Thursday, October 20, 2016

Burying the Powerlines in North Bay Village

There is a proposition on the North Bay Village power lines to affirm a 2006 proposition to bury the powerlines, an attractive idea but I am recommending a NO vote on the proposition.  

To understand how this happened, we need to go back to 2006 in North Bay Village when this was on the ballot.  The year before we were sucker punched by Hurricane Wilma and North Bay Village was without electricity for nearly two weeks.  It was a messy and inconvenient time and was without a doubt a result of the poor infrastructure in our power lines.  

We knew burying the lines would be expensive. The original debt bond was for $9 million, and that did not include the cost to the individual homeowners to switch to underground power.  But two things were driving the move to underground - the recent memory of Wilma and the implied but never overtly stated promise that the additional moneys would come from the then booming condo development market.  

The Village did not move forward quickly and by 2008, the promised condo boom had turned into the slow, nasty slog that drains our resources and 10 years on leaves our causeway looking like the 3rd world.   The massive overdevelopment was never going to bring us any benefits and certainly wasn't ever going to pay for the burying.   

The Commission decided to put this on the ballot to see if there was still public support for the idea.  There probably is not and for very good reasons.  
  1. It's expensive.  Apart from the increased tax costs, each home and building affected would be responsible for trenching and paying for the new power line hookups.  A back of the envelope guess is $3000 or so to dig the trench and attach the powerline.  In addition, each house or building would have to have a code inspection to see if the electrical system is up to code for 2016.  Most of the single family homes were built in the 1950's and while some have been modernized, not all have been.  Those who are not up to current code will need to rewire their homes to meet code, at a cost to the homeowner that could be well over $5,000 or more depending on what has to be done.  Plus the homeowner pays the building inspection fees.
  2. One out of Two Houses Loses.  Right now, the pole transformers in the back serve 4 houses.  Undergrounding means that there needs to be a tranformer every 2 houses, so either I or my neighbor has to have a box installed in our front yard.  That could leave to conflict with the neighbors and it's not particularly fair.
  3. The condos who have already built with underground wires will have to pay the increased tax burden.  While by and large, the condos have brought little benefit to North Bay Village what with stealing the Bayfront from the residents, building inadequate parking, and the shady deals reducing the impact fees, it seems like the additional cost for the changes to our infrastructure should be paid by those who benefit.
  4. It's not clear that it is a benefit.  While underground wires will reduce the vulnerability to wind damage, they also seriously increase the possibility of water damage, particularly salt water damage.   When we have floods, it's mostly bay water, salt water, and damage to the lines or the transmission boxes means a complicated process of drying and desalinating the boxes before they can be back in service.   
I just can't see how this would benefit us.  The powerlines are ugly and worn out (so am I!  Boom!) but FPL/Atlanticbb/ATT need to harden the aboveground infrastructure to make them less susceptible to wind damage and upgrade our grid to make us more resilient.  I believe the benefits from that effort will pay us back much more than undergrounding.  If North Bay Village were built today, we would have a whole different picture of our infrastructure but given the difficulties and expenses in this proposal, we are better off sticking with the status quo.  And if the Gang of 3 don't up their game, we can always force the issue later.

Kevin Vericker
October 20, 2016

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The North Bay Village Election and My Take

The country is in the grip of the strangest elections I can remember (and I'm old) and many people have deep concerns about the national outcome including me.   Still, let's talk about North Bay Village where strange comes to live.

We have four things to vote on:  
  • Commissioner from North Bay Island Island
  • Commissioner from Treasure Island
  • Mayor
  • Whether or not to bury the power lines.  
You know I have opinions but I'm going to save the powerlines and the mayoral race for another post.  

Commissioner from North Bay Island:   
Richard Chervony deserves to be re-elected.  He's worked diligently and hard to improve North Bay Village.  He kept our taxes low.  He is seemingly everywhere with constituent help and was the constant voice of information during the recent hurricane scare.

His key accomplishments include:

  • The Health Clinic at Treasure Island Elementary School and a new program to provide dental care. 
  • Consistently introducing and shepherding through environmental legislation including the styrofoam ban.  
  • Involved himself in the details of the budget to direct the first budget in years that maintains city services, rewards village employees, keeps the reserve healthy and lowered the taxes.  This is not the usual approach and I know how hard he worked to make this happen  

 Chervony's done a great job in his tenure and he has my unqualified endorsement.

His opponent, José Alvarez, is a nice guy who I hope will contribute over the next few years.  His major accomplishment, creating village rules around AirBnB and other short term rentals, was good but most of the work was done by his wife and I have not heard any compelling reasons why he would be a better choice than a successful sitting commissioner.  I was disappointed that he did not attend the budget meetings - the budget dictates what the village can actually do for the next year and being present would have mattered.  Great guy and with experience, he may be ready next time.

