Miami Dade County Community Forum
Saturday, October 31, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
About 15 years ago, the city decided to charge for Virginia Key parking and everybody was on board with that program, but there was a hitch. Jimbo's, the venerable waterfront eyesore that has the best smoked fish and the coldest beer,and has more history than all of the rest of Miami, would be severely impacted.
Then Commissioner J.L. Plummer suggested, and the commission adopted by resolution the city allow anyone going to Jimbo's a waiver on the parking fee. It has been that way for years--until this year when our esteemed city manager decided to collect $5 from everyone even though the city commission never changed the resolution. In other words, the city manager overrode the legal will of the commission, and even worse than that, he did it on August 1, fully knowing that the commission would not meet again in regular session until the second Thursday in September. That way the move would be in force for at least 1 1/2 months.
This is not the first time that Hernandez, a Mayor Manny Diaz personal minion, has overruled or ignored commission action. Commissioner Tomas Regalado has been complaining about it for years, but the commission itself has had no spine to do anything about it.
And just for good measure Hernandez threw a red herring into the mix. He ordered Jimbo's to clean up the place and come into code compliance or be shut down, although no one is quite sure what the zoning on Jimbo's is.
I agree that the place could use a little cleanup, but this is Hernandez and it is not about cleanup. It's about harassment. He could have just as easily sent a city official over and had a talk with Jimmy to see what could be done and worked it out quietly. With his arbitrary move Hernandez might have opened a can of worms that he cannot close. And considering the fact that he might not be city manager much longer as mayoral candidate Tomas Regalado, leading in the polls, has vowed to get rid of Hernandez.
What Hernandez doesn't seem to know is that Jimbo's, owned by Jimmy Luznar, and his shrimp boats were a fixture at the old docks behind the property when the Miami Herald bulding sits. The city wanted to redevelop the property in 1954 and summarily ran Jimbo's off without even a kiss. Unfortunately for the city, many of the area's heavy hitter politicians, lawyers, businessmen and movers and shakers bought their bait from Jimbo's before heading out into the ocean for a day's fishing. They were none too pleased when their favorite bait shop was run off by the city.
A group of attorneys, one of whom was the late U. S. Senator George Smathers took the city to task and after several legal rounds where the city was slapped silly, agreed to let Jimbo's set up shop where they are today on Virginia Key. The other part of the deal was that Jimbo's would be give the first shot at a lease on Watson Island when the city developed that property.
That was 1954. 55 years later, Watson Island sits mostly undeveloped. I guess Jimbo's hasn't gotten the call from the city about their new lease on Watson Island.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has sought private investors, including boxing promoter Don King, to partner with the city in creating a destination on Virginia Key that would help to pay for operations of a planned museum.
Don King met over the summer with officials of the Virginia Key Park Trust and a Spence-Jones staffer to discuss the Key, which was once a black-only beach.
The idea of developing a hotel came up, but the suggestion never got past the idea stage, said
David Shorter, the trust’s executive director.
Although the meeting took place several months ago, King’s interest in the developing part of Virginia Key only recently came to light after an anonymous e-mail was sent to various media, including the Business Journal, that included allegations against Spence-Jones and her family.
The sender did not respond to a request for information about the motive behind the e-mail’s timing.
The commissioner, who is running for re-election, would not comment on the personal allegations, but did explain King’s interest in the key.
The e-mail included an allegation that King made a deal with Spence-Jones to give her a portion of a hotel development on Virginia Key. Spence-Jones denied the allegation and said her motivation was purely tied to helping develop a museum there and the park’s overall mission of financial self-sustainability.
“There was never any type of agreement or understanding regarding Spence-Jones receiving anything from it,” she said. “I’m not crazy. That would land me in jail.”
Spence-Jones also has connected the trust with other high-profile players in entertainment who might help the trust generate funds for the museum and other expenses.
Another person who toured the site was high-profile entertainment attorney L. Londell McMillan, who has represented Prince, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Michael Jackson and Kanye West. Shorter said that McMillan suggested developing retail on the site and was going to run the opportunity by some investors, but again the conversations did not turn into a proposal.
Onetime Essence Magazine editor and current real estate investor Susan L. Taylor also toured Virginia Key. Her vision for development involved building high-priced homes there, but that would have been in conflict with a county prohibition on erosion of the area’s environment. If certain county rules are violated, development and control of Virginia Key would revert to Miami-Dade County.
“The people that come here want to not buy into the history of the facility,” Shorter said. “What they want really to do is put structures here. There is a reverter [clause] that if it is not maintained as a park, it reverts to the county.”
