Last call, trash talk & things are looking up

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Last call

With regard to the idea of extending drinking hours in Boca Raton, it was at least one too many—and maybe more than one too many.

At Monday’s workshop, the city council discussed a proposed ordinance that would have allowed the sale of alcohol an additional two hours, until 4 a.m., from Thursday until Saturday. What had begun, though, as an extension just for Jazziz in Mizner Park had broadened to an ordinance that could have allowed as many as 17 downtown venues to serve booze longer.

One problem was trying to confine the change just to Jazziz. The proposal presented to the council would have allowed the later last call based on four conditions: location within the Community Redevelopment Agency boundaries, which basically means downtown; a valid license to serve alcohol; a stage that offers live music; and sufficient distance from residences. To Constance Scott, who most strongly supported examination of the issue, the city risked “unintended consequences” by potentially including so many more locations. The city would have allowed the longer hours only for six months, and then evaluated before deciding whether to continue.

Actually, you already can buy alcohol until 5 a.m. at two locations in Boca Raton: Blue Martini and Nipper’s, in Town Center Mall. The mall originally was in the unincorporated county, which allows later hours. When Boca Raton annexed the mall in 2003, the later hours remained.  And now, as council members acknowledged, Blue Martini and Nipper’s are used as examples of why the city should not extend the hours elsewhere. The police department cited the number of calls after 2 a.m.

Public comment was decidedly hostile. Some speakers made valid points: What about the effect on college students in a city with two universities? If the city allowed the six-month experiment and then stopped, would lawyers for the venues sue? Other speakers made invalid points. One man related the story of gangsters who held up an illegal betting joint in New Jersey 50 years ago and killed two police officers. Nothing about the venues in this case would be illegal. A woman imagined college students robbing houses to get money for booze. That’s not the sort of call police get.

City Manager Leif Ahnell and Police Chief Dan Alexander brought some substance to the discussion. Ahnell recalled the crazy days of Club Boca, at Palmetto Park and Powerline roads. Law enforcement basically could have set up a substation outside the club. Alexander correctly noted that city-by-city comparisons are tough to draw. Among other things, cities around Boca don’t have later hours. But he returned to the example of Blue Martini and how bars and clubs draw more problems with every hour after midnight.

As the owner of Jazziz noted, though, Jazziz is not a bar or a restaurant, even though Jazziz has both. Michael Fagien stated that he wanted to “bring a world-class venue” for music that brings big names “every night.” The patrons tend to be older, in search of music not a buzz. Fagien said his patrons come after dining elsewhere in Mizner Park. Jazziz does not advertise itself the way Nipper’s does: “Alive ‘til Five.” Fagien hinted that without the longer hours, he might look for a new location.

Councilman Michael Mullaugh said that, given the nature of Jazziz, a six-month trial just at the club “likely could work out nicely.” But then what? Could the city keep the longer hours just for one place? Mayor Susan Haynie pointed out that the city several years ago considered longer hours for one location before declining.

It’s a tough issue. All the council members took pains to praise Jazziz before saying no. None echoed the sentiment of a resident who wondered if the request showed that Jazziz has a “failed business plan.” From a citywide perspective, the council made the right decision. Let’s hope that it doesn’t mean the last call for Jazziz.

Vote$ Count in Delray

Lower trash collection rates almost certainly are coming for Delray Beach residents. If that happens, it will show how, despite their low turnout, municipal elections can matter so much.

On Friday, the city posted bids from five companies seeking Delray Beach’s business. Accepting the lowest bid, from Southern Waste Systems, would mean a reduction of almost 25 percent. Even the second-lowest bid, from Waste Management—the current hauler—would mean a decrease of about 18 percent.

Of course, Delray Beach could have had these savings years ago. But this represents the first competitive bidding for the trash contract—the city’s largest—in 13 years. In August 2012, the city commission gave Waste Management a $65-million, eight-year extension without seeking bids. Then-City Attorney Brian Shutt told the commission that because the money went from residents to the company in fees, not taxes, Delray Beach’s rule to bid contracts of more than $15,000 did not apply.

Shutt was wrong, as the Officer of Inspector General said. But former Mayor Nelson McDuffie, former Commissioner Angeleta Gray and current Commissioner Adam Frankel bought the bogus legal advice.

Fortunately, the election of March 2013 brought in Cary Glickstein as mayor and Shelly Petrolia to a commission seat. They pushed for a review of the contract extension. The city got an outside legal opinion that the city had broken its own rules. So the city went to court, and last March prevailed.

Interim City Manager Terry Stewart now will form a selection committee to review the bids and recommend a winner. Cost will be a major factor but not the only factor. The city’s proposal covered such areas as safety and a company’s financial condition.

The commission passed over Stewart for the permanent job, so his parting gift to the city must be a committee with no bias toward any company that might provoke a bid protest. Waste Management continues to provide trash collection through an agreement that lasts until May or until the city signs a new long-term deal.

McDuffie said Waste Management deserved that 2012 extension because the company had been so good to the city. Since Waste Management’s new bid is markedly lower, McDuffie looks worse than he did two years ago.

Also looking bad is Frankel, who not only approved the no-bid extension but also opposed challenging the extension. Glickstein and Petrolia are back on the ballot in March. They soon may have all the platform they need.

Happy days are here again…

Wells Fargo’s latest report on the Florida economy, which the company issued last week, was very encouraging, especially for the Boca-Delray area.

Though unemployment is slightly above the national average, gross domestic product in the state is growing faster than it is nationwide. Three sectors doing especially well are tourism, construction and financial services. All matter a lot in this area. Before the recession, Palm Beach County had a higher percentage of employees tied to real estate and construction than Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Even manufacturing, which most people don’t immediately associate with Florida, has increased for 16 of the last 17 months.

Having said all that, Wells Fargo calculates that Florida remains 226,100 jobs under the pre-recession peak. Construction alone is nearly 300,000 jobs short of that 2006 high. And since that came during a bubble—too many houses being built as investments, not residences—we still need a more diversified economy. Bring on more of the high-tech firms clustered in Boca.

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You can email Randy Schultz at randy@bocamag.com

For more City Watch blogs, click here.About the Author

Randy Schultz was born in Hartford, Conn., and graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1974. He has lived in South Florida since then, and in Boca Raton since 1985. Schultz spent nearly 40 years in daily journalism at the Miami Herald and Palm Beach Post, most recently as editorial page editor at the Post. His wife, Shelley, is director of The Learning Network at Pine Crest School. His son, an attorney, and daughter-in-law and three grandchildren also live in Boca Raton. His daughter is a veterinarian who lives in Baltimore.

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Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.