We’ve been beating the drum on the issue for weeks now: The message that there is no graver threat to the future of South Florida than the accelerating pace of sea-level rise. By 2060, the sea is predicted to rise another 2 feet, with no sign of slowing down.
The editorial boards of The Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald — with reporting help from WLRN Public Media — have joined hands in an unprecedented collaboration this election year to raise awareness about the threat facing South Florida from sea-level rise. Our goal is to inform, engage, provoke and build momentum to address the slow-motion tidal wave coming our way.
To that end, we (Post Editorial writer Howard Goodman and me) went on WPTV-Channel 5‘s “To the Point” to discuss the threat of sea level rise with host Michael Williams.
As we’ve said previously, most South Floridians get it. The Yale Climate Opinion Maps show 75 percent of us believe global warming is happening, even if we don’t all agree on the cause. We understand that when water gets hotter, it expands. And warmer waters are melting the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. If all of Greenland’s ice were to melt — and make no mistake, it’s melting at an increasing clip — scientists say ocean waters could rise 20 feet.
The problem is, too few of us are convinced sea-level rise will personally harm us in our lifetimes. We’ve got to change that mind-set because it already is. Lila Young, who has lived on the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach for 30 years, said she’s seen the king tides progressively getting higher and flooding her neighborhood more often.
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Palm Beach County is fortunate to have a slightly higher elevation, which means the risks aren’t quite so acute here as for our neighbors to the south. Still, the high-priced real estate on the barrier islands is equally vulnerable, along with the low-lying mainland along much of West Palm Beach’s Flagler Drive. As the sea level rises, the agricultural area south of Lake Okeechobee will drain more and more slowly after a major rainfall. And when significant hurricanes and floods hit farther south, we may see a sudden flood of people from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Are we ready? Are we taking the threat of sea-level rise seriously enough?
It’s been the worst-kept secret in West Palm Beach since the March 13 election.
Mayor Jeri Muoio is looking to make another push to create the controversial Okeechobee Business District (OBD), which is basically a way to allow the Related Cos. to get approval to build the proposed 25-story One Flagler tower on the waterfront.
It’s also been no secret that the mayor was not happy after September’s City Commission vote to create the OBD went 3-2 against her and Kenneth Himmel, president and CEO of Related.
Himmel, the developer of CityPlace and more, has done a lot of good for downtown West Palm Beach. To that end, he and Muoio share a vision of a European-influenced downtown that attracts financial heavyweights to the shores of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The problem is that a lot of downtown residents don’t necessarily agree with this vision, especially when the city looks to make a decision that appears to benefit a single person or company. And not to mention if there is no legit reason for making an already horrible traffic situation even worse.
The Post Editorial Board took issue with this, and the way the process appeared to be manipulated before the City Commission’s closely-watched September decision narrowly voting it down.
“It looks beautiful in the drawings. The proposed One Flagler in West Palm Beach — designed by renowned architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, of New York’s Freedom Tower — is less an office tower than a work of art: tiered, slender, luminous, yet restrained.
The tower’s developers, The Related Cos., admirably intend to preserve the handsome and historic First Church of Christ, Scientist, and to memorialize the long-neglected African-American architect Julian Abele.
But they want to put their 25-story building on a waterfront site zoned for five stories. To accomplish this, the West Palm Beach City Commission is being asked on Monday to carve out a glaring exception to the city’s Downtown Master Plan by creating an “Okeechobee Business District” that will allow 25-story buildings to benefit, basically, this one property.
However attractive this tower may be, the contortions being done to the city’s zoning rules are ugly. So are the political strong-arm tactics employed to dampen opposition, such as the abrupt removal of a veteran member of a key planning board who had asked pointed questions about One Flagler… “
But the March election changed the make-up of the commission. There are two new members, one of whom replaces a former no vote — Shanon Materio.
For the last few weeks, there has been an elephant in the room of the (sort of) daily White House Press briefing.
As of Monday’s gaggle, no White House reporter has asked Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about what the president plans to do about rising gas prices. Not one word. Nada.
That’s kind of glaring given the fact that anyone who drives a car, truck or lawnmower has felt some pain at the pump as gas prices have spiked the last several weeks. Again, as of Monday, the average price per gallon for unleaded gas was $2.73 in Florida and $2.85 right here in in Palm Beach County, according to AAA.
Prices for gas are running at their highest in at least three years, and are expected to go even higher as Memorial Day kicks off the summer driving season. And AAA warned of potentially higher oil prices this week if President Donald Trump pulls out of the nuclear deal with Iran and imposes sanctions on that oil producing nation.
Usually, this would be fodder for Washington reporters to pound the current White House occupant on the issue, asking: “What’s the president going to do about this issue that affects literally every American household?”
Fair or not. Ever since the Arab Oil Crisis of the 1970s, no American president has been immune to this baseline pocketbook issue. Well, it seems, until now.
The White House Press Corps can be forgiven for being a little distracted.
Let’s see: there has been serious stuff like the above-mentioned blowing a hole in the Iran Nuclear deal and further de-stabilizing the Middle East. There’s setting up a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to broker a peace on the Korean Peninsula. There has been the less serious comedic takedown of Sanders by Comedy Central’s Michelle Wolf at the much-maligned White House Correspondents Association Dinner. And of course, the daily drumbeat of developments on the Stormy Daniels’ front — which has reached a new octane level under Trump’s new lawyer, bombastic former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
Wait… what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, higher gas prices.
To be sure, the White House has continued to trumpet other (positive) economic news. On Friday, the president made sure to mention the latest jobs report that showed the unemployment rate dip below 4 percent to 3.9 percent — technically a sign of full employment.
Although it would be nice, as economists note, to see workers’ wages finally show a substantial increase as a result of that much-ballyhooed $1.5 trillion Republican tax cut.
Could it be that higher gas prices are not as a big a deal as they were in the past?
What’s paying 50 cents more per gallon than you were a year ago mean anyway? Well, if you have a 20-gallon tank, that’s $10 more per fill-up. Average two fill-ups a month and that’s $240 more you’re paying a year. And if you still haven’t gotten rid of that big sport-utility vehicle, God help you.
There are also plenty of small businesses that depend on gas to run their operations. Pizza and other food delivery, retail florists, landscapers and those now-ubiquitous food trucks, just to name a few.
Take our poll here, and tell us what you think about rising gas prices. Are you concerned, changing any travel plans, etc.?
Sinclair Broadcast, which is pretty tight with President Donald Trump’s White House and pushes a conservative political agenda through its stations, gained infamy earlier this week when word got out that it forced news anchors at its 170-plus stations to read a “must-run” statement/editorial about “fake news” which also cast aspersions on its media brethren.
And yes, that on-air diatribe included respected WPEC news anchors Liz Quirantes and John Discepolo.
Needless to say, a number of WPEC viewers didn’t take the news very well, hammering the station on social media — Facebook and Twitter — as well as its own website. (It apparently had to shut down comments on the latter, at least temporarily.)
The clearly ethical conduct needed would be to either clearly label the content for what it is, via disclaimer, or allow for a rebuttal afterward, i.e. a point/counterpoint.
I, for one, discovered these shenanigans a while back and quickly dumped Channel 12 as my local news provider after many years as a viewer. I have found Channel 5 or Channel 25 do the job quite nicely.
We all know the “ones to turn to ” (MSNBC or Fox) to receive our national or international news coverage with whatever slant we choose. Can’t we please leave our local stations as a sacred source for unbiased news and investigative reporting affecting our community?
And this one from Judith Abramson of Delray Beach:
Vigilance needed to spot fake news
Sinclair Broadcast Group is probably the most powerful company you’ve never heard of. The conservative giant owns around 170 TV stations across the country, including our local West Palm Beach CBS affiliate,WPEC. Sinclair has been pushing its right-wing agenda since the Bush administration and, like Fox, has close ties to Trump.
