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David Arthur Walters

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Miami Beach House of Equivocation - Affordable Housing for Artists

9/3/2007 8:14:00 AM

by David Arthur Walters


Art Politics - the poor and talented will probably not qualify

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
Miami Beach, Florida 33139

 

Words: 6,700

 

 

 

 

 

 

MIAMI BEACH CITY HALL,

HOUSE OF EQUIVOCATION,

AND ITS CHIEF PROPAGANDIST,

THE MIAMI HERALD,
AND THE ANTI-ART POLITICS

OF SOUTH BEACH,

A POSTMODERN TITLE
BY

DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS

 

 

 

 

Will struggling artists and other cultural arts workers, whether they are employed or not, qualify for affordable housing in South Beach’s newly gentrified art district? One never knows, given the official equivocation of Miami Beach City Hall, where fruit is fruit hence apples are oranges and oranges are apples, and given the biased reports of its chief propagandist, the Miami Herald.

 

One thing is for sure, those who have much will get a lot more, and those who have much less will get even less or nothing at all. And we can be sure that, wherever the interest of the power elite is at stake, the customer and the voter who objects or who asks too many questions is always wrong.

 

This author’s reasonable attempt in polite language to bring forward sufficient facts for the public to make a well-informed decision was described by the Miami Herald on September 2, 2007 as a “rail” – defined by Houghton Mifflin’s College Dictionary as ‘to condemn or attack in bitter or abusive language.’ 

 

‘David Arthur Walters, a South Beach resident, has railed against CANDO on City Debate, a website critical of [Miami Beach Mayor] Dermer and City Hall, saying the guidelines [for so-called affordable housing for artists] are still too high. Indeed, most so-called cultural arts workers I know, in marked contrast to cultural arts managers, executives, and directors, make less than $28,509,’ he said”

 

Herald reporter Tania Valdemoro and her editors are to be congratulated for the abuse of such a novel term as ‘rail’ on behalf of the Herald; most attempts to bring out the facts and to object to equivocation and hypocrisy is called a “rant” and its author is usually diagnosed as ‘hysterical.’ Given the Herald’s use of the insulting term, this instantly revised revelation of an example of the power elite’s typical propensity for obfuscation and equivocation may better fit the bill for a rail, in the sense of ‘bitter,’ as well as a rant.

 

Whatever the nature of my rhetoric might be, I have been informed that the Mayor’s office attempted to stop the latest issue of City Debate from being delivered. My column in that issue simply quoted at length assertions made by Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez, and courteously thanked her for her assistance – a copy of the article was hand-delivered to the Mayor’s office prior to publication, hence the alleged effort to suppress the alternative press.

 

The Herald reporter ignored the exemplary artist I had described in my Open Letter to the City Commission, Darwin Leon, insisting that if he does not qualify for affordable housing as an artist, no one should. Mr. Leon is a struggling artist with a family of four whose low income appeared to disqualify his family from the City’s proposed “affordable” housing for artists. The lower limit was reported by Ms. Valdemoro in a July 1 article as 51% of the HUD median for a family of four, $55,900, or $28,509.  Mr. Leon’s family income is about $12,000 per year. He works full time as an artist, selling a painting here and there, and is also a part-time instructor for ArtsCenter/South Florida, a contemporary postmodern or “anti-art” establish on luxurious Lincoln Road.

 

Mr. Leon is a painter who can do it all, from classical to contemporary painting and drawing. His personal aesthetic preference is Surrealism. Unfortunately for his career in the present market, he preaches more or less classical academic ideals appertaining to beauty and skills, and he advocates a revolutionary “neo-Renaissance.” Even worse, Mr. Leon has railed against the popular “anti-art” movement that he feels does little more than throw junk in people’s faces and dements them with an illusion of liberality, democracy, and toleration. Although he thinks some installations are “cool” or at least “interesting,” he believes that civilization would advance better if most “installation” artists were installing cable, fans, and Venetian blinds instead of ridiculous anti-art constructions. However, he does not blame his colleague for following the commercial pig, so to speak, in order to survive. The name of about the only successful game in Miami is Art Basel, hence many local artists suck its hind teat in hopes of acquiring some momentary fame and fortune in being an art personality with a concept, no matter how absurd or incoherent that concept and its representations might be. In retrospect, it is no wonder that Mr. Leon’s attempts to obtain a subsidized studio at ArtCenter/South Florida, given his fine art and traditional attitude, have been rejected by the powers-that-be. Much to their credit, he is paid to teach skills that are seemingly antithetical to the established theme.

