Tag Archives: Coral Gables

Gaslighting Another Black Community For Fun & Profit

Scratch beneath any story in Coconut Grove and you’ll discover  the issue of race lurking. We’ll get to that eventually, but this true fable — with a twist on the race issue — starts with the approval of a Wawa gas station in the City of Coral Gables.

So what? Cities approve gas stations all the time. However, this approval didn’t have any public consultation with the community, nor public hearings, both of which would normally have taken place. And, that’s why this is a story in the first place.

It may be different where you live, but Wawa is on an extensive expansion campaign in my area of Florida. This time Wawa Public Relations may have bit off more than it can chew with this location in Coral Gables, said to be the very first planned community in the United States. The plan, right from the start, was to keep Black people out.

There was one small exception to the historic and unspoken sundown rule, the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District, which we’ll eventually get to. Suffice to say that to this day 91.3% of the residents of Coral Gables are white (July 1, 2019). [NB: Latinx is considered White.] Demographics like this are not accidental. [Read: Sundown Towns, by James Loewen.]

To get up to speed, and because I don’t want to re-chew the same cud, you might want to take a look at why I call Coral Gables the town that racism built:

Further reading:
•  No Skin In The Game; Part One 
•  No Skin In The Game; Part Two
No Skin In The Game; Part Three
No Skin In The Game ; Part Four

Get comfortable. I’m excavating 130 years of racial history around a small patch of Miami-Dade County, which sits on the dividing line between 2 communities, one Black and the other White:

Why a Wawa?

Way back near the turn of this century, Miami-Dade County decided to gift a parcel of land (for $10, which would be $14.47 in today’s dollars), at the intersection of Grand Avenue and US 1, to a 501c3 non-profit to build affordable housing and some light retail.  A worthy goal. 

This triangle wedge of land is at the extreme southwestern corner of the triangle that makes up the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District [outlined in red at right]. I’ve previously described the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District as where Coral Gables hides its racism in plain sight. We’ll get back to that.

The 501c3 non-profit is called the Lola B. Walker Homeowner’s Foundation (named after an early Black pioneer). The property is now estimated to be worth $8-$10 million. While it’s wholly in the city of Coral Gables, it abuts the City of Miami, More specifically, Coconut Grove. To get more specific: West Grove, and, to put a pin in it: Black Grove.

The dividing line between Coral Gables and Miami is Grand Avenue, on the southern edge of that triangle, and Brooker Street on the east. At one time it belonged to Miami, but was annexed by Coral Gables (to hide it in plain site. Long story.)

Grand Avenue has long been considered the vehicular gateway to Coconut Grove. At one time it could have truly been a grand avenue, because that’s how it was envisioned when it was surveyed near the turn of the last century. Speed through a few decades in which the western stretch of Grand Avenue suffered greatly from systemic racism. While both ends of Grand are in the 33133 Zip Code, and only about 4,200 feet separate them, only one side is considered to be in one of the most exclusive areas in the country. As soon as one crosses Margaret Street everything changes, as you cross into White Grove. The difference is obvious to the naked eye, not just property values on Zillow.

Skip ahead to 2002, eighteen years ago. After much public meeting, community consultation, and charettes, a … err … grand plan was produced that would have brought that Grand Avenue Gateway to fruition. It never happened. Yes, I’ve written about that, too.

Further reading: The Grand Avenue 2002 Vision Plan , part of my Unpacking Grand Avenue series.

Where were we? Right, that smaller triangle of land where, in 2002,  the non-profit 501c3, Lola B. Walker Homeowner’s Foundation teamed up with the for profit Redevco Corporation to build what came to be called Bahamian Village [left] with the aforementioned affordable housing.

Then, suddenly, nothing happened.

Nothing happened for a very long time.

Nothing happened for such a very long time that Miami-Dade County got pissed and sued the non-profit: ‘Do what you promised [affordable housing and light retail] or we’re gonna take the land back.’ By the time that suit got settled in favour of the non-profit, the land use was very different than it had been. Now it was going to be a restaurant and some light retail. The concept of affordable housing seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Then the land sat some more.

Nothing still happened some more.

Miami-Dade launched another lawsuit.

When this legal action was settled in favour of the non-profit, the decision was made to just toss in a Wawa and be done with it.

Just so nobody would become aware of this bait and switch until it was far too late to do anything about it, the City of Coral Gables did all of this permitting for the Wawa without notifying the neighbourhood or having any public comments as would normally be the case for ANY development. One of Coral Gables’ excuses was that 45 residents of the MacFarlane Historic District signed their approval for the project and those residents were also the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Foundation, the HOA that somehow became a non-profit, that teamed up with Redevco, which has a good reputation for redevelopment elsewhere.

This HOA was once quite powerful in Miami-Dade politics [see letter at right], but that power has diminished as the original residents have aged and/or died off. Some passed the houses down from generation to generation, as other families do jewels. There are now children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren of the original residents and  not all were content to stay in the same neighbourhood and moved away.

However, the community is still tight, cohesive, and Black. It’s that last part that gives it out-sized influence. This may be their final kick at the can before they kick the bucket.

