Tag Archives: Astor Development

Another Open Email To Miami’s Public Records Department


TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: Frustration Over PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
September 28, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez,
Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing

morning I sent an email which stated I’d be at Miami City Hall on
Tuesday to inspect the files you said would be waiting for me. In that
email I asked 2 questions, basically: Whether the fee for the emails I
requested was still on the table and how much it costs to photocopy per

I never got a response to that email, so I didn’t
know when I arrived on Tuesday morning whether my 24 hours notice was
sufficient. Luckily, when I arrived, I was expected.

There were 2
boxes of material for me to look through, but only a small portion of
the total answered any of my search criteria. The rest was just all the
city files that arrived in those boxes from the former-Commissioner’s

While some of it was quite interesting — and
I wish I had the budget to photocopy that entire 2 inch thick Reid
Welch file — and while some of it matched my search criteria, none of
it is what I asked for.

I asked for all of the email, not the files.

mentioned this to City Clerk Todd Hannon during a brief conversation
yesterday. He had me second guessing myself because he said I had asked
for everything, and the boxes of files was just one stream for my
request. The other stream was the electronic request for all of the

I am not sure what instructions Mr.
Hannon received, but this is exactly what I asked for, from my original
email to Commissioner Russell:

I would like to receive any email [from the former District 2 Commissioners office] that references the following keywords:

And, I’m still waiting.

To be perfectly honest, I was requesting the email FIRST in case it gave
me new information to add to a RECORDS search. You see, my RECORDS
search would have come later, based upon what the emails revealed.

drove down to Miami from Sunrise yesterday hoping to do all of this on
one trip. No one in the Clerk’s office knew a thing about the email I was supposed to examine.
Aside from the gas wasted, I spent more than 3.5 hours on the road 
[Yeah, it shocked me too. The roads were bad yesterday.]

about my time and gas makes me wonder how many keystrokes it took your
IT guy to come up with a cost of $100.31. How many minutes from an IT
guy am I paying for? What is the basic rate?

good piece of news: I now know that you charge 15 cents per photocopy,
because I got a few made out of those boxes. That’s Kinko pricing.  

I’d like to draw your attention to the penultimate paragraph of a
letter Commissioner Ken Russell sent to the Miami Herald, published

Our decision on Thursday morning is not an easy one, but it is very
simple. Our attorney withheld public records, and I have lost my trust
in her. This cannot be denied, and it’s enough to call for her removal.
What’s at stake, however, is much greater. The commission has this
opportunity to tell the public that we prioritize transparency and
accountability — that we don’t agree that friends in high places should
be able to circumvent our public process.

I’m still waiting for transparency. None of this should be as hard as it has been.

An Open Reply To Miami’s Public Records Department

I have chosen to make this a public reply to an email recently received from the City of Miami’s Public Records Department.

TO: Jones, Isiaa <IJones@miami.gov>
SUBJECT: PRR 16-452: FOIA Request
September 16, 2016

CC: Melendez, Eleazar <ElMelendez@miamigov.com>;
Russell, Ken (Commissioner) <krussell@miamigov.com>; Mendez,
Victoria  <VMendez@miamigov.com>; Hannon, Todd
<thannon@miamigov.com>; The Loyal Readers of the Not Now Silly
Newsroom; Various Facebook Groups and Pages of my choosing

Hello and thank you for your prompt attention to my FOIA request, which I first sent to the office of the District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. You’ve summed up my keyword search criteria correctly.

However, while some may feel the fee to acquire these emails small, as a citizen blogger with a budget of $0 and zero cents, I simply cannot — will not — pay this cost. If I were, say, the Miami Herald, I could easily afford this. Unfortunately these are topics that never much interested the Miami Herald. So, it’s left to a citizen-journalist-blogger like me to ask these inconvenient questions.

I have been writing about Trolleygate and Soilgate as separate issues from their beginnings. However, recently it began to appear as if there is a connection between these two stories. Hence, my records request.

Tangentially, there was a time in this country when anyone could wander down to the local City Hall and ask to take a look at a file. Now one must pay the costs of retrieval, from an expensive and complicated system the city set up, because that’s the only option. While I understand how that makes sense fiscally, costs like this run counter to the Florida Sunshine laws. The information should be free.

Additionally, in your email you state:

The process to create the storage media will take approximately 4 business days after receiving the approval and payment. The costs includes [sic] searches for Civilian mailboxes. Police mailboxes are not included. If the request is related to a law matter case or may include any other exempted emails then a review of the results may be required before being released and this may add more delivery time and cost.

That means there will almost assuredly be additional, hidden, costs because at least one of these matters was the subject of extensive litigation, which the city of Miami eventually lost. This cost the City of Miami and the city attorney’s office a hefty legal bill that has yet to be tallied. [Hey! That might make another good Public Records Request, but one thing at a time.]

IRONY ALERT: As was in all the local newspapers, the current District 2 Commissioner, Ken Russell, requested the firing of the City of Miami attorney because he says his office no longer has any faith in her. And, why is that? Because when his office asked her office to produce emails, some were not forthcoming.

Yet, due to city protocol, here’s how Eleazar Melendez, Chief of Staff at the Commissioner’s office, was forced to reply to my FOIA request:

I am passing your email to the city attorney’s office, as we discussed, in order to fully and legally comply with this public records request. They will perform a full and exhaustive search for the terms requested and, as we discussed, might ask for a payment in order to cover resources being dedicated to performing the search.

The City of Miami attorney the District 2 Commissioner wants fired replied:

Will handle. Thx.
Victoria Méndez, City Attorney

Kafka lives!!!

