THE PLAN FOR DEERFIELD BEACH
City Officials Don't Care What You Think
Swanky restaurants, upscale boutiques, Boca people, pricey condos, and a confusing network of tangly streets with traffic directed by computerized signs. This is the vision city officials in Deerfield Beach have for the beach area.
This is not a fanciful vision of the future from the March, 1954, issue of Popular Mechanics. This is the actual plan for Deerfield Beach, March, 2004.
City planners claim that this transmogrification of people's lives will widen the tax base and produce more revenues for the city. Maybe so, but is the cost making a quiet beach into an overcrowded, congested, crime ridden hellhole for residents? The beach neighborhood could easily turn from a unique and livable community into another condominium jungle along the coast of Florida with the help of local government officials.
What about the people whose lifestyle is inevitably and most directly affected by redevelopment on this scale? What do they think?
If we look at the votes, they don't like it. Redevelopment proposals consistently lose at the polls. People care more about quality of life than city finances. Still, the reconstruction of Deerfield Beach east of the Intracoastal Waterway, as shown in the pictures throughout this report, goes ahead, full steam -- or should we say, full BULLdozer?
How does this happen if popular support isn't there? It happens because City Hall plays the mysterious and complex system that governs land-use, growth, impact, and transportation issues to the advantage of their developer friends. While "public discussion" goes on in one room to create the appearance of public participation and a community "visioning process," officials secretly shuffle and finalize preconceived plans in another.
So in the context of open, responsive, and representative government, redevelopment politics is corrupt and has nothing to do with what the people think. Pro-development officials lie, deceive, double talk, obfuscate, rely upon voter apathy and short institutional memory, and in the end get what they want without the need of public support or commitment.
Growth and development planning under the current legal scheme is supposed to begin with a heightened level of public involvement or, in the parlance of law-use policy, the "visioning process." There are no seances or casting of spells at the meetings which are supposed to find consensus and agreement among the interested parties, but there might as well be, because the visioning process as it is conducted is at least as phony as these mysterious rituals.
Despite the claims of pro-development officials, there is no community vision in Deerfield Beach as to what the beach should be like. What people want to see depends on who they are. Do they live at the beach? Are they invested? Do they come to the beach every day or once a year? Have they ever been there? If there is any general agreement at all, it is likely to be that most residents want nothing more than an accessible, safe, and well-maintained beach area.
How public officials get around the formality of public support is illustrated by the case of the "realignment" of State Road A1A. This dubious idea has been around for some time, but has never been subjected to a public debate. However, the City of Deerfield Beach is now officially committed to a plan that will fundamentally alter the beach area forever by creating new roads and closing others that provide access to the public beach. This is how they did it, almost without the public even knowing about it, and without public discussion or consent.
The Broward County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is an obscure county agency, officially described as a "planning body responsible for transportation planning in Broward County." (Quotes from the MPO web site.)
"Established in 1977 by the Florida Legislature, the MPO was created to direct urban transportation planning and allocate federal and state funds. It is the lead agency responsible for developing and administrating plans and programs to maintain eligibility and receive funds for the transportation systems in Broward County.
"Made up of government representatives who plan and recommend transportation project priorities, the MPO consists of nineteen members including representatives from local cities, Tri-Rail, the School Board of Broward County, and the Board of Broward County Commissioners."
Mayor Al Capellini is a member of MPO Board and Jerry Ferguson, planning director for the City of Deerfield Beach, sits on the Technical Coordinating Committee of the MPO, which approves the Long Range Transportation Plan for the county. The LRTP is a "listing of the financially feasible transportation improvement projects needed to meet the future travel demand of people and goods in the Broward County urban area." In other words, it is a list of projects developed by local governments for which they will seek funding. Like all public agencies, the MPO and the TCC must conduct their business openly and elicit public comment.
There is no question that beach traffic has become a nightmare at certain times, especially where the main artery (A1A) intersects with the bridge access road (Hillsboro) and connects to the so-called "S" curve. The situation has been made even worse than it ever was before because of piss-poor and totally inconsiderate planning in the construction of an oversized restaurant at the top of the curve without adequate parking or customer access, which city officials are responsible for overseeing and recklessly approved. One can only imagine what the situation will be like when the retail project ("parking garage") is completed on the other side of the "S" curve. City officials like to blame the congestion on the way people park at Flanigan's and the Whale's Rib restaurants, which have been beach front landmarks for decades, and the fact that people like to cruise the beach in their cars. The real problem, however, is pretty clear to anyone who sees for himself off-duty cops directing traffic and stopping cars along A1A to allow people in and out of J.B.'s on the Beach.
