed cases in the state.

In terms of duration, the governor went further than what Boca Raton and Delray Beach have done. He imposed the restrictions until mid-May. This is the same governor who still hasn’t issued a statewide closure of beaches.

What the order covers, though, isn’t much different from what Boca Raton, Delray Beach and the county already had done. On Friday, Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell emailed a letter to residents to explain what he called the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which asks people to leave home only to patronize “essential” businesses and to walk or exercise while observing social distance.

“We don’t know,” Ahnell said, “if this will be a 14-day directive or if this will be our new normal for the next month; it all depends on how seriously people take it.”

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Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell

Ahnell added, “Many of you have been taking all precautions and making the sacrifices that are required right now, and we appreciate how you are leading by example. We will continue to assess the situation and take restrictive measures as needed for the safety of the entire community, especially our healthcare workers, first responders and critical infrastructure workers who can’t work from home. “If we take appropriate actions now, then we can avoid taking more drastic measures later.”

On Saturday, Delray Beach City Manager George Gretsas issued his own “stay at home” order and went further, imposing a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m. Those orders took effect Monday and will last until April 16. As in Boca Raton, residents can be out of their homes for “essential travel” and emergencies.

According to the city spokeswoman, Boca Raton is not considering a curfew. During Sunday’s conference call of county governments, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw stated that enforcing a curfew in areas his department patrols would not be an efficient use of time and could needlessly put road deputies’ health at risk.

What it means

If government actions in Florida have been inconsistent, so have the terms.

Is it “stay at home?” Or “safer at home?” Perhaps “Stay Home, Stay Safe?” Maybe “shelter in place?” Let’s lose at least that last one.

Cities and counties use “shelter in place” when there’s a known, imminent threat – a hurricane or tornado, a chemical leak, a shooting. The directive tells people not to leave their home for a specified time.

With the virus, however, there is no timetable. And “shelter” doesn’t apply if government is allowing—even encouraging—people to get outside and exercise for their physical and mental health. “Stay at home” isn’t perfect, but it probably best fits the current condition.

(Some) life goes on

Despite the virus restrictions, much of municipal life in Boca Raton and Delray Beach continues. Though administrators can handle many decisions, others—such as approval of large contracts and agreements with other governments—depend on votes by elected officials.

So both cities are deciding how to hold meetings while observing the restrictions and complying with state laws that requires public notice and participation. This high-tech adaptation must happen in city hall chambers that date to the 1960s.

At 4:15 p.m. today, Delray Beach will hold its organizational meeting, which the city delayed from March 20, to certify results of the election three days earlier. Juli Casale will take over from Bill Bathurst as the Seat 2 city commissioner. Shirley Johnson will be sworn in for a new term in Seat 4.

The public will not be able to attend, but there’s never public comment at these meetings. The city will livestream the event. Commissioners and staff will observe social distancing, which will mean improvising, since the dais is so cramped. After the swearing in, the commission will choose a vice mayor and deputy vice mayor. “And then we’re outta there,” Commission Ryan Boylston told me.

There are no plans for future meetings. Delray Beach cancelled its April 7 commission meeting. The next one scheduled is for April 21.

Meanwhile, Boca Raton on Friday tried a mock meeting without city council members. A spokeswoman said, “There will be a learning curve.”

If council members participate remotely, they would need sufficient Wi-Fi and would have to ensure that children or pets didn’t interrupt. The setup also would have to allow remote public comment.

During the mock meeting, the spokeswoman said, there were “audio issues” and other “technical kinks.” But Power Point presentations seemed to go well.

As in Delray Beach, the dais would not allow all council members, City Manager Leif Ahnell and City Attorney Diana Frieser to safely distance from one another. Would Ahnell or Frieser appear in person even if the council didn’t? “We don’t know,” the spokeswoman said.

The council’s next scheduled meetings are on April 13-14 and April 27-28. The spokeswoman was “not sure” that the technology would be ready this month, but she added, “That’s the goal.”

Enforcing closures

Appearing on a city Facebook broadcast, a code enforcement official in Delray Beach said some residents don’t understand that community pools and tennis courts must close. They may be on private property, but they draw people and those present a threat.

Yes, that applies even if your relatives have come here from New York and want something to do.

How landlords are coping

Publix, Florida’s largest grocery chain, is acting like a benevolent landlord.

The company will forgive two months of rent for tenants in shopping centers that Publix owns — if the store has had to close because of the virus. The company also will waive fees for common area maintenance.

That news made me wonder about Investments Limited, Boca Raton’s largest private landlord. On Monday, I asked Robert Eisen of Investments Limited if the company would have a similar attitude.

“At Investments Limited for nearly 50 years,” Eisen responded, “long-term relationships and partnering with our tenants, vendors, and business associates, through thick and thin, have been our guiding principles and still drive our business every day.

“The most important thing in any good landlord/tenant relationship is transparency, sharing both the good things and bad.  It is by working TOGETHER that we will come through these difficult times and emerge with stronger businesses and relationships.

“As property owners, we, of course, have our own bills to pay. Our mortgages, insurance, property taxes and other hard expenses, don’t stop. However, we will try to help our tenants as much as we can. Any request by a tenant to waive, delay, or modify lease payments will be considered on a case-by-case basis.”

Where are the cases?

It’s been hard to get information from the state about locations of COVID-19 cases, but The Palm Beach Post reported that there are 10 cases in The Polo Club. The gated community near Boca Raton has 1,700 homes. According to the Department of Health, as of Sunday there were 68 confirmed cases in Boca Raton.

Diaper Drive

Junior League members Jena LaMendola and Reilly Glasser with baby supplies donated for victims of Hurricane Irma. Photo courtesy of JLBR.

The Junior League of Boca Raton wants diapers.

In a news release, the league noted that, even before the virus pandemic, one-third of American families couldn’t afford diapers. The need now is greater because so many people have lost their jobs.

In normal times, the league distributes about 600,000 diapers each year. Junior League President Cristy Stewart-Harfmann said. “Organizations throughout the area that serve children are reaching out to us asking for help, and we expect these calls will increase.”

Those who want to donate can email the league at community@jlbr.org to have someone pick up donated diapers. Or you can use the league’s Amazon wish list to have diapers shipped directly to the organization’s headquarters. The link is http://a.co/6hoQI8P.

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