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT’S DUE: I knew I was chasing Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald to the finish line on this story, but she got there first. And, it’s good. So good that I’m going to steal. From West Grove was promised affordable housing. So, why are they winding up with a Wawa instead?

[Coral Gables Commissioner Vince] Lago said the homeowners approached him when the county sued to take back the undeveloped land and the city responded by “doing everything in our power to bring an economic driver project and community center to fruition.”

“The residents are in favor of the Wawa. I think it’s heavy-handed and overreaching to step into a predominately Black neighborhood and tell them what to do,” he said. “Would I have liked to see some housing? Yes. Does the community center need to engage more and expand its programming? Yes.”

I think it’s overreaching for Coral Gables to play the race card on this play. It’s incredibly disingenuous since the MacFarlane Apartheid Triangle™ was, at one time, the ONLY place Black folk could live in Coral Gables. At one time if you were Black and found in Coral Gables (except in this triangle, of course) you would be asked to produce your papers. Those consisted of a note from your employer: “John Smith is my handyman or gardener or chauffeur” or “Mary Smith is our cook or maid or nanny.” A lack of papers would get you jailed for vagrancy.

This is within current living memory.

Furthermore, none of the current houses in this MacFarlane triangle could be placed in any other part of Coral Gables today because they would not be up to code in the rest of the city. But, the code’s okay for these Black folk just fine.

So, with another lawsuit looming — and everybody’s back to the wall — Coral Gables let this deal go through, and this is just my opinion, because they thought it would not be a good look to say “No” to a predominately Black neighbourhood association even though — and it’s worth stressing — this is a historic district on the National Register.

◄ Here’s a historic Wawa. It doesn’t seem to fit the whole Bahamian idea of West Grove and the MacFarlane District.

Robertson continues:

But no one is explaining precisely how the Bahamian Village was replaced by a gas station and Wawa — or who benefits most from the deal. Not Redevco, which seems likely to reap a tidy profit from leasing the property to Wawa, a 750-store chain based in Philadelphia.

Not the Black homeowners, whose only known gain is a community center, which in reality is a conference room at the back of the developer’s new office headquarters, built on the eastern end of what will be Wawa’s large parking lot.

Not government officials in Coral Gables who fast-tracked the project in a historic district of the city.

Two homeowners association officers did not return phone calls from the Miami Herald. A third declined to answer questions, recited the “Serenity Prayer” and hung up.

Let’s be clear: A non-profit 501c3 is allowed to team up with a for profit company to do pretty much anything. However, if this is such a good deal for the MacFarlane HOA and the City of Coral Gables, why do it in the dead of night after you’ve blown out all the candles, locked all the doors, and lowered the Cone of Silence?

You’ll find far more in Linda Robertson’s article. She mines veins of this story I’ve left alone because I’m off on historic tangents she didn’t explore. However, it’s worth your time.

So…after the citizens woke up to this fait accompli, Coral Gables finally held a [remote] public hearing. But by then, the Wawa was already out of the Trolley Barn.


This is not the first time that the City of Coral Gables has gifted West Grove with a building it didn’t want and probably didn’t conform to the various laws and codes covering the property before the city looked away. However, at least this time the building is in Coral Gables proper and not Miami, the city next door, that looked away the last time. A quick history lesson:

Some years back Coral Gables wanted to develop a piece of land, but its trolley barn (called “trolleys” because they are painted to look like cute little electric trolleys) stood in the way of any redevelopment payday. Consequently Coral Gables entered into an agreement with Astor Development in which Astor would get to redevelop the property, provided it built a new, improved trolley garage to replace the one that would be torn down. Win/win.

Astor Development looked around and found some cheap property. It needed to combine a few lots, but that was easy because it had money and the land was cheap. The land was cheap because it was in West Grove — Black Grove — where land prices were depressed for the same reason land is depressed in any — and every — Black neighbourhood in ‘Merka: Systemic racism, another topic for every day.

[Here’s my shortest tangent ever: I’ll never forget the name of the developer because Astor Furniture, in Detroit, was the name of Pops’ store. At left: The Black Day in July autographed by the guy who wrote Black Day in July. Read more here.]

The main point being that Astor Development didn’t find property in Coral Gables to build its polluting Coral Gables bus garage. It found property in the Black area in the next town to build its polluting bus garage. Over the decades, in any community you can name, those things that pollute were always dropped into Black districts.

Again, because I don’t want to trod over the same ground I covered 7.5 years ago, I point you to all my previous writing on Trolleygate, in which I demonstrated exactly where the illegal corruption lay, but nobody cared. However, if you don’t want to read it all, here are a few samplers from the assortment pack:

An Introduction to Trolleygate
BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces
Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated
Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate
An Update On Sarnoff’s Trolleygate aka Astor’s Trolley Folly


Let us now turn our attention to another ancient sore point: The incinerator that was nicknamed Old Smokey.

Old Smokey belched out smoke and particulates into West Grove — Black Grove, because that’s where you drop things like this — for decades. However, it wasn’t until the White folk of Coral Gables started complaining about the pollution, that old Smokey was finally shut down.

