Minimalism and the Ten Dollar Rule

While out this morning, just before sunrise, I walked by the shops and stopped at the thrift store.  Sitting by the “wrong” door, there was a bag of skillets and some other kitchen items.   Thinking first, “Oooh Shiny”, I then drifted back into time.

Back when we decided to move to Florida, we realized that it was going to take some significant changes in our lifestyle.  We had to stop being pack rats and, GASP!, throw things out.  I gave out treasures captured and held onto (Precious!) for years and sold others.  It was a long three year plan to move down here.   First we had to pare down our “junk”.  We had to get the house in “Sellable Condition”.  We had to box everything up for moving.  The problem is that you just don’t switch off your needs for three years. 

On top of that, we had to come up with some sort of standard.  Just what are we going to pack up?  Of course everyone has heard the old line that if you haven’t used it in 3 years throw it out because you don’t really need it.  Our “precious” possessions spiraled down over that time to the absolutely necessary, and a few “shiny necessities” and very few sentimental things, but when something new showed it’s shiny face would we buy it?

Generally the answer was no.

We had a hard and fast hard headed rule.  “If you can buy the item or a near-enough replacement anywhere, for ten dollars or less, do not move it and try to make do without it”. 

Impulse purchases stopped immediately.  Upgrades would happen, but the old items could no longer be held for someone else.   If we didn’t know of someone to give the old item to in short order, it would go out to the foot of a driveway with a note on it saying “Free to a Good Home”.  

Slowly at first, the house emptied into three places, the trash can and recycling, the driveway or down to the basement.   The basement was a room of doom for me.   More specifically it had a ceiling made of rough beams, joists and exposed nails that was at six feet.  I am six feet four inches tall.  I had to be VERY careful. 

We would pack the precious treasures up into boxes and begun what I euphemistically called the “Box Farm” and tried to escape with my scalp intact.  This became a city scape of mostly small boxes by the end of the packing time that covered a footprint the size of a small bedroom.

If you have ever visited the new house, and there are some of my readers who have, you would laugh at my using the term “Minimalistic” to describe my life.  The reality is that we moved from a 1900 square foot house to a more “cosy” 1200 square house with outdoor living space adding another couple of rooms worth of usable space.  The treasures we brought are here, but mostly they’re crammed into much less space making the little house look that much smaller.

I’m still paring down the old gear from the move, years later.  I’m still the packrat I have always been, as my sister and my cousins will attest.  But now, the piles are dwindling.  Digital copies of paperwork has helped a lot – you simply don’t need as many filing cabinets when most of your finances are on a little memory stick chock full of PDFs created from web sites that helpfully offer a printable version.

This flood of memories came to me last night.   After attending a Wilton Manors Main Street Meeting we walked over with Lettie to visit one of the oldest homes in Wilton Manors.  The currently departing owner, Doug, was wrapping up his move and asking “Can you use anything out of this pile?”.  He was loading up the last few things into trucks and pods and moving out of the home he loved and improved over the years to smaller digs.  It all reminded me of that time where I would ask people “Can you use anything out of this pile?” and then lapse into the story of the Ten Dollar Rule.  I’ll miss seeing Doug as much as I have, he is truly one of the best people who I have had the pleasure of getting to know here in Florida but you do what you must.

We didn’t take anything last night.  It would have been wrong, after all, where would you store it?

Post Halloween Calm, Pre Election Annoyance

Getting up before the dawn at what I’ve heard someone call “Insane O’Clock” with the dog, I headed out of the house for the morning mile.

A hint to those who have a dog who is out of control or a nuisance barker – your dog is bored.  Take the dog for three long walks a day.  If you can’t see your toes, your waistline will appreciate that.  I have a Border Collie, the number one breed in boomerang dogs – dogs who end up at the shelter for a second or more time because people don’t know how to live with such an intelligent animal.   Almost every dog will benefit from more exercise.  Living in these days, almost every human being would benefit from having a dog that requires three walks of a mile a day each.   So go take your dog for a walk, leave this posting up and finish reading when you get back.

There, wasn’t that pleasant?

