It wasn’t even supposed to be one of the more controversial topics on this morning’s busy Palm Coast City Council agenda, at least not yet. You could tell, so could council members, just from seeing who was presenting the item: Brittany Kershaw, the city’s communications director, arguably the cheeriest and most apolitical government employee in the county.
The council’s priorities include ensuring a “resilient economy” and planning for a very long horizon, to 2045. The council agreed at a previous workshop to develop a survey of residents on apartment housing in the city, with the city’s long-term comprehensive plan in mind. (The comprehensive plan is the city’s long-range blueprint for development, not specific, day-to-day zoning and planning decisions.) The topic itself can be controversial, but one of the ideas behind the survey is to demystify the issue and give council members another tool to gauge their way through the issue.
Less than 30 minutes later, however, Council member Eddie Branquinho, seeing that he wasn’t getting his way, was declaring “I don’t belong here,” standing up from his seat, walking out–storming out is the usual cliche when someone makes a theatrical scene of exiting–and very possibly leaving his brief future on the council in doubt.
He had wanted his two specific questions on apartment and single-family home construction, and only his two questions, issued in one city-wide survey. His colleagues weren’t comfortable with that, for many reasons. So he threw up his hands.
“I don’t belong here. I’ll rethink my future as of today, because I don’t belong here.I don’t want to do this to the people of Palm Coast,” Branquinho said, gathering his papers and exiting stage right. “Being here and not caring for the people of Palm Coast–that’s exactly what you do, okay? Thank you very much. And let me think about my future, sir, and I’ll have an answer for you by the end of the next week.”
There are four months left on Branquinho’s term. If he leaves, with the election so close, the council has the option either to yet again to go through the exercise of advertising the seat to fill it by appointment for what would end up being a handful of meetings or, as is more likely, exercising the option the charter provides for: ” If said vacancy occurs within six (6) months of the next regularly scheduled election, the remaining Council members may delay the appointment.”
But a council with an even membership leaves it vulnerable to motions dying for lack of seconds or lack of a majority: any tie vote on a motion defeats the motion. Branquinho’s. bailing would leave the council short on the cusp of critical budget votes, though council dynamics have been such that divided votes have receded almost to insignificance.
After Council member Victor Barbosa’s resignation earlier this year, and his replacement by the more thoughtful and analytical John Fanelli, the two most disruptive voices on the council had been Ed Danko and Branquinho. But Danko’s tempers have also receded–he respects and defers to Mayor David Alfin’s leadership–and Branquinho would be gone: as unthinkable as that might have been a year ago, the council has the potential for returning to an all-business, no-drama zone, at least until for a Prague-Spring-like four months until the November election. That election’s results carries potential again for council head-spinning a-la-Regan.
Asked later by text if he was serious about potentially not returning, Branquinho said: “Need time to think about it.”
Kershaw began today’s item early in the meting with a straightforward summary of what the council had directed, including working up a survey this year. It would be conducted by Senior Planner Jose Papa (another shaman of apolitical calm in the city). There’d be neighborhood meetings paired with a “comprehensive” survey of “all residential dwelling units.” By comprehensive, Kershaw means one that would combine all issues related to growth, not just about apartments, to avoid “survey fatigue.”
Kershaw noted that Branquinho had already submitted two questions he wanted included: “Are you in favor of additional multi-family housing development in the City of Palm Coast,” with only a courtroom-like option of answering yes or no. And another question asking whether the respondent is in favor of allowing single-family homes to be built on lots 25, 50, 60 and 80 feet wide.
Both questions are, of course, highly tendentious: as a premise, they are being asked overwhelmingly of existing single-family home dwellers (apartment dwellers remain a tiny minority) living overwhelmingly in ITT-type quarter-acre lots. Judging from innumerable rezoning and other land-use hearings before the council and its planning board, those residents overwhelmingly oppose smaller lots and apartments, often to the point of naked prejudice and ill-informed fabrications about who lives in those dwellings (what County Development Director Adam Mengel referred to as “those people,” a prejudice he decried as offensive during a County Commission hearing Monday night).
So the fix would be in: the survey would likely return with overwhelming opposition to apartments and smaller lots, even though the market now demands both, while the single-family lot, driven by issues of space, environment, cost and access, is losing its once sacred spot in the pantheon of American housing. (In Palm Coast alone, the median price for a single family home has doubled from $200,000 to $400,000 just since 2018, according to the Flagler County Association of Realtors.)
On the other hand, it’s also up to the council to close the gates and make precisely the sort of policy decisions Branquinho favors–severely limit apartment construction and focus on quarter-acre, single-family home construction. But that’s not where the city’s comprehensive plan is, and it’s not where the majority of the council is, looking forward.