Full Disclosure Note Here:  Chervony and I have had massive, epic public battles.  NBV Thunderdome battles and we very well might again.  I fully expect some mysterious PAC will soon send you information on that.  I stand by every nasty thing I said and I'm certain Chervony will say the same about me.  (I dunno, I didn't ask).  But who would you rather have?  Someone who fights like hell and then does the right thing or some smiley backstabber?   My choice is obvious.
Commissioner for Treasure Island:  
Andreana Jackson has stood out in her rookie year.  On a steep learning curve, she has taken a firm stand on environmental issues affecting North Bay Village and is fighting hard to clean the place up.  Jackson has also worked hard to learn the commission processes, build bridges to the community and genuinely question what she does not understand.  She's very aware of knowing what she doesn't know and seeks advice from her best sources.

Her accomplishments in the last year include:

  • Sponsoring legislation to clean our streets.  
  • Leading cleanup efforts in the Village
  • Promoting Science Technology Engineering and Math at Treasure Island Elementary
  • Taking part in an uncomfortable and politically risky move to restore civility to the Commission.

Andreana is more than potential and is a proven contributor to the Village.  

Her opponent, Dr. Joshua Furman, is a long time resident and an exceptional person.  He is a doctor with a practice locally and a bright man.  Like Alvarez though, his grasp of the complexity of village issues is hampered by his not showing up.   He needs to know the issues, the nitty gritty stuff, before he should replace someone like Jackson who dives in 100%.  I hope to see more of him on the boards but he does not have the experience or the knowledge we need now.

So that's my view.  Yours?

By way, if Jose Alvarez or Joshua Furman would like to write about why they feel they are better qualified, I'll open the blog up to them publish unedited any replies they would like.  

Kevin Vericker
October 14, 2016

Sunday, August 28, 2016

All Politics Are Local

It continues to surprise me how little attention people pay to local elections.  It matters very much who we choose for President, Congress and Governor but the most immediate effects are from the local governments.   

Tuesday, there is a primary and an election for county mayor and I thought I might share some of my views on the races that affect us the most here in North Bay Village.   

First up, for State Senate, Michael Gongora is a former Miami Beach Commissioner who knows North Bay Village well.  On the Beach, our closest neighbor, he successfully championed porgrams for the elderly, for the community at large, and made demands on developers for community improvement.  He has been a constant presence in North Bay Village.  In my view, he should be our State Senator.  He gets the life of the fragile beach cities.  

Kevin Burns is also running and his record is nearly identical.  Burns has a long history of community involvement in North Miami, served as their mayor in fact.  He has led countywide campaigns for equal rights and has consistently put his constituents first.  I didn't vote for him, mostly because I feel that Michael Gongora is better acquainted with North Bay Village but it was really nice to have a choice between two well qualified, experienced candidates who know how to get stuff done.  

Jason Pizzo has not bothered to vote since 2008, has been a Democrat for all of 5 months, and has funded his campaign from his Dad's companies.  He needs to get some experience and show good judgment in why people should vote if they want me to vote for them.  

Daphne Campbell is a very bad choice.  I could write about it but my friend and fellow blogger Stephanie Kienzle has really nailed it.  You can read Stephanie's take here.

State Rep - in spite of the fact that he keeps making it difficult with his crazy endorsements of our mayor and for Jason Pizzo, David Richardson has represented us faithfully and well.  He may be my favorite person to disagree with.  David  should stay the hell out of our local election.  Supporting Kreps is a mistake for NBV'ers and for the local LGBT community but show me the candidate without flaws and I'd hate him more.  So David has my vote.  

Finally, on the Circuit Court Race, I voted for Oscar Rodriguez-Fonts.  The guy's been a public defender, a city attorney, and in spite of being a Republican (I'm not, you know) understands very well the rights of the community, the needs of the police, and has always been committed to fairness regardless of the cost.   I'm voting character here.

Finally, Amendment 4.  Just vote Yes.  It's crazy that we don't have extensive, cheap solar energy in the Sunshine State.  This would give homeowners some serious tax relief for generating electricity.  It's safe, clean and effective.  

I know there are other races, particularly for county mayor, but I don't have a strong opinion or even a well informed one, so I chose not to write about them.

Well, there are two races I have opinions on.   Both of them represent why the Democratic Party can't put its act together in Florida.  

For Senator, Pam Keith would be a natural in any Democratic party.  A bright woman, with vast international experience, a Navy veteran, an attorney with a long record of public service and a well reasoned progressive.  Her opponents are a couple of white boys with money and ego where they should have experience and judgment.  But it's Florida and it's the Florida Democratic Party, so the odds are stacked against her.  It's a terrible shame and I hate to sound defeatist, but I've watched our state party mess this up time and again and I expect this time will be no different.  

