Tag Archives: West Grove

Coconut Grove in Black and White

Francisco J. Garcia of Miami’s Department of Planning
and Zoning provided the answers to residents’ questions

Community involvement was strong last night in Coconut Grove as more than 200 residents packed a meeting hall at Plymouth Church to vent and make plans. 

The homeowners of South Grove are up in arms and called this “Community Organizational Meeting,” which was attended by Miami District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell, Miami-Dade District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez, and Francisco J. Garcia, of Miami’s Department of Planning and Zoning. Homeowners want to develop a strategy to put a stop to the division of large properties to build more homes; the demolition of old houses; the building of ‘cookie-cutter’ houses, derisively called White Boxes; and the continued destruction of the Grove’s famous tree canopy.

Oddly enough, these are the exact same issues I’ve been quietly researching for the last several weeks, even before this story bubbled up to the surface. My interest began when a source suggested I attend a Planning and Zoning meeting about potential “up-zoning” of a certain property. Up-zoning is when a developer asks for more than is allowed by the Miami21 code and — usually — gets it. This piqued my curiosity. A few weeks later the same source took me around to show me the contemporary ‘cookie-cutter’ houses being built. These concrete White Boxes stick out like sore thumbs among the older homes that fit the neighbourhood.

Just some of the White Boxes being built all over Coconut Grove

However, all my research — and all the houses we looked at — was in West Grove, where the prevailing style of house are either one-story Shotgun Homes or Conch-style houses, both reflecting the neighbourhood’s rich Bahamian history.

South Grove architecture, on the other hand, is distinctly different and all over the map, as it were. The houses there are
more suburban in style, from the earliest one-story small cottages, to the more recent Monster
Homes of the last few decades, and everything in between. Because this area was developed from the
1920s onward, the houses reflect nearly every kind of home architecture attempted
since then. And, as people were told at last night’s meeting, these White Boxes are what developers want to build because, they claim, it’s what people want to buy.

This demolition on Charles Avenue has taken place
over the last 6 weeks. That is not a typo. This is how it
looked on April 27, 2016, the same day South Grove
residents complained about their precious tree canopy.

However, that’s not the most glaring difference between West Grove and South Grove. In fact, as I’ve joked before, the difference is like Day and Night.

West Grove is the Black area of Coconut Grove. It can’t be said any simpler than that. The area is blighted, and has been for decades, precisely because it’s the Black area.

QUICK HISTORY LESSON: Unlike most Black neighbourhoods of its era, Coconut Grove is unique because the people owned their own homes. At one time Coconut Grove had the highest percentage of Black home ownership than anywhere else in the country. [Read: Happy Birthday Coconut Grove. Now Honour Your Past] This meant they couldn’t be dislodged as they could in other U.S. cities where Black folk rented from absentee landlords. However, the same economic factors that kept Black neighbourhoods in poverty elsewhere also worked on West Grove: low wages, an inability to get home improvement loans, and systemic racism. However, the neighbourhood has remained predominately Black as folks passed their houses down to generation after generation, the way White people pass down the family jewels.
End of history lesson.

This is the same rooming house as above on April 2, 2016

Earlier in the day I met with a second anonymous source who has also been researching the White Boxes in West Grove. Oddly enough, before we went to look at them, they wanted to take me to see a house on Charles Avenue that I had already taken a number of pictures of.

This demolition has so far taken about 6 weeks. The site has never been secure, making it an attractive place to play for local kids. But the nails sticking out of the boards are the least of the problems. This house was filled with asbestos, from the roof shingles to the several layers of paint on the walls. The prevailing winds have scattered some of it to wherever prevailing winds blew for the last 6 weeks.

The woman who lives next door has asthma and was just getting sicker. She and her husband have gone to live with relatives up north, in Georgia. The rest of her neighbours will just keep breathing it in until something is done about it.

One kind of nondescript White Box being built in West Grove,
this one on William Avenue. That’s actually the front of house.

People have complained to By-Law Enforcement about the unsafe demolition site and are still waiting for something to happen. There is, apparently, a promise for it to be cleaned up by the city in the morning. I sure hope they take into account the toxicity of some of the materials.

For more examples of these ‘cookie cutter’ homes go to The White Boxes.

