Lake Worth City Commissioners are set to ignore the will of city voters Tuesday and overturn the results of a legally valid election. They're doing so to chase after a development pipe dream rather than work at real solutions to the city's problems.
As described in a Salon feature on Wednesday, Lake Worth, despite a "handsome main drag... full of nice restaurants and coffee shops" is troubled by "reams of abandoned properties," making it "one of those places across the country where the foreclosure crisis never ended." Net result: depressed property values, decreased city revenues, reduced city services.
Now you might think the city's leaders would look at things and say: We'd better do something about those run-down neighborhoods. (They might get some advice just up the road in West Palm Beach, where Lynn Szymoniak, the chief source for the Salon story, runs the Housing Justice Foundation. )
But no. A majority of the City Commission, including Mayor Pam Triolo, is fixated on a new version of the old myth of "trickle down" economics. Their magic elixir is a "hotel district" in one of the city's nicer, eastside neighborhoods. That, they say, will unlock a flood of tourism, stimulate business, provide jobs for one and all, and revive the general economy, including property values.
No one has ever provided a study to back up that claim.
Further, the commission majority insists the hotel district can succeed only if the city allows building heights in the eastside area to exceed the height limits enshrined in the city charter. (No one has ever provided a study to back up that claim either.)
Unfortunately for the commission majority, Lake Worth held a referendum last spring in which city voters, by 56 percent to 44 percent, said no to high-rises. (No one has shown that the election was anything other than free, fair, and democratic.)
Since then, however, state government has enacted new law regarding growth management. The City Commission has taken that law to mean the March referendum is null and void. Lake Worth's high-rise opponents, predictably, disagree and have promised to sue if the commission acts.
Here's the thing: Even if the new law means the City Commission can overturn the referendum, it doesn't follow that the commission must or should do so. And to do so would definitely mean this: The commission has no respect for the will of the people.
Lake Worth has a long history of nasty, highly personalized politics, as inbred as a hillbilly feud. If the commission acts to overturn the results of the referendum, the feuding will only grow worse. Rather than further poison the atmosphere (and hand their political opponents a new howitzer), the commission should kick their high-rise habit and seek other ways to address the city's blight.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
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