My first walk this day had me out of the house well before 6AM.  I had my headphones on and was listening to an audio book and taking note of what went on after the four day celebration of Halloween here in Wilton Manors. 

For the most part, the central business district was markedly cleaner than I would have expected.  The last four days were slammed with people walking up and down Wilton Drive at some time or another.  Saturday Night seemed to be the peak of it with cars littering front lawns, parked in other people’s driveways illegally, and people walking from their cars to the festivities on Wilton Drive. 

I have seen similar celebrations in other cities.  Places that were more conventional tended to have an almost Post-Apocalyptic look about them.  In other cities, I could find bits of the celebration for months after they happened in corners and alleys if I just looked.  Things may have been picked up but they weren’t cleaned up for the residents, and for the most part things were only set right after the nearest home owner or business owner went out and “Flea Dipped” their property. 

Wilton Manors doesn’t seem to have that problem.  I certainly attribute it to the demographics of the area.  There were no fights that I saw.  People didn’t go out of their way to be rude.  There was a festival atmosphere but there’s a spirit of camaraderie that didn’t have that edge I had seen in some places. 

It was carried through to the way the city looked this morning.  While we played host to some thousands of people, it was an orderly crowd.  Yes, they were there to party but there were no broken shrubs, no upset palm trees, and no street furniture uprooted and placed on top of cars. 

It was a success, although it could certainly have been better.  Next year, halloween will come.   Wilton Manors will have another influx of people.  Expect it.  Wilton Manors is the place to be for a party on most weekends, and Halloween is an amazing time here.   It has been that way for years, and it will continue as long as we have a City Government that will plan for the future Flash Mobs that will show.  With Wilton Manors Main Street assisting the bars to pick up the ball that was dropped by the original planners, we all made the best of a bad situation.  Wilton Drive could not be closed because the Drive is a State Road.  A State Road closure requires permitting that takes some significant amount of time and the deadlines were passed.  There are some significant fees that are required to be paid as well, and that would require some planning so that nobody is left holding the bag for that sort of expense as well as making sure the Police get paid, the liquor is paid for and people are compensated fairly for their efforts, time, and inconvenience.

Keeping the Drive open was a requirement due to all of the above and more.  It wasn’t the best situation but it was managed exceedingly well by a coalition of business owners and civic organizations.  

The only situation that I had heard that was unfortunate was that a woman passed out on Wilton Drive.  Perhaps it was too much partying, but she passed out.  The story I was told about the situation was that she went down in front of Current Mayor Gary Resnick and his partner Eric, and Candidate Joe Angelo for Mayor and his friends.   I was told that Resnick and his partner “ran away” and Joe Angelo and his friends made sure that this woman made it into a bar to sit and revive herself.

Thank you Joe Angelo, the City of Wilton Manors should be grateful that good people like you are here to help others in their time of need.

Walking through the drive and turning down the back streets, I noticed that they were generally clean and cared for.  The neighborhood changed from Commercial and High Density Residential to Low Density Residential fairly quickly.  It took the usual South Florida view of tidy yards and plantings within a block of The Drive. 

This being election season there were yard signs in front of people’s homes supporting one candidate or another, as I have written before.   I made it down to one particular lot that had been mowed last week and someone had obtained permission to place some election signs there.  It’s on a fairly major thoroughfare and people do cross through daily on their way to and from the Drive.

That plot of land eventually collected signs from almost every politician in the county and every one in the City who is running for office.  When the management company came through and mowed it, they picked up all the yard signs and piled them neatly together in one spot.  The next day, someone came through and sorted out three specific signs and placed them in the ground to see.  That morning they were thrown down.  Someone then picked them up again and by the next morning, they were down again.  This has been going on for around a week now.  I’m looking forward to seeing who keeps tossing the signs down because if I do, I’ll make it a point to let the candidates know so they can file a complaint with the police. 

They have left mine alone for the last two days. 

So as clean as the drive has been, the neighborhood is being trashed by overzealous supporters of one or more particular candidates who don’t think that their candidate has a good enough message to send by trashing a third party’s yard.  This is decidedly not in the tolerant spirit that drew me to this City in the first place.

Thankfully Wednesday November 3 is coming soon and we can all go back to living our lives without having to watch for trespassers.