Meanwhile, South Grove residents were told on Wednesday night if they see anything hinky happening in their neighbourhood — from illegal tree-cutting to demolitions without a permit — to call By-Law Enforcement. I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that they respond a lot quicker than they have to this disaster on Charles Avenue in West Grove.

As South Grove meets with their elected representatives, West Grove is as ignored as ever. As South Grove begins the task of forming a Homeowners Association, West Grove is quietly gentrified without anyone noticing. When will West Grove get the same kind of attention from the City of Miami as South Grove?

Interview With District 2’s Ken Russell

Ken Russell, potential Commissioner-elect for District 2
while the Veterans’ Day commemoration gathers to march

I originally met potential Commissioner-elect Ken Russell way back when — during Soilgate — when I called out of the blue to interview him.

We met at a local coffee shop just as it appeared his battle with [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff was finished. It was an epic battle over the toxic soil in Merrie Christmas Park and, in the end, the residents got the kind of toxic soil remediation they felt their children deserved.

While it appeared as if Merrie Christmas Park would be re-mediated properly, I was surprised when he moved on to his next concern, which was all the other toxic parks in the city. Russell was genuinely concerned that those residents might not have enough clout, or enough money, to hire a lawyer like he and his neighbours had. That’s when I knew Ken was about far more than his own property values. He had a Social Justice bone.

He wasn’t doing it for effect. At the time Russell had no intention to run for office, but the fight over toxic soil made him feel that he could do better than the current Commissioner. And, the secrecy in
which [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff went behind the backs of the residents, breaking several laws about proper notification for a Brownfield Site — not to mention when he lied to this reporter that it had never been so designated — told Russell there must be a better way to conduct city business on behalf of constituents.

It’s a sign!!!
The Veterans’ Day Parade marched right past this.

When he later declared he was running for District 2 Commissioner, Russell made transparency one of the cornerstones of his platform.

In one of the craziest election finishes in Miami history, Ken is engaged in a runoff election with wife of term-limited Teresa Sarnoff. However, with Sarnoff withdrawing from the race, the city lawyer says the runoff will still be held, but that votes for Teresa Sarnoff won’t count. Yet, Democracy dictates that the votes count and Ken maintains that he’s still in it to win it. He wants a clear mandate, so he’s still campaigning for every vote on November 17th.

Russell agreed to a sit down interview and suggested we meet in West Grove after the Veterans’ Day commemoration. As I drove down I couldn’t help but wonder if he had chosen the perfect photo op for a politician, or whether it was simply to accommodate me. I requested an interview, but told him it had to be on Wednesday because that was the only day I had free. I left it up to him to choose the time.

That we met in Coconut Grove for this interview seems appropriate because that’s where he received his highest support, with a nearly 20% turnout. It’s also the area I’ve been researching extensively since 2006. Watching Russell work the crowd was nothing like watching a politician work a crowd. There were enough hugs, kisses, handshakes, and genuine warmth in both directions, that it was obvious that Russell is already well-liked by this part of his potential constituency.

Russell surprised me by sitting in the grass his suit for this interview.

NNS: You’re making up for a politician that was reviled in this district. How are you planning to overcome that?

KEN RUSSELL: It’s true that part of the reason I got involved was seeing how my Commissioner operated and seeing how I felt things could be done better. The day he’s out of office, the day I get into office, that’s the first step and it’s really not that hard. A new tone, a new communication, a new conversation with the neighbours.

I’m already being told, and I’m not even in there, that this already feels different than it has for the last 9 years. So, the first step is to be open and even that, at the very least, wasn’t done to my understanding. And, that comes easy for me.

NNS: Especially in this neighbourhood of West Grove, the people here kinda felt burned by promises made years ago that were never fulfilled. Yet, you were able to overcome that to get a 20% turnout at the polls that went overwhelmingly to you. How are you going to keep that bridge open to the community?

KR: The community’s going to keep that bridge open. At this point, I owe so much to this area that I don’t even have a choice of closing the door. It’s too important. It’s been vocalized and it’s been publicized well enough where my heart is, that I couldn’t turn back if I wanted to, and I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the support of the West Grove and, despite advice I received early on, I could see that there was a community here with a lot to lose, that would turn up at the polls if they felt they had an advocate.

