West Palm Beach has taken a stand against North Carolina’s new law that bans local governments from passing local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Mayor Jeri Muoio on Monday, at the urging of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, banned West Palm employees from traveling to North Carolina on city business.
“Until North Carolina’s discriminatory law is amended or repealed, West Palm Beach taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people,” Muoio said.
The bill, signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory last week, also requires that transgender residents use only the public restrooms of their biological sex.
“For more than two decades, West Palm Beach has been in the forefront, protecting the civil rights and ensuring equality for the LGBT community,” said Muoio. “Until North Carolina’s discriminatory law is amended or repealed, West Palm Beach taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people.”
Retired judge Rand Hoch, president of the Human Rights Council, lauded Muoio’s action. “North Carolina’s leaders have struck down local LGBT-inclusive discrimination ordinances and have prohibited the enactment of similar laws forever,” Hoch said.
Last year Muoio announced a similar travel ban to the state of Indiana, protesting a new state law there being criticized nationwide as anti-gay and anti-civil rights. That state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act subsequently was amended to specify that it could not be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
This morning a crane will lower a protective deck onto the downtown law building hit by an avalanche of bricks from the neighboring apartment building two weeks ago.
The deck will protect the law offices of William A. Price, at 320 Fern St., from further damage as workers pull away more of the Alexander Lofts’ buckling brick facade.
Bill Price, who with his law firm colleagues emerged scraped but alive, said that laborers worked 24/7 to craft the platform, which a crane is scheduled to lower onto his building at 8 a.m.
Four people were injured in the partial collapse of the 90-year-old building’s facade.
Lawyer Dan Britto partially separated his shoulder when he dove under a desk as the roof collapsed. Three paralegals who suffered what were described as minor injuries are out on Worker’s Comp, including one with a knee hurt while climbing out through the debris, Price said Thursday.
The paralegals were “literally in shock,” he said. “One was found walking in circles.”
Price said he’s lucky it has not rained since the hundreds of falling bricks left a hole like “a Grand Canyon” in the offices. He hasn’t been able to make repairs because of the danger of more falling bricks.
He’s not sure if his building can be salvaged but the walls are sound enough to support the protective deck, he was told.
Meanwhile, the firm is set up in temporary quarters but the accident remains very much with the employees, he said. If there’s a loud noise, like someone shutting a door, he said, “people jump up.”
“I have great admiration for our veterans in combat,” he added. “I’m just lucky I’m alive.”
A grassroots effort to remake a 1.5-mile section of South Dixie Highway has gained the city’s participation, with a West Palm Beach commission vote Monday to apply for a state grant of up to $2.5 million.
The plan, drafted by Dana Little of the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, would rework South Dixie from Okeechobee Boulevard to Albemarle Road, thinning it to one travel lane in each direction and adding a turn lane in the center for safety. The plan calls for lining the road and medians with trees, adding parking spaces and making much of the stretch more bicycle-friendly.
Commissioner Shanon Materio advocated for continuing the redesign toward her south end district. Little and Commissioner Paula Ryan said the Okeechobee-t0-Albemarle stretch was chosen for the initial work because neighborhood associations and businesses there provided the impetus and donations for the project.
Mayor Jeri Muoio said the city should get the first phase started and then extend work to the south end in the future.
The decision to apply for the Florida Department of Transportation “lane elimination” grant was unanimous.
“You take all the work Dana and Treasure Coast has done and put it in an application with pictures, drawings, dimensions, traffic study and data and that gets transmitted to FDOT, and FDOT determines if the changes we would like to see done meet their requirements for a road,” Ryan said. “It’s a big deal.”
P.S.: Commissioner Ryan had additional thoughts on the topic Wednesday morning:
“The City Commission voted on the submission of a Lane Elimination Application to FDOT and a subsequent application to the MPO for funding of the work that FDOT will approve. FDOT has the final say on what goes on the corridor. On the surface it looked like we are well on our way to getting changes to the corridor. I want to emphasize that although the commission approved the applications, it does not mean that the changes will occur.
“The real story is– how 4 historic neighborhoods, 2 anchoring institutions and a group of merchants came together to fund and sponsor the redesign of Dixie Hwy. To make changes along our City corridors, Broadway and Dixie, we need this kind of participation. We achieved this cooperation by having individual meetings, one on one and small groups. We came to see this as our project and chose not to wait for the City to find the money. Without a comprehensive plan to address the corridors as a Citywide Vision, it looks like special interest, special consideration and all around self-serving. I think this is why Commissioner Materio took the position she did. She wants the City to put the kind of attention needed to make changes to the rest of Dixie Highway and Broadway, my words not hers. The City needs a Holistic Comprehensive View on our infrastructure problems – City wide –and create a plan, and a vision on how to make meaningful changes. If people understand how this truly came together, more people may begin to engage in productive activism versus criticism of what the City is not doing. This is not an excuse for Government or an apology, it’s just recognizing the way the world is and finding ways to achieve success, regardless of the appearance of inactivity by government.
