The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show
Miami once loved Coconut Grove enough to place its City Hall
there. Now it puts Coral Gables’ diesel bus garage there.

Trolleygate was the topic of a heated Town Hall meeting at Miami City Hall last night, pitting David against several Goliaths. In this corner the citizens of West Coconut Grove. And in that corner, the cities of
Miami and Coral Gables and Astor Development. It’s a grudge match with a lot of history. 

Representing the City of Miami was District 2 Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, whose district covers Coconut Grove. “Some people say” Sarnoff only represents developers and the rich White folk, while the concerns of Black West Grove residents come last. Mr. Sarnoff was buttressed last night by a phalanx of City of Miami government lackeys, a fancy slide presentation, and, at least, one hired gun.

Coral Gables sent a lawyer. Astor Development went unrepresented. West Grove residents came out in force, filling the chamber with standing room only in the back. This blog was represented by me.

“Ready for my close up.”
Before the meeting starts, Marc D. Sarnoff poses for a reporter.

Marc Sarnoff — who once falsely claimed a heritage with General David Sarnoff (who is actually a relative of mine) before he was forced to admit he made it all up — took the wind out of most sails as he started the meeting. He advised the residents that because a law suit had been filed that afternoon by West Grove residents to stop the diesel bus maintenance garage, there were two subjects the city (himself) could not address on the advice of city lawyers: the issues of zoning and that of notification.

On this, Sarnoff was as good as his word. However, while he never discussed zoning and notification, the assembled residents and lawyers couldn’t get enough of those two topics when it came their turn. But first, it was time for the Dog and Pony Show.

Sarnoff introduced Tim Ogle (SP?) an environmental engineer with Stantec, a company hired by Miami to put on a yadda, yadda, yadda slide presentation that said, essentially, having diesel buses running through the neighbourhood was no worse than licking ice cream, or something. Quite frankly the MEGO factor [My Eyes Glaze Over] set in pretty quickly. I looked around the room and, while people were polite, they appeared skeptical, especially after it was determined that Stantec had been hired by the City of Miami for this very presentation.

I couldn’t help but think that I was watching a presentation normally
given to residents when a project is still on the drawing board, not
when it is already a fait accompli and residents are trying to get it
stopped. However, to be fair, Miami got its money worth. It was a very good presentation and throwing good money after bad to save a developer’s project isn’t a crime, is it? Who knows this better than Commissioner Marc Sarnoff?

Pierre Sand making his points.

After the environmental presentation, Sarnoff opened the floor to questions and statements. First up was Pierre Sands, president of Village West Homeowners and Tenants Association. Despite Sarnoff saying people would be limited to 2 minutes, Sands was given much more than that and even allowed to rebut Sarnoff at one point.

This allowed Sarnoff to cut him off twice later, once when he tried to call bullshit on Sarnoff’s rebuttal and later when Sands wanted to address comments made about him from one of the residents who spoke. Sands made the points [paraphrasing] that the local residents get nothing out of the diesel bus maintenance garage and the City of Miami gets nothing out of it, but it’s clear what the city of Coral Gables gets out of it: It gets rid of a diesel bus maintenance garage and gets a multimillion dollar development. The unasked question hanging in the air was, “What does Marc D. Sarnoff get out of it?” but Sands didn’t go there. Sands closed by expressing extreme disappointment in how Sarnoff has ignored the West Grove since taking office, insisting that Coral Gables’ diesel bus maintenance garage be located “in the City Beautiful,” another name for Coral Gables. He ended on a round of applause.

Sarnoff is a clever man. He anticipated every single one of Sand’s points and was able to rebut them with his own Dog and Pony Show slide show presentation, which had already been prepared. First Sarnoff claimed there was no way he could have stopped the project. Astor Development bought the land fair and square and the building met all city requirements. Once Sarnoff realized the developer had the right to go ahead, he was able to get $200,000 to fix up a football field at Armbrister Park. Sarnoff claimed the developer did this out of the goodness of his heart because he didn’t have to do anything for the community. Sarnoff’s slide show included facts and figures about the football field. As for Sand’s contention that Sarnoff has done nothing for the community, he showed slides of happy builders and residents saying they have, or will be, building up to 80 homes in the area.

