Tag Archives: Trolley Folly

Trolleygate Sputters Back To Life

As the first journalist to write about Trolleygate, I couldn’t help but chortle over yesterday’s Miami Herald story about the white elephant also known as the Trolley Folly:

Why is this so funny? Let me count the ways:


2). The Miami Herald covering something in West Grove? It only seem to do that when there’s been a shooting.

The Herald seemed quite incurious about Trolleygate while it was happening. At the time everyone in West Grove knew how their [allegedly] corrupt former-Miami District 2 Commissioner, Marc D. Sarnoff, had sold them down the river. [How apt: A slavery reference.] However, the Miami Herald never reported on that aspect of the story, which allowed Sarnoff to slip away again.

3). I couldn’t help but be struck by the total lack of specificity in the article. I spoke to Commissioner Ken Russel by phone last evening, after this article was printed. He tells me he was not only misquoted by David Smiley, but he left out an important part of what was said.

Commissioner Russell says he told Smiley that he wasn’t going to do anything without input from West Grove, since those were the folks adversely affected by this bone-headed decision in the first place. [My paraphrase.]

3). This is not much of a scoop on the Herald’s part. Just like Trolleygate, I was there first. On November 12th I posted a short interview conducted with Commissioner-elect Russell in which we had this exchange:

NNS: Is there any big project you’ve got in mind? Something you want to try to do while in office.

Yeah, I would like to see something good come of the Trolley garage.
I’d like to see that building serve the community. And, I’ve heard a lot
of good ideas, but not in a formal setting to where I could say what
should be done with it, but it’s a symbol of how this part of town’s
been treated and, I think, in the same symbolic gesture should be
converted into something that builds up the community.

A community center would certainly do that.

4). While I am total agreement with Commissioner Ken Russell that a community center would be a good use for this building, and that West Grove could certainly use one, I can’t help but think this is just throwing good money after bad.

I’ve never seen a full accounting of how much money Miami flushed down the drain defending the building of this diesel garage that would have only served Coal Gables, a totally different city next door. However, there were several lawsuits launched against Miami, Coral Gables, and Astor Trolley. In the end it was determined that Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Every penny Miami spent to defend the out of town developer, over the interests of the community and its own constituents, was money wasted.

And, now the city may spend almost $4 million to, basically, get everyone off the hook.

5). If it were in my power I’d rename this building Marc Sarnoff’s White Elephant. As I have written previously, Sarnoff worked tirelessly on behalf of the developer to get this project approved. He set one neighbourhood group against another. He offered one of those groups a kind of bribe to not fight the garage. At a public meeting I attended he threatened West Grove neighbours with withdrawing his support for building Gibson Plaza. He also suggested he didn’t have to back the infilling of new homes in the neighbourhood if they didn’t play along. It was Sarnoff’s performance at this community meeting that prompted me to write Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?

However, Sarnoff was able to walk away without any of the blame — which the Miami Herald helped by not reporting on it — that should have been his due for having screwed his own constituents on behalf of an out of town developer.

6). This paragraph really jumped out at me:

[Developer Henry] Torres disputes that he or the city tried to ram the warehouse down the throats of unsuspecting West Grove residents, but he said he’s had previous discussions with Miami officials about selling the building to the city. There was talk at one point about a police substation, or a Bahamian consulate. Still, he said he hadn’t heard anything about Russell’s interest, or even received a call from the commissioner — which he found somewhat presumptuous.

This is simply not true. While Torres may not have PERSONALLY tried to ram the (((WAREHOUSE?))) down the throats of West Grove residents, he didn’t have to. Marc Sarnoff greased the wheels, slicked the tracks, and got this through “faster than a hot knife through butter,” as one of my sources put it at the time.

However, as I reported in BLOCKBUSTER!!! The Trolleygate Smoking Gun Surfaces, one eagle-eyed city Planning & Zoning drone named Dakota Hendon realized that the Miami21 plan would not allow this use of a building on that street and sent an email to his boss:

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. 

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.

