Councilman Scott Singer’s Five Big Ideas

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By: Councilman Scott Singer Special to the Boca Newspaper
At a recent town hall meeting, I proposed “Five Big Ideas” for Boca Raton to consider for short, medium, and long-term planning.  As 2016 closes and 2017 begins, this is a great time to think about some visions that may take many years to realize.  These concepts will need refinement and greater study, input, and funding, and I offer them now to advance what should be community-driven conversations about them.
First, we can improve mobility in Downtown Boca and the desire for a thriving, walkable downtown streetscape with a traffic bypass to divert pass-through traffic away from Federal Highway and onto Dixie Highway.  This would serve several goals.  First, it would ease traffic originating from Delray or Deerfield onto a less-used road, which capacity would be expanded.  Second, it would enable to the city pursue funding for a “complete streets” approach to increase parking and improve pedestrian access.  Third, it would enhance the retail presence and create more of a Main Street feeling, tying into the current and planned major investment from 101 Via Mizner, the Mandarin Oriental, Royal Palm Place, and the Hyatt Place.  Beginning to work now on a multi-year plan – which would cost very significant sums – can advance us to the long-sought goal of a strong sense of place for Downtown Boca.
Second, we can increase our city’s support for our public schools, and enhance the mission of even the A-rated schools.  Taking cues from other cities’ best practices, for a modest investment, we can work together with the School District to expand program offerings and technology, partner for needed social services (including greater access to counseling), and liaise better on key concerns for students and parents.  I plan to cover more specifics in a future issue.
Third, I’m working on plans with city staff to develop internal duties dealing with innovation and best practices.  Some leading cities have a designated Chief Innovation Officer, whose role typically includes analysis of data, regular review of best practices, and much more.  These positions help government generate new ideas to benefit residents and businesses, and can pay for themselves in cost savings.  Sizable grant money may help these or similar positions, which I’ve also begun exploring. In addition, we can leverage our universities to find partners in analyzing key data and other novel ways to improve our services.
Fourth, we can and need to make gains in our accessibility and accountability. A key to attracting and retaining companies in making it easier to do business with the city. We have significantly reduced permitting time and enhanced the ability for permit applicants to see the status of their permits.  We should build on these successes to make permits – and all of residents’ dealings with government – the very best of any local government everywhere.
Fifth, we need to move far more quickly to develop better parking and mobility solutions for our downtown.  A prior top goal for the city was a new parking garage downtown, but it was moved down on the annual list of goals in recent year. New construction and the increase in downtown residents shows why we need reprioritize this goal.  The likely locations for a garage, most of which are west of Dixie Highway, make a traffic circulator regularly operating throughout downtown a key part of a successful plan.
More parking will reduce traffic from searching for spaces and increase the access to a more vibrant downtown.
These ideas are not simple, quick, or finalized.  Rather, they are the starting point for more planning and conversations, which I welcome with all parties.  My strong goal of working on ideas like these for the next decade and beyond is a big part of what fuels my running for re-election in March.  I hope to earn the chance to keep serving you and help bring some of these, and other, longer-term goals to fruition.