Emma Bates, a champion for keeping Riviera Beach’s harbor and beachfront open to the public and financially beneficial for residents, died Sunday after a long fight with stomach cancer.
“She was a true activist for a very long time here in the city of Riviera Beach,” said Lynn Hubbard, a former City Councilwoman.
Bates, 65, was particularly known as chairwoman of the Citizens Task Force that battled city administration plans last year to lease a third of the city marina to the Rybovich boat company, owned by the Huizenga family.
Largely driven by Bates’ determination, the Task Force’s petition drive raised sufficient signatures to place on the ballot last November the charter change in which residents successfully blocked the city’s planned 25-year lease of the marina’s south end to Rybovich for a mega-yacht service facility.
Ryobovich eventually sued Bates and fellow activist Andrew Byrd for $10 million in damages, prompting Bates’ typically colorful retort: “I don’t have 10 million peanuts.”
“That showed how much she really cared about the city of Riviera Beach,” said Hubbard of the issue now being disputed in court. “She knew the value of what we had — and that our city administration was willing to part with resources that we should retain and parley into self-sufficient businesses and neighborhoods. She always said if they can make money off the marina, so can we.”
In addition to tireless activism on innumerable issues, Bates worked on many city political campaigns.
Reportedly the first licensed African-American beautician in Palm Beach County, she mentored dozens of local beauticians, and was a successful cosmetologist at her Intimate Salon of Beauty in the city.
Photo: Emma Bates