04 Aug 2007 City Evicts Houseboat Resident for a “Biting” Wiener Dog
One maverick resident of Riviera Beach, FL discovered the price of obstructing the city government’s waterfront redevelopment plan, which would uproot thousands of local residents and businesses to benefit a private development company: repeated harassment by city henchmen, arrest, eviction from his houseboat and a ridiculous order to muzzle his supposedly biting wiener dog.
City Evicts Houseboat Resident for a “Biting” Wiener Dog
Fane Lozman is accustomed to heat. He lives on a two-story houseboat docked on Slip 452 of Florida’s Riviera Beach Municipal Marina. The area once served as a fishing village and is universally known for its hot and humid summers. But Lozman’s challenge to the City of Riviera Beach’s plan to uproot thousands of residents for part of an economic development plan landed him in a different kind of heat – the thuggish political payback sort.
In May 2006, at the request of Mayor Michael Brown, the Riviera Beach City Council hastily approved a $2.4 billion economic redevelopment plan for a 400-acre area on the Municipal Marina, which is owned and operated by the City of Riviera Beach. It did so knowing that then-Governor Jeb Bush would soon sign into law new state property protections that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic purposes. Nevertheless, as the Palm Beach Post reported, “A condition of the agreement was the city’s promise to use eminent domain on behalf of Viking.”
Lozman and thousands of other Riviera residents, private home and business owners were at risk of being evicted so that Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, a private company, could build a hotel, condos, restaurants and an aquarium on the waterfront. In addition to Viking, Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Miami Dolphins professional football team, stood to benefit because of his heavy investment in the project.
Lozman believed that the city was abusing its powers of eminent domain by seizing property to transfer it to a private company. In June 2006, Lozman sued the city for inadequately notifying the public of its development plan.
After Lozman filed the lawsuit, the city and, literally, the city’s henchmen, harassed Lozman repeatedly. One month alone, George Carter, the marina operator where Lozman’s boat is docked and a longtime city employee, called the police on Lozman at least six times for dubious violations. Responding to one such call by Carter in August 2006, police threatened to arrest Lozman for changing a door on his own private boat, which Hurricane Wilma had damaged, before the arrival of another approaching storm.
“[Carter] doesn’t want me doing work on my boat,” Lozman explained. “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 [Michael] Brown. They’ve got him doing this to me.”
In July 2006, Carter ordered Lozman to muzzle his dog, a ten-pound Dachshund “wiener dog” named Lady, to prevent it from biting. Though the dog was leashed and had never hurt anyone, Carter claimed that two people had complained that the dog lunged towards them. “If your dog was to bite someone the liability may be a problem for the marina,” wrote Carter. If Lozman did not comply, “The city must ask you to vacate the marina at the end of this month.”
Despite the threat, Lozman refused to follow the order because the extreme summer heat would kill Lady. As Lozman explained, “It’s 110 degrees heat out here, and this dog has a black coat, and she has to pant when it’s hot. She would drop dead of a heat stroke.”
On August 11, 2006, the city sent Lozman an eviction notice, citing insubordination. The letter claimed Lozman “knowingly put the City of Riviera Beach in a defenseless position if [his] dog was to bite someone.” It continued, “Mr. Lozman, we both know it’s not if, but when the dog bites someone.”
Lozman had until the end of August to move his boat. But refusing to be bullied into submission, Lozman filed another suit against the city on First Amendment grounds, contending that his eviction from a public area was, in effect, politically-motivated retaliation for obstructing the city’s waterfront redevelopment plan.
“What about these mom-and-pop people who live here [in Riviera]?,” asked Lozman.
“[The city is] going to turn this place into a giant megayacht marina for only the richest people. So I could have either thrown up my hands or fight a rotten group of corrupt a**holes.”
In November 2006, Lozman was arrested at Riviera Beach City Hall for disorderly conduct, trespassing and resisting arrest without violence. During the public comment portion of a City Council meeting, Lozman had spoken out against public corruption. Councilwoman Liz Wade ordered police to forcibly remove Lozman from the hearing room.
“It is outrageous that a citizen gets arrested because he chooses to participate in a public meeting,” said Lozman. Florida prosecutors eventually dropped the arrest charges, citing difficulty of prosecution.
Meanwhile, Lozman continued his suit against being wrongfully evicted from the Municipal Marina. In March 2007, Florida’s 15th Circuit Court ruled in favor of Lozman. A jury determined that Lozman’s protected speech “was a substantial or motivating factor” in Riviera Beach City’s decision to evict Lozman. “This is a victory for all Americans,” said Lozman after the ruling. “What makes America beautiful is our freedoms.”
Lozman is currently seeking damages from the city. Meanwhile, the City of Riviera Beach abandoned its plans to use eminent domain as part of its multi-billion dollar redevelopment plan. Because of Florida’s 2006 legislative action limiting municipalities’ eminent domain powers, as well as an unfavorable real estate market, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties has stopped work on the redevelopment project and is considering a scaled down plan that does not rely upon the use of eminent domain.
Sources: Broward-Palm Beach New Times (August 10, 2006, August 24, 2006, March 8, 2007), City of Riviera Beach v. Fane Lozman (Circuit Court of the 15th Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County, FL, March 2, 2007), Palm Beach Post (May 9, 2006, June 25, 2006, October 20, 2006, January 23, 2007, February 17, 2007, March 7, 2007)
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