“Changes to Route 1 within the City of West Palm Beach, will require all those that live and or work along the corridor to come together and be the catalyst for the changes they want to see. FDOT will review for technical compliance with their over objective of keeping traffic moving. We have to look at factors related to safety of our pedestrians, bicyclists and alternative transportation users. The world has changed from the days in which Rt.1 was the only access road. We now have many more options, and it’s time we recognize that that Rt. 1 is a neighborhood street, within our City. We need to have experts in this area to help guide us to the right decisions. I hope we can use this as an example to move forward and bring in all effected parties. My first priority is to the residents and merchants. They, after all provide our tax base.”
Usually people travel to hotels and not the other way around.
But West Palm Beach’s Community Redevelopment Agency hopes to acquire a two-story apartment building at 316 Gardenia St. downtown and move it a mile northwest to 801 Fourth St., where it would be part of a bed and breakfast hotel.
It’s all part of the agency’s effort to revive the Northwest neighborhood by attracting African-American tourism, playing off the historic Alice Moore home, the Storm of ’28 site and the Sunset Lounge, where Ellington and Basie once played.
CRA officials say the owners of a two-story apartment building at 316 Gardenia were considering razing the 94-year-old structure to develop the land. Meanwhile the former Moore home, at 801 Fourth, was being considered for use as a bed and breakfast for cultural tourists, but with only three rooms wasn’t big enough.
So, provided a deal can be worked out with the Gardenia owners, the CRA wants to move the Gardenia building to Fourth Street, since its additional 12 rooms would make the B&B more viable.
The CRA would require that the owners, the Johnson family, pay for the move, which could cost about $200,000, CRA Executive Director Jon Ward said. The city would not close on the deal until after the building was tented — it’s infested with bees — and until after it survived the move intact, he said.
Renovations are expected to cost between $900,000 and $1.2 million, plus $250,000 already set aside in the budget for foundation work and repairs.
Ward said the move could take place within 90 days, and would take a day to complete. “I think it would be fun to watch,” he said.
The commissioners approved the project unanimously Monday.
With high-rises springing up downtown, West Palm’s city staff is looking to improve architectural aesthetics from an often overlooked perspective — from above.
The city commission Monday approved a proposal to allow rooftop parking decks as long as developers adorned them with murals or trees.
The decks would either have to have 30 percent of the surface covered with trees or other irrigated plantings or screening structures such as trellises, or they’d have to be entirely covered with an artistic design, which would be coated for waterproofing and sun resistance. If they chose that scene-from-above option, they’d have to compensate for the lack of rooftop landscaping by adding more at ground level.
The design wouldn’t reduce a building’s other public art requirements.
More than 500,000 youths from the U.S., Canada and around the world have traveled to Israel for free over the past 16 years, thanks to Birthright Israel Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded and endowed by part-time Palm Beacher Charles Bronfman.
Bronfman, former co-chair of Seagram’s, once the world’s largest distiller, and former owner of the Montreal Expos, has said that he considers Birthright his greatest achievement.
At a Palm Beach fundraiser Tuesday night, 181 local residents and Canadian snowbirds pledged another $1 million to keep the program expanding.
At $3,000 a trip, it takes a budget of more than $130 million a year, which is paid for by nearly 30,000 donors in the U.S. and Canada and by the Israeli government.
Started in 1999, the program sends 45,000 Jews, ages 18 to 26, for 10-day guided tours to connect with their heritage and identity.
The Grandview Heights Historic District will be host its 17th Historic Home Tour on Sunday, March 20, from 3 to 7 pm.
Grandview Heights is one of the oldest neighborhoods in West Palm Beach. Located within walking distance to City Place and the downtown Clematis Street Historic District, it has become one of the most desirable residential neighborhoods in West Palm Beach due to its location and eclectic, old South Florida atmosphere.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the oldest section of the neighborhood having been established in 1912, this neighborhood has one of the highest concentrations of historically significant architecture in the city, such as Spanish Mission, Mediterranean Revival, Florida Bungalow, Art Deco and Dutch Colonial Revival.
This year’s tour features historic and new homes of various styles and in different stages of restoration. A highlight of the tour this year is a collection of premiere vintage vehicles from Ragtops Motorcars. These cars and motorcycles, along with their historic details, will be displayed at homes throughout the tour.
There’ll be a complimentaryblock party including a plated meal presented by Aioli and live entertainment by Lotsa Papa, an upbeat Americana style full-band. Trolley service is also included in ticket pricing.
Tickets can be booked online at historicgrandview2016.eventbrite.com or by calling 561-877-1221. On the day of the tour, tickets can be purchased in front of the Armory Art Center in Howard Park. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the tour. Visit www.grandviewheights.net for information.