Consequently, and for the reasons listed above, I am CCing the current District 2 Commissioner to see whether he is interested in discovering what kind of strange deals were made by his predecessor to:

1). Get Armbrister Field AstroTurfed over so quickly, especially considering other parks were being closed due to toxic soil [Read: Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again];

2). Get a relative clean bill of health for Armbrister Field while he was closing other parks that had toxic soil, even though parts of Armbrister Field was recently closed due to toxic soil [Read: Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?];

3). Appear to act as political lobbyist and fixer when he intermediated between Astor Development and a community group to offer $200,000 to remediate Armbrister Field with AstroTurf in order so that they drop their objection to the Trolley maintenance garage being built on Douglas Avenue [Read: Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?];

4). Subtly threaten his constituents to withdraw his approval supporting local community initiatives if they refuse to drop their objections to the Trolley maintenance garage [Read: The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show];

5). Possibly helped the developer find a way around a City of Miami’s Planning and Zoning e-mail that flagged the Trolley maintenance garage as non-conforming [Read: BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces];

6). Totally ignore the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to force a non-conforming Trolley maintenance garage onto Douglas Avenue [Read: Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated];

7). So quickly close 6 parks and begin remediation plans without any consultation with the ratepayers, who also happened to also be his own constituents in some cases;

8). Illegally apply (then remove, then deny he ever had ever done so in the first place) a Brownfield Field Site designation in the neighbourhoods surrounding these parks deemed toxic [Read: When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face].

That is why I am making a formal request to the current District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell to request these documents on behalf of the citizens of West Grove, who have been fighting systemic racism for many decades.

It has always been my contention that many of the decisions that affected West Grove made by the previous office-holder appear to have been a modern day extension of the systemic racism that has plagued the West Grove – and, to make a larger point, the entire country – over the last century. [Read: Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate] There is no way a Trolley maintenance garage would have ever been sited near Shipping and Virginia and it’s instructive to note that Blanche Park, across the street from the previous office-holder, was the first park closed due to toxic soil and remediated (and remediated more than once, for that matter).

I just want to find out what was happening behind the scenes while the constituents were being kept in the dark.

Thank you for your prompt attention to these matters.

Headly Westerfield
Chief Word Wrangler
Not Now Silly Newsroom

Armbrister Field Contaminated After All! Was There An AstroTurf Cover Up?

More about Trolleygate and Soilgate

An Introduction to Trolleygate

Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces

An Open Letter To Miami Media

Marc D. Sarnoff ► Everything Old Is New Again

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face

Back in 2013, when Soilgate was just getting off the ground (pun intended), the big surprise was that Esther Mae Armbrister Park was NOT one of those ordered closed IMMEDIATELY.

That’s because Armbrister Park is immediately adjacent to where Old Smokey had been belching out black and acrid smoke for close to 70 years. Old Smokey is also where the contaminated soil dumped in the Miami parks ordered closed had originally come from.

Despite the relative clean bill of health, the football field at Armbrister Park was immediately remediated by having the topsoil scraped, removed, and the whole thing capped with AstroTurf. Even the children’s playground was capped and covered with a rubberized material, which almost immediately started to flake and disintegrate.

Everybody thought that was the end of that. Until September 7, 2016, that is.

That’s when my phone and text started blowing up. Several of my faithful readers wasted no time to tell me that they heard Armbrister Field was being closed because it was found to be contaminated with toxic soil. However, none of my sources had first-hand knowledge at that moment in time. [Documents started winging their way around the internet a few hours later.]

To get confirmation, I thought I would go straight to District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell. He and I originally met over the issue of toxic soil long before he ever considered running for office. At the time he was locked in battle against the [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff over the remediation of Merrie Christmas Park. This is the park right across the street from his house. It — and 6 other parks — were suddenly closed without any notification after the soil had been deemed toxic.

The residents living around Merrie Christmas Park hired a lawyer (bankrolled privately) to see the park was remediated to their satisfaction. And, it was. That also led to the removal of the Brown Field Site Designation that had been illegally applied to their neighbourhood.

Tangentially, and no less important, is that the park immediately across the street from [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was also remediated. In fact, it was the first to be remediated. What’s more is that it’s been remediated twice already.

My point being that it’s bad optics when the park in front of your house is fixed, but there are still entire neighbourhoods waiting nearly 4 years for their parks to reopen.

Ceremonial ground breaking for the remediation
of the toxic soil at Douglas Park – July 6, 2016

On July 6th I attended a groundbreaking for the eventual reopening of Douglas Park, a park that is still not renovated after being closed for nearly 4 years.

Back in November of 2014, [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was assuring residents round Douglas Park that the city was on top of their toxic soil problem. However, the work did not start until July of this year under the administration of his successor. It’s estimated that it will take 2 years before the park reopens. And, we know how solid these kind of estimates are.

But I digress.

My call to Commissioner Russell’s office seemed to take everyone by surprise. For laughs I decided to go through his main office number. Speaking to the receptionist, I made it clear that I was a reporter, I needed to speak to Chief of Staff Eleazar Melendez, Anthony Balzbre, but more importantly Commissioner Russell, for an ON THE RECORD response. She dutiful took down all the info, said they were all in a meeting, but asked me to hold on.

Within a minute Eleazar was on the phone with me. This was the first he had heard of Armbrister Park being closed and could not confirm. I told him I needed an ON THE RECORD comment and confirmation from his boss. He said he’d get back to me as soon as he learned more. [In the meantime, I was still getting phone calls and info from other sources.]

Less than an hour and a half later Commissioner Russell called me back personally to confirm what I had heard. He knew little more than the park was closing due to elevated levels of arsenic, but promised to keep me up to speed.

