Cut Trees, Not Power, the Post Office Move and Delray Commissioners Are Sworn In

A tree torn out of the earth by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by David Shuff)

It’s not even April, but it’s not too soon to begin thinking about hurricane season.

That means thinking about trees.

Boca Raton has crafted a new brochure to inform residents about which trees to plant and where, to minimize the risk to power lines. Florida Power & Light officials say downed trees caused most of the failures after Irma last September and then impeded restoration work because large branches blocked streets.

In May, a city spokesman said, Boca Raton may start prodding residents to trim trees and to make them safer for hurricane season, which begins June 1. The city also may make special pickups at that time for yard debris. This week the city council approved the purchase of new garbage trucks, so the city can clear storm debris quicker.

If trees don’t come down, of course, there’s less debris. That depends on property owners. For now, Boca Raton is using encouragement and awareness. Other agencies, however, are getting tougher.

The Sun Sentinel reported that Broward County will consider an ordinance under which the county could issue $500 fines to residents who violate FPL’s “Right Tree, Right Place” program. Given the clout in Tallahassee of FPL and other investor-owned utilities and the eagerness of the Legislature to pre-empt local governments, residents of Boca Raton and Delray Beach should act on their own before another bad storm shifts the politics even more.

(Photo of downed tree by David Shuff)

Backup power for some places

Another issue that arose after Irma is backup power for nursing homes and other adult living centers. Twelve residents of a Hollywood nursing home died when post-Irma temperatures rose to nearly 100 degrees.

The tragedy prompted Boca Raton to consider a requirement that such facilities be able to keep residents cool for four days. Some operators, especially at older facilities, resisted. They claimed that the cost of retrofitting would be prohibitive and that they might have trouble finding suitable generators. The ordinance lingered. It has not come before the council since January.

Now the ordinance likely is unnecessary. The legislature approved a bill requiring that nursing homes be able to keep interior temperature at 81 degrees or lower for that four-day period. The rules vary for assisted-living facilities. All operators must be in compliance by June 1.

The council had deferred the issue to see whether Tallahassee would act. Mayor Susan Haynie told me Wednesday that she wants to “study” the legislation, but she hinted that if most of what the city sought went into the state bill, the city ordinance would be redundant. Though cities generally have criticized the Legislature for trying to infringe on home rule, this intervention by Tallahassee probably will help.

C-15 canal issue

Boca Raton will act on behalf of residents who believe that the South Florida Water Management is about to ruin their neighborhood in the name of flood control.

They live on the south side of the C-15 Canal, which forms the border between Boca Raton and Delray Beach and which the district owns. The district also owns what Mayor Haynie estimates to be 25 feet of right of way on the Boca side. Though the residents don’t own it, the property has functioned as their backyards. Some residents have built docks and other structures.

In a Feb. 8 letter, the district informed those residents that, to clear the canal, the agency would be removing all trees and “improvements” in the right of way. Any “lawfully authorized docks”—when the owner has bought the property from the district—can stay. Otherwise, the residents will lose “all fences, structures, lighting and/or other improvements situated between your rear property line and the top of the bank.” If the owners want to save any trees, they must move them.

The work is scheduled to begin in May. The first phase covers South Dixie Highway to Brant Drive. The second runs from Brant Drive to Interstate 95. Each section will take about eight weeks. No “improvements,” the district said, can be “reinstalled” after the work.

To the district, the project will reduce the chance of trees falling into the canal during storms—we just can’t get away from hurricanes today—and thus reduce the chance of flooding. To the residents who attended Tuesday night’s city council meeting, the project will strip away their privacy by creating a swath of public recreational space behind their homes. Many of the trees to be removed, they said, form a buffer between their homes and people who hang out on the bridge at Brant Boulevard. Plans call for replacing and expanding the bridge.

After the residents contacted her, Haynie said, she asked if the district could meet with them. “I was told, ‘We don’t do that.’”