CityPlace is working on a plan to replace some of the landscape buffer decimated by chainsaws a few weeks ago, between its garage and Florida East Coast’s railway tracks.
Much of the previous landscaping was on land that CityPlace had leased in the FEC right-of-way, a strip over which the city arborist had no jurisdiction to protect. With the lease expiring and All Aboard Florida’s need for more room, a stand of mature palms bit the buzz saw.
But according to the arborist, West Palm Beach Landscape Planner Ray Caranci, there’s a six-foot-wide space between the garage off Quadrille Boulevard and the FEC right-of-way that does fall within the city jurisdiction, and that’s where the new plantings will go.
“I’m working with CityPlace to try to get a landscape plan that will be able to restore some nice landscaping to buffer that garage,” Caranci said Thursday.
West Palm Beach’s new noise ordinance has been taken out for a ride. City enforcers handed out the first summonses last week under the law, which took effect in December.
One of the first recipients: Off the Hookah, the bar that was the worst offender several months ago when the city took its sound meters out for a trial run.
After struggling to create a lively downtown that balances revelers’ music with residents’ peace, the city commission took an initial vote in July to adopt noise limits it hopes are more easily enforced than its old “plainly-audible-100-feet-away” limit.
The law was set to take effect in October but officers had to undergo training, take test measurements of sound levels at 14 locations from CityPlace to Clematis Street and meet with bar and restaurant owners about it.
The law sets the noise maximum at 85 decibels for treble and 90 for bass, with code-enforcement officers using hand-held sound meters. The 85/90 decibel limit applies to Clematis Street and the waterfront as well as to the commercial section of CityPlace. Elsewhere downtown the maximum is 65 decibels. The limits apply 24 hours, seven days a week.
Douglas Ellington, the former sewage plant worker whom city officials say drove onto the property Monday and set his car on fire, is well known at City Hall, where officials already had stepped up security in light of his bursts through the metal detectors and an escalating email-writing campaign.
Ellington, 52, was escorted from a city commission meeting arrested Feb. 1, after seeking redress for his firing and refusing to leave until he got it.
The incident culminating in Douglas Ellington’s removal brought the meeting to a halt for about 10 minutes and led the mayor and two commissioners to leave the dais as it unfolded. After trying to persuade him to leave the auditorium and discuss his concerns in the hall, two West Palm Beach police officers secured his hands behind his back and walked him out.
That was his third trespassing arrest at City Hall in the space of a year.
Prior to Monday, when another city commission meeting was scheduled to take place at 5 p.m., officials already had ordered additional police protection at the entry to City Hall.
It turned out the precautions were unneeded — Ellington never made it there. Monday morning he drove past the barbed-wire-lined gates of the West Palm Beach sewage plant, got out of his white SUV and set it on fire Monday morning, city officials say.
Ellington watched flames spread over the car, then officials said he told an employee standing nearby that he had placed bombs at both that sewage plant and the Riviera Beach Utility District, where he also worked until being fired a few weeks ago.
Ellington’s claims ignited chaos in the two cities.
Investigators evacuated everyone from the utility district, on Blue Heron Boulevard near Old Dixie Highway, and the East Central Regional Water Reclamation Facility, on Roebuck Road near Florida’s Turnpike, and searched for a bomb.
A device was found at the sewage plant, but it “turned out to be a hoax,” said Elliot Cohen, spokesman for the city of West Palm Beach.
Ellington was arrested shortly after the car fire. No one was hurt in the incident.
The Feb. 1 incident began just after 5 p.m., when Ellington, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, rose to address the commission during the public comment section of the meeting. Ellington said he believed his grandfather was killed at the hands of the government 78 years ago and that now he had been harmed and wanted the mayor’s support, as he had no legal means of redress.
After his three allotted minutes were up, the mayor declined to respond — the mayor and commissioners as a rule don’t respond to public comment at the meetings — and repeatedly asked him to step down from the lectern.
“The time has come for somebody to redress the harm,” Ellington said. “My family has suffered irreversible financial and emotional harm because they fail to recognize the information I brought to them.”
Ellington was calm and subdued but persistent. At one point as officers approached him and asked him to leave, he lifted open the sides of his gray hoodie to show them he was unarmed.
According to Green, Ellington worked at the city’s East Coast Regional Reclamation Facility, a sewage treatment plant near Roebuck Road, and was fired four or five years ago. “The bottom line is, he didn’t want to come back. We were having a disciplinary hearing but he didn’t want to come to it. He got bad legal advice. … He was terminated because he wouldn’t come back to his job. …
“He wants us to do something about it. We’ve met with him quite a few times. We’ve explained it to him.”
Mayor Jeri Muoio, expressing concern that Ellington might be released pending trial, said Monday afternoon that security again has been stepped up. She declined to provide details.
“It’s a sad situation,” the mayor said. “He’s a disturbed person.”