Wilton Manors Main Street Party last night

That was fun! 

I’m a member on the board at Wilton Manors Main Street.  The group is here to help give ideas and feedback to the City of Wilton Manors and work with them, and everyone else in the city who lives, works, and plays here, as much constructive input on the way we see things should progress.

Being a Project Manager – I know this process as being “Gap Analysis”.  We’re here, we want to be there, how do we bridge the gap.

I’m not the only Project Manager type person on the Board, there are at least two others and a fascinating mix of political and business people who are on it as well.  The meetings are fascinating to witness.  There’s such a broad scope of personalities and strengths that I find myself listening to some of the plans and hopes and wonder how I can help with what I know.  Then out of left field, Bang! There’s the idea and we run with it.

Building anything is a series of steps.  You do that “Gap Analysis” and you start to look where you want to be in the future and form your plans to get there.  You simply can not do it all at once.  If someone sits you down at a table and gives you a toy model and says “build it”, that is a very different thing than if that same person sat you at the table with a built model and said “Here, its yours”.

One of the big steps was forced by the demolition of Old City Hall.  How do we manage to get ourselves established in a new home and proceed to do our work?  Let me tell you it took a lot of planning and a lot of hard work.  We now have a year in a really very beautiful office.  It was an empty shell when we were given it, so we ended up having to get it painted and furnished. 

Lets thank the Gables Residential company for the office space first off.  Prime commercial space right on the drive where we will be able to see first hand whether what we are doing works!

Then there’s Doug Mc Clure who did the painting and headed up the team who finished the fitting of the space.

Once we got the place built, we found that Island City Traders gave us a generous donation of the furnishings in the space. 

So last night to thank the people who aren’t on the board, and of course our contributors, we had a bit of a party.  Our best guess was that there were 250 people in and around the office enjoying each other’s company and treated to some excellent food from Crema d’Roma just down the block at 2150 Wilton Drive. 

I have never had Roast Beef quite so good! We will be back!

We had our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony last night, dignitaries were there helping us christen the space and welcome everyone.  It was also a volunteer and membership drive and I was told that we did pick up some Corporate Sponsorship.  Once I get the details, that will get posted on the other blog that I contribute to – the Wilton Manors Main Street Blog.  I have a lot of pictures, and I will be putting them up through the next few days to let everyone see.

If you missed the party, I invite you to stop into the offices during the week.  They’re almost always staffed weekdays, and sometimes on the weekends during the day as well.  I will be in there from time to time, so if you see me sprawled out there working on the laptop, feel free to pop in and say hi!

Wilton Manors Main Street offices are at
2164 Wilton Drive
Wilton Manors, FL, 33305

Commission Meeting on the Two Lane Initiative Board

The City Commission on Tuesday night had a Board proposed in New Business by Vice Mayor Justin Flippen.  This Board would be created to help the City wrap their minds around the very complex issues surrounding Wilton Manors Main Street’s Two Lane Initiative.

The details of this plan are what are the most interesting.  It is the intent of the Commission to have this Board self fund via donations and grants.  It also is to reflect the complex diversity of those who will be effected by the changes to the Drive.  Since the Board is also subject to the Sunshine Laws, it will be required to actually pay a Board Secretary.

The Board hasn’t been created and already is running at a deficit.

They are now drafting a resolution to create this board and the selection of the members therein, which means that the Two Lane Initiative will be delayed again.  The very soonest that this resolution will be presented will be at the next Commission meeting as a First Reading, followed by debate, and a Second Reading.  By the time the Board gets up and running, it may be Fall or Winter before anything actually happens.

The tricky part, and I do applaud the Commission at at least trying to figure out a way to do this, will be to attempt to make the Board accurately reflect the diversity of the people who will be effected by the proposed changes.

The Commission will have a seat on the Board via the City Manager, Joe Gallegos.  Wilton Manors Main Street is proposed to have a seat on the Board of their own selection.  Of the other seats on the Board, it blossomed to as many as 13 and back down to 7.  There will be an attempt to find an Architect or other Technical resource, a resident from the public at large, someone from the Wilton Manors Business Association or Chamber of Commerce, and a member from Planning and Zoning.

