Friday, January 21, 2022

Post Office Blues, Boca Politics Up and Running, and Other Notes From Boca and Delray

Anyone who attended Thursday’s meeting at the Boca Raton Community Center Annex would have left wondering how the mail gets delivered at all.

Officials of the U.S. Postal Service called the meeting to discuss the downtown post office, across Second Avenue from Mizner Park. The agency notified the city in February that it might move the facility but keep it downtown. The less the USPS said, the more residents who use the facility suspected that the agency actually wants to close it.

Thursday’s meeting was supposed to answer questions and provide reassurance. Not even close.

The agency handout set the wrong tone from the start. Why did USPS representatives hold the meeting? Because they had to, under federal law.

Damian Salazar, a USPS real estate specialist, claimed that the problem is the proposed lease. Investments Limited owns the 0.65-acre site, having bought in August 2013 for $4.2 million. Salazar claimed that the Postal Service wants a 10-year lease with three- and five-year renewal options. Investments Limited had offered a three-year renewal. The current lease expires July 13.

Yet Salazar acknowledged that the Postal Service had received the lease in September. So why had the agency delayed long enough to cause a potential crisis? A 30-day public comment period ends April 29. The lease runs out less than two months after that.

Salazar offered no good explanation, even when I asked him directly. He said something about another real estate person who is in San Francisco. For a Florida matter? Though about a dozen other USPS officials accompanied Salazar, they apparently all work in operations, not real estate. For the most part, they sat there like useless props as Salazar offered non-answers and further irritated the crowd by referring to Camino Real as “Camino Reel.”

Councilman Scott Singer asked Salazar if he could “confirm” that the agency wants to keep a facility in downtown Boca Raton. The Postal Service would leave downtown, Salazar said, only “if nothing is available.” The agency supposedly wants half of its current space—about 8,000 square feet—although Salazar said all services would remain. Investments Limited has other downtown sites.

Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke asked if the agency would consider a temporary lease while negotiations continue? Salazar “would look at that.” Again, though, why did the negotiations stop for months?

Salazar lost the room after 10 minutes. His comments were inconsistent and contradictory. Investments Limited co-owner Jim Batmasian rose to propose an “olive branch”—a four-year deal. Having claimed that the Postal Service wanted only 10-year deals, Salazar then declared himself “not opposed” to a four-year deal. After offering no information about the delay in lease negotiations, Salazar said, “I will be doing this lease.”

After 75 minutes, Mayor Susan Haynie declared a technical knockout by the residents of Salazar and stopped the meeting. She said the city would provide contact information for all USPS officials involved in the decision.

The agency will hear overwhelming if not unanimous comment to keep the current location or a nearby alternative. One member of the standing-room-only crowd called the downtown facility a community “heartbeat.” Business owners spoke of their need for downtown Post Office boxes, saying the facility on Palmetto Park Road east of Interstate 95 is too far away.

But what about the lease? Investments Limited representative Robert Eisen told me Monday that he has “been involved” with the property since 2006, when the late Greg Talbott owned it. In that time, Eisen said, “We have never done anything more than three- or five-year extensions. I don’t know why this should be different. A 10-year lease is a very serious undertaking.”

The Postal Service has two other facilities in Boca Raton. I called an agency spokeswoman to ask if either has a 10-year lease. She did not return my voicemail by deadline for this post.

Salazar and Investment Limited’s leasing manager are supposed to meet today. Haynie and the council members want to deliver on this issue for residents, but they only can advocate and try to intervene. Boca Raton wants answers from what appeared on Thursday to be a dysfunctional, clueless bureaucracy.

And they’re off…

Monica Mayotte
Monica Mayotte

After polite speeches in the Boca Raton City Council chambers Monday morning, the politics started.

The first item for the new council, with Monica Mayotte replacing Robert Weinroth, was to choose a deputy mayor. Last year, with Andrea O’Rourke as the new member, the council gave Jeremy Rodgers the ceremonial title. This year, the dynamic was different.

If Mayor Haynie, who has been campaigning since last fall, formally enters the race for county commission in June, she must resign as mayor in November, win or lose. Boca Raton then would hold a special election next March, to fill the remaining year of Haynie’s term. Councilman Scott Singer announced last October that he would run.

The deputy mayor would act as mayor for the four months preceding the election. As of Monday, Singer is deputy mayor, thus giving him an advantage over any other candidate. Rodgers nominated Singer. Haynie quickly seconded it. Then O’Rourke objected, proposing that Rodgers stay on.

At this point, you must understand that Singer’s campaign consultant worked for Mayotte’s opponent, Armand Grossman. O’Rourke endorsed Mayotte, campaigned for her and swore her into office on Monday. O’Rourke and Mayotte had the backing of BocaWatch. So did Rodgers’ opponent.

In his latest newsletter, Singer referred to a “local so-called residents blog”—meaning BocaWatch—and characterized Publisher Al Zucaro as “a repeatedly unsuccessful candidate for multiple offices” who “has refused to cover the good news for Boca,” in this case Singer’s work on school crowding. After leaving the West Palm Beach City Commission, Zucaro lost races for the county commission and mayor of Boca Raton, the latter last year to Haynie.

In August 2016, Haynie told me, Zucaro proposed that that she not seek reelection. Instead, Zucaro said, Singer would run and Zucaro would support Haynie for the county commission. Haynie declined.

Though Zucaro acted then on behalf of Singer, the break between Singer and BocaWatch now seems clear. In seeking to deny Singer that advantage for next March, one can assume that O’Rourke was acting on behalf of Zucaro. Mayotte voted with O’Rourke. But Haynie, Rodgers and, naturally, Singer voted against keeping Rodgers as the deputy mayor. O’Rourke and Mayotte then made the choice of Singer unanimous. Haynie noted later that the title usually has gone to the senior council member, who is Singer. He’s been there since 2014.

Haynie thus helped Singer, who had considered challenging her even before Zucaro’s meeting. And while Singer called Monday’s vote “apolitical,” he proposed the ordinance that voters approved in 2016 to allow the special election. Previously, the deputy mayor would have served until the next scheduled election in March 2020.

One wonders now if O’Rourke—whom the council named to chair meetings when the council meets as the community redevelopment agency—will enter the race for mayor. One hardly would expect BocaWatch to remain uninvolved in that race or to back Singer. The politics of Boca Raton in 2019 and beyond began Monday morning.

Mayotte weighs in

During her remarks Monday, Mayotte addressed her campaign comments about “overdevelopment.” She said, “I welcome anyone who wants to responsibly invest” in the city. I will hold developers to the highest standards, but I will be fair.”

One picture is worth a thousand words

As is traditional, Mayor Haynie posed for a photo with outgoing Councilman Weinroth. As is not traditional, there was an undercurrent to the moment.

Weinroth abruptly dropped out of his reelection campaign to run for the county commission—against Haynie. They once were political allies and friends. Now Weinroth accuses Haynie of going back on a pledge to leave the county commission race. Haynie denies ever making such a pledge.

They posed professionally, down to the smiles. You’d love to know what they were thinking.

Delray power poles

I have more information about the power pole controversy in Delray Beach.

Last week, the city issued a stop-work order on construction of poles in the Marina District. Residents had complained about their sudden, unpleasant appearance. The city engineer determined that the work had happened without permits. In an email to Florida Power & Light, City Manager Mark Lauzier cited other problems related to location of the poles. Much of the work is related to increased power demands from Atlantic Crossing.

On Monday, I heard back from an FPL spokesman. He said the company “obtained all proper Florida Department of Transportation permits for this project” but “did not secure permits for the right-of-way work from the city. The company has met with the city to obtain the proper permits and finish the project.”

The spokesman added, “We apologize for the miscommunication. . .We will communicate with the customers impacted by the poles placed outside of the right-of-way as we work to relocate them.”

Atlantic Crossing, on the two blocks west of Veterans Park, will get much of the benefit. The spokesman said the project also “will enhance the energy grid in Delray Beach with stronger, more resilient power poles that are necessary to upgrade an existing power line.”

Delray’s ongoing sea level rise initiative

Delray Beach prides itself as a regional leader on climate change and rising seas. On the mostly routine agenda for tonight’s meeting of the new city commission is a symbolic, and perhaps more, added step in that effort.

Approval of the agenda item would make Delray Beach part of the Washington, D.C.-based Seawall Coalition, which the staff memo describes as new “nonpartisan group of elected officials, military groups, non-profit organizations, businesses, and local leaders who are coming together to advance national solutions to sea level rise and resulting flooding.”

Fortifying seawalls was an issue in the March election. The work is part of the $250 million worth of infrastructure Delray Beach needs. Among South Florida cities, Pompano Beach and Coral Gables have joined the coalition. Since Florida under Gov. Rick Scott won’t even acknowledge the problem, local governments must work on solutions with whatever advocacy groups they can find.

Delray Beach has had a sustainability officer for years. Boca Raton created a similar position this year. A spokeswoman said Monday that the city has offered the job and is waiting for a response.

Randy Schultz
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.

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