Friday, July 25, 2014

Happy Friday!

Shuckers reopened yesterday.  Let me clarify that


I'm thrilled.  You're probably thrilled.  The hundreds of people there last night for the opening certainly looked thrilled.  The paying customers below were pretty happy.  

 Shuckers has long been a landmark in North Bay Village, a testament that a well run business can prosper.   It's more than a bar and a grill.  With its views of the bay, lovely outdoor decks and casual vibe, it's a weeknight trip to the Keys.   

Last night was cheerful chaos.  A line out the door, every table jammed and the bar three people deep.  It was so good to see.  

Shuckers did a preview the day before with two small gatherings.  From 4 - 6 they invited the mayor and administration.  The mayor in turn invited her friends and supporters to the buffet and bar, The Schnorrers Ball  and I imagine it was fun and did not exceed $24.99.  Here's a picture of the Mayor's  private event. 
Of course it's under $25

It's nice to see that there are no hard feelings on Shuckers' part about how the mayor and administration responded after the deck collapse   (Click here for those details) but it's probably best that they were brought in privately as dealing with the public is stressful on our delicate officials..

Head over this upcoming week.  We can once again sit, meet friends, look out over the bay and just be in North Bay Village.

Kevin Vericker
July 25, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Shuckers to reopen Thursday July 24 at Noon

I have about 2000 words on Shuckers I could write but let's leave it with this.  Yeah!  We've missed it, we need it and SHUCKERS is back.   

Kevin Vericker
July 23, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Straw Budget

Let's begin with what the commission considers good news.  The recovery from the housing crisis has led to more tax revenue if the tax rate stays the same.  About $466,854, a 12% increase to the general fund.  Although our millage rate will stay at 5.4740, the increased property assessments mean an across the board raise for everyone, for the 15% of the residential properties that are homestead protected and a sharper increase for the 85% of non-homestead (rental) properties.  There was no discussion of moving the rates back to the previous millage rate and giving the owners some relief after we suffered a 22.6% tax hike for this year, the highest in the county by 9 points.  (Source:  Florida Department of Revenue

There is some new spending in the budget:  Minor things like $20,000 for a 70th birthday party, $1,500 for giveaways like pens and pads for when the village is at other government events, increasing the Animal Control Budget from $2,500 to $5,000.   (Hey, why not give them a cat instead of a pen?  It would solve two problems)  Then some major spends on a digital sign ($75,000) The largest increase is a cool $322,309 for the Police.

There was one large reduction of $96,000 for legal and a smaller one of $10,000 for planning, the rest of the reductions are fictitious, either money that was not spent in 2014 or money that was never going to be spent in 2015.   On paper it looks like $413,849 but it really about $137,000 since the other items were never going to be spent in 2015.   It's a little like claiming that you saved $345,000 this year by not buying a second home that you never intended to buy.

None of these actually relate to the key items about communications, infrastructure or recreation that the citizens said they wanted in the survey. 

The commissioners did not seriously question anything in the budget.  Jorge Gonzalez didn't even understand that keeping the millage rate the same while raising taxable value was an increase.   Mayor Kreps was glad that the police did not have to worry about accounting for ammunition at the target range, Commissioner Chervony brought up little but did note that the PAL was only funded for $2,000, not enough to have even a single program.

Commissioner Lim asked about the Dog Park and I quote the manager's response:  "Not one thin dime."  

The commission is fine with increased taxes.  The commission is fine with spending the increase on vanity projects and buying endorsements, and have not added any money for recreation programs for kids or oldsters, created no new communications programs so villagers can know what's going on and never even consider property tax relief.

The was one well discussed item - Treasure Island Elementary School and its decline this year by 60 points to a D rated school.   

Let's start with a definition:  Straw Man Argument -
 "A straw man is a common type of argument and is an informal fallacy based on the misrepresentation of an opponent's argument.  To be successful, a straw man argument requires that the audience be ignorant or uninformed of the original argument." (Source: . “Straw Man.” Straw Man Wikipedia July 2014
The discussion  was exactly that, a fictitious piece of histrionic, tearful rhetoric arguing vigorously against defunding the International Baccalaureate Program at Treasure Island Elementary School.  The thing is, it was orchestrated by one of the only two people who ever voted against the IB program - Mayor Kreps.  Four or five parents were brought in, and children sent forward, to express their shock and dismay that "people" (unnamed but on blogs) were demanding the defunding of the IB program.   The principal herself made a rare appearance to ensure her presence was noted and in a remarkable display of unprofessional behavior, initially refused to come to the dais to answer a demographic question.   She then provided the numbers and snarled that Commissioner Chervony had gotten that number wrong "in his blog."  Chervony doesn't have a blog. 

