Packing the space close to standing-room-only, residents along Sandpiper Avenue attended the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Thursday, Aug. 17 in great number for the council’s review of the close residential vote for traffic calming near their homes.
A majority of property owners voted in favor of the traffic calming project in results released earlier this month, but fell just short of the village’s required 60 percent threshold. That tally included non-voters as “no” votes.
After a long discussion, the council voted 3-2 in favor of adjusting the voting system for its new traffic calming policy.
“I know I expressed the concern that I didn’t want to see people who didn’t vote be counted as ‘no’ votes,” Mayor Fred Pinto said. “And, by definition, that’s what’s happened in this survey.”
Pinto, Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas and Councilman Jeff Hmara voted in favor of adjusting the way the vote was conducted, so a resident who does not submit a vote toward the policy will no longer affect the outcome of the voter result. The change would revert to an originally proposed 50 percent pluxs one majority for or against traffic calming on the residential road.
“It’s clear we have a significant preponderance of people in this neighborhood who want to see this happen,” Pinto said. “Our village manager tried to get us to go with an approach where we said, ‘Let’s make it 50 percent plus one, no matter what.’ In other words, you don’t have to worry about the people who didn’t vote. If you have a hard 50 percent plus one voting ‘yes,’ that would make the determination. Conversely, if you had a hard 50 percent plus one voting ‘no,’ that would determine the outcome.”
Pinto said it would be a much greater “slippery slope” if they decided to take the tally of those who did not register a vote but were counted as “no” out of the base of the current poll.
Councilwomen Selena Smith and Jan Rodusky opposed the change in the policy, seeing it as inappropriate to the way the council should conduct itself regarding the policy.
“We agreed on, ‘This is the policy; the outcome will speak for itself,’” Smith said. “So, I’ll be honest, I’m not in favor of changing the policy, because that’s not what we put in place.”
Smith was in favor of an alternative that would go ahead with the current policy in place for the current set of four traffic calming votes, see how they turn out, and maybe change the policy down the line.
“You agree on having this done or not, we were going to go ahead and use four studies, to keep the 60 percent right now for those four studies,” Smith said. “I would look, though, to change perhaps the every-five-year process, which means we’d revisit it in two years. At that time, we can change the policy to maybe 50 percent plus one.”
When the final results for the vote for traffic calming on Sandpiper was released on Aug. 8, the vote fell four votes shy of the 60 percent majority needed for the village to implement its policy. The vote came in at 57 percent in favor.
Valuntas confirmed with Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton the power the council had regarding its policy and the issue at hand, believing there to be no limitation on the council’s ability to adjust the traffic calming policy.
Hmara acknowledged those residents who went door-to-door on foot, informing Sandpiper residents about the village’s created policy, leading up to the current results.
“I think the folks on Sandpiper who took the initiative to walk door-to-door and to encourage their neighbors, devoted to explain to them what was going on… really deserve a sincere thank you and comment,” Hmara said. “You not only served your neighbors by getting out there and informing them, you served us, because you help us become informed. The effort that was put forward was extraordinary, and it was over a long period of time as well, and yet we still wound up with 31.4 percent of the people not voting for whatever reason.”
Rodusky did not like the idea of changing the policy so soon after it was written.
“It’s a policy that we talked about. It’s a policy that we made a decision about, separate from the issue in the end,” Rodusky said. “I’m in favor of the 60 percent.”
When the vote was called, the motion to change the policy to a majority of 50 percent plus one carried 3-2, with Smith and Rodusky opposed.