Not so, says Spence-Jones, who maintains there is some flexibility in the county rules that would allow restaurants, a hotel and other development to coexist with the park.
Spence-Jones said there has to be a compromise between the environment, and the financial needs of the museum and the park or the vision for Virginia Key could die.
“There are several people that I pushed through,” said Spence-Jones, referring to King, McMillan and others. “It was about anybody that I knew that had the resources, that had the contacts to assist with the Key, to help redevelop it.”
Hialeah Park was facing a development plan when activists got active. UEL Board Member Alex Fuentes and Hialeah residents, Milly Herrara and Janet Diaz took the lead fighting the mixed use development slated for Hialeah's jewel, the horse racing park famous for its flamingos. UEL President Nancy Liebman and other Board Members met with Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, stressing the historical significance of the park. The UEL also participated in rallies at the padlocked gates.
Mayor Robaina was given the UEL Orchid award that year for his effort to save the park.
Today, the Miami Herald reported the park is slated for a November reopening (there is a video at this link):
For eight long years, Hialeah Park was a historic landmark in hibernation -- its future in doubt, its famous Renaissance Revival architecture slowly fading away.
These days, Hialeah Park is busy. Busy, busy, busy.
Armed with its new quarter-horse permit -- and racing dates approved this week by the state -- Hialeah Park is gearing up for a Nov. 28 reopening.
The post card is from Don Boyd's collection of historical photos of Hialeah Park.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
David Rancourt, Southern Strategy Group
Terry Cunningham, Florida Grassroots Energy Forum
Hank Fishkind, Fishkind & Associates
Eric Draper, Audubon Society
Kenneth Welch, Pinellas County commissioner
David McLain, Apalachicola Bay and Riverkeeper
WHEREAS, Florida’s economy depends on its multi-billion dollar tourism industry, which resulted in millions of visitors coming to Florida annually, allowing tourism to generate billions in taxable sales;and
WHEREAS, tourism accounts for a very significant portion of Florida’s revenue and many of those visitors cite the beaches as an influential factor in their decision to visit Florida; and
WHEREAS, tax revenues generated from Florida’s growing tourism industry are critical to continued funding of essential governmental services, including transportation, schools, and public safety; and
WHEREAS, the pristine beaches of the west coast of Florida require the maximum level of protection, and
WHEREAS, it is our belief that despite technological advances in oil drilling technology, there is no positive assurance that catastrophic damage to our coastline, beaches, plant and fish life could be avoided during normal operating conditions or during storm situations; and
WHEREAS, lifting the moratorium on mineral leasing in the Gulf of Mexico poses a threat to the beaches, waterways, economy of Florida, and national security:
THEREFORE, be it resolved, that the Board of Directors of the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami, oppose the approval of oil drilling in Florida’s waters in areas other than those already approved for oil leasing and oil exploration.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The UEL had a really great meeting last night. Max Rameau was cutting edge interesting, and a whole new group of students showed up and participated in the taping of the program. About 50 people attended. The room was energy charged! Before the program someone sent me an article on Max printed in the Virginia Quarterly Review. It was spot on in capturing Miami politics and illustrating Max's role as a change agent. It's hard not to agree with his basic premise that "Housing is a Human Right." If you're curious, try this link.
We have also established a new policy for students who would like to join us for the dinner portion of the program: a discount of $5.00 on the meal, OR A TOTAL PRICE OF $20. A very good deal. I heard many positive comments about the food last night as well. It was surprising to me since I have thought that the Rusty Pelican food has been good for a very long time, but apparently some "old timers" hadn't visited the place since years earlier when they had formed a different impression. More than once I heard these folks mention that they were "surprised and delighted" with the fare.
We've got some good programs coming up. Hope more of you will be able to join us.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
On October 23, 2006, members of Take Back The Land reclaimed publicly owned land in the Liberty City section of Miami, creating the self governed shantytown of Umoja Village. In the wake of public housing vacancies, corrupt city officials and flawed federal programs, a community found the unrelenting courage to fight back. Using minimal resources such as discarded plywood, packing palettes, and tin roofs, a collective group of activists, Umoja residents, and community supporters built temporary housing units for 53 displaced residents.
In spite of police arrests, court battles, interpersonal conflicts, and the devastating fire which would reduce the village to ashes, the Umoja clan stood strong with unbridled spirits, proving the power of determination and perseverance.