[BONUS: Old Smokey’s toxic ash was spread throughout Miami parks and neighbourhoods as fill for the swamp that once was. No one really knows what kind of toxic time bomb lurks beneath a lot of Miami properties. People don’t want to have their soil tested because a bad result could halve their property values. That was the story that Not Now Silly dubbed Soilgate, and when current Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell found his desire to run for office.]

I’ve written about all of that, too. Check out:

A Century of Coconut Grove Racism ► Soilgate Is Trolleygate Writ Large

This Toxic Timebomb Could Blow Up Soccer In Miami

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

When Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff Lied To My Face

√ Read the Miami Herald for more about a class action suit against the City of Miami by West Grove residents over health issues due to toxic soil


Most people are unaware that the City of Miami once mandated that a wall be built between the White and Black neighbourhoods of Coconut Grove. I don’t want to hoe the same ground over and over, but I’ve written all about this, too. In Chapter One of my series Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins*:

There are two distinct sides to The Wall, as Miami New Times writer Kirk Nielsen called it 15 years ago, when he asked and answered the musical question, “How can you tell where white Coconut Grove ends and black Coconut Grove begins? Just look for the barbed wire.”

In 1946 the Miami Housing Authority approved construction of a 25-acre tract of small single-family homes for low-income blacks on Charles Terrace, west of Douglas Road. By the time the houses were completed in 1949, workers had also erected a concrete block wall along the southern boundary of the new development. As reported by the Miami Herald (and cited by Marvin Dunn in his new book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century), the city planning board required the wall in order to provide “suitable protection” for the white neighborhood. A Florida Supreme Court ruling three years earlier had rendered illegal Dade County’s segregation of black residential districts. But that didn’t stop the city from putting the wall up.

Brown and weathered, the concrete block barrier still runs a quarter-mile, from Douglas Road west to the Carver Middle School parking lot. Six feet tall, higher in some places, it divides the leafy back yards of Kumquat Avenue on one side from the tree-starved lots of Charles Terrace on the other.

Lou-vern Fisher, who moved to Miami with her parents in 1936 from Georgia, bought one of the single-family homes next to the wall with her husband back in 1950. She still lives there, with a daughter, granddaughter, and grandson. “We enjoyin’ the wall,” says the jolly 73-year-old retired maid. “They put it here for a reason. And you know the reason. To keep us from going over there,” she wags a finger, letting off a loud gravelly ha-ha-ha.

Further reading: Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Two Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins ► Chapter Three

Funny thing about that wall. The western end of it wasn’t breached because Black folks wanted it. Again, it was the White folk dropping their kids off at school who complained that they were forced to take the long way around. And the wall come tumblin’ down.

IRONY ALERT: Now we’ve come full circle: The people making the biggest fuss over the Wawa are the predominately White (Latinx) parents at George Washington Carver Elementary School, which is on the Miami side of Grand Avenue, immediately across the street from the planned gas station, at the bottom of the MacFarlane Triangle, which is  in Coral Gables.

If, and that’s a pretty big if, the White (ie: Latinx) parents are able to stop the project it would once again be like both Old Smokey and The Wall, only stopped when White folks kicked up a stink.

As mentioned above, Coral  Gables finally held [remote] public comments after the fact, and the PTA was represented by Miami lawyer David Winker (who I have also written about previously). “I got involved because parents at the school found out after the fact and they had a number of concerns. As I looked into this, I discovered there were a number of irregular occurances that are concerning from the perspective of transparency and accountability. […] Coral Gables treated the parents as pests and appeared almost insulted they would question a deal that resulted in $8 million of public land in a historic district, and given for free to build affordable housing, that ended up as a Wawa.”

But wasn’t that the whole point? Historic preservation and affordable housing? It’s stated as the goal in the original documents of the 501c3. 


This year the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation added the MacFarlane Historic District to its 11 to Save list for 2020. That’s such a big deal that Coral Gables Magazine thought it worthy of a feature article in its Streetwise section all the way back on September 18th of this year. Read Saving the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District. These clips [left and right] come from The Florida Villager‘s article The MacFarlane District Makes Preservation List.

I’m certain Coral Gables Magazine and The Florida Villager will take as much pride in its new Wawa Gas Station as it does in its historic district.

Wawa & Me:

I’m not anti-Wawa. I’m just against anti-Big Corporation despoiling a historic district on the down low. And, I call bullshit on the letter to the right, sent to a concerned parent.

Had I received that letter, I would have been highly offended. Not only is it a boiler-plate piece of crap about what good neighbours and corporate citizens the company aspires to be, but it’s signed by The Wawa Family. Bet there’s no Wawa Family listed in the phone book.

In my opinion this is not Best Business Practices. If I am in communication with someone at a multi-million dollar corporation, I’d like to know who that is. I’d like to know just who I should respond to after such a joke of a letter. Who is taking responsibility for this communication? But, that’s just me. The Wawa Family clearly has other ideas.

I first heard of Wawa when I was Uber/Lyfting and my pax worked there. I was curious about the name because there’s a Wawa, Ontario, Canada. As every Canadian Rock and Roll band can tell you, if you want to drive to western Canada from Toronto (and there was more than one reason not to want to drive through ‘Merka), your only alternative is to drive through Wawa. Which reminds me of a great Canadian Band who had a oft-requested song about a car breaking down in Wawa, Ontario.