 

If the Herald had been interested in a balanced and informative story, Mr. Leon or another genuinely struggling fine artist would have been mentioned in its advertisement posing as news under the headline ‘Lower rents in artists’ colony? Artists are posed to get more affordable housing.’ Ms. Valdemoro chose for her example two artists, one who would apparently not qualify for such housing given the portion of the shifting-sands description of the minimum qualification requirements she provided in her September 2 Herald article.

 

Twenty-something artist Jill Hotchkiss, who specializes in installations and organisms that grow on plants, came down from Gainesville to ArtCenter/South Florida because of its reputation as a art haven and for having cheap studio space. She pays $400 month for that space, but her South Beach apartment runs $1,800 month. If we add another $1,000 for living expenses, that would total $3,200 per month, or $38,400 per year, a small fortune for Miami, reportedly the most impoverished city in the country. According to the Herald, she is trying to figure out how to “maintain” her finances, and no doubt many consultants would enjoy helping her do just that given her several attractions. Ms. Valdemoro says nothing of Ms. Hotchkiss’ source of income, of how much she actually earns at her art, so that could be related to the income requirements for affordable artist housing; for all we know, most of her funding may come from savings, a day job, parents, et cetera.

 

Ms. Valdemoro winds up her CANDO advertisement with her ace-in-the-hole, distinguished performance artist David Rohn, who supports affordable Miami Beach artist housing as proposed because he is paying $5,500 for his housing expenses in the City of Miami, plus $1,700 a month for workspace in Little Haiti. If we add, say, $1,500 per month of other living expenses, we come up with $8,700 a month or $104,400 per annum. Again, no mention is made of actual income from artistic activities, nor of his wife, and whether or not she is working, and if so, her earnings.   

 

But let us backtrack to the apples confused with oranges, and get to the specifics of the so-called affordable artist housing: The apples are three old hotels purchased for $13,700,000 of taxpayer funds from liability-shielding entities controlled by Adrian Alexandru shortly after their appraised values skyrocketed. According to Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez, another $12,300,000 will be needed for rehabilitation of three old hotels known as the Allen, London, and Barclay – that renovation figure is expected to climb. The properties were touted to the press as Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay (CANDO) projects:

 

“The City of Miami Beach will pursue a $13.7 million purchase of three vintage apartment houses that are to be the linchpin of a new cultural-arts district by providing affordable housing…. ‘I am delighted and relieved,’ said Nancy Lieberman, chairwoman of the mayoral committee spearheading the creation of the Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay….The Barclay and London House are currently used for low-income rental housing. The Allen is vacant.” (‘Beach moves to buy apartments for cultural-arts district,’ by Charlotte Libov, MIAMI TODAY January 25, 2007)

 

“Last year during his State of the City Address, Mayor David Dermer talked the talk about forming a committee to guide the creation of the cultural arts neighborhood district overlay, CANDO. This year the committee walked the walk, and not only formed the cultural arts neighborhood but tapped the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation to fund the purchase of The Barclay House at 1940 Park Avenue., The Allen at 2001 Washington Ave., and The London House at 1965-1975 Washington Ave. to be converted to affordable housing. ‘The city is taking it seriously,’ explained Jeremy Chestler, executive director of ArtCenter/South Florida, who also serves on the committee, ‘not only be supporting the idea by pulling such a diverse committee, but with its financial commitment.’” (‘What is Up with Cando? New Cultural Arts Neighborhood in Miami Beach will bring artists back.’ by Steve Mayo, MIAMI ARTS GUIDE).

 

After hard questions were raised, after it was asserted that certain City officials might be knowingly providing false information to the public, Ms. Fernandez stated unequivocally that “there is currently no CANDO-specific project under development with City funds.” Hilda Fernandez Email August 15, 2007, 4:24 PM. She claimed that she was unaware of the 40 MBCDC units that I had referenced as hopefully to be provided, allegedly by CANDO, to cultural arts workers, although discrimination in their favor would be, according to the Mayor’s CANDO man, Mr. A.C. Weinstein and Commissioner Matti Bower, illegal. Therefore I explained as follows:

 

