Eating the Elephant: The Revitalization of Daytona Beach

“The objective of a community is not merely to survive, but to progress, to go forward into an ever-increasing enjoyment of the blessings conferred by the rich resources of this nation under the benefaction of the Supreme Being for the benefit of all the people of that community.

If a well-governed city were to confine its governmental functions merely to the task of assuring survival, if it were to do nothing but to provide ‘basic services’ for an animal survival, it would be a city without parks, swimming pools, zoo, baseball diamonds, football gridirons and playgrounds for children. Such a city would be a dreary city indeed.

As man cannot live by bread alone, a city cannot endure on cement, asphalt and sewer pipes alone.

A city must have a municipal spirit beyond its physical properties, it must be alive with an esprit de corps, its personality must be such that visitors—both business and tourist—are attracted to the city, pleased by it and wish to return to it.

That personality must be one to which the population contributes by mass participation in activities identified with that city.”

From the concurring opinion of Justice Musmanno in Conrad v. City of Pittsburgh

I was reminded of Justice Musmanno’s opinion while reading a recent Daytona Beach News-Journal editorial, “Reclaim beachside with the power of fun.”

It seems simplistic to believe that the entrenched problems of blight, crime and homelessness – intractable struggles which have plagued beachside neighborhoods for years –  can somehow be diminished by free entertainment at the Bandshell – but it certainly can’t hurt.

As Dino Paspalakis, President of the Friends of the Bandshell, said – “Gives folks something to do.”

I’ve been hyper-critical of the City of Daytona Beach and the County of Volusia for their habitual inability to address the many serious issues facing the important core tourist area of A-1-A and points west.

They just seem incapable of progress.  On anything.

Like most political conundrums in Volusia County, the over-analysis, posturing and endless droning by inept politicians and their clueless staff does little, if anything, to actually correct the underlying conditions.

Take the issue of chronic homelessness as an example.

The powers that be have kicked that can so far down the road it’s now taken the form of essentially throwing money at slumlords for vacant motel space to house the habitually homeless.

We, the people, have heard so many bait-and-switch “suggestions” – a few of which sounded promising – only to have the rug pulled out from under us that now it’s just confusing – for me, anyway.

Trust me, I’ve said for months that this has nothing to do with long-term problem solving – and everything to do with who gets their head in the public trough.

Remember last winter when I said that this debacle would ultimately boil down to who gets the money?

Recently, some 30 “community leaders” got together at Daytona State College for a three-hour jaw-bump about how to best deal with the issue.

Again, it was little more than an exercise in hot air generation, but the one thing that did emerge from the confab was some strategic hand-wringing by a representative of something called the Florida Housing Coalition – which appears to be populated by bankers, real estate types, appraisers, and property managers – all bent on promoting the Golden Goose benefits of government subsidized housing.

Not surprisingly, the president of the FHC, Susan Pourciau, suggested that Daytona Beach take advantage of its existing housing stock with the goal of getting a homeless person from an emergency shelter and into a subsidized apartment or home within 30-days.

According to Pourciau, “It seems counter-intuitive to put someone with no income in an apartment, but it turns out that’s what sets them up for success,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to get a job out of an apartment.”

In my view, it doesn’t just seem counter-intuitive – it’s ludicrous.

What Susan failed to mention is that it also sets owners of low income rental properties up for success when their rental income is guaranteed by you and me.

It’s a win-win – unless you happen to be the taxpayer footing the bill.

Then it’s your quality of life that suffers when roads deteriorate, recreational amenities go away, and core services are reduced because your municipality is deeply engaged in a very expensive and “counter-intuitive” social experiment.

You know the old adage, “Give a man a fish and he’ll keep coming back, day-in-and-day-out, taking increasingly larger and more expensive fish from you because now he feels entitled to your fish, and your initial generosity has now established a customary practice that guarantees him access to your fish” or something like that?

Well, it’s true.

In my view, putting a chronically homeless person who is either incapable or unwilling to support themselves with absolutely no other resources or support simply sets up a situation where we are doing little more than warehousing people.