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

Anyhoo…I asked this young lady from Wawa if she knew why it was called Wawa, thinking that maybe there was a CanCon Connection. While she had no idea where the name came from, she went into a a kind-of monotone, droning something about how the Canadian Goose in the logo represents teamwork because, just like a flock of geese, when one tires another goose comes to the fore. She was less articulate, but I knew it was Corp Speak™ and concluded the Wawa cult was strong with this one and wondered about those corporate mind-control exercises.

I never thought about it again…until recently.

Since then I’ve popped into various Wawas to gas up Ruby Red because it usually has the cheapest gas around. However, about a year ago one opened near me. It happens to be across the street from my mechanic. If I’m ever having any work done on Ruby, I drop in on this location and people watch. I’m fascinated by the joint and have made excuses just to go there and sit. Little did I know I’d be writing about it. I should have taken notes.

My observations and opinions of this location. Positives first:

• Clean, meticulous, including restrooms;
• Wawa folk regularly come out, pick up trash, and swap out trash containers (as you’d expect);
• Usually the least expensive gas.

Negatives, but a lot of these you’d expect:

• A lot of vehicular traffic, natch, jockeying for pumps and parking;
• Not nearly enough parking at times;
• Not nearly enough pumps at times;
• Smell of gas and potential for fire/pollution;
• Not everybody in our society use trashcans and some of it blows beyond the reach of the Wawa people;
• More foot traffic than expected, for the retail or just to cut across the corner, which brings up an important point I want to get to.

Not all, but many of those who cut through the lot are students at Piper High School, just about a half mile away. [Not complaining, just explaining.] Pre-COVID, there would always be a lot of teens in and out of the retail, as well as using the outside tables. Because it’s a high school, some of the older students already have cars. This adds to the traffic, of course. [Just explaining.] I want to stress I have seen no misbehaviour on the part of these teens, but I have seen how older patrons respond to them. There’s unnecessary friction and some of it appears racial.

And, all that good corporate citizen bumph is just so much crap. It didn’t take much digging to find bad news about Wawa:

Neighbors oppose Walmart, Wawa rezoning on Dale Mabry

Neighbors fight Wawa near downtown Orlando

Neighbors fight proposed Hypoluxo Road Wawa

Neighbors try to stop a proposed Wawa in St. Augustine

Neighbors, school district against Bristol Road Wawa plans

Wawa announces massive data breach potentially impacting customers’ credit and debit card information

‘Wawa is pretty much dead to me’: Founding family accused of cheating former workers out of millions in company stock

But, let’s get back to Coconut Grove. Carver Elementary school is right across the street from this proposed Wawa, at a very complicated intersection where 3 main streets converge.

My conclusion is this is the exact wrong place for a Wawa, or any gas station, or pretty much any high-traffic business.

I’ve sat at this corner observing on 2 separate occasions. Both times it was during COVID. I bring that up because I assume attendance is down from normal. Both times traffic was a mess. On Grand Avenue, for a good distance on either side of the 15 MPH school zone, it’s bumper-to-bumper, making it difficult to turns off Jefferson or Brooker, east of the school zone. West of the school zone traffic bunches up at US-1 where cars jockey for position on a narrow 1 lane street in order to either make the right onto US-1, or the left onto US-1 from the single lane that opens up, or straight through the light to SW 42nd, aka S Le June Road.

Horns a’plenty, as impatient drivers try to get wherever it is they are in such a hurry to get to. Now add a Wawa gas station, the busy times of which is in the morning, during school load-in. [To be fair: I’ve not done the afternoon rush.]

One of the reasons in support of the Wawa (or at least not against) is that the Carver Kids won’t be customers. However, it’s possible the 11-13 year olds from Carver Middle School might walk over.

Regardless, I bet Carver parents will use the Wawa parking lot. How do I know? Because on the 2 times I did spotting at that corner, parents pulled over in any nook and cranny along Grand Avenue and the side streets to drop off kids. That’s part of what led to the traffic mess. Too many cars and not enough places to pull over in a place where parents need to pull over.

The biggest irony of all.

Rule #1 in journalism is FOLLOW THE MONEY and you might think GOOD ON THEM if this historic Black homeowners association gets a little taste of reparations. But remember: This is a 501c3 non-profit. It can’t take the money out. It cannot profit.

Redevco can make bank. That’s not illegal. So, how much is Redevco making from this partnership? What did Redevco promise the 501c3 to allow its neighbourhood to be altered forever, and possibly destroyed? Were the residents hoodwinked? Were they bamboozled about the benefits of this project?

Coral Gables has already dismissed the concerns of the school parents because the school is in another city. Let them attend to their own problems.

Going forward, how will Coral Gables deal with the fallout over the lack of normal process? The Miami-Dade School Board can’t be happy about the lack of transparency. How will Coral Gables deal with the fallout when the current gridlock becomes worse? Where will Coral Gables mandate the entrance and egress to the Wawa? Grand Avenue can’t really take the traffic. Florida wasn’t designed for this traffic.

These are just some of the threads I will be pulling in the future. Stay tuned for Part Two, Three, Four…we’ll see where this goes.

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.

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?

If It’s News, It’s News To The Coconut Grove Grapevine

Let’s have a Tomversation, Tom.

