Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Public Safety and Gates

The subject of gating Treasure Island is back in discussion.

Gated communities typically have a staffed guardhouse who note all cars and other traffic entering a neighborhood.  They don't have the power to stop someone or even question their purpose in entering but they do add a visible layer of security to a neighborhood.  North Bay Island is gated as is Normandy Isle around the golf course and other neighborhoods throughout Miami.  

The subject of gating Treasure Island has come up several times over the last decade and in 2006 there was a study showing how it might be done.  It's complicated for any community but particularly for one with the geography and demographics of Treasure Island.  

First of all, it would be only the single family homes in the gated area.  The actual gating would have to be approved by 60% of the houses with a homestead exemption. 

Gating costs are taxed separately.  Currently the cost on North Bay Island is around $1,400 per year and is not based on home value.  The gating is handled by the county and out of local control.  

Secondly, there has to be accomodation for public institutions such as the nursing home, the KLA school and any impact on Treasure Island Elementary must be considered.  The process is long and expensive.  

I don't like the idea.  There are cheaper and more effective public safety measures for a neighborhood such as ours.  Camera surveillance of cars entering and leaving has become incredibly sophisticated and much cheaper than in years past.  Anyone who ran a red light and got a ticket can attest to that.  

Community groups like Crime Watch and block associations are proven to be effective against property and personal crimes, while highly visible policing serves as a major deterrent.  

 There is also very little evidence that gating reduces crime/  Those urban neighborhoods, like ours, which have kept crime at low levels generally have a strong sense of community which is difficult to maintain in a barricaded enclave and "eyes on the street", a visible local presence.  

In considering this issue, I would recommend reading Fortress America:  Gated Communities in the United States    about the rise of gated communities since the 1980's or at least the abstract published at the National Housing Institute's Web Site.  

Kevin Vericker
Jan 30, 2013  

Monday, January 21, 2013

I Cover the Waterfront

In my last two posts, I showed what Harbor Island and Treasure Island look like to pedestrians.  It's not pretty and if we can't take care of what we have at no cost to the Village, then how can the Village spend millions to make the Causeway "beautiful"?   

In a similar vein, there is discussion about laying out a $1,000,000 for a parcel of land on South Treasure Drive and developing a pocket park on the water.  

Here's the parcel in question.  It's lovely and the owner deserves respect for maintaining it well.  It would be nice to have  access to the waterfront on Treasure Island but here's the kicker.  We already do have access and a lot of it.  

All the waterfront condominiums built during the condo craze have rock solid requirements to provide public access to the waterfront.  And the buildings do provide openings on paper, but they lock it or threaten you to prevent anyone from walking on the public access spots.  

 Trespassers on the Bay - I mean Treasures on the Bay is at the corner of E. Treasure and S. Treasure.  When the 3 buildings were approved for condo conversion, it was explicitly conditional on public water access.  This sign wrongly asserts that if you walk the boardwalk, you are trespassing.  While I've never seen it enforced, I have heard from others that they have been told to leave.   

The  Bridgewater - On the north side of the Causeway, you will find the Bridgwater with a lovely landscaped walk along the bay, blocked by a permanently locked gate.   I snuck over to take a picture.  Looks pretty nice. 

1625 JFK Causeway (The Large Yellow Building) - Unlike the Bridgewater or the Treasures, they don't even bother to pretend.  Here's the gate and when you sneak through and look at the back, they never even put a walkway in.  

Access on West Drive
 Harbor Island - I covered these in previous posts but just to remind you, the 360 and all of the other new buildings have created access points and then permanently barred them. 
Access on East Drive

360 Access Point

Access on East Drive


Look, here's the deal.  The City, now Village, very intelligently included water access in exchange for coding variances, parking variances, height variances, building variances and in some cases tax abatements.  At no time did the city take someone's land, it simply made allowances in consideration of.   The condos block our views of the water, strain our traffic, parking and infrastructure and this access was our trade off.   And they are not living up to the bargain.   

Now there is talk again of making a waterfront park on Treasure Island.   The thing is, we already have waterfront access.  If we are going to give it up, lay out several million for a small (but lovely) pocket park and give up our rights to the water elsewhere, then the condos should pay, not us.  That would be expensive and make everyone unhappy.   

A much better, zero cost solution, would be for the village to assert its rights to public access.     We need solutions, not more debt.

special note:  I will not be posting until at least next week.  But I'll be watching.   

