Civics at its best could be demonstrated at Commissioner Jess Santamaria’s latest public forum at the original Wellington Mall. The driving and contradicting forces of our society, greed, with corruption in its wake, and the will of the people, stood in the middle of the discussion. Two guest speakers provided insights into what is wrong with the current planning in the western communities of Palm Beach County. The first was Charles Pattison, representative of 1000 Friends of Florida (www.1000friendsofflorida.org), the second was Sal Faso, the representative of the North County Neighborhood Coalition (www.ncncpb.org), a loose organization of 17 homeowner master associations.
Pattison criticized the Board of County Commissioners for not taking into account what the traffic planners are warning about. There is just not enough road infrastructure available to support 40,000 to 60,000 new residents and businesses in the western parts of the county, nor is a remedy in sight or in planning. The same is true for the increased demand for fresh water and for drainage. Pattison described his group, which has 3,500 members statewide, as being successful in litigation against illegal planning and developments. One of those litigations was the case of Mecca Farms, which cost the county more than $100 million without the legal fees. Another was a development in Martin County where the judge ruled the destruction of the already built houses.
Faso, a resident of Ibis, made the point that the developments are not only local, but they affect the whole region. Therefore any criticism, or action against them, has to take the whole region into consideration. He also pointed out that decision makers almost never go to investigate the issues at the locations in question. His group is convinced that with a greater network of concerned citizens and associations, it will be possible to influence the officials in their votes.
Speakers out of the audience made important contributions to the discussion. Alan Ballweg and Pattison agreed to join forces to calculate how much necessary road improvements would cost for each taxpayer beyond the already admitted $170 million. Other activists said that currently the county is already $1.9 billion in the red. It is of utmost importance to go to the official meetings, to get informed and to show presence. Information is available at two web sites — www.notominto.com and www.alertsofpbc.com — with regard to all new developments (Highland Dunes, GL, Avenir and Minto West in particular).
Two residents of Century Village and a veteran involved with PTSD cases described how their concerns are simply ignored. No official listens to the needs of the people. The voters should start referenda in order to change election procedures, and they should elect different people into office. All commissioners should be elected by the whole county. The separation in various districts leads to the disregard of the needs in the districts that are not the ones the commissioners are on the ballot. Michelle Santamaria, a candidate for the county commission in District 6, stressed the need to discuss the issues with young people and with the ones who see in these developments a good thing.
Jess Santamaria had some insights to share. He made his money being a developer himself for more than 30 years, but he never tried to change the pre-approved zoning requirements, which is more than common with his competitors. As a commissioner, he has to spend 75 percent of his time talking or to deal with developers or other lobbyists. Most developers are seeking extra profits, profits that extend the usual margins between costs and returns. He agreed with the previous speakers that it is necessary to make sure the will of the people will prevail over the greed of so many unethical investors and corrupt politicians. Even if the Office of the Inspector General is fully funded, the crooks need to be exposed by concerned citizens. That’s what democracy is all about. Jess stressed the importance of two dates: Oct. 29 will be the county commission meeting for the final vote on Minto West, and Nov. 4 is the general election. He thinks the more people who attend the county commission meeting the better.
Guenter Langer, Royal Palm Beach