Longtime followers of Not Now Silly can attest, I have been trying to Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House for more than 5 years.

Back in 2009 I tried to get Tom Falco, publisher of the Coconut Grove Grapevine, to help me. We engaged in a series of emails that went south really quickly. I explained my background. Then I offered my early opinion (which has only grown after researching more history) that much of what happens in West Grove is informed by Systemic Racism, I received the following reply from Falco, grammar, lack of punctuation, and misspellings unretouched:

[8/31/2009] Well some of the residents on the block are to blame too.

The first house was given over $700,000 by the city in grant money to renovate and the owner painted it white and took off.

Other areas were to be an arts district, but someone involved and part of the black community bought up all the land cheap and then tried to sell it to the artist for exhorbatant prices, so they just walked away.

You were wrong to place this on the facebook page it is off topic and really if you want to be taken seriously you need to do it by not spamming places. It makes you look unprofessional and people won’t take you seriously.

I do since I have done stories on the subject, but it is best to try to spreaed your info the proper way, and spamming blogs and facebook is not the proper way.

I’m just sayin.. Also it wasn’t “Whitie” who scammed the artists, it was the black something initiative that screwed the hood.

Tom Falco

Tom Falco [L] sharing information in downtown Coconut Grove

Wait!!! What???

I was surprised that Falco was so unconcerned about Charles Avenue and the E.W.F. Stirrup House. His larger issue — one he has to this very day — is about SPAM. All links in comment threads are SPAM, as far as he is concerned. It would never have occurred to me that a post about news in Coconut
Grove would be considered Off Topic on a blog with the rubric COCONUT GROVE’S ONLY

Silly me!!!

As for professionalism: I’ve been a professional writer-journalist for more than 40 years. While it’s so easy to dismiss that experience in the cyber-world, where anyone can claim to be a writer, at least I spell words correctly and know how to use punctuation properly. Yet, Tom Falco has a sizable readership despite his grammar and run-on sentences. More’s the pity.

Clearly Tom and I have a fundamental disagreement. Falco feels sharing information through a link is SPAM. I believe information should be shared. I’m not sharing the link to get traffic to Not Now Silly. I don’t make money off web traffic, like he does. I am sharing the link in order to share the information contained within. Three days later he wrote to me because I transgressed again:

I asked you in a nice way to stop spamming my face book page.

If you do it again, I will have you blocked from the page.

Thank you.

Falco did eventually block me from his facebookery. I was never successful in recruiting him to my efforts to save the E.W.F. Stirrup House, even when I tried again in 2012, when he dismissed me with:


I really don’t want to get involved with that.

I am really trying to ease out of the Grove these days and am not taking on any more causes.


Nor was I successful in recruiting him to the other West Grove issue that cropped up a year ago, Trolleygate.

Funny story about that. Al Crespo, the great Miami muckraker and publisher of The Crespogram Report, tried to get him involved in Trolleygate. Without knowing of the enmity that had built up, Crespo made the mistake of including in his email a link to one of my blog posts and CCed me. Falco blew a gasket, which was so funny and outrageous that I wrote all about it in Go Home, Coconut Grove Grapevine, You’re Drunk! Hilarity ensued. However, Falco’s yet to apologize for the libelous statements in his email.

That’s why it was so surprising to see the Coconut Grove Grapevine recently take up the issues of both the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Trolleygate. What was not surprising is how he has continued to block my comments on his threads because I continue to link to my blog posts.

However, I recently learned that it’s not just me who is being blocked at the Coconut Grove Grapevine. I am now in email communication with someone else (with Tom Falco CCed). This person has also been trying to get comments posted on Falco’s blog. Falco not only refuses to publish the comments, but has refused the courtesy of a private reply as to why the comments have been blocked.

Let me be the first to defend Tom Falco. Only Tom Falco should decide on what gets published on the Coconut Grove Grapevine. Having said that, no one”s trying to SPAM his blog. We are trying to provide his readers more information on issues of importance to Coconut Grove. A real writer would WELCOME that kind of dialogue with its readers. Falco really should drop the pretense that he’s serving his readers; he’s serving his advertisers.

This advert was out-of-date on
March 1st when the MPA took
over the Playhouse parking lot.

When Falco falsely labels informative links SPAM, it’s a convenient excuse not to publish comments that might lead to criticism of any of his advertisers. F’rinstance: Gino Falsetto (the marauding developer I have written about extensively) has been an advertiser at the Grapevine through various companies, including his (possibly illegal) parking concession at the Playhouse and the several restaurants in the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums.

With Aries Development Group‘s fingers in so many Coconut Grove pies, much of the reporting Falco does is compromised. His recent two-parter on the Stirrup House, spurred on by the destruction of the trees and the public outcry, is an exercise of saying almost nothing while giving the Stirrup House lip service. Laughably he says in one of those posts:

For some years now, a few people asked me to get involved but I always felt there was nothing I could do. After so many years, the Stirrup family gave up the house, which was given historic designation in 2004.

And, nothing is what Tom Falco did. He ignored the Stirrup House from the day I tried to get him to help until now.