So, what did the city of Miami do? It got Henry Torres, or underlings that work for him, to withdraw the application and then resubmit the application. They were identical, except that the new one didn’t talk about vehicle maintenance and repair. The new application made it sound as if it was just going to be a passive (((WAREHOUSE?))) of diesel trolley buses (an oxymoron. Trolleys are electric.).

When I discovered this memo I tried to find Dakota Hendon to see how this building got approved when he said it was non-conforming. Surprise! He no longer worked for the City of Miami. I actually tracked him to his new job in New York and left several messages. I never got a reply.

However, I’m starting to think it’s important that his boss was Francisco Garcia, City of Miami Planning Director. 

7). I had never met Francisco Garcia before I wrote Coconut Grove in Black and White, just another look at the disparity between Black and White neighbourhoods in Miami. Not only hadn’t I met him, but I didn’t remember he was the recipient of Dakota Hendon’s email (see above). Even dumber on my part: I had forgotten I had actually written about him in that post and, furthermore, asked some pointed questions of him:

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. 

If I had remembered all that I might not have walked up to him in that meeting to whisper in his ear. I wanted to ask him why South Grove was getting all this attention when
West Grove has trouble getting house rubble removed in under 6 weeks. I
also wanted to ask him about the NCD-2 rules (West Grove), which are different from
the NCD-3 rules (South Grove). My source told me that Garcia could answer all my questions.

I waited until he was not answering questions or batting back insults from the South Grove residents and was standing quietly on the side of the room. I handed him my card and said, “Headly Westerfield. I don’t want to waste your time at this meeting, or the meeting’s time, but I’d like to interview you about the NCDs.”

As he gave me his card, I can distinctly remember Francisco Garcia’s exact response, word for word: “I’d be happy to talk to you.”

However, he lied.

He has not responded to my several phone calls, which started the following day. Nor has he replied to my 3 emails. I’ve started CCing Commissioner Russell’s office in my emails to Garcia’s office.

Something tells me he’s dodging me.

That’s why I’m in the middle of a MASSIVE Freedom of Information request to the City of Miami’s Planning & Zoning Office. I’ll get what I need.

8). This article is a piece of crap. If the Miami Herald cared about the community, it might have published some of the above. If I can prove all of this, why can’t the Miami Herald with its humongous resources? Instead the Herald played along by calling this a (((WAREHOUSE?))), as opposed to a polluting diesel maintenance facility, the thing it was designed to be. Once again the Herald is protecting powerful people responsible for wasting shit loads of taxpayers dollars.

Reading that article you’d think it was the poor developer who was the victim, as opposed to West Grove that has had to suffer from systemic racism since their Bahamian ancestors built Coconut Grove with their own hands. Henry Torres will make his money back (and then some, it seems).

Marc Sarnoff got away scott free.

Dakota Hendon seems to have landed on his feet.

And, Francisco Garcia continues to make decisions in favour of developers that adversely affect the current residents of the neighbourhoods.

I went to the craziest Planning & Zoning meeting the other night hoping to confront Francisco Garcia. Sadly he wasn’t there. It was an appeal of a development in South Grove. After all the yadda yadda yadda it was decided — get this — that the Planning & Zoning department would follow the Miami21 plan when approving permits and warrants. That’s almost a tacit admission that it hasn’t been up to now. [See above.]

Smiley ended his article with this and made it a Patented Miami Herald Feel Good Story™:

But that idea [of a community center] sounds good to [Clarice] Cooper. And to [Anthony] Alfieri, the UM professor, it also sounds right.

“Given the West Grove’s Jim Crow history of municipal segregation in housing, education, and even public water access, and the current exploitation and displacement of long time West Grove residents,” Alfieri said, “Commissioner Russell’s proposed community center at the site of the misbegotten trolley garage is an important public policy initiative both to remedy past wrongs and to preserve and strengthen the surviving West Grove community.”

FULL DISCLOSURE: I also made a proposal for the Trolleygate building, which appears to have been rejected.

Packing for the Road Trip ► Unpacking The Writer

I’m writing and posting this month’s Unpacking The Writer a little early to get it posted before I leave on Monday for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research. For the uninitiated, Unpacking The Writer is the monthly series in which I give my readers a look inside the mind of a writer, such as it is. And, in case you haven’t clued in yet, I am that writer. HI THERE!

