Who will represent Palm Beach Gardens? Are two state House members better than one?

Is it better to have two state House members and two state senators answering to the same community? Or does that water down representation? Gardens will soon find out.

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Palm Beach Gardens

Some of the biggest western communities in Palm Beach Gardens, including PGA National, Mirasol and Avenir, would be severed from the city and lumped into a sprawling state House district spanning the Glades and The Acreage, under a House map approved Feb. 3. 

Those same communities, plus Old Palm and Ballenisles, would be separated from the city in a Senate map change that would replace the city’s lone state senator, Bobby Powell, with two. 

Splitting a city has its pros and cons, political observers agree, but can be wrenching, especially for a city like Palm Beach Gardens that has typically been served by just one state House and Senate member. 

“The first time that it happens it does evoke some pretty strong feelings on both sides,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor emeritus at the University of South Florida. “They feel like they’re not going to have the clout that they once did.”

Eventually, residents get accustomed to it and may find an upside: twice as much representation in Tallahassee on issues of local importance — assuming of course their needs don’t clash with the needs of the rest of the far-flung district.

Marcie Tinsley

Gardens Councilmember Marcie Tinsley brought the issue to the city council’s attention at two meetings, most recently Feb. 3, but got little response.

Mayor Rachelle Litt told Tinsley it’s distressing but there’s “not much we can do at this point.”

Councilmember Mark Marciano said he wasn’t sure if it was a good or a bad thing, a comment that acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding the new maps.

The council’s $60,000-a-year lobbyist, Mat Forrest of the influential Tallahassee firm Ballard Partners, did not return phone and email messages to discuss the maps.

Splitting cities is hardly uncommon. During January deliberations, the House map was amended to eliminate the division of five cities — Bradenton, Oakland, Edgewood, Oakland Park and Oldsmar — but still left 53 of 412 cities with split representation.  

The maps, redrawn every 10 years using population figures from the decennial census, passed with bipartisan support in the Florida Senate and the Florida House. To become law, they must pass muster with the Florida Supreme Court. Unlike congressional redistricting maps, which are locked in a court battle over a submission from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state House and Senate maps are not reviewable by the governor. 

Gardens maps
The proposed Florida House map, dubbed H8013, shows the two districts including Palm Beach Gardens: District 94 in yellow and District 87 in purple.

East-west split

PGA National, Mirasol, Eastpointe, Avenir, Ancient Tree and Bay Hill Estates all would be part of the new House District 94. It also would capture  Ibis and Ironhorse, which are in West Palm Beach.

Most constituents, however, would come from the semi-rural communities of The Acreage, Jupiter Farms, Palm Beach Country Estates and Loxahatchee Groves. Additionally, the district dips into Royal Palm Beach and encompasses all three Glades cities – Pahokee, Belle Glade and South Bay.

The Glades cities currently are part of Democrat Kelly Skidmore’s south county-oriented District 81. 

The district’s makeup could force a candidate to represent both sides of competing issues, such as the widening of Northlake Boulevard. The rural residents to the west want it wider while many residents farther east, such as those in PGA National, fear an eight-laning of their main corridor.

Gardens already has experienced rifts between older communities built on a street grid without homeowners’ associations and the newer, tightly managed country club communities built behind gates.

With the advent of Avenir, bringing homeowners farther west than the city has ever gone, city representatives will increasingly find themselves caught between east and west, a rift that could be exaggerated by split representation. 

“It can be confusing to voters,” MacManus said. “People can feel short-changed that they don’t have the input that they used to.”

On the other hand, having two representatives can increase the city’s representation in Tallahassee, she said. A lot depends on what percentage of the district is from the city and who gets elected, especially in Florida where Republicans have control of both houses and the governor’s mansion.

See the new Florida House map

How big are the Gardens and its neighbors? Here’s what the 2020 census found

Ancient Tree
Homes rising in Ancient Tree on western Northlake Boulevard would be part of western-oriented state House and Senate districts under new maps approved by the Legislature. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

House District 94  

Palm Beach Gardens residents would make up less than 10 percent of the new House District 94’s population, while Royal Palm Beach residents would be 16 percent, a legislative analysis shows

Voters in the district split 50-50 in the Biden-Trump presidential race, a Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times analysis shows. The map shows the district’s voting age population to be 55 percent white, 20 percent black and 20 percent Hispanic.

