- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Dec. 5

The Miami Herald on lessening the impacts from storms:

If we are truly a resilient county, why do we get so rattled by hurricane season? We get brushed by a storm and we lose our power, phones and cable. Darkness falls for days.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava is smartly picking up the baton to try to lessen the impacts we feel from storms. We commend the commissioner for her insightful work.

For starters, at her insistence, the Miami-Dade Commission on Tuesday passed legislation aimed at bringing backup power, including solar-powered solutions, to the county’s traffic signals, and to develop a free, emergency management mobile app. We don’t have those already?

These items are among a list of recommendations Levine Cava outlined in her recent after-action report following Hurricane Irma, which knocked us for a loop.

“We need to take advantage of the technology and tools available to better serve our residents during emergencies,” said Commissioner Levine Cava. A simple concept that was challenged during Irma.

Though we were spared the worst of the storm, the disruption caused “highlights the need to redouble our collective efforts to create a more resilient county,” Levine Cava writes in her 8-page report.

“Resilience is all about preparation, response, and recovery from outside shocks and stresses.”

She’s on the money. We’re not taking the shocks well.

Here are some of her recommendations from the commissioner’s report:

? We must get gasoline to Florida faster before and after a storm.

? FPL should aggressively pursue underground power lines. (Costs too much money)

? FPL should give people more information about who gets restored first and why.

? Before any storm, FPL should coordinate with residents and local governments on who is responsible for trees encroaching on FPL lines.

? Cell phone service providers should be better integrated into the county’s disaster planning and communications systems.

? Cell phone and cable carriers should install emergency generators at cell phone towers to provide service following a storm. Hallelujah!

? Miami-Dade should make its decisions about shelter openings more transparent, and inform residents in a timely manner about which shelters will be opened.

? Miami-Dade County should work to make all of its hurricane shelters pet-friendly.

? The county should create a smartphone “app” which displays real-time emergency management information, including the list of open evacuation centers and those which are pet-friendly.

? 3-1-1 should provide expanded hours prior to a storm.

? The county should expeditiously activate emergency food distribution sites within impacted areas.

Access to food after a storm event can be a life or death situation for many families.

? Prior to a storm, the county should do a better job communicating to residents about how storm debris will be removed and priorities.

? And the county should better communicate how the public could assist in propping up those trees in swales after the storm. After a storm, many residents are willing roll up their sleeves and work to get back to normal.

All good ideas.

So how many can we make a reality before the next hurricane season rolls around?

Online: http://www.miamiherald.com/


Dec. 5

Sun Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale on homes developed in an agricultural reserve:

What part of “Agricultural Reserve” is so hard for developers and politicians to understand?

Palm Beach County decades ago designated 22,000 acres west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach as the “Agricultural Reserve” - using taxpayer money and tougher building rules to preserve land for farming amid the new neighborhoods spreading between Florida’s Turnpike and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

But county commissioners since the 1980s have bent the rules in favor of development, allowing more suburbia to overtake the vegetable farms and landscape nurseries that once dominated the area.

Nearly 7,000 homes have already been built in the Agricultural Reserve, with another 4,000 approved and awaiting construction.

Now comes a proposal by GL Homes to build nearly 3,900 more homes in the reserve, in exchange for dropping plans to build on farmland in Loxahatchee. Its pitch goes before the Planning Commission on Friday, and before the County Commission on Jan. 29.

We encourage members of both boards to say no to this switcheroo and recommit to planting something other than For Sale signs in the Ag Reserve.

Let’s remember that at the county’s urging, voters in 1999 overwhelmingly agreed to spend $100 million to acquire about 2,400 acres in the Ag Reserve - keeping it safe for farming.

Likewise, the county’s tougher building rules in the Ag Reserve require developers who build there to set aside privately owned preserves. That has resulted in maintaining another 7,100 acres of open spaces available for farming.

GL Homes’ proposal threatens to weaken the commitment to preservation in the Ag Reserve.

The county’s planning staff recommends denial.

Approving this plan would set a precedent for building more homes than envisioned, decrease available farmland for preservation and open more territory west of State Road 7 to industrial development, its report says.

Plus, shifting thousands of approved homes from one geographic area to another is a policy change “with potentially very significant repercussions,” the report warns.

If the county opens this door, look for more prized land near Delray Beach, Boynton Beach and Boca Raton to be gobbled up by developers who promise a patchwork of far-flung northern properties in return.

