You Get More With Sugar…

The Delray Community Land Trust celebrating 10 years of excellence is a joint effort with the city and the CRA.

The Delray Community Land Trust celebrating 10 years of excellence is a joint effort with the city and the CRA.

Imagine someone walking up to you on the street and smacking you over the head with a baseball bat.
Imagine that the person who hits you over the head is someone you know, have worked with and trusted.
In your mind, you’ve done right by that person.

Performed well in the past, felt you were still doing well and looked forward to more success in the future.
You’d probably be shocked and a trifle upset wouldn’t you? Sure, nobody is perfect, but a public beat down?

Well that’s what happened to the Delray Beach CRA last week when they went before for the city commission and received some “tough love”.
Tough love. That’s a heckuva phrase.
Usually it’s reserved for wayward children who are on the wrong track. You do something dramatic, maybe even shocking, to get their attention so they can button up and fly right.
But typically you don’t spank partners when they are kicking butt.
The Delray CRA kicks butt.
Take a look around Delray Beach. Take an inventory of what you like about this place.
Delray Center for the Arts, the library, Spady Museum, The Green Market.

Do you like the look and feel of Atlantic Avenue? How about Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue? Do you like Atlantic Grove? Or do you miss the drive through liquor store?

The list goes on and on and on.

But it’s not just the big important projects that make our CRA special. It’s the small but equally important stuff: the charming Community Land Trust houses, affordable projects like Carolyn Holder Court and a nearby senior housing project,  facade grants, business assistance grants and the Eagle Nest program which has helped scores of kids discover a career path in construction. I know many of those kids, we are sending a few to college via Dare 2 Be Great and they have told us what that program has meant to their lives and their neighborhoods.

For 30 years, the CRA has been a valued partner, a policy innovator and a proven implementer. Their work has impacted the entire city not just their district.

The agency built Delray, along with residents, city staff and other agencies.
They deserve applause not a whack upside the head.
Tone matters in politics.
If you want to build a strong and caring community you have to be cognizant of words, tone, context. Think it’s sappy, guess again, it’s essential.
Elected officials need to wield both carrots and sticks. But the good ones know when to use them.
It’s important that leaders possess an ability to show respect and gratitude. They go hand in hand.
If you start a conversation with “thank you for all you do now let’s do even better” most people are all ears: eager to change and embrace new ways.
But if you if ignore someone’s worth and kick them in the teeth, the reaction is not enthusiasm, its deflation.
This issue is close to me. And admittedly I am biased. My wife ran the agency for 13 years. I know most of the agency’s staff. They are dedicated, hard working, honest, smart and incredibly effective public servants.

They are good. Very good. But they are not perfect. Neither is the City Commission or any group or agency for that matter. But the CRA should be a source of city pride; the agency deserves respect. They have done and are doing great things and they can be even better. They have also helped the city with expenses, including police and engineering services, money for the tennis tournament and for key non-profits like the library and the Delray Center for the Arts. They can be effective with less money and that’s the conversation that needs to take place.

But there seems to be a true disagreement over the agencies mission, spending and priorities. That deserves discussion and debate, not from dueling daises, but in conversation between the two agencies as Commissioner Katz wisely suggested.
Sometimes we act as if the money spent by the agency is lost. It’s not. It’s invested here not in some foreign country. And if you can’t see the return on that investment I can’t help you.
Wiping out this agency, taking it over and or beating it into submission would be folly. A mistake that won’t be forgotten and one that will have implications far beyond the terms of the current commission.

The direction given the CRA was to prioritize spending west of Swinton. Hmmmm… that’s been the priority of the CRA for at least the past 15 years. During that time, more than $45 million has been invested in our neediest neighborhoods, neighborhoods that the city neglected for generations. From housing and sidewalks, to water pressure upgrades and paving streets the CRA has used money generated by the success of the eastern portion of the district to improve the west. These improvements were done in partnership with residents and were based on citizen driven plans. And it’s first now beginning to yield results, with projects like the Fairfield Inn and the coming soon Equity mixed use development.

The neighbors called the promise to invest in the west “the covenant”. The covenant called for patience, but the promise was the monies generated in the east would help improve the west. Now that doesn’t mean that every dollar goes west. You still have to take care of infrastructure in the east and projects such as Delray Center for the Arts which by the way is for everyone to enjoy. I’m sorry that Artist’s Alley is in jeopardy because a private investor bought the warehouses, but I wonder if we’d be talking about art in the Grove if not for CRA investments in the Art Warehouse and Arts Garage. U.S. 1 is about to blossom because of CRA implementation of our master plan.

Now we’re told that the plan is old and things have changed. Yes they have. But concepts like  walkability, sustainability, a need for independent retail, mixed use development, culture, mobility and affordability are still viable, desirable and needed. We are told that downtown is done. Nope. Sorry, it’s never done. That was a  lesson learned many years ago that’s been forgotten, at least by some.

We are told to move everything to Congress Avenue and we are hard at work on a solid plan to do so. But none of it works, if we  neglect the heart. City building is not a zero sum game.

You can pay attention to the east and the west and you should.
I’m a fan of city government– especially of this city’s government– despite its flaws. There are a ton of very good people who work at City Hall.
But to think they can do what the best CRA in the state has been doing exceedingly well for 30 years is just plain wrong.
A city needs a CRA and a CRA needs a city. You work together. Like you have for 30 years, a time frame that built a great city.
And if you think politicians should sit as the CRA good luck with that one. Instead of having volunteers with specific skill sets concentrating on redevelopment you’ll get people worried about “optics” (man, I abhor that word) and their next election.
Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Make it better.
And fix your own house first.
Unsolicited advice I know. But hey it’s my blog.
The CRA should be a source of civic pride not derision.
I heard so many falsehoods uttered last week that I lost count.
It seems that there’s a concerted effort to deny this city’s success and civic achievements. I heard the word disconnect used countless times; yep there’s a disconnect alright.
You can’t “fix” or improve by tearing things down. This city has come a long way and we love it. Lots of people have benefitted, all five commissioners included. Work with your partners.
That’s how Delray was built.