Sarnoff’s unspoken message seemed to be, “Screw with this bus garage and not only do you lose these improvements to the football field, but also your biggest champion at city hall to improve the neighbourhood.”  This seemed to be a shot across the bow of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Corporation, which has several projects on the drawing board that will need to get City Hall approval.

Some of the back-and-forth between Pierre Sands and Marc D. Sarnoff, discussing the football field at Armbrister Park: 

None of this mollified the residents, who had a litany of objections that hardly touched on diesel fumes and football fields. For West Grove residents it was all about the subjects Sarnoff wasn’t allowed to address: zoning and notification of residents. Two members of the Coconut Grove Village Council said they felt blindsided when the heard the garage was already being built and neighbourhood residents said Sarnoff just did an end run around them after they stated their objections. According to Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald, Sarnoff claimed: 

“This particular developer, his wife is very charitable. He’s very charitable,” Sarnoff said. “They agreed to approximately a quarter million (dollars) to improve the football field.”

But residents say when he encountered opposition, Sarnoff simply moved on to another group. In April, he attended a meeting of the Coconut Grove Ministerial Alliance and, in October, a gathering of football coaches at Armbrister Park, according to those in attendance.

“He wanted us to say it was a good project and we were behind it, considering they were going to renovate the playing facility,” said Rondy Powell, a coach at the park for 20 years. “I kind of figured when they came, it was kind of like a back-room deal.”

A spokesman for the Ministerial Alliance said the group neither approved nor objected, but did vote to have UM look at environmental hazards.

Sarnoff said he never brought it to the Grove’s elected body, the Coconut Grove Village Council, which was created in 1991 to give residents a voice at City Hall. “I would rather go directly to the community,” he said. “I don’t think the Village Council is very good at dealing with that type of issue.”

However, one of the contentions of most everyone who spoke last night said Sarnoff never went directly to the community with this project, merely factions within the community.

Several residents making their points about the diesel bus garage:

However, the biggest surprise, was Coral Gables’ lawyer Craig Leen [not captured], who spoke the most sense all evening. He first said that he too had to be careful of what he said because Coral Gables, which is not currently party to any of the court actions, could be dragged into the lawsuit at any time. However, in a nutshell, he said Coral Gables was blindsided by the controversy. Its contract with Astor Development is for the company to locate a diesel bus garage somewhere, anywhere, provided it complies with all local laws. Coral Gables thought it was all a done deal and everyone had signed off on this diesel bus garage. Unless Astor complies with all local laws the City of Coral Gables will not take possession of the diesel bus garage, therefore it would not be able to redevelop the current diesel bus garage for its multimillion dollar development.

West Grove’s Lawyer: “Who would like a bus depot next to their house?”

The current state of the diesel bus garage as of January 31, 2013

Nothing was decided last night, but the West Grove’s lawyers are asking for an emergency injunction that all work on the diesel bus cease. Furthermore, they are asking the court to rule on 3 issues:

• Did Miami give proper notice to West Grove residents under all City of Miami ordinances?

• Does the Miami 21 code of ordinances truly allow for a lack of notification to the community, as Commissioner Sarnoff contends and, if so, is that even constitutional?

• Does the use of a diesel bus maintenance facility at that corner contravene the the Miami 21 city plan? 

Coconut Grove Village Councillor Renata Samuels-Dixon sure thinks so. She found language in the Miami 21 plan that would specifically rule out a “government vehicle maintenance facility” as proper for the corner of S. Douglas Road and Frow Avenue. Since Coral Gables is a “government” under the law, and a diesel bus is defined as a “vehicle,” and the structure was defined at that very meeting as a “maintenance facility,” the case for West Grove residents looks pretty strong. However, you can never tell what will happen in court.

