We were remiss not to tell you about this sooner, but on the last day of February, a Palm Beach County judge handed down yet another win to Fane Lozman, the Marine Corps pilot turned millionaire stockbroker turned houseboat owner turned hero for the Little Man everywhere.
Lozman made national news in January when he won a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2006, Lozman had been living on his houseboat in Riviera Beach, at the city marina -- one of the few remaining places in South Florida where dockage remained affordable to the average boater. But of course, developers wanted to use the public property for private, commercial enterprises.
Lozman attended city meetings and fought politicians' last-minute efforts to sell the property to developers using eminent domain. For this, he suffered nasty retaliation from city officials, who had his houseboat seized and towed away under maritime law.
Lozman argued that they didn't have jurisdiction -- that his houseboat was a "floating home" and not a "vessel." That's the case he won in the Supreme Court.
As Lozman was fighting for his home, his cohorts back in Riviera Beach were also carrying on with another court battle to keep hungry profiteers at bay.
When Rybovich Marine wanted to lease land at the public marina for its commercial boat repair business, Lozman and other Riviera Beach residents formed the Riviera Beach Task Force. They successfully placed a question on the ballot for the November 2010 general election, asking whether there should be an amendment to the city charter to prohibit use of the municipal marina for anything other than public use. Voters approved the measure.
But in January 2011, the city held a closed-door (possibly illegal) meeting on how to reverse the matter. Also, a new citizens' group called the Committee for a Better Riviera Beach emerged, and it put forward another ballot question that would repeal the Task Force's amendment.
It was titled "Repeal of November 2010 Charter amendment which imposed restrictions on use of City Marina" and asked "Shall the City of Riviera Beach's Charter be amended to repeal the changes made to Article VII, Section 3.5, which were approved at the the November 2, 2010 General Election."
That passed too -- essentially giving the ball back to the developers.
But the Task Force members balked at the wording of the CBRB's language on the ballot and took it to court.
Just this February, Circuit Court Judge Glenn D. Kelley agreed that without context, "there is no way for the voter to determine what he or she is approving or disapproving" and ordered that the city couldn't delete the Task Force's amendment.
Score one for the little guys.
Riviera Beach City Attorney Pamala Ryan did not return a call yesterday.
Lozman said that he remains active with the Task Force and that he continues to be on the watch for corruption in the city. "No one has the time, money, and resources to stand up to them except me, and look at the price I paid."
Through the courts, he is still trying to recoup about $600,000 from the city -- for his legal fees plus the cost of his houseboat -- and expects the city will be ordered to pay it sometime in the next few months.