NNS: And, you’re going to be that advocate?

KR: Absolutely. I’ll be the best that I can.

NNS: One of the things I did during the elections is I did door knocks with you in various neighbourhoods. Where do you think your biggest support was coming from overall?

KR: I knocked [on] over 2,000 doors during the 10 month period, all the from the South Grove to the West Grove to Morningside. It was very difficult to knock doors in Brickell and downtown, but we found other ways to reach the community there. The largest support was from the Grove as a whole, all parts of the Grove together. There was nearly a two-to-one margin in my favor at almost every major precinct in the area.

NNS: Do you have any job you want to do on Day One?

KR: Day One is learning for me because I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially within process. I have the intention of what I’d like to accomplish and, as you can see here today, just the conversation, the conversation that we’re having even today with folks, is part of the first step; is part of that first step of giving them a trust [and] a feeling of comfort that their Commissioner is going to be open with them.

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

KR: 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.

With that Ken Russell was off to a meeting at Miami City Hall, where the learning curve for a new potential Commissioner-elect is steep.

For further reading please see: Soilgate, Trolleygate, [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, and the Anybody But Teresa facebookery, where so many of these issues intertwine.

Jammed For Time ► Unpacking The Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stills, but what difference would it make?”

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

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

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

“An invitation?”

“Yes, this is an invitation only event.”

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

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

“I’m with the media.”

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

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

“No problem.”

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

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

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

“You can talk to them outside.”

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

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

“I can stay?”

“Yes, you can stay.”

“Without an invite?”

“Without an invite.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I said, “Who’s wants to know?”

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

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

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

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

Here’s the punchline: As I left
the building the first security guard was outside, checking people as
they came in. A couple arrived and the guard said, “For the
Commissioner?” They said, “Yes” and the guard ushered them right in

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

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

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

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

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

A Grand Day For Grand Avenue ► Gibson Plaza Groundbreaking

Artist rendering: Grand Avenue and Gibson Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How close is Trolleygate to Gibson Plaza?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 32nd Annual King Mango Strut

Fake Ford, Fake Francis

The IM came from a functionary of the King Mango Strut: “Can we go off the record?” 

This can be a trap for a journalist. Answer “Yes” and anything you’re told cannot be reported. Answer “No” and you may lose a good tip. What to do? What to do?

After thinking it over for 10 seconds — and remembering how an anonymous tip led to all my reporting on Trolleygate — I agreed to go “off the record.”

“The Rob Ford that will be Grand Marshall at tomorrow’s King Mango Strut is not the real Rob Ford. He’s a lookalike.”

Oh, great!!! I now have the Scoop of the Century and I can only report it if I can get 2 independent sources to go on the record. But why would I even want to?

The King Mango Strut is one of those Coconut Grove events I’ve made fun of in the past. I’ve compared the yearly Strut whoop dee doo negatively with the total lack of concern and awareness for the E.W.F. Stirrup House. However, the truth of the matter is, I have never attended one myself. I just made fun of it from a distance. This would be the year I would change all of that. I was determined to make fun of it close up.

However, before I ever made fun of the King Mango Strut in the past, I did look at hundreds of online pictures from various previous King Mango Struts. One of the things that struck me looking at all those pics is how many of the participants and observers are White. Like 98.4%.

Okay, I plead guilty to looking at everything in Coconut Grove as two societies divided by The Colour Line. The truth is that whenever I look at pictures of any Coconut Grove event, I tend to see a sea of White faces. Believe me, I obsessively look for the people who stand out, because so few do.

The E.W.F. Stirrup House is marked, with
Commodore Plaza where the blue dots stop

I hope you don’t get the impression that West Grove — Black Grove — is on the other side of town, or anything. The King Mango Strut marshals on Commodore Plaza, the next street over from Charles Avenue, just on the other side of The Colour Line. Commodore Plaza is White Coconut Grove. Just behind it is Black Coconut Grove. It’s a slow 3-minute saunter from the historic 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House, currently undergoing Demolition by Neglect, to the middle of Commodore Plaza.

The King Mango Strut also [in all those pics] had the faint whiff of alcohol on the breath. From the pics it just seemed like an excuse for a drunken party. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The whole thing, in all the pics I viewed over the years, just seemed like one big goof. People didn’t take themselves, or the parade, very seriously.