Unlike the parks that were found to have toxic soil, Armbrister Field was not contaminated with the same Old Smokey landfill that was spread around all the other parks. While this appears to be a case of “what goes up, must come down” further testing is needed to determine where the toxins came from. Old Smokey belched out smoke and particulate over a wide area for around 70 years. It was carried wherever the prevailing winds blew. That’s why everyone was surprised that Armbrister Field had been given a clean bill of health when all the other parks had closed.

Or had it?

During the Trolleygate fiasco, this reporter wrote about how [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff had been using new AstroTurf at Armbrister Field as a bribe bargaining chip to get the Trolleygate diesel bus garage built. Apparently, [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff convinced Astor Development to cough up $250,000 out of the goodness of its corporate heart to cover Armbrister Field with AstroTurf. However, there appeared to have been strings attached by [allegedly] corrupt former-Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. He wanted the West Grove ratepayer groups to drop their challenge(s) to Astor Development building what would eventually turn out to be the illegally constructed polluting diesel bus garage on Douglas Avenue in their community.

The Now Now Silly Newsroom has published several stories that called into question Astor’s motives in proffering a $250,000 bribe incentive in the form of a new AstroTurfed football field. In the end, who did pay for the AstroTurf at Armbrister? And, why was the amount $250,000?

In the last 2 days this reporter has had several conversations with officials, both on and off the record. I think I am finally closing in on the quid pro quo. There will definitely be a Part Two to this story as I learn more, ferret out more documents, and as more people go ON THE RECORD. Eventually I hope to answer the following questions:

How did the toxic soil under Armbrister Field
manage to fly under the radar until now?How did Armbrister Field get remediated so quickly
when several parks that have still yet to reopen?

Did Astor Development pay a quarter of a million
dollars for the remediation of Armbrister Field?

Who received the $250,000?

What part did [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2
Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff have in all this jiggery-pokery?

Stay tuned . . .

Is Trolleygate Headed For An Out-Of-Court Settlement?

Before the meeting of the Coconut Village Council got underway

The February 25th Coconut Grove Village Council purred along nicely until the agenda item of Trolleygate. That’s when the wheels fell off the meeting’s diesel bus. Residents broke Robert’s Rules of Order to talk out-of-turn, denouncing the proposed settlement concerning the non-conforming diesel bus maintenance garage on Douglas Road that contravenes not only the Miami 21 plan, but also the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such was the outrage that the committee presenting the report had to remind the residents that they were just messengers.

So confident are all the parties that an agreement is possible, that they’ve requested a 60-day freeze in all legal proceedings to see if they can all get on the bus. Based on the anger expressed at the Village Council Meeting, it may be an uphill climb on a rough road to a negotiated settlement.

The former future non-conforming diesel bus garage?

The broad outline of the proposed settlement looks like this: Coral Gables agrees to drop its lawsuit against Astor Development that asks a judge to abrogate its contract with the developer. Meanwhile Astor Trolley/Astor Development agrees to stick the new fake trolley garage RIGHT WHERE IT IS NOW, more or less, as opposed to the non-conforming White Elephant on Douglas Road.

Everything old is new again: The new plan is for Astor to build the multimillion dollar mixed use complex with a maintenance bus garage hidden inside. However, because it will take time for Astor to build the multimillion dollar mixed-use development in Coral Gables, these two parties are asking the West Grove residents to allow the Douglas Road vehicle maintenance facility to operate for the next 18-months to 2 years.

That’s when the meeting exploded.

While this is not a scientific survey by any means, it appeared the majority of those present at the Village Council meeting (which was so small a group that it represented only the tiniest fraction of Coconut Grove residents) were vehemently against allowing any use of the non-conforming bus maintenance garage as a bus maintenance garage, even for a day.

And, if those residents read yesterday’s Miami-Herald, they won’t be reassured. According to Jenny Staletovich:

The city would need to use the 12-bay depot that neighbors bitterly oppose in the 3300 block of Douglas Road in the West Grove while the new depot is being constructed. After two or three years, the trolleys would then move out, said Coral Gables City Attorney Craig Leen.

So, the 18-months-to-2-years touted at the meeting is already being stretched to 3 years and that’s before any construction delays — or construction begins, for that matter.

However, let’s assume this deal is accepted. What becomes of the building on Douglas Road after Coral Gables gets done with it? The community is already eyeballing it for some practical use in a community trying to pull itself out of a downward economic spiral. F’rinstance, there is a dearth of grocery stores on that end of Grand Avenue. Or, what about an artist’s cooperative? Indoor/Outdoor all-weather Farmer’s Market? Or a cooperative retail space like that of The Rust Belt, in Ferndale, Michigan, but with a Bahamian/West Grove vibe? These are all ideas already being kicked around. However, that’s putting several carts before all this horsepower.

The main sentiment heard at the Village Council meeting was, “If you give them an inch…” Similar was expressed to Miami New Times’ writer Allie Conti, who writes in today’s Riptide:

Although the plan seems like it could work, the steering committee that represents the West Grove residents says no way. Committee chair Linda Williams says it’s important that the community decide what the garage is used for once it’s vacated. But she is also concerned the plan isn’t binding enough to get the city and developers out of there at all.

“We will not commit to letting them use the garage for two more years, because then we’ll never get them out,” she says. “There will be delays, and even trying to fine them won’t work — these people have deep pockets, so they’ll just pay the fine.”

While an inch hasn’t even been given yet, some people are already planning the next mile of road under these fake trolleys. This vision asks West Grove residents to put up with this non-conforming diesel bus maintenance garage forever, and a day, not just for a couple of years. 

As predicted in these pages only days ago: The Coconut Grove Grapevine asks the musical question, “Maybe we can use it for the Grove trolley?

In other words: Ignore the
century of institutional racism and the [alleged] Miami corruption that
sited the garage on Douglas Road in the first place. Let’s make West Grove live with it because that’s how Modern Day Colonialists operate.