The other thing is, on this blog and Mario Garcia's blog, in the Facebook group, North Bay Village Residents Speak, nobody has suggested defunding the IB program.  Questions about why the school is failing were raised, legitimate questions, but there is no campaign to stop the IB funding. 

This was all a distraction from the real budget issues at hands and clearly a dress rehearsal for the July 29 meeting, the one where the school board will present on the issue of TIES falling from an A to a D school in four years in a year over year decline, TIES having the second sharpest drop on the FCAT scores in the county and TIES being the fight lowest ranked elementary school in the county.   A classic straw man, make something up  and then attack others for holding that position.  It's also known as lying.  

In this case, it is being done deliberately to stifle discussion of the under-performing school by the community.  Sad.  Do show up July 29 at 7:30 for the real take on the problem.  It affects all of us, not just the kids who suffer from poor education, but our property values and our community are in trouble when our schools decline.

Kevin Vericker
July 21, 2014

Monday, July 14, 2014

Treasure Island Elementary School Declines To A "D" School

The Florida Department of Education released the school grades for 2013 - 2014.  Treasure Island Elementary dropped from a "C" to a "D" school this year.  

The school has been on a steady decline now for the last four years.  In case you're thinking this doesn't affect you because you don't have kids in TIES, think again.  A "D" rating depresses property values significantly and is a sign of a community in decline.  The whole village suffers.  

Here's the history:

2000 - 2011 - "A" School
2012 - "B" School
2013 - "C" School 
2014- "D" School

Last year, North Bay Village provided an unprecedented $132,000 to fund an academic program at the Treasure Island Elementary School and along with a grant, unlike any other elementary school, NBV funded a health care program.   

There was much optimism over a new principal, Sherry L. Krubitch, who would lead the turnaround of Treasure  Island Elementary School, but from the start, she just made a lot of noise, alienated the community and the involved parents, spent our money and has refused to share her much heralded plans to at least maintain TIES.  

 Reviewing  the numbers and a full year after Dr. Krubitch took over and the village invested $132,00, we see the biggest point drop in the  last five years at TIES, a full 60 points.  Here are some of things that means:

In 2013, Treasure Island had an FCAT score of 475, ranking of C and right in the high middle of the C grade scale.  This was a letter drop from a B the previous year and a great disappointment.

In 2014, Treasure Island now has an FCAT score of 415, ranking of D and at the bottom of the D grade scale.

In 2013, TIES ranked 27 out of 48 elementary schools in Miami Dade
In 2014, TIES now ranks 43 out of 48 elementary schools in Miami Dade

For comparison, note that RK Broad and North Beach Elementary the other two schools in our feeder pattern rank 1 & 2 respectively.

Our school board member, Dr. Martin Karp, told me that he has met twice now with the head of Miami-Dade schools, Alberto Carvalho, about this decline and I hope our commission takes a similar step, holding a public workshop to explain to the citizens the specific plan to stop the deterioration of the school and turn it around.  

Kevin Vericker
July 14, 2014

Friday, July 11, 2014

News and Notes

  • Johnny Saavedra, the Village IT Manager, has had all charges dropped after his arrest in June.  According to the Miami-Dade Clerk of the Court, the charges were dropped on July 3.  I reported the initial arrest here

  • A North Bay Village Police Truck (A Ford 150) was stolen from Pelican Harbor.  As of yesterday, it had not been recovered.  

  • Treasure Island Elementary School has fallen a full letter grade this year and is now a "D" school.   This is in spite of the village funding the IB program.  

  • The Herald has an article on the Dog Park.  You can find it here.  My opinion, it was never going to happen.  We can't even fund rec programs for kids and it's part of the Mayor's grandstanding for the 2014 election.  

Probably more detail to follow.  