It’s been reported that they order their local anchors to read corporate-written editorials to push their views and criticize other new sources.
This is just another example — as with the plethora of information coming out about Cambridge Analytical,the targeting citizens on Facebook, Russian bots flooding social media every single day and their proven meddling in our elections — at mind control.
I implore my fellow citizens to be more vigilant and realize that they must scrutinize what they hear and read and try to sort out what is opinion and what is real news and not be manipulated. [READ MORE]
So here’s what makes all the Sinclair must-run editorial so concerning to many readers and viewers.
The company is trying to get even bigger. By owning and operating a total of 193 stations nationwide, Sinclair already covers far more than any other station owner.
It is currently trying get Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to buy Tribune Media’s 42 local stations, allowing Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households.
Previously, Sinclair was prohibited from serving more than 39 percent of households under a statute of the Telecommunications Act.
Last year, however, Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, under chairman Ajit Pai, brought back to life the technologically obsolete “UHF Discount” rule. The rule, from the pre-digital era when local stations were hard to tune in to, allowed local stations to be counted as a fraction of the 13 “normal” stations found on the “top dial.”
Of course, today most people get all of the old UHF channels as easily as “top dial” channels, making Trump’s resurrection of the old rule not only silly but clearly in violation of both the letter and spirit of the Telecommunications Act. Free Pass and other activist groups are currently suing to prevent the UHF “loophole” and the Sinclair-Tribune purchase from going further, but with corporate masseuse Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, don’t hold your breath.
And while Trump is green-lighting Sinclair, he’s been blocking AT&T’s purchase of CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, saying “it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”
That would just happen to be the same CNN that Trump repeatedly labels as “fake news,” the same sentiments that Sinclair just happened to echo in its recent collective Trump incantation.
But does Sinclair — and by extension, WPEC — really deserve all of this grief?
UPDATE: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to Proposal 67, which would phase out commercial greyhound racing in the state by 2020. The proposal will now go to the Style and Drafting Committee before returning to the full CRC for a final vote. If approved, it will appear on the November ballot.
Would Florida voters ban greyhound racing if a proposed constitutional amendment appeared on the November ballot?
According to a new survey released by animal rights group GREY2K USA, the answer is a solid “maybe” … that is, if the question focuses on animal welfare instead of anti-gambling.
The poll, which was shared and reported on by POLITICO Florida on Tuesday, showed a sampling of likely voters supported the measure, 65–27 percent. But POLITICO also reported that overall opposition remained flat. Support appeared to increase to about 70 percent after respondents were asked three questions in support and three questions in opposition to the proposed amendment.
Of course, supporters of ending Florida’s controversial tradition of tying gambling (pari-mutuel wagering) to greyhound racing are heartened by the poll results. At the same, opponents — such as our own Palm Beach Kennel Club — are somewhat dismissive.
The two sides have been warring over the issue for years, as wagering on greyhound racing has been declining. But supporters of a ban have been out-maneuvered largely by the fact that 12 tracks still operating in the state are concerned about being shut out of other, more profitable forms of gambling — like card games and slots — if they lose the dogs.
Efforts at “decoupling” the two issues, championed by lawmakers from Okaloosa to Palm Beach counties over the years have died during the legislative session as Florida struggles with its “gambling-versus-family” image.
But animal rights groups may have finally found a way to tip the scales in their favor. Everyday folks really do care passionately about dogs.
“Floridians are deeply concerned about the humane issues including confinement, greyhound deaths and injuries,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA, told POLITICO Florida. “By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Florida voters are not moved at all by opposition arguments, including job claims. We gain support when it’s clear this is an animal welfare issue.”
Although commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states, Florida has been a particularly tough nut to crack with a majority of the nation’s 18 operational tracks located in the Sunshine State.
If the poll numbers hold up, the amendment would easily clear the 60 percent voter-approval threshold to become law in Florida.
That’s not likely to happen without a fight as breeders and kennel operators like Palm Beach Kennel Club, who insist that they take good care of their animals, call the proposed amendment a job-killer and “a backdoor way of expanding gambling” in the state.