There’s a fascinating story about that blue triangle
above in which Coral Gables was able to hide its
racism in plain sight by making it a historic district

Speaking of Colonialism: In a totally unrelated, but tangential issue, Coral Gables still plans to run its fake trolleys into the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District, which it has ignored up until now. This weird triangle of Coral Gables land, wedged between West Grove and famed U.S. Highway #1, housed the Black enclave of Coral Gables. These folks were the servant class of Coral Gables and this is the only area in which they were allowed to live at one time.  U.S. 1 served as The Colour Line in those days, making this neighbourhood the exception that proves the rule.

It would be an irony indeed if this under-served area of Coral Gables is finally brought into the 20th Century as a result of opposition to Trolleygate by their West Grove neighbours. Maybe one day West Grove will be treated with the same belated dignity.

As the Merry Pranksters were fond of saying, “You’re either on the bus, or you’re off the bus.” Can the lawyers get all parties on this bus before the 60-day deadline expires?

An Open Letter To Miami Media

The White Elephant completed and awaiting the end of lawsuits
I sent a variation of this letter to a local reporter. Because I worked on it for so long, and because every word I write is deserving of immortality, I am reprinting it here as an open letter in an amended form. Ahem. Testing . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . Ahem.

Dear Miami Media At Large:

Have I got a story for you. It’s a great story, one you can sink your teeth into and make your investigatory bones. It’s about waste and corruption within the City of Miami. I’d love to do it myself, but I’m just a little guy with a blog, yannow? I don’t have the resources you do, Miami Media, and I’ve been chasing this story for a year. 

I was alerted to Trolleygate right around this time last year, so I wrote “An Introduction to Trolleygate.” That’s when I really started
investigating this story. From the very beginning I
said the siting of the bus garage was, straight up, Institutional
. It was not dissimilar to the racism that allowed West Grove to be gifted with Old Smokey all those decades ago. Therefore, it was heartening when
the USDOT agreed with me, which is the thrust of a recent Miami Herald article “How fed dollars for trolleys in Miami-Dade, local cities spurred civil rights investigation.” 

The article is correct, as far as it goes. However, it’s missing the entire point, as far as I’m concerned. It never asks:

“How did West Grove get stuck with
this white elephant in the first place?”

The deal between Astor Development and Coral Gables aside, there appears to have been a concerted effort within the City of Miami to get Astor’s dealie done with as little public input and awareness as possible. One of my off-the-record sources, an architect who has attended dozens of development meetings in several cities, tells me they’ve never seen a project approved so quickly in Miami. “A hot knife through butter” was the way it was described. Why? How? These are questions worth exploring, Miami Media.

From the very beginning of this project [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff seemed to be interested in making this happen on the QT, with as little muss and fuss as possible. Why? He allegedly helped Astor Development pit one West Grove community group off against another, which culminated in a huge lump sum of money ($250,000, apparently) being proffered by Astor Development for soil remediation of Armbrister Field. According to Miami Herald reporting, those people who were offered the money felt it was a bribe to get their approval for the maintenance garage, but considered it better than nothing if the garage was going to be built anyway. Why was Astor Development suddenly so magnanimous? How did Astor think to offer money to the community group in the first place? Who brokered this soil remediation deal with the community? Was Sarnoff a party to these negotiations? More questions you may wish to explore, Miami Media.

REMEMBER: This was before word broke that there was toxic soil all over Miami. What did Sarnoff know about toxic soil and when did he know it?

While those are all questions that need answers, Miami Media, there is one bigger question that might answer everything:

“Who is responsible for ignoring The Smoking
Gun email in the Miami Development Office?”

I wrote about this last September in “BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces.” Follow the bouncing ball. To paraphrase my own reporting:

As the wheels were being greased to get this project through Miami City Hall quietly, Dakota Hendon — Miami Building and Zoning Department — noted something VERY inconvenient. The Astor/Coral Gables/West Grove trolley garage project they had been about to approve DID NOT comply with the Miami 21 Plan. Hendon should know. He helped write the Miami 21 plan. To that end he sent an email to Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia [embedded here] to say this garage would be non-conforming because vehicle maintenance is an industrial use, which was prohibited on Douglas Road. [Not to mention that the Miami 21 Plan specifically prohibits things called “government operated vehicle maintenance facilities” on the Douglas Road corridor.]

At this point the City of Miami paper trail seems to go cold, except for one curious thing. Astor Development resubmitted its application to the City of Miami. This second, replacement, application was virtually identical to the first one, except this new one removed the word “maintenance” from the intended uses of the building.

Let’s be clear. The intended use of the building never changed. It was just a massaging of the wording on the original application once Hendon discovered there was a problem. And, on the basis of this amended application, the project was approved faster than “a hot knife through butter.”

The former Pan Am air clipper terminal has been restored beautifully
to become Miami City Hal. It’s where the alleged corruption now happens.

MORE QUESTIONS: Who told Astor to change its application? When Miami learned the project was non-conforming, why was the project not stopped dead in its trolley tracks? Why did Marc Sarnoff — only after the controversy erupted in the community — mount a Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show in a futile attempt to placate the West Grove community?

Where was the Miami Media at this laughable Town Hall Meeting? It was the kind of presentation that is usually given to taxpayers and stakeholders BEFORE a project is approved — in order to get it approved — not afterwards. Why was Sarnoff so concerned? Why was Sarnoff so involved? Why did Sarnoff spend taxpayers’ dollars to mount the Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show if it was already a done deal that couldn’t be changed? Who shepherded this project through the rough shoals at City Hall (to mix metaphors)? How did it get past goalkeepers Henden and Garcia? How much taxpayer money is now being spent by Coral Gables, Miami, and Miami-Dade to defend these [allegedly] corrupt backroom deals in the various legal forums that have erupted? (Astor pays its own freight, of course, and the West Grove community has been getting its legal services pro bono.) See, Miami Media, this story practically writes itself.