Kevin Vericker
January 21, 2013 

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Walk to Harbor Island

Continuing from yesterday, I walked the streets of Harbor Island today, joined by Commissioner Chervony.  Harbor Island is the second most populous neighborhood in the village and is all multi-unit housing of mixed low rise and mid-rise buildings.   So I set off on foot, crossing the bridge to Harbor Island.  

View of the flat bridge walkway looking east

So here's the first thing you notice on the bridge.  There's no barrier between the traffic and the pedestrians.  Not on the north side of the bridge anyway.

However, on the south side, the FDOT has erected this dog pound fence, ugly and poorly constructed, and claims it is there for safety reasons.   I guess they figure that people walking to and from North Bay Island are more valuable 
than those walking to Harbor Island. 

Ariving on Harbor Island, I go to cross to West Drive at the three way intersection of East Drive, West Drive and Larry Pankow Way.  Naturally, there's no cross walk.  

After succesfully and illegally crossing the street, I find out that the sidwalks here are not nearly as obstructed as Treasure Island.  Mostly because there aren't any, at least not on the west side of the street.  Well, not entirely.  Here's a vestige of a sidewalk in front of the Islander.   It surprises me the number of Harbor Islanders who complain about parking but since half of them have no option but to drive wherever they need to go, I guess I can see why.  

At least the abandoned property at 7918 West Drive (you can tell by the mailbox) no longer is just rusted rebar.  The weeds have reclaimed it.  Fortunately nobody lives here. It just sits breeding vermin and mosquitoes

This lovely garden spot is maintained by the 360 Condo.  It's actually the public access path to ensure that all residents have access to the water.  It's beautifully landscaped and completely locked with no signage.   But it is ours.  

Here are two more public access points to the waterfront, blocked off and unnoted.  

So Harbor Island, where most of our new residents and young families are living, where the city has spent millions on a pocket park, where parking is so tight that it is by permit only, wins the award for the least pedestrian friendly neighborhood in the village.  

Look, this matters.  Young families have moved into the neighborhood and have kids and old people, who maybe would like to get to the park without risking their lives.  

Miami-Dade Transit is actually not bad and buses to Miami Beach and to the transfer points in Miami run about every 10 minutes.  It's actually possible to live without a car or at least minimally using one and that would alleviate some of the vehicular overcrowding and parking congestion.  

A healthy community needs access to the community.  People should be able to walk to the park, to the businesses, to catch a bus.  Many won't but for those who will, a sidewalk, a walk light that works (none of walk lights on the north side of the causeway work) and a chance not to get killed crossing the street are the bare minimums.  If Harbor Island has any hope, we need to forget about putting any more money in that stupid park and start putting a few bucks in things that work.   

And for the grand finale, I walked back on the south side of the flat bridge, feeling very unprotected by the fence and came across another blocked Treasure Island sidewalk that I overlooked on Saturday's walkabout.  

Kevin Vericker
January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Walking the Ugly Streets of North Bay Village

On Friday, I felt the need to drop $18 for two pounds of artesanal pasta and so ventured on foot to the Farmers Market from my house on Hispanola.  Along the way I was thinking about all the time and money the village expends on visualizing a new Causeway to bring prosperity to North Bay Village.  Not that I had much time to think between ducking the traffic on the Causeway and weaving around the many obstacles.  

The truth is that it is not worth a single penny to invest in infrastructure when we allow what we do have to be treated like garbage.  Our police chief claims that he drives each street in the village at least once a week, which he might do, and he fails to notice the decrepit parking lot that he put next to the city hall.  

We have a full time code enforcer who could walk the streets once a week and get them fixed up at no cost to the village by doing his job.  

The fact is that North Bay Village is unnecessarily unpleasant and dangerous for a pedestrian.  Our lack of code enforcement, our own residents sense of entitlement allow them to abuse our public right of way, and our police chief's lack of respect for how the village looks,  have created a unappealing mess of a street scape.  

The Farmer's Market is a perfect example.  It should be a pleasant stroll for the majority of the village residents, an entertaining place to bring the family, and it's not.  The only safe way to get there is to drive an absurdly short distance, fight for parking, and then get back in the car to join the  traffic jam.  

I took a walk yesterday with a camera and everything you see below would not cost the village a single dime to get fixed, except for maybe  the lines needed to create a crosswalk on Adventure.   The owners need to be cited and if they don't remove the obstructions, fined and let the village use the money to fix it.  The police chief needs to fix that mess and relocate the debris to the city lot or get the landlord to properly fence it.  

Unless and until we can maintain basic standards on our streets, laying out money for the Causeway is throwing it down a well.  

