Riviera tries to outwit law by signing pact

By William Cooper JR.
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 11, 2006

RIVIERA BEACH; The city council; in an effort to legally outmaneuver the Florida Legislature; unanimously
approved an agreement with its master developer, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, that protects its right to build a $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment.

The agreement sets up a legal battle that pits the city against state lawmakers. Last week, legislators passed a bill that strips cities like Riviera Beach from using its eminent domain powers to take private land and give it to developers like Viking.

"We know our enemy is now the legislature," Mayor Michael Brown said Wednesday night.

Chairwoman Ann Iles called for the Community Redevelopment Agency, the council and the mayor to
work together to develop 400-acre International Harbor Village, which will consist of a hotel, condos,
retail shops, restaurants, a maritime charter school and an aquarium. Iles, however, did not have the
total support of residents who feared the city needed more time to review the agreement with Viking.

"There's no staff backup for any of this," said Gerald Ward, who challenged city officials to give
residents and staff time for more input.

Public comment on the agreement got so heated that Iles had resident Fane Lozman escorted by
police from the lectern. Iles felt Lozman had exceeded his two minutes of comment on the plan.

Throughout the legislative session, which ended Friday, the city and Viking lobbied lawmakers for an
amendment giving the city until 2010 to operate under the current eminent domain law. But that
amendment was killed amid political infighting over school vouchers.

With Viking threatening to abandon the project, city officials scrambled to come up with a quick
solution. After several closed-door meetings with Viking during the past week, the strategy to legally
attack the legislation emerged.

City officials contend that the legislature's actions violate their constitutional right under the "contracts
clause." Under the U.S. Constitution, no government can pass a law that interferes with an existing
contract between two parities.

The city had a big problem, however. After seven months of negotiations, it never reached an
agreement with Viking.

That's why on Wednesday city officials held their regularly scheduled Community Redevelopment
Agency meeting, and right after began a special city council meeting to expedite reaching a contract.
While the council also sits as the redevelopment agency board, any agreement dealing with city
property requires council approval.

Rushing the contract through is also critical to establishing the city's argument that the legislature's
actions interfere with its contract with Viking.

By signing a contract Wednesday night, the city is trying to legally circumvent Gov. Jeb Bush and the
legislature. Because Bush hasn't signed the new eminent domain legislation, the city can argue that it is bound by the current law,
which gives it authority to take private property and give it to developers for economic purposes.

Attorney Bruce Rogow, a constitutional law expert with more than 40 years of experience, said Riviera Beach has a good case to challenge the state law on constitutional grounds. Rogow, who has argued 11 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, said the key to the city's argument is establishing it had a contract with Viking before the new eminent domain law's taking effect.

"If it's a lawful contract, you've got the right to expect that the government won't interfere with it," said Rogow, whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, attorney F. Lee Bailey, Miami rap group 2 Live Crew and former Palm Beach County Elections Supervisor Theresa LePore.

"It's not a law until the governor signs it," Rogow said.