Miami Media, trust me on this one: You really won’t have much work to do in order to lay this entire fiasco at the feet of [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. You’ll be hailed as a hero, too, because it will come right out of the blue. Sarnoff is rarely mentioned in stories about Trolleygate, despite the fact that he seemed to have his hands in almost every stage of this boondoggle in which Miami doesn’t even receive tax dollars, let alone a fake trolley stop.

Sarnoff’s interest in getting this disaster approved appears to have gone well beyond the basic fact that this polluting garage is in his district. Ask yourself this, Miami Media: If he was truly looking out for the interests of his constituents, Sarnoff could have interpreted every ambiguity in the zoning by-laws in favour of the West Grove community, as opposed to the OUT OF TOWN developer. However, Sarnoff said over and over at the Dog and Pony Show that his hands were tied because the project met all city standards, something we now know is not true.

If Sarnoff was truly looking out for the interests of his constituents, he would not have threatened them at the Dog and Pony Show. It was shocking to hear him casually claim that the West Grove lawsuit not only put in jeopardy the Arbrister Field bribe, but might cause him to withdraw HIS support for a redevelopment project currently in the planning stages for Grand Avenue. It was the most blatant example of Modern Day Colonialism I have ever witnessed. The naked political power dropped casually, as if he could not care less whether these projects go ahead, reminded me of Jim Crow. See, Miami Media? This story is really as old as the hills, if South Florida had any.

The Dog and Pony Show was my first contact with Sarnoff and I saw a bully in action. I’m surprised the Miami Media doesn’t write more about this aspect of his character, before he starts closing down the bridges in Miami.

The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park sculpture, which I have
nicknamed Marc. If Sarnoff had any empathy for children and
families he would not have allowed two-thirds of Blanche Park
to go to the dogs at the expense of a children’s playground.

And, just to put a fine point on this whole dealie: if Marc Sarnoff had any empathy for his constituents in West Grove, he would not have lined the back wall of the Dog and Pony Show with a largest police presence anyone can ever remember at a public meeting in Miami.

Could this be one of the [several] reasons my West Grove sources call him racist? Could this quiet racism be what allowed him to not even think about the residents of West Grove when approving this project, except on how to bamboozle them?

Would Marc D. Sarnoff have approved of this garage at, say, Shipping and Virginia, on the site of The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park, right next to The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Traffic Circle. Would he have pushed for this in any other residential neighbourhood outside of West Grove? Would it have gone through like “a hot knife through butter”?

So, you see, Miami Media, I think there are a lot of unanswered questions concerning Trolleygate, the least of which concerns the Department of Transportation’s objections concerning the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Which is ironic because Institutional Racism informs the whole project at every level, from the ground up. Ask this basic question, Miami Media, and spread out from here: Why was Astor Development able to find the cheapest land in West Grove?

So, there you have it, Miami Media. It’s a story of naked corruption and racism hiding in plain sight. It’s one you’ve pretty well been ignoring for a year. But, I’ve made it easy for you. I’ve wrapped the entire package with a pretty bow just for you. Start pulling at that ribbon, that leads to all these unanswered questions, you might just discover corruption at Miami City Hall. To paraphrase Captain Renault in Casablanca, “I’m shocked, shocked to find that corruption is going on at Miami City Hall.”

So, Miami Media, you may want to do your job and investigate these acute angles surrounding Trolleygate. And, let me remind you, Miami Media, reporters win Pullet Surprises writing about government corruption.

With all my love,
Headly Westerfield
[aka Aunty Em]

Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated

The non-conforming government operated vehicle maintenance
facility appeared virtually finished on a October 16, 2013 visit

Ever since I first began writing about Trolleygate, I have called it an obvious case of Racial Discrimination. Now it appears the United States Department of Transportation, writing the latest jokes in this comedy of errors, agrees with me. All brought to the good people of Miami and Coral Gables by [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff.

Legal troubles over the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility have grow exponentially since the residents of West Grove were first made aware of the project and launched a David vs Goliath legal challenge against the cities of Miami and Coral Gables, not to mention the powerful Astor Development, a company with deep pockets. Had the residents not had a legal team willing to work Pro Bono, they would have never been able to afford to take on this legal battle.

Unfortunately when the residents’ lawsuit came up for a hearing the judge, while sympathetic to the residents’ arguments, ruled not to rule, saying he had no jurisdiction. The residents’ legal team vowed to continue to fight the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility and began to prepare an appeal.

And, it’s a good thing that legal battle continued. Intrepid tree-shaking by the West Grove legal team discovered two very important documents, the first of which is the Smoking Gun email. This internal email was from Dakota Hendon (City of Miami Building and Zoning Department) to Francisco Garcia (City of Miami Planning Director). It stated in unequivocal language that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility did NOT comply with the Miami 21 Plan, which specifically ruled out things called “government operated vehicle maintenance facilities.”

Rather than say “NO” to a multi-million dollar developer, there was some obvious — if not obviously illegal — jiggery-pokery performed by someone [still to be determined] within the City of Miami government. This person ordered the developer to re-write and re-submit the proposal, but this time leave out the word “maintenance.” The developer did so and the building permit was issued under this second application, even though the only thing that had changed was the wording, not the building’s intent.