The Tour (click on the pictures for detail)

Let's start our walking tour by heading north on Hispanola where the first obstacle you encounter is the west sidewalk completely blocked by shrubbery.  This has been reported at least twice in the last year.

Then cross the Causeway to the north side, and you find this amazing 10 inch high bus bench for the unprotected bus stop.  It's useless and ugly. 

Crossing the Causeway to the south, and here you'll notice that the Walk button doesn't work, giving you about 30 seconds to move across six lanes on foot, make a left and what you see is our North Bay Village Police Department Junk Yard - wire fencing, green plastic ripped and floating in the breeze, a large dumpster and cars, boats and other things strewed haphazardly in a lot that the village pays $1400 per month for.  It's an undisciplined mess that reflects badly but accurately on our police leadership. 

Now walk west along the Causeway.  These lovely trees, and they are lovely, would do any landscaping proud, but why exactly does Sushi Siam have the right to cut the sidewalk in half and force able bodied pedestrians to walk single file and good luck getting a wheelchair or a baby stroller by this one? 

 If you survive passing these trees, your next obstacle is these bushes which also block the sidewalk on Adventure.  


We're going to make a left and continue south on Adventure  but not before noting that is no crosswalk at the corner.  None at all.  Technically to continue across Adventure, you need to go one block south, cross and and walk one block north.   

Continue south on Adventure and you'll notice one of the several houses who strew their cars along their front lawn.   

Finally turn left at the southeast corner on Adventure and South Treasure Drive and you are confronted with these overgrown hedges.  

Stuart Blumberg asked the question, "Where's the pride?"  Not in our code enforcement or police leadership, that's for sure.  

Next up - just to try to walk Harbor Island.  

Kevin Vericker
January 13, 2013 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Walls and Barriers

The commission met on Tuesday night with a fairly full agenda.  I won't go through all the detail but if you need more information, check out Mario Garcia's blog here.

  • Legal Services were finally considered and agreed.  Weiss Serota remains as General Counsel and Land Use Counsel, while Bryant, Miller and Olive will resume their previous position as labor counsel. 

    The commission handled this well by carefully reviewing the qualifications of each applicant, reviewing them publicly and ignoring unseemly pressure from the old guard to put their people in.  There is a next step and commissioner Gonzalez will manage the final contract negotiation for commission approval in February.  Overall, we are well on our way to getting the legal bills under control.
  • Police Chief Robert Daniels once again blew off his primary reporting responsibility to the commission and did not have even the basic statistics for the meeting.  His excuse was that the demands of the poorly delivered 2 hours on Crime Watch had overwhelmed his capacity to report anything. 

    If the police chief simply reduced his time making excuses and actually did things, he would find more time to get his stuff done.  Still no word on the neighborhood watch meeting but he assured the commission he's on it. 

    In the meantime, another lawsuit has been filed against the city by a member of the police department.  
  • Almost lost in all the business was a $118,000 matter regarding the Apartheid Wall surrounding North Bay Island.  It's all very complicated but apparently what seems to have happened is that when the wall was proposed and proposals solicited, the city included a standard contracting procedure requiring the contractor to post a performance bond, essentially an insurance instrument designed to cover costs in the event that the contractor cannot deliver, usually through the contractor going out of business. 

    Somewhere, somehow, this standard condition did not make it to the final contract.   It's not clear who eliminated it or who approved the contract without the clause, but it went through.  And the contractor went out of business.  

    This has left the village on the hook for $118,000, a sum that the village hoped to cover from state grants.  But apparently that's not possible.  

    Some money has been found in the operating budget to cover the $118,000 and North Bay Village is laying it out. 

    This is an extraordinary circumstance and requires much more consideration than it is being given.  

    I have never seen a government contract executed without a performance bond anywhere else.  I wonder if the contractor, clearly already in trouble, could not qualify for the bond since it is insurance against failure and had it struck.   Regardless, it was not a simple oversight and should be investigated.

  • I guess the final big piece was the performance evaluation by three commissioners of the village manager, Dennis Kelly.  In a nutshell, they feel that there are communication issues which have caused problems to the village.   This poor evaluation resulted in Dennis Kelly not getting a performance bonus.  

    What's not clear to me is what happens next.   In a normal circumstance, the expectations would laid out and results  monitored but I'm not sure that's happening.  For me, this is a bit of cognitive dissonance as my experience in a variety of matters with Kelly is that he has been very clear and follows up well on the various subjects.  He doesn't always agree but that's part of it.  Nevertheless, it seems that the expectations and realities of the commission are different.  I hope it can get worked out well and soon.  

