Tag Archives: Coconut Grove

The David Winker Affair – Part One

As this article was in the edit stage, Miami sent out the following, making it easier to rat out your neighbours.

Let’s start with a generally accepted fact known by every homeowner, developer, and builder: If you send a city by-law inspector to any address, in any town in this country, it’s more than likely they will find an infraction…or two…or six. Which brings us to the latest brand of insidious Miami Corruption:

Unscrupulous people are using the City of Miami’s by-law inspectors to settle political and/or personal squabbles. And, it’s ugly as hell and getting worse.

This has probably been going on for quite a while, but on a small scale; petty neighbour vs. neighbour bullshit, HOAs trying to get leverage, or just mean folk looking to make trouble. However, it only recently became public that the city’s Code Compliance office is an international joke.

This ugly mess broke out into the open back in 2018 when 2 city employees, both Code Compliance Inspectors told stories about District 3 Commissioner “Crazy Joe” Carollo — under oath and testifying at his ethics hearing.

NB: Crazy Joe is also at the center of a recall effort that’s as tangled and convoluted as anything else in Miami. That’s not the story I’m writing about but, it is tangentially related.

In “Carollo Might Have Broken the Law by Sending Code Enforcement After Ball & Chain’s Owner”, it’s alleged Carollo attempted to illegally use two Code Compliance Officers to…Wait! I’ll let Miami New Times’ Jerry Iannelli finish that thought:

Those employees’ allegations came during an investigation launched this past March when Bill Fuller, co-owner of the nightclub Ball & Chain, complained that Carollo was illegally using code enforcement investigators to target his businesses, all because Fuller helped Carollo’s election opponent.

Moreover, Crazy Joe has done this very same thing before. From the same article:

This isn’t the first time Carollo has been accused of sending code enforcement after his enemies. As New Times detailed last week, he used a nearly identical scheme in 1996 to attack Rodney Barreto, a local fundraiser and lobbyist. Barreto was the godson of then-Miami Mayor Stephen P. Clark, who frequently sparred with Carollo. Barreto also supported Carollo’s 1995 election opponent, Victor De Yurre. At the same time, Barreto also owned a series of parking lots outside the then-existent Miami Arena.

Carollo openly admitted to the Miami Herald in 1996 that he sent city employees to shut down Barreto’s allegedly illegal lots, but the city eventually let Barreto reopen them. Carollo claimed he was simply trying to trim “fat cats” from the city government, but the Herald said De Yurre’s supporters were the ones who wound up hit hardest.

“This is just basic, vindictive politics,” Barreto told the Herald in 1996. “It’s all promoted by Joe Carollo. This is not a nice message the City of Miami is sending here.”

Of course, because it was an ethics hearing, Carollo was allowed to defend himself. That’s not a rabbit hole I’m going down right now, but a week later Jerry penned “Video Suggests Carollo Lied to Miami-Dade Ethics Board“, which could be worth your time. However, here’s an important takeaway:

New Times obtained two seven-second clips from a witness who says he was riding in a GMC Terrain that night when Carollo was caught idling outside the Little Havana valet parking lot. The source — who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from Carollo — says the clip, which begins in the middle of a heated Spanish-language argument, shows Carollo arguing with a Ball & Chain parking attendant, which corroborates the account that three witnesses gave the ethics board.

Reprisals? In Miami? Never happens.

IRONY ALERT!!!

It wasn’t but some 9 months after that when Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla, the business owners Crazy Joe had targeted, held a presser accusing Crazy Joe of living in a glass house.


To bolster their claim Fuller and Pinilla provided “photo evidence of each violation collected via Google Streetview.” It’s not like they hired a private dick to go through Crazy Joe’s dirty laundry.

But, someone did hire a private eye, a shamus, gumshoe, private investigator, sleuth, spy, bloodhound, eavesdropper, flatfoot, peeper, shadow, snoop, tail, P. I., Sherlock Holmes, bird dog, and/or slewfoot because that’s what happens in the next chapter of Code Compliance Corruption, as the laws are being used and abused to settle political scores.



David Winker, looking professional

Before I get too far along, let me introduce David Winker. I’ll tell you more about Winker in subsequent chapters of what’s looking like will be a multi-part story, but suffice to say that he is a Miami lawyer for hire. As a side gig he sues the City of Miami and, more often than not, wins.

This ugly episode will likely be his next lawsuit against the City of Miami.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED:

On August 6, 2020, Miami Code Compliance Department Head Adele Valencia received an anonymous 95+ page dossier on David Winker, activist lawyer and Miami homeowner. The only allegations in those 95+ pages that Code Compliance would care about can be quoted from the after-action report in an email from Valencia obtained by the Not Now Silly Newsroom:

On Thursday, August 6, 2020, the Code Compliance inspector conducted research on the permit history of the property through iBuild and Laserfiche, researched the property records on the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s Website, Sunbiz, the Florida Bar, and Realtor.com, and personally visited the property in the field.

The Code Compliance inspector inspected the home from the public right of way and opened a Notice of Violation, Case Number: CE2020014267.

The Code Compliance Inspector issued a Notice of Violation for 1) home occupation business without a Certificate of Use and/or Failure to follow the requirements for a home occupation business; 2) failure to obtain a valid Certificate of Use for the type of business being conducted; 3) Failure to obtain a Business Tax Receipt for the type of business conducted; and 4) illegally operating a business in a residential zone; 5) work performed without a permits and/or permit not finalized; and 6) illegal units. 

Clearly it didn’t take 95 pages for “Concerned Citizen” to hate on Winker’s property. So why were all those trees felled? The Not Now Silly Newsroom has obtained the entire dossier and is shocked by its contents. It was clearly prepared by a private investigator and alleges everything from traffic infractions to property liens; from tax troubles to Lis Pendens (which is going to be the next nom de plume I ever assume); From Exhibit A to Exhibit J. That’s right: Nine exhibits.

The file is a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks. It even includes tweets that Concerned Citizen labels “social media assaults.” I hope nobody looks at my timeline. I swear a lot.

A careful reading-between-the-lines of the exhibits seems to indicate that at one-point, Winker may have been under surveillance away from his home. Private dicks follow their quarry. Some people would call that stalking.

This dossier — this colonoscopy — is nothing more than a hit job. Whether any of it is true, or not, it’s an attempt at character assassination to silence someone holding the city to account. None of it is germane to the issue of the property and the alleged violations. This is the politics of personal destruction. And, it’s a shot across the bow of anyone who may decide to become an activist and fight city hall.

Furthermore, Concerned Citizen is not subtle at all. A letter addressed to Honorable [sic] Elected Officials of Miami City Hall begins: “RE: David J. Winker: Activist or Opportunist?

The first line attacks Winker as “disheveled” and the last line of the first paragraph says, “Unfortunately he is just a vicious individual.” Between those ad hominem attacks is the nature of the Winker’s real crime:

He came onto the scene about two (2) years ago by purportedly calling out the City of Miami and its elected officials on everything under the sun: from the soccer deal to building code violations, ethics issues to task force appointments, recalls to settlements, etc.

