Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again

I’ve managed (mainly) to avoid writing about [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, except as it related to Trolleygate.

However, that doesn’t mean Sarnoff was totally off my radar. While I’ve been busy writing about things which interest me far more than a term-limited local politician, I still kept one eye on him, amazed at the crap he gets away with in plain sight. Therefore, I can’t help but wonder what he’s getting away with behind the scenes. Lately that has had a habit of sneaking out, mostly because he’s having trouble keeping his lies straight. You can’t tell one community group one thing and another community group the opposite and not expect them to compare notes. That’s why in so many recent off the record conversations the sentiment was expressed, “No one with the Sarnoff name will ever be elected to office again.”

Granted I was the one saying it, but only because I truly believe it.

I started researching this post, in a desultory manner, when the notice above came in through my electronic transom. “Oh!” I thought. “I really need to go to this to see if [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff says anything stupid or incriminating.”

I hadn’t forgotten how he used $200,000 of Astor Development’s money to bribe the folks at Ambrister Field to oppose the folks fighting to keep Sarnoff from shoving a polluting diesel trolley bus garage into their neighbourhood, contrary to zoning ordinances. I fantasized that Astor Development would be there to help Sarnoff cut the ribbon.  [At the time Armbrister Field was thought to be contaminated due to being right next door to Old Smokey, the incinerator.]

LONG STORY SHORT: In the end, after multiple lawsuits, the bus garage that got built BECAUSE of meddling by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff will never be used as a bus garage. Now the dickering is over what adaptive use it can be converted to for the benefit of the neighbourhood and how much money Astor Development wants to get rid of this white elephant [pun intended]. The last figure I heard, that people are still laughing at, was $4,000,000.

ANOTHER LONG STORY SHORT: Sarnoff didn’t say anything stupid or incriminating at the Armbrister Field ribbon cutting and — amazingly — he didn’t even try to grab credit for all the renovations. While it amused me he pulled a muscle in the first inning of the Police vs Politicians softball game, it wasn’t enough to sustain a whole post. So I never wrote it up.

Even before the Armbrister Field ribbon cutting I had been thinking of Sarnoff because his name kept cropping up in the media on the issue of Soilgate. I joined a Facebook community group called Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, formed by Ken Russell who lives across the street from the park. Russell was blithely unaware he was living across the street from a toxic park until the park was suddenly closed. He was unaware a remediation plan had been put into effect until the bulldozers arrived. After he delved deeper into the city’s plan for
the toxic soil remediation, and found it wanting, Russell started to organize his neighbours.

Merrie Christmas Park is one of the Miami Parks — most of them in Coconut Grove — closed due to the discovery of toxic soil. The toxic soil comes from ash from Old Smokey, which was used as fill in the earliest days of Miami.

Are these parks merely the tip of the toxic iceberg?

Courtesy John Dolson

The dirty secret that almost nobody is talking about — concentrating on just the parks instead — is that toxic landfill from Old Smokey is scattered all over Miami.

Most of South Florida is built on fill of one sort or another. Keep in mind, just 100 years ago this entire region was little more than a swamp. Slowly, as infrastructure was added in the form of roads, railways, and bridges, vast swaths of land in between was still waterlogged. Digging the canals that crisscross South Florida helped drain the swamp and it also provided the earliest fill to build upon. However, it was never enough. Back in the day Old Smokey was simply giving it away. The du Ponts used approximately 100,000 tons of it to build their estate on St. Gaudens Road. 

What seems to have bothered Friends of Merrie Christmas Park most was the lack of public notification. Notification might have allowed them to have input into any eventual remediation plan. Or, at the very least, an understanding of the stakes before [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff cut all his backroom deals. Yet, as much as this fight is about toxic soil, it is also about property values. The decisions that Sarnoff shoved through city hall without public input forced Miami-Dade County to declare every home within a 1/4 mile radius a Brownfield site. No one knows for sure, but it’s estimated that having one’s home declared a Brownfield site devalues a property by 10% to 20%.

Once Sarnoff caught wind the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park was going to hold a neighbourhood meeting, he sprung into action!!! First he scheduled a Dog and Pony Show at Miami City Hall and then he crashed the neighbourhood meeting in Merrie Christmas Park to obfuscate. Watch:

Video courtesy Al Crespo of The Crespogram Report
IRONY ALERT: It was the earlier lawsuit against
Sarnoff’s previous fiasco, Trolleygate, that uncovered a 2-year old memo
indicating Miami was already aware of poisoned parks, but buried the
results. [Pun intended.] This led to the testing of all the parks, which led to the
closure of 6 of them for remediation. The biggest parallel between Soilgate and Trolleygate is how all of those decisions were made in backrooms, without proper neighbourhood notifications.

