Monday, February 28, 2011

The Alvarez Recall

My computer is back and I am working well on it again. My advice to all is two fold - always, always buy your electronics at Costco. When things go wrong, they treat you right. They double the warranty and HP fixed my computer for free in one week. Second bit is be serious about your backups. Most of us have our whole lives on the computers and they break.

Okay, now I'm looking for advice from you.

Last week, I wrote about the Alvarez recall and my misgivings about the whole process. Max Crown pointed out that the problems were bigger than I had written. Specifically that the voters had turned down the stadium and Alvarez went around that. I agree.

But I still can't bring myself to vote for the recall. I'd love to hear from people about how you're feeling on the whole recall issues, for and against, and why. The email is Let me know if it's okay if I use your name when I post on the results.

Or leave a comment below if you have a Google account.

Kevin Vericker
February 28, 2011

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Week That Got Away - February 22 Commission Meeting

I'm sorry I haven't updated this week. I had some personal time conflicts, good ones, but still I ran out of time and space. Then I had a computer crash with total hardware failure but get this - I actually had a current backup so I didn't lose anything of importance. Still, wrestling with different hardware, when I had a term paper due and a class to present added more pressure to an already tight schedule.

Let's get to it. The Commission Meeting on Tuesday night was a return to the bad old days of secrets and collusion. It seems that for three of the commissioners, Eddie Lim, Dr. Vogel and Connie Leon-Kreps, there is no issue more pressing than eliminating side yard pickup of trash for single family homes in North Bay Village and awarding the contract to Waste Management Systems. This is being done under the guise of saving the city $500,000 per year, a savings that has never been justified.

The resolution first introduced in December 2010 was to "reject" (key word) the protest by Choice Environmental Systems and was introduced by Kreps. She then voted against her own resolution which meant that it could not be reintroduced for two months, which came up again now. The exact same resolution was reintroduced for this meeting by Kreps except... at the beginning of the meeting, the counsel for the night explained that the resolution was actually to consider the protest and then decide and was not introduced by Kreps but by Bob Pushkin.

Normally, under Sunshine, when a substantial change is made to a resolution, it must be withdrawn and resubmitted but apparently a change in wording, substance and sponsorship was not considered substantial and the ritual theatre went forward, the conclusion already arrived at. Naturally the three voted yes. Dr. Vogel was not sure what he was supposed to say to get the proposal rejected so the representatives of Waste Management helped him out by calling out "Vote Yes" and he obliged. Eddie Lim took a moment to scold members of the public (me) who questioned the validity of the $500,000 savings as attacking the city manager. Lim could not spare the time to explain the savings.

Because there are none. The spreadsheet that calculated the savings and was never presented to the commission showed at the best, the savings would be $120,000 and that remains doubtful. Everyone involved knows that there is nowhere near the savings claimed four times in the meeting on September 28, 2010. The city's own calculations showed the real view but it continues to stand unchallenged. Commissioner Lim would be better off finding out what the objection is then officiously reprimanding citizens for asking the question. Another question Mr. Lim might have addressed are how the generous contributions of Waste Management Systems to his and Rey Trujillo's campaign may have influenced his vote. Perhaps in his view, it's out of line to ask that question too.

So, unless there is some other event that sets aside the motion, we will have garbage cans strewing our streets two days per week. Working people who leave in the morning will not have the chance to put the cans back before nightfall. My guess is that residents will be complaining about this loudly and clearly but that's what happens when you let people whose interest is not in the city run things.

During Good & Welfare, Fane Lozman continued his claim that he lives at 7918 West Drive, a brazen falsehood. 7918 West Drive is a vacant lot owned by developer Scott Greenwald, currently in tax arrears of $42,440 for 2009, and has no structure. Lozman, who doesn't seem to know where he lives, did manage to find out the Mayor's salary at the City of Miami and tried to use this embarrass her, I guess. I'm not sure what he's thinking.

There was a good deal more on the docks and I am not clear how it finally worked out as I had to leave, so I'll find out more about that.

Also, Max Crown of S. Treasure Drive, pointed out to me that in my entry about the Alvarez recall, I had not noted that the voters rejected the stadium initiative. He thinks and I agree, that I should have included that. I'm still not sure how I'm voting on the recall, but overriding the clear intent of the voters is a pretty serious concern.