LEFT UNSAID:  Winker keeps winning his lawsuits against Miami, which means that the problem is not with him, but with the city. Yet, Concerned Citizen disagrees: The havoc David Winker has caused needs to be addressed categorically. I am extremely concerned that as a taxpayer I will be forced to pay higher taxes or lose services based on the many lawsuits or lost revenues caused by this man and his negative motives. Enough is enough.

Home Sweet HomeIn other words: I prefer City of Miami malfeasance to allowing a pro bono lawyer holding the city to task. [TO BE FAIR: One of the allegations is that he’s not *really* pro bono.]

Having been following this story from afar, I contacted Winker, who agreed to an interview.

We spent 4 hours together, at his house in the Shenandoah neighbourhood, one of Miami’s oldest subdivisions, going back 100 years now.


But first, a mea culpa.

I walked away from my reporting about West Grove for a variety of reasons, Pop’s death, not getting enough traction on my investigative stories, the time and money it was costing, and the distance to Coconut Grove: 35 miles. I should have been paying better attention in the interim, but I was UberLyfting hard. While otherwise occupied Coconut Grove has turned into a crazy game of telephone, a viper’s nest of innuendo, and enough conspiracy theories to launch a new QAnon.

END OF PART ONE.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part Two, in which I:

  • Write more about David Winker and his Non-Code Compliance;
  • Discover what Federal laws may have been broken;
  • Codify the Florida privacy laws allegedly breached;
  • Try to discover who paid for the 95 page hit job;
  • Who might be Concerned Citizen;
  • And, how all of this relates to Coconut Grove.

Bulldozing History in Coconut Grove

Say “Goodbye” to the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse while you still can.

Oh, there will be something erected on the northwest corner of Main Highway and Charles Avenue, and those assholes who profess to care about historic preservation will still call it the Coconut Grove Playhouse — they may even add the word “historic” to that designation. However, just like the E.W.F. Stirrup House, catercorner, this will merely be a replication of the playhouse, not a restoration.

In other words: Developers in Miami win again over history and all logic

To be fair, not that I’m in the mood to be, they are saving the part of the building called “the eyebrow”. Some call it the facade, but developers want to disabuse you from using that term. It’s not the facade, they’ll argue. To be fair they are technically right. It’s the front 20 feet of the building, the entrance, that wraps around the corner of Main and Charles. To be even more fair: it’s the best part of the building as viewed from the outside.

It’s a wonderful example of faux Mediterranean architecture and the only part of the Bright Plan ever built.

READ: Early 1920s: Coconut Grove’s Historic Timeline, which all but erases the Black history of the town that once had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country.

But, as I said, I’m in no mood to be fair. Last week a Miami-Dade judge ruled in favour of Miami-Dade County’s lawsuit against the City of Miami.

Now follow the bouncing ball because this is really a Battle Royale between 3 levels of government:

First you need to know, the land is owned by the State of Florida, which entered into a complicated lease agreement involving Miami-Dade County. The county’s Cultural Czar, Michael Spring, then spent some time in back rooms —with no public consultation whatsoever— negotiating deals with GableStage, architectural firm Arquitectonica, and the Miami Parking Authority to renovate the Coconut Grove Playhouse. Once this cake was fully baked, Miami-Dade Country [read: Michael Spring] started a sham series of public consultations for input. But nothing ever changed, except around the margins. The fully baked cake got new icing, is all.

However much the County wanted to run this project without oversight, this project is still in the city of Miami and the city, not the country, had to sign off on it. To everyone’s amazement and consternation, Miami’s Historic Board (officially called the HEP Board, Historic and Environmental Preservation Board) decided the historic Playhouse didn’t need historic preservation and signed off on the County’s plan to tear down everything behind the eyebrow.

The back of the Playhouse looking towards the E.W.F. Stirrup House 

This naturally triggered public outrage and (I won’t give you every step along this trajectory, but) the City of Miami Commission overruled its own Historic Board, saying the entire historic structure, auditorium and all, had to be saved because, as many preservationists argued, that’s where the history happened.

This led to the court battle mentioned above, which Miami-Dade County recently won. Now the “developer” can do whatever it wants with the auditorium, including adding retail stores to the eyebrow and building a big honking parking garage to the footprint.

READ: Ruling of the Circuit Court paving the way to raze the auditorium.

The word “developer” is in quotes because — once again — nothing is ever a straight line in this story. The “developer” is a complicated consortium of interests, which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Michael Spring, Senior Advisor to the Mayor for Culture and Recreation for Miami Dade County, who cooked all this up away from the prying eyes of the public who pays his salary;
  • Joseph Adler, 78 years old, Artistic Director of GableStage. GableStage is from the affluent city next door, Coral Gables, not Coconut Grove. It was his decision, apparently, to downsize the auditorium from 1100 seats to 300 seats. “Some people say” that the shlock movie producer pegged that number to the amount of seats GableStage currently fills in the Biltmore Hotel, where his productions run virtually rent-free.
  • Art Noriega, the head honcho of the Miami Parking Authority, a semi-autonomous board of the city, and someone I have often called the most powerful person in Miami government. His department is one of the only in the city that brings in revenue, so he pretty much has a free hand. This free hand decided to sell the Oak Street garage because he already knew he was building the huge Playhouse Parking Garage, before the public did.

It’s this author’s contention that the Playhouse revitalization is
merely an excuse to build a honking huge parking garage.
READ: The Coconut Grove Playhouse Trojan Horse; Part IPart II


  • A smaller group of Robber Barons that really have no financial interest in the Playhouse revitalization, but have adjacent properties which will improve in value once this entire mess gets straaighted out. This includes names familiar to Not Now Silly readers, like Gino Falsetto and Peter Gardner, who (along with the descendants of E.W.F. Stirrup) are now trying to build a huge hotel immediately behind the Playhouse, across the street from the no longer historic E.W.F. Stirrup House, which has been replicated.

READ: Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood

Here’s what’s been sticking in my craw: Almost a decade ago I interviewed a person (who asked for anonymity, so I’m obligated) who ran down this entire scenario to me. We stood in front of the —then still historic— E.W.F. Stirrup House while they described a grand promenade that started at the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums (which this author has always called The Monstrosity) and continued through the Stirrup property across the street and continuing through to Commodore Plaza.

– Artist rendering of the proposed Grove Inn

I laughed. I scoffed. I discussed this with people in the know in both the Miami and Coconut Grove politics. They laughed and scoffed as well.

Everyone said it would never happen because the properties needed to be assembled were all zoned single family dwelling and they’d never get upzoning on that many properties.

Guess what? The Coconut Grove Village Council has already approved this hotel in theory and all it needs now is for the city of Miami, which has never met a developer it didn’t want to please, to approve the upzoning on the 7-8 properties needed to build this hotel.

As near as I can tell this hotel is a foregone conclusion, just as is the Playhouse replication. It’s all over but the whimpering by people who revere history.