However, the West Grove legal team shook out something far more important during its research. It turns out that City of Miami officials had been sitting on a report for years that said the soil at Armbrister Field contained high levels of toxins from Old Smokey, the not-so-affectionate name for the incinerator that belched out carcinogens for nearly 100 years — before it was closed down in 1970. That discovery led to soil testing at all the parks in Miami and, GUESS WHAT?!?! It turns out that toxic ash from this incinerator was used as fill all over Miami, including many of its parks. Expensive remedial action will need to be taken while the parks are closed, ironically including the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park.

The White Elephant at 3320 South Douglas Road from another angle

NB: Don’t get distracted. Soilgate is merely a side issue to this three-ring circus.

Soon after the West Grove residents had their case tossed out of court, the City of Coral Gablesthe city that Racism builtfiled its own lawsuit against Astor Development and the City of Miami. The suit alleges, essentially, that it was duped. Coral Gables was to accept transfer of a ‘clean’ government operated vehicle maintenance facility that Astor Trolley, LLC, built in exchange for land on which Astor Development, LLC wants to make gazillions of dollars by building a massive mixed-use development. However, Coral Gables is now concerned that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility is encumbered in lawsuits and wants a judge to either sever the contract it has with Astor or, in the alternative, rule that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility actually conforms to the Miami 21 Plan, despite the fact that it doesn’t, smoking gun emails notwithstanding.

Which brings us full-circle to the [alleged] Civil Rights violations. According to a Department of Transportation investigation into Trolleygate instigated by a neighbour’s complaint, the cities of Miami and Coral Gables [allegedly] violated the Civil Rights of the West Grove residents by not ensuring the project complied with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VI. The 13 page letter and memorandum from the Federal Transit Administration reads in part [PDF]:

As you know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) provides that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require that public transportation services be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner. To implement this requirement, DOT regulations and the Federal Transit Administration’s Title VI guidance require that entitles receiving Federal assistance, when determining the site or location of public transportation facilities, may not make site selections with the purpose or effect of excluding persons from, denying them the benefits of, or subjecting them to discrimination with respect to, public transportation services on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.

To ensure compliance with FTA’s Title VI regulatory requirements, entities receiving Federal assistance must conduct a Title VI equity analysis for all public transportation facility siting decisions. This analysis will generally include outreach to persons potentially impacted by the siting of the respective facility, and consideration of the equity impacts of various siting alternatives. When a potentially discriminatory impact is found, the transit agency must revise its plans in order to avoid or mitigate the discriminatory impact. If, upon taking mitigating actions and reanalyzing the proposed site selection, the transit agency determines that minority communities will continue to bear a disparate impact of the proposed site selection, the transit agency may implement the site selection only [emphasis in original] if the agency has a substantial legitimate justification for the site selection and can show that there are no alternatives that would have a less disparate impact on the minority community.

The entrance and maintenance bays for the fake trolley buses as
viewed from Frow, a quiet residential street, on October 16th

Cutting through the verbiage: Because both the cities of Coral Gables and Miami accept Federal Dollars to run the free fake trolley buses, they both need to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI. When Astor Development decided to build this in a predominately minority neighbourhood without consultation, it [allegedly] violated the Civil Rights of the struggling neighbourhood. Furthermore, when Coral Gables refused to give the residents of West Coconut Grove a Fake Trolley Stop, it [allegedly] violated their Civil Rights.

However, the comedy doesn’t end there. The first paragraph quoted above starts out “As you know…” It turns out that both Miami and Coral Gables claim that they didn’t know and have never considered Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Oh! Stop!! My!!! Sides!!!! According to Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald:

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation, triggered by a neighbor’s complaint, found the county failed to ensure the cities followed the law. The cities, in turn, violated the law by not conducting a study during the garage’s “planning stages” to ensure that race did not play a part in determining where it was built or whether the garage would have an “adverse impact” on the West Grove neighborhood, which has long struggled to attract business.

The two municipalities, which say they were unaware of the requirements, also failed to perform public outreach as required by the law, the investigation found.

[…] University of Miami law professor Anthony Alfieri, whose Center for Ethics & Public Service has helped residents fight the garage, said the ruling calls into question whether the governments violated the law in other projects where federal transportation money was used.

“This letter and memorandum raise a significant question about whether the county and these two municipalities have ever been in compliance with Title VI, because apparently they’re not aware of the objectives and have no program in effect,” he said. “Title VI is one of the main provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so this statute is 49 years old. People marched and died because of this.”

If this were really a situation comedy, this would be where the plot complications begin. Miami and Coral Gables have now committed to conducting the FTA study that should have happened long before the building permit was ever issued; just like the Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show was only mounted by [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff after the residents of West Grove discovered he had worked behind their backs to grease the wheels to get this white elephant approved. That’s our sitcom character Sarnoff: Always putting the cart before the horse. Hilarity ensues.

Still not laughing? Maybe the latest finger-pointing from Astor Development will get a chuckle or two out of you. According to the same Miami Herald article:

Astor, however, believes the city should have made sure the Civil Rights Act was followed.

“The city of Coral Gables recently learned that they were subject to the rules and regulations of the FTA, of which the city manager and the city attorney were not aware of in the past,” Astor spokesman Tad Schwartz said.

“Their compliance with the FTA program was not disclosed in any way with our agreement. This wasn’t in our contract.”

Here’s where the comedy ends because: TAXPAYERS’ MONEY!!! Every dollar spent on this project so far has been a monumental waste. When [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff decided to help Astor Development push this project through Miami City Hall, it had the reverse-Midas effect: Everything touched by this project has turned to manure. Astor Development purchased the land and threw up the structure. Astor, Miami and Coral Gables have all hired legal teams for the various lawsuits past, present, and future. This is throwing good money after bad and, except for Astor’s money, the taxpayers are on the hook for it all.