And, nothing is what Tom Falco still does. In neither post does he really come out and criticize the rapacious, marauding developer, Gino Falsetto. Furthermore, he won’t publish comments that do.

TO BE FAIR: Falco’s absolutely right that there’s nothing he can do, unless he’s willing to piss off his advertisers. However, if he wants to serve his readers and the larger community can help me pound the drum to Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

Either run as the Unofficial Mayor of Coconut Grove, or do some real reporting.

Even his reporting on Trolleygate is back-asswards. He never comes out in favour of his neighbours against the non-complying Coral Gables bus garage, although he mentions the controversy almost tangentially.

What Falco actually has done is to start a petition to demand that Miami bring its fake trolleys into Grove Center. He takes no position on whether these fake trolleys should loop along Grand Avenue into West Grove. Nor does he mention the latest news in the fake trolley story, that Coral Gables has voted to loop its fake trolleys to the MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historical District, but not to Douglas Road, in West Grove, just one block away and where its developer sited the fake trolley maintenance garage.

The MacFarlane Homestead Subdivision Historical District has a fascinating history. I barely touched on it in No Skin In The Game ► Part Three. In short: Coral Gables hid its racism in plain sight by making its only Black enclave, where it ALLOWED its servant class to live, an entire historic district.

Once again West Grove is being frozen out while Center Grove is begging for crumbs from Miami for a fake trolley. However, for a change, Historic Black Coral Gables might finally get served. But, you’ll never learn any of the context from the Coconut Grove Grapevine.

If Falco remains true to form he will next take another wrong position. In no time at all I expect to read him call for grandfathering the illegal, non-conforming Douglas Road diesel bus garage because, with the expansion of the fake trolley lines he’s pushing for, it will be needed, despite the fact that it belongs to the next town over.

I guess what really has me irked, however, is he managed to get quoted recently by other publications who jumped on the both the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Trolleygate issues. He had to be dragged — kicking and screaming — to barely write about these Coconut Grove issues in the first place. Then Miami media quotes him as if he knows what he’s talking about.

Clearly, he’s got a much better press agent than I do and I am jealous of the attention he gets.

However, I’ll warn Falco publicly (again) that he needs to be careful who he says what to. Some of what he says actually gets back to me. In fact, people seem gleeful to repeat it. Some of it sounds suspiciously like slander. People he believes are his friends do not keep his confidences. Who knew FAM would provide so many Friends of Falco a night to unload?

On the other hand: Everything I have said to people in private about Tom Falco, I have also stated in public on my blog more than once:

The Coconut Grove Grapevine is a joke, and Tom Falco is a panoply of a parody of a journalist.

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.

BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces

Ready for his close-up: [Allegedly] corrupt Miami Commisioner Marc. D. Sarnoff
at the Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show posing for the Miami Herald.

A whistle-blower on Trolleygate could blow down the house of cards carefully erected by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff. At least that’s what people who call Sarnoff the “Teflon” Commissioner are hoping.

I received a call from an anonymous tipster yesterday telling me of an email being circulated privately (but has since become public) that should have put a stop to the government operated vehicle maintenance facility*, aka Trolleygate, before the first bit of dirt had ever been turned on the project. The email, from Dakota Hendon in Miami’s Miami Building and Zoning Department, said, essentially, that the government operated vehicle maintenance facility being proposed for Douglas Avenue did not
conform to the Miami 21 Plan.

Who is Dakota Hendon? For one thing he helped write the book on the Miami 21 Plan [PDF], so he should know what’s allowed and not allowed. According to an online biography Hendon worked in the City of Miami Planning Department from August 2006 to September of 2010, when he moved to the City of Miami Building and Zoning Department. It was in this capacity he wrote to Francisco Garcia, the City of Miami Planning Director, warning that government operated vehicle maintenance facility being proposed was non-conforming. Yet, like all projects that [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff comes into contact with, no one really knows how this non-conforming project got approved, especially after the Zoning department tried to put the kibosh on it.

It just kind of happened. Just like how the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park and the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Traffic Circle just kind of happened, even though no one has ever taken responsibility for green-lighting those projects.

However, we now know who tried to stop Trollygate before it even started. On May 24, 2011, Dakota Hendon wrote to Francisco Garcia — City of Miami Planning Director — which included a helpful definition from the Miami 21 Plan:


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

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

The Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park and adjacent Traffic Circle

Speaking of the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park: This has not been a very good month for [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff and his doggie park. The residents are up in arms after toxic dirt was found polluting not only the dog park, but also that last sliver of land that Sarnoff decided to leave for the children, after carving out a full two-thirds of the park and turning it over to the dogs. Since the residents are also Marc D. Sarnoff’s neighbours, I imagine it’s made for some tense relations along Shipping Avenue.

IRONY ALERT: In what can only be the supreme irony in this entire story, the only reason it was discovered that the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park was polluted in the first place was due to the West Grove residents’ lawsuit against the government operated vehicle maintenance facility, which was thrown out of court last month. While expressing sympathy to the residents’ plight, Judge Ronald G. Dresnick ruled he did not have jurisdiction in the Trolleygate case.