NO CLICKING: I also used to use this monthly essay to beg my readers to click on the adverts here. However, I have been told I can’t do that anymore, even though it only returns a fraction of a penny per click. So I won’t. But, if you’re one of my smarter readers, you are already way ahead of me and clicking on the adverts anyway. You know there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop you.

SO SORRY: I owe my faithful readers an apology. More than one reader (two!) has noticed that I’ve not posted much new material at Not Now Silly lately, other than the regular Headlines Du Jour. I’m truly sorry, folks. While I have been researching a number of topics, nothing has gelled enough yet to be written up. I have also started a number of blog posts, some of which I still need to finish and others which (are crap and) will never see the light of day.

When I first began this blog I was given advice to post something every
day. Do you know how hard that is? Especially if you want a blog post to
have some weight? Especially if that added weight requires hours upon hours of research? Especially if it’s not your full-time job?

Despite that, I have published 583 posts in the last 27 months, not including this one. That averages 21.5 posts a month, a record I’m proud of. I’m also quite proud of many of the posts because I think I am mining important topics. As of this writing the Not Now Silly Top Ten is as follows:

  1. The Detroit Riots ► Unpacking My Detroit ► Part Five
  2. Brian Jones ► A Musical Appreciation
  3. Day In History ► Josephine Baker
  4. The Johnny Dollar Wars ► Chapter and Verse
  5. Aries Development Continues To Rape Charles Avenue
  6. Chow Mein and Bolling 5 ► Bully Boy Lies (Again)
  7. Did Roger Ailes Dupe James Rosen, Or Did Rosen Dupe ‘Merka?
  8. The First Three Stooges ► Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be
  9. Is Marc D. Sarnoff Corrupt Or The Most Corrupt Miami Politician?
  10. Does Fox “News” Support Johnny Dollar? ► The Mark Koldys-Johnny Dollar Comment of the Day

[The Top Ten posts, always updated, always current, is in the column to the right of this one. It may have changed since this was published.]

In the early days of Not Now Silly I used to do a lot of one-off Day in History-type dealies. Maybe I should get back to doing some more of that after the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. We’ll see.

Those one-offs were popular. They can also be pulled out of the archives on the appropriate dates in subsequent years. Conversely, Headlines Du Jour is pretty much stale the minute you read it. Yet Headlines Du Jour gets great numbers. Despite the simplicity, Headline Du Jour is time-consuming to post. It takes me 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours to format, even though the headlines themselves are compiled as they come in over the Not Now Silly Newsroom transom. Headlines Du Jour is the first thing I do when I wake up at 5:30 AM. As the first pot of coffee is brewing I sort the headlines collected since the last time. I decide which are keepers and which I should toss. Then they’re put into a running order that makes sense only to me. Some days, by the time it’s published, I feel totally wrung out and the pot of coffee is finished. However, I’ll try to add to the number of new posts (and pots of coffee?) on a regular basis while I also keep Headlines Du Jour going. My readers have that promise.

TO MY COCONUT GROVE READERS: While I never meant for Not Now Silly to be a blog solely about Coconut Grove, there have been times when it feels like that’s what it’s become. I’m thrilled that so many people in the West Grove have shared their personal stories with me. Oral histories are so important.

I’m still researching The Colour Line and will have new chapters in that series soon. While in Michigan, I will also be visiting the 8 Mile Wall for a blog post on The Colour Line in Detroit, ‘Merka’s first throwaway city. Meanwhile, there has been some news in the Grove, but nothing that seemed to deserve a blog post all on its own. In no particular order some of that is as follows:

Part of the Coconut Grove Playhouse parking lot will become a drive-in movie dealie on July 14th. The web site for the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In promises “Car hop service by TAURUS,” so we now know how Aries Development and Gino Falsetto plan to profit off this new arrangement. To remind readers: Aries is the company that secured a 50-year lease on the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House 9 years ago and has allowed it to undergo Demolition by Neglect ever since.

