By Dan Moffett
Three commission candidates in Ocean Ridge found a lot of common ground when they squared off against each other during an hourlong election forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Palm Beach County on Feb. 7.
They all opposed sober homes, supermajority approval requirements and raising taxes. They all supported term limits, a proactive approach to sea rise and maintaining Ocean Ridge’s special quality of life.
An area of potential disagreement surfaced concerning how to deal with street flooding and the impact of rising seas. Political newcomers Susan Hurlburt and John Lipscomb say they are open to the idea of raising street levels, if engineers endorse it. But Steve Coz, the incumbent mayor, is soundly opposed.
“I just don’t see how that works practically,” Coz said. “It’s just not a solution.”
Coz said raising the level of some roads will mean residents hit a hump as they exit their driveways. He said the town recently changed its building rules and now requires new construction projects to start 18 inches higher.
“If we’re raising home elevations 18 inches,” Coz said, “imagine going through town and raising roads 18 inches.”
Coz said the town has completed drainage improvements for some neighborhoods, in particular Inlet Cay, and residents are “extremely happy” with the results. The work included repairs and maintenance to stormwater lines.
Hurlburt, for years a historic preservation advocate in Delray Beach, said that besides following the guidance of engineers, the town should pay attention to what other cities are doing and learning about rising seas.
“Miami and the Keys are putting big money into studies looking for different ways to address this situation,” she said. The message for Ocean Ridge: “It’s coming and it’s better to be proactive.”
Lipscomb, an entrepreneur and real estate agent originally from St. Louis, said there is no time like the present for infrastructure improvements. “It’s cheaper to do it now than to do it later,” he said.
Lipscomb said the town will have to deal with the long-term prospect of eliminating septic tanks and connecting with the Boynton Beach sewer system. He said it likely would make sense to “raise the roads and raise the sidewalks” while overhauling the sewers.
Lipscomb broke with his rivals by saying he could support spending public money to help condo associations upgrade their sewer systems. Coz and Hurlburt are against the idea, saying taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go to private entities.
All three support the proposed charter amendment on the ballot that would impose term limits on town commissioners. Hurlburt said the limits “are like a double-edge sword” in that, while they advance wider participation, they also may push qualified officials out of office.
Coz said the proposed amendment strikes the right balance because it puts a three-term limit on commissioners but allows them to run again after sitting out a year.
All three candidates oppose requiring a supermajority vote of four commissioners to approve high-density construction projects. The idea came up during last year’s charter review but commissioners voted it down.
“I’ve never understood the supermajority argument,” Lipscomb said.
The commission has to be “ahead of the game,” Hurlburt said, “and you don’t need a supermajority to do that.” Coz argued that a supermajority rule would give too much power to a minority of two commissioners.
Two seats will be contested in the March 12 election. The top vote-getter will serve until 2022, and the second-highest will finish the year left on the term of former Mayor Jim Bonfiglio, who resigned last year and unsuccessfully ran for the state Legislature.