FULL DISCLOSURE: During the brief period Miami Commissioner Ken Russell was running for Congress, I was his official biographer. Ken Russell has not contributed to this article (rant?) in any way.

An Open Email to the Miami Herald

From: Headly Westerfield
To: List of Herald names
Date: Aug 8, 2018, 9:06 AM
Subject: He fought historic designation on his property. Now, he’s on the preservation board


This concerns the article “He fought historic designation on his property. Now, he’s on the preservation board“.

I have been writing about the subject of Demolition by Neglect on Charles Avenue for the last 9 years. I have also tried to interest the Herald in some of the shenanigans I have uncovered to no avail.

It puzzles me that Rasken and De La Paz were able to get a story which went into their specific complaints and yet accuse others of planting the story, with no evidence whatsoever.

Meanwhile, this morning I published a story on my little old blog — which keeps fighting gentrification in West Grove — that is a much bigger story about Charles Avenue and its continued destruction. I hope you will find it newsworthy enough to actually do an article on it.

Rapacious Developers Are Destroying A Historic Black Neighbourhood

I would be happy to talk to anyone who would like to follow up on this story, or any of the others I have written about what’s been happening on Charles Avenue over the last decade. Feel free to call anytime: 954-XXX-XXXX

While this story is best told in situ, so one can see all the players and how all of these properties and machinations connect, I am leaving for a 3 week road trip early Friday morning. However, I will be glad to meet with someone any time today or tomorrow if they would like a small tour. I live in Sunrise up in Broward, so I would need an hour’s notice.

The Lovin’ Spoonful ► Monday Musical Appreciation

The first album I ever bought with my own money was The Best of The Lovin’ Spoonful. I played the grooves right off it. I simply adored The Lovin’ Spoonful and my band, Cobwebs and Strange, even performed a few songs from it.

Every song a hit, at least with me, this LP is comprised of “Do You Believe in Magic?”, “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?”, “Butchie’s Tune”, “Jug Band Music”, “Night Owl Blues”, “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice”, “Daydream”, “Blues In The Bottle”, “Didn’t Want To Have To Do It”, “Wild About My Lovin'”, “Younger Girl”, and “Summer In The City”. Perfection!!! Every tune was a Sing-A-Long, at least with me. 

What’s of interest to me is how my youth has connected to my dotage and not just in a nostalgic way.

These days I think about The Lovin’ Spoonful a lot. There are times I am down in Coconut Grove taking pictures, or conducting interviews, when their song “Coconut Grove” starts playing unbidden in my head. Suddenly I’ve got an all-day ear worm that won’t shake loose, no matter how much Reggae I apply.

“Coconut Grove” is from their 3rd LP, “Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful.” According to Talk From The Rock Room, in an essay called ‘Bes friends’-The Lovin Spoonful-‘Hums of the Lovin Spoonful’ LP:

Keeping with the theme of mellow melodies, “Coconut Grove” trickles in again spotlighting special instrumentation such as Sebastian’s auto harp and a hand drum. According to John Sebastian this song was conceived on folk icon Fred Neil’s boat in the pre-Spoonful days. The song rides rolling waves of sound, gently rocking to and fro, the breeze of Zal’s guitar gusting beautiful accents across the reflective seas. The strength of the tune is Sebastian’s vocal melody, almost able to carry the track on its own. This song can put you right on the deck, riding straight into a sun dipping behind the horizon. Mood music at its finest.

It should be noted that Fred Neil lived on his boat just offshore of Coconut Grove at the time.

I’m jammed for time this morning, because — not coincidentally — I am currently doing a final edit on my latest story about Coconut Grove. Where do you think I got today’s ear worm?

Crank it up and D A N C E ! ! !

Kicking 2015 to the Curb ► The Ultimate Throwback Thursday

As we all look forward to a New Year, some highlights before all the sand runs out of this one:

THE JOHNNY DOLLAR WARS

Maybe I was just asking for trouble, but I began 2015 by . . .

While I thought these crazy cyber-bullies were finally vanquished, just recently “Angie Simmoril” — who hides behind a wall of complete anonymity — popped up again to promise big doings on the Aurelius Project for the beginning of 2016. While I had almost forgotten The Flying Monkey Squad existed, this is simply more proof that an obsessed crazy person never really goes away — unless they die, which is really what I thought had happened with Grayhammy.

Watch this space.

COCONUT GROVE PLAYHOUSE & PARKING LOTS

I wrote so many stories about Coconut Grove this year, but most of them were about the Coconut Grove Playhouse and its surrounding parking lots. That meant I spent a lot of time in parking lots this year, and the year before, while I did research in the field, as it were:

When I agreed to drive a car at this year’s King Mango Strut, little
did I know it would be the one with Ken Russell doing yo-yo tricks

MIAMI DISTRICT 2 POLITICS

My campaign to SAVE THE E.W.F. STIRRUP HOUSE not only led to all those stories on the Coconut Grove Playhouse — which is catercorner to it — but also got me deeper then ever into District 2 politics. That led to a series of stories about [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, which naturally led to that time When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face.

When the term-limited Sarnoff put up his wife Teresa to run in his place for District 2 Commissioner, I started following the election closely. My first foray in covering the candidates didn’t go so well. Jammed For Time tells the story of getting thrown out of the Grace Solaris campaign kickoff. That didn’t auger well for the rest of the Commissioner race. As far as I knew the rest of the field would treat me similarly. Luckily, none of them did. All were gracious about answering questions and posing for pictures. That provided a number of stories, the best of which are:

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

During the race several of the candidates agreed to talk to me, allowed me to accompany them on door knocks, let me sit in on private meetings and phone calls, and gave me some very interesting inside skinny on the donation process. All of this was done on an OFF THE RECORD basis, to be embargoed until after the election. I’m still processing my notes and recordings to see what kind of story I can get out of it.
To be continued.

PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

As much of a political junkie as I am, I’ve been mainlining what’s been going on in the presidential race. While I’ve not written specifically about Donald J. Trump, I have created a number of memes currently whizzing around the innertubes. Collect ’em all. Trade ’em with your friends.

However, I have covered the joke that is some of the rest of the current GOP field, and some previous races:

PASTORAL LETTERS

Late last year I reconnected with my childhood friend Kenneth John Wilson. Ken, who is an evangelical pastor in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has written a very important book on LGBT acceptance in the church. I started following his extraordinary story and began a series of Pastoral Letters to him. Occasionally he replies, but I am writing then more to understand my mind than his.

I’ve started another Pastoral Letter, but it will be a while before I get all my thoughts in order.

FALSETTO VOICE:

I began my research into Coconut Grove years ago at the E.W.F. Stirrup House. While there’s not been that much to write about on that issue over the last year — because almost nothing has changed — that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten all about Gino Falsetto, the rapacious developer who got his grimy hands on the historic structure:

I’m also prepping a new story on the E.W.F. Stirrup House.  It’s almost half written. Stay tuned. Watch this space. Coming to a browser near you.