Kevin Vericker
July 11, 2014

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

We Don't Sell Our Votes

Quote from Commissioner Gonzalez, discussing why it was of the utmost importance to allow the commissioners accept private gifts up to $100 without reporting them.   "We don't sell our votes."  Okay.  Nobody asked him but, okay.  

The whole meeting was like that.  

During Good & Welfare, an investor got up to decry the "new people" who have pulled packets for election by saying that he heard really bad things about them and the investor thought this was terrible.  He also said everything was swell with the village and the current commission.  This was a sharp about face from his previous criticisms of the dais.  Plus it's not true.  

Sudden conversions are rare and I was curious where he got this information since just a week before, the same investor had told me how deeply he loathed the current administration and wanted to support the new ticket.  Then I found out the next day.  

In gratitude for this support, Completely unrelated to this, Harbor Island Commissioner Eddie Lim has proposed that the village allow the long dormant nightclub to be approved at 7904 West Drive, which would greatly benefit the investor while subjecting the ten floors of residential units below to a nightclub on their roof.   Seriously, it came out today that Eddie Lim is pushing for a second reading of the four year old ordinance making a night club legal at 7904 West Drive (The Bayshore Yacht and Tennis Club).  Pure coincidence, I'm sure. 

But "We Don't Sell Our Votes". 

Then the commission amiably agreed to allow the village manager to spend the remaining Parks and Recreation Impact Fund to redo Paul Vogel Park for the third time.  No discussion.  It was put on the consent agenda.   

But "We Don't Sell Our Votes"  

Following that piece of "Let's spend the money in the dark park", the commission did pull the consent agenda item regarding renewing the auditor's contract, despite the issue of this being poor fiscal practice to retain the same auditors for more than three years.  They said it was because it would totally be a hassle to get new auditors, which is sort of the point.  Better to stick with what you have so you know what the auditors overlook in case you have to squirrel some aside. 

But "We Don't Sell Our Votes"  

Moving along, they had the actual discussion of raising the gift limits.  The commissioners are required to report gifts they receive from people wanting to do business with the village, people wanting favors or influence the village agenda, if the gift exceeds $25.   They don't have to turn them down, just report them.  

You see, four of the commissioners are very annoyed that a fifth commissioner has lodged ethics complaints about unreported gifts, meals, paid attendance and other issues.   Since  the fifth commissioner was out of town last night (Commissioner Chervony) it seemed like just the right time to close the curtain on what they get for free. 

Now they might have invoked the Katy Sorenson rule - "report it all" - but Jorge Gonzalez said they shouldn't have to report trivial stuff like a cup of coffee and a danish.  He didn't mention where that costs $24.99 but I'm sure he's enjoyed several very expensive snacks at the Heat Game last year or on the trip to Isparta, Turkey which was paid for by someone.   

Mayor Kreps then launched into a bitter tirade about how much money it costs the village when these complaints are filed and how absurd it is.  She then promised to keep detailed records on all the gifts she receives so there won't be any grounds for complaint.  Ha, Ha.  Just kidding.  She then voted to close the curtain on gifts less than $100.   

All four voted to accept up to $99.99 without any public accountability.  

But "We Don't Sell Our Votes"  

After 10 PM, there was only unprofitable business to conduct so they rushed through the rest of the agenda which was a pro forma approval of a project next to Channel 7.  The mayor got totally lost on her own agenda and heard all three items together while proposing an amendment not relevant to the item being discussed.   

In a final flourish, after taking off in January, and missing the meeting on June 10 in order to attend the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) conference in San Diego, which was held on June 26 through June 28, where she was definitely not selling her votes, the mayor and Eddie Lim decided to cancel the August meeting too because, hey, August is a slow market month for votes.  Note to the Mayor:  many people find airplanes a good way to cross the country.  I assume you hitchhiked because 16 days is a long time to travel to San Diego.  Even Amtrak and Greyhound is 4 days or so. And you were never actually elected, so should you really have gone?

Jorge Gonzalez voted no on the August break and was distraught when his colleagues stood against him.  

With that, the evening came to close and I walked home in the dark rainy night, secure in the knowledge that in North Bay Village "We Don't Sell Our Votes". It just looks that way.  