A reminder why the E.W.F. Stirrup House is culturally
important to Coconut Grove can be found in the Not Now Silly
post Happy Birthday Coconut Grove!!! Now Honour Your Past

I had hoped to go to opening night of the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In, but the June opening was delayed a month. Now it won’t open until the day after I leave for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip For Research. This is actually one of those posts mentioned above, partially written in advance. I started it last month, just before the delay was announced. It would have become a full-blown blog post in the fullness of time. I had even considered delaying my Road Trip 2 days to go, take notes, take pictures, and finish writing that blog post, but, yannow what? I’ve seen The Cocoanuts, the first Marx Brothers movie, so many times I can recite entire scenes by heart. [Same with the 2nd movie in the opening night double feature, The Blob.] So, there’s another draft post consigned to the dustbin of history.

IRONY ALERT I: The Cocoanuts take place in Cocoanut Grove (the original spelling of Coconut Grove before it was illegally annexed by Miami in 1925).

IRONY ALERT II: The Cocoanuts satirizes the utter collapse of the Cocoanut Grove real estate market of the 1920s. Selling Florida swamp land had became such a a national joke that one of the top playwrights of the day, George S. Kaufman, and one of the country’s most famous composers, Irving Berlin, would write a musical about it. The Marx Brothers would first take it to Broadway, where it was a smash hit, and then make it their first movie extravaganza, launching a long career on film.

IRONY ALERT III: Miami has had several booms and busts since then. “Some people say” the current Miami building boom is just the beginning edge of the next bubble to bust.

IRONY ALERT IV: Bringing movies back to the Coconut Grove Playhouse, albeit outside, would be funny, if it weren’t so sad. When the currently-boarded up Coconut Grove Playhouse was originally built, it was to bring movies and culture to Coconut Grove. The land had been owned by E.W.F. Stirrup and sold to developers to build the Coconut Grove Theater, as it was called when it opened in 1927. It was renovated in the 1950s to become a legitimate theater, with the 1956 premier of “Waiting For Godot” as its first offering.

IRONY ALERT V: Even though the Coconut Grove Theater anchored the east end of Charles Avenue — the oldest neighbourhood in Miami, as well as the oldest Black neighbourhood — those folks had to go north to the smaller Ace Theater on Grand Avenue, which was not segregated. Earlier this month Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board designated the Ace a historic site.  According to the Miami Herald’s Jackie Salo:

For residents in the West Grove, the ACE Theater is a relic of the years of segregation. The movie theater, which was built circa 1930, was the only one to serve the black community in the Grove in the 1950s.

The building has since lost its luster, and stands as a shell of what it once was. The marquee has not lit up for years, and the pink facade that once distinguished the theater was painted white.

Plans to restore the theater never came to fruition and the rooms that housed sold-out audiences remain abandoned.

But the theater, albeit empty, has not been forgotten.

Having walked past the Ace many times, I’ve always thought it would make a great Indie/Revival movie house. Grand Avenue has been struggling for years. Opening a movie house on that stretch of Grand would go a long way towards revitalizing what was once the thriving Black business strip of Coconut Grove.

TROLLEYGATE: Still waiting for a settlement in the Trolleygate Scandal. The last word from my super-duper secret sources was that an offer was on the table and being considered. Consequently, all parties to the lawsuit asked the judge to give them 60 days to see if they could hammer out an agreement. That expired at the end of June, but I’ve heard nothing further. Basically the broad outline of the potential deal is this: A brand new Coral Gables diesel bus garage will be built right where the current Coral Gables diesel bus garage is. This despite the brand-spanking new [allegedly] illegal diesel bus garage built in West Grove. That’s the garage that’s the subject of multiple lawsuits, which even the Federal Department of Transportation ruled contravened the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only decision left to be made is whether the brand-spanking new bus garage in West Grove can be used for the next 2-3 years while a newer diesel bus garage is built in Coral Gables.

Here’s how small West Grove really is: The [allegedly] illegal diesel bus garage is, more or less, just around the corner from the Ace Theater. Gibson Plaza, which I have also written about, is just across the street from the Ace Theater. Grand Avenue still has a long way to go before one could call this a revival, but it’s another baby step on the road to recovery for a business strip that’s seen better days.