This year I also bonded with Fox’s Campaign Carl Cameron

THE FOX “NEWS” CHANNEL

My fascination/revulsion with the Fox “News” Channel continues, which is how I picked up Johnny Dollar as an enemy in the first place. No matter. For the last year I’ve written a Friday Fox Follies for PoliticusUSA website, continued to run Fox Follies and Fallacies, over at the facebookery. However . . .

. . . sums up my attitude whenever I encounter a Fox “News” spouting parrot.

ROAD TRIPS:

This year I took 2 marathon road trips, both more than 3,000 miles from door to door. These are just some of the posts these road trips generated:

TWO NEW SERIES:

Before the road trips I stopped aggregating the Headlines Du Jour. It took several hours 3 days a week and it was a trap, without any achival value. When I got back from the road trips I began two brand new series. Launching Throwback Thursday with The Westerfield Journals was one and Monday Musical Appreciation the other. I’m quite proud of both of these series. In both these series I am highlight some of the lesser-known history-makers.

NAME DROPPING

One of the things I’ve been accused of over the years is name-dropping. I plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the internet. What’s the penalty? Izzit just a fine or jail time?

No matter. Exhibit A and B as evidence against me this year:

Those are just some of the highlights from the last year. No one knows what 2016 will hold for the Not Now Silly Newsroom, but I’ll be writing it from Toronto. More specifically, Kensington Market. It felt so good in September, I’m going to do it all over again. To that end, I’ve launched a Go Fund Me to help defray my moving expenses. It’s amazing how much stuff I’ve accumulated in the last decade. Help me get back to Toronto:

 

Jammed For Time ► Unpacking The Writer

Lately, it seems, I’ve spent more time in the car than writing.

Welcome, dear readers. Returnees know this as the regular post pulling back the curtain — AUNTY EM!!! AUNTY EM!!! — to reveal the work process of the prefrontal cortex of a writer’s brain.

My biggest problem is I have far more ideas for Not Now Silly articles than I have time to write. I also seem to have less time to write. F’rinstance, usually I start crafting Unpacking The Writer around the 15th of the month. Then, over the next 5-6 days I come back to it from time to time and add and subtract a paragraph here, or there. I don’t really work on it as much as let it evolve slowly. However, this month’s Unpacking The Writer will be started, and finished, on the same day. I’m jammed for time. That’s why I’m going to quote a long thing I already posted on the facebookery. You can skip right to it, if you are so inclined.

For those who are still with me: I continue to research one particular Coconut Grove story. As I collate my research and write up what’s already known, I’m still awaiting some replies to a few outstanding emails which now appear lost in the cyber spaces between here and there. I can’t imagine why [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff has yet to reply. I suppose it’s time to give him a gentle nudge that his constituents are still looking for answers.

Speaking of Sarnoff, his wife Teresa made it official: She’s running to replace him in District Two because he’s term-limited and they believe in political dynasties. She’s never shown an inkling for public office until recently. That’s when her [allegedly] corrupt husband realized they’d have to get off the government gravy train — and the fat skimmed off the gravy — once he had to go back to being just a simple country bumpkin lawyer.

Not Now Silly has never directly engaged in a political campaign before. However, this year the stakes are too great to just sit back and let events take their course. This is the year the Not Now Silly throws its editorial staff into the Miami District Two Commissioner race. Miami District Two is where West Grove sits, where The Colour Line exists, where Trolleygate and Soilgate are still unresolved issues. After 6 years of researching and writing about Coconut Grove, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that this community — also known as Black Grove — has gotten the short end of the stick for the last 125 years. That’s why the Newsroom is jumping into the fray.

To that end the Newsroom launched a page on the facebookery: ABT – Anybody But Teresa. The official position of this vast media enterprise is that even Rob Ford would be a better candidate for District Two than Teresa Sarnoff. Is it too early to put the “[allegedly] corrupt” in front of her name? Or, far too late?

Also running in District Two is Mike Simpson, a gent I’ve never met and am slowly learning about; Rosa Palomino, who helped host me on Miami After Dark to talk about the E.W.F. Stirrup House; and Grace Solares, which leads to a funny story.

Arriving at Grand Central Park at sunset,
after driving 35 miles in rush hour traffic.

Transferring into the 3rd person: It’s noted that Brad Knoefler*, owner of the nightclub that hosted the Official Solares Campaign Kickoff, railed against “elitist, exclusivist policies with closed door deals with our tax money.” Funny story about that. The Newsroom sent its head writer, Headly Westerfield, to the Official Solares Campaign Kickoff. He posted of this GIANT MEDIA FAIL on his facebookery, but it deserves further dissemination:

I have to say I am VERY unimpressed with the Grace Solares campaign for Commissioner in Miami’s District Two. I went to her OFFICIAL CAMPAIGN KICKOFF tonight. Here is my report:

I learned of the Grace Solares 2015 campaign kickoff from a posting
on Facebook. Since she’s a community activist, I thought I’d see what a
community activist sounds like on the campaign trail. I even sent a
facebook message to the campaign earlier in the day to say I’d be there.

I arrived about 20 minutes early and a guy introduced himself to me
(and I promptly forgot his name). I introduced myself back to him. He
asked if I had met Grace before. I said, “No, but the more important
question is. ‘Where’s the washroom?’ ”

Keep in mind I had just driven 35 miles on a tank of coffee.

After I took care of the important business I went to the back of the
campaign room (in the Grand Central nightclub), set up my camera and
tripod and sat down to wait.

A guy came up to me and asked if I was taking video or stills.

“Stills, but what difference would it make?”

“None, but I’m the tech and need to know.”

Well, that made absolutely no sense at all. But, surprisingly, it made far more sense than what followed.

Right at the stroke of 6PM a very large security guard came up to me
and asked to see my invitation. This is our approximate conversation:

“An invitation?”

“Yes, this is an invitation only event.”

“I read about it on facebook. It was announced on facebook. How is it invitation only?

“I don’t know, but you need an invitation.”

“I’m with the media.”

“I don’t care. You need an invitation.”

“Okay. Just give me a minute to pack up my stuff.”

“No problem.”

So, as I’m packing up my stuff I keep talking to him. “Look, I drove 35
miles to get here to cover this. Is there someone I can talk to?”

“You can talk to anybody you want…after you leave.”

“How is that going to help me? I just want to talk to someone from the campaign.”

“You can talk to them outside.”

I got all my stuff packed up and picked up my knapsack to leave when
another, even bigger, security guard showed up and blocked my way. He
leaned over and whispered something in the first security guard’s ear.

That’s when the first security guard said to me, “It’s okay. You can stay.”

“I can stay?”

“Yes, you can stay.”

“Without an invite?”

“Without an invite.”

“Can you tell me who threw me out and then who changed their mind and allowed me to stay?”

Driving home alone <sad trombone> I noted that I could have paid $10.50 to zip along
the Express Lanes, However, I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. That’s
why it took me more than 2 hours to get home. <sadder trombone> I had all that extra time
to think and I couldn’t help but wonder if this kind of disparity between the haves and
the have nots is something a community activist like Grave Solares might talk about.