In fact the whole thing started as a big Eff You to the Orange Bowl Parade years ago when King Orange put so many conditions on entering a float (No kazoos? That’s crazy!!!) that some intrepid Grovites pulled a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland and started their own damned parade. Hence King Mango. King Orange got kicked to the curb in 2002, but King Mango lives on. The WikiWhackyWoo gets it:

The spirit of the King Mango Strut is significantly tongue-in-cheek. Participants are willing to poke fun at anything and everything. Most of the parade consists of satire of events that have happened in the last year, from world events to state to local. Nothing is off-limits, and the boundaries of good taste are often pushed or broken in the name of irreverent comedy. For example, co-founder Bill Dobson died from cancer in October 2004, but made an appearance in the 2004 Mango Strut, in the form of an urn, with ashes being strewn along the parade route. A group followed with brooms and vacuums followed, trying to “get Bill out of the road.” Organizers do have some humility, however; the ashes were not actually Bill’s remains but regular fireplace ash mixed with kitty litter. However, a sign rode along with Bill’s urn, proclaiming “Hey, I may be dead, but I can still vote in Miami.” Governor Rick Scott, Giant Snails, Global Warming and whatever is current are also “fodder for fun” skits.

When I heard early in the week that Rob Ford, the Crack Smoking Mayor of the town I call home, was going to be Grand Marshall of the 32nd Annual King Mango Strut, I had to see if I could score an interview and put Not Now Silly on the map.

I decided my best bet for doing that would be to latch onto the Coconut Grove Drum Circle. A few weeks ago I mentioned to one of the CGDC organizers that a visit to the Grove coincided with one of their evening get-togethers and I would drop by when I was finished. However, best laid plans, and all that, and I had to skip it. Having now told the drum circle that I would be coming, I decided that it would be impolite to not show up again — just because the real Rob Ford decided not to go. Which is why bright and early Sunday I was driving the 35 miles to Coconut Grove.

MEA CULPA: I misjudged the King Mango Strut entirely. While it’s still 98.4% White, or thereabouts, it’s not the crazy drunken bacchanal as the pictures made it appear. Oh, sure there was a lot of public drinking by both participants and observers, but I didn’t see anyone who was drunk. Except maybe for the fake Rob Ford. It’s hard to tell with that guy.

Something else that I didn’t quite get from all the pics I’ve viewed over the years is the overall vibe of the King Mango Strut, man.

While I’ve written considerably about the Bahamian history of Coconut Grove, I’ve barely touched upon the Bohemian history of Coconut Grove. As long as people have been coming to the Grove, it’s been known as an artists’ colony. From Bohemians to Hippies, The Grove has always had an alternative bent and The King Mango Strut is one of the last vestiges of that Hippie ethos that, I am told, once thrived in the small shops where Cocowalk now is and in Peacock Park. That part of the King Mango Strut actually spoke to me, since I am an unreconstructed Hippie at heart.

And, the drums!!! The incessant drums!!! The beating of the drums!!! 

The CGDC gave off more energy than any of the other floats, and it also
fed off the energy of the participants who got up to dance as they
passed. Experiencing the parade vicariously through the Coconut Grove Drum Circle took me back through the years to Kebo, the African name the original Bahamians gave to the neighbourhood — just the other side of The Colour Line, just the other side of the last century. It made me wonder how long the sound of drums have echoed through this area. The Coconut Grove Drum Circle is keeping a tradition alive that is as old as sticks and logs. All music starts with the rhythm.

A big THANK YOU to the Coconut Grove Drum Circle for allowing me to document up close their participation — from start to finish — in the 32nd King Mango Strut. There’s a much larger facebook gallery of pics here and a playlist of videos at my YouTubery channel.

And, clearly I didn’t insult anyone because the Coconut Grove Drum Circle has invited me back.

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

One of hundreds of thousands of Racist internet memes

Follow the bouncing ball: Trolleygate is modern day Racism, pure and simple. Furthermore, the Racism that allowed for Trolleygate is exactly the same Racism that thought West Grove was the perfect place for Old Smokey, an incinerator that belched carcinogenics into the air for 5 decades. Racism — which is a cancer on our body politic — may have led to actual cancer clusters in Coconut Grove. I’m here to prove that thesis. 

