This FAQs page was last updated on Dec. 28, 2011.
Q. What is this website about?
A. This site is about Deerfield Beach, a city of 75,000 people on the southeast coast of Florida. Deerfield Beach is a place where people live and work, go to school and play, shop and raise families. The city has commercial corridors to serve the population and is the home to some corporate operations, such as J.M. Family, Don King, and the Publix distribution center. It has pockets of light industry but is not, by any reasonable definition, industrial. Most significantly, from a political standpoint, it has a highly-commercialized beach resort area which attracts and serves people from all over the region and is the focus of much of city politics. However, the beach area is also home to many people. There is friction between residents and those who want to transform and gentrify the beach area. In my view, because Deerfield Beach is primarily a bedroom community, the welfare of residents should be at the center of city government before any other interest. The city should concentrate on improving neighborhoods and enhancing the quality of life of the people who live here, instead of displacing residents or compacting them into high-density infill areas ("redevelopment"). Additionally, residents are best served by fiscally-responsible, open, and honest city government which protects the safety of its citizens, does its job well, and treats residents with respect.
Q. Does this website oppose private development on the beach?
A. No. People have the right to develop or redevelop their property as long as it conforms to zoning and land-use laws. In the past, I have questioned the way certain proposed projects were handled by city government and the commission. But there is no viable option called "no-growth."
Q. What about construction near the ocean?
A. Property rights co-exist with traditional land uses in the community and laws which are designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens. The needs and values of the community tend to evolve over time, meaning that land-use policies also change. Any construction near the ocean impacts the public beach and for this reason there is heightened public concern.
Q. Who owns the beach?
A. The dry sand area of the beach is a hodge-podge of private and public property, but most of the land adjacent to the beach is privately owned. The main exceptions in Deerfield Beach are the fishing pier, the parking lot adjacent to the pier, and other public parking areas, including the Main Beach Parking Lot.
Q. Will the Main Beach Parking Lot be developed?
A. This property, located in the second block south of Hillsboro Blvd., is of special interest because it is used as the site of many community events, such as concerts, sporting contests, and the annual Founders' Days carnival. A number of development proposals have been made for the Main Beach Parking Lot, but all have encountered significant public opposition. From its inception, the CRA Plan included a parking structure on the Lot. This provision has now been removed after previous plans were soundly rejected by voters and after extended debate. It appears now that a parking garage or other development will not be built there any time soon. However, there is still support for some sort of development of the Main Beach Parking Lot, so the idea could be revived in the future.
Q. Why is redevelopment controversial?
A. There are three main issues which divide residents over redevelopment in the beach area. The first is the extent to which the city commission should allow variances and exceptions from the zoning and building codes and other land-use rules to facilitate new projects which may affect public access to the beach. Such exceptions usually benefit the developer only, but sometimes have an adverse impact on the neighborhood. The law is supposed to protect the public interest by requiring developers who are asking for exceptions to prove actual hardship. These laws have sometimes been liberally construed by city commissions anxious to facilitate new projects. The second issue is to what extent land-use rules should evolve away from tradition to encourage development. Proponents of redevelopment claim that bigger development widens the tax base of the city and thus benefits the residents indirectly. The third issue is whether the city should permit commercial development on city-owned lands near the beach, such as the Main Beach Parking Lot, which are now used primarily for recreation and parking.
Q. Should the city allow private developers to take over city property?
A. The answer to this question should, in general, be no, if the property already serves useful public purposes. The development of public lands presents a different set of concerns. Private property rights are not involved and the city has no obligation to allow development of any kind on these properties. What is at issue is the public's right to use the land for public purposes, which may outweigh the supposed benefits of developing city-owned lands.
Q. Are "quality of life" objections to development valid?
A. Absolutely. How development impacts residents, both in real and social costs, is a legitimate issue in land-use policy. How it affects land-use decisions depends on the circumstances of the decision sought.
Q. What should we aim for in land-use policy?
A. Whether land-use policy is protective or pro-active, it must serve the public interest over a period of time. Long-term effects, as well as short-term impacts, should be considered. In other words, is the long-term outcome a city where people will want to live and can afford to live twenty or thirty years from now?
