Miami Web News
Fidel's Death: Looking Back, Gazing Forward
On Saturday, a WLRN panel spent two hours analyzing his death. Among those speaking were Andy Gomez of UM, Frank Mora of FIU and yours truly. Among other things, I repeated speculation of some Cubanologists who had predicted that the announcement of Fidel's death would come in the late night hours of a weekend, to minimize spontaneous demonstrations. Perhaps the freshest voice was that of Nora Gamez Torres, an El Nuevo reporter who was an assistant professor at the University of Havana from 2001-2009, then got a masters and Ph. D. in London, and has become an expert on the attitudes of young Cubans. A replay of the broadcast -- from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday is available HERE. Posted Nov. 27, 2016.
Betsy Kaplan Honored
Betsy Kaplan, who worked tirelessly for decades to improve Miami-Dade public schools, was honored at Wednesday's school board meeting with a special proclamation -- and a recommendation from the superintendent that one of the district's arts programs be named after her. Full story HERE. Video HERE.Posted Nov. 24, 2016.
Janet Reno: The politician who didn't seem political
In 1998, I spent weeks profiling Janet Reno for a Tropic cover story. She grudgingly allotted me a 30-minute interview in her office at Main Justice -- uncharacteristically allowing the Q&A stretch to 50 minutes, keeping two groups of men in suits waiting in an anteroom.
Her answers were clipped, careful, but the undertone: The Washington press brutalized her. Full story HERE.Posted Nov. 11, 2016.
Tough Trip for Aventura Book
It took eight tough years for Seth Bramson to publish a history of Aventura -- made problematic when a publisher backed out of the deal after the city said it didn't authorize publication. Story in Biscayne Times available HERE. Published Nov. 1, 2016.
Miami's Media Mystery
My take for Biscayne Times on "Miami's Media Mystery" -- trying to "survive in a digital, bilingual, Facebook world." Everything's moving toward the web -- but the money isn't there to support serious journalism. A look at print, TV, radio, the snarling blogs and an ambitious nonprofit, plus a little South Florida Russian-language newspaper that manages to get into a bit of controversy. Full story is available at BiscayneTimes.com.Posted Oct 4, 2016.
A Novel for this Crazy Election
A newly re-issued novel by a Miami Beach writer seems perfectly timed for this utterly divisive election cycle that has split the country into two camps that can't agree even on common facts -- if facts have any role in the campaigns at all.
The Big Split, by John Lantigua, is an e-book available on Amazon. It is a "Novel of the Near Future" in which the gun-toting constitution thumpers decide they can no longer live with gun-avoiding, social-conscience peace people -- and so the country splits in two, with a mass migration and house swapping as the two camps decide they must live separately. Full Story HERE.
Can Related Make It in Liberty City?
As the county commission starts today the process of considering Related Urban's $300 million plan to remake Liberty Square, questions remain on how much new buildings can do in an area mired in decades of poverty, unemployment and crime. The proposal, after fierce opposition, now has the backing of Liberty Square residents, and Related's leader is considered by many to be the most powerful force in local politics, but the problems of Liberty City are deeply imbedded and needing huge commitments. For a thorough analysis of the social implications of Related's bid, read HERE.
Dreams of the East-West Corridor, Part II
The saga of the plans for the east-west corridor is a good example of transit history in Miami-Dade. After decades of talk, the corridor plan has become an odd, twisting route because of deals, hopes, frustrations, arguments and what Maurice Ferre calls "wink, wink" -- meaning politicians advocating one course while quietly allowing the opposite to happen. Merrett Stierheim says it all started with Metrorail being built in the wrong place. Full story is HERE.
The Dream of an East-West Rail Line
An opening for its tracks can still be seen at Government Center, built back in the 1980s, but the newest incarnation has a looping circuitous route that could cost $800 million and raises questions about whether it will be convenient for commuters. Published May 4, 2016. Full story HERE.