Let’s start here: It’s been a truism since the founding of ‘Merka that People of Colour have always gotten the short end of the stick. There is no disputing that. But that’s a thing of the past, according to modern day Racists, because we now have a Black president. We are now living in a post-racial society. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! Right?

For an explanation on the pics used to illustrate this article, please read my essay Racist Memes and Blogging ► Unpacking the Writer

Not even close. While some Racism is less blatant than it has been in previous decades, one can find hundreds of thousands of Racist memes against President Obama, each more disgusting than the next. However, make no mistake: It’s still Racism. Racism doesn’t have degrees. Like being pregnant, a meme can’t be a little bit Racist. It’s either Racism, or it isn’t. The entire story of Coconut Grove depicts a Racism that continues to this very day, culminating in Trolleygate.

West Grove is a quiet residential neighbourhood that has remained predominantly Black since its founding in the late 1880s. It was settled by Bahamians who came up through Key West, at one time Florida’s largest city. The Black Bahamians who settled in Coconut Grove worked for The Peacock Inn and Commodore Ralph Monroe, among the earliest residents. As a nascent tourist trade flourished, more Black folk arrived to do all of the backbreaking work and menial labour that made it all happen.

That West Grove wasn’t razed is due almost entirely to the efforts of one man, Ebeneezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup. E.W.F. Stirrup was one of Florida’s first Black millionaires and, at one time, the largest landholder in Coconut Grove. On some of the land he owned he threw up more than 100 houses with his own hands. These he rented, sold, and bartered to other Bahamians. That’s why, at one time, Coconut Grove once had the highest percentage of Black home ownership in the entire country, making it unique.

It’s for that reason and that reason alone that The Powers That Be were unable to dislodge the Black residents of Coconut Grove. Overtown, just up the road and the second Black neighbourhood in Miami, had I-95 rammed through the middle of what had been the Black Shopping and Entertainment district. However, Overtown was mostly renters with absentee landlords, who were happy to cash out on their investments. The same pattern took place in Paradise Valley, in my home town of Detroit, which was leveled for I-75. The same scenario played out all across the country.

It’s not as if the Powers That Be didn’t try to get rid of Black Grove. There were three separate attempts to get rid of the neighbourhood. In 1921 an urban renewal project called The Bright Plan, approved but never realized due to an economic downturn, would have created a golf course on everything west of Main Highway to Douglas and north to Grand Avenue. In 1925 City Fathers tried to get Miami to annex around what was called Coloredtown, instead of including it. Miami decided to annex it all instead, which led to the creation of Coral Gables, the city that Racism built. In the ’50s, long after the rest of the city had indoor plumbing, West Grove still used outhouses. Honey wagons were just a way of life long after every surrounding neighbourhood (read: White neighbourhoods) had an indoor toilet. In the ’50s. The city wanted to raze the entire blighted neighbourhood and start all over, but the high percentage of Black home ownership defeated the proposal. People, who in some cases were now the 2nd or 3rd generation in the same house, refused to sell. They knew better. Where could they go? They would be redlined out of any neighbourhood they wanted to buy into. It was better to stay put and bequeath their homes to their children and their children’s children.

Which is to explain why the neighbourhood has remained predominately Black. That and the fact that White folk tend not to move into Black neighbourhoods. I’ll now let Nick Madigan, writing in yesterday’s New York Times, pick up the story of Old Smokey:

MIAMI — When she was little, Elaine Taylor remembers rushing home whenever Old Smokey fired up. Clouds of ash from the towering trash incinerator would fill the air and settle on the ramshackle houses and the yards of the West Grove neighborhood.

Her mother, who took in laundry, would be whipping sheets and shirts off the clotheslines. Often, the soot would force Elaine and her mother to wash everything again, by hand.

Old Smokey was shut down in 1970, after 45 years of belching ash, but its legacy might be more ominous than mere memories of soiled laundry. Residents of the neighborhood, established by Bahamian immigrants in the 1880s, have become alarmed by recent revelations that soil samples there show contamination from carcinogens like arsenic and heavy metals, including lead, cadmium and barium.

Ash from the old incinerator is being blamed, and residents are asking why none of this came to light sooner.