The situation is that since the actual selection of the members will be a very complex issue.   I don’t see how they will manage to do it in this fashion unless they were to allow each Commissioner and the Mayor to select one member to the Board directly, and then to have that person be of a specific “class” such as a Technical Resource or from Planning and Zoning.  Otherwise they’re going to have a large number of people who will apply for specific seats and it will be a long and drawn out affair.

This suggestion was brought up in the Commission meeting by more than one Commissioner.  Since the Commissioners all have their own views on constituency, it seems most appropriate to have specific seats filled by specific Commission appointees.   For example, Commissioner Tom Green was most interested in having an “At Large” person from the residential community on the board who does not live “directly” on the Drive.  He would be the best person to find this At Large appointee.

The Self Funding aspect is another interesting wrinkle.   The Two Lane Initiative can fund itself once it is up and running.  It is expected to create a surplus to the city of $81,000 but that is once Phase 1 has been completed.  It will cost $139,000 to get Phase 1 completed, but that will be paid off within the first year.  The intent of the Commission would be to have people on this Board who are adept at finding Grants and other Funding sources to come up with the money to actually get Phase 1 and perhaps more completed.  This is a challenge to most so your pool of individuals who are able to knock on doors and find a business or governmental entity with deep pockets who actually live in the city may not be all that great.

Just getting this Board established may be the hardest part.  The Two Lane Initiative as presented by Wilton Manors Main Street was to show a framework under which the City could progress with a project to get another 115 parking spaces at a lower price than any other and do so with a surplus.  Getting to that first Phase is a big hurdle, but finding the particular mix of people who can make that happen will be a challenge.

I go to the City Commission meetings twice a month because I am genuinely interested in the goings on in this quirky little city.   I expect to be going to this new board as well because the process is fascinating to me.  I’ve had my hands in the whole Two Lane Initiative process from the beginning as a Board Member on Wilton Manors Main Street.  Since the public will be allowed to be in this as well, we will also be able to give our input whether a member of Main Street or not.

As such I don’t expect to be involved in this Board other than as a spectator.  The reason is that they intend to have this Board to be subject to the Sunshine Law.  I have no problem with a Board being required to be open to the public.  Back room politics have the connotation that they have because of the effect they have on people in the broadest sense of the word.  The problem is that if you are on multiple boards, one with the Sunshine Law and one or more without being under it, your effectiveness on those other boards will be limited.  You end up sending one of the people who are co-board members outside of the chambers while you are discussing these issues.

With a group that is tasked to be as creative as possible in finding solutions for the Two Line Initiative’s challenges, being limited by a requirement that gags you outside of the Board’s scope is a bit of overkill.

What ever your opinion is of Wilton Manors Main Street, I believe that their impact in Wilton Manors has been greatly positive and would prefer to see that group thrive as long as it remains so, to jeopardize it would be a major loss.  The City of Wilton Manors is proud to have such a strong class of Volunteer workers servicing its needs, the Mayor Gary Resnick and each and every Commissioner has said the same from the Commission Chambers on the Dais.  To limit their work would be unfortunate, whether they be Elected Official or whether they be Volunteer.

Now if we can just find those Seven People!

Stonewall Pride Wilton Manors 2010

I’ll take a short break from the articles from the Town Hall.  Believe it or not I think I still have two or three long winded articles to write before I’m done.  The next one will be the City’s Presentation on the Wilton Manors Main Street Two Lane Initiative, and I want to do that one right!

Today, after thrashing in bed from 2AM until 5AM I finally pulled myself out of bed for the morning dog walk around town.  I guess there really was caffeine in the Decaf Espresso I made yesterday!  Yes, Decaf Espresso.  Great stuff.  Still had caffeine!

I was standing in the bathroom making silly faces at the mirror and heard a “CLANG!” on the pavement and realized that the preparation for the 2010 Stonewall Pride Festival is proceeding a pace.  I fed Mrs Dog and left for the morning walk and noticed that everything had a sheen from the overnight showers.  The weather today will be a typical South Florida Wet Season day, 90 degrees, a chance of Thunderstorms, and brilliant sun.  That little sheen and the small “schvitz” that was hitting us will be gone once the marine layer burns off.  