The CRC, to avoid voters getting “ballot fatigue” from considering too many amendments, is also looking at combining disparate proposals on the ballot. This could be a good or bad thing depending on what the greyhound racing ban is coupled with, i.e. oil drilling, school board term limits or nursing homes.
Regardless, it’s looking as though voters will get a chance to vote on it. Take our poll here and tell us how you would vote:
As grieving parents, and former classmates and colleagues of those who died during Wednesday’s mass shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland struggle with the aftermath of the horrific event, dozens of Palm Beach Post readers have been weighing in with their thoughts.
One that stood out was a Letter to the Editor from a former long-time guidance counselor at the suburban Broward County high school who wanted to point up how the shooting shows that even supposedly safe, affluent schools struggle with students who have mental health issues.
And that’s why more financial resources are needed at Florida public schools to deal with this issue.
Following is the letter from Robert Kenner, who now lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, in its entirety:
This is my first letter to a newspaper. But in the wake of this week’s tragic shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I’m motivated to share my thoughts and feelings.
I retired two years ago as a Broward County guidance counselor who worked my last 6-1/2 years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. I am distraught over the carnage in my old school, but I’m not surprised. The commentators on television are oblivious to the immense stressors on our schoolkids, and the paucity of mental health resources they are offered.
My first five years at Stoneman Douglas High, my caseload was 800 students. My last year-and-a-half. my caseload was lower, but was still more than over 600 students. In addition, I was responsible for doing time-consuming Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. When I retired, we had five full-time guidance counselors and a (supervisory) Director for a student population of about 3,400.
The reason for the lack of master’s-degree level guidance counselor services was always budgetary. We guidance counselors, and our fellow teachers, administrators, social workers and family therapists did the very best we could sincerely do caring for each of our kids. But unless the funding paradigm for our public schools — and society, overall — embrace community mental health, we are missing the message that underlies our societal tragedies.
Yes, Stoneman Douglas High is a great school with terrific kids, and school staff that epitomizes excellence. However, it has not been immune from tragedy. When I was there, we had three suicides in a period of a year-and-a-half. These tragedies led me to write a brochure titled, “The Psychological Challenges of Affluence,” which I hoped would open parents’ minds to monitoring their kid’s mental health and the value of seeking therapeutic assistance when needed.
For example, the brochure points out: “Suburban, affluent youth are not seen as being at-risk, but they are; affluence does not guarantee emotional and mental health.”
Indeed, no public school or community is immune to mental health issues. We need to provide more mental health support for all of our students.
Editor’s note: Share your thoughts about this op-ed in the Comments section.
In 2010, an ex-convict in Florida named Steven Warner cast a ballot in an election. This is illegal, because unless felons jump through the hoops of a lengthy clemency process, felons in Florida are barred from voting for life.
Warner wanted his rights restored, and, after waiting the required five to seven years after completing all the terms of his sentence (prison, parole, probation, fines), he found himself three years later in front of the state’s Executive Clemency Board.
Gov. Rick Scott, who sits on the board along with his cabinet, asked Warner about his illegal voting.
“Actually, I voted for you,” Warner said.
Scott laughed, then said, “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. Then Scott granted the former felon his voting rights.
Warner is white. But the board rejected five other former felons who had cast illegal ballots on that basis. Will it surprise anyone that four of those five were African-American?
This is the sort of arbitrary, imperious and no doubt politically motivated decision-making that U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker cited in the stunning ruling he issued on Thursday evening, declaring Florida’s method of restoring felons’ rights unconstitutional.
The federal judge’s decision is an explosive truth-bomb aimed squarely at a system which gives the governor, much like a medieval king, “unfettered discretion to deny clemency at any time, for any reason.” Or as Scott himself said at one hearing, according to the ruling: “We can do whatever we want.”
“In Florida, elected partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards,” Walker wrote. “The question…is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It doesn’t.”