    Kevin Vericker
    January 11, 2013

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Correction On The Blog About Legal Services

I made a mistake in my last blog post. I wrote that Switkes was the city attorney when the original flawed Adult Entertainment Ordinance was crafted and adopted.  He was not.  It was done after his tenure.  

This doesn't change my opinion that we are better off retaining Weiss Serota as I still feel that  Weiss Serota on balance has given us good service and will be better suited to control our legal expenses, but I don't like saying things that aren't correct.  I hate admitting I'm wrong but would rather do that than be out there with wrong stuff.  

In the meantime, you should read Mario Garcia's take on the legal services here.   

Let's see how Tuesday shapes up.  The agenda is here

Kevin Vericker
January 6, 2013 


Friday, January 4, 2013

Our Attorney Bernie

I tried to find a witty quote about lawyers to start this post about our legal services, but I couldn't.  They're all incredibly depressing and often mean spirited.   You know what would be really awesome?  If governments would make laws sufficiently consistent and plain that lawyers would only be needed in truly exceptional circumstances.  But that's not the case and every routine matter of government and business requires legal support.   

North Bay Village is in the process of deciding whether to keep the current city attorneys or bring in a new firm or rehire a previous attorney.  The process has been going on for quite some time and looks to be finished next week at the Tuesday commission meeting.  

The commission met last night in special session for a presentation by each of the bidding firms.  There were four, well really three, and they each presented on their responses to the  RFQ (request for quote) issued last year.   I was at the meeting and here are my observations.  

The legal services cover three areas.  General government, land use and zoning, and labor.   Two of the responding companies bid as a team to cover all three areas, while the other two were all inclusive.  
First up was Bryant Miller and Olive, who focus exclusively on labor.  They employ Jim Crosland who had been our labor attorney in the past.   David Miller, the partner, presented and laid out their strategy and billing on a retainer to the city.  

David Miller laid out his firm's success in a previous labor dispute that saved NBV up to $500,000 and spoke about the advantages of having a separate firm managing labor law.   

Next was Gray Robinson, a firm with no experience in North Bay Village, but extensive experience in other South Florida municipalities.  They propose to manage all three aspects of the legal services and their presenter clearly demonstrated that they have the staff and experience.   

Then Switkes and Rosen, the firm that was the city attorney before Joe Geller before Weiss Serota.  Switkes is proposing to manage general government and land use, as he used to, yet oddly spoke at great length about his experience in prevailing in labor issues.   He knows the village, knows the history and has a generally good reputation.  

Finally our current law firm, Weiss Serota presented.   They have been with us since 2010.  Weiss Serota brought all three disciplines to present on their current situation and their experience.   

So Tuesday the commission will decide.   I think they did a good job of evaluating the various offers and although it can be tedious, took the right amount of time.  

My opinion - Switkes/Crosland was our attorney for several years and while they did a good job, they had a hand in two of the more difficult lingering issues.  

The first was the Adult Entertainment Ordinance which created a number of lawsuits and required extensive revisions.  This was drawn up by the legal team that Switkes contracted and should have been better.   It was necessary to completely revise it last year and cost us a lot in lawsuits. 

The second was a particular clause negotiated in the police contract that gives the employees the right to an arbitration for any significant discipline.  This has cost us a fair amount over the years and has led to some very poor management decisions in the police department.  

On the other hand, Weiss Serota has been our attorney for three years (more or less) and at last fixed the Adult Zoning Ordinance, so props for that. In fact, the biggest criticism of Weiss Serota is that they cost too much.  That was a fair criticism and one that they addressed in detail during their presentation.   

Nina Boniske spoke at some length about how Weiss Serota moved to a retainer billing last year rather than hourly, about the issues that needed cleaning up and uniquely about Weiss-Serota efforts to help the village change the processes that lead to unnecessary lawsuits.  

There is no serious criticism of the job that Weiss Serota has done for North Bay Village and it's not reasonable to hold them accountable for the legal bills presented by the failed recall effort of Corina Esquijarosa (she was bullied out of office by the same people who now want to fire the attorneys).  In fact, the only reason I can think of to get rid of Weiss Serota is that when the city loses the next poorly executed police personnel action, there will  be a scapegoat.   

Overall, I think we should keep them.  I hope the administration starts paying attention to the advice they provide, and that Weiss Serota follows through on the plan to educate the commission and in particular the police department on how to operate inside the law.  It will be interesting to see what happens next Tuesday.  

Kevin Vericker
January 4, 2013