Sunday, June 12, 2011

Someone Threw Down A Challenge at Me

One of things that surprises me while writing this blog is that various people have asked me why I am not more positive. And the weird part is that I think I am positive, but if enough intelligent people are seing something else, I need to look at that.

In the recent back and forth on bullying, and I will have more about that this week, one reader sent an email to me and to the CFD where he asks "[what are your] positions on

  • Proposed strip clubs or gentlemen’s clubs in NBV.
  • Ways to increase the commercial businesses in our islands
  • Ways to improve the property values
  • Ways to wisely spend the City’s money. For example, the recreation park in Harbor Island is under-used.
  • Ways to motivate our citizens to get involved in our community
  • Ways to fix the ineffective NBV City government

  • Now I don't really know that I am obligated to have the solutions for everything I point out but since I have written in detail about each of these in the past, I did reply. Here's an edited version of what I replied. (Since I know the person and did not seek permission to quote him, I have edited the responses. My original reply was rougher and named more names. If he wants to share that, fine by me. I wrote it, signed it and I own it.)

    • Strip Club - This refers to the property at 1415 JFK Causeway, adjacent to Channel 7. It is the only legal property to have such an establishment. The commission rejected plans for the building citing nonconformance with zoning rules and concern about the use.

      I'm against it. The fact that it's legal does not mean it's obligatory. I do not believe that we need to anchor our baywalk with a strip club and do not believe it will enhance the city.

      I also noted that Eddie Lim has consistently voted for it, as did former Commissioner Trujillo, both of whom received generous campaign contributions from the developer.

      I am sympathetic to the need to develop this property and note that the developer owes $885,056 in unpaid taxes on the lot which is money we need. Developing the site is good, but how is a big question.

      Corina Esquijarosa has reached out to the developer to work with the city to find another use, jointly promoted by both and beneficial to both, only to be ignored.

      Our commission, our city manager, the developer should be working together to come up with a profitable and enhancing use for this property. There is no city, no neighborhood, that has ever been improved by a strip club.

    • Ways to Improve the Causeway Businesses - Most are dying, some are dead. Parking and permitting are huge issues. Corina Esquijarosa has proposed a Business Improvement District, an item the commission has not taken up.

      This falls squarely on the City Manager in our "weak commission, strong city manager" government. There is a marketing plan, there was money in the budget for public relations and promotion, there are and have been proposals to form a city sponsored business council but nothing has happened.

      The effect of this is that our tax base is out of balance with the burden falling primarily on the homeowners. This has to change.

      And I am going to note that Matthew Schwartz was executing the marketing plan, had been working with business owners and potential business owners, and had the plan well underway when he was fired for displeasing the police union. The firing was orchestrated by Connie Kreps and the CFD. Well, have you seen what has happened since?

    • Ways to Improve the Property Values - This is our core issue. The drop here is higher than almost everywhere else in the county and staggering compared to other beach adjacent cities. Over-development is one cause. We’re stuck with that for the time being but the single largest thing we could do to help the property values recover is to start a foreclosure registry. Now that seems like a small policy fix, but it actually has big implications. By having a foreclosure registry, we would produce money to maintain the abandoned properties – you know cut the lawn, clean the garbage, etc. Then we would be able to have an accurate census of foreclosed properties. If we had that in place in 2010, we would have been eligible for over $2m in Neighborhood stabilization grants from the feds. This money can be used for housing rehabilitation, for finance, for citywide marketing plans, very liberal uses, but we could not produce the numbers.

      The mayor proposed and the commission passed an instruction to start the foreclosure registry. But it has been stonewalled even though it is a self financing program. I can’t prove this but I believe that the real estate developers stand against it because it could affect the value of the properties if the extent of the problem were known. But it’s huge. Unscientific sample – on as of June 11, 2011, there are 322 properties for sale in NBV. Trulia then lists 104 in foreclosure. 33%. This is horrifying.

