Are we experiencing the Wildflower fight all over again?

Not a rhetorical question by any means.  Beginning last year with the “Boca Question’s” overwhelming win at the polls by a margin of 67% to 33%, the people spoke:   preserve all city owned Intracoastal Parks for recreation; for the enjoyment of the people.  The people stood up and fought the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and some elected officials to commercialize ‘our’ waterfront parks…. And won!!!

However that victory, without diligence, may be fleeting.

Since the November vote, there are now two other initiatives percolating in the city designed to take away people’s parkland in two different ways.  These efforts are couched in wholesome wrappings by some elected officials but like the wolf in sheep’s clothing have as their goal, taking parkland for alternative purposes.

The first effort to redirect parkland is a proposal at the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District to negotiate a long term land lease for acreage in Patch Reef Park to tennis star Rafael Nadal who is interested in putting a tennis training center modeled after his center in Majorca, Spain.  The second effort to redirect parkland is being pursued by some elected officials in Boca Raton and the School Board to grab a 24 acres parcel of land in Sugar Sand Park for a public school campus.

After the overwhelming vote to preserve for recreation all waterfront parkland in November, why would elected officials looking at their next election treat the voting public in this disgraceful manner?  The people could not have been clearer…LEAVE OUR PARKS ALONE!!!!

Even the ‘mom and apple pie’ argument that parkland presents opportunity to solve the school overcrowding problem, or to create an international tourist attraction, pales in scope to taking parkland away from the people, PERIOD….

This week has been telltale….

Residents in numbers arrived at the Beach and Park District meeting objecting to the Nadal tennis center deal.  What happened was interesting….the District Commissioners, individually and collectively, stepped back from the deal stating that there is no final negotiation and that even if it were to take some shape and form, there would never be a ‘sale’ of the parkland and that any arrangement would protect residents with access to the tennis center facility without resistance….Good luck with that….but the grandstanding was enjoyable to watch….

Of even greater importance is what was learned at the Federation of Homeowner Association meeting on Tuesday morning.  Two major items were presented;  to wit:  1) a residential 350+ rental development in the Winn Dixie center on Camino Real and Dixie, Camino Square, and, 2) the Chairman of the School Board, Chuck Shaw, explains how school overcrowding occurred and the situation concerning Addison Mizner.

Camino Square presented first and was immediately confronted on the issues of traffic and school concurrency.  To the issue of traffic, their traffic expert suggested that the traffic patterns will have less impact then what is currently allowed on the property.  The statistics offered fall within the old adage “lies, damn lies and statistics”.  Given any set of traffic numbers and the ‘patch quilt’ development ordinances in Boca Raton, paid professionals can baffle the uneducated general public with slick outcomes that tell whatever story is desired to be told; sort of the opinion de jour!

On school impacts, what was found out is that the developer is made to pay an impact fee to the school board to offset the cost of housing the anticipated students that the development is expected to attract; simply a cost of doing business for development approvals.  The challenge of letting the developer simply pay money as the alternative to solving the school concurrency problem is pure folly.  There is little proof that this impact fee is ever spent to actually provide more school seats to accommodate the new student load.….

When pressed, the presenters for the Camino Square project could not, or would not, quantify the expected number of students that their development would attract….their unwillingness to quantify provides a good transition to the presentation given by the School Board chair.

Chuck Shaw tried to avoid the hard questions on overcrowding by deferring them to Frank Barbieri, Boca Raton’s School Board member.  This was unacceptable…Residents pressed the issue as to why all schools in Boca Raton are overcrowded.  His answer was enlightening.  He said that school overcrowding has occurred over many years of city elected officials approving more and more development without demanding that schools have enough seats to accommodate the growth. Poor planning equals poor performance!

Whoa…an elected official telling the truth…how refreshing.  His solution suggested that growth needs to be curtailed until schools can accommodate the growth…again, truth telling is very refreshing…thank you Chairman Shaw.

So what about this effort at a land grab in Sugar Sand Park…The wolf in sheep’s clothing metaphor again applies….

Councilman Singer and School Board Member Barbieri are the proponents for this idea.  Apparently Councilman Singer has been speaking at various venues to the merits of this land swap idea.  He appeared at the Beach and Park district a few weeks ago to introduce the idea.  According to Beach and Park Commissioner Erin Wright, the district has not taken any position on Singer’s proposal but merely asked for additional information which has yet to be provided.  School Board managers appearing at the HOA meeting stated unequivocally that their current direction is to move forward with re-building Addison Mizner on its current site with a multi-floor design with no plans to alter that direction at this time.  Chairman Shaw did not refute those comments and clearly left the crowd with the impression that there is no movement to move forward with the Sugar Sand Park rumor.  This will have to be watched….

What was truly amazing was how elected officials, when confronted in public view, offer no straight answers…they tap dance around the direct questions that merely require a yes-no answer.  What is obvious is that this will be a politically charged item.  Groups are forming on both sides of the question and their voices will be heard loudly.  Politicians, especially those up for re-election, will want this item to simply go away…Fat chance….Remember the Wildflower!!!

With the March election coming and with at least two city council seats up this cycle, the time is now for the residents to exert their political clout and get in the faces of the elected officials and let them know what your preference is….

Emails and phone calls are City Council Members’ temperature gauge….Residents in favor or opposed to a parkland swap are encouraged to let your elected officials at four government levels know…the City, the District, the School Board and the County Commission…who says you can’t fight city hall…Residents fought City hall with the Wildflower debate and won…the power of your vote is compelling!

Taking parkland even for a school should be a no-no, no matter what….there are other creative solutions to solve the overcrowding problem caused by decades of bad goverence by elected city officials giving away the store, or should I say the school, to the developer community.  Taking parkland is the easy way out but one that presents a ‘slippery slope’ for your local government to take parkland for any number of other compelling reasons.

Boca Raton’s brand in its own literature is to be a “City within a Park” not a “School within a Park”!

Developers should be made to address school overcrowding with greater commitment than the easy out of paying an impact fee.  Elected officials should be made to pay attention to the impacts of new development projects on school overcrowding….But alas, developers will whine and elected officials, especially those running for higher office, will give in….The reported events of the last week in Boca Raton politics demonstrates that when money talks, good goverence walks….

Remember, your vote is your voice; let your voice be heard in the March and November 2018 elections.

Al Zucaro