The Palm Coast City Council this morning voted 3-2 against changing its ordinance banning the parking of commercial vehicles in residential driveways, unless the vehicles are on a work call. An attempt to consider a referendum on the issue, assuming the question can be appended to the 2022 ballot at no additional cost, was set aside.
True to form, the council could not get through the latest of its controversial issues without some of its members devolving into acrimony, first between Council members Victor Barbosa and Eddie Branquinho, each yelling to the other–Al Pacino-style, but with less style–that he was out of order, Barbosa calling Branquinho “a little kid,” and Branquinho’s hammer keeping time with his anger (Branquinho had inherited the gavel since Mayor David Alfin had opted to make the motion on the question). Councilman Ed Danko at the end of the meeting again rudely attacked Councilman Nick Klufas, also calling him “kid” and deriding his intelligence, though it isn’t unusual for Danko to do so at almost every meeting.
Alfin, Klufas and Branquinho voted for keeping the commercial-vehicle ordinance as it is. Barbosa and Ed Danko voted against. A referendum is likely to ratify the council’s decision: half of Palm Coast’s residents do not work, and fewer still are the type of blue-collar workers who drive their work vehicles home.
The prohibition on such vehicles–unless they’re tarped–has been in place since the city’s founding in 1999. It does not apply to commercial vehicles during lunch hours (between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.) and does not apply to public safety vehicles. The prohibition still enjoys strong backing from residents and the Flagler County Associations of Realtors, one of whose representatives addressed th council today in opposition of a change. The Realtors’ opposition was ironic: the association has often pressured the city to relax its rule against signs in medians and other right of ways advertising open houses.
The council last spring reopened the issue of commercial vehicles–which has vexed the panel for years–at least to reconsider the ordinance. The council debated the matter several times since. It surveyed residents, albeit through an unscientific, web-based survey that proved useless as a guide to the discussion. That left Alfin opting for an up-or-down vote today.
For all its visibility, the issue drew just nine public comments–two of them favoring a change, one non-committal, and six against–though as one of the speakers noted, most of the workers affected are currently on job calls.
Mike Cocchiola spoke of “ambiance,” and cautioned against change. “I’m not sure if you go that route, how you would describe what is acceptable on the size of these vehicles and what is not acceptable,” Cocchiola said. “We know we have political divisions in this county and they’re pretty, pretty strong. We know, and I witnessed many times, really abhorrent language on the side of vehicles. Will that be allowed? How do you describe that, how do you describe pornography, how do you make those decisions in an ordinance? That concerns me a lot.”
Pam Richardson, a Realtor for 39 years, a former city council candidate and a former member of the city’s code enforcement board for five years, also argued against altering the code. “We attract a quality of life, and we have to continue to keep a quality of life,” she said. “Commercial vehicles are breaking the rules in every size, not just the small vans, as you state.” (Barbosa had noted at the beginning of the discussion that “we’re not changing the type of vehicle that is going to be allowed to park. What we’re changing is instead of you tarping your vehicle when you get home, you don’t have to tarp it anymore. It’s not changing shape, size of the vehicles. That’s the only thing.”)
“But when will it stop?” Richardson continued. “I have two semis tractors that park on my street, almost every weekend when they can and they say they’re washing their trucks. They’re destroying our roads. Our sewers are failing all throughout the P section, and several other of the neighborhoods.” She described being in the neighborhoods across town and “seeing the damage” being done.
Garrett Decker, on the other hand–also a Realtor, a former cop who used to park his patrol car in the driveway–favored relaxing the ordinance. “I want to put a sign on my car, I don’t like taking the magnets off all the time,” he told the council. (“Well, that’s why you have magnetic signs on your car. So it takes 20 seconds to take them off,” George Mayo, another resident, retorted moments later.) Decker’s point was broader: “There’s a number of businesses that want to move here, home based businesses that want to move here, but they can’t because they can’t advertise. We are limiting home based businesses really limiting other businesses from advertising,” he said. “One thing people aren’t talking about is, it’s going to save city council, it’s going to save the code enforcement time and money on enforcing these signs, which they can use it to enforce other issues around town, such as semis being parked because semis being allowed in the neighborhood is not part of this ordinance. This ordinance does not go into those, and people are misinformed.”
Klufas’s position has been clear all along–every council member’s position had been clear, except that of Alfin, though he had hinted often enough that he was against a change. But Klufas again today reiterated his hope that the matter be placed on the 2022 ballot, a position Alfin supported. Alfin’s original motion was both to keep the ordinance as is but to add the question to the referendum. “I am in favor of maintaining maintaining the code as currently enforced and also will favor a ballot vote on the item at the next opportunity provided as economically feasible,” the mayor said.
Danko, seething, objected, saying the agenda item called only for a single-issue consideration of the ordinance. Alfin didn’t contest the matter. The discussion that ensued between the council members was more blustery than the points made by the public–the contrast between the public’s conduct and that of council members was arresting–and the vote, by then its outcome foretold, was taken.
It was at the end of the meeting, during the council members’ own comments, that Danko’s anger again raged after Klufas chided him: “Facebook politics doesn’t work either,” Klufas said. “I see one of our council members sitting here taking pictures of us so that they can be posted on Facebook momentarily. That’s not how we should be representing ourselves and that’s not what our constituents deserve.”
“I took a picture, I wasn’t posting anything on Facebook,” Danko retorted. “All right, I take pictures occasionally up here, from my own memory my own collection.” He then insulted th councilman: “You’re like half our age kid. All right, maybe when you grow up someday you’ll learn a few things. Yeah, I’m sorry. I watched you make smirks at Victor, while he was talking, make your little stupid faces.”
The meeting’s indecorous exchanges again drew a gentle rebuke from Bill Reischmann, the council’s attorney. “I think it’s imperative that this council take a moment, consider this other rule of decorum that you have adopted, and that you agreed when you took your job to abide by.” He read the rule, again asked the council members to abide by it, and the meeting was adjourned. It isn’t likely that Reischmann’s admonition would be heard anymore than it has been so far.