This book documents the planning, development, struggles and triumphs endured by Take Back The Land activists and Umoja Village residents, and tackles the larger fundamental issues of land and power distribution in black communities.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Once dubbed the fastest-growing city among medium-sized cities, Homestead is now dealing with the aftermath of its explosive building boom...While home values across Miami-Dade have crashed, no city has been hit harder than Homestead, where one out of every 49 homes was in some stage of foreclosure in September, the highest rate in a county with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the state.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
We have yet to see any progress on the cleanup of the toxic plume under the site, which we called for (with Tropical Audubon Society) time and time again. Instead DERM allowed an experimental sugar based underground clean-up pilot study which later was proved ineffective. An above ground system was to be implemented upon the failure of the experiment but as of this writing, we are not aware of any progress.
Miami Herald Time Line on Biscayne Landing/Munisport:
1960s: Plans for Interama, short for Interamerican Trade and Cultural Center, a futuristic theme park serving as a gateway for the Americas.
1970: City of North Miami purchased 350-acre parcel out of the more than 1,000 acres that was originally planned for Interama.
1971: City of North Miami leased property to Munisport to build a recreation center with Olympic pools and golf.
1974: Instead of providing recreation, Munisport began accepting ``clean fill'' and construction debris.
1975: Munisport began accepting solid waste and operating as a landfill.
1981: Landfill shut down.
1982: Environmental Protection Agency places property on Superfund list, as one of the nation's most polluted places.
1999: EPA deems site safe for development.
2001: City solicits letters of interest from potential developers.
Nov. 2002: Development agreement between Swerdlow Group and the city.
Oct. 2004: Original ground lease.
2006: Developer Michael Swerdlow sells his interest in Biscayne Landing to Boca Developers, along with several other South Florida condominium projects.
Mid-2007: Residents begin moving into The Oaks, the first condominium tower built at Biscayne Landing.
Dec. 2007: Boca Developers misses a $17 million loan payment.
2008: Banks negotiate a forebearance agreement with Boca Developers, giving the company a chance to try to pay its debts.
April 2008: City of North Miami approves changes in development agreement to allow construction of 1.2 million square feet of commercial space.
Dec. 2008: Boca Developers misses an $80 million loan payment.
July 2008: Cerberus Capital Management takes over The Oaks I and II after Boca Developers defaults on a construction loan. The Cerberus group had provided equity financing to Boca Developers for Biscayne Landing and other Florida condo projects.
June 2009: Cerberus says it will walk away from The Oaks and turn the project over to iStar Financial, the senior construction lender.
July: iStar files a foreclosure action against BLIA Developers, the Boca Developers subsidiary that developed The Oaks. iStar will take over the 161 unsold condos.
August: Wells Fargo, acting as trustee for a commercial mortgage-backed securities fund, files a foreclosure action against Biscayne Landing. The developer owes $196.3 million in debt to the lending group.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Urban Environment League’s 2009
Community Dinner Series & Free Program
Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2009
‘NEW’ Location: Rusty Pelican Restaurant, Virginia Key
Topic of Program:
New Horizons of Land Activism?
A Discussion with Author/Activist Max Rameau
on Housing as a Human Right in Miami
Max Rameau, featured in Michael’s Moore’s new Film Capitalism: A Love Story, led the effort to secure land for the Homeless at Umoja Village and other Miami area locations. Max’s organization, and the name of his recently published book,Take Back the Land, provides a provocative mode of approaching issues of poverty and property ownership. The UEL seeks to expand public understanding about our evolving and intersecting rights to public space, housing and employment in contemporary Miami. The interviewer will be UEL Vice President Gregory Bush.THE VENUE: The Community dinner will be held at the beautiful Rusty Pelican. Cash Bar meet & greet starting at 5:45. Good opportunity to say hello to old friends and make new ones! From 6:30 to 7:30 a delicious 3 course dinner will be served at a special price of $25 (with tax and tip included)!! And the spectacular view of downtown is free! The free public program begins at: 7:30 and concludes at 9 pm.
You must RSVP for the Dinner, please contact the UEL before Oct 20 at : email uelinfo@bellsouth or phone 786-472-0011 (there is a 24 hour cancellation policy)
Want to know about Max? Background Website:
YOU CAN PAY $25 FOR DINNER BY HITTING THIS BUTTON - ALSO RSVP!!!
In deferring approval of the proposed Virginia Key Master Plan until May 2010, the city of Miami has an opportunity to come up with a plan that better preserves the ecology, cultural and historic assets and simple beauty of the island.
The proposed plan that was before the commissioners Oct. 9 featured a shopping center, marine industrial buildings such as a massive boat storage warehouse and five-story parking garages, a large sports complex with stadium lights next to sea-turtle nesting beaches, and community/conference centers with overnight accommodations.