I will try to get more up soon. I hear my fixed computer is coming home shortly and I only have one more paper to write so I expect to be back in the game next week.

Kevin Vericker
February 25, 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011

More on the Police Statistics

It's a very good thing that next week at the Commission Meeting on February 22, 2011 (7:30 PM at the Lexi) the NBV Police Statistics will be presented. They are already in the detailed agenda, available through yesterday's post here. See pages 14 & 15 on the document.

Because I like to analyze, I took the figures and transcribed them to a spreadsheet, seen below.

The statistics show what we already knew but could not state objectively - crime in North Bay Village is far lower than the surrounding areas, Miami-Dade at large and most other urban areas our size. That's good news, very good news.

By the way, this was also the case last March (2010) when these stats were last published.

The next step is to go deeper. With the information published, we know what didn't happen - high crime. The city needs to know more to plan for the future and to properly steward the police department.

Is the low crime a result of certain activities on the police department's part? Do increased patrols and higher visibility reduce crime? Is the next step a revival of the Crime Watch? Is this maybe all an accident of demographics and geography? Do we need to maintain the level of service we currently have?

None of those questions can be reasonably answered without going to the next step. We need to see more data on process rather than incidents - e.g. how many patrols are done daily? How many community meetings? What types of officer initiated reports are there? and equally important, how we compare on these things to other similar cities? Key Biscayne might be a candidate, or Surfside, or Miami Shores. They all have higher crime rates than we do. What are we doing that's better than them? Let's do more of it.

I don't know why this information took so long to get. This is exactly the sort of information that should be on our website, the police should be bragging about it not hiding it. But I'm glad it's finally out there and hope to see it each month. It's the only way the city can make rational and informed decisions in tight budget times.

Kevin Vericker
February 19, 2011

Police Statistics as Reported by NBVPD

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Commission Meeting for Tuesday February 22, 2011

The postponed February Commission meeting is now set for Tuesday, February 22, 2011. The detailed agenda is below.

Some highlights - Pages 13 and 14 have the long awaited police statistics. Page 15 has the Code Enforcement Activity Report. This is great. We need to get to this across the city but this are the two key metrics, the ones that affect our every day life. I'll post more about this later.

Now there are a number of items:

The Resolution to reject the protest of Choice Environment Systems over the Waste Management Systems contract to privatize garbage collection. This resolution has been a major process problem. Originally introduced several months ago in December by Vice Mayor Kreps, she accidentally voted against it. That was a problem. It's back on new for reconsideration.

I am against the privatization for two reasons. One is there is no empirical evidence that it saves us money anywhere near $500,000 per year and the other is that it ends sideyard pickup. We already see how every other Wednesday night and Thursday all day, our streets are filled with recycling bins. How much worse will the city look when twice a week we have garbage cans sitting on the street? The commissioners need to listen very carefully to see if the process was followed correctly and evaluate if this is an opportunity to fix the problem of ending sideyard pickup.

Also on the agenda are a number of items about docks and changes to the law, plus a variance for a very large docks on S. Treasure Drive. This is going to be very interesting as historically, North Bay Village has favored boats over views and the waterfront property owners have different ideas.

There's more but I need to peruse it. Check out the agenda below.

REG COM MTG 2-22-2011
Kevin Vericker
February 17, 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Recall Election for Miami-Dade Mayor and Commission

Looking outside our islands, the biggest issue likely to have dramatic short term effects on North Bay Village is the recall election on March 15. Carlos Alvarez, the mayor, and Natacha Seijas, a commissioner, have been targeted by local businessman Norman Braman as the subject of recalls.

I've heard both Braman and Alvarez present their cases at the Downtown Bay Forum. Braman's argument is that Alvarez has done a bad job of managing the budget and raised taxes during the worst recession since the 1930's. Braman is particularly concerned about the stadium and that public workers were not targeted for more cuts. Braman therefore states that Alvarez should be removed and has put his considerable resources behind the recall effort.

Alvarez for his part defends the decision to build the stadium where it is now and does not apologize for his support for public employees, who have seen pay and benefit cuts for three years running. He points to Miami-Dade's current economic situation as something that would have been much worse had he not taken the steps he did.

Natacha Seijas and her recall seem to be a side show. Braman is clear that he wants to recall the whole commission and Seijas was a convenient target.