However, part of the pro bono legal team that represented the West Grove neigbourhood was Zach Lipshultz, who is a graduate student at the University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Ethics and Public Service. As part of that case, he started documenting the apparent toxicity in several West Grove locations. Recently the City of Miami ordered them to be tested again and, just for good measure, included the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park, which had never been tested before.

As David Villano of Miami News Times notes, the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park is getting an immediate clean up after toxic dirt was discovered there, while the City of Miami has known about toxic soil at Armbrister Field and 3 other locations for years without taking any action whatsoever. I guess when you’re the commissioner, you just get toxic clean-ups, dog parks, and traffic circles, while the rest of the citizens of Miami can take a flying leap at a rolling donut.

But, I digress. [I’ll be writing more about the Coconut Grove’s tainted soil in an upcoming post. One Sarnoff Scandal™ at a time. Let’s just stick with Trolleygate.]

It’s all about these fake trolley buses from Coral Gables, the next town over

Coincidentally my anonymous tipster (who was the first person to ever tell me about Trolleygate and even coined the name) had contact with Dakota Hendon when he was still with the City of Miami’s Building and Zoning Department. I was told that Hendon was a helpful resource within the office, always friendly, and willing to explain and help navigate the red tape to obtain building permits. The next thing my anonymous tipster knows, Dakota Hendon is no longer
working for the City of Miami and the non-conforming government operated
vehicle maintenance facility was rushed the zoning process “faster than shit
through a goose,” to use one inelegant phrase thrown around.

Now that Dakota Hendon’s email is public, my anonymous tipster wonders whether this is why he no longer works for city and whether he was pushed, or did he quit. Here’s what’s known for certain: [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff shepherded this project from beginning to end, working the backrooms with Astor Development to offer a $250,000 ‘bribe’ to improve Armbrister Field, suspected for years of being polluted.

Another long-time Sarnoff critic [who also wishes to remain anonymous. In fact, it’s hard to find someone willing to go on the record about Sarnoff because people are afraid of his vindictiveness. Many have told me stories of how he punishes his perceived enemies, something I witnessed for myself at the Trollygate Dog And Pony Show.] says this is a tried and true Sarnoff tactic: To offer something to one part of the neighbourhood to get them onside, in order to run roughshod over the rest of the neighbours’ objections, and while the various factions are playing off against one another, Sarnoff will do something like push through a government operated vehicle maintenance facility.

No doubt last month Astor Development and [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff had hoped that Judge Dresnick had the last word on Trolleygate. While the residents were decided whether they should appeal, the City of Coral Gables decided to sue Astor Development over its own government operated vehicle maintenance facility.

I don’t know if depositions are taken in cases like this, but here are some questions I’d like to ask if given the chance:

I’d ask Dakota Hendon:

1). Why he’s no longer working for the City of Miami;
2). Why does the written record end at his email;
3). Did he follow up with Francisco Garcia;
4). Who approved this project;
5). What contact did he have with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff over this project;
6). What contact did he have with Astor Development.

I’d ask Francisco Garcia:

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

Then I would ask some pointed questions of Astor Development:

1). How often did you meet with [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff on this project;
2). How many of those meetings were attended by community groups;
3). Who came up with the $250,000 bribe to Arbrister Field;
4). What assurances did you get from [alleged] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff that this building would go ahead as planned;
5). Whose idea was it to put shutters on the building to make it look more Bahamian;
6). What contact did you have with Francisco Garcia and/or Dakota Hendon.

Then, once I had the answers to those questions, I would call [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff to the witness stand and, UNDER OATH, based on the triangulation from all those questions above, see if he will admit to being a corrupt Commissioner. I say this because no one else can think of any other reason that [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff would go to bat for a developer from the next town over, to build a polluting bus garage for the next town over, that clearly contravenes the Miami 21 Plan, as evidenced by the city’s own Zoning and Planning Department official.

Who is getting what out of this project? Miami gets no tax revenue from this building and has been paying layers to defend it in court. It’s already a millstone around taxpayers’ necks. Meanwhile, the West Grove residents get all the pollution from this building, while the City of Coral Gables has denied them even the courtesy of a bus stop. Because: That might allow predominately Black West Grove to visit the lily White Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, the next town over, which is the purpose of these phony trolley buses in the first place. [Read more about Coral Gables in my series No Skin In The Game and see why I call it the city that racism built.]

Rampant speculation [in almost every conversation I have about Trolleygate] leads people to believe that somehow [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff made out like a bandit on this deal, because there is no other logical explanation for him selling out his own constituents the way he did in Trolleygate.

Read all my posts on Trolleygate here.
View all my videos on Trolleygate here.

* The reason I continue to use the awkward phrase “government operated vehicle maintenience facility is two-fold: 1) That’s what it is; 2). That exact phrase is one of the specifically prohibited uses along Douglas Road, according to the Miami 21 Plan.

Edited September 21, 2013: In my anger I used an expletive that I’ve excised. Also, a lawyer suggested I take out the word “bribe.” Instead I have surrounded it in ‘these quotes’ denoting the word is used colloquially and not legally.

