Boca Raton held two meetings for the 2022-23 Strategic Planning Workshop Session. One on May 31st and the other on June 1st at the 6500 Congress facility. Three or four of us were ready to speak at these meetings. I wanted an update on the East Palmetto safety improvements approved in 2021. Public comments began at 9:15 AM and speakers had three minutes each at the podium.
Business people working 9-5, and parents getting their children off to school were out of luck if they wanted to take part by sharing their suggestions.
My purpose in attending the meeting was to gain insight into our requests for safety initiatives along East Palmetto Park Road.
A Quick 411 on the Safety Issues
In 2021, I gave a Zoom presentation to city council and city staff showing images of intrusive FPL poles on the south side of Palmetto. We questioned why the FPL power lines were not below ground as they are in the downtown and also addressed other dangerous road situations.
At that 2021 session, the city manager Leif Ahnell said he ordered concrete poles to go up along East Palmetto because it was less expensive for the city. City Manager Ahnell didn’t want to spend the money for underground power, he didn’t bring it up with the City Council or let residents have a voice in the matter. Instead, by installing the concrete poles, it would now be even more expensive to bury power lines.
Thus the sidewalk problem was dropped into the county’s lap. The county’s only option at this point is to bump out the curb to go around the poles. This means we can say bye bye to bike lanes on this already cramped section of East Palmetto Park Road. One only needs to consider the amount of tax dollars coming from the barrier island to realize that island residents should have a voice in this decision.
But narrow sidewalks were not our only concern. An abundance of curbside parking along both sides of East Palmetto obstructs driver’s line of sight coming in and out of local neighborhood. It is even more of a problem at the entrance to the 7-11 parking lot.
The Challenges Palmetto Park East of Bridge
East Palmetto is only seventy feet wide, Palmetto west of the bridge, is eighty feet wide.
Seventy feet across is not enough to accommodate cyclists, wider sidewalks, and beach parking on north and south Palmetto. Commercial property owners must provide their own parking for customers and employees, they have no claim to curbside parking.
And frankly, the lack of effort Boca Raton has invested in beautifying East Palmetto is truly baffling. Talks are now in progress to redo Palmetto downtown, to once again enhance this stretched of Palmetto which spans east from US1 to SE 5th Ave.
I would venture to say that the downtown experience begins at A1A.
However, Palmetto Beachside does not have the decorative lighting, landscaping, benches, or way finding signs. These aesthetic aspects add to the charm of Palmetto downtown. Excluding Palmetto Beachside from enhancements is an opportunity lost.
If the CRA would realize how vital East Palmetto is to the overall downtown appeal, they might consider supporting our efforts to beautify the entry point of Palmetto Park Road.
Process is not Progress
During this 2022-23 Strategic Planning Workshop both my husband, Ian, and I voiced our continued concerns regarding Beachside safety. I asked for an update from the city and Ian expressed concern with the chain of command as it applies to city projects and staff’s actions after receiving a directive by city council.
Deputy Mayor O’Rourke asked staff to address our concerns and Zach Bihr did give us hope that we would start to see results this summer. However, the city manager resorted to a cacophony of excuses punctuated with indignation at his being called accountable during public comments. And it’s not the first incident of contemptuous behavior.
Mr. Ahnell’s mantra seems to revolve around blaming delays on the County. Issues with the County and unincorporated Boca Raton were brought up by staff to re-enforce the stagnation seen on East Palmetto.
What Internal City Emails Say
In a 2020 email by the Traffic Division Director of Palm Beach County confirmed that Boca Raton has traffic control authority over County roads ‘within City limits.’
An additional email from the County in May of 2021 went on to say:
“The municipality does have the traffic control authority over this segment of Palmetto Park Rd.”
“…This means the city is responsible for the installation of all signs, signals, and pavement markings (striping). The City, however, needs to pull a permit from the County to install these traffic control devices in the county right of way. The County would not withhold a permit unless the installation of the proposed traffic control device(s) is not compliant with the applicable standards and statutes.
“Also note that permit fees are waived for cities. Any infrastructure additions or modifications or deletions would have to be constructed or permitted by the County. Hopefully, this clarifies the County’s position.”
In a 2021 email from the Senior External Affairs Manager of FPL it further clarified that the city received a quote to bury power lines along East Palmetto but has not shared that information with the island residents.
“For the area on E Palmetto Park Rd. from SE Spanish Trail to SE Wavecrest Way, the city’s municipal services director had requested for a cost estimate to underground FPL facilities.
This ballpark estimate was provided to the director on April 6, 2021…the poles are located as far back from the road as possible without being on private property”.
If our city hall decides not to bury the powerlines, then the unappealing alternative would be for the county to bump out the sidewalk where the seven concrete poles are located on the south side of East Palmetto.
This past February the Deputy County Engineer sent a county update.
1. No permit applications have been submitted for (East Palmetto) crosswalks yet.
2. Palm Beach County is currently working on design plans to widen the sidewalk to 5-feet where possible, and at least 3-feet in all these areas to meet minimum ADA requirements. The design plans should be completed in Spring 2022 allowing construction of this work to begin in Summer 2022.
3.Palm Beach County staff investigated (line of sight issues) and provided a sketch to the city showing proposed changes as well as suggested parking spaces to be removed and additional signs to be installed.
My advice to residents seeking change in our city would be – do not give up. If our elders had given up, we would not own the beaches along A1A. It is no accident that we currently have such a beautiful city, resident participation is an imperative.
Good governance begins with citizen involvement. Have your voice heard at City Hall by contacting your City Council/CRA Members at firstname.lastname@example.org
Council Members (left to right): Council Member Yvette Drucker, Deputy Mayor Andrea Levine O’Rourke, Mayor Scott Singer, CRA Chair Monica Mayotte and CRA Vice Chair Andy Thomson