He smiled a big shit-eating grin and said, “You know I can’t tell you that.” Then he left me alone.

So . . . I set up my tripod all over again and put the camera back on
it and waited. As I waited I realized that this was going to be,
essentially, a cocktail party and Grace Solares would be moving around
the room, glad-handing her backers. I presumed she’d give some remarks
at the end. So, I settled in for the long, boring wait to hear her
speechifying.

After about 20 minutes another guy came up to
me. He was dressed in a sports jacket and was one of the few people
already there when I arrived, so I suspected he was with the Solares
campaign. He said HELLO and then asked, “Who are you and who are you
with?” There was an edge to his question that rubbed me the wrong way.

Normally “Who are you and who are you with?” is a perfectly legitimate
question under these circumstances. However, what I had just gone
through with the security guard already had me on edge.

So I said, “Who’s wants to know?”

He said, “The guy who’s asking you who you are and who you’re with!”

I stood up and started to take apart my tripod all over again.

“I’m the guy who is leaving right now.”

And, I walked out without meeting the candiate, without hearing her
speech, without learning what makes her qualified for running for
Commissioner in District Two.

Here’s the punchline: As I left
the building the first security guard was outside, checking people as
they came in. A couple arrived and the guard said, “For the
Commissioner?” They said, “Yes” and the guard ushered them right in
WITHOUT ASKING FOR THEIR INVITATION.

So, while I’m telling people I was thrown out of Grace Solares’ campaign event, the gospel truth is I threw myself out.

While on the twin topics of Elections and The Facebookery, have i mentioned I’m running for political office? Join Westerfield/Lengyl 2016 and see what all the bribing is about.

Last facebook plug: Now that I’ve unilaterally declared victory in The Johnny Dollar Wars, I’m pondering a name-change for The Johnny Dollar Depreciation Society. Drop on over and let me know what suggestions you may have. I’ve been pondering variations of frases [see what I did there?] of words that all start with the letter “F” because of the alliteration of the Friday Fox Follies I write every … err … Friday for PoliticusUSA. May as well tie into that. I think they call that synergy these days, or is it vertical integration?

And, that’s how I can start a post and publish it on the very same day. See you next month, kids.

* It was not Brad Knoefler who approached me. I only know him from the pictures people sent to ask, “Whuzzit this guy?” Nor was it any of the other people whose pics were sent to me.

The Accidental Tour Guide ► Unpacking The Writer

This will be a short Unpacking The Writer this month. For the uninitiated, Unpacking the Writer is the monthly feature in which I pull back the curtain and share some of what it’s like to be a writer (and a human) at this critical juncture, as some people say. 

This’ll be shorter than usual because: 1). I posted that big, honkin’ A Writer’s Biography just recently, which I prolly shoulda made an official Unpacking the Writer episode, then I wouldna hadda write this; 2). It’s Thursday, the day on which I start writing the Friday Fox Follies, a new weekly feature at PoliticusUSA, due every … err … Friday; 3). I’m still beavering away on the redesign of the Not Now Silly Newsroom and, to that end, have a Skype meeting with my web spinner scheduled for any minute, which will probably interrupt the writing of this post; 4). Yesterday I started a new post on [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, which I want to get back to so I can finish it by Saturday; and 5). I don’t owe you any explanations, so stop badgering me. Nor do I feel I have to justify long sentences, as long as they’re punctuated properly.

One of the touristy things my sister and I did was to
go to the Swap Shop. She had Zoltar read her fortune.

One year ago the Not Now Silly Newsroom covered a Homeowners Association meeting in Coconut Grove in the cheekily titled No Safe Harbour In Coconut Grove. SPOILER ALERT: The meeting exploded in resident rage when [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff and Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado skipped out on the meeting.

I’ve not written about Sarnoff or The Grove lately. Part of the problem is I’ve not had the time to get down to Coconut Grove. And, a post about The Grove I started months ago has been languishing while I do some more desultory research and figure out the best way to frame a very complex topic.

A year ago I still had passion for the Coconut Grove stories I was
writing. However, my inability to make my campaign to Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House go viral had diminished a lot of that enthusiasm.

I think I got it back this week. My sister was visiting from Oak Park, Michigan. Since I had to pick her up at the Miami airport, we took a side trip to Coconut Grove where I laid out the entire history of Coconut Grove, Kebo, E.W.F. Stirrup, Coral Gables, and The Colour Line(s). We walked some of it. Some of it was related while cruising past the Mariah Brown House, Marler Avenue, the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, Coral GablesMacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historic District, Grand Avenue, and beautiful downtown CocoWalk, the mall that ate up all the quaint.

I’ll be back in Coconut Grove before you can say The Barnacle, but it made me think that I should be conducting History Tours of Coconut Grove.

A Different Drummer ► Unpacking the Writer

A funny thing happened at the 32nd Annual King Mango Strut

Back in December, when I covered the 32nd Annual King Mango Strut,
I could have hardly imagined it would be a life changing event. Yet,
almost immediately I realized it was a transformational day.

TO RECAP: I attached myself to the Coconut Grove Drum Circle to cover the King Mango Strut from the inside. The parade, which went
around a small 2-block circuit exactly one time, spent the entire morning
marshaling on Commodore Plaza. I had a lot of time to think. It took 5 times longer to get ready for
the Strut than it did to Strut. That was over almost before it began.

A journalist
straddles a tiny grey area between participant and observer. One tries
to stay out of everybody’s way, without blending too far into the background. Taking notes, taking pictures, taking impressions at once removes the
journalist from the action, while it immerses the writer in the experience at the very same time. It’s an anomaly.

One thing became clear to me during all those hours: I DID NOT want
to be covering the King Mango Strut. I just wanted to be hitting those
drums instead.

I’m no drummer. I barely have any rhythm. I’m not even a musician. The blog post My First Band ► Cobwebs And Strange
recalls my HIGH-LARRY-US teenage attempts at being a lead singer in a Rock and
Roll band. To sublimate my lack of musicianship, I love listening to
all genres of music passionately. It’s not a fair tradeoff, but it’s all I’ve got. [That and 42 linear feet of CDs, more that 25,000 tunes on my hard drive, and enough Spotify playlists to last several lifetimes. Whoever has the most music when they die, wins!]

Djembe drums awaiting use

But…but…but…on
the day of the King Mango Strut, all I wanted to do was to slap those drum skins. Every once in a while one of the drummers would let me have a few
whacks on their oddly shaped drum, which I now know is called a
djembe. But, walking past a drum and giving it a few taps is different
from putting it between your legs and banging away. And, I was desperate to put one of those things between my legs and bang away. The only other time music had such an immediate, visceral effect on me is told in The Day I Met Bob Marley, another popular post at Not Now Silly.

By
the time the Strut was over, I knew I would be joining the
Coconut Drum Circle again, but this time as a participant. I would get my chance soon enough. There’s one held on the
first Saturday of every month, just a few hundred feet from where we
marshaled for the Strut.