A district spokesman said, “On right-of-way projects like this, the district communicates in writing with each individual property owner multiple times to keep them updated.”

Tuesday night, the council approved a resolution that could lead to formal mediation but probably won’t get that far. The first step will be a meeting between City Manager Leif Ahnell and a district representative. The city has raised similar objections with the Lake Worth Drainage District, which maintains the secondary canals in the region’s extensive flood-control network. The water management district maintains the major canals and structures.

Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein said he had not heard similar complaints on the north side of the canal. Haynie noted that there’s seawall on the Delray Beach side, and there are far fewer structures. Haynie did contact Delray Beach Mayor-Elect Shelly Petrolia.

There is no argument that the district owns the land in question or that the structures on district property could be removed. But where the district sees the need for flood control, residents on Oregon Lane see the prospect of ATVs buzzing along a newly opened canal bank.

There also is no argument that flood control is important. The city, Haynie said, “will seek compromise.”

Post office move

Photo by Christiana Lilly
Photo by Christiana Lilly

During Monday’s city council meeting, Boca Raton residents and downtown business owners spoke in support of the downtown post office near Mizner Park. The council approved a resolution in support of a downtown facility.

The Postal Service will hold a meeting at 4:30 p.m. today in the community center annex to discuss plans for moving the facility, but not moving it far. In 2009, the Postal Service targeted the facility for closing but kept it open after similar resistance.

Interestingly, Mayor Haynie said Monday that the agency wants to open a smaller office with perhaps only half the square footage. Smaller as opposed to nothing would please those who use the facility, but here’s the reality of traditional mail.

In the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, the Postal Service ran a $2.7 billion deficit. If you’re looking for good news, that was about half of the 2016 deficit and way less than the record of nearly $16 billion.

Traditional mail volume is the lowest in nearly three decades. Why pay to mail a four-page contract when you can scan and email it immediately? Though package business is trending up, the more profitable first-class mail sector isn’t. An agency noted an “unexpected” decline last year in first-class mail.

In 2009, during the Great Recession, the Postal Service targeted the Boca Raton store and nearly 400 others because they were underperforming and because the agency was bleeding money. The latter remains true. Council members are right to want a post office as part of a growing downtown, but they are fighting technology and a lousy balance sheet.

Delray swearing in

Election results in Boca Raton and Delray Beach start to take effect tonight.

Shelly Petrolia will be sworn in as Delray’s next mayor. Adam Frankel will take over as the Seat 1 city commissioner, Bill Bathurst will have Seat 2 and Ryan Boylston will be in Seat 3. That’s an 80 percent shift in personalities and titles.

Delray Beach’s new leaders got a break when the legislature didn’t pass a bill that would have greatly restricted how community redevelopment agencies can spend money. Making up the difference might have put a $3 million hole in the city budget.

Still, the city’s greatest need remains money. The emergency operations center leaked during Hurricane Irma and there were communications problems. Another pressing issue is improving the city’s public schools, to attract more middle-class families. Goal-setting sessions are a month away.

Boca Raton’s new council will organize on Monday, but the change will be minor. Monica Mayotte in Seat D will be the one new face. We will watch to see whom council members name deputy mayor and chairman of the community redevelopment agency. The new council’s goal-setting also is set for the end of April.

Pole dance

That new commission in Delray will have a new, tough standard to face on quick action.

Last Tuesday, at a special meeting to certify the election results, residents of the Marina District complained about the sudden appearance of unsightly utility poles associated with the Atlantic Crossing project. This Tuesday, City Manager Mark Lauzier emailed officials of Florida Power & Light to say that—after a check by the city engineer—neither FPL nor the company’s subcontractor had pulled a permit.

So the city shut down utility work in that area “until this matter can be reviewed and rectified,” Lauzier wrote. Boca Raton residents may recall the dispute over a utility pole in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, despite a requirement that the lines be underground.

That mistake was corrected. I will follow developments on the Delray Beach case.