Thursday, December 9, 2021

Zucaro says he and Boca Watch will part ways and other election news and notes

Zucaro and BocaWatch

Al Zucaro
Al Zucaro

Apparently, Al Zucaro believes that what worked for Donald Trump could work for him.

Last week, the BocaWatch publisher challenged Mayor Susan Haynie in the March election. In an email announcing his candidacy, Zucaro said, “City hall has changed. Our city council has changed. Lately, it seems like we live in a city where the developers and special interests come first — and the interests of residents are forgotten about. No Longer (sic).”

That’s the sort of us-against-them language — word-for-word, in some cases — that Trump used. Zucaro, who served on the West Palm Beach City Commission in the last decade, called himself “then and now a powerful voice in protecting the interests of the people.” BocaWatch, Zucaro said, has “brought about significant change to Boca Raton.” He cast his campaign as the people against the “developer class.”

Also like Trump, Zucaro has a divestiture issue. Also like Trump, he’s dealing with it halfway.

Though BocaWatch isn’t a news organization, it nevertheless has served as Zucaro’s vehicle to raise his profile and could pose ethics issues if he kept his role as publisher while campaigning.

In an email to me Monday, Zucaro said he is “stepping down for the duration of the campaign from any editorial involvement with BocaWatch.” Other BocaWatch contributors will take over the duties.

The separation would seem to be in name only, like Trump supposedly having his sons run the Trump Organization independent of their father. Zucaro will retain ownership. Presumably, his allies will promote Zucaro and like-minded candidates. We will follow BocaWatch’s campaign coverage to see just how independent it is from the Zucaro campaign.

The Baronoff effect

In one way, Zucaro is an easier opponent for Haynie than Peter Baronoff would have been. Up until the qualifying period, which ended last Wednesday, there had been talk that the former city councilman would run against Haynie, with Zucaro’s blessing.

Though he now lives on the Intracoastal Waterway, Baronoff previously lived in the city’s northwest, which has become a voter stronghold. Baronoff also is Jewish, like many voters in that area. He might have pulled votes away from Haynie, who did very well in the northwest three years ago against Anthony Majhess.

Zucaro lives in the east, near the Golden Triangle. Still, Zucaro — himself and through his wife, Yvonne Boice — might be able to overcome his late start with a lot of self-financing. And there’s that BocaWatch audience, though it’s mostly those who supported Majhess.

What works on the national level, however, doesn’t always work on the local level. Haynie isn’t a faceless Washington bureaucrat. She’s been associated with Boca Raton since 1974. But after what Trump did, you can assume that Haynie is assuming nothing.

More surprise candidates

Zucaro was not the only surprise candidate who came late to Boca Raton’s election.

The other was Patricia Dervishi, who filed against City Council Seat A incumbent Scott Singer. Dervishi has served on no city boards or civic organizations, but she told me that she has attended council meetings for the last eight years. Minutes show that Dervishi has commented critically on development projects.

Her motivation? “Just being tired of how our city is being run.” The council, Dervishi said, “always sides with developers.” Like others in the Golden Triangle, Dervishi opposed Archstone, now Palmetto Promenade.

Dervishi said it is “not my intention” to run in tandem slate with Andrea O’Rourke — another Golden Triangle resident who is running for the open Seat B. “She has her views, and I have mine.” As for Zucaro, “I have to talk to him. I’m in agreement with a lot of his ideas.”

Whatever these early comments, it’s hard to see this election shaping up as anything but Zucaro, Dervishi and O’Rourke running as a slate—officially or not—against Haynie, Singer and Emily Gentile and Andy Thomson, the other Seat B candidates.

Sober House update

Delray Beach continues what Planning, Zoning and Builder Tim Stillings calls the city’s “slow and cautious” approach to regulating sober houses.

Last week, the city commission approved a change that requires operators of group homes to re-register every year. The operators will have to show that need for “reasonable accommodation” — the key phrase in law — for people with disabilities — recovering addicts — is still necessary. Reasonable accommodation can apply in other instances, Stillings told me, but sober homes is the “predominate” such request in Delray Beach.

According to Stillings, the city has approved 235 such accommodations since 2009. Yet Delray Beach doesn’t know how many sober homes the city has, because that number includes only those for which officials have approved an accommodation.

Next, Delray Beach will try to regulate the number of people who can live in a sober house. The city considered adding that element to the regulation the commission just approved, but decided to be more methodical, given the sober house litigation filed against Delray and Boca over the last two decades.

Sober house operators, Stilling said, like to put two residents in each bedroom, claiming that roommates can reinforce each other’s desire to stay clean. Crowded sober houses, however, can increase the impact on city services. That’s especially true with so many bad operators. When Hurricane Matthew approached last October, Stillings said, some sober houses “just dropped off” patients at shelters. And the impact on fire-rescue services from patients who relapse and overdose is well-known.