It’s also not where the law is. Nor would the survey give the council a tool to circumvent law. “What makes me nervous and what you cannot do is take the results of this survey and use it when you’re considering future quasi judicial matters that come before you,” City Attorney Neysa Borkert said. “You cannot say for example, if a multifamily project came before you say, Well, I’m not going to approve this because people don’t want it and that’s based on what the survey said. As you know, and as I’ve told the Council on other occasions, quasi judicial proceedings have to be determined by the evidence that’s presented to the council, on the record. It can’t be determined by outside factors, and this would be an outside factor.”
On the other hand, the survey answers could be used to guide future comprehensive plan projections, the attorneys aid.
Palm Coast government’s survey questions have not been written. That’s why those community meetings: “So through that process, we will create create one big survey to have public input so that we can get everyone’s take from the community,” Kershaw told the council, already laying out a more inclusive approach. for that reason, it was suggested that these questions be included. In that survey, instead of having a standalone survey with just these two questions. But again, that’s not your direction.”
I wouldn’t mind at all these two questions because in my mind, they’re the most important ones,” Branquinho said. “Anything else when it comes to housing, it’s just going to be loaded questions. It’s going to be to distract people.” He said all he was asking for was to listen to Palm coast residents, before he repeated his theme, this time giving in unabashedly to those people-type prejudice Mengel warned about: “if we keep on building this we’re going to have a new work over here. And I could say this because I came from there.” The statement was barely coded language (Newark is only 27 percent white). He then added a reference to New York’s Bronx to further the point and claim another misconception: that apartments bring crime in steeper proportions than in single-family housing.
At one point Branquinho appealed to Danko as a fellow-supporter of his thoughts on apartments and crime, but Danko disabused him: “I did live in apartments before I purchased a home many years ago, the Washington DC area, and I just want to say I’ve never had any crime where I lived,” Danko said. “I just wanted to make sure I thought you were inferring that I might have said there was a criminal thing or something where I lived. I had no problem.” Alfin said he started his career and raised his first child in an apartment.
Alfin was concerned about Branquinho’s yes-or-no question because it has no context: council members themselves don’t know how many apartment units there are in the city or what may be needed. And he was worried about setting a precedent that would then lead to similar surveys every time an important issue occurs. Still, he had no objection to Branquinho’s two questions, with a caveat: the questions should have context.
But Branquinho was adamant: he wanted his two questions in a survey–and only his two questions (“I will be vividly vividly in favor of a two question survey.” It would not be a scientific survey.
“I don’t see us getting much out of this,” Danko said, “other than pushing it into more of a conversation like we’re having now. But I think it’s a waste of time and money. If you want to put these questions in our annuals survey, that–I’m good with that. But stand alone, I really don’t see any point because it’s not going to give us an accurate response.”
Fanelli agreed: “If you put out a survey with two questions on it, you’re going to get the people that have a specific opinion on those two questions,” he said. “If you roll it into an annual survey or comprehensive survey, then you may get a more diverse group of people responding to it because they’re responding to a whole survey, not just to how they feel about those two questions.” Klufas, for his part, also would favor only survey questions placed in their proper context–not throwing out just two questions.
That returned the option to Kershaw to issue questions as part of a larger, comprehensive-plan survey, though even then Fanelli had concerns with the dogmatic wording of Branquinho’s question.
When Branquinho again asked his colleagues whether they were in favor of his stand-alone questions in a stand-alone survey and it was clear they were not, he walked out.
E, ROBOT says
Apartments is code for public housing.
Randy Bentwick says
And being against “public housing” (I assume you mean government subsidized housing which gives people with less means than the likes of you to be able to afford a place to live) is code for redneck maga bigot.
Deborah Coffey says
Anyone who considers leaving an elected position has already checked out.
It is time Branquinho steps aside to make room from a more statesmen like person to fill the position and move Palm Coast into the future. The questions he wants inserted into the survey are slanted and in complete opposition to the states initiative of identifying workforce housing locations, not “FHFC affordable housing” you know Branquinho don’t want those people living here.
Eddie, its time to go!
Warmweather Cruiser says
Here we go again. The children at city hall are at it again. Acting like a bunch of grade school kids. Can’t seem to do anything good for the residents of the city. The only one that at times seems to care is Mr. Branquinho. From the voting to give themselves those ridicules raises, the Green Lion fiasco, the Waste Pro contract and numerus other screw ups the whole bunch of them clowns need to go. We have the worst city leaders of central Florida. It’s a joke and embarrassment to tell anyone that I live in Palm Coast and I’ve been here for 26 yrs. CITIZENS need to Rember this come election time. THEY ALL NEED TO GO ! from the mayor on down
Concerned Citizen says
I’ll say what I’ve been saying on other posts of this nature.