For Congress, did you even know there were Democrats running to take on Ileana Ros-Lehtinen?  Bet not.  Now I like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a lot.  I think she is a woman of integrity and political courage.  I disagree with her on many specific political policies and probably will not vote for her but I have no question about her commitment to her constituents.   We are far better off being represented by her than being ignored by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, our previous representative.  Anyone in North Bay Village remember what DWS has done for us?  Me neither.

So that's it.  My take on the primary.  Now go vote!

Kevin Vericker
August 28, 2016  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

North Bay Village Scratching Post

This is a post I've been avoiding for a long time.  Any discussion of the feral cat problem in North Bay Village quickly descends into bitter arguments flying right past each other with the anti-feral cat people expressing their frustration, sometimes crudely, and the cat carers violating Godwin's Law, which states that the first person to invoke Hitler loses the argument.   But since fools rush in where angels fear to tread, here I go.  

The situation is that the village stopped Animal Control a few years back.  The Board exists in name only and there has been no serious attempt on the part of the administration to control the feral cat population.   The population has been growing from a combination of breeding and new cats being abandoned.  The problem is worse on Treasure Island.  

There is a group, small and informal, who call themselves the Cat Action Network, who feed the cats, trap them for participation in the Trap Neuter Return program and who defend their right to do so.  

Residents are concerned because there are seemingly more cats everyday and the CAN people use the public sidewalks for feeding.  When questioned, their responses can be pretty nasty. There are concerns about public health and the quality of life problems the feral cat population bring.  

While the Trap Neuter and Return Programs have been shown to reduce feral cat populations, this is only true when there are a combination of factors involved.  These factors include vigorous enforcement of anti-abandonment laws, a large scale public awareness campaign about the program so that affected residents are included in the plan, legislation that designates and controls the feeding, trapping and return areas and times, and a strong adoption and placement program.  

We don't have that.  All we have are some self appointed guardians of the cats who believe they are being kind and perhaps are, but who have taken upon themselves with no authority whatsoever to simply declare that Treasure Island is a "cat sanctuary."  It is not.  It is a neighborhood that people live in.   

The CAN does care about the cats but that's not enough.   If cats are to live in a community and the population is to be managed through TNR, it's incumbent on this group to create community support and ensure their actions are legal and in accordance with the rest of the community.  Otherwise they are just maintaining a large outdoor accommodation for their pets.   

In the Facebook Group North Bay Village Residents Speak, this subject always causes controversy.  And legitimate concerns are brushed aside with mistaken assertions about the posters who are concerned, several of whom have domestic cats and on the other side, well, some pretty nasty language has been used.   

The problem of the growing feral cat population is shared between the Village administration which has dismantled all of the boards while not addressing this problem, and the Cat Action Network, who if they did not cause the problem, have certainly made it worse by their unilateral decision to make other people's property a cat habitat without legal sanction and without regard for the people affected.  
It's time to stop the craziness.   There is an election coming up.  Ask each candidate what they plan to do to balance the needs of the community with the desire to control and protect the feral cat population.  If the candidate is an incumbent, ask what actions they have already taken and why is the problem getting worse?   Demand that the city take charge of the problem.  

For the Cat Action Network, I get it.  You like the cats.   But these are feral cats and they live in a community.  You should be working with the village and the community to create a useful and comprehensive program.  I have heard the argument that you spend your own money and time to feed and TNR the cats.  I have hobbies too.  But I don't expect my neighbors and government to pay for them.  And that's what you're doing when you unilaterally turn someone else's neighborhood into a cat sanctuary without involving them.  You are pursuing a hobby.  And I might add that most of you don't even live here.  Stand up and do the right thing if you really give a damn.  

Kevin Vericker
August 4, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016

He's Right

Vice Mayor Jorge Gonzalez
Mayor Kreps
Rey Trujillo was right.   The former North Bay Village Vice Mayor, former North Bay Village Commissioner, former North Bay Village Planning & Zoning Chair, former North Bay Village Candidate for Mayor, former North Bay Village Chair of the Connie Leon-Kreps Mayoral Campaign, and former North Bay Village resident returned on Tuesday night to address the commission.   He requested that Vice Mayor Jorge Gonzalez submit his resignation from the Commissioner At Large seat immediately.  

Jorge Gonzalez has declared his candidacy for mayor against his former best friend, Mayor Connie Kreps and under election law, will be required to resign sometime before Election Day.   

Trujillo's argument, long and poorly stated, was that there is legal precedent that a candidate should resign as soon as the candidacy is announced.  

Rey Trujillo was right.  There is legal precedent but it may not be the law.  

Trujillo then stated that by resigning now, the voters would have a say in filling the At Large seat in November.  By delaying his resignation until nearer Election Day, that will most likely cause the commission to select a new At Large member rather than the voters.   