Just look to Broward and Miami-Dade counties for proof that developers eager to cash in on South Florida’s inflated real estate market will push to build on every square foot of available space.

Under the proposal, GL Homes would transfer its development rights from the Indian Trails Grove property in Loxahatchee - where it has approval to build about 3,900 homes - to property in the Ag Reserve.

That part of the pitch is a welcome alternative for Loxahatchee-area residents afraid of losing their rural lifestyle to GL Homes and other developers. The 4,500-home Westlake development already under construction in Loxahatchee is beside the property where GL Homes would replace rows of tomatoes, lettuce and cabbage with rows of homes.

After pushing for years to build in Loxahatchee, GL Homes now says it makes more sense to build those homes near its existing neighborhoods in the Ag Reserve because the roads can better handle the new traffic.

It’s also offering 75 acres for a new high school and 30 acres for an elementary school in the Agricultural Reserve, plus $10 million to help pay for construction. The company would also donate 160 acres for a park. And it proposes road improvements, including making Lyons Road four lanes, from Boynton Beach Boulevard to Atlantic Avenue.

Company vice president Larry Portnoy says that in the end, more land would be set aside for agriculture, just not within the Agricultural Reserve. And it would put the new neighborhoods in an area better suited for development, he said.

“Growth is something that is inevitable,” Portnoy said. “Building was always part of the plan for the Ag Reserve.”

Yes, building is part of the plan for the Agricultural Reserve, but it was meant to be low-density - and never the driving force.

Preserving farmland west of Delray Beach and Boynton Beach not only helps produce local vegetables for us to eat, it protects agricultural jobs and serves as a buffer between suburbia and the wildlife refuge - the northern reaches of the Everglades.

Sacrificing more farmland in the Ag Reserve simply isn’t worth the prospect of adding thousands of new homes.

Online: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/


Dec. 5

Tampa Bay Times on a student’s lawsuit over sexual assault and the University of South Florida’s approach to Title IX:

Faced with a student’s lawsuit over sexual assault, the University of South Florida is struggling with an issue that is roiling college campuses nationwide. The case raises concerns about how well USF has protected and supported a woman who felt victimized by a fellow student, in turn putting a focus on its overall handling of sexual assault complaints. USF should use this moment to re-evaluate its practices to ensure it is doing enough to help victims while protecting the rights of the accused.

Samantha Garrett, a 26-year-old doctoral student, said she was sexually assaulted last fall by another student in her psychology program. About three weeks passed before Garrett told a professor about the attack - delays in reporting sexual assaults are not unusual - and the school launched an investigation. The accused student, Andrew Thurston, was found responsible for violating the student code of conduct for “non-consensual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact.” As Times staff writer Claire McNeill reported, Thurston was given the choice of a formal hearing or accepting sanctions. He chose the sanctions, which his attorney says does not equate to admitting responsibility. He denies the allegations and has not been charged with a crime.

The case underscores both the delicate balance schools must strike in seeking justice in such cases, and the importance of their role separate from the criminal justice system. Accusations of criminal conduct should be handled by the police and the courts. But criminal cases can fall apart for many reasons, and sexual assault cases are especially difficult to prosecute. There are often no witnesses other than the accuser and the accused. If time has elapsed, there may be no physical evidence.

The federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX requires colleges and universities to protect students from discrimination. Guided by Title IX, universities can make accommodations for course work, providing mental health services or allowing a transfer to a different class or dorm to separate alleged victims and perpetrators.

This is where USF’s response to Garrett seems to have fallen short. The sanctions Thurston accepted, according to the lawsuit, were a deferred suspension through May 2018, allowing him to continue his studies on campus; two meetings with a university official; and a request that he “refrain from making contact” with Garrett. So Garrett may continue facing Thurston in parking lots, campus buildings and classrooms. As a result, she says, she has experienced panic attacks and dropped three classes. That does not sound like equal access to education.

It’s possible, of course, for the pendulum to swing too far the other way. During the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education issued new guidelines, including a requirement that colleges use the lowest standard of proof in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, and opened investigations of schools it suspected of mishandling sexual misconduct cases. Victims’ rights groups cheered, but there was legitimate concern that the rights of accused students were not being adequately protected. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has proposed revisions, most notably restoring the use of the higher standard of proof that previously had been used, which was clear and convincing evidence. What she has proposed is reasonable and will undergo rigorous review, factoring in public comment, before taking effect.

Universities have an obligation to protect equal access to education. It’s no easy charge, and USF should constantly strive to be responsive, decisive and fair.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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