ROLL CREDITS: This comedy of errors has been brought to you by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, the anti-Midas, who decided a developer’s desire to build once again trumped the interests of his own constituents.

Coral Gables Now Suing Over Trolleygate

Almost finished: The polluting vehicle maintenance facility on August 26, 2013

The residents of West Grove woke up to good news this morning. The Miami Herald is reporting the City of Coral Gables is now suing Astor Development over the Trolleygate diesel bus maintenance garage. It was just last month when Not Now Silly was forced to report in the story West Grove Residents Lose ► Polluting Trolley Bus Garage Will Go Ahead:

The residents of west Coconut Grove had their hopes dashed yesterday when Miami-Dade County Judge Ronald G. Dresnick ruled that a polluting diesel bus garage will go ahead in their residential neighbourhood as planned.

What a difference a few weeks make. As the Miami-Herald’s Jenny Staletovich reports:

Coral Gables has sued the company building a controversial trolley garage for the city in neighboring Coconut Grove, saying the garage doesn’t comply with zoning rules in the surrounding historic black neighborhood.

And unless a judge rules otherwise, Coral Gables will walk away from the deal it struck with the developer, City Attorney Craig Leen said Wednesday.

Oddly enough the Coral Gables lawsuit [PDF] is based on some of the same grounds as the resident’s lawsuit that was rejected, but comes at it from a business standpoint, according to Ralf Brookes, part of the pro bono legal team that represented the community last month.

“We’re delighted to see Coral Gables has filed suit. Of course we agree with the city of Coral Gables that the intended use is not commercial and is a government vehicle maintenance facility is an industrial use. That’s what we have been arguing all along, but Judge Resnick ruled he didn’t have jurisdiction,” Brookes told Not Now Silly by telephone this morning.

The City of Coral Gables is alleging in its suit that Astor Development is not complying with the Miami 21 Plan and that, therefore, it is not obligated to go ahead with a second deal to convey Coral Gables land to Astor for a huge mixed use development. The Coral Gables suit is asking the judge, who will not be Resnick, to either rule the polluting diesel bus maintenance facility conforms to Miami’s official plan, or allow the city to back out of the contract allowing Astor to redevelop the land on which the current polluting diesel bus maintenance facility sits.

If the judge rules in favour of Coral Gables, what would happen to the building that’s almost finished? One community activist sees this as an opportunity for the struggling neighbourhood. An adaptive re-use of the building could include a farmer’s market or an incubator for small business opportunities. I see it as being large enough to become an artist’s’ cooperative, like The Rust Belt Market in Ferndale, Michigan.

Whatever the building becomes it is beginning to look like everybody’s predictions will come true: This building will never be used as a vehicle maintenance facility.

YouTube videos I took of the soon-to-be mixed use building on August 26, 2013. They show the relationship of this building to the quiet residential neighbourhood and the One Grove mural:

West Grove Residents Lose ► Polluting Bus Garage Will Go Ahead

Indefatigable Coconut Grove community activist Laurie Cook leading the protest

The residents of west Coconut Grove had their hopes dashed yesterday when Miami-Dade County Judge Ronald G. Dresnick ruled that a polluting diesel bus garage will go ahead in their residential neighbourhood as planned.

Prior to the hearing about 50 resident of the Grove gathered in the 100 degree heat for a public awareness campaign on the courthouse steps, until they were kicked off the steps and made to use the sidewalk. Then everyone gathered in courtroom 4-2 at 10:30 a.m. to hear oral arguments.

[This was the coldest room I have ever been in. After we all came in sweaty and clammy from the heat, everyone was immediately chilled to the bone and remained that way until the hearing ended at 1 p.m. Meat lockers are not kept this cold. It must be so the law won’t spoil. The court clerk had what appeared to be a blanket pulled over her shoulders. The lawyers were the only ones not disadvantaged by the cold. Now I know why they all wear suits.]

The meat locker called Courtroom 4-2. Can you see their breath?

The legal arguments went on for nearly 2.5 hours and when it was all over the judge ruled — to make a long story short — that he really didn’t have jurisdiction to issue the residents an injunction to stop the polluting diesel bus garage based on the several legal arguments presented.

To make a long story long: The judge decided he wasn’t going to rule on the Plaintiff’s Constitutional arguments, which were about prior neighbourhood notification (where residents only have 15 days to file a protest) and how one gets word a project has finally been approved. Those approval notices are posted every 2 weeks on a hard-to-find area of the City of Miami’s web site. [I’m net savvy and I’ve never been able to find it.] Furthermore, as I learned in court from the plaintiff’s lawyers, 49% of West Grove residents do not have access to the internet. And, even if they did, they would be required to keep checking the city’s web site every 2 weeks — 26 times a year — in case a building permit has been issued on a project of local concern. It’s a lot like that opening scene of the Hitchhiker’s Guilde to the Galaxy when a work crew arrives to demolish Arthur Dent’s house for a highway bypass. They tell him that he had every opportunity to protest the highway because he could have always gone to City Hall to see the plans:

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

Another Plaintiff argument the judge rejected was that the Coral Gables Bus Garage would be a “government vehicle maintenance facility” which is specifically EXCLUDED by the Miami 21 Plan for the Douglas Road corridor. That argument didn’t fly for 2 reasons, as I understand it. * Defendants argued that the bus garage is currently owned by Astor Development and, therefore, it’s not government operated yet. Only when Astor Development signs over the bus garage to the City of Coral Gables would it become a government vehicle maintenance facility . . . or, maybe not.

