Trolleygate Sputters Back To Life

As the first journalist to write about Trolleygate, I couldn’t help but chortle over yesterday’s Miami Herald story about the white elephant also known as the Trolley Folly:

Why is this so funny? Let me count the ways:

1). WAREHOUSE?!?!

2). The Miami Herald covering something in West Grove? It only seem to do that when there’s been a shooting.

The Herald seemed quite incurious about Trolleygate while it was happening. At the time everyone in West Grove knew how their [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff, had sold them down the river. [How apt: A slavery reference.] However, the Miami Herald never reported on that aspect of the story, which allowed Sarnoff to slip away again.

3). I couldn’t help but be struck by the total lack of specificity in the article. I spoke to Commissioner Ken Russel by phone last evening, after this article was printed. He tells me he was not only misquoted by David Smiley, but he left out an important part of what was said.

Commissioner Russell says he told Smiley that he wasn’t going to do anything without input from West Grove, since those were the folks adversely affected by this bone-headed decision in the first place. [My paraphrase.]

3). This is not much of a scoop on the Herald’s part. Just like Trolleygate, I was there first. On November 12th I posted a short interview conducted with Commissioner-elect Russell in which we had this exchange:

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

KR:
Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage.
I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot
of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what
should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s
been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be
converted into something that builds up the community.

A community center would certainly do that.

4). While I am total agreement with Commissioner Ken Russell that a community center would be a good use for this building, and that West Grove could certainly use one, I can’t help but think this is just throwing good money after bad.

I’ve never seen a full accounting of how much money Miami flushed down the drain defending the building of this diesel garage that would have only served Coal Gables, a totally different city next door. However, there were several lawsuits launched against Miami, Coral Gables, and Astor Trolley. In the end it was determined that Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Every penny Miami spent to defend the out of town developer, over the interests of the community and its own constituents, was money wasted.

And, now the city may spend almost $4 million to, basically, get everyone off the hook.

5). If it were in my power I’d rename this building Marc Sarnoff’s White Elephant. As I have written previously, Sarnoff worked tirelessly on behalf of the developer to get this project approved. He set one neighbourhood group against another. He offered one of those groups a kind of bribe to not fight the garage. At a public meeting I attended he threatened West Grove neighbours with withdrawing his support for building Gibson Plaza. He also suggested he didn’t have to back the infilling of new homes in the neighbourhood if they didn’t play along. It was Sarnoff’s performance at this community meeting that prompted me to write Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

However, Sarnoff was able to walk away without any of the blame — which the Miami Herald helped by not reporting on it — that should have been his due for having screwed his own constituents on behalf of an out of town developer.

6). This paragraph really jumped out at me:

[Developer Henry] Torres disputes that he or the city tried to ram the warehouse down the throats of unsuspecting West Grove residents, but he said he’s had previous discussions with Miami officials about selling the building to the city. There was talk at one point about a police substation, or a Bahamian consulate. Still, he said he hadn’t heard anything about Russell’s interest, or even received a call from the commissioner — which he found somewhat presumptuous.

This is simply not true. While Torres may not have PERSONALLY tried to ram the (((WAREHOUSE?))) down the throats of West Grove residents, he didn’t have to. Marc Sarnoff greased the wheels, slicked the tracks, and got this through “faster than a hot knife through butter,” as one of my sources put it at the time.

However, as I reported in BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces, one eagle-eyed city Planning & Zoning drone named Dakota Hendon realized that the Miami21 plan would not allow this use of a building on that street and sent an email to his boss:

We
have a bit of a problem. The Coral Gables Trolley Station that I met
with you and the applicant on a few weeks ago appears to not be an
allowable use as we had originally anticipated. See the definition of
Auto-related industrial below. I believe this is specifically an
industrial use. At this point, they have already submitted for the
Warrant and action needs to be taken to stop the application.
Additionally, IDR was adamantly against the project in the specific
location.  Please call me to discuss at your convenience. 

Auto-Related
Industrial Establishment: A facility conducting activities associated
with the repair or maintenance of motor vehicles, trailers, and similar
large mechanical equipment; paint and body work; major overhaul of
engine or engine parts; vehicle impound or wrecking yard; outdoor
vehicle sales, storage or repair; and government vehicle maintenance
facilities. This includes auto related Uses not otherwise allowed within
the commercial auto related establishment category.

