While most of the state saw red on Tuesday, voting in favor of developers and a millionaire governor, Riviera Beach won a victory for the people.
Voters approved a referendum blocking a plan to lease a portion of the city's public marina to a private boat company, Rybovich. The marina battle pitted citizen activists against the enormously wealthy, politically influential Huizenga family
, which owns Rybovich. The company wanted to build a megayacht service yard at the marina, and the City Council approved a 25-year lease for the deal. But opponents insisted the area should be preserved for the public as a rare treasure on the Intracoastal, near the popular Peanut Island.
"The referendum allowed the people of Riviera Beach to speak, and they spoke loud," says Emma Bates, chairperson of the Riviera Beach Citizens Task Force, which pushed for the vote.
But there may still be many legal battles ahead. The Citizens Task Force has filed a lawsuit to block the Rybovich deal, alleging that the city failed to get competitive bids
to lease the property.
Rybovich fired back with a counterclaim, suing Bates for $10 million, alleging that she and another activist "interfered with the relationship between Rybovich and the city."
"I do think that was a tactic to shut me down," Bates says.
But she's not particularly worried about having to pay up. At 64, Bates is a two-time cancer survivor who says she lives on less than $20,000 a year.
"That's just like getting blood out of a turnip," Bates says. "Why would you sue me for something you know I don't have?"
The referendum itself may also face legal challenges, but for now, Bates is celebrating. "This was a big win for us," she says.