The Worst-Worst Case for Delray Beach?

(Photo courtesy Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority.)

Cities and counties worry again this year about attacks on home rule from the Florida legislature. Example: One bill would prohibit local government regulations of vacation rentals. Tallahassee would make all decisions about single-family neighborhoods and this issue.

No legislation, however, threatens Delray Beach more than bills that would affect community redevelopment agencies. The House version especially would restrict how CRAs could spend money. If the House version passes, the hit to the city budget could be $3 million.

Why?

Over the last two or three years, the commission has urged, cajoled and more than mildly threatened the CRA board to spend money on activities within the CRA boundaries for which the city had been paying. That shift has allowed the commission to spend more money outside the CRA. One example is the annual Association of Tennis Professionals tournament. The CRA now spends nearly $1 million on the event.

The House bill, however, would prevent the CRA from making such expenditures. That prohibition also could apply to money for Old School Square, Arts Garage and other nonprofits. Delray Beach considers such expenses to be part of economic redevelopment. But Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, disagrees. Corcoran has made home rule a personal priority in what many believe is preparation for a run this year for governor.

Even the worst case with the CRA might not be the worst for the city. This fall, voters could add $25,000 to the homestead exemption. That would cut revenue to cities and counties, which could not make up the difference without cutting budgets or raising taxes or both.

Boca Raton is in a much different position on the CRA legislation. The city’s CRA doesn’t finance the same sort of non-profits, the boundaries include a comparatively smaller portion of the city and the CRA isn’t the city’s key source of property tax revenue.

Last year, the Delray Beach City Commission came within a vote of taking over the CRA. Commissioners Shelly Petrolia and Mitch Katz supported the takeover, primarily because of what they considered the agency’s resistance to working with the city. Petrolia is running for mayor and Katz is running for a second term in the March 13 election. The legislative session ends roughly a week earlier.

Petrolia told me Monday that she would prefer not to debate a takeover again if she succeeds Carey Glickstein. “It hinges on (the CRA board’s) willingness to communicate.” If House Bill 17 passes, however, Petrolia said that would change things. Though she still wouldn’t predict a takeover, merely because of new financial realities between the city and the CRA, a takeover would be “a conversation we have to have.”

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Boca’s education task force

At tonight’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council will choose the seven members of the education task force. During comments Monday by the applicants, however, there still was debate about where the group should focus its work.

Some applicants want to work on school crowding, which has emerged as a political issue. Others wanted to talk about academics. The appointments last only a year, so deciding on that focus will be important.

But there is no doubt that decisions about schools can have consequences long after the fact. One applicant spoke about Boca Raton High School, which is roughly 20 percent over capacity.

The school is on about 30 acres. The Palm Beach County School District prefers 40 acres for new high schools. If Boca High had 10 more acres, the speaker said, crowding would be less of a problem.

When Boca High was upgraded nearly 20 years ago, some residents did want to move the campus from its tight location on 15th Avenue just west of University Commons. They wanted more space. They worried about safety because of Boca Raton Airport.

One idea was to move the school to Florida Atlantic University. Ultimately, though, the consensus was to upgrade at the current location. Among other things, that meant going without a baseball field.

So, yes, those extra 10 acres would help. But no one foresaw then how popular the school would become. Even the best task force will have limits.

Mailer mystery

With the departure of Robert Weinroth from the Boca Raton City Council Seat D race, the Mystery of Monica Mayotte Mailer likely will remain unsolved.

The mailer went out several weeks ago. It depicted “failed candidate” Al Zucaro, the publisher of BocaWatch, pulling the strings of Mayotte and Councilman Andrea O’Rourke. The ad depicted them as marionettes. Zucaro ran unsuccessfully for mayor last year.

The ad said Zucaro “wants to take control of our city by electing another puppet,” meaning Mayotte. BocaWatch promoted O’Rourke’s candidacy a year ago and has been promoting Mayotte’s for months.

Unlike all other mailers I’ve seen, this one didn’t have the name of a campaign, a political action committee (PAC) or an electioneering communications organization (ECO). It had only an address. If it came from an individual, it was legal. If it came from a PAC or an ECO, it was illegal.

The address was a house near Spanish River Boulevard and Dixie High that appears to be a rental property. A real estate company sold it in 2013 to Finkelstein Properties. A check of that company and its officers didn’t lead to anyone with an apparent connection to Boca Raton politics.

Mayotte supporters blamed Weinroth, but he told me that neither he nor his campaign had sent it. He also told that he had called Mayotte to tell her. Mayotte confirmed the call and its contents to me, saying, “I accept his story.”

Mayotte did call the mailer “very suspicious.”

Though Weinroth was Mayotte’s opponent, a Mayotte supporter could have sent the mailer to make her look like the victim of a nasty ad. Councilman Scott Singer quickly posted a video response criticizing the ad, though he incorrectly called it “misogynistic.” Mayotte and O’Rourke just happen to be women. And O’Rourke sent her own attack ad last year against Emily Gentile, laying out Gentile’s personal financial history.

So far this year, the only mailers have been from Armand Grossman, Mayotte’s new opponent. Both pieces have been pro-Grossman, not anti-Mayotte. But the election is still a month away.

Chamber endorsement

In that Seat D race, the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Grossman.

The chamber board previously had endorsed Weinroth, but after he decided to run instead for the Palm Beach County Commission, the chamber started over. Mayotte was asked back for a second interview.

Given Mayotte’s ties to BocaWatch, which regularly rants about overdevelopment, the Grossman endorsement is not surprising. Mayotte earlier received the endorsement from the firefighters union. This week BocaWatch endorsed her.

In the Seat C race, the chamber endorsed Jeremy Rodgers over Kim Do. In 2015, the chamber’s backing helped Rodgers in a three-candidate race.

Boca Raton Championship

It was a great weekend for the Boca Raton Championship, the annual stop on the PGA Champions Senior Tour.

The weather was warm, the competition hot at Broken Sound’s Old Course. The real payoff, however, could come in the next few months.

For 11 years, the tournament was called the Allianz Open. The company, however, declined to renew its contract after last season, despite excellent attendance and a dramatic finish. Organizers were unable to find a similar replacement, so the Boca Raton City Council stepped in with $500,000. Council members stressed that they considered the money as a one-time payment.

So organizers invited lots of potential sponsors to the tournament and hoped for, well, what they got. The courting now begins.

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