Rey Trujillo was right.  

Finally, Trujillo stated that even without legal compulsion, not resigning and opening the seat for election would be "sneaky".  

Rey Trujillo was right again.   

My question is "Has Rey Trujillo met Jorge Gonzalez?"   I mean, does Trujillo seriously believe that this is a man motivated by his love of public service?  Of course he has!  In the world of North Bay Village Crazy™, Trujillo ardently supported Gonzalez in his last election bid.   They were besties, homies, compas, and entirely in agreement that they were destined to control our village.  

Jorge Gonzalez will probably lose his mayoral bid because like everyone else who has dealt with Mayor Crazy Eyes, he will underestimate her willingness to go nasty and does not understand that the interests that support her do not want to lose their useful idiot.  

But that's not the point.  The point is, Rey Trujillo was right.  

Kevin Vericker
July 15, 2016

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The New Normal

Dallas.  Orlando. Charleston. San Bernardino. Newtown.  All acts of domestic terrorism that have become such a part of our awareness that we know right away what happened in these places, and many others.  In each, military assault weapons were turned on other Americans, police officers, club kids, church goers, city workers and children, in mass shootings.   The cost to our psyche, our sense of safety and to our moral sense of who we are is beyond measure.  

But this new normal has another real cost.  Economic.   

In North Bay Village, our first costs are showing.  At the initial budget meeting, Chief Noriega laid out the cold facts of our own vulnerabilities.   While the chances of a North Bay Village suffering this kind of attack are infinitesimally low, just as they were everywhere they happened, the new normal is the reality that our police need to be prepared for random terrorism.   

And there is a cost.   Chief Noriega laid out an initial capital plan spending $240,000 for training and equipment for the PD to respond to mass shootings and other terrorist acts.   Nobody knows how much it will be to sustain the effort but Noriega made a compelling case for why North Bay Village can't afford to ignore the new normal.   We are vulnerable as an island city with a dense population and an easy tropical lifestyle.   

The budget is not final and there may be adjustments but there's little question that the commission will do the right thing and fund this preparedness effort.   

This is money that could be spent on things we need and want but because of the new normal, we have to spend our money on this.   

Kevin Vericker
July 10, 2016

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Great Election of 2016 - North Bay Village

I know.  I've been absent without leave for 2 months now.   It's not that nothing has been happening.  I've just been busy and the better discussions are going on over at North Bay Village Speaks on Facebook anyway.  

But today, it became official.  Vice Mayor Jorge Gonzalez formerly a BFF of Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps has announced that he is running against her this November.   

After all she's done for him, promoted his election the first time, supported his re-election the second time, cast aside the sitting vice mayor Eddie Lim to move Gonzalez to the Big Boy Chair, sponsored him to her friends at the Commission on Ethics so they could use the office to persecute other candidates, Gonzalez threw her to the curb like an old used shoe just because she's a little bit batty.  

Gonzalez is just like all the other men in Connie's life -

Her former bestie, Richard Chervony, turned on her after she had him appointed commissioner and then she refused to let him speak on matters about the village.  Connie got quite annoyed at him in fact and instead of shutting up, he decided to act like he was a commissioner. and you know do things.  That was intolerable to her so she dumped him or he dumped her or whatever.  But they are not friends.  

Her former 2nd bestie, Eddie Lim, didn't particularly enjoy being told to stop talking during his commissioner reports because Connie finds it boring when the subject is not her and Lim took umbrage when she accused all of her fellow commissioners of "collusion and corruption" with no specifics.   

Her former 3rd bestie, one Rootin' Tootin' Straight Shootin' Son Of A Gun Village Manager Frank Rollason who she lied about (said she had seen him in 10 years when she had publicly supported him in a failed run for office 5 years earlier) and brought in to get around the village hiring process as a "temporary" village manager and who she stood by through thick and thin, is now the object of her ire as she is trying to get him fired but he's more cunning than she is so she can't.  

Yes, Gonzalez  is just like all the nasty dudes in her life for whom she does so much and then they dump her just because she's batty and mean and manipulative,  Also, she's not very smart.  (Neither am I.  I play a game at each commission meeting to see how soon into the agenda she's been managing for 5 years before she gets lost.  Last week was a record at 28 minutes in.  A more intelligent person would not do that.)  

Gonzalez has his own baggage, an enormous ego inversely sized to his limited intellect, his penchant for bullying and his Trump like sensitivity to criticism over his bankruptcies, tax delinquencies and other matters.   Frankly, they seemed like a dream couple to me.   But sometimes, it just doesn't work and like the War of the Roses, this political marriage made in hell will play its way out on the North Bay Village stage.  

Should be fun!

Kevin Vericker
June 21, 2016