In Trolleygate that led to all those lawsuits, which cost the city of Miami a bundle to defend. That was taxpayer money wasted by Marc D. Sarnoff, who was protecting the interests of an out-of-town developer building an out-of-town diesel bus garage, over the interests of his own constituents.

No lawsuits have been filed in Soilgate . . . yet, but it seems inevitable. And, every dollar spent on lawsuits can be blamed on [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff making decisions in backrooms, as opposed to under the light of Florida Sunshine Laws.

IRONY ALERT II: A Marc D. Sarnoff Dog and Pony Show should be trade-marked and patented. They all follow the same pattern. First Sarnoff ignores his constituents, making backroom deals without benefit of Florida’s Sunshine Laws. Once the taxpayers and his constituents have learned they were sold down the river, they start to agitate. If they agitate loud enough, Sarnoff spends taxpayer money to create a Dog and Pony Show and then calls a public meeting to sell the neighbours on the plan that’s already a fait accompli.

In other words: The Dog and Pony Show is the public meeting that MORE PROPERLY should have taken place before any decisions were made so that the stakeholders — the neighbours — the community — the taxpayers — his own constituents — understand the issues. However, Marc D. Sarnoff prefers people are kept in the dark until it’s too late.

As Miami New Times writer David Villano tells us in his groundbreaking story City Quietly Labels Toxic Parks “Brownfield Sites,” Limiting Neighborhood Input In Cleanup:

Ken Russell of the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park, is outraged that he and other nearby residents were not notified of the proposal to re-label the park as a Brownfield — a move he believes could greatly impact property values.

“It’s hard to believe they didn’t make an effort to tell anybody,” he says.


City officials say an ad publicizing the hearing was placed in three local publications — the Miami Times, the Daily Business Review, and Diario Las Americas.

You might be forgiven if you don’t understand this notice. In
fact, it’s what [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D.
Sarnoff was hoping. Image swiped from The Crespogram Report

How could the city say it notified the residents when no resident remembers being notified?  Al Crespo of The Crespogram Report, shows how this hocus pocus was performed. In a story called The Miami City Commission Will Always Try To Screw You In July, he reports the city did this by deliberately NOT naming the parks, just listing the various addresses:

Skimming through the agenda, or skimming through the notices published in the Public Notice section of Miami Times, The Daily Business Review and Diario Las Americas, one’s eyes could easily have slid over a bland notice listing a handful of addresses.

Further proof that this was intentionally done so as to minimize the ability of the residents living close to these parks to speak at the Public Hearing, was the failure of the City to post notices around these Park properties, thereby minimizing the possibility that the residents would find out and attend the Public Hearing.

A dollar to a donut says that all of this can be attributed to decisions and instructions issued by Commissioner Sarnoff to Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo.

Why Sarnoff?  First, because 4 of the 6 parks included in this agenda item are in his District, and secondly because he, along with Alice Bravo, his ever present sock puppet on all of these kinds of issues have been at the center of all issues and schemes dealing with how the city dealt with the discovery, testing and now with the clean up of the contamination in these parks.

Sarnoff again!!! He keeps turning up like a bad penny.

IRONY ALERT III:  The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog
Park, also known as Blanche Park, was also found to contain toxic soil.
This is ironic because Sarnoff not only lives across the street from the
park, but the park had been renovated SEVERAL times prior to the toxicity becoming known. One of those previous renovations was to take 2/3rd of the
park away from CHILDREN and letting it go to the dogs, literally, by turning it into a dog park.
Sarnoff has no children, but he does have dogs. And, he managed to ram a
dog park through across the street from his house, before anyone knew
what happened, children be damned.

IRONY ALERT IV: The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park is the only park closed because of toxic soil that has ALREADY been remediated and reopened. How about that? I’m sure it has nothing at all to do with the fact that [allegedly] corrupt Marc D. Sarnoff lives across the street.

However, and this is DAMNED important, it was closed, remediated, and reopened SEVERAL TIMES!!! What was wrong with the first remediation? What was wrong with the second remediation? What did all those children — and, okay, dogs, too — ingest in the various times the park was open before and between various remediations?

