Panhandling, Development, and the Aronberg Shuffle

The West Boca Community Council held its regular meeting at the Boca Lago clubhouse on Tuesday evening. A larger than usual crowd of residents heard from county officials.
President Sheri Scarborough, who is also chair of the Palm Beach County Zoning Commission, updated the audience on several changes in the works.
First, construction has started on the Rooms To Go expansion on the north side of Glades Road between 441 and Lyons. We stopped by today to see it for ourselves.

We asked inside and learned that the current 26,000 square foot space will be expanded by another 20,000 square feet. The project should take about a year. It has already been quite a while. We reported on the plans back in 2013.
Also coming is a 43-home development by GL Homes south of Eagles Landing Middle School. You can see the location on the image below (courtesy of the county appraiser’s website). South County Regional Park is on the right, and the property in question is on the lower left.

An old map of the plan, dating back to 2006 or before, is below (full pdf at bottom of this article). It’s called the Collier PUD (Planned Unit Development).

Ms. Scarborough also noted that the lights are close to ready on 441 just south of Glades Road, between Sports Authority and the Westwinds Plaza (Publix and Home Depot).
After the meeting was over we asked her about the proposed 300-townhome development on the northeast corner of Clint Moore and 441. She did not have any particular news about the proposal. The first hurdle that has to be overcome is that the property is in the “agricultural reserve.” Unlike most ag-reserve properties, however, Scarborough noted that it is surrounded by non-agricultural development (The Oaks community, the Stonebridge community, and The Reserve shopping center). There’s a process they have to go through to get reclassified out of the ag-reserve but it seems likely to West Boca News that they’ll eventually get there.
County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger spoke next.

Ms. Berger spoke in depth about the panhandling issue and what the County Commission is doing about it. She was an engaging speaker, answering many questions from the audience.
First, she explained that something is in the works. The County Attorney’s office is drafting an ordinance which is expected to go before the County Commission in April. Once it’s reviewed at that meeting it should go before the Commission again in May and if all goes well it will be approved then.
Ms. Berger was emphatic that the ordinance is not limited to vagrants and panhandlers. It is a general ordinance that will affect anyone who tries to solicit or engage in similar activities in the medians of intersections. This is an important distinction and it’s very good that she is talking about like this. If it’s done the wrong way it will be held unconstitutional.
The audience asked whether it will extend to the corners and sidewalks, but that was not clear. She said the County Attorney is working on that language.
Next up was State Attorney Dave Aronberg, the prosecutor for Palm Beach County.

Mr. Aronberg was the headline speaker in the council’s notice for this event, which said he would speak about panhandling. He did not talk about that much, but focused more generally on what he called “quality of life” crimes. The most common crime that his office deals with is “DUS” or Driving Under Suspension. It’s sometimes called DWLS (Driving While License Suspended) and can refer also to revoked licenses or other license problems.
While Mr. Aronberg was mostly a pleasant speaker, his responses to questions presented a stark contrast with Ms. Berger, who answered questions directly.
Aronberg’s focus on suspended drivers opened the door to questions about a prominent case that happened not long ago on 441 in front of West Boca Medical Center. A driver hit three kids and then left the scene. A few weeks later the alleged driver, Brett Knowles of Boca Isles North, posted a picture on his Facebook page of the Geico gecko bragging about saving money on car insurance by leaving the scene of an accident.

West Boca News followed this case closely. Readers notified us in September that 441 had been closed and we went to the accident scene. speaking with family members of victims, contacting the Sheriff, and also Aronberg’s office. In October we reported that charges had not been filed yet, though we made no reference to the State Attorney in that article.
We researched the driver’s history in our courts and found quite a bit. Relevant to the issue of suspended drivers, Knowles was convicted of DUS (or DWLS) at least three times before this incident. There was a fourth case in Broward but we don’t know the results of that one. Knowles has had dozens of other cases including traffic tickets and drug charges.
In December, after getting a copy of the crash report from the Sheriff, we reported that Aronberg was stalling on the case. We noticed that Knowles had been ticketed again in October of 2014 for driving while suspended – while this investigation was pending – and that Aronberg’s office dropped the charge.
Shortly after that article charges from the incident were finally brought against Knowles.
In November and December we e-mailed inquiries to Aronberg’s office for a statement on the accident case and for the records from the dropped case. His office did not respond to either request. The refusal to provide records on the dropped case is a flagrant violation of the Florida Public Records Law (sometimes called the Sunshine Law).
With that background in mind, this reporter asked Aronberg about how his office handles repeat offenders on the Driving Under Suspension law. In particular the law (Section 322.34) allows repeat offenders to be charged with higher level offenses. A second offense can be charged as a first-degree misdemeanor with up to one year in jail. A third offense can be charged as a felony with up to a 5-year prison sentence.
Mr. Aronberg’s office, along with Broward, has repeatedly let Mr. Knowles off easy on these charges.
After he didn’t answer the question the first time this reporter asked him again about his office policy on whether and when his office charges repeat offenders with the higher level offenses provided by the law. Aronberg claimed that they do but provided no specifics. Our readers may have noticed that we frequently report on the criminal history of those arrested. We never see repeat offenders charged with the higher level offenses. This is not just a Palm Beach problem. Knowles’ fourth case was in Broward and was charged at the lowest level as well.
Rather than address the issue Aronberg then decided to attack this reporter. Along with his political consultant in the back of the room they accused me of being rude to their office and engaging in politics.
As a response to that bogus claim, my e-mails to his office are below:
November 21:

