Perhaps one of the most important items of Boca Raton residents’ concern is the notion of ‘open green space’ versus ‘the concrete jungle’ being created by the seemingly unending commercial development costing Boca Raton its charm; its character; and its quality of life.

Few other items generate the same passion and emotion seen in the citizen driven on-going efforts to preserve public use of lands along the Intracoastal Waterway from commercialization and development.

This item, along with the City of Boca Raton’s Comprehensive Waterfront study, were predominating themes voiced by all candidates running for the two open Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District Commissioner seats in the upcoming August 30th elections.

Background…..

The Beach and Park District is run under the direction of an Executive Director and 5 District Commissioners. The Commissioners are elected for four year terms with Districts 1, 3, and 5 running in this election cycle and Districts 2 and 4 in the next. The district consists of geographic boundaries that include all lands within the city limits and some other lands beyond the borders of the city. Commissioners are elected based upon this geography. Two commissioners in this cycle live within the city limits and one resides outside the city in unincorporated Palm Beach County.

Of the three seats up for election in this cycle, only two seats have drawn competition. One incumbent, the District 5 seat currently held by Commissioner Steve Engel, did not attract a challenger and thus, Commissioner Engle will remain on the board for another term.

Seats in District 1 and 3 have drawn two competitors each. Incumbents Dr. Dennis Frisch, District 1, and Earl Starkoff, District 3, will each face two challengers for the seats.

District 1 challengers are Craig Ehrnst, a corporate executive with NCCI and former candidate for Boca Raton City Council, and Shayla Enright, a Physicist and first time candidate for public office.

District 3 challengers are John Costello, a local CPA, and Erin Wright, a homemaker running a home inspection company, both first time candidates for public office.

Last week, BocaWatch convened a committee to interview all 6 candidates as well as Commissioner Engle to uncover their respective positions on the important issues facing the Beach and Park District. These findings are being compiled and will be published in the near future along with the BocaWatch endorsements to the voting public.

However, prior to any endorsement, BocaWatch will be conducting a candidate debate for the public to attend on Thursday, August 11th in the Community Center at City Hall (see invitation). This debate will be captured on video and broadcast on the BocaWatch.org site and the BocaWatch Official Facebook page.

The interviews…..

Many topics were covered in the interview process. Topics including non-resident fees; staffing issues; relationship and communication issues between the City and the District; field scheduling and maintenance issues, and a myriad of other topics for discussion and debate.

Of all the topics, a most prevalent theme emerged; the notion of what to do with the public owned lands along the Intercoastal and with the City’s pending Comprehensive Waterfront Study Plan. Both these topics are worth noting at this early stage.

NO CANDIDATE, none of the 6, incumbent or challenger, favored a brick and mortar restaurant over an open active public green space at the Wildflower site, the 2 acre site on the Intracoastal Waterway at Palmetto Park Road and N.E. 5th Ave., period.

All candidates were also surprised to find out that the City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Study does not include the Wildflower site and that the Beach and Park District has not been asked to participate in the study even though at least one parcel of land along the Intracoastal is owned by the District.

As an aside…..

There is a lot of misinformation being put out into the public about the citizen referendum on the usage of public land along the Intracoastal Waterway. Much of this misleading and false information is being perpetrated by the Chamber of Commerce and some members of the development community. This whisper campaign is spreading misinformation on what effects will occur if the referendum is adopted by the City Council. The argument goes that this is a ‘nimby’ (not in my backyard) issue; that any and all ancillary commercial activity would be prohibitive; activities like kayak rentals, food concessions, a gift shop concession, etc..

These are patently and intentionally misleading. The citizen referendum ordinance has language that is mirrored on the language contained in the 2012 ordinance adopted by the City Council in the SIML case (Ocean Strand), a legal challenge that was ultimately settled. Since then, there has been no prohibition in the use of public land for public purpose including concessions.

What is being protected is the long term lease/sale of property as offered by the City in the 45 year lease of the Wildflower site to the Hillstone Restaurant Corporation; in essence the sale of this Intracoastal Waterway land to private commercial development.

Where does this commercialization stop?

Are all our Intracoastal Waterfront lands at risk?

Rhetorical questions….I think not….That is what the citizen initiative is attempting to avoid; that is what the referendum protects against!!!

One last point….

At the Coffee & Conversation with Councilmember Singer last week, the Councilman asked the audience of close to 100 attendees for a show of hands of those that support green space over a brick and mortar restaurant. Overwhelmingly, the audience was in favor of an open green space; a welcomed response and indicator of future events…..

Please plan on being at the Candidate debates for the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District on

Thursday evening, August 11th, 2016 at the Community Center in the City Hall complex from 6:30 P.M. to 8:30 P.M….doors open at 6:00 P.M.   See you there…..

Al Zucaro, Publisher

P.S.: At the Beach and Park District meeting this evening, July 18th, the District voted 5 – 0 to not raise taxes for its citizens. The Commission stated that it would ‘roll back’ the millage rate to a level that would retain revenues from taxpayers at the current year’s levels.

What a refreshing notion….most times you hear political bodies state that no increase in millage would be approved leaving the impression that there would no increase in taxes for the upcoming year.   When you, as a taxpayer, hear that realize that this is misleading. Without rolling back the millage rate, there will always be a tax increase as property values increase.

….and politicians wonder why people do not trust them. Amen!

AZ