To get a comprehensive view of the city’s legal options, the commission at tonight’s special meeting may hire an Illinois attorney to “produce an expert report on the current state of Delray Beach’s land development regulations governing community residences for people with disabilities” and to offer revisions that would help the city regulate what has been an unregulated industry.

The city would pay Daniel Lauber $300 per hour, the total bill not exceeding $15,000 without the approval of City Attorney Max Lohman. Lauber is a nationally recognized expert on the issue, having written about group homes since 1996. He has described them as “Lulus” — locally unwanted land uses. According to his website, Lauder has represented local governments and sober home operators, giving him a good perspective.

Eventually, Delray Beach would like to break up the concentration of sober homes in certain neighborhoods. Stillings said a law in Prescott, Arizona could offer guidance. Delray Beach may be moving cautiously on sober houses, but the city seeks major change.

Railroad crossing barriers

The death last August of a woman on the Florida East Coast Railway track just north of Atlantic Avenue has led Delray Beach to produce a 23-page proposed Railroad Track Trespass Prevention Strategy. The city commission will discuss it tonight.

The report begins by noting the obvious: It’s illegal to cross any railroad track except at a designated crossing. Robin Landes of Boca Raton was attempting to take a shortcut from a restaurant on one side of the track to a restaurant on the other side. Many people do so.

In mid-year, Florida East Coast Industries will begin operating its Brightline passenger service between West Palm Beach and Miami. That will mean 32 more trains — 16 each way — every day, increasing the risk for anyone who stumbles while trying that shortcut.

Though the project covers the rail corridor between George Bush and Linton boulevards, the key areas are the two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue. To be affective, a barrier to prevent trespassing would have to extend 25 feet in either direction from the track. That could mean the loss of parking spaces on Railroad Avenue, though the city could make up some by reconfiguring.

Options for barriers run from the cheapest and least aesthetic—aluminum fences—to the most expensive and most eye-pleasing—landscaping. The report suggests four plants that could work: Cocoplum, Clusia Small-Leaf,  Dwarf Firebush and Bougainvillea.

The city will need to get lots of input. Downtown business owners will be especially interested. But the schedule proposes that construction start in late spring.

No special election

Delray Beach will not have to waste money on a needless special election.

Last week, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Gillen dismissed a lawsuit by J. Reeve Bright — a resident and disbarred attorney—who argued that the city commission had violated Delray Beach’s charter by not scheduling an election to choose a replacement for Al Jacquet. He resigned in November after winning a seat in the Florida House.

Last month, the commission deadlocked 2-2 on filling the seat until the March election. City Attorney Max Lohman argued that, despite the charter, holding an election was not practical.

Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher said her office couldn’t help because it was working on the March 14 uniform municipal election. Delray Beach would have had to pay all the cost. A special election would have overlapped with the regular election, thus confusing voters. And the winner might serve for just two meetings.

Gillen agreed. Correctly.

CRA vote postponed

Only four board members were present for last Thursday’s meeting of the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency. So the CRA postponed a vote until its Jan. 26 meeting on what will happen now that the Uptown Atlantic project is dead. As board member Paul Zacks said, “It’s too important an issue to not have everyone’s input.” The city considers the three-block project essential to redeveloping West Atlantic Avenue.

Other development news and notes

Groundbreaking is scheduled for today on Kaufman Lynn Construction’s headquarters in Delray Beach. The company is moving from Boca Raton.

In related news, Boca finally has hired a new development services director. It’s Brandon Schaad, who had been working in Miami Lakes. A city spokeswoman said Schaad started two weeks ago.

The position had been vacant since May, when Ty Harris resigned because of a health insurance issue the city didn’t resolve for him. Harris held the job for less than a year. Before that, the position had been vacant for 15 months, after John Hixenbaugh resigned. His tenure lasted less than two years.

So a dynamic city like Boca Raton now is on its third top building and planning official since 2012. Despite improvements under Harris, developers and residents still gripe about permitting delays. Kaufman Lynn President Mike Kaufmann said Boca Raton never would have shown the flexibility Delray Beach did, allowing him to add a self-storage facility to his headquarters.

Beyond that, Boca Raton has spent a decade trying to complete the city’s Pattern Book for downtown architectural guidelines. Even those who favor the new downtown projects criticize the lack of “vision.”

City Manager Leif Ahnell took over the role of downtown director nine years ago. All department heads ultimately report to him. If the city council finally held a formal, public evaluation of Ahnell, one issue would be why progress on permitting and planning has been slow.

Missed last week’s City Watch? Not to worry. Visit our City Watch page, where you can catch up on all the latest news and notes from Boca and Delray. 

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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