So, skip ahead. It’s the first Saturday of the month. At the corner of Commodore Plaza and Grand Avenue I was handed a djembe. I spent the evening pounding away like a mad man, until my hands hurt. Sadly, it was nothing like what I had anticipated and it turned out to
be a very unsatisfying and deflating experience.

To begin with, I should have brought my own camping chair. I don’t mean to be churlish because I was graciously supplied with a drum and a tiny stool. But that little thing hurt my delicate ass after several hours. To make matters worse, I couldn’t hear myself. That’s why I hurt my hands. I was trying to make my drum loud enough so I could hear it over all the other drums. Not
being able to hear meant that I couldn’t tell how hitting the head in different places affected the sound. Only later did I realize I sat next to all the BIG DRUMS that people were hitting with big sticks. No wonder I couldn’t hear myself.

Worse still was the fact that, once again, I had to face up to the limitations of my left hand. Back when I was a teenager my guitar teacher told me I had no absolutely coordination in my left hand. To quote myself:

It turns out that time proved him right. Over the years I have learned
that my left hand is pretty useless for most tasks. When I smoked I
couldn’t even use my left hand to hold the cigarette because I managed
to drop it so many times. Trying to use a remote with my left hand?
Forget it! I’m the EXTREME opposite of ambidextrous. Hell! I’d give my
right arm to be ambidextrous.

It’s probably just as well I couldn’t be heard in the mix at the drum circle. Whenever I tried to find my own beats within the group’s rhythm, my left hand would lurch out spasmodically, finding crazy syncopation never intended for music of any kind, even Jazz. I drove back to Sunrise from my first drum circle dejected. It was not at all what I had hoped. Nor did it feel as if I could ever fit myself within the group’s rhythms.

Yet, there were moments that first night that transcended thoughts, transcended time, transcended my crappy rhythm. I would find myself transported, soaring through millennia of music making. I imagined myself back in Kebo, the name the original Bahamians
gave to this area of Coconut Grove a century ago when they settled here and built Miami. At night there would have been music-making. I could feel the
energy we created merging with rhythms from the past, present and future. Outside was one thing. In my head I could fuse what the circle created with Gospel melodies, horn sections, Rock and Roll, Jazz, New Orleans, and Reggae rhythms. Again, it penetrated me deeply in a way that words just seem so inadequate to describe. This paragraph will have to do instead.

I was pissed. As much as I was drawn to the drumming — as much as I wanted to be a part of it — my lack of left-hand rhythm kept me at a distance, kept returning me to reality. I was running these thoughts through my mind the next day as I listened to music. I soon became aware that, as always, I was tapping my feet and ‘drumming’ the fingers of my right hand on my desk to the tunes. What was going on?

TANGENT: My odd relationship with music didn’t quite make sense to me until I read Musicophilia by Dr. Oliver Sacks. That’s also when I started to over-think my lifetime contract [sic] with music and how I process it. I’ve been reading Sacks, who writes fascinating books about people who have anomalies, diseases, or damage in their brain, for many years. However, this book was the first time I ever thought he was talking directly about me, in part.

I happened across the Sacks book right after reading This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin. Musicophilia is about the [almost mystical] effect of music in (on?) the brains of case studies, both normal and abnormal. This is Your Brain describes the science of measuring the changes in the brain caused by listening to and/or playing music. These two books summed up for me my relationship to music, whether it’s shaking my eardrums or being created inside my head.

Growing up, adults always
told me I was fidgety. It took many years to realize that I wasn’t
nervous. I was keeping a rhythm to music by tapping my feet and/or drumming my
fingers. Even if there’s no music playing. Especially if
there’s no music playing. My mind is
always creating music when there is none: the ticking of a fan, the hum of florescent lighting, or the sound of footsteps can all lead to my brain over-laying a tune on top of it. My toes and fingers are reacting to that. As a child I never had the language to describe it. As a young adult I figured if I told that to people, they might lock me up. Now that I am — ahem — mature, I’m quite comfortable with the music in my brain. TANGENT OVER. MOVE ALONG.

I spent almost a week of analyzing my disappointment to my first drum circle. Friends told me I was over-thinking the whole dealie, but that’s how I process events that rub me wrong. One friend tried to make me understand that all that was needed was for me to feel the music. It wasn’t necessary to think the music. I especially didn’t need to over-think the music. But I did. I knew I did. How did I know? Because I couldn’t get the problem out of my head.

Then the light bulb went on. I realized that what I really wanted to play was what I heard in my head and what I was hearing in my head was not a drum. A drum circle plays
budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-dum-dum-daddah. [repeat] What I was
hearing in my head was tink, tink, tink, tinka-tinkahh, tink, tink,
tink, tinka-tinkahh on top of the rhythm.

It came to while I was ‘drumming’ my fingers on the desk again. Paying better attention to what my fingers were doing — over-thinking it, you naysayers — I realized they weren’t beating out a steady rhythm at all. My fingers were popping off accents within the rhythm. I was hearing the syncopation inside the rhythm.

Mine looked exactly like this
until I knocked the logo off

Over the next week I visited a couple of music stores and tested out a number of percussion instruments. I really liked the sound of the wood blocks, but they were all far too expensive for this weird, new obsession I was chasing. What if I didn’t like it?

I finally settled on a set of claves and a cowbell. I spent the next little while practicing the claves as various genres of music played on my computer jukebox. I knew almost immediately I had found my instrument! My left hand needs to do nothing but hold a stick. How hard is that? My right hand only needs to bang another stick against it. How hard is that?

Since finding my instrument I’ve also learned about several different drum circles in my area. Until recently I had no idea drum circles were even a thing, but they’re all over the place. There are a few nearby on each full moon and several within an hour’s drive at other times during the month. There are drum circle classes and larger, yearly, conglomerations of drummers. These bring together many drum circles and people make a weekend of it and howl in the woods (in my imagination). I’m learning there’s a very primal need being fulfilled with drum circles. The journalist in me says they require further investigation. The neanderthal in me just wants to bang sticks together.

I have now guest starred with a few separate drum circles, insinuating my tink, tink, tink, tinka-tinkahh, tink, tink,
tink, tinka-tinkahh within the budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-budda-duh-dum-dum-daddah. I’ve now sat in enough drum circles to note each have a different personality. I’m not quite sure how anyone else takes what I do, but I’m having a great time finally playing what I hear in my head and meeting new friends along the way.

And that’s the story of how covering something as a writer changed my life.

NOT NOW SILLY NEWS FROM THE NOT NOW SILLY NEWSROOM: There are several new posts already in the works, with the research pretty much finished. Just within the last few days so many things have occurred on Charles Avenue, that I’ve barely had time to keep up. I have a few outstanding phone calls, but that will get its own post coming up in the next few days. I’m also part-way through documenting a second chapter of Where the Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins. And, as I keep promising, there’s a new chapter of Farce Au Pain coming up. While on the subject of books, don’t miss The Johnny Dollar Wars ► Chapter and Verse, in which I expose my crazy cyber-bullies for the malevolent creeps they are, last thing Mark Koldys wants anyone to know.

