Update From Boca’s New Mayor

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By: Mayor Scott Singer Special to the Boca Newspaper

Dear Readers, this is my first column to you as Mayor of Boca Raton. The last few weeks in this role have been busy. I’m grateful for each of the countless residents who have reached out since that happened, and will continue my outreach to our neighbors and stakeholders.

Most importantly, the world-class services provided by the City of Boca Raton continue to enrich the lives of our residents and businesses. That is a testament to the excellence of the nearly 2,000 city employees hard at work every day to ensure our unparalleled community remains safe, strong, and vibrant. We who have the honor of serving the residents from the City Council dais do our best for our limited terms in office. The lasting legacy that transcends a news cycle is that Boca Raton remains the gem of Palm Beach County, and all Boca residents can rightfully take pride in our community.

My colleagues and I have been hard at work on policy issues in May, as we completed our strategic planning session, which continued over the course of four days. Boca Raton continues to boast the lowest millage rate of any full service city in Palm Beach County, and our services and programs have only increased. During our strategic planning, we reviewed the more than 140 ongoing long-term projects that the city continues to work on, ranging from long-term capital and infrastructure investment, continued streamlining and increasing the ease of residents’ interactions with City Hall, expanding our arts, cultural, and recreation opportunities, and attracting high-paying jobs to our increasingly safer community. In addition to prioritizing much of the work that continues beyond one year, we gave policy direction to focus on a few key issues:

Public Schools Strategy: Enhancing our public schools has been a big part of my agenda and now the city’s in the last year. I’m proud to have come up with a plan for the first new public school in Boca Raton in decades, which projects to help add nearly 1,300 student seats at several schools by the Fall 2020. I’m grateful to the school district and my colleagues for their support of my initiative, which would greatly address crowding at our schools. Making further progress in adding school capacity is a key goal, and the City is a willing partner to work with the School District. Most of you know that the public schools are not run by city governments, but despite this, our city has gone above and beyond because we understand how essential schools are for families, attracting jobs and outstanding companies, and our future as a society.

Assisting the school district in strengthening our schools remains a big part of this strategy. Since the tragic murders in Parkland, Boca Police have been stepping up with extra officers and efforts until the school district and state come up with more permanent solutions. As a city, we have committed to making sure police officers are at each public school, even when the school district has not yet been able to provide them. I’ve had numerous discussions with the school district and city staff about longer-term solutions, and those will continue as we prepare for the fall.

Waterfront Improvements / Vision 2020: In last month’s issue, I mentioned the improvements at Lake Wyman and Rutherford Park to restore canoe and kayak trails and our boardwalk, and the continuing work to create an integrated downtown waterfront green space. Since I was the lone City Council member in 2016 to support this space linking the Wildflower and Silver Palm Park with a wide waterfront promenade, work has progressed. The City Council reaffirmed the priority to keep the planning and construction phases moving aggressively. We also expressed support for the collaboration of about 40 residents, planners, and business owners on the Vision 2020 campaign to tie the waterfront to other public spaces and our university campus through greater connectivity. We encourage their input and will consider the valuable yet free visioning work, as we give direction to our consultants and staff.

Review of Downtown Projects: Nearly, a decade ago before I was first elected, the City hired teams of outside consultants to develop design guidelines that were supposed to lead to more attractive buildings and interesting streetscapes. Candidly, the first few examples have been mixed, with some enhanced street-level architecture but less of a feeling of articulation and pedestrian connectivity that on other projects. Several years ago, I started the conversation of what we could do to get more meaningful open space for downtown buildings, and we have changed our requirements and policies going forward. We had significant discussion about what other items we need to consider to enhance the look and feel of our downtown, and our planning staff indicated that some of the concerns lie from the original framework adopted by voters in 1992, and not the more recent guidelines. We gave direction for staff to provide recommendations within the year to address these concerns. Many of you know I was the first council member to oppose a move to expand the area downtown where buildings over 100 feet could be built, as I feel greater height alone is not a solution. We’ll look to further enhance our downtown to make it thrive more for residents and visitors who are drawn to our restaurants, culture, and soon to be a second hotel.

As we move into summer, the City of Boca Raton remains hard at work on daily tasks and countless ongoing projects. I’m even busier in my new role as Mayor, which will continue at least through the Aug. 28 election, in which I’m running hard, so I can keep serving the residents of Boca Raton. I’m also busy in my outreach to thousands of residents to talk about what’s important to them – as I’ve done the last four years. As always, please get in touch with me about anything on your mind at scott@singerforboca.com.