The other argument from the defendant seemed far more arcane to me, but the judge bought it. Lawyers for the defendants argued that under the Miami 21 Plan a commercial gas station, or tire repair place, would be allowed on that site and these places could provide minor repairs. Therefore, it came down to the definition of “minor repairs” versus “major repairs.” Furthermore, defendants argued, a gas station or tire garage would have similar environmental and noise impacts on the neighbourhood. That might be so, but those businesses do not start their day at 5 a.m. and run to 11 at night. Their hours would be limited to whatever the Miami by-laws allow, as in any city, and 5 in the morning to 11 at night would not pass muster. Regardless of those details, in essence, the judge ruled that it appeared to be merely a by-law violation if (when?) major vehicle repairs are done in a place where only minor repairs are allowed.

Nor was the judge swayed by the safety arguments of the plaintiffs. The design of the diesel bus garage, with bus parking and bays in the rear, requires the buses to enter on Frow Avenue and exit on Oak Avenue; both are residential streets, without sidewalks, upon which thousands of children walk to school — to say nothing of all the other residents, some of whom are elderly and infirm, just like in any neighbourhood.

None of the safety or environmental issues — those that most concern the residents — mattered to the judge because those arguments were not legal arguments. Legal arguments are the clauses and subclauses of the written law and the precedents the lawyers can cite for the judge to rule one way or another.

However, what the residents of west Coconut Grove were reminded of, as if they needed further reminding, is that “the Colour Line is the Poverty Line is the Power Line (Ambalavaner Sivanandan, 1923 – ). If this were a White neighbourhood this never would have happened; not because the residents would have successfully won an injunction in court. It would never have come to court because had this been a White neighbourhood the property values would have been such that Astor Development would have never found cheap land to buy in West Grove. Those 9 decades of Systemic Racism are described in the several previous articles on Not Now Silly under the rubric “No Skin In The Game.” People tell me they are shocked at what the series reveals.

* I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. I only had few minutes to debrief Ralf Brookes, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, before he rushed off to a depo, as he called it. If I misunderstood anything I will provide corrections once my bone-headed errors are pointed out to me.

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

An Update On Sarnoff’s Trolleygate aka Astor’s Trolley Folly

The view of the diesel bus garage from the closest house, a
mere 100 feet from where the polluting buses will be idling.

These days whenever I visit Coconut Grove I check on the progress of the Coral Gables diesel bus garage. I am always surprised that the building of what will be a polluting bus garage continues unabated. The lawsuit launched by residents of the West Grove demanded for it to be stopped in its tracks — even though these are not really trolley cars and they don’t use tracks. 

Curious that the work continues, I reached out to Ralf Brookes, one of the lawyers who has taken on the case pro bono, for an update. Here’s where the case stands:

The City of Miami filed a motion in the 11th Circuit Court to dismiss the case, arguing that Astor Development, which had not been originally named in the lawsuit, was an indispensable party to the suit.

In the meanwhile, Astor Trolly LLC filed a motion to intervene in the case. Astor Trolley LLC is a new-ish “limited liability company” owned by Astor Development Holdings LLC [which itself seems to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of Astor Development Group, LLC], incorporated to isolate Astor Development from any financial fallout of Trolleygate. While it seemed inevitable that Astor would eventually be drawn into this case, I don’t know why it willingly asked to have its head put on the chopping block. No matter. The judge granted that motion on February 26th and has given Astor Trolley LLC until March 18th to file a response to the lawsuit.

And that where it all sits as of today.

However, just about everyone seems to agrees the diesel bus garage will never be used for the purpose for which it was designed and intended. It does not conform to the Miami21 plan, which specifically forbids a “government vehicle maintenance facility” along the South Douglas Road corridor. One wonders why Astor Development wouldn’t just cut its losses and stop building and fighting.

Well (I speculate), it’s probably because Astor Development has too much invested in the project already. It acquired the land, purchased the building materials, has been paying the work crews, and (presumably) already bought all the equipment that will have to installed in the diesel bus government maintenance facility. The losses would be too great to just cut and run. It might be better to be ordered by a court of law to do the right thing, as opposed to doing the right thing in the first place. Then it can turn around and try to sell the structure for a profit.

Since the West Grove lawyers are working pro bono, this is not costing the community a penny. However, it is costing the City of Miami (read: every Miami taxpayer) money to defend Astor’s Trolley Folly. Those costs can be placed squarely at the feet of Commissioner Marc “Doggy” Sarnoff, who rammed through this diesel bus garage project without the normal neighbourhood consultation.

The Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park with the Marc Sarnoff Memorial
Traffic Circle in the lower right. Click here for an interactive map.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is used to ramming through projects — which cost the Miami taxpayers big bucks — without the normal neighbourhood consultation. Exhibit A: The Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park [right], across the street from his house. No one seems to know who approved this, but to date this boondoggle has already cost Miami taxpayers $546,065.00. The latest renovation to the Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park came within the last month. Work crews installed astroturf for the dogs because these are privileged dogs, donchaknow, and shitting on grass in their own backyards just won’t do.

Clearly these dogs are more privileged than the children in the community. The bigger crime is how a pocket park created for the enjoyment of children, has gone to the dogs. Prior to Doggygate the length of the children’s playground was approximately 300 feet. Once Marc Sarnoff was done with it the children’s portion of the park was reduced to approximately 100 feet, while the dogs get 200 feet.

See an interactive map of the Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park

Go by the park yourself and you’ll see what I have noted every time I go there: The children’s area is packed tight, with barely any room for kids to run and play: The playground equipment is overcrowded and there are not enough benches for the parents to sit. [While I’ve tried to take pictures that illustrate this, every time I show up with a camera I get the evil eye from parents.] Meanwhile, the Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park always appears underutilized, with a whole lot of room for the dogs to run free.

Luckily for the taxpayers of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is term-limited. Unless he runs for mayor he only has to the end of his term to waste taxpayer’s money.

For more on Trolleygate, aka Astor’s Trolley Folly, click here.