A Grand Day For Grand Avenue ► Gibson Plaza Groundbreaking

Artist rendering: Grand Avenue and Gibson Plaza

A gala day on Grand in The Grove, for the Gibson groundbreaking. This mixed-use, residential-educational building is the first all-new affordable housing built in West Grove in almost 50 years.

Gibson Plaza has been in the planning stages for many years. However, it took a unique and unlikely group of partners to move this project forward, including the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund, the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, Miami-Dade College and the Mitchel Wolfson, Sr. Foundation. Miami-Dade County kicked in $9 million dollars, and Pinnacle Housing Group will construct the Bahamian-styled building that pays homage to West Grove’s original inhabitants.

Thelma Gibson’s 1st shovelful at the project she helped spearhead

Gibson Plaza, named for Reverend Theodore R. Gibson and Thelma Gibson, will be geared to the 55-and-up demographic, with 56 one and two bedroom units. Among the common amenities will be an exercise room, community center, library and computer lab. However, what has the neighbourhood excited is what’s slated for the ground floor. It is dedicated to providing continuing education, job training and after school programs for the neighbourhood at large.

“It has always been a dream of ours to have affordable housing, continuing education and after-school programs for children running side by side,” the 88-year old Ms Gibson said.

Every speaker who came up to the dais to say a few words (under the white tent in the 89 degree heat) spoke of how this project will lead to a neighbourhood revitalization of a sorely neglected area of Miami. That’s why residents were so upset about Trolleygate when they learned about it. This is a neighbourhood struggling to overcome a century of racism and neglect.

While east Grand Avenue got revitalized with CocoWalk, restaurants, and fancy hotels, the west end of Grand — Black Grove, or Kebo, as the original Bahamian residents called it — has struggled and become blighted over the decades. The non-conforming diesel bus garage is just a few very short blocks away from this development. The reason people were so upset with the trolley garage is because it does not comport with the vision of those who want better for the neighbourhood. Gibson Plaza is the beginning of that revitalization plan.

The two people who came in for the most praise and sustained ovations at yesterday’s ceremony were the two people who everyone acknowledged deserved the most credit for seeing this project through to fruition. First and foremost is Thelma Gibson, who, though the Foundation named after her late husband, helped aquire the 1 acre site, parcel by parcel, and who insisted that any project of this kind simply had to have an educational componant; and Jihad Rashid. President of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, who worked tirelessly to bring all the partners to the table and see that they all understood the vision.

One of the politicians mentioned over and over, by speaker after speaker, is Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who fought to get County Commissioners to allocate the $9 million. “On behalf of the Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, and as Commissioner of Miami-Dade District 7, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to be associated with a project that I believe will spur the re-birth of the long neglected segment of our community – The Coconut Grove Village West.” Yet, that wasn’t just promotional bumf.

Thirty years ago Suarez helped set up the Gibson Memorial Fund and he’s been behind this project from the get-go.

How close is Trolleygate to Gibson Plaza?

IRONY ALERT: Another politician got short shrift in all the speeches. That’s just as well because [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff arrived 10 minutes late and missed the shovel photo-op. His West Grove constituents accuse him abandoning them for monied interests and out of town developers.

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

Last year when Trolleygate erupted in controversy, Sarnoff staged The Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show to protect the profits of Astor Development and Coral Gables against the interests of his own constituents. After Sarnoff insisted he couldn’t talk about Trolleygate because it was before the courts, he presented a one-sided slide show to insist diesel fumes and bus traffic on residential streets is perfectly safe. However, it’s what he did in the middle of the meeting that Sarnoff demonstrated his despicable side. At one point in this contentious meeting this reporter heard Sarnoff covertly threaten to withdraw support for Gibson Plaza (and other projects) if the community continued its fight against Trolleygate.It was slyly done, but was not lost on anyone in the room.

So, colour me thrilled that Sarnoff missed his photo op — another way to grab credit. Judging from the sotto voce murmurings when he gave his short speech, he’s lucky he wasn’t booed.

Even as the Collaborative’s Jihad Rashid celebrated
this achievement, he warned against gentrification.

The slogan on the banner in front of which every speaker spoke read CATALYZE • REVITALIZE • TRANSFORM, which is everyone’s hope for this stretch of Grand Avenue. Immediately across the street from Gibson Plaza is the Collaborative offices. Just to the east of that is the brand new KROMA Gallery, which hosted a lunch for attendees after all the speakers were finished.

While everyone hopes Gibson Plaza leads to a revitalization of the west end Grand Avenue, the fear is that this is just another step along the process of slow gentrification that has been eating its way into West Grove. Even Rashid recognizes the danger. As Nick Madigan in the Miami Herald notes:

After waiting for a standing ovation to die down, Rashid reminded the crowd that there had been a “history of disinvestment and disenfranchisement” in the West Grove, and remarked on the irony of expensive hotels and condominiums perfectly visible only a few blocks to the east. Rashid also cautioned against the danger that the neighborhood’s longtime residents will be pushed out by construction projects and investors looking for profits.

“If they get gentrified out in the name of progress, I don’t think that’s progress,” Rashid said. Still, he concluded, Gibson Plaza is a huge step forward.

Those in the know tell this reporter that due to property speculation along Grand Avenue, nothing less than 5 stories will pay for itself. Nothing taller than 5 stories is allowed by the Miami 21 Plan. This means that only 5-storey high condo buildings will be built along Grand, making it a new canyon for colonization and gentrification. Otherwise, West Grand will continue to undergo Demolition by Neglect, which passes for progress in West Grove. There appears to be no room left for anything in between.

View pictures of the groundbreaking in this Facebook album.
View raw footage at this YouTube Playlist.

Surprises on the Latest Visit to Charles Avenue

The Charles Avenue Historical Marker is across the street from the
E.W.F. Stirrup House. Once called Evangelist Street, Charles is one of the
oldest streets in Miami, which is why it was designated a Historic Roadway.

Last week’s visit to Coconut Grove was full of surprises.

Ostensibly I was in The Grove for 2 semi-clandestine meetings with two of my super-duper secret anonymous sources. One wanted to go off the record on the Coconut Grove Playhouse deal. The other was my original tipster on Trolleygate.

However, there were also several loose ends I wanted to clean up concerning the Playhouse parking lots and the two vacant lots on Charles Avenue, immediately across the street from the historic, 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House. Despite its cultural and historic significance, the house continues to undergo Demolition By Neglect at the hands of a rapacious developer: Aries Development, controlled by Gino Falsetto.

To bring new readers up to speed: When Miami-Dade County finally carved out a deal which freed the Playhouse from purgatory, it took away the parking lot Paradise Parking, DoublePark and Caribbean Parking had been operating between the Playhouse and the Bicycle Shop. This lot was turned over to the Miami Parking Authority to administer. At the same time, the MPA also leased to Aries Development 45 parking spots immediately behind the Playhouse.