Ferre: State support will happen
While the recent state legislature rejected all Dade efforts to boost mass transit, veteran transportation leader Maurice Ferre says it's "completely wrong" to assume that the state will continue to ignore the county's transit efforts. State support is "going to happen," he said, but it takes time -- perhaps years. Meanwhile City Commissioner Francis Suarez says he's looking for ways to move transit along faster. Published May 3, 2016. Full story is HERE.
State Keeps Balking on Transit
As the quest for funding six transit corridors gets focused, one natural source -- the state -- is proving exceedingly balky in helping any of the Miami-Dade initiatives. The Legislature rejected all county attempts to support mass transit, while setting a budget so that $900 million gets spent in the coming year on county roads and highway expansion. Published April 30, 2016. Full story is at miamwebnews.blogspot.com.
Pol: Stop Building till Traffic Fixed
In what could be a portent for major changes in local transit and development, Miami-Dade Commissioner Juan Zapata is demanding a building moratorium in his West End district until the area's horrendous traffic woes are addressed. The LBA says that could be a disaster, but experts say that regulators should address transportation matters the same way they consider water and sewer requirements before a development is approved. Published April 27, 2016. Full story is HERE.
Half-Penny to fund SMART plan?
Show me the money, part 101: When it comes to discussing the future transit in Miami-Dade, a key element is the half-penny transportation sales tax -- a fund that is supposed to be overseen by a watchdog agency, which has persistently approved spending in ways that voters didn't want. When can the half-penny start funding the 12 corridors approved last week? Published April 26, 2016. Full story at miamiwebnews.blogspot.com
Key Transit Questions Unanswered
While county leaders were ecstatic last week after agreeing to move forward simultaneously on developing 12 rapid transit corridors, the politicians achieved unanimity in transit by avoiding the hard questions of what corridors should go first and how to pay for them. The mayor and transit director didn't mention key figures in their talks to the MPO, but the accompanying written report and slide presentation did show that there are vast disparities in how much the routes are currently used and the associated costs of creating new rail lines. The North and Kendall lines in particular could be very expensive while having far fewer riders. . Published April 25, 2016. Major update at 4 pm. Full story available at miamiwebnews.blogspot.com.
Liberty Square residents: Stop the talk, start construction
Many were won over as soon as they heard AC. While some pastors said the bidding process was so skewed that it should start over, Liberty Square resident Takeria Allen had one word to describe when she thought construction should begin: "Now!" Published April 15, 2o16. Full story available HERE.
Pastor Asks for HUD Investigation
Key pastor, R. Joaquin Willis, head of group representing several dozen black churches, demands HUD investigate Liberty Square deal that's "marred in politics, broken promises,delays and lack of transparency." HUD is crucial because it must sign off before construction can begin. Posted April 14, 2016. Full story HERE.
Protests, electioneering at Liberty Square
With a mayoral election looming, a pastors' protest at Liberty Square on Monday took on strong political overtones, with harsh criticism of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, an appearance by his top rival and -- perhaps a first for the county's oldest housing project -- an appearance by fervent animal rights activist Rita Schwartz. For photos and a report on the show, click HERE. Published April 11, 2016. I'll have a serious analysis of Related Group's final final proposal later.
Tim Chapman: The Legend Continues
Yes, it’s true: He once paid for a voodoo curse on a photo editor. (“It worked!”) True: He was able to rush off to the Jonestown massacre because he had $2000 in cash in his work locker. Yes, he slashed a TV camera operator’s cable because the crew was blocking his shot. Trying to stuff a snake down a driver’s throat? Well, that’s an exaggeration. Now, HistoryMiami is preparing an exhibit of his work. My story in April Biscayne Times is available HERE.
Transit App: Good and Bad
A new, unpublicized GPS app for Miami-Dade Transit is working: (A) Pretty Darn Good, (B) Not So Good and (C) Spot on. That's three reactions -- two from regular bus commuters and one from my own observations. Published April 1, 2016. Full story is HERE.
Transit Tracker Up and Running
Real-time GPS tracking is now available for virtually all buses in the county, Transit Director Alice Bravo said Thursday. The question for riders: Is it really working? Published March 18, 2016. Full story, including more CITT developments, available HERE.
