|Why Do I Distrust Thee?|
|Written by Elvis Cruz, Special to the BT|
Let me count the ways
In the 36 years I’ve been trying to preserve and protect Miami’s neighborhoods as a civic activist, I’ve seen, heard, and read about many questionable actions and inactions by the City of Miami.
They span the spectrum of impropriety: laziness, incompetence, intentionally vague laws, convenient interpretation or ignorance of the law, ignoring the law, gaming the system to defeat the public interest, clever lying, blatant lying, financial irresponsibility, hidden agendas, conflicts of interest, and corruption resulting in prison time.
Here’s a current example: Miami is ignoring the enormous overdevelopment it has allowed. Proof: Ten years ago, I was on the Miami Neighborhoods United team overseeing the creation of a new zoning code, Miami 21. We quickly noticed that a basic piece of information was missing: the city’s “maximum density potential,” i.e., the number of housing units that could be built under the current zoning.
We asked the city about it, and officials played dumb, saying they didn’t know how or even if it could be calculated. So Coconut Grove resident and finance expert Hadley Williams calculated it and found that Miami was already zoned to allow for five to six times the current population!
That was ten years ago. But instead of down-zoning for less height and density, the city has since done more up-zoning: bigger buildings with more people.
Has anyone noticed traffic getting worse?
Miami is hugely over-zoned but won’t admit it. The long-term ramifications are horrid -- not just for traffic, but for our potable water supply, sewage treatment capability, hurricane evacuation, parking space deficits, and more. It’s the urban planning equivalent of sea level rise, and the city is in denial.
I’ve testified before the Miami City Commission over a hundred times, often handing its members copies of their own laws and offering proof that the laws were being violated -- but getting no reaction.
That’s what happened September 8, 2016, when 45 properties that were recently up-zoned to five to eight stories were up-zoned again, to as high as 24 stories. This was done through the Wynwood Special Area Plan (SAP), even though Wynwood’s character is overwhelmingly one or two stories, and even though the zoning code says, “…So long as the capacity or height distribution does not result in development that is out of scale or character with the surrounding area....”
The commission ignored the code and voted to approve breaking the city’s own law. (“A Miami City Commission meeting,” a fellow civic activist told me in 1981, “is an unnatural act committed in a public place between consenting adults.”)
The SAP law is an insidious, vaguely written, evil monster -- it’s a developer’s dream, but a citizen’s nightmare and should be repealed.
Instead, at least four more SAPs are in the works in the northeast Miami area. (See “The Upper Eastside Transformed,” September 2016.)
Another example: I was in the audience at City Hall on April 22, 2004, when Commissioner Arthur Teele pushed for a multimillion-dollar tax subsidy for the Midtown Miami parking garage, saying that parking would be free.
Taxpayers eventually subsidized Midtown for $169 million, but the Miami Parking Authority’s prices there are far from free -- and create spillover parking into residential neighborhoods.
Just last month a federal trial jury found that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was right: the City of Miami had defrauded bond investors in 2009 by cooking its books. Of our tax dollars, $2 million was spent defending the city, and we’ll likely have to pay for any civil penalties.
However, there have been some bright spots. Miami has had many hard-working and well-intentioned city employees, like Victor Igwe, the former city auditor who helped uncover that fraud. But what happened after Igwe released his report alleging that the city had illegally transferred restricted funds? The city got rid of him.
Mr. Igwe, if it were up to me, you’d still be working at the City of Miami, trying to keep it honest.
Ken Russell’s election in November 2015 proved that a candidate for Miami City Commission doesn’t have to suck up to developers and billboard companies, or accept their legal bribery, known as campaign contributions.
As he and the good citizens of Coconut Grove have seen, Miami has a culture of favoring developers at the expense of residents. Ken, may you forever stick to the high road and avoid the power-seduction trap that has claimed so many before you.
Lastly, there’s a charter change on the November ballot that would allow residents to enforce the city charter. Believe it or not, if the city violates its charter in a way that harms everyone, no individual resident has legal standing to sue.
Please vote yes!
Volume 14, Issue 11, January 2017
Many South Florida plants arrived with the slave trade
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