How does this scenario possibly help someone long-term – beyond giving them four walls and a roof?  If government all but ensures that your hierarchy of needs are met, where is the incentive to escape?

And more important – where does it end?

If there is one element that has contributed to the cancerous degradation of east Volusia communities, it’s the prevalence of fleabag motels in the major commercial corridors of Ridgewood and Atlantic Avenues.

If you want to point a finger at active crime and blight incubators, you need look no further than these over-mortgaged, under managed and poorly maintained dumps that harbor itinerant drug dealers, prostitution, and nuisance crime.

Prior to the convenience of Interstate 95, the main route to South Florida was U.S.-1.  During these early years, quaint mom-n-pop motels called “tourist courts” serviced travelers from Jacksonville to Miami.

Over time these properties have evolved into transient housing for a segment of the local population trapped between homelessness and low-income housing.  Those who by virtue of the Halifax area’s pervasive paycheck-to-paycheck existence simply cannot afford the requisite first month, last month and security deposit required to transition to an apartment.

Over three decades in local law enforcement, I have seen babies born and raised in these motels – who later raised families of their own in the same dilapidated and deplorable conditions.

An endless cycle of inescapable poverty, addiction and hopelessness.

In my view, if you want to help someone – these folks have demonstrated the ability to pay $300+ per week to keep a roof over their heads, and with a temporary rent subsidy, they just might be successful.

In other areas of our state, these blighted properties have been bought-up and torn down to make way for redevelopment and private investment. In my view, even vacant property is preferable to these service-sucking, vermin infested holes that drag down both the appearance and property values of everyone around them.

I doubt the Daytona Beach City Commission had the Hilton in mind when they agreed to place some 80 long-term homeless in area motels at a weekly cost to the taxpayers of between $6,000 and $16,000.  So while Mr. Chisholm and company seek to repair one problem, they exacerbate yet another.

Our elected officials have known since January – seven months – that the temporary fix afforded by the Salvation Army had an expiration date.  Yet these dunces are still no closer to a viable solution than they were last winter.

So, ultimately, they fall back to the only solution government knows – throw money at it.

Essentially, the same ineffective politicians have deferred finding a solution to the same ineffective staff members and the circle goes round-and-around.  You know, like suggesting we place a homeless shelter in the dead center of a yacht basin – one of the few truly “upscale” locations in downtown Daytona, then blame the NIMBY factor when their wholly inappropriate idea is rejected.

Unbelievable.

At the end of the day, we find ourselves grasping at anything positive – regardless of how disconnected from the core issues it may be – as a way of keeping the light in our community’s eyes from being extinguished altogether.

In my view, the good work of the Friends of the Bandshell in presenting the annual summer concert series is nothing short of admirable.  Clearly, the shows are bringing more local families to the long-neglected boardwalk area and that is an extremely encouraging step forward.

For the past few years we have attended several seasonal concerts at the Bandshell and in each case have left very satisfied with both the venue, amenities and the quality of the entertainment.

If you haven’t been, it’s a very fun evening, although, as with most things, you sometimes have to take your pleasure with some pain.

Trust me – planning is everything.

Our logistics for taking in a Bandshell concert involve arriving early and aggressively jostling for a parking space in the elevated garage across from Ocean Walk.  This involves copious use of the car horn, steely-eye determination, and polished heel/toe driving skills.

You’ll see what I mean. . .

Remember, it’s a drive-free beach at the boardwalk so parking is limited to county-owned space – especially with predatory tow trucks circling the nearby empty parking lots of deserted strip centers like hammerhead sharks.

Once the ugliness of the elevated garage is sorted out, it’s a short elevator ride and walk across the concourse to the stairs, through the breezeway, around the corner, down the steps, and onto the Bandshell grounds.

When you arrive, take a minute to visit “Richie Plaza” – the France funded monument to former Mayor Glenn Richie’s many civic accomplishments.  A beautiful tribute that stands out, literally, like a pearl in the sow’s ear that is beachside Daytona.

One of the main conveniences of the venue is the ability to rent a comfortable plastic lawn chair from the City of Daytona Beach.