Three Commissioners Commit for Housing
Three county commissioners promised Monday night before a crowd of 1,500 to push for $10 million for affordable housing in the next county budget, but a deputy mayor said the county couldn't afford it. The statements came during the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly, hosted by PACT, a group representing 38 religious organizations in Miami-Dade. Full story available HERE. Published March 15, 2016.
Largest Grassroots Group Talks Housing
As more than 1,000 persons prepare to gather next Monday to demand solutions for affordable housing, the county commission has yet to consider any major measure to deal with the growing problem. The meeting -- described as the county's "largest grassroots residents gathering" -- is sponsored by PACT, a Miami group that brings together the social efforts of 40 churches, synagogues, mosques and universities. Published March 11, 2016. Full story is available HERE.
Denver's Nirvana for Transit, Housing
Denver's housing director told a standing-room audience of policy geeks on Thursday how the city has successfully attacked the two main problems that bedevil Miami-Dade: nightmare traffic and severe lack of affordable housing. The solutions fit together. Published March 4, 2016. Full story available HERE.
Related Urban Fixes Problem
In its "best and final offer" for the $250 million redo of Liberty Square, political powerhouse Related Urban fixed what might have been a problem: The height of its buildings. A scoring panel ranked its proposal No. 1, above Atlantic Pacific. Full story available HERE.
Huge Transit Sums without Taxpayer Pain
A transit board on Thursday heard hard numbers on how properties near new corridors for rail or express bus might be willing to pay hundreds of millions because the new lines would enhance property values. Full story HERE.
CRAs Needed for Affordable Housing
Expert, grand jury: Use Community Redevelopment Agencies for much needed affordable housing. Hundreds of thousands suffering by paying too much -- and they're making traffic a nightmare by their long commutes to jobs. Meanwhile, county leaders want a CRA to bail out a billionaire's science museum, after they've already bailed out a billionaire's art museum. Full story HERE.
BayLink: "Ass Backwards"?
Less than 20 hours after an "historic" step to create a BayLink light rail to Miami Beach, transit veteran Maurice Ferre suggested the plan was "ass backwards." City Commissioner Francis Suarez said he disliked a key component of the BayLink plan: Waiting up to seven years for federal funds. He said that would be like fixing a boat after it sunk. UPDATED to include Ferre comments on federal funding and county's NIMBY mentality. Full story HERE.
Go for BayLink
A little-known committee passed a resolution Thursday that could signal the start of creating BayLink -- a light-rail/street car corridor connecting Miami and Miami Beach over the MacArthur Causeway. "Truly a historic accomplishment," said County Commissioner Xavier Suarez. "The ball started rolling today," said County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Full story HERE.
Why Traffic Is So Bad
Thanks to the voters of Miami-Dade, I have two fancy stop signs on my corner that cost $1990. Voters expected to get vastly expanded rail and bus service for a half-penny sales tax, but no -- they were voting for my stop signs.
"If you have something whatsoever to do with transit in Miami, you should hide your head in a bag -- because mass transit is in crisis," says Paul Schwiep, chairman of the board that oversees the half-penny expenditures. See my take on transit, this month's cover story in Biscayne Times, available HERE.
Liberty Square Bidding War Escalates
As the battle escalates for the $200-million-plus contract to remake Liberty Square, the attorney for one of the two finalists sent letters to the county this week, saying he has "new evidence" on why the other bidder wasn't qualified.
Albert Dotson, attorney for Related Urban, says several developments show that Atlantic Pacific Communities must be disqualified. Full story available HERE.
Single Moms Back "Safe Harbor"
More than 80 percent of single mothers interviewed in focus groups would like to live in a gated community assisted by volunteer surrogate fathers as an alternative to the usual public housing -- a concept developed by retired professor Marvin Dunn. The county public housing department has rejected Dunn's Safe Harbor concept. This week, Dunn presented his study to county commissioners. The full study is available HERE. Posted Jan. 14, 2016.