“I am referring to the 40 units identified during my interview with A.C. Weinstein, Mayor Dermer’s official spokesperson for CANDO, who referred to The Barclay House (65 units), The Allen (42 units), and The London House (54 units). He said that, of the 161 units, 40 units had been allocated for cultural arts workers as per the proposed CANDO ordinance, which specifies that, “Existing units being rehabilitated in the CANDO overlay district” would be exempt from the minimum size requirement “if 25% of the units are reserved for ‘cultural arts workers as defined…” (161 X 25% = 40.25 = 40 rounded).” David Arthur Walters Email August 17, 2007

 

The Allen is closed at this writing, and minor repairs are apparently being made within, although the non-English speaking man with gold teeth with the keys declined to make a statement. The London currently houses low-income immigrants; a non-English speaking resident, who did not want to be identified because of his status, said he was paying $600 a month for the squalid quarters he occupies. The Barclay presently accommodates mostly old folks. The three properties are managed by Robert Datorre, who emigrated from Peru in 1969. He became an affordable housing real estate developer in the 90s, recently served Miami Beach as its Assistant City Attorney, He replaced current Commissioner Bower as chairperson of the Miami Beach Community Development Corporation, and is now the president of MBCDC. He has been referred to by the press as “the 13-Million Dollar Man” for his involvement in the current purchase and conversion of the three MBCDC hotels.

 

Again, other than being recommended by Miami Beach Mayor Dermer, who heads the CANDO Committee, the three MBCDC-development properties have nothing to do with CANDO.  The CANDO zoning incentives for the provision of affordable housing sponsored by Mayor Dermer under the guise of correcting the ill effects of gentrification have contributed to the gentrification hence escalation of real property values. David Dermer, an experienced traffic-ticket attorney, became popular and was elected to public offices in Miami Beach because he represented a grass roots anti-development organization that wanted to save South Beach from high rise condominiums; however, he is perceived by his critics as a do-nothing-but-hog-the-limelight public official who is in fact pro-development – he approved the very South Pointe towers voters assumed he would reject. His CANDO initiative does seem to be political fluff that puts an anti-gentrification smile on gentrification, or lipstick on a pig; in other words, a pretty facade provided by cooperative commercial artists to conceal business as usual.  

 

A draft of the proposed CANDO zoning ordinance that appeared on City Hall’s website before the September 5 Commission meeting was been amended as to the income bracket to be favored: the word “affordable” was deleted and the word “moderate” inserted in its place. For example, “cultural arts workers that meet the moderate (Deleted: affordable) income guidelines set forth in Section 142-855 above….” Yet members of the Mayor Dermer’s CANDO Committee and City officials as well as their propagandists who work for the Miami Herald propagate the income bracket as “affordable” not “moderate.” As for the CANDO incentives for the developers: If, under Section 142-857 Mandatory Criteria, they submit a statement of intent to “construct housing for moderate income cultural arts workers” according to the provisions of the ordinance, they shall enjoy certain exceptions to the development regulations and setback requirements; for example, existing units rehabilitated in the CANDO overlay district would be exempted from the minimum average unit size of 550 square feet if 25% of the units are set aside for cultural arts workers with moderate (“Deleted: affordable”) income; new mixed-use construction subject to rules for an allowable increase in the Floor Area Ratio shall be required to meet the 550 square feet minimum unit size but shall be exempt from meeting an average unit size of 800 square feet if 50% of the increased area is set aside for cultural arts workers of moderate (“Deleted: affordable”) income.

 

The qualifications for CANDO housing pursuant to the proposed zoning incentives were described by the Miami Beach beat reporter for the Herald, Tania Valdemoro, whose reporting of the CANDO project has been so inadequate that requests have been made to the executive editor, publisher, and owner to have her and her immediate ‘Neighbors’ section editor replaced. Ms. Valdemoro ignored the change from “affordable” to “moderate”:

 

‘The City Commission is expected to approve zoning incentives for the area, known as the Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay, or CANDO for short, at its Sept. 5 meeting…. To qualify for work space or affordable housing in the district, people will have to prove they are artists or work for a cultural arts organization and have incomes that fall between 51 percent and 120 percent of the median income in Miami-Dade, which is $55,900 this year. According to Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez, 40 percent of Miami Beach’s workforce is cultural arts and hospitality workers who make at least $22,000….” This is not about providing housing for artists who make six figures,” she said.’  MiamiHerald.com, Posted on Sun, July 01, 2007, republished by the Office of the Mayor and City Commission on its website.

 

The Herald report coincided with the revised draft of the ordinance, which changed the range of 51 percent to 80 percent to 51 percent to 120 percent. According to Commission Matti Bower, Commissioner Jerry Libbin attempted to have the upper limit raised to 140 percent so that more affluent people would qualify. The pertinent section of the ordinance draft read as follows:

 

“Section 142.855 definitions. For purposes for these regulations, the following definitions shall apply:

 

“1. ‘Cultural arts workers’ is defined as anyone who is an artist or who works in any capacity within a visual or performing arts organization who meets Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidelines for income eligibility for moderate [deleted: median] income.

 

“2. Moderate Income: Households whose incomes are between 51 percent and 80 [subsequently changed to 120 percent per A.C. Weinstein and Matti Herrera Bower] percent of the median income for the area as determined by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

 

The preamble to the ordinance as originally proposed states that the purpose of CANDO is to “encourage” the creation of affordable housing for cultural arts workers and to “reverse the gentrification process” that has forced arts, art galleries and cultural activities out of housing and workspace in the neighborhood.

 

The City Commission is in fact expected to rubber-stamp the zoning incentives at its September 5, 2007 meeting, no matter what objections are brought forward. In fine, anyone who opposes the incentives is presumed to be irrational and confused if not neurotic. Thus far only one person, David Kelsey of the local hotel and restaurant association, has publicly voiced disapproval of the incentives; he believes affordable housing should not be limited to cultural arts workers only – hotel and restaurant workers need housing too. His opposition at the zoning commission hearing in June 2007 was greeted with officially rolling eyeballs and asides about his “impertinent” position and his “disrespectful” beach attire – safari shorts.

 

The appearance of going along with the latest hot trend is the key to success in hedonistic South Beach, where the citizen and customer who questions the trend let alone objects to it is always wrong. Going along has its rewards for ambitious climbers who are willing to work for nothing on committees and the like for awhile. Unfortunately, many people with good intentions who suck up to authority and climb onto the bandwagon to popularize current events do not know what is going on. They are reluctant to get off the bandwagon even when they see it is going to hell on good intentions. The truth might be revealed; but the prevarications are reverted to in the very next breath to save us from being deemed damned fools by our sworn enemies in this rat-racing war of all against all. In the final analysis, when the human being is virtually reduced to a baboon, survival of the fittest does not mean that the best man or woman wins. Needless to say, the self-righteous persons who worship authority will scarcely notice contradictions, even if they do not get what they want.

 

On August 20, 2007 I received an email from Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez, in response to my communication thanking her for clearly separating the issue of CANDO (Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay) zoning incentives from the purchase of three old hotel buildings by MBCDC (Miami Beach Community Development Corporation) with taxpayer money. City officials have all along implied that the latest MBCDC venture was a CANDO housing project financed in conjunction with prospective CANDO zoning incentives that would require, according to prospective ordinance drafts, applicants to be cultural arts workers, and to have income of at least 51% of the HUD average, in order to qualify.

 

Ms. Fernandez had reiterated the occupational requirement under the CANDO ordinance in her previous letter of clarification; however, she asserted that there would be no 51% minimum, wherefore it was assumed that the ordinance draft has been amended accordingly. I thought she had made the difference between CANDO and the MBCDC perfectly clear, and congratulated her:

 

“I have perused your response to my questions at some length, and I must say that I am pleased that you have cleared up what you recognize as ‘some confusion,’ and that you have done so entirely to my satisfaction. As I understand your response, the new CANDO zoning ordinance will discriminate in favor of the occupation class that has often been discriminated against, cultural arts workers, and to the extent that, theoretically, an artist or other cultural worker with no income whatsoever might qualify for housing.”

 

However, Ms. Fernandez’ latest discussion has cast MBCDC doubt on her clarification of the CANDO subject. Instead of speaking clearly again in respect to the CANDO zoning restriction, she reverts to these remarks about MBCDC housing:

 

“As previously explained, affordable housing is identified as housing for households UP TO 80% AMI (federal)/120% AMI (state). The rents are determined based on the HUD affordability rule - which basically means that 30% of household income should be expended towards rent/mortgage. In order to cover the operating costs of the buildings, MBCDC will develop rents based on the affordability rule for households with incomes up to 80/120% of AMI. Of course an income eligible household can choose to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. In other words, you can earn less than 51% of AMI but choose to spend a larger part of your income on rent than HUD's housing affordability standard; in fact, many people choose to do so now.” Hilda Fernandez Email August 20, 2007 11:23:26 – 4:00 PM

 

She originally clarified the CANDO requirement as follows:

 

“The CANDO committee is moving forward with recommended zoning/planning that would be available in the area designated as CANDO. Should these incentives be approved by the City Commission, they would apply for NEW projects located within the CANDO and provide specific incentives for housing that targets income eligible cultural arts workers, meeting the affordable housing income standards that set a maximum – but no minimum – on income.” Hilda Fernandez Email August 15, 2007, 4:24 PM

 

Good grief! Is there a minimum income to qualify for CANDO overlay district housing or not? The 51% figure quoted in the newspaper was taken seriously by several artists who did not make the grade, and they were duly disappointed. One artist who thought he was to receive CANDO housing in the MBCDC project in the very near future was almost driven to suicide by the disappointing news.

 

As for the MBCDC project, there cannot be, at least not according to the underlying documents appertaining to the financing, occupational discrimination, nor would any 51% minimum apply.

 

City Commissioner Matti Bower had already made a confusing statement to the effect that the MBCDC funding would be lost unless the CANDO zoning incentive is approved. And both she and the CANDO spokesman for the Mayor, A.C. Weinstein, have asserted that the “cultural arts worker” designation under CANDO is merely suggestive because no such discrimination can take place. But that is contradicted by statements that there shall be occupational discrimination in favor of cultural arts workers under CANDO, apparently for the first time in Miami-Dade County.

 

It appears that some Commissioners may not know what they are voting for or against as a result of Mr. Weinstein’s pervasive influence. By the way, Mr. Weinstein said I would qualify as a CANDO artist because “writers are bullshit artists.” He was formerly employed as a columnist for Miami Beach’s prestigious free weekly rag, the SunPost, and is rumored to have been promised a job by Commissioner Bower if she is elected mayor in the upcoming election; if not, some other candidate favored by Mr. Dermer will allegedly keep him employed. The SunPost recently listed him as one of the most influential persons on the beach:

 

“When A.C. Weinstein was a weekly political columnist for this paper, he often sought to influence government to do the right thing for the people it served. Issues like political corruption, gay rights and the ban on sexual predators come to mind. If he felt public officials weren’t doing right by the people they served, he wasn’t afraid to bash their heads in on the page… But as the senior advisor to Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer, he is essentially doing the same thing — only more directly…promoting a hard-line stance against sweetheart deals… Weinstein’s new position allows him to mold legislation and initiatives coming out of Dermer’s office, ranging from special elections geared to protect public access to the waterfront to the planning of a Cultural Arts Neighborhood District Overlay that seeks to enable artists to continue to live and work in Miami Beach…. Weinstein is also empowered to speak the media on Dermer’s behalf, allowing Weinstein to reach into the Fourth Estate once again and shape public opinion on the issues through print and televised media… Weinstein can continue to accomplish what he passionately sought to do at the SunPost week after week for about a decade: stop ‘bad deals’ and crush the questionable actions of public officials. Those who followed his column or are acquainted with him know nothing makes this man happier than ferreting out what he sees as a scheme to give millions of dollars in public money to a special interest or a mom-and-apple-pie project that has no apparent benefit to the public. With this transition to a policy-making position in City Hall, expect Weinstein to effect change on a grand scale, from the inside.” 2007 SunPost ‘Insider’

 

It appears that Mr. Weinstein has had some influence on the City Manager’s office after the Assistant Manager had done a good job clearly separating the CANDO zoning incentives from the MBCDC hotel conversion. Ms. Fernandez’ latest communication does not reinforce her previous clarification by keeping the apples and oranges separate, but rather reverts to the equivocations that had previously confused the issue. She now seems to place the prospective CANDO zoning incentives in the context of the City Center RDA financed MBCDC hotel conversions, which were ostensibly approved without non-existing CANDO zoning incentives – the incentives have not been approved as of this writing.

 

Ms. Fernandez expressed concern in her email with certain “aspersions” allegedly made against her pursuant to the Herald article on the CANDO incentives published by the Herald on July 1. Yet, in her instant defense against the aspersions appertaining to her discussion of CANDO, she discusses the income qualifications not of CANDO, but drags the MBCDC project into her discussion.

 

The Herald reported in the July 1 article that eligible applicants under the prospective CANDO zoning must be “cultural arts workers” and must prove that they have a minimum income of 51% of the HUD median, quoted as $55,900. Hence that 51% minimum would be $28,509. Yet Ms. Fernandez was quoted as saying that cultural arts workers make at least $22,000, substantially below that threshold. Indeed, as the Herald correctly quoted me after examining most of the information herein, most so-called cultural arts workers I know, in marked contrast to cultural arts workers such as managers, executives, and directors, make less than $28,509, and most of the “struggling” artists alluded to in CANDO publicity earn far less than $22,000 from their artistic endeavors if anything at all. Hence it appeared to some of us that the report must have taken Ms. Fernandez’ remarks out of context, since her statement appeared, to many readers, to be absurd on its face.

 

But that 51% minimum would be moot if Ms. Hernandez could be taken at her word when she said there would be no such minimum for CANDO. However, by subsequently muddying the CANDO water with a discussion of MBCDC, and by somehow throwing the 51% sticking point back into the equation, we do not know what to expect from CANDO now – one old salt claims that nothing will ever come of the incentives, anyway, and that the whole thing is just another publicity stunt staged by Mayor Dermer to compensate for his inferiority complex by boosting his frustrated self-esteem. However that might be, Ms. Fernandez claimed that she went to the trouble to further clarify her clarification because I am the one who is confused. Which is true given her apparent self-contradiction the equivocations of the Office of the Mayor and City Commission, not to mention the entirely vague understanding of the subject by its civic-minded supporters. One ambitious CANDO activist and devout Republican neoconservative claimed that she did not really care how much real estate developers and their politicians raked off the public. She said it was important to be positive, to focus only on the image of affordable housing for artists. and not to discourage artists with questions about whether or not they would qualify for the housing. 

 

As for the MBCDC hotel conversions financed by City-approved RDA funds, one of those buildings, the Allen, was shut down by the City for code violations and the tenants were evicted. Allegations were made at the time that the closure was pursuant to the general cooperation of City officials with certain Miami Beach landlords who anticipated that they could sell their properties for windfall capital gains once low-income lessees were evicted as part of the gentrification process that has driven so many low-income residents from one hovel to another and then off Miami Beach.

 

According to the Miami Dade County appraiser, the fair market value of the Allen property soared from $1,342,597 in 2005 to $2,623,381 in 2006, nearly doubling in value. This skyrocketed value was referred to in official City documents in support of due-diligence appraisals in respect to the purchase of the property for $3,450,000 in 2007 with City Center RDA funds.

 

Ms. Fernandez claims that “minor renovations” shall be made at the Allen so that it might be occupied by displaced persons from other low-income projects. A reasonable person might wonder, then, if in fact the renovations to bring it up to decent living standards needed were minor, why did not the former owner of the three properties make the renovations. In any event, the renovation estimate set forth in the funding documents to make it habitable exceeds $3,000,000 for the Allen alone, almost as much as the purchase price of the Allen including land.

 

Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency Resolution 545-2007, signed by RDA Vice-Chairman and City Commissioner Michael Gongora, provides that the Allen shall contain a provision enabling MBCDC to sell the property within 24 months following closing. Michael Gongora is certainly familiar with real estate valuations – in his current campaign for City Commissioner he refers to highly esteemed developer Russell Galbut’s praise for his work as a master for the Value Adjustment Board. In response to my query, Mr. Gongora said Mr. Galbut’s testimonial may not relate to any particular matters but rather to his general conduct:

 

“I do not recall Mr. Galbut complimenting me on a specific project.  Although I don't recall the specific words used, he has mentioned to me that he watched me while I served on the value adjustment board and always found me to be fair, impartial, listen well and make informed decisions.  As you probably know, the value adjustment board is our zoning board which votes on variances on many different types of projects.”

 

The Galbut family owns a vast amount of real estate in Miami Beach via a web of companies. Russell Galbut does not like to speak to journalists because he was displeased with a great deal of bad press her received in the mid-nineties over his relationship with Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, who was imprisoned for corruption in 1993 – Mr. Daoud is expected to reveal details, in an upcoming book, of Mr. Galbut’s conduction of certain funds.

 

Mr. Galbut has refused to disclose just how much property his family syndicate holds in the Collins Park area – Mayor Dermer’s CANDO district. In April of 2005 Mr. Galbut’s nephew, Keith Menin, at the grand opening of the Sanctuary, a posh condotel converted from a nursing home, bragged that an entire neighborhood would go on the block. David Dermer was at the opening to cut the red tape. Several reporters from prestigious magazines and newspapers, including the Herald’s nightlife columnist Lesley Abravanel, covered the event; they were evidently lavished with free goods and services by the establishment – Ms Abravanel’s editors reportedly encouraged her to receive the gratuity.

 

Another Galbut assisted living home and low-income hotel property nearby, the Plaza South at 1685 James Avenue, was sold shortly after the sumptuous Sanctuary gala to the owners of the luxurious Delano party hotel across the street. Nursing was provided by unlicensed nurses, several of whom appeared to be living beyond the means of their paltry wage. The charge for assisted living, including a small hotel room, ranged from $1,200 to $2,000 per month. The nursing home license was held by a person in absentia. The hotel aspect of the property was conducted on a tax-exempt cash basis only, no questions as to identity asked – envelopes fat with cash were handed to the manager of record, David Muhlrad, a Galbut relative who owns many apartment buildings on the beach. Mr. Muhlrad was notorious for verbally abusing old folks during his brief visits, shouting them down if they asked questions about the services.

 

If a regular Plaza South resident did not cough up the currency, their doors were “booted” and they were locked out in violation of state law. Vagrants lived in the stairwells and slept in the halls of the nursing home-hotel. A number of drug dealers and prostitutes plied their trade in the rooms, stairwells, and around the premises, much to the annoyance of working class residents, who called the police, to little avail with one glorious exception: the Mexican drug dealer was busted – he had said he would cut the throats of anyone who ratted him out – he was seen back on Lincoln Road in August 2007. Kitchen service to the old folks was eventually dropped; they were eventually carted off on short notice (one old fellow called the police, but they were told he was demented and under their care) and doubled up in another Galbut property. Several burly men or “thugs”, identified by a tenant as off duty police officers, helped kick down the doors of hold outs and run them off the property – the tenant called the officer on command at the police station several times about what he felt was a flagrant violation of law. The Miami Herald did not respond to requests for a reporter to record the events, which took place over several days, perhaps because no amenities would be lavished on them – tenants speculated that reporters on the Miami Beach beat probably got some cash not to come.

 

An employee of the illustrious SunPost lived in a crummy room on the second floor of the Plaza South up until its closing. He witnessed what was going on, and an attempt was even made to shake him down for higher rent even when the management knew it was going to shut the place down. I asked him why his paper had ignored the information I had sent along to his paper on the subject as well as to City Hall, and why he did not bring the sorry situation, including the fact that the Police Department and Fire Department were not enforcing the laws, to the personal attention of his editor. For instance, his neighbor down the hall on the second floor was setting fires in his own room and in the hall; the Fire Department came out countless times on false alarms at all times day and night; wherefore residents supposed the alarms to be false although the danger might have been real; the Fire Department did not require Mr. Galbut to station a security guard in the building to protect the residents, as provided for by regulation. The SunPost was angered at my suggestion to have his paper expose the deplorable situation, and said, “They know all about it. This is not the time to alienate the real estate owners. Right now we are planning on creating another publication just for the real estate industry. He also stated that the paper was highly profitable.

 

To be fair, ghetto-like transient hotels are difficult to manage, and are usually owned and operated on a shoestring by so-called slumlords. The currency might have come in handy, but the place was probably losing money on the books. Some of the old folks were in arrears on their room and board and nursing. Many non-nursing home residents were in fact mentally ill or retarded, emotionally unstable, and addicted to drugs – particularly crack. Mr. Muhlrad did make several attempts to improve the conditions at first, but after he filled up the building he stopped coming around except for a few minutes to pick up the money. He said a person had to be crazy to manage such a property. The place did provide housing to those who did not have the wherewithal to get it elsewhere. And many tourists hustled on Collins Avenue were pleased with the drugs and quickie sex. The cops do pick up the worst people and the judges let them out time and time again. Fire Department personnel were extraordinarily kind to a desperate homeless man crying out for help from under the air-conditioning duct one rainy night. Finally, those residents who did not hold out during the premature eviction were given a few hundred dollars in cash by the “thugs” to relocate. Most of those evicted wound in somewhat better circumstances, although at higher rents – Mr. Galbut’s bagman-manager substantially raised the rents on his own apartment buildings in 2005, forcing a number of lower income people off the beach. Two or three of the former residents of Plaza South wound up at homeless shelters – one old lady, a professional Lincoln Road panhandler, wound up at the Delta House in the CANDO district, a place soon closed by the gentrification process.

 

The South Plaza was boarded up by its new owner in 2005 and still an eyesore to South Beach visitors. It is one of many old buildings in the area including the old Allen Hotel that has been shut down by interests vested in gentrification. An April 11, 2007 Commission Memorandum, from City Manager Jorge M. Gonzales to Mayor David Dermer and Members of the City Commission, stated that a developer wanted the Allen at the time for the properties he was assembling: “The Allen Building sits on a block that is currently trying to be consolidated by another developer. He expressed the possibility of selling the Allen Building and using the proceeds to purchase the Riviera. Ms. Fernandez advised that the title for each of three RDA properties shall be held separately in an effort to facility the possible future sale of the Allen Building.”

 

Ms. Fernandez has twice declined to disclose the name of that developer, wherefore the information may be sought under the Freedom of Information Act, in addition to the names of the developers whom the Mayor’s spokesman, A.C. Weinstein, said were providing free space to CANDO cooperating artists – he declined to name them. A real estate industry source tentatively identified the mystery developer who wanted the Allen as none other than developer and property owner Ron Bloomberg, a highly esteemed member of Mayor David Dermer’s CANDO Committee. As of this writing, I have not received a confirmation from Mr. Bloomberg’s office as the nature of his interest either past or present in the Allen, or whether he is one of the developers providing, as Mr. Weinberg mentioned, free space to artists.

 

Another person possibly interested in the Allen might be the developer of the CANDO district’s $100 million flagship development (Artécity) nearby the Allen. I sent critical information on that development to the Herald long before construction started, and was advised by the developer’s publicist, Dindy Yokel, not to write about the project because it was being and would continue to be touted by Herald real estate reporter Matthew Haggman, who, she said, had South Beach real estate adequately covered. The Miami Herald is a sponsor of Art Basel Miami, a major factor in the CANDO gentrification scheme, and has been supportive of the gentrification of South Beach and of CANDO gentrification in particular. Ms. Yokel advertised integrity as her primary virtue on her website and implied that her definition of integrity was loyalty to her clients. She recently had to close her office due to a certain lack of integrity in her clients – they did not pay her.

 

Now the Herald, Miami’s only daily rag, has apparently reformed itself under new ownership and fresh editorial guidance. Its much improved muckraking force is redeeming the newspaper with exposés under headlines such as ‘House of Lies’ and ‘Poverty Peddler.’ Of course it is much easier to expose corruption where the public has a right to pertinent information. A good deal of that corruption has been fostered by the ideological regression to “business is our government, government is our business”; in fine, those cozy alliances between business and government known in socialist quarters as neo-fascism. Despite its vigorous muckraking of business-government alliances, wherever private real estate business predominates over the relationship or operates seemingly on its own, the Herald appears to be either too lazy or too beholden to its own vested interests to dig too deeply or to beg askance of the current course of development. Quite to the contrary, it serves as a trumpet for real estate advertisers.

 

Most recently, on July 1, 2007, Miami Herald editors gushingly endorsed the very process that has transformed South Beach from a poor person’s paradise to a rich hedonist’s Mecca: “South Beach has been transformed from a haven for the aged and poor immigrants to one of the hottest locales on the planet.”

 

Cool! Speaking of cool, our favorite park will be shut down nearly two years, for gentrification. An iceberg shall be placed in its center; a symbol, some say, of the frigid taste and cold-heartedness of City Hall.

 

Many old-timers liked South Beach the way it was; for instance, in 1970: I lived in the freight elevator housing on the roof of the Pennsylvania Hotel (now the Blackstone) when it was a hotel mostly for old folks. What a great penthouse apartment that was! I worked the night desk. What’s wrong with old folks? Is it wrong to be poor? Were not the most of us poor immigrants to Miami Beach?

 

One thing I know for sure: The gentry milking the sacred gentrification cow may be gentry but they are no better than the poor working men and women and old folks whom they are running off the beach.

 

Just as the “thrift” of the Puritans made charity necessary, the gentrification of the bourgeoisie makes affordable housing necessary. What the City of Miami Beach offers in that respect is a mere token, mainly because so many politicians are in the pockets of real estate developers. What the City of Miami Beach takes away by slight of hand contributes to the further decline of South Beach

 

 

# #

 

 

 

 



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