Something that Madigan leaves out of his story — because it makes a simple story of soil pollution and subsequent coverup far too complicated — is that the coverup was only discovered due to Trolleygate, the story I’ve been following since January. The documents were discovered by the pro bono legal team researching Trolleygate while preparing its case against Miami, Coral Gables, and Astor Development. While that suit was thrown out of court for a lack of jurisdiction, the documents kicked loose during the research are still bearing fruit. Friday I wrote about an email from a City of Miami Zoning and Building Department official who said that Trolleygate did not conform to the Miami 21 Plan. Yet, after some undetermined jiggery-pokery, [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff managed to get the project approved anyway, despite the fact that it screws his owns constituents and rewards a developer in the next town over. But, that’s now a side issue to Soilgate, the discovery of toxic soil throughout Coconut Grove and greater Miami. [Coral Gables is now suing to get out of ever having to use the polluting diesel bus garage.]

The Racism that decided a Black neighbourhood was the perfect place for a polluting diesel bus garage — despite it not being zoned for it — can be seen as a parallel to the decision in the 1920s to build Old Smokey, the incinerator that polluted Miami. Miami needed an incinerator. Why not stick it as far away from the White folk as possible? Stick it in West Grove. Again from the New York Times:

Across the street from Old Smokey’s former site lies Esther Mae Armbrister Park and its playground. Down the block is George Washington Carver Elementary School, a once all-black institution that traces its history to 1899. Former students recall ash blowing in through the school’s open windows.

[University of Miami law] Professor [Anthony V.] Alfieri [of the Environmental Justice Project] said that the construction of Old Smokey “in the middle of a Jim Crow community” in 1925 exemplified the city’s pattern of neglecting the West Grove, an area that has never experienced the prosperity so evident in its neighboring communities. In a 1950 article in Ladies’ Home Journal, Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote that when the city installed a water and sewage system in Coconut Grove, its western neighbor was left out of the project, and for years residents continued to use wells and outhouses.

Old Smokey was shut down in 1970 after many years of neighbourhood protests and a successful legal battle initiated by the White folk of Coral Gables. Yet, 98% White Coral Gables learned nothing from that court battle. When it needed a place to build its polluting diesel bus garage, Astor Development chose West Grove. This is the neighbourhood that’s been given the short end of the stick since it was called Kebo by the original Bahamian settlers almost 130-years ago. Even if you attempted to argue, against all logic, that the developer was unaware it was a Black neighbourhood, the only reason the land was cheap was due to the last century of systemic Racism, that depressed every economic indicator you can name in West Grove, especially when compared to the rest of the 33133 Zip Code, now considered one of the most exclusive in the entire country.

The Supreme Irony: Air pollution — emanating from a fake diesel-powered trolley bus or a giant incinerator — doesn’t abide by the Colour Line, of course. There appears be less pollution the closer one gets to Old Smokey’s former site. As the expression says, “What goes up, must come down.” It seems a lot of Old Smokey’s toxins came down in the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park. Coincidentally, or not, that’s right across the street from where [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff lives. The New York Times again:

“Everything is testing to be residential standard,” Mr. Sarnoff said, referring to contaminant levels permitted under environmental regulations.

That may not be the final word. A cancer researcher at the University of Miami said that she and several colleagues discovered a cluster of pancreatic cancer cases in the West Grove several years ago.

“That’s the little region that lights up,” said the researcher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicate nature of the issue. Although she found the discovery “puzzling,” she said she did not pursue it because of a lack of funds. But when she read a newspaper article this year about Old Smokey that said its ash had spewed arsenic and heavy metals into the neighborhood, she said “everything started making sense.”

The researcher noted that no correlation could be established between the cancer cluster and the old incinerator without more research.

Institutional Racism could be the answer as to why so many people in Coconut Grove are now being diagnosed with cancer. Yet, despite this ugly history of sticking the Black neighbourhood with what the White neighbourhood doesn’t want, [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, the City of Miami, and Astor Development all still think it’s appropriate for them to have played a shell game in order to get Trolleygate approved.

That’s nothing but Modern Day Racism, pure and simple.

Enjoy some videos of the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park from September 13, 2013, as the soil testing was occurring.

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:

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that where it all sits as of today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See an interactive map of the Marc Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park

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

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

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