Senator Backs Transit Plan
Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Kendall, chair of the senate's fiscal policy committee, announced Thursday she supports two key concepts of using existing revenue streams to expand mass transit in Miami-Dade. In a letter, Flores said she backed the ideas being propounded by County Commissioner Xavier Suarez to use 25 percent of Dade toll money and all of the county auto-tag renewal funds to help fund expansion. Full story HERE. Posted Dec. 18, 2015.
Opa-locka slammed over transit funds
A county auditor said Wednesday she's been unable to determine precisely what Opa-locka has done with sales tax transit funds because the city hasn't been cooperating, and the report of the city's external auditor doesn't seem to jibe with reality. At issue is $798,692 that should have gone to transit -- and didn't. Full story is at miamiwebnews.blogspot.com. Published Dec. 17, 2015.
Commissioners Slowly Ponder Inclusionary Housing Ever so slowly, the county commission is moving toward considering measures about inclusionary housing -- a wonkish concept that could have huge implications to increasing the number of affordable residences as well as reducing Miami's horrendous traffic jams. Story HERE. Published Dec. 11, 2015.
Pols Dissing Developer
County Commissioners have started to distant themselves from Atlantic Pacific Communities, the developer that received the highest scores from the selection committee tasked with rating the six bids to re-do Miami-Dade's oldest and largest public housing project, Liberty Square. Full story HERE. Posted Dec. 10, 2015.
Miami's Starchitects' Seduction
My take on local architecture from the fantasies of Opa-locka and Lapidus to Arquitectonica and beyond, with the designs of four Pritzker winners currently being built in Miami. Article in Elevate Magazine available by clicking HERE. Posted Dec. 9, 2015.
Messy Politics in Liberty Square
As many insiders expected, the remaking of Liberty Square has turned into messy political football game featuring the two developers most closely connected with county commissioners. The Miami Herald and Miami Times are reporting that Atlantic Pacific, with strong ties to one commissioner, beat out RUDG, connected with the most powerful political figure in the county, in a controversial vote swinging on the preference of a Liberty Square resident. Full story HERE. Posted Dec. 3, 2015.
Liberty Square Winner Expected in Coming Weeks
The much-awaited announcement naming the bidder selected to undertake the $200-million-plus remake of Liberty may be made in late December.
Black residents and The Miami Times have complained the five-month process has been taking too long. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the announcement was expected the first week in December. Posted Nov. 30, 2015. Updated 5 p.m. Full story HERE.
Housing Story So Far
This site has been covering the horrendous problems with Miami housing in bits and pieces, sometimes getting into wonkish areas like exclusionary zoning and 9 percent tax credits, as well as the startling oddities like bus stops worth $20 million and developers creating shadowy grocery stores.
The underlying issues: Miami's highly segregated, and the area's housing policies appear to be perpetuating, perhaps even enhancing that trend. Despite the vows of political leaders to change the situation, Liberty City remains as mired in poverty as it was 35 years ago.
Meanwhile, the need for affordable housing is desperate -- both to provide decent housing and to decrease the area's horrendous traffic problems.
Click HERE to get a summary of the 20-plus posts on this hugely important topic.
The tab also includes new information on the underlying political whispers and undercurrents. Posted Nov. 19, 2015
Tough Move: No Smoking in Public Housing
Miami-Dade has charged ahead of the national curve by starting a process to ban smoking in its 100 public housing projects. The move is already getting push-back from some residents who don't think they should be told what they can do within their own apartments. The over-arching question: How much should the government try to improve the lives of its poorest citizens? Updated 8:48 pm with Liu responding to residents' push-back. Full story HERE. Posted Nov. 17, 2015.
Judge: Violence in Liberty City Misunderstood
Senior Judge Tom Petersen -- who has many years experience in public housing projects -- says it's wrong to think that the $200-million-plus redo of Liberty Square is going to reduce crime, which has been a goal stated by some politicians. In fact, residents of the public housing project are less likely to be violent -- it's the men in the surrounding areas that are the problem and will likely continue to be the problem. Full story available HERE. Posted Nov. 11, 2015.