“We need to take a pause,” said Commissioner Tomas Regalado. “History will judge want we do with this island and we need to get it right.”
The commissioners also directed the city manager to proceed immediately with clean up of the polluted landfill site, which closed in 1978 and is the proposed location of the sports complex under the current plan. Preliminary underground testing completed this summer indicates large concentrations of ammonia and other contaminants, which may be leaching into surrounding waterways.
Still, concerns about the possibility of commercial development of the ecologically rich but neglected island dominated the public comments and commission discussion.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he supports the parking garages and also is interested in creating revenue. “We have to find alternate ways of funding for the city,” Sarnoff said.
Regalado, however, recounted that preserving the island in its natural state would benefit the city’s coffers, too.
“What would Teddy Roosevelt do?” Regalado asked, recounting the conservation president who created five national parks during his tenure and enacted the Antiquities Act, which enabled the president and his successors to proclaim historic landmarks, prehistoric structures and other places of historic or scientific interests as national monuments. (Biscayne National Park was actually first proclaimed a National Monument to save the bay islands and Biscayne Bay from imminent development)
“I think he would say, if you want to make money from Virginia Key you don’t develop the place. There’s nothing else like this.”
Regalado said preserving the island’s beauty and nature and restoring the Marine Stadium would bring people from all over the world to Miami, to photograph and visit the unique wilderness island next to a major city.
“I don’t think we want more concrete, more hotels,” added Commissioner Joe Sanchez. “Given more time I think we can come up with something that’s ecologically sensitive.”
The Dade Heritage Trust and Friends of Marine Stadium made an extensive presentation on the historic stadium and updated the commissioners on the status of a pending structural assessment. One study concluded that Hurricane Andrew did not cause any structural damage to the stadium. The City of Miami closed the stadium in 1992, citing damage from Hurricane Andrew. The iconic structure was subsequently severely vandalized but has eludedefforts to demolish it. Friends of Marine Stadium seek to restore and bring back the stadium into operation for concerts and other community events.
“This is nature welcoming urbanism,” Sanchez said of the island. “Virginia Key could be our signature park.”
Friday, October 9, 2009
The UEL led Virginia Key Planning Coalition scored a major though surprising victory on October 8 when the Miami City Commission voted 4 to 1 to delay a vote on the Master Plan for Virginia Key.
The UEL worked closely with a number of other organizations among them the Sierra Club, Dade Heritage Trust, Friends of Marine Stadium, the Virginia Key Park Trust, Tropical Audubon, Miami Neighborhoods United and Urban Paradise. The effort built upon the successful design workshop held on September 26 which came up with a set of eight recommendations.
On October 5, the Waterfront Advisory Board voted unanimously in favor of the revised EDSA plan (with significant amendments proposed by the UEL). A subsequent meeting was held by Greg Bush and Ernie Martin with Comm. Sarnoff, the City manager and representatives from the mayor’s office on October 6.
Additional efforts included meetings with representatives of the County Manager and Mayor’s office led by Blanca Mesa which included Becky Matkov, Caitlin McLaren, Greg Bush, and Hilario Candella.
The outcome of the October 8 vote also included instructions to move forward with the landfill cleanup and bike trails on the north point area as soon as possible as well as serious attempts to continue funding for Virginia Key Beach Park in order for it to access the $15 million in county bond funding for a Civil Rights and Land Museum.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The Virginia Key Master Plan coming before the Miami City Commission Thursday is better than the version pulled from the agenda by Mayor Manny Diaz in June, but it is not nearly good enough to warrant approval. There are still too many brick and mortar projects and not enough natural features. and:
The new master plan still includes five-story parking garages, which are utterly out of keeping with the overall redesign intent. The proposed retail village and possibility of including a conference center have no public support. They appear, in fact, to be another attempt to give private enterprise a big footprint on public property.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Despite pleas from the public to delve into the details of the revised plan and delay voting on the approval, the Miami Waterfront Advisory Board unanimously approved on Oct. 5 forwarding the Virginia Key Master Plan with suggested amendments to the Miami City Commission.
The amendments (made by board member Jose Fuentes) include:
*Construction of a Virginia Key "Welcome Center,"
Restoration of the Marine Stadium,
Creation of an "implementation committee,"
Design a comprehensive island transportation plan,
Restoration of the the mountain bike and BMX courses in the North Point area
One or two boat ramps ( either in the North Point or Marine Stadium Basin),
Cleaning up the landfill first (explore leaching of contaminants into the bay),
Increase native tree buffer areas for playing field site on landfill, and continue restoration of Virginia Key Beach areas..