Flagler County desperatley needs to clean house. And get folks who will represent us. We surely don’t need grown man children running around breaking the law and throwing temper tantrums.
If I went to work and got pissy then walked out I wouldn’t have a job to return to. As it should be. This guy wasted time while being paid to perform a sworn duty. He shouldn’t be allowed back in. And owes his constiuents and co-workers an apology at the least. I’m not sure how they get paid but that pay needs to be stopped as soon as he walked out.
Listen up all you Flagler County Officials. You were elected to do a job. You took an oath to do a job. That oath holds you to higher standards. Either perform the job ethically and morally AT ALL TIMES. Or get out of the way and let someone else do it.
OK Flagler County. This is another wake up call for the voters at the polls. Stop electing these folks over and over again. And expecting change. Because it will not happen.
Do you know the difference between the City and County governments? Apparently not. We are talking about the Palm Coast City Council here.
Hulk Logan says
When the going gets tough….
If you don’t want to hear the truth, (from the voters) don’t ask the question. WHAT’S THE NUMBER? HOW MANY?
more looney tune cartoon
Peaches McGee says
More buffoonery! And you expected something else?
I am not sure why so many people are against apartment dwellings. Not everyone wants to own a home and deal with the ongoing issues of maintenance etc. Some people are seniors or perhaps someone is here on a temporary job basis and does not want the responsibility of owning a house if they need to transfer somewhere else and how about teachers or law enforcement who can’t afford to buy a house because they do not make enough in salary.
Go ahead and bash me for my comments. I expect it.
Deborah Coffey says
No bashing at all. I completely agree! But, one of the persistent problems of the Republican City Council is that the members continue approving more apartments and houses and do not plan the needed infrastructure and school growth that goes with Palm Coast’s rising population.
The ORIGINAL land of no turn signals says
At least he’s standing up for himself.More apartments hell they will blend in with the storage units.
Eddie just leave already!
jeffery c. seib says
Too many apartments too fast results in a pack-em-in city. We need to slow the entire wagon down. There is no reason, other than the buildup anything beliefs of the city council. We need to have a discussion of how we the people, not the development interests want our city to be.
Agreed 100%. Palm Coast is getting to look like a rat trap, the traffic here is enormous doesn’t look like you live in palm coast anymore, we don’t need more apartments, we need to redesign the roads, so we could better commute.
Crusty Old Salt says
A general comment without knowing what property is zoned: if property is zoned for multi-family which may include apartments, the Commission/ Council would get legal pushback in most, if not all cases if downzoned to a lesser density. Once the entitlements are in place, the Commission or Council would be hard pressed to “down zone” the property to single family residential, regardless of the results of a survey. Also, the Comprehensive plan and the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) would play a very significant role in the decision making process from a legal standpoint.
Branquinho committed a fatal sin of walking out on his duties as an elected official AT A MEETING. Worst yet, the tax rate and budget discussion hadn’t even occurred yet. So he misses all that for a dumb survey? He’s the clear outsider, and has been for a few months. He refused to attend the State of the City and some other stuff. The weird part is, there’s no real reason for his self-destruction other than his ego. I mean, here you have a former law enforcement guy, everybody in the world respects that. So, he gets sideways on this multifamily moratorium nonsense he was pushing, and instead of conceding defeat, which could have happened by him just understanding he doesn’t have support of his fellow councilmembers (can’t win all the battles)…Branquinho doubles and triples down on a terrible policy which highlights an ugly bias. Who among us hasn’t lived in an apartment or shared space with somebody at some point? If you haven’t, I’d bet you’re in the minority.
Isn’t there somebody that shakes this guy and says, “Hey, look at the big picture here, there is so much more important stuff going on (like taxes and budget) than your nutty obsession against apartments. The video is really damning, because the Mayor was literally in the middle of trying to make some progress and build consensus on an issue, and Branquinho blows up and storms out.
Meanwhile…Ed Danko has been really normal lately. What the hell is going on? :)
Call me Ishmael says
The Antonio Brown of Palm Coast government.
He’s trying to do damage control and be nice so we will all forget and vote him back in and also the new people that moved here recently will see him as “nice” and vote for him. Voters have short memories but I hope most of people will know the “real Joe” for his very bad persona and vote him out.
Randy Bentwick says
The trend of elected officials acting like petulant toddlers (which began in 2016) just keeps on growing. And the worst part is – there seems to be more voters who support them than don’t.
John Stove says
What a baby….he needs to attend “having difficult conversations” training