Ms. Cruz and/or Mr./Ms. Harris,
I write to inquire about the State Attorney’s position on the case of Brett Knowles. PBSO advises that the case has been forwarded to the Palm Beach County State Attorney.
Please let us know the status of this case.
Thanks,
Warren Redlich
West Boca News

Reply from Ms. Cruz (same day):

Good afternoon.
This case pertains to an active criminal investigation and is exempt from disclosure pursuant to Florida Statute 119.07(2)(c)1.

My reply (again, same day):

I’m not asking for records. I’m asking if the SA has any statement to make on the case. My question relates both to the pending investigation as well as Mr. Knowles past history.
And by the way I don’t see how there’s an active investigation. PBSO finished their investigation. It’s in the SA’s hands now per PBSO. So who’s investigating?
No need to reply until next week.
Thanks
Warren

There was no reply from Aronberg’s office.
December 3rd:

Ms. Cruz (and Mr. Edmonson?):
I just noticed that Mr. Knowles had a subsequent DWLS case in Palm Beach County: 50-2014-CT-023520-AXXX-SB, citation # A3B50ZE.
Court records show that case was resolved with a nolle prosse.
Please e-mail or fax (518-708-8752) me all records in the SA’s possession regarding this case. Also, please let me know if the SA has any statement it wishes to make regarding the decision to nolle prosse the case.
Regarding my previous inquiries you asserted that there was an active investigation. I don’t think you can make that argument with regard to a case that has been nolle prossed.
Thanks,
Warren Redlich

If the Sheriff’s investigation is accurate, three kids were hit by Mr. Knowles while he was driving on a suspended license. Had prosecutors held Knowles accountable according to the law, the accident wouldn’t have happened. Call me rude all you want. Aronberg’s blasé attitude toward repeat offenders makes us all unsafe. His disregard for the Public Records law is offensive for someone in the position of enforcing the law.

An Artist in West Sandalfoot

From reader Abby Dworkin Diab, about an artist living in West Sandalfoot aka Watergate Estates:
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Those who pass by Stephen Lombardi’s home on Sailfish Road have been treated to an ever changing array of brilliant fine art displayed in the east facing windows. What many do not know is that the showcase is only a small sampling of the work which graces the walls inside. His home has been literally transformed into a museum quality gallery, he possesses no furniture and doesn’t want any, just space to hang beautiful paintings.
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When asked when he knew he was an artist, Stephen says, “as a young boy, the joy that I felt scribbling with crayons brought ideas to my mind that blended nature with the unlimited possibilities of my imagination, it was obvious then.” His work, which he calls Visionary Surrealism, is truly unique and inspired. He depicts invented characters such as Sapien and the Colored Man on a mystical journey meeting a wide variety of both imaginary and realistic friends, animals and plant life along the way. Most of his paintings contain hidden messages, faces and other recognizable features nested in the shadows waiting to be discovered by the observer. The longer you look at one of these paintings, the more you see.
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A self-taught artist, Stephen’s works have been exhibited in major cities across the country, Boston, Manhattan, Phoenix, and San Antonio to name a few. Currently he has pieces on display at the Boca Raton Artist Guild Gallery, where he is the Gallery Technician responsible for arrangement and hanging of all shows, and at the Linda White Gallery where he does the same. Stephen is available to do custom murals, oil paintings or art instruction, his personal gallery is open to the public.
The Boca Raton Artists Guild Gallery is at 512 East Atlantic Ave, the Linda White Gallery is at 354 NE 4th Street, both in Delray Beach. For a look at Stephen’s body of work click this link or call 508-341-8071 to arrange a viewing at his home gallery in West Boca.
Additional works sent to us by Mr. Lombardi are below:
Rhino Soul, 60 x 48 inches, oil on canvas is on display presently at the Boca Raton Art Museum’s Artist Guild Gallery on East Atlantic in Delray
RhinoSoul
Keziah, 32 x 28 inches, oil on canvas is on display at the Linda White Gallery in Artist Alley, Delray their 3rd Thursday Art Walk is tomorrow night 6 to 10 p.m.
40 x 30 giclee prints of this work are available.
Keziah
Rainbow Seed, 40 x 30 inches, oil on canvas
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Elephant Soul, 60 x 48 inches, oil on canvas
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Good Things in Sandalfoot with Calvary Chapel

