In the run-up to the 2017 election, Delray Newspaper is going to take a look at key issues so our readers can make informed choices. We kick off the series with a march through recent history to set the stage for future reports.
Delray Beach has a long history of civic engagement.
In fact, urban experts who have studied Delray cite the city’s “planning and visioning gene” as a prime reason why the city has achieved success and recognition over the years.
But beyond planning and engagement, Delray also became known as a city that got things done.
After a contentious period of political bickering and instability in the 1980s (which nonetheless produced lasting achievements such as the creation of the CRA in 1985, the establishment of the first historic districts and Visions 2000) the city entered a period of effective implementation beginning in 1990 with the election of Mayor Tom Lynch and commissioners Dave Randolph and Jay Alperin. The trio and subsequent commission’s brought stability to City Hall and a focus on problem solving that lasted close to 20 years.
While the 90s set the stage for today’s Delray Beach —and established civic values like putting Delray first over personal agendas— it was also a time of relentless implementation of the 1989 Decade of Excellence Bond issue, which included important projects such as the Atlantic Avenue streetscape and the launch of Old School Square.
In 2001, the city launched the Downtown Master Plan process. The plan emphasized the need for downtown housing, mixed use projects, better design, and an increase in densities to promote economic and environmental sustainability. It also led to a workforce housing ordinance and the formation of one of the first land trusts in the region.
The Master Plan redefined downtown as stretching from A1A to I-95 for the first time, a symbolic but important move designed to break down long standing racial barriers that made Swinton Avenue a “dividing line” between white and black.
The era was also marked by the implementation of a parks and culture plan (facilitating the construction of a new library, the creation of the first park in the southwest neighborhood and the creation of Old School Park). Other efforts included a cultural plan, a rethinking of Congress Avenue, a plan for the four corners of Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue and the controversial move of Atlantic High School which enabled the construction of the Seacrest Soccer Complex, the creation of the Bexley Park neighborhood, the opening of two new parks and room for a new middle school of the arts at the site of the old high school (yet to be realized).
Engagement was also a major focus, with a redesign of the Town Hall meeting created under Mayor Lynch into a citizen’s roundtable, the creation of a resident’s academy, a student resident’s academy and a neighborhood resource center in part to support the implementation of the SW neighborhood plan.
In 2007-08, the city dealt with a crushing national recession that dried up new investment. While budgets were strained, the downtown remained remarkably strong with few vacancies and large crowds. But while the economy suffered, so did the political cohesion and focus that characterized Delray.
Political feuds erupted and many felt commissioners became beholden to behind the scenes power brokers who pushed no bid contracts and other decisions that citizens questioned. The controversies created an opening for prominent local developer Cary Glickstein to run for mayor. Glickstein was joined by Mitch Katz, Shelly Petrolia and Jordana Jarjura all whom built their campaigns on transparency in government, fixing city operations and bidding contracts. But great expectations to put Delray back on track were quickly dashed.
Visions 2020, an effort launched by acting Mayor Tom Carney who later lost to Glickstein, was mothballed. The new commission focused on new downtown LDR’s, but unlike the master plan effort many felt the process didn’t emphasize public input, debate or education on planning principles.
The Town Hall morphed into a Mayor’s Lecture Series, which did include some of the nation’s leading urban thinkers, but again critics felt many of the lessons talked about during the series by the likes of new urbanist Andres Duany, parking guru Donald Shoup and others were not re-flected in city policies.
Bruising battles over Atlantic Crossing, the iPic project and squabbles over other issues created a schism on the commission with Petrolia and Katz solidly aligned on one side and Glickstein and Jarjura on the other. The swing vote was Al Jacquet who departed the commission last month for a seat in the state house.
Meanwhile, turnover at City Hall (three city managers, three city attorneys, two planning direc-tors, one assistant city manager, two finance directors, one fire chief, one environmental services director), high profile lawsuits (Atlantic Crossing, tennis tournament contract), a rough renego-tiation of a longstanding deal to provide fire rescue services to Highland Beach, two aborted flir-tations with a fire merger with the county, fights over special events and assorted eruptions on the dais have some comparing the city’s political culture to the tumultuous 80s, but unlike that time which was also marked by landmark efforts such as Visions 2000 and the Mayor’s Atlantic Avenue Task Force, long time Delray watchers and some newcomers are concerned with a lack of progress on many fronts.
Concerns include basic operations (permits, uncollected parking tickets), lengthy approval proc-ess for projects and costly use of consultants, including but not limited to outside attorneys.
City officials counter by claiming credit for pension reform, procurement improvements, the bidding of the garbage contract and a successful sale of the Auburn Trace rental apartment com-plex.
So here we are…March 2017: two seats on the City Commission open; the potential balance of power up for grabs. And lots of issues to discuss.
Delray Newspaper will cover the election by presenting the issues we feel are most germane for Delray Beach’s present and future: Economic Development, Heroin/Recovery, culture and per-formance at City Hall and crime/homelessness.
As always we invite your ideas and comments.