Much of the district is now part of Republican state Rep. Rick Roth’s District 85, which includes all of Palm Beach Gardens and The Acreage but none of the Glades cities or Royal Palm Beach.

House District 87

All the rest of Palm Beach Gardens would be in District 87, which would go as far south as the towns of Hypoluxo and Lantana and include all of Palm Beach and the coastal portions of Lake Worth Beach, West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach. 

At Northlake Boulevard, the district would widen as far west as Florida’s Turnpike and continue as far north as Frederick Small Road to take in North Palm Beach, Juno Beach, most of Palm Beach Gardens and a slice of Jupiter.

Gardens residents would make up 23.5 percent of the district, the legislative analysis shows. West Palm Beach residents would be 17 percent, Jupiter residents would be 10 percent and Lake Worth Beach would be 7.7 percent.

District voters also split evenly in the 2020 presidential race, the Herald/Times analysis showed. The district’s voting age population would be 72 percent white, 8 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic.

There’s no obvious frontrunner for the new seat, which includes many of the coastal communities south of Palm Beach Gardens currently represented by Republican state Rep. Mike Caruso. But Caruso lives in Delray Beach, which is not in the district.

Gardens maps
The proposed Florida Senate map, dubbed S8058, shows the two districts that include Palm Beach Gardens: District 31 in green and District 24 in yellow.

Senate District 24

The state’s 120 House districts contain about 180,000 people each while the 40 Senate districts contain about 538,000 people each.

But still not all of Palm Beach Gardens’s 59,000 residents fit into a single Senate district, as they do now.

Older portions of the city, including homes along Holly and Lighthouse drives and the Earman River, would fit into new state Senate District 24, which reaches its northern limit at PGA Boulevard, where it stretches from sea to Military Trail. Going south from there, at Northlake Boulevard District 24 stretches farther west, to Florida’s Turnpike. 

It continues south, encompassing everything east of the turnpike all the way south to Hypoluxo Road, taking in all of 18 cities and parts of two: Gardens and West Palm Beach. It covers 197 square miles.

Its voting age population would be 40 percent white, 25 percent black and 32 percent Hispanic.

See the new Florida Senate map

The entrance to Ballenisles on PGA Boulevard, which would be in a western-oriented state Senate district but an eastern-oriented state House district under maps approved by the Florida Legislature. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Senate District 31

The rest of Gardens would fit into the much larger Senate District 31, which spans 1,600 square miles.

With the turnpike as its eastern border, it starts at Southern Boulevard, taking in all the western communities, such as Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves, Westlake and the three Glades cities. At Northlake, the border widens to Military Trail.

The eastern border falls away completely at PGA Boulevard, stretching all the way to the ocean. From there District 31 takes in all of Jupiter, all of Martin County and 105,000 people in St. Lucie County.

In Palm Beach Gardens, it would include Frenchman’s Creek, Old Palm, Ballenisles, PGA National, Mirasol and Avenir. A Jan. 14 bill analysis puts 42,800 Gardens residents in the district.

The voting age population would be 69 percent white, 11 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell now represents all of Palm Beach Gardens in District 30 while Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell’s District 25 covers Jupiter Farms and all of Martin and St. Lucie counties.

If the Florida Supreme Court signs off on the maps, it would take a federal court challenge for them to change, an unlikely event this year, Palm Beach County’s director of intergovernmental affairs, Ed Chase, told county commissioners Tuesday. 

“Our House legislative seats seem set. Our Senate legislative seats seem set,” Chase said. 

Who’s who in the Palm Beach County legislative delegation

Existing House districtCurrent representativePotential new district
81Kelly Skidmore, D92
82John Snyder, R86
85Rick Roth, R94
86Matt Willhite, D93
87David Silvers, D89
88Jervonte Edmonds, D88
89Mike Caruso, R87 or 90
90Joe Casello, D90
91Emily Slosberg, D91
Existing Senate districtCurrent representativePotential new district
25Gayle Harrell, R31
29Tina Polsky, D26 or 30
30Bobby Powell, D24
31Lori Berman26

This story was edited on Feb. 9 to clarify that the racial breakdowns referred to voting age population, not total population.

© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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