Kevin Vericker
July 9, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dog Days In North Bay Village

His name is Kiko and he's a 7 year old Shih Tzu.  Kiko's not mine but he's claimed me for the last two months while his human, my friend and neighbor, is recovering from a complicated surgery.   Kiko lived with me for 8 weeks and now I take him out several times per day.   

But you see, here's the deal.  I never had a small dog before.  They are a different species than real dogs, you know, mutts of size, and I was very worried that I would not know how to care for a pleasant little fellow with 6 inch legs. 
I'm just standing up when I took this. 
That's how small he is.
So I did what I did when I first got a dog - I took him to the dog park.  We went to the one on Miami Beach and while he scuttled around, I talked with other people there and asked them about my concerns.  Everyone had advice, and pretty good advice at that.  It turns out it's not that different than regular dogs but his fur required more grooming, and no very hard treats.

Dog parks do that.  They provide a place for urban dogs to run, play, learn things from each other and they provide the same for urban dog owners.   If North Bay Village is typical, we have some 600 dogs in our city and like their owners, most live in apartments without dedicated outdoor space.  88% of our population lives in multiunit buildings.   

Recently, a new resident of the North Bay Village has been pushing for the city to find space for these dogs and their owners.  She has managed to get it on the commission agenda tomorrow night.

It's needed.  Our residents should not need to drive their dogs to Miami Beach for some exercise and our residents need to know each other better.  This is what builds community.  It will be on the agenda tomorrow night, 7:30 PM, at 1666 JFK Causeway and we need a good turnout.   

And yeah, while I adjusted to Kiko, I got him to adjust to me.  No peeing in the kitchen, no begging at the table, no barking randomly and a walk means a walk.  No getting carried.  He seems to be good with it.  

Kevin Vericker
July 7, 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sitting on the Dock in the Bay

Last night there was a presentation by Kimley-Horn to show and discuss ideas for developing bay access at the East Bridge (the one to Miami Beach.)   It was held in the commission chambers/day care center/building lobby at 1666 JFK Causeway.  Present were three members of the commission, the mayor Connie Kreps, the vice mayor Eddie Lim and Commissioner Jorge Gonzalez.  Along the side were several drawings of what the access might look like.  

The meeting starting out with Jorge Puig of Kimley Horn describing the challenge.  In an area with no land to speak of, a metal drawbridge and with no Bay Walk, Kimley Horn accepted $100,000 to create a concept plan that would join the nonexistent Bay Walk and provide access to the waterfront.   

After a Power Point presentation showing that there is a bridge there, two concepts were presented, one curvy and one less curvy.   In each concept, there would be some trees, bushes and ground cover planted on both sides of the roadway, mostly native plants but other ones as well.  There would be stairs so people could descend from the sidewalk and ascend to the sidewalk, depending on their position.   Mr. Puig suggested that North Bay Village put "something iconic" in the planted area that would represent North Bay Village but made no suggestions as to what that might be.  

But the big reveal was how this would give us, the residents Access To The Bay.  Remember the curvy, less curvy alternatives I mentioned above?   Well, the idea is to build a boardwalk that extends under the bridge between the third and fourth columns for us to stroll through.   We can choose a curvy one or a curvier one, depending on our taste.  

And with that, he opened the floor to public comment.  And comment the public did.  

The first up was a longtime resident of East Treasure Drive who brought up the long, sad history of North Bay Village and the broken promises.  The $4 million park on Harbor Island, the promise of access to the bay while simultaneously allowing building after building to block the view and close the access, the bulb outs which he doesn't like and objected to one more project that does not meet what the residents want.   

Since no one was moderating the meeting, the discussion quickly became a back and forth among those sitting in the  front row, including two of the commissioners.  Vice Mayor Lim wants fountains that would spray water from the bay into the sky, illuminated and with many colors.  This was noted.  Commissioner Gonzalez was concerned that people might use the boardwalk and wanted to know what means were being put in place to block that (seriously, I am not making that up.)  Mayor Kreps sat in the back rocking herself and singing "The Rainbow Connection" from the Muppets (okay, I am making that one up.  She never said a word.)   

One resident brought up concerns about people living under the bridge and another concerns about fishing.  Two developers were there to support the project because they think the village needs improvement.  They never commented on the quality of this project. 