From there, it’s simply a matter of finding an open spot in the crowd.

Over time, we’ve learned that the best place for taking in the show is at extreme stage right – directly in front of the loudspeaker tower, near the bar, and adjacent to the boardwalk access.

This spot positions you perfectly for the “show within a show” that begins just after sunset.

That’s when the same group of half-drunk, zombie-like vagrants emerge from the shadows of the boardwalk like clockwork and begin staking out their turf by plopping-down in the vacant rented seats of paying visitors who have temporarily left for the bar or the bathroom.

Then, the “Theatre of the Absurd” begins.

Now, picture in your mind’s eye the comical scenario that ensues when the fan with a rental chair returns from the bathroom to find a fellow concertgoer – one who has taken to the convenience of urinating in his pants for the past few days – occupying his/her spot!

Oh, Lawdy!  We laugh till our sides hurt!  It’s like watching one of Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” episodes!

The look on the unfortunate persons face who actually rented the chair – hands full of nacho’s and beer – returning to their seat and staring down, slack-jawed, at the chemically-altered bearded weirdo now warming their chair with his wet, sand-encrusted ‘jorts’ is just priceless.

Add to that our fellow Patron of the Arts who has been sleeping in a tattered business suit under the pier for the past month, and who is now screaming incoherently above the music into an inactive cell phone – which he suddenly and violently throws to the ground in front of me, smashing it into small shards that fly into my bare ankles – and you truly have a magical night to remember in Daytona Beach.

How fun.

You might think I’m being facetious – I’m not.

We actually prefer to sit in that area of the venue just to watch the wacky hijinks of the always comical wandering hobo’s.

Let’s face it, “tribute bands” are either really good – or really bad – there is very little in-between.  So it helps to have a diversion when your Billy Joel impersonator looks and sounds like a used car dealer from Hoboken.

As regular readers of this blog know – I’m a simple asshole who makes light of everything – so don’t take my word for it.  Check it out for yourself.

These are truly serious problems that have no easy answer, and I’m sure my fun-poking doesn’t help the process.  But just maybe it brings attention to the issues.

Perhaps we should take our small victories when and where we can.

After all, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, and Lord knows we have a huge woolly mammoth dinner on our collective plate in Volusia County.  But I agree that the simple act of providing people with a free diversion has gone a long way to returning life to areas of our community that have suffered for far too long.

We need a lot of things fixed in Volusia County – and we can no longer afford the same stagnate and ineffective cycle of incompetence that our current officials are seemingly incapable of escaping.

But that’s what elections are for, eh?

We are beginning to see glimmers of hope – such as the good work of Friends of the Bandshell and other all-volunteer change agents who are working hard to improve things and breathe life into a community desperately trying to escape the dreariness Justice Musmanno so eloquently described.

So long for now, I’m off to buy some rental property. . .

 

One thought on “Eating the Elephant: The Revitalization of Daytona Beach

  1. Well Mark, this is a really enlightening post. Especially because I just rented a big room at the Plaza for the FREE Aug. 27 Rolling Stones tribute show at the Bandshell (I Live in Edgewater, you see, and want to have a few drinks at the show and not have to drive). Have invited friends and family to this one, too. Heard a little about the homeless “problem” at these shows. But wow, you really explained it. What a drag. So we got to be on the lookout for bums at this show? That’s what the homeless used to be called: BUMS. Worthless vagabonds who just want to get high and avoid work. I have been called a worthless vagabond before, but I never avoided work. Hell, even when I was a hippie I always wanted to earn money, because that’s what I believed made the world go round. Now, these “homeless” people, or bums, have learned to game the system to stay high, eat fairly well and live “The Life of Reilly.” That’s just my own humble opinion. But it sure is a royal drag when they intrude on the lives and happiness and good times of people who are working hard and paying their bills. For example, it is a sin to me that the good people of East Volusia cannot enjoy the beauty of Riverfront Park because it is so infested with these worms and bums! All right, I’ve had my say. Thanks. Hope I don’t have to deal with the so-called “homeless” at the Stones tribute. I have been known to have a strong punch.

    Like

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