TRYING TO MAKE A VERY LONG STORY SHORT: What’s happened at Merrie Christmas Park since the latest Sarnoff Dog and Pony Show is almost a repeat of previous Sarnoff Comedy Capers. First he tries to set one neighbour off against another, by blaming the activists (who hired a lawyer to make sure their rights are not further abrogated by the meddling of Sarnoff) for the project being stalled. Once he saw which way the toxic wind was blowing, Sarnoff agreed to remove ALL the toxic soil, but only if the nearby residents would kick in a portion of the clean-up costs.

I need to repeat that because it’s so outrageous:

Marc D. Sarnoff thinks the residents should help pay the cost of removing the toxic soil that the City of Miami put in the park in the first place. 

Once the idea that residents pay for their own remediation was rightfully laughed at by all intelligent people, Sarnoff still got his way. In the end, an angel ponied up the private costs of removing the toxic soil. All that is know about this anonymous donor so far is that it is a male, he lives in Coral Gables, which is just on the other side of Le Jeune Road from Merrie Christmas Park, and has fond memories of playing in the park as a child.

However, the remediation appears to be stalled, despite several promises by Sarnoff that it would be cleaned up by now.

And, that’s just one park. 

There were 15 people at this meeting. Two were reporters. One
was a rep from the Coconut Grove Village Council. At least 2
live in other neighbourhoods.That leaves 11 concerned citizens.

SKIP AHEAD TO LAST SATURDAY: One of my sources sent me a notice of a Douglas Park Meeting on Clean-up and Re-Opening. Because the issues are virtually the same as those at Merrie Christmas Park, I thought I’d attend.

This meeting provided good news and bad news for [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. First the good news: It was poorly attended. It was so poorly attended, Sarnoff didn’t even bother showing up, like he had the better-attended Merrie Christmas Park Meeting. The bad news? One of those that showed up was lawyer Michelle Niemeyer.

Niemeyer is the lawyer who has been advising and working with the Friends of Merrie Christmas Park. She’s managed to help them understand and negotiate the extremely complicated thicket of Miami, Miami-Date, Florida and U.S. environmental laws that go into effect once a neighbourhood has been designated a Brownfield site.

According to Niemeyer, the entire process for designating the 6 neighbourhoods around the toxic parks Brownfield sites was flawed from the get-go. The Brownfield designation was slapped on these neighbourhoods without the proper notification, no matter how many publications in which the city claims it was published. There are supposed to be public meetings before any decisions made and none were held.

Another concern expressed at the Douglas Park meeting was one I hadn’t heard before. Folks are not much happier with the artificial turf and rubber mulch the city proposes to use to cap, but not remove, the toxic soil. More and more communities are waking up to the dangers of artificial turf. The Poughkeepsie Journal is just one paper around the country reporting Fake Turf Poses Health Risk

Four of the constituent chemicals in these “tire crumbs” (or “tire mulch”) as they are called — arsenic, benzene, cadmium and nickel — are deemed carcinogens by the International Agency for Cancer Research. Others have been linked to skin, eye and respiratory irritation, kidney and liver problems, allergic reactions, nervous systems disorders and developmental delays.

While the risk came to light recently when a University of Washington women’s soccer coach began to think it might be more than a coincidence that two of her goalies were stricken with cancer, researchers have known about such potential links for years. A 2007 report by the Connecticut-based Environment & Human Health Inc. looked at several scientific studies and found definitive connections between various health problems and exposure to synthetic turf.

Environment & Human Health Inc. also reported that kids on playfields are likely to face similar risks as line workers in the rubber fabrication and reclamation industries, where they say health reports show the presence of multiple volatile organic hydrocarbons and other toxic elements in the air. “Studies at tire reclamation sites report leaching of similar sets of chemicals into the ground water,” says the group.

Yet, the city of Miami, is gung-ho on the use of artificial turf, such as they used for Armbrister Field.

When I went to the Armbrister Field Ribbon Cutting, I took note that the BRAND NEW artificial, rubberized cap over the children’s playground was already flaking. I was able to pick pieces of it up. Some of the small pieces are brightly coloured. I could easily see toddlers picking them up and putting them in their mouths, which is how toddlers sample their world.

HERE’S THE PUNCHLINE: Just as people were leaving the Douglas Park meeting someone passed out the flier at right, which looks almost exactly like the flier that called for a meeting on the toxic soil at Merrie Christmas Park.

Someone said, “Oh look. Sarnoff is holding another Dog and Pony Show.”

Someone else replied, “I hope he saved his script from the last one.”

And, this time, neither of those someones was me.

About Headly Westerfield

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