His powerhouse ruling comes, coincidentally, nine days after state judges approved a measure for November’s ballot which, if approved by voters, will automatically restore voting rights of felons after they’ve served their sentences, except for murderers and sex offenders. It gives the drive for the much-needed Amendment 4 an incalculable boost.
And it is a withering attack on Scott, just as the two-term Republican is expected to announce a run for Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent.
For it is the miserly system that Scott established in 2011 to enable a few lucky ex-cons to have their rights restored that is flayed in Walker’s blistering decision.
Unlike the Voting Restoration Amendment drive — which has focused on the inequity of denying some 1.7 million Floridians their rights — Walker zeroes in on the extremely arbitrary way in which they might get those rights returned.
“To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority,” Walker writes. “No standards guide the panel.”
To be clear, the judge said it is constitutional for Florida to bar felons from voting for life, if the state wants to continue to be one of the three or four states in the nation to do so. “But once a state provides for restoration,” he writes, “its process cannot offend the Constitution.”
It is decidedly unconstitutional to have a system based on race, he writes. Or a system that’s so arbitrary that the governor can decide whether to grant the right to vote depending on whether that ex-felon is going to vote Republican or a Democrat. It’s unconstitutional to make ex-convicts meet standards of behavior that are never really defined — or as Walker scorchingly calls them — “frankly, mythical.”
The results of Scott’s mean-spirited system are perfectly clear. When Charlie Crist was governor, the then-Republican tried to end the state’s backwardness with executive clemency rules in 2007 that automatically restored voting rights for those who served sentences for lesser felonies. More than 155,000 felons got their rights back.
Scott overturned that, and then some. His 2011 rules, with their five- to seven-year waiting periods and demands for unspecified sterling behavior, are now often cited as the toughest in the nation. In the last seven years, just 3,000 people have received restorations.
And more than 10,000 people are on a backlog of cases waiting for hearings to have their rights restored.
“The context of these numbers is not lost on this court,” Walker writes. “More than one-tenth of Florida’s voting population — nearly 1.7 million as of 2016 — cannot vote because they have been decimated from the body politic. More than one in five of Florida’s African American voting age population cannot vote.
“If any of these citizens wishes to earn back their fundamental right to vote,” he adds, “they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles. No more.”
Walker did not impose a solution — yet. He ordered lawyers for ex-cons and the state to file briefs related to remedies before Feb. 12.
So this ruling makes the second big development within two weeks with the potential to demolish Florida’s shameful status quo that prevents most ex-felons from reentering civil society despite having served their sentences.
On Friday came a third. The Constitution Revision Commission decided to consider the issue after Warner’s explosive ruling. The commission, which meets every 20 years to recommend possible amendments to the state constitution, had already considered several proposals aimed at automatically restoring rights for ex-felons. But members withdrew them after the voting-restoration petition drive got Amendment 4 onto the ballot, fearing that too many similar-sounding ballot initiatives would confuse voters and dilute all of the initiatives’ chances.
Would the same thing happen with a new ballot proposal aimed not at automatic restoration but at fixing the clemency process? That’s one of the next things to watch as the energy for reforming this long-stultified system gains unexpected momentum.
Lake Worth officials have made their choice as the city’s medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors — albeit quietly — Monday morning. No fan fair. No hoopla. No comment.
A bit of a contrast to the opening of Knox Medical in a former bank branch at 1 S. Dixie Highway in Lake Worth, Palm Beach County’s first medical marijuana dispensary, back in November. Comparatively, that facility was welcomed with open arms by everyone. Then again, it’s located in downtown Lake Worth directly across the street from city hall.
The new Curaleaf store is located directly across the street — about 180 feet away — from a school. The Academy for Positive Learning is the city’s only A-rated public school; a K-8, 135-student charter school. The school of predominantly low-income students has an impressive rating of 9 out of 10 on GreatSchools.org.
Curaleaf, formerly known as Modern Health Concepts, was supposed to open as early as last fall. But there was an issue highlighted by a basic question: Should an all-cash medical pot store be allowed to operate across the street from a school?
