Skip the blabber and take the survey here.
Just over two weeks ago Palm Coast City Council members agreed in a workshop to do what’s never been done before: survey residents about the code enforcement rule that forbids work or commercial vehicles with exposed signs to be parked in residential driveways for an y reason other than a work call.
The ban has been in place since the city’s founding but has flared into controversies from time to time, with some residents or business groups finding it unreasonable and others finding it necessary to maintain the city’s orderliness. The Palm Coast City Council is itself divided, with Mayor Milissa Holland and Council members Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho hesitant to relax the rule and Council members Ed Danko and Victor Barbosa favoring relaxation. Barbosa has had his own public run-in with code enforcement over that very issue, which he complied with at the 11th hour to avoid an appearance before the code enforcement board. But they all agreed to explore the possibility.
Today, the city issued the one-question online survey, which asks: “Would you be in favor of amending the Code of Ordinance Sec. 44-34 (C) to allow ONE commercial vehicle (passenger car, panel van, pickup truck or similar) with advertising markings to park in a residential driveway?”
But the survey is somewhat flawed.
The question follows two sets of perspectives–seven of them in favor of the change, seven against, in an attempt to keep the question framed in as neutral a way as possible. The favorable perspectives point to Palm Coast no longer being a retirement community, to the allowance reflecting a more business-friendly attitude and one more respectful toward essential businesses, and to making life easier for workers.
At the opposite end, opposition to the change reflects a desire to preserve the aesthetic environment residents chose when moving to Palm Coast. The change would not be “harmonious” with the residential character of Palm Coast’s streets. The city would be unable to regulate the content of the signs.
But the set of statements “opposed to the change” includes a few misleading ones. For example, it states that “Allowing commercial vehicles in driveways invites business activity into residential neighborhoods.” In fact, the vehicles in question are currently allowed, and the type of “business activity” they conduct is conducted routinely, from air conditioning repair to plumbing to electrical work to roofing to cable and satellite and phone installations, and so on. When work vans are on such calls, there is no ban on their signs being visible. All such work vans may also be parked in. residential driveways when not working, as long as they’re covered by a tarp: that doesn’t mean the parking is encouraging business activity.
The following statement is also misleading”: “Business activity can occur in early morning, late night or on call hours.” City code regulates business activity such as construction or lawn-mowing separately. That section of code would not be affected. The survey does not clarify that.
The statement that allowing the change “negatively impacts residential property values” is made as an asserted fact rather than presented as what it is: speculation. The statement is baseless and unsupported by evidence, and as such could be read as a sly attempt to scare and sway respondents.
Finally, the claim that “The City will be unable to regulate any content of vehicle signs or graphics” is true, but it’s true today of all such vehicles that crisscross city streets or periodically park for work calls in driveways. The statement is also not entirely true: while the city may not regulate signs’ content, it does have more than two dozen restrictive regulations in place.For example, “Signs containing statements, words, or pictures of an obscene nature,” in the city code’s wording, are banned, as are flashing or scrolling signs, and so on.
The survey defines commercial vehicles as “passenger car, panel van, pickup truck, or similar,” but does not explicitly say that larger vehicles would not be allowed regardless.
“Problem is that a lot of people get confused,” Council member Victor Barbosa–a proponent of relaxing the rule, had said at the workshop earlier this month. “We’re not talking about trucks. We’re talking about regular vehicles as being as big as just a van, cargo van. Not a truck, not a dump truck, not a semi. So it needs to be specified that it’s just as big as a work van, not bigger than that. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do that.”
The survey question includes four illustrations of commercial vehicles with signs that would be allowed.
At the same workshop, Bill Reischmann, the city attorney, said there was no “one size fits all definition of commercial vehicles.”
“To Mr. Reischmann’s point,” Mayor Milissa Holland said, “obviously the details are going to matter either way and the details are going to matter to the residents, frankly, what that looks like.”
The survey was initially proposed by Council member Eddie Branquinho. “I think we’re going to be in for a rude awakening,” he said at that meeting, regarding the anticipated results of the survey. “Just up to 10 questions. Survey it, and I’m just saying, food for thought.”
Council members on April 13 said they wanted to see the survey before it was issued. They did. But the administration held those meetings with council members individually, and council members provided their feedback that way, rather than in an open meeting, even though they were contributing to a document that is unquestionably part of the policy-making process: the survey will have a direct bearing on whether, and how, council members change the code enforcement ordinance. It’s a gray area of the law, but when elected officials are involved in such steps, their work at every step, because of its collective impact on a policy document, is usually conducted in the open, in accordance with the state’s open-meetings law.
“It was merely their input in regards to the format of the survey,” Brad West, the city’s spokesman, said, “it wasn’t polling them, it wasn’t tallying anything.” He said there’d been concerns about a previous survey’s lack of clarity that the city had conducted, he said, a lack of clarity the council members wanted to avoid.
One council member had complained of a previous survey’s “leading questions.”
Like previous surveys issued through the city’s online platforms, this one is also open to all, so the thousands of snowbirds or tourists who keep an eye on Palm Coast may take part, just as Flagler Beach or Bunnell or unincorporated Flagler residents surely will, just as anyone anywhere on the planet could also do so, while people locally could theoretically stack responses one way or the other. In previous surveys, the city did not publicly detail methodologies that would clearly indicate who took part and how, providing results in bulk even though results combined online and paper responses.
Nor has the city enabled or explained means that might limit survey numbers from being overly influenced by people who may not have driveways in the city: what right, for instance, might the resident of an assisted living facility or an apartment complex or a person who merely works or owns a business in the city have to judge how residential driveways might be policed?
Prone to some fabrication though their answers may be, survey questions specifying whether respondents live in the city’s residential neighborhoods might have at least reasonably narrowed the valid sample. But no such questions appear. Between the survey’s tendentious wording and its technical limitations, the results may end up being a lot more, or less, than they appear.
To vote in the survey, go here.
In a release the city issued this morning, announcing the survey, the city said a virtual town hall video would be released on May 7 regarding the code in question. “You can watch it on the city’s YouTube (@palmcoastgovtv) and Facebook (@palmcoastgov) channels,” the release stated. “Residents can learn about the history of the code, what is allowed in the current code, along with picture examples to educate the community about this topic.”