Can Car Tolls Be Used to Pay for Mass Transit?
Maurice Ferre, longtime member of the powerful Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, says the answer is yes, but he believes rail's time may have passed. What's more, libertarian views are gaining support locally and in the governor's administration -- and they're not favorable to rail. Full story HERE. Posted Oct. 30.
"Show Me the Money"
Transit activist Adam Old is working to bring clarity to a crucial issue: The taxes and tolls for expanding mass transit may already exist. The challenge is finding them and perhaps redirecting their purpose. Full story HERE. Posted Oct. 29.
Getting Transit Tax Back
A county oversight board has taken a tentative but major step toward trying to get the half-penny sales tax for transit back for what it was intended to do -- pay for expanded rail lines and more buses. Since 2008, much of the money has been used to fund basic operations and maintenance. Full story HERE.Posted Oct. 22.
A New York Times editorial and Liberty Square
It doesn't mention the housing project being redone in Liberty City, but a recent New York Times editorial took direct aim at how local governments perpetuate segregation. And Liberty Square sure sounds like it's a good example. Full story available HERE. Posted Oct. 20.
One Rider's Tale Reveals Huge Transit Mess
The sad tales of my friend Derek Merleaux reveal a lot about what's wrong with Miami-Dade's transit system, where bus ridership has been steadily declining. Sometimes he has to watch three filled buses roar past him on Washington Avenue before he can board one -- meaning a delay of an hour getting home. In 2002, politicians promised 1600 buses if voters passed a half-penny sales tax for transit. The tax passed overwhelming. Thirteen years later, the county has 815. For full story click HERE. Posted Oct. 7. Updated Oct. 19 with comment from board member of the Citizens' Independent Transit Trust.
New study: Huge Benefits with Inclusionary Housing
A new national study says the little-understood concept can be a huge benefit to places like Miami -- where soaring housing prices have exacerbated a severe lack of affordable housing for lower- and middle-income residents Five hundred local governments are already using it. Full story HERE. Posted Oct. 2, 2015.
Developers Create Shadowy Stores Trying to Win Millions
Well before they were charged with criminal activities, the leaders of Biscayne Housing Group and Carlisle Development Group were caught creating shadowy grocery stores and an ersatz library in attempts to get millions in complex tax credits. Their shenanigans reveal much about highly competitive, convoluted battles to win huge sums from a little known state agency. Full story HERE. Posted Sept. 29, 2015.
A "Safe Haven" in Liberty Square
At the heart of Liberty Square, in cramped rooms beside the community center, is the children's services area of Samantha Quarterman, taking care of the some of the neediest kids in the neediest sector of Dade County while struggling for funding. Full story HERE. Posted Sept. 24, 2015. Updated 5:40 a.m. Sept. 25.
Affordable Housing: A Bus Stop Dispute Costs $20 million
Last Friday, a powerful but little known entity, the board of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, essentially awarded $20-plus million to a company that wanted to build in Allapattah, rejecting a company's bid in Little Havana, based on the definition of what constitutes a bus stop. A peek inside the high-finance world of building for low-income residents. Full story HERE. Posted Sept. 21, 2015. Updated at 2:20 p.m.
A Basketball Star and a Plan:
The Horrendous Maze of Affordable Housing
Case in point: An Overtown project, Courtside Family Apartments, which took eight years to cobble together a bunch of funding sources, even with former Heat star Alonzo Mourning as a partner-cheerleader for the effort.
"It was a soap opera," said Matthew Rieger, chief executive of Housing Trust Group, a Coconut Grove developer. Full story available HERE.Posted Sept. 17, 2015.
Jungle Island: Where's the Huge Transformation?
On Sept. 11, 2014, Jungle Island announced a massive transformation to spend tens of millions to "elevate" the struggling theme park into "an iconic landmark for eco-adventure." A year later, none of the much-acclaimed high-end changes have come to pass. UPDATE: President John Dunlap says he's been making plenty of changes, though most are not the expensive ones emphasized a year ago. Full story available HERE. Posted Sept. 16, 2015.