The city, and eventually the state, said yes.
The school’s operator, Renatta Espinoza, said no. And I agree.
Because this is not about whether people suffering from debilitating diseases or conditions should have access to medical cannabis to ease their pain. In fact, 78 percent of Palm Beach County residents rightly voted in favor of Amendment 2 in 2016.
This, Espinoza says, is about putting a medical pot dispensary so near a school full of children is inviting unnecessary risk for her students, some of whom have to stand outside to catch the PalmTran bus.
Espinoza is afraid that ultimately, the all-cash business will attract too much of the wrong element. Exaggerated fear or not, the question is a legitimate one.
Enough so that when the Florida Legislature finally got around to putting rules in place to implement the law approved by voter referendum, lawmakers decided that these dispensaries should not be sited within 500 feet of a school.
The slow-moving Legislature was apparently too late with regard to Curaleaf and other medical pot dispensaries around the state that smartly refused to wait on waffling lawmakers. They applied to open-minded municipalities like Lake Worth, and received approval to locate where ever those municipalities allowed.
Having, for some reason, allowed Medical Health Concepts to locate across the street from Academy for Positive Learning in the first place, city officials felt they didn’t have an out by the time the Legislature acted. And Modern Health Concepts, now Curaleaf, wasn’t walking away.
What’s a little strange is that the city didn’t question the store’s owners more about their choice of location sans the Legislature. After all, the school has been there since 2014. Why risk making the city look like a bad guy bullying a tiny school lauded for its work with ESOL kids? (Espinoza, for example, is being feted in April by Florida TaxWatch Inc., a statewide non-profit, as one of its 2017 Principal Leadership Award winners.)
But Espinoza’s pleas — and full disclosure, the Post Editorial Board’s chastising — aside, Lake Worth officials say they had no choice.
To quote former Vice President Joe Biden, “that sounds like a load of hooey.”
There was indeed a choice: they city wanted either an A-rated public school at that location or a medical pot shop.
It looks like the city just made the wrong choice; which was to do nothing.
Take our poll, and let us know what you think in the comments section.
Nearly six years in the making, All Aboard Florida’s Brightline is finally beginning limited service on Saturday. But I joined a gaggle of reporters, and business and government VIPs this morning for a test run.
And once the four-car Brightline Green train got underway (about 10 minutes late), it was hard for me not to think of the travel possibilities this oft-maligned, privately funded high-speed commuter train can offer stressed-out drivers in South Florida.
Question is, will they buy into it?
During my six-year sojourn in Washington, D.C., I was a daily MARC Train Service commuter: Bowie State University Station in Maryland to Union Station near Capitol Hill, one hour each way. Having spent of most of my life and career in Florida, not known for its mass transit systems, it was a new experience for me.
This time of year, after standing out on a cold Beltway-area platform, I’d endure every noisy bump and grind that comes from a decades-old commuter train. It was worth it, however, to not have to endure driving and parking in D.C. — in either money or time.
Truthfully, my round trip from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale and back this morning on Brightline Green had me feeling none of those negatives but all the positives.
Yes, they’ve still got that “quiet zones thing” that needs to be fixed ASAP, but as a rider I was unaffected. I could hear the train horns blowing frequently as we crossed roads, but the train is so insulated that the blaring sounded like it was off in the distance.
That the Brightline folks dolled up everything for this morning’s “media event” was not lost on me. I didn’t have to put the slick-looking ticket-buying kiosk to the test. There were balloons and helpful, smiling Brightline employees all over the West Palm Beach station, and complimentary food and drinks. The latter included alcohol (although they may want to check that rum choice if they want to impress).
All the pomp aside, both West Palm and Fort Lauderdale stations — in cookie cutter fashion — were bright and roomy (emphasis on the bright). You have to wear sunglasses when sitting on the comfortable benches upstairs because the big glass walls let all the eastern morning sun in. There’s real food and drink for purchase (not vending machine stuff), a sci-fi looking play area for kids and a “pet relief” station outside.
