Thursday, June 20, 2024

The Local Impact of Florida Removing ‘Climate Change’ From State Laws

Two weeks ago, Gov. DeSantis signed legislation that removes the term “climate change” from state law. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change is no longer a state priority.

As he signed the bill, South Florida heat indexes were hitting numbers that residents usually must not suffer through until August. The state is setting heat records every month.

As he signed the bill, forecasters were predicting a record number of hurricanes—more perhaps than in 2005. That year, the National Hurricane Center ran out of names and had to use letters in the Greek alphabet. Climate change already has warmed Atlantic Ocean temperatures to late-summer levels.

As he signed the bill, the Washington Post was reporting that Florida is among eight coastal states especially at risk from rising seas. The rise is double what it has been in other areas. The story was headlined “The Drowning South.”

Critics of the legislation included a Miami TV meteorologist. “As Florida is on fire, underwater and unaffordable,” Steve McLaughlin said, “our state government is rolling back climate change legislation and language.”

Other critics noted that the legislation amounts to a gift for Florida Power & Light and other investor-owned utilities that have so much influence in Tallahassee. House Bill 1645 eases regulation of natural gas, which is FPL’s main fuel, and bans offshore wind turbines. It attempts to encourage more development of nuclear power.

DeSantis said he was saving Florida from “radical green zealots.” Yet as he signed the bill, a Florida Atlantic University poll found that 90% of Floridians believe that climate change is real; 70% want more action from the state to fight it.

HB 1645 flies in the face of efforts by Boca Raton, Delray Beach and other governments to respond to what all credible scientists consider an existential threat to the state. This year, researchers from the University of Chicago/Illinois concluded that climate change and other factors could cause severe depopulation in Florida over the coming decades.

This month, Delray Beach held its annual goal-setting meeting. The city’s sustainability coordinator, Christian Chitester, was present and offered comment across many topics to show how they affect his office’s work. Delray Beach faces what one study calculated could be $400 million worth of improvements to make the city resilient against rising seas.

Both cities have adopted green building ordinances. Both cities have compiled inventories of their greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of cutting them. Delray Beach wants to plant 10,000 trees by next year. Trees absorb the gases that are causing the planet to warm. Both cities want to make electric vehicle charging stations more plentiful and accessible.

You see the effort in ways large and small. On the agenda for the Boca Raton City Council’s May 14 meeting was a $200,000 grant from the state—ironically, given the governor’s bill signing—to complete a climate adaptation action plan. The plan will respond to what the staff memo says are “vulnerabilities” identified in a citywide assessment.

Boca Raton’s sustainability manager is Lindsey Nieratka. Like Chitester, she maintains a page on the city’s website with links to what Boca Raton is doing and information about climate change in general.

Meanwhile, the state’s new stated policy is that a “cost-effective supply of energy” is the priority. Right after that new language is stricken language about easing the impacts of “global climate change” and the economic benefit of implementing “alternative energy technologies.”

Boca Raton Councilwoman Fran Nachlas noted that an item on Wednesday’s city council workshop agenda concerns possible rules for electric vehicle parking and charging stations. The new law, she said, may have pre-empted local efforts.

As with the 2023 law that pre-empted local rules on affordable housing, Nachlas said, Boca Raton will have to study HB 1645 and adjust if necessary. “It’s frustrating. I think [the law] will change things.”

Sens. Lori Berman and Tina Polsky, Democrats who represent Boca Raton and Delray Beach, voted against the bill. Rep. Joe Casello, a Democrat who represents Delray Beach, couldn’t vote because of health issues. Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, a Republican who represents Boca Raton and Highland Beach, voted for the bill.

George Brown prioritizes city employee morale

Boca Raton’s three-day planning session last week was the first under City Manager George Brown. Not surprisingly, the gathering amounted to something of an operational reset after Leif Ahnell was the city’s CEO for nearly a quarter-century.

Boca Raton City Manager George Brown, photo by Aaron Bristol

Some city council members, frustrated by what they considered Ahnell’s unwillingness to move faster on their priorities, already had urged Brown to take more risks and not be afraid of failing. In addition to working on those sometimes-lofty goals, however, Brown is showing in other ways that he’s different from his predecessor.

Earlier this year, city workers who belong to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) complained at council meetings about not receiving lump-sum payments that had gone to some non-union employees. Brown, correctly, said the city could not alter a contract that doesn’t expire until next year.

But Brown also said the human resources department would take a “deep dive” into how all employees feel about their job through a survey. Brown said the city hasn’t asked about employees’ satisfaction in “about 25 years.” The issue wasn’t a priority for Ahnell.

Boca Raton has 1,500 employees who perform untold diverse tasks. Only at the annual planning session do the number of projects and complexity of the work become clear to the city’s elected officials and top administrators. Good morale is essential to maintaining what the council calls “world-class services.” The survey, set to go out in July, seems long overdue.

Delray rejects all proposals for operating Crest Theater

old school square
The Crest Theater at Old School Square, photo by Carl Dawson Photography courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

During a special meeting last Thursday, the Delray Beach City Commission formally rejected all six proposals for operating part of the Crest Theater.

Two days earlier, the commission hadn’t been able to agree even on the basics of reopening the building’s renovated classrooms and new kitchen. With the rejection, commissioners can discuss the Crest with those groups or any other entity with a management proposal. More clarity might emerge if the issue comes back at next Tuesday’s meeting.

Delray ends water agreement with Gulf Stream

Delray Beach opposed Highland Beach’s ending of the contract for fire-rescue services. But Delray Beach just ended the agreement under which the city had provided water to the small oceanfront town of Gulf Stream for 25 years.

With Delray Beach’s new water plant expected to open in 2027, city officials wanted to focus solely on serving city residents. Having emerged from a consent decree that required state oversight after cross-contamination in the reclaimed water system, Delray Beach also is close to resolving billing problems caused by faulty meter technology.

Still no firm date on Palmetto Park Road bridge completion

Construction on Palmetto Park Road bridge

Palm Beach County continues to dodge when the new bridge over West Palmetto Park Road in Boca Raton will open.

As I wrote last week, the February newsletter from County Commissioner Marci Woodward claimed that the work would be “complete” by “spring.” In April, however, Woodward said it would be “substantially complete” by summer, with no details about what “substantially” or “summer” meant.

Last week, Woodward issued her latest newsletter. This one claimed that the bridge would be “mostly finished” by “mid-to-late June.” That at least narrowed the definition of “summer,” but given the county’s history—and Woodward’s refusal to answer questions about the project—who knows?

Drivers who have had to contend with the two closed lanes for nearly three years are asked again for “patience.”

Delray loses big on legislative budget requests

Last week, I reported that Delray Beach had failed in its request to get $2.5 million for renovations to the Crest Theater in the state budget. The city actually lost out on seven of its 10 legislative budget requests.

Among other things, the city sought $1 million for crime-prevention technology, $1 million for improvements to City Hall and the community center and $100,000 for improvements to Orchard View Park. In the budget are two items worth $2.5 million for roadwork and underground work on North Swinton Avenue and Southwest Eighth Avenue and $612,000 toward purchase of a $680,000 blocking vehicle for the fire department. The city would contribute $2 million to the road projects and $68,000 toward the blocking vehicle.

Though the Legislature passed it in early March, the budget has not gone to Gov. DeSantis. He could veto any or all those projects. He must act on the budget by July 1, when the budget year begins.

Back next week

My next post will run on Tuesday.

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Randy Schultz
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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