No Skin In The Game; Part One
The flyer handed out by the protestors.

Thursday night was another night for divided loyalties and for putting things into stark relief. Let me explain.

In Coral Gables protestors from West Grove were expected to gather at 6PM to protest Trolleygate at the Coral Gables Mayoral Debate at 7PM. Also at 7PM, 3-and-a-half miles away, the Coconut Grove Village Council were expected to gather for its oft-delayed regular monthly meeting.* Trolleygate is a promised agenda item at the CGVC. What to do, what to do? The only viable solution: Go to both, like I did last month with the Coconut Grove Playhouse redevelopment meeting and the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee meeting on the same night, and hope for the best. It turned out that I made all the wrong choices on Thursday night, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Biltmore Hotel

I arrived at 6 at the Coral Gables Congregational Church,
the location of the Mayoral Debate, only to see the first protestors just arriving. This is a beautiful little church which covers an entire block
in the middle of an expensive residential neighbourhood. It’s one small
block away from The Biltmore Hotel, one of the most exclusive resorts in the country.

Being dirt poor, I am always struck by the money on display in Coral Gables. It’s conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. The Biltmore is the physical representation of that. According to the WikiWackyWoo

In its heyday, The Biltmore played host to royalty, both Europe’s and Hollywood’s. The hotel counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts as frequent guests. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a temporary White House office set up at the Hotel for when he vacationed on his fishing trips from Miami. There were many gala balls, aquatic shows by the grand pool and weddings were de rigueur as were world class golf tournaments. A product of the Jazz Age, big bands entertained wealthy, well-traveled visitors to this American Riviera resort.

The Biltmore made it through the nation’s economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s by hosting aquatic galas that kept the hotel in the spotlight and drew the crowds. As many as three thousand would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch the synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and the young Jackie Ott, the boy wonder who would dive from an eighty-five foot platform. Johnny Weissmuller, prior to his tree-swinging days in Hollywood, broke the world record at the Biltmore pool and was a swimming instructor. Families would attend the shows and many would dress up and go tea dancing afterwards on the hotel’s grand terrace to the sounds of swinging orchestras.

Now I have nothing against Rich folk, per se. Good for them. They got money and aren’t afraid to show it off. Double-plus good for them. As Max Bialystock, in the Producers, famously shouts, “That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!” However, I had just come from the E.W.F. Stirrup House, currently undergoing Demolition By Neglect so some RICH developer can have his way with the land and turn a lovely and unique spot in ‘Merka into another ugly condo complex. But that’s another story for another day. Or is it? [See Part Two of No Skin In The Game.]

It’s always amazing to me that one only needs to cross an imaginary line on the map separating Coral Gables from Coconut Grove and witness a SPIKE in property values. It’s not something one needs to look up on Zillow. The evidence is right there before your very eyes. From slums to opulence in a few short blocks. Feel free to try it yourself one day. Then ask yourself why.

Panorama of the western facade of only the front
section of the Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Despite it taking up a block, the Coral Gables Congregational Church is still a small church that appears to have been added onto a number of times. From the outside, it appears to be a number of small interconnected buildings, with meeting spaces, chapels, a main church, a FREE TRADE gift shop, and band rehearsal spaces. A lot goes on in those buildings and a lot was going on Thursday night. I walked around the block 3 complete times, waiting for the protest and/or debate to get off the ground and took dozens of pictures of this lovely building. I saw sad people arriving for an Al-Anon meeting and happy people arriving for a wedding rehearsal. In the back of the building I listened to a band rehearse the same 16 bars of a Duke Ellington tune over and over again.

Rafael “Ralph” Cabrera,
posing stiffly for me.

However, the Coral Gables Mayoral Debate was no rehearsal. In this corner: sitting Mayor James Carson. And, in the red trunks, term-limited Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, who now wants the top job for himself. Obviously I have No Skin In The Game, but if I were to vote illegally in Coral Gables, I’d cast my ballot for Cabrera. He is the only politician in Coral Gables who has shown any open concern for the people of West Grove over the issue of Trolleygate. Last year — long before Trolleygate had become a lawsuit pitting West Coconut Grove [David] against the City of Miami and Astor
Development [Goliaths] — Ralph Cabrera was already ringing the [fake] trolley bell loudly
against this injustice by getting it put on the Coral Gables Commission agenda.

When Cabrara saw the Trolleygate protestors, he approached them and introduced himself. He expressed a general apology and said he was very concerned about this project. He thinks the West Grove neighbourhood is getting a raw deal. Cabrera was open in his condemnation, both with the protestors and with me, as I managed to buttonhole him briefly before he headed into the debate. Carbrera knows that none of those people are from Coral Gables and knows that he gains no votes for taking their side. Yet, he did so anyway.

Another gentleman I buttonholed was Edward Harris, a representative from Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez’s office.

Commissioner Bob Welsh of South Miami –not to be
confused with Miami, or Miami-Dade — protesting
against the polluting diesel bus garage.

