The Grinch is Gone, Brightline and Other Boca News of Note

Members of the Boca Raton City Council made sure to say at last week’s meeting that no pentagram would defile Sanborn Square this holiday season.

The deadline to apply for permits had passed on Nov. 21. None of the five permits had gone to the Boca Raton High School teacher who displayed a pentagram last year.

All good? Nope.

Late Friday morning, about 50 people had gathered at Sanborn Square across from Old Town Hall. Many carried signs: “I reject Satan”; God always, Satan never”; “Let them offend our Lord no more.” Supportive drivers were honking horns. Clergymen were arriving.

Once again, the emotion of social media had trumped reality. Rumors were spreading. The city had issued a permit for a pentagram. No, the city hadn’t, but the teacher was coming to put one up anyway. Either way, the city was covering it up.

People protesting what was rumored to be a permit for a Satanic display at Sanborn Square. Photos by Randy Schultz.
People protesting what was rumored to be a permit for a Satanic display at Sanborn Square. Photos by Randy Schultz.

I asked one man why he was there, since the city had explained that there was no permit. “That’s a fake story,” he responded. “That’s just the city trying to throw us off.”

At City Hall, staffers were trying to return fire on Twitter, with little luck. The crowd—which seemed to consist mostly of parishioners from St. Joan of Arc and Ascension Catholic churches—was growing to about 75. More drivers were honking. Someone said people had come from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

“But there won’t be a pentagram,” I told another man. Indeed, only one display graced the park: a crèche that St. Joan of Arc had erected. “So maybe,” he said, “this is a victory celebration.”

Perhaps, but it also was a victory for rumor over fact and a reminder of how little kindling it takes for a conspiracy theory to flare up. For the record, here are the five permits granted for holiday displays:

  • The aforementioned St. Joan of Arc nativity scene;
  • A “Season’s Greetings” banner from the Rotary Club of Boca Raton;
  • A menorah from Chabad East Boca wishing Happy Hanukkah;
  • A Holiday Art and Peace Tent featuring artwork of Aleppo, the city in Syria that has been nearly destroyed by that country’s civil war;
  • A Happy Holidays sign from Councilman Scott Singer. No one at City Hall could recall a sitting council member putting up a holiday display. Singer is running for mayor in March 2019.

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Ban all holiday displays?

One way to free Boca Raton from controversies over private holiday displays would be to ban them all. In fact, the city tried to do that four months ago.

After the pentagram went up last year—with a banner reading “In Satan We Trust”—protesters first vandalized it and then ran it over with a truck. Police responded to nearly 10 calls from the park.

So the city proposed an ordinance that would have allowed only city-approved holiday displays. The staff would have put up only the traditional displays. But opponents—many from St. Joan of Arc—asked the council not to infringe on their right to expression. The ordinance didn’t even get a vote.

Perhaps the council now will revisit the ordinance. If not, however, those who revile the pentagram will have to understand that allowing all private displays means allowing any private display. I considered the pentagram to be an offensive stunt, but free expression cuts both ways. And at least reject the idea that the city is part of a plot.

All aboard!

Brightline

All Aboard Florida will begin running its Brightline passenger train service this month between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. Residents near the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, however, will keep hearing horns.

Readers of the blog will recall that during the three-plus-year buildup to Brightline service, the promise has been that safety improvements at grade crossings would obviate the need for trains to blow their horns. That’s still the case, but it will take three weeks to keep the promise.

Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency Director Nick Uhren and Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie—who chairs the agency—explained that All Aboard Florida will complete the upgrade, such as longer gates and larger signs before Brightline starts running. Then Boca Raton, Delray and the other cities along the FEC corridor must file a Notice of Establishment of the quiet zone with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The filing becomes effective in 21 days, based on an FRA rule.

Uhren said it is his “understanding” that all cities are ready to file the notices. He said the lag time would have the “added benefit of getting the public along the tracks accustomed to the additional activity level.” Brightline is expected to run 32 trains per days, 16 in each direction.

New Tri-Rail station?

Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. Photo by Aaron Bristol.
Boca Raton Tri-Rail station. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

Speaking of trains, there’s another meeting tonight on the proposed second Tri-Rail station for Boca Raton.

The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which governs Tri-Rail will present a feasibility study of the project during the 6 p.m. meeting at the Spanish River Library. It should be a straightforward presentation, but it could turn into another attack on Midtown by opponents who believe that killing the station would kill Midtown.

According to the study, “After completing a review of possible site locations; operational costs and impacts to existing Tri-Rail services and operations; and a benefit-cost analysis, it was deemed that the addition of the proposed Boca Raton II Station is feasible.” That’s no surprise. At the last meeting, a Tri-Rail official said demand for a station near Boca Center exists even without changes to allow residential development in the Midtown area.

The study lists the many expected benefits of a second station. Other benefits are “socio-economic, mobility, and environmental.” A second station would “provide an alternative mode of travel for residents who do not have access to their own vehicles based on income, age, etc.” There is no good argument against the station.

Where would it go? The study identifies four sites and recommends one—the largest, roughly where Kings Market once stood. At nearly four acres, it’s the only potential location that could provide space for drop-offs by cars and buses and adequate parking—between 250 and 300 spaces. Though federal and state grants would pay for the station and the trains, there is no money for land.

That’s where Midtown comes in. A subsidiary of Crocker Partners, Midtown’s main property owner, owns the site. Crocker’s willingness to donate all or part of the land—it could accommodate a smaller station—could depend on how much development the city allowed Crocker and the other landowners in Midtown.

Those discussions could get to the city council next month. Meanwhile, the city should continue to support Tri-Rail’s effort to build the station. Some of Midtown’s biggest critics also profess to embrace sustainability, of which mass transit is a big part.

A recent video on BocaWatch claimed that numerous agencies—including the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—would be part of the Tri-Rail financing plan and would place severe restrictions on the money. In fact, most of the listed agencies wouldn’t provide money for the station. Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who chairs the Tri-Rail board, deadpanned, “If HUD has any money for rail, let me know so we can apply.” The agencies that do have money don’t attach conditions beyond that it goes for a station.

Much still must happen for Boca Raton to get a second Tri-Rail. The city council, however, should hope that the city gets the station.

Coach Kiffin

Lane Kiffin. Photo by Eduardo Schneider.
Lane Kiffin. Photo by Eduardo Schneider.

The marriage of convenience between Lane Kiffin and Florida Atlantic University has worked at least for now.

Kiffin was in the college football wilderness a year ago when FAU President John Kelly hired him to be head football coach. After three straight 3-9 seasons, FAU went 9-3 in the regular season and on Saturday routed North Texas in the Conference USA championship game.

Since Kiffin has coached the Oakland Raiders, the University of Tennessee and Southern Cal, the unstated but obvious arrangement was that Kelly would give Kiffin the chance at another big-time job in return for making the Owls into a conference contender. Kelly believed that the potential was good enough to pay Kiffin twice what Charlie Partridge had made.

Mission accomplished, at least for FAU. The Owls will stay home to play Akron in the Dec. 19 Boca Raton Bowl, the ESPN event that has a new sponsor: Cheribundi Tart Cherry. The company makes beverages that it claims benefit athletes at all levels.

It will be the fourth Boca Bowl, but the question is whether it will be Kiffin’s last season at FAU. His turnaround is remarkable, but athletic directors might want to see one more year of results. Coaching jobs, though, keep opening.

Cheribundi CEO Steve Pear said, “Given Cheribundi’s deep history with athletes, the association with ESPN and sponsoring the newly named Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl is a natural fit.” But will Kiffin and FAU be a natural fit in 2018?


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