Now Alvarez and the Commission in general have done some very good things for North Bay Village. We have received a higher percentage of grant money than other cities, the commission and the county have made themselves available to help North Bay Village deal with our uniquely bad real estate market although we are not taking advantage of this and seem to be committed to leading the county through this recession. A good deal of the credit belongs to Sally Heyman, our county commissioner who is always available to us and who knows how to work with the county and with the mayor.

From a purely local perspective then, I believe it is to our advantage in North Bay Village to vote no on the recall.

In the larger sense, I have problems with the whole idea of recalls. Alvarez was elected in 2004 and again in 2008, neither time with my vote. I did not vote for him because I disliked his stand in 2004 on the addition of sexual orientation to the county human rights ordinance (He was against it in Spanish and for it in English, another problem) and in 2008, I didn't like where the stadium is located.

Neither of these disagreements constitute an emergency requiring a recall. They are political disagreements, policies that matter, but the recall effort would be better focused on changing the county policies, not on punishing individuals for political stands.

I'm afraid this recall will be successful and that will be bad for North Bay Village, and bad for the county. Miami-Dade could easily wind up like California, where a recall of Gray Davis resulted in Arnold Schwarzenegger being installed as governor. That recall expressed the frustration of the voters in a declining economy but few seemed to notice that Arnold governed almost exactly like Davis. It was a waste of money in California.

If the court approves the election, as it looks like it will, we will also be wasting time and money in Miami-Dade and unlike California, where the replacement candidates were on the same ballot, we have no idea who will step into the office if the recall is successful. I understand that people are frustrated. I am. But it's probably a good idea to live with the frustration and focus on what should be done to actually make things better here.

Update: I saw this from the Miami Herald today after I posted the above. It's worth reading: Braman outlines reforms for county government - Miami-Dade Breaking News -

Kevin Vericker
February 16, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Back to the Housing Issue

The crash of the housing market has been a traumatic event across the country. Completely foreseeable, its effects have still caught local governments unawares and the responses have been slow. It was October 2008 when the dramatic bank failures highlighted the problems and that's enough time to have formulated a plan to recover. Two years is long enough to be surprised and now it's time to get to work.

The only thing a city can control is how to respond to the sick economy.

When a city, like a person, is in trouble the solution will always have at least three broad categories - the short term, the mid term and the long term.

The short term is obvious. Get the current spending under control and eliminate non essential spending. The city has taken steps towards that.

The long term is usually clear. Plan and adjust towards a goal that reduces vulnerability to economic shocks and cushions for hard times. In the broad sense, that plan was already in place through an ambitious series of projects designed to increase economic diversity and expand the tax base.

It's the mid term that's going to hurt us next. That step is the realistic assessment of economic prospects and taking steps to address and improve the circumstances. That's where NBV is failing.

I have often wondered why even in good times our houses sell for 10% less than comparable houses in similar areas like Miami Shores and Morningside and why even with an A Rated school within walking distance, an exceptionally low crime rate and property tax rates that are slightly below the average, homes stay on the market an average of 2 months longer.

Part of the problem is that nobody knows that we are even here. Lifelong Miami residents have often told me they didn't even know there was a neighborhood here and how nice a neighborhood it is. Others have only heard the often true sordid stories about North Bay Village and avoided it.

For the mid term, we need to fix this and it is not just a government problem. Let me emphasize that. The city has a role to play in this but so does the private sector - the developers, the real estate agents, the property managers.

First, the city has to take the initiative to assess how deep the problem is. Towards that end, the city needs to create and maintain a foreclosure registry. This will allow the city to see what properties are being foreclosed and enable NBV to track clear ownership of the property to ensure maintenance and code compliance.

Second, the city has to start sponsoring outreach to homeowners in trouble. There are programs available through the county and the federal government to help people who are falling behind in their mortgages and taxes but these programs only work if people know about them. When people start falling behind in their bills, they are often embarrassed and don't seek help. The city can make this easier by holding well publicized events in the new chambers along with these organizations. Another idea is to assess who has not yet paid their 2009 taxes and reach out with a mailing or a phone call to offer referrals and advice.

Thirdly, and probably most important, the city should sponsor a true public-private partnership with local real estate business people. Create a North Bay Village Realty Association with the goal of promoting property sales here. Actively work with the association to identify the short term fixes that might help - street cleaning or increased code enforcement. The private sector should do its part. Start advertising not just individual properties but the city itself.