SLIGHT TANGENT & MEA CULPA: There is a confusing array of governmental levels here, which I keep stubbing my toes upon when I confuse them. Miami-Dade County has its own Commission which presides over 1,946 square miles, the third largest county in Florida in area. However, it’s the largest Florida county in population and, according to the WikiWackyWoo, the 7th most populous county in the entire country. It includes “35 incorporated cities and many unincorporated areas.” Cities like Miami and Coral Gables are within Miami-Dade County, but both have their own city commissions. Coconut Grove, on the other hand, is not its own city, at least not since 1925 when it was annexed by the City of Miami

That’s why my questions to Edward Harris were so idiotic and for which I publicly apologize. When Mr. Harris said he was a rep from Commissioner Suarez’s office, I mistook that for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who represents District 4. Although Harris said “District 7,” my brain didn’t make connection to Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez of District 7. Consequently, all my questions were Miami-centric and not Miami-Dade-centric. D’oh! However, it also explains why Harris was speaking in broad generalities like “we’re watching it” and “our role is to learn” from the “voices of the people.” He was very polite to me, despite how stupid I was.

Pierre Sands, West Grove Homeowners and Tenants
Association, arriving with more protest signs.

However, when I asked him if he thought the Coral Gables diesel bus garage will ever open, his answer was pretty succinct. “Not as a bus garage.” He went on to say that while the facility is being built, what needs to be considered is environmental safety and the close proximity to the residents. “We can find some use for the facility.” Thinking I had my scoop for the day, I moved on. However, I realized on reflection (after figuring out the mistaken identity), Miami-Dade has little to say about this bus garage. While the county may sympathize with the neighbourhood’s predicament, the project was green-lighted by Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, who worked with an out of town developer behind the scenes to bamboozle West Grove. He did this and then justified not allowing the normal neighbourhood notification to his constituents or the Coconut Grove Village Council.

Aside from visually skyrocketing land values, these
corner street signs are a visual symbol one has
entered Coral Gables.

One thing that I think is very telling is that a citizen’s group from Coconut Grove thought its protest would have more traction in Coral Gables than with their own Commissioner in their own district in their own city. After all, it was their Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff that sold them out, not unlike a Modern Day Colonialist. Follow the bouncing ball to see how only the carpetbagging White folk win, while the native Blacks are screwed:

  • Coral Gables benefits because it gets to off-load a polluting diesel bus garage onto the neighbouring city of Miami [maybe**];
  • Coral Gables also benefits from all the new tax revenue that a multimillion dollar mixed use development brings from a chunk of land that it currently uses for a polluting diesel bus garage; 
  • Astor Development, tasked by Coral Gables to find another location for its polluting diesel bus garage, couldn’t afford land in Coral Gables, by it’s own admission;
  • Astor Development thought nothing of finding cheaper land in in the neighbouring city of Miami;
  • The land is cheap because of it being blighted due to 90 years of Systemic Racism. But that’s another story for another day;*
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Coral Gables has a statistic on its web site proudly proclaiming the city as 98% White (Hispanic qualifies as White);
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: It would take a greater Social Demographic Scientist than I to figure out the racial make-up of West Grove. However, if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it was 98% Black;
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Statistics like that are not accidental;
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Oh, by the way, Coconut Grove. No! You can’t have a Coral Gables [fake] Trolly Bus stop outside the diesel bus garage because that’s the free bus that takes people around to all the exclusive shops in Coral Gables. If you want to get there, you’ll have to do it on your own steam;
  • Miami will receive no tax revenue from said polluting diesel bus garage;
  • Astor Development wins no matter how this goes. It now believes the 4 parcels of land acquired to build the diesel bus garage is now worth $3.5 million;
  • Marc D. Sarnoff worked behind the scenes with the developer to play one community group off against to find the best way to get this project through with the least amount of fuss;
  • Therefore . . .

Okay . . . okay . . . I’ll ask the question that everyone else is too afraid to ask: What is Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff getting out of this deal? Why else would he sell his own constituents down the river to work in backrooms with a developer to get a polluting diesel bus garage slipped into the neighbourhood almost in the dead of night?

Just as Pierre Sands arrived with a stack of protest signs, it was time for me to zip over to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club for the Coconut Grove Village Council meeting. I should have stayed at the Mayoral Debate/Protest because the rest of the night was tedious. My GPS logged the fastest route to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, which took me through another opulent neighbourhood before dumping me out onto 37th, where the real estate takes a markedly visual downturn. I’m back in Coconut Grove. I drove past the polluting diesel bus garage and across Grand Avenue. When one is driving east along Grand Avenue you can also see where White Coconut Grove starts.

The stark relief I spoke of in the first paragraph. In Part Two of No Skin In The Game we’ll explore why;
In Part Three of No Skin Left In The Game: The exception that proves the racist rule

* No Skin In The Game; Part Two – An Alternative History of Coral Gables or The Town That Racism Built
** This is still being adjudicated by a court of law and the law is whatever a judge says it is on the day this is decided

About Headly Westerfield

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