The practical, common-sense accouterments — such as charging stations — are like those I’ve seen in more and more airport upgrades around the country to meet traveler demands.
The ride was smooth from beginning to end,whether speeding up, slowing down or stopping. There was no clickety-clack of the old railroad trains. This felt more like the Atlanta MARTA or D.C. Metro trains, but even smoother.
The most exciting thing on the ride was having to come to a near stop just after Hillsboro Boulevard in north Broward to make way for a passing freight train, apparently due to a motor vehicle accident. Otherwise, I spent time chatting with fellow journalists, asking questions of our hosts, fighting over-attentive train attendants, and getting lost in thought while staring out of the window at the sights (trees, undisturbed scrub vegetation, the curious lack of fencing in some areas, an errant store shopping cart here and there, and, yes, continuing work on quiet zones).
It’s obvious that All Aboard Florida (before it was Brightline) spent a lot time researching and visiting high-speed passenger rail systems in other countries– as well as Amtrak’s Acela in the Northeast. That accounts for the smart things like roomy leather seats, free Wi-Fi (that works), food and drink cart service and workstations mixed in with regular seating.
But the fact that Brightline officials were not able to get all of the quiet zone upgrades done before the limited launch is a disappointment that sticks in the craw of government officials — especially in Palm Beach County. So much so, nearly everyone who spoke at the West Palm station launch brought it up. West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, a huge champion of Brightline from the beginning, was so bothered about it that she didn’t even show up this morning.
One can’t blame her, given the political capital she has invested in this project. And Brightline officials, who’ve already tested the patience of just about everyone with their multiple false starts, need to get these quiet zones done by their self-imposed end-of-March deadline. Not because any public official can stop the train from running, but because Brightline needs those officials’ support if this private venture has any chance of being successful — much less aggressively expand in the way they’re hoping.
Again, this isn’t a passenger thing, but a public thing.
Passenger-wise, all I could imagine was having to get down to Miami International Airport for a flight to the Cayman Islands and being able to bypass all of that horrendous Interstate 95 traffic. And as if on cue during the southern leg of my trip, I took a minute to text a friend of mine who was driving from Boynton Beach to his law office in Fort Lauderdale.
Me: “Yo!… Taking the Brightline Green train down to FTL on a press junket… It’s pretty nice.”
Him: “I swear I’m on 95 and I just looked at the train tracks and thought about the Brightline. I know it’s starting for the public this weekend… I was stuck on I-95 this morning. 40-min. delay due to mva (motor vehicle accident) at Hillsboro.”
Yes, that is the same Hillsboro where we slowed down and lost maybe five minutes off our arrival time in Fort Lauderdale.
Look, admittedly, some of my cultural bias against commuter rail was run out of me by my time in D.C. As a result, my mind may be more open than most to the idea of hopping a train down to Fort Lauderdale or Miami for business or recreation. Basically, I’m not as wedded to my car.
Many South Floridians look at taking the train, and then stress about how to get from the station to a specific restaurant. It’s like they developed an allergy to a cab or never heard of a (gasp!) downtown trolley.
As good a ride as Brightline is — especially for the introductory price of $10 one-way to Fort Lauderdale ($15 for Select Service) — there is still the question of whether South Floridians are really ready to give up their automobiles for the train.
For me, after one ride, I say they should give it a try.
The Trump Effect is playing out in Boynton Beach, and it’s not pretty.
With fears of deportation on the rise in immigrant communities, first-term city commissioner, Christina Romelus, suggested that Boynton declare itself a sanctuary city. The idea was quickly shot down by the City Commission.
But some residents were so incensed at Romelus for suggesting the idea, they demanded that she resign, be voted out or be impeached.
Romelus, who was born in Haiti, has a better grasp of what being an American means than the self-proclaimed patriots demanding her ouster.