Last year, the city commissioned a private study of beach traffic and parking, which was to include at least three public workshops. It is a good question whether this research was for the purpose of finding viable solutions to the problem which would garner public support or merely to rationalize decisions already made by city planners.
The second traffic workshop was held on November 17th, 2003. The very next day, the 18th, the commission approved an amendment to the LRTP, based on the consultant's report. There was no public hearing (where members of the public could speak) or any open debate among the commissioners.
It could not be clearer that the workshop on the 17th had no purpose whatsoever other than to make a good show of public involvement, and that the input of the participants had no effect on the decision to submit a new plan for the LRTP. The truth is that the decision to adopt this plan had already been made and placed on the consent agenda days before the workshop was even held. A third workshop is scheduled for mid-March, but what is the point of public discussion now?
The decision to reroute S. R. A1A, which is the main north-south street through Deerfield's coastal area, was made several years ago without any prior public input and before any formal, even quasi-scientific, studies had been made to determine how such a "realignment" would impact on traffic or parking at the beach.
Nonetheless, there was a point to it. Making a new northbound lane for A1A and using the existing right-of-way (the troublesome "S" curve) for southbound traffic would provide convenient access to a planned commercial venture on the Main Beach Parking Lot and facilitate an expanded business district in the quadrant that would be formed by the new configuration. It had nothing to do, really, with traffic, any more than the planned development of the Main Beach Parking Lot had anything to do with beach parking, as city officials claimed.
That was the "conceptual" plan for the community redevelopment area. The current plan, revealed by the amendments to the LRTP, calls for an almost identical configuration of roads, except that the existing A1A right-of-way and Hillsboro east of the A1A intersection would remain two-way streets. The state road would continue to occupy the existing right-of-way.
It would not directly address the "S" curve problem in any way that we can figure, except that the consultants predict that some traffic will be diverted to the streets which would form the so-called "circulation loop." But we are inclined to wonder how much of the through traffic, that is, traffic just passing through Deerfield Beach on A1A without any particular interest in the beach or its amenities and which constitutes the majority of cars on this road according to the traffic study, would take the alternate route. We see no real incentive for it to.
There had been two plans for the city parking lot. The first, offered by Canadian developer RenÚ Lepine, would have built a hotel on the lot. The second, offered by the city and called "Ocean Park" to impress the public with the minor public recreation components, was essentially a commercial venture. Although proponents of the plan bristle when "Ocean Park" is called a shopping center, the plan was to build a structure with room for at least 20 restaurants and retail shops. Some of us, at least, call such a structure a shopping center. In any event, there was no evidence that the expanded parking facilities would have provided more parking for beach patrons after patrons and employees for the on-site businesses were accommodated. In fact, common sense held otherwise.
After these proposals were bombed by voters, the city now proposed to build "just" a parking garage, despite the clear indications of public feelings about developing this city property and without any real evidence that additional parking for beach users was needed to a degree to justify the projected multi-million dollar cost of a parking structure of this magnitude. Moreover, the aesthetics of such a structure right on the central beach would be horrible. Then it came to light that the architect for the project, Bill Gallo, was a business partner of the mayor in other ventures and stood to make millions from the design work alone. Only the most na´ve person would not believe that the idea was eventually to contract the construction of the garage to the construction firm associated with Gallo.
Voters once again vetoed the city's proposal. An initiative by citizens to limit the size of any parking facility built on the Main Beach Parking Lot and a second initiative which was designed to halt excessive development were passed by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2002.
In other words, when redevelopment issues are subjected to a popular vote, they fail miserably. Pro-development officials say, however, that but for voter apathy and ignorance, there would be a groundswell of support for their plans. It is doubtful that they really believe this, but they want us to believe this, just as they try to create the appearance of public support through meetings such as the traffic workshops last year.
Voter apathy has been a feature of all recent city elections, including the 1998 and 2002 charter amendment elections, the 1999 and 2003 bond issues, the Ocean Park vote in 2000, and recent municipal elections for mayor and commissioners.
There is no logical basis to imply that if a higher percentage of voters vote in an election the results would be different. City officials in Deerfield Beach have stressed voter apathy, however, when it affects the outcome of an election with which they disagree.
PERCENTAGE OF REGISTERED VOTERS WHO DID NOT VOTE IN RECENT ELECTIONS
1997 - Municipal Elections - 70.95%
1998 - Charter Amendment - 40.20%
1999 - Bond Issues - 80.45%
2000 - FAU Research Park Lease - 81.34%
2000 - Ocean Park Referendum - 31.56%
2001 - Municipal Elections - 78.74%
2002 - Charter Amendments - 55.63% (estimated)
2003 - Bond Issues - 77.90%
Clearly, whatever the reasons for voter apathy, there are many people who are not interested in beach issues (1998, 2000, 2002) and an even greater number of people who do not care who makes public policy in Deerfield Beach (1997, 2001). But we are at sea as to how one deduces from this obvious fact that there is a secret and silent majority of people who support the city's plans for beach area redevelopment. If people don't care, one way or the other, then it is a stretch to believe that they want the beach area reconstructed mostly for the benefit and profit of somebody else.