It’s already in the 80s so if you’re coming, bring plenty of water to rehydrate.  It is traditional to hold a Gay Pride Event in June, that was when the Drag Queens of the Stonewall bar fought back the NYPD who were frankly oppressing their right to peaceful assembly (Hmm, Constitutional right?).  This is a celebration of the beginning of the modern Gay Rights movement, and there is still a lot of distance to cover.  Fascinating Wikipedia article here.

If you don’t accept a group of people you have no right whatsoever to complain when they don’t accept your complaints.  (Small Minded or Negative comments *WILL* be deleted, don’t bother)

So with the Gays descending on Wilton Manors (and no, it isn’t a Gay City, it is approximately 60% straight) along with their Straight Allies, and there are a LOT of us here, you can come to the party and enjoy the music and dancing.  After all, who doesn’t like a street fair?

This is one event that I won’t be volunteered, er, volunteering for.  Being very active in the political volunteer community here in Wilton Manors, I’ve been invited to Wilton Manors City Commissioner Tom Green for a reception at his apartment and also to the Wilton Manors Main Street opening of their new offices on the Drive at the Gables.  I’m looking forward to both! 

Thanks Tom!

Commission Meeting Tonight – Parking and Stop Signs

I’ll be there at City Hall, in my Semi-Assigned Seat.  How about you?

Semi Assigned… with these knees, I need to stretch out.  That’s the only thing I miss about the old chambers, that little step that I could put my left leg up…

Tonight there will be more weighty things to discuss other than my knees.  They’re going to be reviewing our stop sign at NE 7th Ave and NE 22nd Drive.  They will also be discussing Parking.  I’m sure the stop sign isn’t the most important thing, but it is certainly important enough for them to discuss and leave in place.

They also will be discussing the Parking Solution as proposed by Wilton Manors Main Street.  That is a good thing and it is a massive change to the way the city is laid out in the central business district.  The problem arose back in the bad old days when desperate to make some sort of change to Wilton Drive, they had to do something.  What they did was to widen the drive and make it easier for people to get to and from the place.   Great idea, for a starter, but the problem was that it became too successful for its own good.

Before the change, the saying as I will paraphrase Commissioner Scott Newton, You could have fired a cannon down the drive from one end to the other and never hit anyone.   Now we have a Drive with a four lane highway running down through it, inadequate parking, and it is choking on its own success.  Any given bar night (Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday Evening) the immediate neighborhood around the drive is stuffed with cars seeking parking, people walking to their destination, and people leaving after having their fun. 

The reason for the parking problem was that the design guidelines as set out in the code for the city was intended to pack in as many opportunities for retail space as possible.   Since there were no open shops or practically none in that time, parking was not considered.   We have 7 wildly popular bars on the one mile of road, and parking for approximately 130 cars.  That was by design.  

Personally I think any business who opens shop without securing parking for themselves at their own cost has to have their business plan turned down.  On the other hand, that is what code here says – open up and worry about parking later.   We all partially created the problem in order to get this place started.   The crime rate was out of control, there were no businesses, and you couldn’t walk out of your front door without taking the attitude that you may have to Duck and Cover.

Since the code worked, but was admittedly incomplete, the Plan addresses the problem.  Using the most conservative of numbers, the Plan will produce a profit within the first year, and will allow the City to improve the drive by the end of year three so that we can have parking pay for the lot on the old City Hall site, trees in the medium, and curb cut improvements that are adequate for the task.

All of that can happen if the money from parking revenue is allowed to be earmarked for the improvement of the Drive and not siphoned off for other purposes.  That will be a tempting low hanging fruit and with the large looming drop in tax revenue here I am hoping that the City will allow that revenue to remain on the tree and used for its intended purpose.  It can help other areas of the city as well, but it has to be allowed to run its course.   Three years down the line we would have a Drive brought to another level, and the discussion will be that now that we’ve got a surplus how about putting on a second level to the City Hall garage at Hagen and other improvement projects.

We just have to get through tonight. 

