By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – During the Regular Commission Meeting held yesterday, Tuesday, May 19th, the City of Delray Beach took stock of the reopening process so far, and discussed what and when “Phase 2” would be. The city also had to be realistic about the crowds at July 4th celebrations, and fireworks and large events will likely be canceled.
City Manager, George Gretsas, explained that because the Delray Beach is not even in Phase 2 yet, it may be wasteful to allocate resources to such a large event that will likely not happen. “We have to start making commitments on vendors for Fourth of July,” he confirmed.
Adding, “You had 80,000 people there last year, it’s hard to imagine – even if you get to Phase 3 by the Fourth of July. In Phase 3 they recommend significant limits to crowds, so the plan right now is to cancel.”
City Parks and Recreation Director, Sam Metott, explained, “one of the major reasons we need to look at this is because of the fireworks and barge rental, you need to have a decision made ahead of time.” The barge and fireworks budget is approximately $70,000.
He added that looking around the county, some municipalities have canceled altogether already, while others are looking at a virtual option firing off their fireworks display and streaming in some fashion. “However, many of those municipalities are not coastal and therefore they’re not almost doubling the expense because of the rental of the barge as well,” he said.
There was discussion about what the holiday means to America and how the City could support family gatherings and backyard barbecues. The Commission asked city staff to provide some plans at the next meeting to do something special to help everyone celebrate safely.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia said regretfully, “I would be in favor of canceling our traditional over-the-top barge and fireworks and 80,000 people event, but I hope city staff will work something out. Find a creative way to celebrate as a city.”
The City of Delray Beach has aligned with state and county reopening in what is called the “Full Phase 1”, in almost all restrictions except the beach. This has been done in slower stages partially due to Miami-Dade and Broward counties to the south not having their beaches opened yet.
There is a lot of passionate frustration being hurled on social media about not reopening fast enough, however they seem to be the vocal minority. The Facebook Group Delray Beach Community Forum posted a survey and although not scientific research, indicates the majority are not ready to attend larger events.
At the time of writing, 277 took the survey, and only 44 (15.8 percent) voted that the are “good to go.. I’ll definitely go to larger outdoor events.” While 164 (59.2 percent) voted that they were not planning to attend larger events until there is a drop in Covid-19 cases, and 65 (23.5 percent) voted they would not attend until there is a vaccine. Four percent said they would never be in large crowds anyway.
Group Admin Gregg Weiss said, “I’m not surprised by the poll results at all.[…] That follows most major national polling results as well which are finding people are erring to the side of caution as the pandemic continues on.”
In regard to the polarization, he shared, “While Covid-19 is apolitical, those who discuss the various aspects of the pandemic are not. As evidenced by the commentary in our group, other groups we run and the commentary we’ve seen on other social media platforms, Covid-19 has absolutely become a political talking point.”
Adding, “In the absence of clearly defined information and plan of action coupled with leaders seemingly pushing aside guidance and advice from those whose job it is to provide such guidance creates a vacuum in which political divisiveness explodes unabated.”
During yesterday’s Regular Commission Meeting, City Manager Gretsas also mapped out what “Phase 2” reopening will be. The next phase will include social gatherings of up to fifty people. Restaurants allowing 75 percent capacity indoors and no restrictions outdoors, and bars being allowed to open at fifty percent occupancy.