Known all the world over, The Johnny Dollar Depreciation Society is
YOUR place for snark about Fox “News and crazy Fox “News” defenders

THE JOHNNY DOLLAR WARS: I couldn’t be more thrilled with the progress of The Johnny Dollar Wars up the Not Now Silly Top Ten Hit Parade. It justifies all the time I put into documenting those crazy cyber-stalking MoFos these last few years. Since being published on May 6th, The Johnny Dollar Wars has jumped to become the #4 most popular post at Not Now Silly, with 1,233 hits as we go to press. The only Not Now Silly post that ever rose faster and higher than that has now been relagated to the #5 position. Aries Development Continues To Rape Charles Avenue, about the E.W.F. Stirrup House had a good run, but it’s been leapfrogged in the ratings.

THE JOHNNY DOLLAR DEPRECIATION SOCIETY: I’ve migrated most of my Fox “News” snark from my timeline over to The Johnny Dollar Depreciation Society on the facebookery. I’m open to suggestions on how to make it more interactive. While membership has hit 120 people, only a few interact with the page at all, and only then by clicking LIKE. I’m thinking of holding a contest, but I’ll wait until I get back from Michigan to put that together.

LASTLY: Starting next Monday blog posts at Not Now Silly will be sporadically sporadic. My laptop has bought the farm and I’m not planning to get it fixed before I go away. I may look at a new device when I get back from the road trip, but it’s not in the budget at the moment.

The 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research will be twice as long as last year’s. Last year’s research was productive, but, sadly, I had just a week to drive to Michigan, conduct my research, and drive back to FloriDuh. Despite mining some interesting veins of information, I had to cut the research short because I simply ran out of time. This year I will be meeting with some of the same people who fed me documents last time. I will also have more time to pour over some microfiche that one of my correspondents has uncovered. It may go a long way to provide greater context for the book I am writing.

Be good to your neighbours because you never know
when a journalist will come sniffing around for information.
~~~~~Headly Westerfield, The 1st Annual Sunrise
to Canton Road Trip For Research, June 2013

While I may be able to log into certain accounts while I am gone, last year I was unable to log in to facebook from strange computers because I was locked out of everything that wasn’t my home computer or my phone. Hopefully this year I have solved this problem. However, two things to keep in mind: 1). I don’t exactly know where and when I might encounter a computer, not to mention a computer owner who will allow me to take over their computer for a few hours to compose a blog post. Consequently, just like last year, it may just be updates from the Windows Phone. However, I won’t abandon you entirely. Also: Check my Twitter and Facebookery for updates from the road

And, speaking of computers along the way, I have twice as many visits with readers, fans, and friends scheduled for the 2nd Annual Sunrise to Canton Road Trip for Research. The intinerary is now locked. Stops are scheduled for (in order) Ave Maria University, in Ava Maria, Florida; Bonita Springs, Florida, which is just down the road from the University; Tallahassee, Florida‘s capital, after which I leave the state; Miamisburg, Ohio; Columbus, Ohio; Canton, Michigan, where I will stay for almost a week to conduct research and visit old haunts; Elyria, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio, which looks to be the scene of the crime city chosen to host the 2016 GOP Convention; Dean Martin’s home town of Steubenville, Ohio; and Morgantown, West Virginia, where I will be given a privately-conducted Don Knotts Memorial Tour. Then it’s home by — no later than — the 28th of July.

A couple of people have asked me why I don’t just fly up to Canton, which would give me more time to research my book. There are 2 things that compel me to drive: 1). I love to drive. One of my favourite things to do is to be behind the wheel of a car, heading down the road, with the stereo cranked to 11; 2). It allows me to meet and greet some people that I’ve gotten to know thru’ the innertubes. Getting out, looking people in the eye, and debating the big stories of the day — or bullshitting over a coffee — is just a big bag of fun.

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

Before the meeting of the Coconut Village Council got underway

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

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

The former future non-conforming diesel bus garage?

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

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

That’s when the meeting exploded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter To Miami Media

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

Dear Miami Media At Large:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The White Elephant at 3320 South Douglas Road from another angle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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: