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CRESPOGRAM REPORT

MAY 11, 2012

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED
$50 MILLION FOR OVERTOWN?

Having grown up in Miami, when I came home in the 80’s, I came to realize the disastrous after-effects that followed the actions of the local power brokers in the 1960‘s as they destroyed what was the thriving Black community of Overtown by bulldozing it down and sticking the juncture of I-95/I-395 on the land.


Then in the years that followed, there was the loose conspiracy between the originally White establishment that became more Latin, and a handful of Black politicians and preachers who managed - regardless of all the fake promises and half-hearted efforts to undo the ravages of the neglect visited on what was left of Overtown - as they made sure that the whole area north of downtown would remain ignored and underdeveloped until it was needed for northward development.


A big chunk of the vacant land in the OMNI CRA District came close earlier this year to being consumed into the overarching development plans related to the Genting Casino Project, only to have those plans temporarily sidetracked by the refusal of the Florida Legislature to pass  any Casino Resort legislation.


Given the way that the Legislature works however, there is every possibility that the failure this year was little more than an effort to try and syphon as much money from the casino interests as possible in lobbying fees and under-the-table bribes before starting the process all over again during the next session where some sort of deal will be worked out giving Genting and several other mega  casino operators most, if not all of what they want. 


Money talks, and bullshit walks, and the one thing that the casino folks have is a lot of money!


On the West side of the tracks, what remains of the actual Black community that was once Overtown, continues to be and look like  pretty much of an occupation zone.


Earlier this week I found myself following a Miami Police cruiser making its way North on NW 2nd Avenue through the heart of the ghetto and watched the wary looks of the people along the street as the cruiser went by. They were looks that one would never see directed at a police car in a middle-class neighborhood.  


Last year in an area totaling around 60 city blocks I took photos of over 70 empty lots that make the area look like the aftermath of what communities look like after a a tornado or hurricane comes through, and the rubble is hauled away.


Only in Overtown, a lot of these lots have been empty for decades.


Folks in other parts of Miami don’t give a shit what happens in Overtown and neither does the news media, because most of what does happen is bad. 


What media coverage the area gets is mostly negative because it’s the center of drive-by shootings, police killings and persistent Black on Black violence.


After years of neglect, the area has come to symbolize what really ugly poverty looks like, all underscored by a per-capita income of around $13,000 a year, making it the poorest area in the poorest city in America.


So, it’s at this point that folks who care about the future could probably entertain supporting the expenditure of the $50 million in bond money now being proposed by Commissioner Spence-Jones through the SOEPW CRA, if the money would actually go to make a change in both the community and in the local people’s lives.


$50 million is the kind of serious money needed to make a difference and try to undo some of the ravages left behind by the decades of neglect. No other part of the City of Miami has been the subject of so many broken promises and unmet obligations as has Overtown, and $50 million at this point almost amounts to a good faith payment intended to make amends for what the community has been subjected to over the decades of neglect.


The problem is that all of this is being attempted by using the SEOPW CRA as the front for floating the bond issue, and in Miami, the CRA’s - OMNI and SEOPW - have long been considered as little more than a giant slush fund/Ponzi Scheme operated to benefit the politicians and not the residents of the CRA Districts.


Worse, under the direction of Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff, and his hand-picked Executive Director Pieter Bockweg, along with his sidekick Assistant Executive Director Bert Gonzalez, the CRA’s have taken on the coloration of a gangster’s paradise where scheming and smoozing are considered the way to get CRA money.


Perhaps some folks have forgotten the story I wrote last year about how I discovered the email that revealed how Bert Gonzalez coached Steve Haas, owner of the then soon to be opened City Hall restaurant on his efforts to get money from the CRA.

Of course, the $142,000 that Haas was after was chump change to the almost $9 million that Commissioner “Ethics” Sarnoff steered to one of his closest pals, the developer Tibor Hollo, for a high-end hotel that he wanted to build East and North of the OMNI Center.


All of these were Sarnoff deals, orchestrated by Bockweg and Gonzalez, and he’s never come up against a law that he didn’t figure he could bully or cajole someone into breaking if it suited his purposes, especially if that purpose was to use CRA money as a way to spread the wealth among his political pals.


Now, all of a sudden, as a Miami Herald story reported this morning, Sarnoff is all concerned about Spence-Jones efforts to raise $50 million through a bond issue because:

“Still, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff expressed concern about the $50 million loan needed to finance the proposed Overtown investment given that the city is preparing a $45 million Omni CRA bond issue to cover its share of the Port of Miami tunnel’s cost.
“The city has a legal obligation to pay $45 million,” he said. “We have to pay Wells Fargo in June 2014. If we don’t pay or refinance, we can be in default,” Sarnoff said.”

For those who are unclear of what the Commissioner is talking about, it’s a story that I exclusively reported on December 16, 2010, when I discovered that departing City Manager Carlos Migoya had left a ticking time bomb behind in the form of a $50 million loan that he, along with Commissioner “Ethics” persuaded the City Commission to take out to cover the OMNI CRA”s debt obligation to cover these costs associated with the Tunnel Project.


The repayment was $5 million in 2011, and $45 million in 2012.  If the City fails to repay the loan, and if the CRA fails to float a bond issue to get the $45 million, then the City of Miami is, according to the term sheet of the deal, hooked in a very serious way.

Since ALL of this is Commissioner Sarnoff’s responsibility as Chairman of the OMNI CRA, one has to wonder why his CRA is ONLY NOW, in May of 2012, revealing that they have yet floated a bond issue to cover this debt?


Of course, as bad as all of this is, things are actually a whole lot worse because all of the City of Miami’s CRA’s could very well be operating illegally. 


This is not a new contention, and I’ll bet that this news will come as no surprise to many folks, given that a lot of what passes for city business is done illegally, often under the totally bogus legal opinions of part-time rocket scientist and City Attorney Julie Bru.


In a legal opinion written in 2004, the late David Cardwell, then one of Florida’s legal experts on CRA’s, argued that the creation of multiple CRA’s within the boundaries of a city or county to  deal with areas of slum or blight was illegal, and that all of these areas should fall under the umbrella of ONE CRA.


Here is his legal opinion.

Even more problematic are questions that Professor Frank Schnidman, the Director of the Center For Urban Redevelopment Education (CURE) at FAU, continues to raise regarding the requirement to amend the City of Miami’s Comprehensive Plan to reflect these latest redevelopment plans proposed by Commissioner Spence-Jones, because if these items are not part of the City’s Redevelopment Plans then Tax Increment Funds can’t be used.


All of this requires having to go through a review and approval process that includes taking the plan before the Miami-Dade County Commission.


Of course, none of these particular plans, or Sarnoff’s plans, or anyone else’s CRA plans have followed this process, anymore than either the County Commission or the City Commission has bothered to follow the County Commission’s billboard ordinance.  The process for this bond issue will go before the County Commission for approval.


When it comes to the CRA’s and the expenditure of money, it’s pretty much been a “Remember, I told you to smooze the commissioners” approach as to who gets money, and who doesn’t.


It will be interesting therefore to watch as this afternoon as to whether Commissioner Spence-Jones is able to pull this off by brining in busloads of folks to the Commission meeting to rally behind her proposal, or whether Commissioner Sarnoff - even while he’s off in London with his pal Jay Solowsky - and the Regalado administration conspire behind the scenes to block the deal from going through.


If I were a betting man, and I sometimes am, the only bet I’d feel comfortable in making is that the odds are always going to favor those out to screw the folks living in Overtown!


They’ve been doing it for so long, they figure it’s an entitlement that comes with being a corrupt politician!


For once I’m happy to write that I was wrong, and that the folks in Ovetown saw something go their way.


It’s Miami, Bitches!

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THURSDAY NIGHT UPDATE
BY A 4-0 VOTE, THE MIAMI CITY COMMISSION VOTED TO PUSH FORWARD THE PROPOSAL FOR THE $50 MILLION TO BE USED TO BUILD LOW INCOME HOUSING AND RETAIL SPACE IN OVERTOWN, ATTEMPTING TO FULFILL A PROMISE MADE TO THAT COMMUNITY AT THE TIME THAT THE CITY AND THE COUNTY ENTERED INTO THE GLOBAL AGREEMENT THAT LEAD TO THE FINANCING THE OPERATION OF THE ARSHT CENTER AND THE PORT TUNNEL AND  ALLOWING THE COUNTY’S GENERAL REVENUE FUNDS TO BE FREED UP FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE BASEBALL STADIUM. 

I’VE MADE SEVERAL CORRECTIONS BELOW BASED ON WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE MEETING.