The other aspect of the discussion is putting this on the ballot.   I don’t believe that this is the right place for the discussion.   The Plan is an amazingly complex plan.  It requires significant understanding and discussion of the details, funding methods, and drawings.   The law in this state says that you have to state the costs and do so in a very short amount of space.   It does not require the statement that this plan will produce a surplus of money to the city nor will it allow full discussion of the benefits. 

As a resident I want this to be funded so that in no way I personally pay more in Taxes and that in no way I lose services.   I can see that being achieved in one of two ways, excluding just doing the job out of the rainy day fund since it will be so profitable.   First a Revenue Bond.  It can be set up to allow the revenue from parking created by striping the drive in the first year being earmarked to pay off the costs in the second year.   Yes, that is a big oversimplification, but that’s the very high order description.  The other second alternative is to have a special assessment or one time tax on those properties within the Entertainment District.  Tax them enough to pay for the first phase of the drive and do so based on the square footage of the buildings in the district.  I would like to see the numbers on that, but I suspect that most business owners would be willing to pay in to get the parking they need and get things moving again.

In this age of neo-conservative revisionist politics and spin doctoring that results in a right of center President being called unfairly, a Socialist, and people wanting short sound bites, the ballot is not the place to discuss complex matters.  I believe that this is not a more democratic way of making the decision and I find that admittedly ironic. 

The City has been given the opportunity to pass this sort of Plan in the past many times.  They have been urged to move forward by the business community and residents alike.   Those who are against the idea of widening the drive are out of step with the rest of the community, and need to be talked to but the plan must go through. 

If not, we’ll be back discussing this next year and the year after until someone in another city begins to get critical mass and the businesses move away.   At that point we will be scratching our heads and looking for a cannon to test Commissioner Newton’s quote.

The immediate result of the WMMS Parking Initiative is a table

Pretty simply put it has been tabled for another meeting or two.

I should have written this the night of but procrastinated…

At any rate, everyone saw the presentation.  You will be able too soon enough since the presentation is now it is on the Main Street Website.  There is no sound to the presentation so if you want to look I suggest that you click on the pause buttons and take it all in.   The numbers there speak for itself, if you look at the revenue that you take in over the span of three years, it pays off any revenue bond needed to maintain the drive plus produces enough revenue to fund the movement towards the final phase of having trees down the middle of the drive and turn this speedway into a jewel.

The phased approach works.  It allows us to take the funds from the parking meters that would be installed in the 115 new spaces and pays for maintenance, meters, enforcement, and then more.   We can, after the first year pays off the striping of the drive, begin to reclaim the medians and place beautification “hardscaping” items such as pavers and other items such as planters to better delineate entries to driveways and streets and other things.

This can all be done by our little cash strapped city in the middle of a budgetary crunch.

The biggest problem I see with all of this is a vision thing – the plan will work if it is followed and the monies from parking in those 115 spaces that are created are strictly used for the improvement of the drive until the drive is completed. If these guidelines for finances are not put into place, the budgetary realities of life in a constrained era would mean that we end up with a striped drive with plenty of parking funding items that the city will need to function.  This money should not be used for painting offices, internet access for the outlying buildings, or replacing city vehicles for example.   The money should be strictly limited for the improvement of the drive until the plan for drive is “Complete”.

Do we have the discipline to follow the plan?   I am a project manager by trade.  The plan follows a normal iterative process in project management.  If you follow each step, you will get to a point where you are ready to move onto the next.   You can’t jump from step one to step four without going through the other steps first.  Without step one funding the rest, you will end up being stuck at step one “forever”.

That will solve the problems of some of the businesses on the drive, lessen the parking problems in the immediate neighborhoods of the Central Area (Link was broken when I made this post) and help beautify the city.  Those who complete this plan will be justifiably be qualified for reelection.  

The plan needs oversight, and that can’t be avoided, but it is a good one and allows for some flexibility in the final results.

So go look at the video on www.wiltonmanorsmainstreet.org while it is there.  All the numbers are there for you to crunch.  The city will be revisiting the plan in two (or perhaps four) weeks.  There is a LOT there and I think the most prudent thing for them to have done was to table it while they look over the large three ring binders that were presented to each of them.

We will have to wait until then… but this can be a good thing.  Measured and thorough thinking always helps.