Q. How is "overdevelopment" justified?
A. Advocates of aggressive redevelopment policies in Deerfield Beach and other coastal communities argue that the beach is a deteriorating area with obsolete land uses ("blight") that could be replaced by upscale development. They say that redevelopment and new land-use categories such as "RACs" will increase tax revenue and bring in more desirable residents. Others say that indirect costs borne by taxpayers, such as infrastructure improvements and increased demands on public services and public safety providers, negate supposed tax-base widening benefits. Opponents of overdevelopment also state that "social costs," such as ruined neighborhoods, outweigh any other claimed advantages of redevelopment.
Q. Is the Deerfield Beach CRA legitimate?
A. Yes and no. A community redevelopment agency (CRA) can be created without public approval or a vote, but it is supposed to embrace a community vision. In the case of the CRA in Deerfield Beach, the so-called "visioning process" produced a number of conflicting ideas rather than consensus or single community vision which corresponds to the goals of the CRA.
Q. What do the residents of Deerfield Beach want at the beach?
A. There are a variety of interests in the beach area. The conventional view is that most people are not opposed to "reasonable development." But there is a limit to how much the existing infrastructure, such as roads and parking, sewers and water supply, can bear without major reconstruction of the beach area that could meet stiff public opposition and incur huge expenditures of public funds. Both actual and projected impacts of redevelopment, as well as common sense, influence individual perceptions of what is "reasonable development."
Q. How do we know what the people want?
A. We have votes. Two referendum elections addressed beach development in 1998 and 2000. Another vote was held in 2002 to amend the city charter to limit redevelopment. The results indicate that the majority of residents are not comfortable with commercial development in this area and oppose the use of public land for private development.
Q. Does public opinion count?
A. City government is run by a city manager and civil servants who are not directly accountable to the voters. Some public officials in the past believed that land-use issues are too complex for the public and therefore should be handled with minimum public involvement. This view was shared by developers and business insiders who stood to profit from liberal land-use policies. However, city government is supposed to work for the people and make decisions in the public interest, not solely in the interest of developers. Historically, public opinion has been made to count by vocal, even strident, opposition and use of direct democracy measures such as the two referendum issues in 2002.
Q. What is a RAC?
A. RAC stands for regional activity center. If an area is designated a RAC it means that the city has more flexibility in determining what land-use rules should apply. It permits more mixed-use development which means that what is traditionally regarded as a commercial use can be combined with residential units. The RAC proposed for Deerfield Beach reduced commercial density on paper, but enlarged the area for commercial development. This scheme would have facilitated commercial development even though officials said it would not. The RAC application was withdrawn in the face of intense public opposition. Because of evolving land-use policies with respect to the barrier islands, it does not appear the application would have been approved by the county commission anyway; in fact, the county has decreed that RACs will not be approved for the foreseeable future.
Q. What is performance zoning?
A. Performance or impact zoning replaces the traditional zoning where specific uses are permitted or not permitted. City officials can allow construction based on a determination that the project would not adversely impact the area in which it is built or conversely, if the impact can be successfully mitigated. In essence, it gives more power and flexibility to city officials. Performance zoning was part of the RAC package.
Q. Is performance zoning a good thing or bad?
A. Performance zoning allows more innovative development. However, it assumes that city officials act in the best interests of the community and also that the public has sufficient input into decisions that will significantly impact the community. Where public trust in local government is low, performance zoning is probably a bad idea.
Q. Why was there so much local opposition to the RAC proposal for Deerfield Beach?
A. Because city officials lied about what the RAC was about. Many people believed that city officials at the time were working for developers and did not act in the public interest when they proposed the RAC. They believed that crucial land-use decisions or proposals including the RAC proposal for the Deerfield Beach CRA were made secretly and that public hearings were only a required formality. They had seen the abuses in other cities where officials have too much power in land-use matters. They believed that some officials had a personal stake in redevelopment. Mayor Capellini, in particular, derived his income as a civil engineer and had close business ties with developers. He also was directly involved in some projects.