March 25: A lawyer advised this was a crime in the making.
Did these companies also squat on the Playhouse parking lot?

This reporter has been investigating rumours that the Paradise parking group had been squatting on the parking lot land for the last several years. To date, no one has been able to produce a contract that gave
these companies the right to operate a parking franchise on the Playhouse
parking lot.

The last time I visited (March 25) Double Park, Paradise Parking and Caribbean Parking had erected a meter (pictured right) where they were leasing the 45 parking spaces from the MPA. They had no right to erect their own meter because it was not their own lot. It was looking as if they might be squatting again. The meter had not been activated and I needed to see whether they had started collecting potentially illegal parking fees.

Have I mentioned yet how Double Park, LLC is owned by Gino Falsetto, while the other 2 companies are owned by business associates of Falsetto

A second, lesser, reason to reconnoiter is that — SURPRISE!!! — lines had finally been painted on this parking lot. The last time I was there I had counted the potential for 57 parking spots, judging from the barely legible lines painted years ago. Counting the spaces and documenting the fact that Paradise Parking, et al, were pocketing parking fees that should have belonged to the MPA would be a great investigative article. Another feather in the Not Now Silly Newscap.

March 25: Detail of sign above right

I had already received a (FREE) legal opinion that squatting on a parking lot and collecting parking fees could be considered a case of theft against every driver who paid up and/or the actual owner of the property. If, as alleged, these three companies had been squatting on the Playhouse land for the past several years, that would be a lot of individual cases of theft. And, whether they squatted or not, these companies were able to rake a lot of parking fees off this parking lot over the last several years.

SURPRISE: The meter had been removed, leaving only the base. Now anyone who wants to park there has to walk a block to the nearest meter — on the far side of the Playhouse — which cannot be viewed from these parking spaces. We’ll see how that works out.

Looking past the empty residential lots to the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the 5-storey
Grove Gardens Residential Condominiums dwarfing the 120-year old house.

To be perfectly honest, I had hoped to catch Paradise Parking in what appeared to be a crime in the making because it’s a company owned by the same rapacious
developer who is allowing the E.W.F. Stirrup House to undergo Demolition by Neglect. That would be Gino Falsetto and Aries Development, which
built The Monstrosity behind the Stirrup House: the Grove Gardens
Residence Condominiums.

It was while I was counting the parking spaces — another SURPRISE: there are only 45, as per the agreement with the MPA — I looked back across the two empty lots to the E.W.F. Stirrup House. The simple 2-storey white and yellow house — designated historic — is completely dwarfed by The Monstrosity, built by the same rapacious developer who owns these 2 empty lots pictured above. There had been two little single family houses on these lots. Aries acquired the lots and knocked the houses down so the property could be used as a construction marshaling yard in order to build The Monstrosity.

Little by little Aries Development has been chipping away at this Historic Roadway. Aside from the 50-year lease on the Stirrup House, Aries now owns the Bicycle Shop, creating bookends on either side of any potential Coconut Grove Playhouse development.

As I continued taking pictures of Charles Avenue I walked from the vantage point shown above back to the E.W.F. Stirrup House, where I met a curious stranger.

THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL!!!

I was almost back at my car when I saw a woman walking across the Stirrup property towards me. The only people I’ve ever seen on that property were workmen. A red-headed, middle-aged woman in a dress was A SURPRISE, which is why I walked towards her. We met at the gate to the Stirrup property and had a heavily accented conversation after she demanded to know why I was taking pictures of her property.

Pictured: The scene of the conversation.
I didn’t take her picture.

Several times she asserted it was her property. I let the fib go because I know the history of the property better than my own family tree. It’s owned by Stirrup Properties, LLC, a company headed by 2 of the grandchildren of the original owner, E.W.F. Stirrup. A 50-year lease is held by Aries Development, which has been allowing this historic 120-year old house to undergo Demolition by Neglect. I’m pretty sure that this woman is not Aries Development Group.

Our conversation went something like this:

MF: [Accented English]: Why you take pictures?
ME: I’ve taken a lot of pictures of this building. I come here every few days and take pictures of this house. I have thousands of pictures of this house.
MF: Why you take so many pictures?
ME: I’m interested in the history of the house. It’s a famous house. This is the oldest house on the street. The second oldest house in Miami.
MF: I know. You work for newspaper?
ME: No. I have a blog.
MF: What’s your name?
ME: Headly Westerfield. [This elicited no reaction whatsoever.] What’s your name?
MF: Magda Falsetto.
ME: [Falsetto?!?! DING! DING! DING! My notebook has been in my hand all this time, so I start scribbling notes of the rest of our conversation.] M-A-G-D-A?

I was so surprised that it wasn’t until later that I realized I didn’t ask the obvious question: “Are you related to Gino Falsetto?” DOH!

MF: Yes. This is my property.
ME: So why don’t you fix up this house? This house has been empty for 8 years.
MF: Longer!
ME: Longer? Then why don’t you fix it up?
MF: It takes long time to get permits from city.
ME: You’ve had more than 8 years.
MF: It takes long time to get permits. Is problem at city.

April 4, 2014: La Bottega advertises. It has no permits
to move the Farmers Market to the Stirrup Property.

ME: Didn’t there used to be a wall there? Where did it go? [Indicates the back of the Stirrup property where a wall once separated it from La Bottega, a restaurant on the ground floor of The Monstrosity. La Bottega has started advertising the Farmer’s Market moving there beginning on the 27th of April.]
MF: We are making a garden to bring tables out here.
ME: On this property? From the restaurant?
MF: Yes. It will be beautiful garden.
ME: Don’t you think you should fix the house first? It’s an construction zone. The house looks terrible.
MF: It takes long time to get permits from city.

NO SURPRISE: She repeated this “long time to get permits from the city” sentiment about 7 times because I kept circling back to asking why the house wasn’t fixed already. One cannot get permits from the city if one has not submitted plans. The last time I checked no plans had ever been submitted to the city by Aries to renovate the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

TO BE FAIR: That was a whole 2 months ago, during the Great Tree Massacre of ’14.

Aries will need to submit up plans before it can be issued permits to renovate the E.W.F. Stirrup House. It will also have to apply for a retroactive permit for landscaping and  destroying the trees on the Stirrup property. So far Aries has gotten away with having no permit for the destruction of the cinder block wall. Will it also try to get away with moving restaurant and bar seating onto the Stirrup property? Will it even try to obtain the proper permits to move the Farmer’s Market to the Stirrup property?

It’s not like Aries Development has even tried to be a good Coconut Grove neighbour, so why should it be trusted now?

IRONY ALERT: Gino Falsetto and Aries Development is on the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee. More than a year ago I attended a meeting where Aries assured the Preservation Committee that it was going to fix up the Stirrup House right away. In that time Aries has only caused more destruction to the house and the property.

But, who knows? I might be surprised. Aries may finally do things legally.

Who am I kidding? I’ll have to keep an eye on them.

Why is E.W.F. Stirrup so important to Coconut Grove?
Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!!
Now Honour Your Past