City officials have used voter apathy to suggest that when issues are decided with a low voter turnout, as was the case with the 2002 charter amendments, the election does not carry the same weight as one marked with higher voter interest. They even question the legitimacy of the results of elections with which they disagree. The corollary is that the majority who vote against redevelopment are dumb and misinformed and this further dilutes the validity of the vote.
(Of course, this argument is never directed against an election whose results are agreeable to public officials, such as the bond issue elections and the municipal elections for mayor and commissioner, which had even lower voter turnouts.)
This doctrine would be laughable were it not for the record of this commission in short shrifting the public. They have mostly ignored the message that voters have sent in three referendum elections during their term preferring to rely instead on the contrived results of the "visioning process" conducted by outside consultants paid to support the administration's redevelopment ideas. Thus, when a sizeable majority of voters decided to limit the power of city government a bit to save the beach from wholesale redevelopment in the 2002 vote, they refused at first even to acknowledge the results of the election, as if no voters had voted. In fact, the main argument posited against the charter amendments is that ordinary citizens are not qualified to decide on land-use matters which are better left to the discretion of elected officials and professional city administrators. The same argument opposes a similar state-wide proposal.
The city commission, of course, cannot veto a referendum by refusing to acknowledge it. The purpose of this formality is to certify the election as fair, fraud-free, and compliant. What they think of the outcome is not relevant to the question of whether an election is properly conducted. Further, voter apathy and I.Q. are not reasons to reject election results.
A closer examination of the votes suggests that it is not apathy that determined the results of the 1998, 2000, and 2002 elections, but in fact the intense interest on the part of voters wary of redevelopment. The reason that the pro-development axis in city government would prefer to avoid elections and end-run the public is that they know that "negative" voter interest drives the results, while voters who really want the beach area extensively reconstructed are uninspired and far fewer in number; and that many people are so uninspired by this issue that they prefer to shrug and leave the problem to others. Therefore, it is not really apathetic shruggers that have the greatest impact on the results of these elections, but the voters who have the most to lose by redevelopment. That would be some beach residents who would prefer the beach community to remain relatively the same, and people (not necessarily residents) who like to use the beach for recreational purposes and see only more congestion in attracting even more people to the area.
The crux of this is that in an ideal situation which clearly does not exist, the city works for and in the interests of its residents. But in many cities, including we are afraid Deerfield Beach, city officials from the commissioners and city manager on down work for special interests, and especially in the case of growth, development and land-use issues, for developers and others who would stand to make millions from unrestrained redevelopment of the beach area. They have been unable to inspire popular support; at the polls, they lose. The answer is to manipulate public opinion if they can and evade it if they cannot, by whatever means they can get away with.
On February 3d, 2004, the city's consultants submitted amendments to the 2025 Long Range Transportation Plan which were subsequently adopted by the Technical Coordinating Committee of the MBO. Officially these amendments are referred to as "Deerfield Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) Preferred Alternative No. 2 McM Project No. L02420.06." The authority for this submission was the consent agenda item approved by the commission at the meeting of November 18th, 2003.
"Alternative #2 includes the addition of six (6) distinct capacity adding features to the existing roadway network in order to provide more efficient traffic operations throughout the area."
(All quotes in this section are from a letter/email from the city traffic consultants, McMahon Associates, Inc., to Ossama Al Aschkar, LRTP Coordinator, dated December 12th, 2003. Italics are ours.)
"The first improvement includes the construction of an exclusive northbound right-turn lane along [A1A] that would extend from SE 3d Street north to the intersection of Hillsboro Boulevard. Right-of-way acquisition will be required along the east side of [A1A] for this improvement."
One does not have to be a traffic engineer to figure out that if A1A were "realigned" according to the CRA plan, that it would be necessary to add a turn lane to a portion of A1A south of the Hillsboro intersection to make it work. This plan has been on the table since 1999, and yet no right-of-way was reserved on the west side of A1A when the 1 Ocean project was approved to accommodate at least part of this new lane. Thus all of the right-of-way for the turn lane apparently must come from the east side of the road. The biggest problem with this plan, as we see it with the naked eye, is that this "improvement" would take substantial portions of the parking lots of the Carriage House motel (between 2d and 3d) and of the Comfort Inn at the intersection of Hillsboro and A1A. Do they have a potential gripe with this plan? Or does the city have another secret plan for parking for these lodges (as implied in the word includes)? We don't know, but the history of city planning in this regard has been very shortsighted as evidenced particularly in the situation at J.B.'s at the Beach.
