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Boca City Council Goes Rogue.

by Alan Neibauer

City Council has learned they can override staff and resident input to push projects through the system. And they like the taste of power. That’s why we say Boca City Council goes rogue. It started immediately after resident candidate O’Rourke termed out. Resident oriented vs Developer oriented candidates matter. Choose wisely Thursday March 19.

At present, it’s clear that Boca’s City Council does not want to hear opposition to their pet projects. They don’t want staff to dwell on things important to quality of life. And they certainly don’t want to hear opposition from residents. So they cut public comment time from 5 to 3 minutes. An ordinance passed last November made the change. It grants residents and their professional representatives, just 180 seconds to speak before the board, no matter how massive the project.

When we mention City Council in this article, we are also referring to its alter ego, the CRA.

Hear no evil

If you ever watched a meeting with strong resident opposition, but favored by the council, you’ll notice how little attention they actually give to residents anyway.

City Council and CRA pay little attention to opposition to their pet projects

For example, at the CRA meeting regarding Aletto Square, May 22, 2023, the CRA heard from an attorney, traffic engineer, and many residents who opposed the project. But of all the Aletto opposition speakers, the mayor just asked one question. Who was paying the attorney? In fact, the Mayor seems to have a fetish about people actually being paid to represent clients. He asked it three times, and only of those who questioned the project.

The Mayor questions “who’s paying you” three times.

To his credit, the board chairman, Marc Wigder, gave one speaker a whole extra minute. But if you noticed the wild, frankly embarrassing, gesticulations from Mayor Singer during that extra time (unfortunately, off camera) you’d see how they really feel about resident opposition to their pet projects. They just don’t want to hear it.

City government should partner with its residents for the greater good. But according to an article by Randy Schultz, the mayor and council consider “businesses as partners in the city’s future”. 

But it gets worse

In another Boca Magazine article, Schultz details the council’s plans to take a more active role in the development approval process. They got their taste for blood with Aletto Square. Overriding policy, stretching code past the breaking point, and fast-tracking projects to decrease the staff and resident input. Again, Boca city council goes rogue.

Our city leaders want to speed up the development approval process even if it means bypassing staff

The city’s justification for these changes rings hollow. Yvette Drucker has said the effort will increase staff accountability.  But accountable to who? As far as residents are concerned, staff should be accountable for their professional standards and thorough investigative review of projects. City Council really wants staff to be accountable to developers and the council’s personal and political penchants.

Misleading at Best

One perfect example is the fast tracking of Aletto Square. Singer and company try to cloud this over with the misleading statement “it is not a fast-tracked project when it has taken two years to get here,” from the May 22, 2023 CRA meeting.

He conveniently fails to mention that halfway through, Compson delivered an entirely new plan so the staff had to start all over again. The length of the review was not the fault of city staff. It was by a pattern of delay, incomplete responses from the developer, and a totally different plan. The fast track happened when the developer, Compson Associates, tired of being told about deficiencies in the project, sent a letter to Marc Wigder.

On April 10, 2023, Compson sent the letter to CRA chairman Wigder dictating when the project should be heard.  That’s right: dictating the hearing dates. The developer has  been misleading the public by trying to frame the letter in this light, as reported in the Coastal Star:

The purpose of the letter, he said, was to find out the project’s status with city staff members. If they were ready with their recommendations to city boards, he hoped they would consider the project before the summer months when the city has fewer meetings.

See for yourself

The mayor and developer falsely claim the charge of fast tracking is “false and largely political in nature”.  But look at the actual letter.  It doesn’t ask about the status, or the staff progress, or if the staff thinks it is ready. Rather it dictates when it should be heard. The letter speaks for itself, loud and clear. They want to be heard on May 16, May 18, and May 22. And that is exactly when Wigder scheduled it to be heard. That is when the fast track occurred. After receiving the letter, Wigder instantly pushed the project into the fast lane. The “explanation” by Singer, Wigder, and Compson is just a smoke screen to deny the truth. So while staff was still studying the plan and pointing out deficiencies that must be settled, they were forced to wrap it up in weeks. And that led to concessions that should never have been made.

For residents who love Boca Raton for the charm it had, this administration has turned it into something alien. They want to partner with developers, not residents. And they begrudge the measly 180 seconds they dole out like kings and queens.

In March, you will have the opportunity to elect a new member of city council. Brian Stenberg, a community advocate, is running for the seat vacated by Monica Mayotte by term limits. Stenberg takes no contributions from the development lobby. It’s time for a fresh voice.

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