      I have for some time been talking to real estate agents, developers and finance people about a public private partnership to promote the properties here. Something like a North Bay Village Days with a citywide open house, finance people on site, special menus at the restaurants, presentations by the police and the school on the island. I brought the idea to Eddie Lim, who told me he would not talk about it. The professionals I’ve talked to love the idea but there is no action.

      Still if we got he inventory down from 322 to around 150, our deficit would disappear. And nobody, not the commission, not the city manager, not the real estate professionals, not the developers are doing anything about it.

    • Ways to wisely spend the City’s money. For example, the recreation park in Harbor Island is under-used - The park is a boondoggle and a goat rope. It is badly located, we paid $4 million for it in a shady deal. NBV still has not submitted the grant request for the county to buy it and probably won’t.

      The larger issue of how the money is spent is a story of mismanagement. The police have busted the budget.

      There have been no personnel cuts, Many of the police have gotten raises by a transparently false promotion scheme. The chief is using scarce trust funds to investigate unpopular cops for routine personnel matters. The legal bills are through the roof. The $80,000 spent on the move of the city hall was never challenged. The projects have no serious oversight and you've seen how the wall has dragged on at Harbor Island.

      (Side note: could anything be uglier than the way Jumbo Buffet was wrecked? It looks like it was vandalized.)

      Corina Esquijarosa has tried to get a handle on the routine overspending by questioning any extraordinary items brought for her signature and the CM’s response was to have the Vice Mayor sign the checks so the mayor would not see them. That's illegal by the way.

      The best example is the outsourcing of the garbage. It may save as much as $120,000 per year, or 2% of our operating budget, while eliminating jobs and side yard pickup. The savings were misrepresented as $500,000 per year by the city manager and that's been allowed to stand.

      If the city had instead been honest, restricted salaries, collected moneys owed on properties developed without permits and inspections, we would have already realized these savings.

      Until there is transparency, there's no hope. We can realize savings. We can improve our revenues. We don't need to cut the core services - the police, the sanitation, the recreation programs. But we have to be able to see and understand the money.

      The commission, every member, all five, are abdicating their responsibilities when they do not review the full financial situation in public each month.

    • Ways to motivate our citizens to get involved in our community
      and Ways to fix the ineffective NBV City government
      - I'm putting these two together. Let me quote my response to the original writer:

      I am throwing these two back at you. Why are people ... not at every commission meeting? Why have the apartments finished without code permits not been brought up at every Good and Welfare discussion? Why has the city hall move which has ruined any chances of filling the retail space at the Lexi not been a constant refrain?

      I’m one guy. I bring these issues up. There are other people and we don’t think in lockstep. But for bringing them up, we get attacked viciously and purposefully. You saw that yesterday. A resident brings up her issues with the recall and how it’s being done. Five minutes later, she is the target of anonymous personal attacks having nothing to do with the recall and an hour later, the target of the same attacks this time signed by the CFD.

      I think people are afraid. And maybe they should be. We've seen time and again what happens to residents who brings these issues up. But that’s not reason enough to be silent in my view.

      This government can’t be fixed until people get involved. Our city is run by the commission and it's time to hold them accountable to fix these problems.

    I throw that same challenge down to the CFD who were also on the email address. I've long offered to open the blog to anyone with a different point of view and in the past nearly got there with the CFD. The sticking point has been the rules of the blog. No libels (that is anything you cannot prove about a person) and no obscenities. If the CFD wants a broader platform as I am currently getting 400 discrete readers in Miami-Dade weekly, I will publish their responses to the same questions but I stress again, if the response to these questions contain libels or obscenities, I won't publish it.

    In summary, there are major problems, far bigger than Corina Esquijarosa have a foreclosure and a tax problem, but these remain unaddressed. I will continue to bring them up and will continue to offer space to anyone who wants to address the issues, not the people.

    Note: I tried a new blog formatting tool today. It didn't work very well, I think, so if the text looks choppy, I apologize. And I ask my regular eagle eyed copy editor reader to point out any misspellings, typos etc. Seriously, I really appreciate it.

    Kevin Vericker
    June 12, 2011

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