The only thing last night made clear is that the citizens of the West Grove, the City of Miami, the City of Coral Gables, and Astor Development are embroiled in a conflict that is going to cost money, no matter what is decided. West Grove’s lawyers are working pro bono. Miami taxpayer money is being spent to help Marc Sarnoff support another developer, this time in Coral Gables, the next town over.

Is this money well spent?

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

4 thoughts on “The Trolleygate Dog And Pony Show

  1. Mr. Sarnoff, lately has been involved in several cases that are not worthy of a public official, such as becoming a lobbyist for a private project and try to convince the residents the benefits of something without any goodness. Also the case of a trip to Brazil with his family paid by the taxpayers of Miami. Mr Reid Welch claims that Sarnoff Assaulted him this past Oct. 29 2012, and this is supported by two witnesses. According to police documents. What occurred at the DDA is not only Something That Should have been expected, but it is Something That warrants a criminal investigation.
    Commissioner Sarnoff, in an ideal world, Should be dismissed and a corruption charge against him Should be Brought. I think he has ruined his political career in Miami with some things that have been exposed .. but still, who knows how many other things we will never know about him.

    It would be good if Spielberg could give the lead role to Marc Sarnoff for his next movie "Hood-Robin", in which he would take money from the poor to give it to the richest.

  2. Astor lied on his application to the City of Miami to get the warrant, and hidden detail that would be a warehouse that would serve as a depot, and ease of maintenance and repairs facility to serve trolley of a government Agency like Coral Gables, which is prohibited in one
    commercial area. For this reason the Coral Gables trolley is currently located in an industrial area and should only be relocated in an industrial zone and not in a commercial-residential zone in the middle of a neighborhood as they are trying to do..
    So, it is very good that people from Coconut Grove will be defended through their attorney, to put in place these criminals and their political friends like Marc Sarnoff, who support this type of zone code violations to Miami21 Code and does not give any kind of help to the residents of Coconut Grove. It’s been to the point that the City has paid with the money from our taxes, an environmental study for this development, and highlighting the beauty of this project, that the buses’ emissions were healthy and that noises between 80-95dB (which will be what this facility will make) are harmless for our health. It also stated that the buses will only operate from Monday thru Friday from 5 AM to 8 PM – even though in their website it says they operate from Mon-Sat and Sundays when there’s special events. Moreover, the hours for the trolleys are up to 11 PM. Why so many lies and coverings in a supposedly professional independent environmental report? There are still politicians that believe they are wiser than the rest of the world. At some point, it almost appeared to me that I was looking at a promotion for a Disney World theme park. It is unbelievable that our politic representatives are behind the interest of these corporations. Astor development and City of Coral Gables does not care at all about environmental impacts that this Depot and Government maintenance facility could cause to this neighborhood, besides always ignoring the neighbors that say they don’t want the construction of an industrial building next to their homes, in an area where it is completely prohibited any kind of industrial activity.
    The audience that was present (during the emergency meeting in city hall), many times jeer at Sarnoff for his lack of respect in reference to not allowing residents to respond, since he might not have liked what they said to him in first place.
    The good thing about this is that in its meeting at City Hall, Mr. Sarnoff tried to defend this project at any cost, and was totally ridiculed with each of the people’s testimony given there, and showed all the effort he’s undertaking to support this corporation. Sarnoff also presented a slide show about all the good he had done during his function as representative, trying to clean up his image, but this had no effect on the attendees, because he could not show any achievements from his own.
    Please, to the rest of the politicians who still have ethics, help with your support to those people, since apparently their claim is valid and legitimate.
    If the city of Miami and Coral Gables wouldn’t had ignored their own zone codes before approving that project before, and wouldn’t had underestimated the ability of the poor people of West Coconut Grove to fight for their rights, it would have never had to come this far.
    The outlook is dark for Mr. Sarnoff, I wish you luck and I suggest you start sending your resume to every company lobbyists, for their consideration before your mandate expires and please Mr Sarnoff, stop spending Miami taxpayers' money in pseudo presentations and environmental studies that "Astor" should do, as they are the real interested party in the project and should use their own money for that purpose.


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