Can you imagine a full page ad that might say something like "The Best Island North of the Keys"? It could contain a list of houses for sale, showing the relative bargains, tout our projects for the future, brag about our school and show pictures of the quiet, well tended homes in the middle of the Miami madness.

Why not take it over the top? Have a North Bay Village Days Weekend with a tour of the city, presentations of the projects, meet and greet the police, take a tour of the school, ask homeowners to have block parties that weekend to highlight that neighborhoods here work and have dozens of open houses both in the single family and the condos. Throw down a challenge to the banks to represent here with finance and mortgage people available to help people who might want to buy.

Make it a big splash with advertising paid for by the developers, banks and real estate agents. Promote it to the media that one city is doing something about its problems and try to get national coverage.

These are not expensive solutions and the private sector has to put some skin in the game since it's their houses that NBV wants to sell. But it requires city leadership and vision to get the ball rolling.

I have not yet seen that kind of vision. I was deeply disappointed when I approached one of the commissioners for his views on the housing crisis and only heard platitudes about how the whole country is suffering. Yeah, I noticed but my point is that it's hitting us harder.

The short term fixes of budget adjustments and decreased costs can only go so far. The long term fixes may or may not happen. Now it's time to concentrate on that middle, the hard work of consolidating and not just sitting around on our assets hoping things get better by themselves.

Kevin Vericker
February 11, 2010

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sittin on the Dock of the Bay

View from South Treasure Drive. Click to Enlarge

At the last city commission meeting, Dick Mangham of So. Treasure Drive presented a petition to the commissioners expressing concern about an ordinance that would allow 75 foot docks and perpendicular docking of boats. The petition was signed by 23 people who live on the Treasure Island waterfront.

At the first reading, the ordinance which would allow the changes was passed, meaning that at the next commission meeting, the ordinance will be read and voted on a second time.

I may be unfairly summarizing the concern that the petition signers are expressing as I know nothing about docks but there seem to be two:

  • Extending the docks out to 75 feet is not a DERM requirement and will have the effect of blocking the views of the bay that waterfront houses currently enjoy.
  • 75 foot docks are inherently unsafe in major storms.

As I mentioned, I have little knowledge of docks but I do know something about how municipal government works. A petition, no matter how well intentioned, has very little effect. The petition is easy to sign and forget.

What matters is participation and in this case, I have recommended that Mr. Mangham request meetings with each of the commission members and explain the concerns about the new ordinance.

More importantly, people who believe they will be impacted by this new ordinance have to show up at the commission meetings. This may seem unreasonable at first, after all people are elected to do this and the petitions have been presented, but by design, North Bay Village does not employ professional legislators.

The commission members are working people from the community with varying experiences and varying levels of knowledge. The city staff are the paid administrators and provide their knowledge and research to the commission but that only represents one dimension of the process.

In this case, as I understand it, the new ordinance was drafted in order to meet the needs of changing regulations and de facto docking procedures. Legally, it's a fit.

The other, less tangible issues, the effect on aesthetics, concerns about extraordinary circumstances like storms, practical safety regulations, are political judgments and the commissioners should not have make these in a vacuum. These are ordinary citizens on our commission and they depend on the community for information about what the community wants.

Let's look at the effect on So. Treasure Drive alone. A few years ago, the average property value for the land alone was $1 million. Now if we accept the Miami-Dade Property Appraisers estimate that our values declined at a rate of 26%, that puts the value at about $740,000 per lot in general terms. If the new docking ordinance has the net effect of lowering the property values by 2%, that's a loss of $14,800 per house.

I don't know how much the average hourly wage is on South Treasure Drive, but I can guess that it's not $5,000 per hour. So if every resident who was affected by this showed up at the commission meeting and stayed three hours, they are in effect making $5,000 per hour. That's not a bad return.

I hope that the owners who signed the petitions will take a little bit of time to contact the commissioners, all of them including the mayor, to let them know how they feel about the issue and make recommendations. And show up at the meeting on February 22.

Update on the February 22 Commission Meeting - I received an email yesterday pointing out that the commission meeting notice is on the web page at Go to Calendar, then choose City Meetings. But do not go to the school at 7540 E. Treasure Drive. Go to the Commission Chambers at the Lexi instead.