West Boca News previously invited this reader to send us notice of events and other good news. We extend the same invitation to all churches, synagogues and other organizations in West Boca.
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I have written you in the past about the reporting done regarding the Sandalfoot neighborhood and how it’s always negative. I have compiled a short list of some positive things going on in the neighborhood that you maybe were not aware of.
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Since Calvary Chapel West Boca, led by pastor Joe Ferraro, opened our doors 4 years ago:
The Mens Ministry built a ramp for one of the people in the neighborhood with special needs. Members of the body went to a high school ministry’s home and cut her grass, washed their cars and windows because her father had been sick for quite a while.
We have a Bread Ministry thanks to donations from local vendors and go door to door delivering food to the neighborhood, offering prayers with many positive results.
We have gone and helped a single mom by putting in some landscaping in her yard. Yearly backpack outreaches give free school supplies and backpacks to the kids in the neighborhood
We offer help to the homeless in the neighborhood by giving them food, guidance, clothing thanks to the other people in the neighborhood and their donated items.
We have a free after school program every Monday Wednesday Friday for the middle and high school kids where they can come for homework help, mentoring , basketball, football, skateboarding, etc.
Yearly we do the Operation Christmas child shoe box outreach where we fill shoe boxes full of gifts and send to children all around the world Thanksgiving outreach where we deliver thanksgiving dinner to families in the neighborhood including a turkey and all the trimmings.
I’m sure there is a lot more to offer you but I am personally inviting you to come and meet us our address is 10660 Sandalfoot Blvd West, Boca 33428.

Also check out our Facebook page Calvary Chapel West Boca and see lots of pictures of us doing what we are called by God to do.
God bless and thanks for listening.


We also noticed from their Facebook page that they had an outing to Bedner’s Fall Festival:
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Major Fire in Boca Del Mar

A very serious fire broke out this morning in an apartment building:

***BOCA RATON*** WORKING HIGH-RISE STRUCTURE FIRE — 5622 Wellesley Park Dr (Somerset Place) — Palm Beach County Fire Rescue R500 onscene of a multi-story apartment bldg, heavy flames coming out of the 2nd story spreading up to the 3rd story — Tac 8A

Somerset Place is an apartment complex in the eastern end of Boca Del Mar, near Military Trail between Camino Real and SW 18th.
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Fire Rescue requested additional support after the initial alert:

UPDATE: Boca Raton fire is upgraded to a 2nd Alarm, also requesting 4 more Engines and Rescues

Thanks to Palm Beach County Alerts for the tip.

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SWAT Team in Mission Bay

Update: Readers tell us the situation has resolved safely, though it will take an hour or more for life to return to normal.


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Several readers notified us of heavy police activity in the Harbour Springs and Baybreeze section of Mission Bay, west of 441 on the south side of Glades Road.

There is some indication from the Sheriff’s office that a man is a danger to himself, intoxicated, armed and he has locked himself in his home. Readers have reported to us that they’ve seen as many as 15-20 police cars. One reader said 30 cars, and multiple readers mentioned the SWAT team. Some residents may have been evacuated. Two readers told us that police told them to stay inside their homes due to the danger of gunshots.
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We also received this from Palm Beach County Alerts:

***WEST BOCA*** BARRICADED SUSPECT — Harbour Springs @ Mission Bay (address withheld for officer safety & scene integrity) — ‪#‎PBSO‬ & ‪#‎PBCFR‬ onscene of a domestic incident, suspect refusing to comply w/ orders, PBSO trying to evacuate area houses, SWAT & K9 onscene

We will update this story as we learn more.