A few weeks ago, I explored the proposition that residents cannot prevail on most issues within the political arena at City Hall…..simply put, I believe the political process is stacked against the resident in favor of the land owner(s), the developer(s) and their politically connected attorney(s), architects, and consultants.
In most cases, opinions ‘de jour’ are offered into evidence by these ‘hired guns‘, justifying whatever posture is most favorable for the advancement of their individual project. Examples of this are too numerous to outline here. Many hours are spent by the developer interest with city staff and with lobbying efforts directed at the appointed and elected official.
Relatively few hours, if any, are spent with the affected resident by the project applicant, a strategy that, if employed, may quell some of the negative sentiments of the residents before entering into a confrontational process.
In Part 1, the conclusion reached was that residents must seek redress against this stacked deck in forums other than the political process. A prediction that now seems to be playing itself out.
Let’s take a look….
In a recent grass root movement over a development dispute in West Palm Beach, a watchdog resident group retained counsel to challenge the City’s process. Those residents fought the legal process in both the political arena and the Circuit Court resulting in an out of court cash settlement agreement with the developer leaving a well-funded resident group for future watchdog activities. WPB’s mayor called this process “extortion”….
Funny, when residents use the process successfully, its extortion, but when local government uses these same processes its good governance….
In Boca Raton significant items in this regard need to be reported:
1) There are at least three (3) different neighborhood resident groups that have engaged legal counsel to monitor, and, potentially seek Circuit Court redress for improper or legally insufficient approved development orders;
2) There are now multiple complaints filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics working their way through that process and challenging the activities of the City Council and its agency appointments; and,
3) There is research being conducted to determine ways to engage the Palm Beach Inspector General and the State Attorney’s office when intentional misrepresentation are offered under oath by applicants and/or their representatives to the reviewing body; to wit: the City Council, the P&Z board, and the City Staff during the review process.
Most of these efforts are a direct result of the deep public sentiment that resident concerns are not given a fair hearing when the elected and appointed officials seem to accept, as true, facts that are empirically questionable and, with diligent research, factually inaccurate.
The process is skewed. Appointments to the review boards are weighted with the very professionals vested in the outcomes of the advisory body upon which they serve.
These advising bodies would be more responsive to residents’ sentiment if their makeup were a broader personality of residents; to wit: ordinary residents with a community lifestyle stake in the outcome of the development patterns and process.
Elected officials are representative of all the residents not merely responsive to the developer interest alone. That sentiment is lost within the broader community.
It is sad that our city’s way of governing has come to this. It should always be remembered – We collectively elected these officials (or at least some of them), so much of the remorse is our own. That said, we can hope that not too much more damage is done prior to the next election. So vote. And recruit lots of other voters. In our town, a few hundred votes can win an election.
What always seems to get lost in these “residents vs developers” arguments is the basic understanding that ALL property owners have the basic right to use their property as they desire, subject to reasonable regulation designed to protect against the negative impact on others (residents, property owners, interested parties, etc.). Obviously the problem then becomes what is reasonable. Without continual property development and redevelopment a city stagnates and cannot maintain its vibrance – evidence of this can be seen throughout the nation. Always casting the ‘developers’ as the bad guys doesn’t really advance the interests of the residents, it just makes a ‘bad situation’ worse. Anyone who lived in Boca before the development of Mizner Park should remember that the ‘downtown’ area was just 2 or 3 buildings and a post office – a directionless, static city. I am not a developer nor do I represent a developer … merely a 25 year resident transplanted New Yorker knowing who knows the advantages (and disadvantages) of City life. It’s a good point – raised by some, that the various City ‘advisory’ boards need to be revitalized and populated with people who are not mouthpieces for any special interests, other than the ensuring the City remains vibrant and a great place to live.