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:

No Skin In The Game ► Part Four

The One Grove mural in Coconut Grove

On the same day I was posting about the upcoming court hearing for Trolleygate, a news article came across my transom that dovetails with that story nicely. Tell me if this doesn’t sound familiar:

A nearly all-White town refuses to install bus stops that would make it convenient for Black folk to get to their community. While this fight is between suburban Beavercreek and the nearby city of Dayton, Ohio, it could almost be coming from Coral Gables and Coconut Grove.

The brouhaha in Ohio began a few years back, when the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority decided to add three bus stops in Beavercreek. The Bevercreekians said, ‘No fucking way‘ and started enacting legislative barriers to any new bus stops in the community, which oddly enough, don’t apply to current bus stops, like heat, air conditioning, and a high-tech camera system. According to Think Progress:

Many in the area argue that their opposition boils down to a simple reason: race. According to the 2010 census, 9 in 10 Beavercreek residents are white, but 73 percent of those who ride the Dayton RTA buses are minorities. “I can’t see anything else but it being a racial thing,” Sam Gresham, state chair of Common Cause Ohio, a public interest advocacy group, told ThinkProgress. “They don’t want African Americans going on a consistent basis to Beavercreek.”

A civil rights group in the area, Leaders for Equality in Action in Dayton (LEAD), soon filed a discrimination lawsuit against Beavercreek under the Federal Highway Act. In June, the Federal Highway Administration ruled that Beavercreek’s actions were indeed discriminatory and ordered them to work with the Dayton Regional Transit Authority to get the bus stops approved without delay.

Beavercreek, though, isn’t particularly keen to do that. The city council voted most recently on Friday to put off consideration of the matter until later this month. They are weighing whether to appeal the federal ruling, or perhaps whether to just defy it altogether. Appealing the ruling could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, according to a Washington D.C. lawyer the council hired. However, non-compliance with the ruling could cost Beavercreek tens of millions of dollars in federal highway funds.

Fake-trolly that won’t be stopping in Coconut Grove

Oddly enough, White Coral Gables has refused Black Coconut Grove a bus stop outside the polluting government vehicle maintenance facility that it has foisted upon their neighbourhood. When it appeared the bus maintenance facility was a fait accompli, some residents asked for a bus stop at the very least. They were turned down flat.

Keep in mind these are the FREE diesel buses to take shoppers up and down what Coral Gables likes to call Miracle Mile, the exclusive, high-end shopping district. Of course, it might affect the businesses bottom line and Coral Gables property values if too many Black folk were able to get Coral Gables conveniently. It’s better if they walk a half mile to one of the Coral Gables fake-Trolley stops than to give them a bus stop in their own community.

The more research I do into the history of Coral Gables, the more I see that its progress and development over the years is due to almost a century of systemic racism. I make that case in my previous chapters on Coral Gables:

No Skin In The Game ► Part One
No Skin In The Game ► Part Two
No Skin In The Game ► Part Three

Click here to read all my stories on Trolleygate.

Trolleygate Update ► The End Of The Line?

Artist rendering of the Coral Gables’ diesel bus garage designed in a Bahamian style

Circle the court date: August 16th. 

At times it seems the wheels of justice turn ever so slowly. I posted An Introduction to Trolleygate just over 6 months ago. I followed up a few days later with The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show, which documented the joke of a public information meeting conducted by (allegedly corrupt) Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff.

Ironically that was the very same day a lawsuit was launched by residents of Coconut Grove asking for an injunction to stop the neighbouring town of Coral Gables from building its polluting government vehicle maintenance facility in their residential neighbourhood. Ironic because it allowed Sarnoff to wriggle out of answering any of his VERY ANGRY constituents questions, since the issue was now in front of a judge. However, that didn’t stop him from presenting his Dog & Pony Show, during which I watched a masterful performance by (allegedly corrupt) Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff.

Diesel bus disguised to look like an old-timey, non-polluting, trolly bus

In late February I documented Coral Gable’s Modern Day Colonialism and Trolleygate and in March I spoke to plaintiff’s lawyer Ralf Brookes for An Update On Sarnoff’s Trolleygate aka Astor’s Trolley Folly. In fact, I’ve been the only journalist who has been covering this story on an ongoing basis. That may be why I was sent the notice of hearing for August 16, 2013, along with the pleadings from both sides in the dispute.

My source tells me this hearing should decide all matters and the judge will issue a ruling one way or another. Either Coconut Grove gets stuck with a polluting government vehicle maintenance facility, or Astor Trolly LLC will have to find another location for this building; a facility promised to Coral Gables so that Astor Development (another tentacle of the same company) can develop the site of the current government vehicle maintenance facility in order to make millions of dollars for itself and Coral Gables. [This paragraph was massaged slightly after being published for clarity.]

Neighbours opposed to the polluting diesel bus garage are calling for a protest on August 16th on the courthouse steps at 73 West Flagler Street for 9 a.m.with the hearing set to begin at 10.

It will be interesting to see how the court rules. I’ve been told off the record by several someones-in-the-know that this building will never be used as a bus garage. That would be welcome relief to the economically poor, minority neighbourhood trying to stop it, but it then begs the question:

What will happen to the building, which is almost finished?

West Grove Residents Lose ► Polluting Bus Garage Will Go Ahead

Pictured below: 
Unveiling the One Grove Mural on March 3, 2013. immediately across the street from the polluting Trolleygate garage: