Publix Becomes Sole Vaccine Provider in Palm Beach County; BH3 In Default

publix
Photo © Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post via ZUMA Wire

The calls began coming Wednesday.

If you had a confirmed COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the Palm Beach County Health District after Feb. 5, the caller said, you don’t have it anymore. If you can’t reschedule before then, call Publix.

The county’s health care district website carried a similar message: We’re only booking appointments for people on the health department waiting list.

Gov. DeSantis just changed the game in Palm Beach County with no notice, just as he changed the game statewide with no notice on Dec. 23 by making anyone 65 and over eligible for a vaccine. The governor made the county a test case for all vaccines going through Publix.

According to County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, no one knows why DeSantis picked this county. Weinroth speculates that because the company has 67 stores in the county, DeSantis thought that access would be easier. Again, however, the governor did not communicate his reasoning.

The problem is that access depends on location. Publix stores tend to be in more affluent locations. Boca Raton has several. The towns surrounding Lake Okeechobee, where the virus has hit disproportionately hard, have none.

Just to drive home the economic and racial divide, Publix is not offering vaccines at its store in Riviera Beach. The city has a higher portion of minority residents than any large coastal city.

In addition, the website for booking appointments through Publix has been fickle. Some people get through quickly, get their shot and go away happy. Many more spend two-plus hours waiting and then give up. And people who don’t have computers find themselves shut out entirely.

Weinroth acknowleged the potential benefits of working with companies like Publix that have distribution systems in place for routine vaccines. But getting to that aspirational goal, he said, should not require people to play “whack a mole.”

As with so much about DeSantis and the pandemic, communication is terrible. Recall that the governor also didn’t alert cities and counties last September before he prohibited them from enforcing mask mandates.

“The lack of information,” Weinroth said, “is leaving our residents confused and anxious that they won’t be able to get their shots.”

That website is: https://publix.com/covid-vaccine/florida

Good luck.

BH3 in default

Speaking of Publix, the key project for redeveloping West Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach has hit another snag.

On Tuesday, the community redevelopment agency voted to find BH3 in default of the contract the agency awarded the company in April 2019. BH3 had proposed a fourth amendment to the contract, seeking 10 additional months to obtain permits for Fabrick. It’s the mixed-use project east of the Fairfield Inn that envisions a Publix as its core.

Debate never really got to the proposed amendment. Board members didn’t like BH3’s new plan, which is for a roughly $75 million project. Having found a previous version too big, the CRA board found this one too small. Angeleta Gray, for example, wanted more housing.

BH3 now has 30 days to address the board’s complaints. If that doesn’t happen, the board could vote to terminate the contract. That would mean looking for a new developer—seven-plus years after the CRA chose the first one. Or it could mean a lawsuit from BH3.

“I was a little surprised,” said Neil Schiller, BH3’s attorney. He noted City Commissioner Shirley Johnson’s comment that she has “lost faith” in the company. “I’m sorry for that,” Schiller said. “I still think we’re the best developer. We have delivered Publix. I remain hopeful.”

Schiller said he first will “talk to my client,” and then meet with CRA staff. Afterward, “We will try to persuade a couple of board members.”

Judge rules for masking up   

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The 4th District Court of Appeal on Wednesday upheld Palm Beach County’s mask ordinance.

Four plaintiffs had filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary injunction against the mandate, which the county commission approved last June. They claimed that the mandate violates their constitutional right to refuse medical treatment and thus there is no rational basis for the ordinance.

Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes ruled against the plaintiffs. The three-member appellate panel affirmed that decision unanimously.

Writing for the court, in an opinion that referenced the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth,” Judge Allen Forst said the plaintiffs’ argument “is not supported by the record.” The anti-maskers also “had failed to establish a substantial likelihood” that they would win or that “an injunction would serve the public interest.” In other words, masks protect public health and thus there is a rational basis to require people to wear them in public.

Boca candidate anti-masker

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I had written previously that Josie Machovec, a candidate for Boca Raton City Council Seat C, opposes mask ordinances. Her opposition goes deep.

Machovec is one of the plaintiffs in that lawsuit opposing the county’s mask requirement. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys is Louis Leo, last seen defending former Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy, the conspiracy theorist claimed that the Sandy Hook School massacre didn’t happen.

On the city’s website, Boca Raton urges people to socially distance and wear masks. Machovec’s beliefs thus run counter to the city’s policies. Machovec is running against Yvette Drucker—whom the council chose to fill the seat on an interim basis—former councilwoman Constance Scott and Bernard Korn.

Boca Seat D update

The Boca Raton Seat D City Council race remains a match of mostly self-funding campaigns.

Incumbent Monica Mayotte has loaned herself $50,000 and raised only another $4,400, according to the candidates’ December financial report. Challenger Brian Stenberg has loaned himself $52,000 while raising only about $3,000 from other sources. Stenberg got $1,000 from the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed him, and $1,000 from right-wing blogger Jack Furnari. Mayotte got $1,000 from land-use lawyer Neil Schiller.

In Seat C, Drucker raised about $11,000 in December, giving her a total of $38,500. She also got $1,000 from Furnari and $250 from Jack McWalter, who was a frequent contributor to the now-defunct BocaWatch website. Scott took in $7,400 in December, bringing her total to $50,000. She received $3,000 from entities affiliated with developer Compson Associates and $250 from Bob Rollins, a member of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District.