“Having differing opinions and working through those to reach a common goal is how this country was founded,” Romelus told The Post’s Alexandra Seltzer. “Asking for my resignation simply because I had the audacity to bring up a controversial issue is testament to this day and age in which we live. I think it is sad.”
She added that the “grotesque behavior” of those who have been “spewing blind hatred at me for wanting to have a discussion about this issue is alarming and merits attention.”
Romelus said she has no intention of resigning.
Good. She offers a point of view that needs to be heard.
And yes, this subject does merit attention. Let’s put the attention where it belongs: on President Donald J. Trump and the animosities and vitriol he has unleashed with his appeals to racism and xenophobia, ugly currents of American life that are usually held in check by a general sense of restraint, respect and decency.
Take sanctuary cities. This is a concept that’s been around since the 1980s, most famously when San Francisco declared itself a “City of Refuge,” claiming the moral high ground with the argument that asylum-seekers should be shielded from shortsighted federal law enforcement. Some 300 cities, states and counties now consider themselves sanctuary cities, largely on practical grounds: they don’t want immigrants and their families to be scared of relying on local police. And so they limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The republic has seemed to get along well enough with this state of affairs, despite efforts in the 2008 primaries by Republican candidates Rep. Tom Tancredo, of Colorado, and Mitt Romney to crank it into a campaign issue.
But these politicians didn’t have Trump’s gifts for drawing attention, slinging invective, devising phrases that stick in the brain, and using a single horrifying fatal shooting in San Francisco by an undocumented Mexican to represent the whole of cities’ tolerance for illegal immigration.
Take a look at how the phrase “sanctuary city” spiked in Google searches after Trump made it a campaign issue. The chart’s timeline starts in 2004. Curiosity about the subject was minimal until June 2015. That’s the month when the billionaire real estate developer/showman declared for the presidency, telling us about the Mexican “rapists” sneaking over the border.
Since winning the White House, Trump and his attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, have placed a crackdown on sanctuary cities high on their agenda. And now it’s a boiling issue, the very mention of which is seen as grounds for impeaching a city commissioner.
Such are the heightened animosities in the United States under a president who speaks of “fine people on both sides” of the Charlottesville, Virginia, confrontation between neo-Nazis and people protesting neo-Nazis. Now, reprehensible views are free to roam — such as those of Cindy Falco-DiCorrado, one of the Boynton Beachers who called for Romelus to resign.
According to resident Mathi Mulligan, Falco-DiCorrado told him at a meeting this month to speak “better English,” and allegedly told black residents “you’re lucky we brought you over as slaves or else you’d be deported, too.”
Falco-DiCorrado says she was misconstrued, explaining that she always tells her son and husband, who speak with accents, to improve their English. And whatever anyone heard her say about black people, she meant that “out of hardships you can rebuild again and there are blessings.”
Her denials would be more convincing if she didn’t have a Facebook page that, according to Post columnist Frank Cerabino, is filled with tripe, including a post that reads: “If you agree that racism is no longer an actual threat in this country, but a strategy that the Democrats and Liberals use to secure black votes = SHARE!!”
And her attitudes would be less significant if she weren’t a member of Boynton’s Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board.
Now it’s being asked why someone with her views should advise an agency that aims to improve neighborhoods with large minority populations. Vice Mayor Justin Katz asked her this week to resign. She returned his email with a no.
The City Commission seems sure to take up the question at its meeting next Tuesday. Mulligan says, “We will keep pressing on until the City Commission fires this white supremacist from a job that gives her direct power over the lives of people of color.”
Falco-DiCorrado insists she’s no racist but is now, herself, the victim of a “lynch mob” that’s harassing her with emails.
And so, welcome to Boynton Beach, where nerves are frayed, tensions are rising, and in no way can it be said that Boynton Beach is winning. Or being made great again.
What we need is a way to talk about these differences with a whole lot less anger. But we’re not going to have that with a president who sets a tone of disparagement toward minorities and pushes the buttons of white resentment every time he talks to his “base.”
The bully pulpit has become a pulpit that bolsters bullies