The Virginia Key Master Plan is scheduled to be heard by the Miami City Commission, Thurs., Oct. 8, Miami City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive, Miami. There is no time certain set at the moment.
Enrique Nunez, of the City of Miami’s planning staff presented the “revised” Virginia Key Master Plan, which he said was scaled back in response to community input. The previous (May 2009) version was unanimously rejected by two city advisory boards and dozens of civic, environmental and preservation groups.
The October 2009 version removes some buildings and parking garages throughout the island and opens land in front of the historic Miami Marine Stadium but retains a large dry dock storage facility and two large parking garages in the Marine Stadium basin as well as a retail shopping center now dubbed the “Marine Stadium Village.”
Nunez told the board the Marine Stadium Village will “provide access to the waterfront area.” No specific uses were identified for this “Village” though the the square footage had been reduced to 32,000 square feet, “about the size of a Publix” but interspersed among various buildings. The attached parking garage would be five stories tall.
The plan does not provide for a public boat ramp, though it presents two possible locations: next to the environmentally sensitive North Point area and in the Marine Stadium basin, where the boat ramp (now closed) has always been. The planners said reopening the existing boat ramp in the basin would interfere with the operations of the large private dry dock storage facility planned for the area.
See the "Revised" city of Miami Virginia Key Master Plan posted.
A significant number of speakers called for more details on the size, mass and use of the buildings and requested a delay in approval of the revised plan in order to build greater public consensus about the island’s future and further refine the plan with public input. They also asked for a commitment to the restoration of the historic Miami Marine Stadium and clean up of the contaminated landfill site.
Fran Bohnsack, president of the Urban Environment League, said a very successful public charette held Sept. 26 had drawn more than 100 participants who developed ideas that had not yet been incorporated by the city’s planners into the Virginia Key Master Plan. She also said the city’s Planning Advisory Board had not had the opportunity to review the revised plan.
Grace Solares, president Miami Neighborhoods United, a coalition of City of neighborhood civic associations, called for “pause and then a rewind.” She pointed out that the City of Miami budget had effectively defunded the historic Virginia Key Beach Park and if there is a dissolution of the governing trust “there will be no one to provide oversight.”
Judy Sandoval, community activist, warned: “Be very careful about voting for a plan ‘in principle’ and without details.”
Wendy Kamilar, chair of the board, called for a vote up or down on the plan.
“You can’t get funding without some sort of plan. We have to have a conceptual plan going forward,” she said.
With that, the Board voted unanimously to recommend that the plan go forward to the Miami City Commission Oct. 8 with recommended amendments.
Authorities uncovered an alleged scheme to defraud Miami-Dade County in the awarding of a contract involving a wetlands restoration project.
Dear Mayor Alvarez:
The problem with American Earth Movers using a minority firm as a front to obtain a contract, I believe, should cause us to ask the larger questions. There is a red herring in this story.
1. How is it possible that there was so much fat in the contract that this company could afford to pay a kick-back to a fronting organization?
2. How many other non-minority contractors are using these tactics inappropriately?
3. How many other contracts are bid up with extra fat?
4. What are these potentially padded contracts actually costing the tax payers?
5. What is a minority:
In the US?
In Miami Dade?
and is the use of "minority", with our demographics, appropriate?
6. How is Dade County, at large, benefiting from minority-based contract awards?
7. Is this program, indeed, actually helping minorities? If so, which ones?
All businesses started as small businesses. Most businesses in Miami Dade County could be classified as minority businesses. What are we really doing here? I am requesting that the BCC take these questions on in a public forum.
Thank you for the work you do on behalf of the county and for consideration of these comments, questions and concerns.
Monday, October 5, 2009
There is still concern about a hotel sneaking in, for example, either at the Virginia Key Beach Trust, or at the North Point. Also, under Miami 21 - the zoning atlas actually zones the Marine Stadium basin edge as T-6-8, which is defined as urban core, one of the highest and most dense uses in the city. This would pave the way for intensive commercial development around the basin. There are still no answers about EDSA's original proposed system of governance for the island (read developers and realtors). UEL will attempt to find answers to these questions and others, and will post them here. Stay tuned.
The Miami Herald says:
A significantly pared-down blueprint for the battered but ecologically rich island's makeover is now set for review Monday by the city's waterfront advisory board, before a Thursday vote at the city commission.
But critics of the plan -- who held an alternative planning session last week in Virginia Key, with 100 people in attendance -- said that the revised version, while greener, still raises numerous concerns.
"I think we've come a long way. They listened, because they had to,'' said parks activist Greg Bush. "But it's still a hodgepodge. It needs to be pulled together better.''