Witness for the Intimidation

When I went to see Fane Lozman on his houseboat, I really didn't know what to expect.

I knew Lozman had tangled with officials in North Bay Village a couple of years ago. That ended with the indictment of a city councilman and the resignation of the town's police chief. The Miami New Times called Lozman, admiringly, an "avenging angel."

But he'd moved on from North Bay Village. Now he was mooring his rickety houseboat at the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina. And once again, he was in the middle of some serious civic turmoil. Only the stakes were a whole lot higher than anything in North Bay Village.

The man is almost single-handedly blocking a $2.4 billion (yes, with a b) redevelopment plan on Riviera's waterfront. His new foes: Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown, developer and marina giant Bob Healy, and Wayne Huizenga's empire, which is heavily invested in the deal.

They're heavies. And Lozman may have found a way to beat them. He's suing the city for failing to give proper notice for a May 10 meeting during which Brown orchestrated a vote to approve the contract with Healy's Viking Harbor Inlet Properties, the "master developer" on the project.

Brown rushed the process because the following day, Gov. Jeb Bush was signing a new law forbidding cities from using eminent domain powers to benefit private developers. The entire redevelopment plan hinges on eminent domain.

Lozman found a solid loophole — and the governor is even in his corner. And Lozman is shaking things up in a big way. The headline of the June 25 story in the Palm Beach Post that mentioned Lozman's suit: "Riviera Redevelopment Effort Stunned."

But news coverage of Lozman himself has been sketchy at best. So when he called me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, I drove up to the marina to see him.

Again, I really had no idea what to expect.

It was last Tuesday, the first day of August, a hot and sunny summer afternoon. The first thing I noticed as I drove into the city marina was that it was rundown. The city's Bicentennial Park, which is next door to the marina and has a little beach for swimming, is full of dead grass and junk. The beach itself is dominated by a large rusting hull of a junked dock that sits by the sand like a beached whale.

The place is in bad shape, Riviera Beach-style.

I found Lozman's two-story, 12-foot-wide boat on the north side of the dock. This was Old Florida living, a blast from the past, with the glistening ripples of the Intracoastal, and the human-scale boats (as opposed to megayachts). Half a century ago, it was a fishing village. Travis McGee would have felt right at home.

On Lozman's boat, a man was doing some repair work on the second floor, where a wall was exposed. He called for Lozman, who soon came to the door. There came the first surprise.

He is tall, a good six-foot-five, and was dressed in jeans, leather sandals, and a black T-shirt. Basically, he looked like a thinner and slightly cooler version of a young Chevy Chase. Didn't expect that.

He led me into the boat, which was cluttered with tools, a mountain bike, papers, coolers, and other stuff. He grabbed a stack of papers, and we went back out onto the dock, in the sunshine.

"You see that guy over there?"

I looked over and saw an older man with graying hair and a marina shirt who was sort of lurking by the dock.

"That's George Carter — he runs the whole marina," Lozman explained. "He's after me right now because of my lawsuit against the city. You ought to go over there and ask him some questions."

I wasn't really interested in Carter. I wanted to get into the stack of documents Lozman had under his right arm.

We walked over to the park area and sat on a bench. Lozman was totally preoccupied with Carter, who continued to roam nearby, occasionally talking into his cell phone.

"He doesn't want me doing work on my boat," Lozman told me. "But there's no rule against it. He's just going after me because of what I'm doing with the city. He's good friends with Mayor Brown. They've got him doing this to me."

Sort of interesting, but I still wanted to get into those documents.

Then a police officer appeared and joined Carter. They spoke for a minute or two before the cop called Lozman over to the shady area by the dock.

The officer, Raymond Sorrells, told Lozman that he needed to stop working on his boat. Lozman explained that people work on their boats all the time and that he was just changing out a door that had been damaged by Wilma. He pointed out that a storm was on its way. Sorrells countered by pointing at the dock master.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman