Saturday, October 1, 2022

Rob Long To Run Against Casale and Ahnell Criticizes Boca’s Budget Plan

Rob Long has filed to run next March against Delray Beach City Commissioner Juli Casale.

Long is a former member of the city’s planning and zoning board and the Palm Beach County Soil and Water Conservation District. This matchup has been coming for nearly two years.

In November 2020, Long criticized the level of cancer-causing levels in Delray Beach’s water. Long based his criticism on a report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. His comments, which documents showed were accurate came as Mayor Shelly Petrolia was gearing up for her re-election campaign in March 2021.

Petrolia responded by seeking to remove Long from the planning and zoning board, charging that his criticism hurt Delray Beach. Casale, whom Petrolia recruited for her first campaign in 2020 against Bill Bathurst and who is the mayor’s closest political ally, agreed.

Their effort failed. But they weren’t done with Long.

This year, City Commissioner Ryan Boylston nominated Long for the historic preservation board. Normally, commissioners approve each other’s choices. Petrolia and Casale, though, objected. They got a third vote from Shirley Johnson to deny Long the appointment.

The biggest issue in the Casale-Long race, though, likely will be Casale’s vote—with Petrolia and Johnson—in August 2021 to end Old School Square for the Arts’ lease. No commission action in decades has been so unpopular.

Though Casale filed her re-election paperwork nearly a year ago, she has raised just $1,200—including $1,000 from herself. I would expect Long to raise lots of money.

As when she ran against Bathurst, Casale probably will portray herself as standing up to the city’s establishment and what she considers overdevelopment. Many Old School Square board members have held leadership roles in Delray Beach. All but one of the city’s former mayors asked Casale, Petrolia and Johnson to work out their differences rather than end the lease. They ignored that plea, to the point that they refused to discuss Old School Square’s offer to settle the group’s lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Casale said Monday that she intends to “run on my accomplishments.” I asked for examples. Casale said she didn’t have a list at that moment. “I intend to talk about what I’ve done for the residents and with the residents.”

Regarding Old School Square, Casale said she believes that discovery and testimony in the lawsuit will support her decision. “I think there’s a lot that residents haven’t heard.”

In a statement, Long said, “I’m running to fight for both the transparency of our commission and our water … I’ll ensure our first responders receive competitive wages, that we’re managing Delray’s success while planning for a bright future, and I’ll protect taxpayers from paying for avoidable lawsuits and fines brought on by the commission’s dysfunctional politics.”

Expect Petrolia to be Casale’s de facto campaign manager. Her second and final term ends in 2024. If Long beats Casale, he surely will side more with Boylston and Adam Frankel, who generally vote opposite from the mayor.

Ahnell criticizes Boca’s budget plan

As usual, very few speakers showed up at Boca Raton’s budget hearings to criticize the 2022-23 spending plan. City Manager Leif Ahnell, however, was ready for complaints.

Property values are up roughly 12 percent from last year, but the tax rate is roughly the same. New construction will bring new revenue. One might wonder why the rate didn’t drop, given that property tax windfall.

wildflower lawsuit
Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell

Ahnell noted that the city uses roughly one million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel every year. The cost of both has increased. Electricity is more expensive. Water and sewer budgets will go up six percent because chemicals cost more.

Ahnell, though, wasn’t being entirely candid. Roughly two-thirds of the additional $11 million in the new operating budget is because Boca Raton is paying people more and hiring more people. The city is adding four battalion chiefs to the fire department. Opening Wildflower/Silver Palm Park will require four new employees.

Former City Councilman Al Travasos asked about the $68 million from the sale of the former municipal golf course. Why couldn’t that go toward lowering taxes? What’s happening with the money?

Ahnell replied that the council approved $3.5 million for renovation of the Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club, which The Boca Raton donated to the city. The rest remains in reserves. Council members will decide how to use it.

Panhandling laws in Delray

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Though Lake Worth Beach just repealed its anti-panhandling laws because of a federal lawsuit, Delray Beach’s similar law is not yet the subject of litigation.

The city passed its ordinance last year—also aimed at “aggressive” panhandling—after years of complaints from downtown merchants that panhandlers were scaring customers away. City commissioners acted after three long, emotional hearings. Advocates for the homeless charged that Delray Beach wanted to criminalize begging. City officials said panhandlers were harassing people who didn’t give money.

City Attorney Lynn Gelin did not return messages seeking comment. Boylston, however, suggested that Delray Beach might be on stronger legal footing because officials studied the issue for a year, an effort that included “lots of data collection.” The city also held special meetings for votes on the ordinances.

And after all the emotion, is the ordinance working? “I’m getting a lot fewer complaints,” Boylston said.

Delray P & Z Board votes no on new development

The Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board last week recommended denial of a housing development on South Congress Avenue.

Alexan Delray would have 267 units on a nearly vacant seven-acre site at 1155 South Congress. Behind the project is Trammel Crow, the Dallas-based company. The city has encouraged investment in that area. Just to the south, a joint venture is redeveloping the former Office Depot headquarters.

The developers of Alexan Delray want a rezoning that would mean higher density. Twenty percent of the units would be housing for families of moderate incomes. Some board members, however, wanted more units for low-income buyers.

Sentiment was split, and that was a problem at first. Because board member Gregory Snyder was absent, only six board members participated. Sure enough, they deadlocked 3-3 on a motion to deny. That bloc included Chairman Chris Davey, who said the city should “get more” out of the property.

As the board’s attorney said, the tie meant that there had been no official action. Davey suggested that the development team ask for a postponement to the next meeting, when all board members would be present. A representative said that Alexan Delray’s purchase contract would expire before then.

On a second vote, one board member flipped and the project was denied. Alexan’s next move could be to appeal the decision to the commission.

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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