Q. Is the CRA a bad thing then?
A. CRA promoters say that CRAs widen the city's tax-base and promote "economic development." In fact, by using new revenues ("tax increment funds") to upgrade the public infrastructure, a CRA scheme shifts some impact costs of development to taxpayers and makes development economically feasible. Artificially inflated land values and tax assessments that some established residents cannot afford creates a buyers' market for developers. In effect, CRAs are designed to displace communities that stand in the way of redevelopment. In fact, that is the basic objective of "redevelopment" — to replace existing uses (residents) with different uses.
Q. Could the clock be turned back on the CRA?
A. Some cities have adopted land-use strategies which respect the traditional landscape of the community and try to preserve the best qualities of their towns. The Deerfield Beach CRA automatically "sunsets" in 2029. Because the current and projected assets of the Redevelopment Trust Fund, which funds the CRA, exceed any reasonable need for such funds in the long-run, consideration should be given to disbanding the CRA before 2029. It is well to remember that these monies are not "free," but are derived from property taxes within the CRA district. The CRA is not funded by state grants, but it may leverage projected tax increment revenues and issue bonds, which are ultimately a city liability.
Q. Why do some people who live in Deerfield Beach want to ruin the beach so cherished by the residents?
A. Everyone is motivated by self-interest to some extent. People who use the beach and are resident in the city want to preserve that area in the way it is to the greatest possible extent. Some people want Deerfield to be more upscale and feel that the traditional beach area doesn't measure up in that regard. Other people own land on the beach or are in businesses that will benefit financially from development.
Q. Did Larry R. Deetjen need to go?
A. Fundamental reform of city government would have been difficult to achieve as long as Mr. Deetjen was city manager.
Q. Should Deetjen have been fired?
A. After he made a secret deal with a developer to build a parking garage in the beach area as a public-private project, I proposed the termination of Larry R. Deetjen. In the first instance it was because Mr. Deetjen made an important policy decision without consulting with the commission. The parking garage deal was directly in violation of a directive previously issued by Mayor Capellini, in which the commission acquiesced. Since he was not fired for this act of insubordination, Deetjen continued to politicize his office and build a political base for the security of his position and agenda. In the 2005 city elections, he may have been instrumental in setting up certain commission candidates who were supportive of his proposal to turn the city pier over to a developer. He also assisted opposing counsel in a lawsuit against the city to overturn charter amendments which were approved by voters in the 2002 elections, but short-circuited his redevelopment vision. In short, Mr. Deetjen compromised the professionalism of his office to promote a political agenda that served friends, special interests, and possibly himself. Deetjen was suspended twice, but the city commission majority lacked the votes to terminate Deetjen (four votes were required).
Q. How bad was it / is city government post-Deetjen?
A. No one really knows how deep corruption ran in city government during the Deetjen era. City services were fine, but city officials were prone to deception, cover-ups, and even suppression of dissenting groups with respect to the beach redevelopment issue. Public money was squandered on events such as the boat races to get Deerfield Beach "on the map." On the other hand, city officials never resorted to more radical measures to achieve their goals, such as New London-style eminent domain. What the Deetjen era lacked was basic integrity; city government was dishonest with, and disrespected, residents. Yet Deerfield Beach was and still is a good place to live with a great beach. It has a progressive "green" program for recycling that was initiated during Deetjen's time. It faces major issues with shrinking financial resources, obsolete infrastructure in some places, racial conflict, growing public safety concerns, and water supply. Some of this may or may not be laid at the doorstep of the Deetjen administration.
Q. How can city government be reformed?
A. The function of local government is to protect the health, welfare, and safety of its residents; and promote honorable, efficient and responsive government, according to the charter of the City of Deerfield Beach. But over the years, city government has focused more on "economic development" and redevelopment of the beach area, which benefit insider interests, than in providing a safe, healthy, livable community for its citizens. Part of the answer is to get back to basics and basic civic values, such as honesty, professionalism, competency, service, fiscal responsibility, transparency, teamwork, and forward thinking, while respecting the traditions of the community and the diverse cultures that comprise the city. Another part of it is specific ethics reform measures, such as an ethics code, setting out "rules" that establish standards of conduct for public officials, employees, lobbyists, and contractors.
Q. Isn't government inherently corrupt?
A. If you have good people, they do a good job, tell the truth, and keep their word to the best of their ability, honest city government is not beyond reach. The first step in ethics reform: Elect honest people to office who are committed to reform.