Kevin Vericker
February 8, 2011

Treasures on the Bay Being Foreclosed

From Peter Zalewski at Condo Vultures comes the news that the housing crisis is getting worse in North Bay Village. Treasures on the Bay has been foreclosed and is being repossessed.

Week of February 9, 2011

Owed $97.3 Million, Lender To Repossess 329 Waterfront Miami Units

A lending consortium is days away from officially repossessing 169 condo-conversion units and 160 rental apartments that front Miami's Biscayne Bay as part of a nearly $100 million foreclosure, according to a new report from

The lending consortium is poised to take title to nearly 380,000 square feet of residential space in the unfinished Treasures on the Bay three-building, condo-conversion complex in the island city of North Bay Village, located between Greater Downtown Miami and Miami Beach.

A newly formed Florida corporation managed by the Owens Financial Group Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif., has been designated to take the official title to the 329 units and two undeveloped lots after winning a court-ordered foreclosure auction on Feb. 2, 2011 with a bid of $500,100, according to Miami-Dade County records.

The foreclosure auction was the last step in repossessing the units and land following a summary judgment for $97.3 million that was issued in October 2010 by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr.

"Treasures on the Bay is a condo-conversion project that wound up being a casualty of the South Florida real estate crash," said Peter Zalewski, a principal with the Bal Harbour, Fla.-based real estate consultancy Condo Vultures® LLC. "The original condo converter successfully renovated and sold off most of the first tower, and was poised to sell off the since-renovated second tower when the market collapsed in 2007. Work never had a chance to begin on a third tower."

We can't keep our heads in the sand. This city consistently sells for less than other comparable areas and takes longer to sell. We need a housing strategy now. Where are the local investors and real estate agents who are losing money on this? Where are the homeowners whose value declines every time another home on the block falls into foreclosure? You know, apathy only takes you so far.

More about this later this week.

Kevin Vericker
February 8, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tomorrow Night Commission Meeting Postponed

There is no commission meeting tomorrow, February 8, as several members of the commission are in DC working with our federal representatives. I believe but don't know for sure that the meeting has been postponed until February 22.

There's nothing about it on our website at but then again the website has this about the police department "The Police Department is located adjacent to City Hall at 7903 East Drive on Harbor Island." which it hasn't been for years so maybe eventually it will be posted.

Kevin Vericker
February 7, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Statistics the Chief Is Not Publishing

So earlier this week, I broke my usual policy and published an anonymous letter. I did so because I believe the writer had a point and it should be shared.

Well, today I am publishing information that I got anonymously as well. The story of how it came into my hands is after the numbers.

This is a summary of the Uniform Crime Report for North Bay Village for 2010. This is information, submitted to the FDLE and the Department of Justice every year by the police force and information that has been requested every month by the commission and the chief has ignored.

North Bay Village Crime Stats 2010

Homicide 1
Aggravated Assault 8
Total Violent 9

Simple Assault 41
Threats 12
Domestic Violence 55

Property Crimes 181
Arrests 47
Percent of Arrests 26%

Value Stolen $330,716
Value Recovered $64,541
Percent Value Recovered 20%

There are some stats that jump out. Most of the value recovered were apparently 10 stolen autos accounting for a recovery value of $63,840.

That leaves non auto thefts at $266,175 and the PD recovered $701.

NBV has three full time detectives working in the city and our detectives are in charge of nonviolent crimes - violent ones go to Miami-Dade for investigation.

The average cost per detective (salary and benefits) is around $100,000 including overhead etc. It would have been a wash if the city has just reimbursed the stolen property. I'm not seriously advocating that as we need a full complement but it certainly bears looking at.

Some stats we don't have are Number of Dispatch Calls, Number of Patrols, Number of Traffic Violations, Number of Red Light Tickets, Number of Emergency Responses. Those would be good to know.

The story of how I got these numbers. In early January, on a Sunday, I came out of my house and saw the flag up on the mailbox. I looked inside and there they were. I don't have verification on their accuracy but I believe them to be accurate. They are certainly plausible.

It's a shame and a disgrace that things have reached a point in North Bay Village where even good news, that North Bay Village has an exceptionally low crime rate, is wrapped in secrecy and it's dangerous to share the information. Unlike the letter in the previous post, here I understand the need for anonymity. I'm sure whoever left it works for the city in or out of the PD and it's dangerous to be seen even talking to me for city employees. We have to shine the light on this city before it's too late.

Kevin Vericker
February 3, 2011