Intersection of A1A and Hillsboro Boulevard. Comfort Inn parking lot on right. Site of proposed right turn lane onto Hillsboro.
"The second capacity adding feature includes the realignment of Hillsboro Boulevard.... [R]ight-of-way acquisition will be necessary on the south side of Hillsboro Boulevard for the additional lane [which 'will serve as an exclusive right-turn lane into the City parking facility']." Note: not parking lot, but parking facility (garage?).
The third feature is the closure of S.E. 1st Street, "which is... located between existing City surface parking lots. The closure will pertain to vehicular traffic, but the expanded parking facility [garage?] will permit access for emergency service vehicles, which are stationed along North Ocean Way."
This is double-talk. What we think the consultant is really saying, without saying it, is that the city plans to build a parking garage which would straddle the existing 1st Street, necessitating the closure of the street, even though voters have three times rejected development of the Main Beach Parking Lot.
The city is already openly talking about reviving the "Eller Bandshell" idea from the Ocean Park proposal. Will a commercial project for this site be far behind? We shall see.
"The fourth feature proposes to extend NE 20th Terrace to the south... to connect to Hillsboro Boulevard.... A portion of right-of-way will have to be acquired in order to construct the proposed three-lane roadway."
The words three-lane are emphasized here because 1) no mention of it was made at the workshop and 2) it gives us a clue as to what the real long-range plan is for this area. What is unsaid in this part of the proposal is that the city plans to take a substantial part of the parking for the Howard Johnson's Hotel to build this new street and there is no indication of where HoJo guests are supposed to park if this project is completed. Also unstated is whether the city plans to close Ocean Way between the intersection of this new road with A1A and Hillsboro Boulevard. Unmentioned is whether Hillsboro Boulevard between the new road and Ocean Way will remain open.
Thus we are left to speculate, but this is what we think the city's plan is:
First of all, they plan to build a multi-story "parking facility" on the Main Beach Parking Lot. Howard Johnson's and Comfort Inn guests will be permitted to park in this garage.
Wait! Is this not what the charter amendment in 2002 was supposed to prevent? Yes, but city officials still hope that the lawsuit to overturn the charter amendment will succeed and they are quietly planning for a larger project. If the lawsuit fails, the city will seek to repeal or end-run the 2002 charter amendment.
This will necessitate the closing of S.E. 1st Street, which will serve as the access point for emergency vehicles to the new public safety complex inside the garage. New turn lanes on Hillsboro and A1A and a new street connecting with A1A on the north side of the project will be required to provide "efficient traffic" access to the garage itself.
East Hillsboro Boulevard (looking west). The photographer is standing at the approximate location of the planned intersection of Hillsboro with the proposed three-lane road (would go right from this view) that would connect with A1A on the north side of the "S" curve. The beach is just in back of his position. The proposed right turn lane from A1A is on left side of photo with entrance to the parking "facility" just this side of the private residence (small white building). The bigger building is the Comfort Inn.
Unfortunately, this will encroach upon parking for the hotels. Thus it will be necessary to build a larger parking facility than is permitted under the city charter. On the other hand, the new configuration of roads will open enormous new opportunities for commercial or mixed-use development along the beach front from Howard Johnson's to Hillsboro and within the new traffic circulation loop.
As long as we are at it, why not lease part of the parking garage site for commercial use to help defray some of the costs of the project? If we add a bandshell and interactive fountain to the plan, there we have it: Ocean Park!
It's a neat little package. Developers stand to make millions of dollars. All the citizens of Deerfield Beach give up is their accessible, safe, and well-maintained beach area.
"The fifth proposed improvement would provide a shared northbound and southbound continuous two-way left-turn lane along [A1A], just north of the S-curve, and along the new alignment. This would provide more efficient access to establishments on either side of [A1A] and reduce traffic congestion in the area."
It is not clear from the documents we have whether new right-of-way acquisition for this turn lane would be required or where it would come from. In any event, no mention is made of it.
In addition to the five "improvements" outlined above, other proposals will be incorporated into the plan for lighted signs using the Advanced Parking Management System (directing traffic circulation), a trolley service, and "improved bicycle and pedestrian facilities."
So what do we have here? We have a very grand plan which could well turn out to be the same grand plan that voters soundly rejected in 2000 ("Ocean Park"). It has been our concern that the city would try to accomplish what it could not accomplish with public support, without public support, and it could well succeed.
It is not only the tangle of roads contemplated by these plans that bothers us, it is the tangle of politics that leads us there. A city government that operates for Úlite special interests, without civic values or public trust and against the public will, is not a good thing.