Opinion Time:  Since it is a done deal, the village paid $50,000 out of our parks fund for it.  and since it will never be built as the state and county would never allow it.  and since I can't imagine that anyone in their right mind would find it a good idea to stroll under a metal drawbridge in the gloom of the daytime shadow and dark of night for relaxation, I only asked one question.  "Has any place, anywhere, to your knowledge built something like this?"  Mr. Puig, the Kimley Horn rep, first did not answer the question at all and then finally when I asked it again, said "No."   I almost felt sorry for him since he was hired to do an impossible task but that passed when I remembered they willingly grabbed the money.   

And there you have it.  A walkway that will never be built on the bay to connect a Bay Walk that the village has ignored for four years.  Now let's see how much Kimley Horn donates to the mayor's and Jorge Gonzalez's reelection campaigns.  Because that's what I think this is about.  

Kevin Vericker
July 2, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Access to the Bay

As new building projects were developed on Harbor Island, the Village gave significant reductions in impact fees and variances in exchange for access to the bay.  The following buildings all have existing conditions that require them to provide public accesss to the water: 

  • 360 The largest project in the Village.
  • Eloquence on the Bay at 7928 East Drive
  • Cielo at 7935 East Drive
  • The Adagio at 7939 East Drive
  • Blue Bay at 7927 West Drive
  • Space 01 at 7934 West Drive 
  • Blu at the northern end of West Drive (under construction)  

Only one has complied according to an internal memo presented to the commission on Feb 20, 2013, the property at 7927 West Drive.  The rest have simply ignored the requirement to provide pedestrian access to the water.   

It's important to remember that these projects sought and received significant value from the village in exchange for waterfront access.  It was an agreement made in good faith.  

Unrestricted access to the water and to the areas surrounding any building clearly creates problems and the plan all along was to develop legislation to create the rules of access, similar to park use.  Should the access be 24/7 or sunrise to sunset?  Are dogs allowed?  Fishing?  Smoking? Picnics?  Bicycles?  How about noise?  And what about the security issues?   

The commission has never, not once, dealt with these issues.  Never even brought them up for discussion and has pointedly ignored every attempt to discuss the issues of waterfront access brought to them by the residents.   This is harmful to the residents who want the access and to the ones who live in the buildings affected.   

The commission could and should deal with this now.  My recommendation would be to apply the same rules as those in place for Vogel Park - sunrise to sunset, limits on activities similar to the park.  There may need to be other considerations but ignoring the issue makes it worse for the building residents and for the village.  

The building residents need to be concerned that an agreed plan is not in place because at any time, and unpredictably, they could find themselves on the losing side of a lawsuit if they continue to deny access.  The courts have been very strict in Florida on water access.  It's much better to agree a workable plan and counter-intuitively, having a well regulated public access increases property values.  You only need to look South of Fifth in Miami Beach or along the walkway above 63rd St. to see that a vibrant public park enhances the properties.   

One resident noted on the Facebook page North Bay Village Residents Speak that the 360 had opened access and promptly suffered from acts of vandalism so the 360 closed it.  The first thing I'd say is that this is like someone deciding to close off a sidewalk because there were issues.  You're not allowed to do that.  You need to work with the police to ensure safety and no building is better connected with the village administration than the 360. 

But much more so, the 360 is in a unique position to lead the way on how this should be managed.  The president of the 360 Condo is Jorge Gonzalez who is also a sitting commissioner in North Bay Village.  He could have led the effort to ensure public safety and public access to protect the safety of the 360 residents while promoting the community.   Gonzalez could have done that, and still may yet, but in his two years, he has shown little interest in any of the quality of life issues in North Bay Village.  Gonzalez first voted for an unworkable permit plan to address the parking issue on Harbor Island and then dropped the subject.  Gonzalez has never brought the Master Rec Plan forward and certainly has not once addressed the waterfront access issue except to vote for a $100,000 giveaway for an engineering firm to make a drawing of a crosswalk on Treasure Island that will never be built.  

It seems that Commissioner Gonzalez only responds when free suites to the Heats game are offered (click here for that story.) or all expense paid trips to the Near East are in play.  (click here for that one.)  

I have little hope that the current commission will do anything more on the waterfront access than they have done on the parking problem, the dirty sidewalks, the Tot Lot or the coding issues but it would behoove them to try.  

Kevin Vericker
July 1, 2014