So, what did the city of Miami do? It got Henry Torres, or underlings that work for him, to withdraw the application and then resubmit the application. They were identical, except that the new one didn’t talk about vehicle maintenance and repair. The new application made it sound as if it was just going to be a passive (((WAREHOUSE?))) of diesel trolley buses (an oxymoron. Trolleys are electric.).

When I discovered this memo I tried to find Dakota Hendon to see how this building got approved when he said it was non-conforming. Surprise! He no longer worked for the City of Miami. I actually tracked him to his new job in New York and left several messages. I never got a reply.

However, I’m starting to think it’s important that his boss was Francisco Garcia, City of Miami Planning Director. 

7). I had never met Francisco Garcia before I wrote Coconut Grove in Black and White, just another look at the disparity between Black and White neighbourhoods in Miami. Not only hadn’t I met him, but I didn’t remember he was the recipient of Dakota Hendon’s email (see above). Even dumber on my part: I had forgotten I had actually written about him in that post and, furthermore, asked some pointed questions of him:

1). Why does the written record end with the email from Hendon;
2). Did he follow up Hendon;
3). Who approved this project;
4). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
5). What contact did he have with Astor Development. 

If I had remembered all that I might not have walked up to him in that meeting to whisper in his ear. I wanted to ask him why South Grove was getting all this attention when
West Grove has trouble getting house rubble removed in under 6 weeks. I
also wanted to ask him about the NCD-2 rules (West Grove), which are different from
the NCD-3 rules (South Grove). My source told me that Garcia could answer all my questions.

I waited until he was not answering questions or batting back insults from the South Grove residents and was standing quietly on the side of the room. I handed him my card and said, “Headly Westerfield. I don’t want to waste your time at this meeting, or the meeting’s time, but I’d like to interview you about the NCDs.”

As he gave me his card, I can distinctly remember Francisco Garcia’s exact response, word for word: “I’d be happy to talk to you.”

However, he lied.

He has not responded to my several phone calls, which started the following day. Nor has he replied to my 3 emails. I’ve started CCing Commissioner Russell’s office in my emails to Garcia’s office.

Something tells me he’s dodging me.

That’s why I’m in the middle of a MASSIVE Freedom of Information request to the City of Miami’s Planning & Zoning Office. I’ll get what I need.

8). This article is a piece of crap. If the Miami Herald cared about the community, it might have published some of the above. If I can prove all of this, why can’t the Miami Herald with its humongous resources? Instead the Herald played along by calling this a (((WAREHOUSE?))), as opposed to a polluting diesel maintenance facility, the thing it was designed to be. Once again the Herald is protecting powerful people responsible for wasting shit loads of taxpayers dollars.

Reading that article you’d think it was the poor developer who was the victim, as opposed to West Grove that has had to suffer from systemic racism since their Bahamian ancestors built Coconut Grove with their own hands. Henry Torres will make his money back (and then some, it seems).

Marc Sarnoff got away scott free.

Dakota Hendon seems to have landed on his feet.

And, Francisco Garcia continues to make decisions in favour of developers that adversely affect the current residents of the neighbourhoods.

I went to the craziest Planning & Zoning meeting the other night hoping to confront Francisco Garcia. Sadly he wasn’t there. It was an appeal of a development in South Grove. After all the yadda yadda yadda it was decided — get this — that the Planning & Zoning department would follow the Miami21 plan when approving permits and warrants. That’s almost a tacit admission that it hasn’t been up to now. [See above.]

Smiley ended his article with this and made it a Patented Miami Herald Feel Good Story™:

But that idea [of a community center] sounds good to [Clarice] Cooper. And to [Anthony] Alfieri, the UM professor, it also sounds right.

“Given the West Grove’s Jim Crow history of municipal segregation in housing, education, and even public water access, and the current exploitation and displacement of long time West Grove residents,” Alfieri said, “Commissioner Russell’s proposed community center at the site of the misbegotten trolley garage is an important public policy initiative both to remedy past wrongs and to preserve and strengthen the surviving West Grove community.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I also made a proposal for the Trolleygate building, which appears to have been rejected.


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My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove  


Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.