Fair Housing Rule Could Change Highly Segregated Miami
With conservatives warning the move could ruin traditional neighborhoods, the Obama Administration has cast a rule intended to reduce discrimination in housing -- a huge issue for Miami, one of the most segregated cities in America. Full story HERE. Posted Sept. 3, 2015.
New Push to Get Developers to Pay for Affordable Housing
Eight years after a similar effort failed, two Dade commissioners are mounting campaigns to require developers to help pay for affordable housing construction. Full story HERE. Posted Aug. 31, 2015.
New UM President sharp contrast to Shalala
While Donna Shalala from the start warned she was going to "shake things up," Julio Frenk started Sunday by saying he'd listen for 100 days to learn from community what should be done. His start was so quiet that major media didn't even take notice. Full story HERE.
Mixed Income ""not realistic" for Liberty Square
The county wants mixed income for the revitalized Liberty Square. So do many sociologists and New Urbanist city planners, to stop the severe economic segregation that often comes with large public housing units. But a veteran affordable housing experts says that's "not realistic" in this case. Full story HERE. Posted July 27.
Does Related Group Have Inside Track?
Six bidders emerge for $200 million Liberty Square redo: Related Group's RUDG leads in political power. Another with strong political connections is linked to a federal investigation. Yet another has a history of political infighting to get contracts. Oh, and there's a couple of nonprofits too. Posted Thursday, July 23. UPDATED July 25 to include Edmonson information. Full story HERE.
Duany: Politics messes up public housing in Liberty City
Andres Duany, an internationally respected architect and urban planner on why Liberty City remains mired in decay: "Basically there are handlers of the government subsidies and they don't want anyone interfering. ... It's disgusting." He said a "huge mafia" works to control the government funds that finance considerable housing in Liberty City and don't want outside developers or urban planners like Duany interfering in their business. Posted July 16, 2015. Full story HERE.
Why Shouldn't the Poor Live in Coral Gables?
While the debate heats up about controlling the $200-million-plus redevelopment of Liberty Square, the politicians avoid one of the hottest questions: Why should housing for the poor be clustered in one area?
Some areas -- such as upscale Montgomery County, Maryland -- are requiring most new development to set aside 12.5 to 15 percent for affordable housing, spreading poorer residents around many locations. Full story on my blog HERE. Posted July 13, 2015.
Miami's Urban Design Revolution
How Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk went from voices crying in the wilderness to being close to mainstream. Almost 30 years ago, I did a cover story on them for Tropic Magazine when their ideas seemed far-fetched and grandiose. Now they're reshaping Miami and many towns throughout the world. I revisit them in a cover story for Biscayne Times. Miami 21, the cities urban code, plus the Design District, even a new town for Mecca are part of their work. Their basic idea: Goodbye mall, hello Main Street. Get out of the car, stop carbon emissions, walk, take public transit. What's not to like? Full story available at Biscaynetimes.com
Activists Speaking Up for Poor at Liberty Square
Worried about the poor being displaced or made second-class citizens, the Miami Workers Center is keeping a close eye on Miami-Dade's huge effort to rebuild Liberty Square.
"These are not ghettos," says Rosalie Whiley, chair of the center's board who grew up in Liberty Square. Full story on blog HERE. Posted June 24, 2105
Bidding Process Starts for New Liberty Square
The ambitious process to overhaul Liberty Square has begun, with qualified prospective bidders meeting Thursday in a conference to discuss how to present their proposals, due July 2, for a massive project with an eventual price tag upwards of $200 million.
The county's idea is a complete transformation of the 57-acre public housing site, with a mix of public and private housing, retail shops and perhaps even a supermarket on a site that now consists of 700 problematic units built in 1937. Even a high-rise may be part of the mix. Full story on my blog HERE. Posted June 5, 2015
Jungle Island Exploring "Options"
Miami's long troubled amusement park, which announced a huge makeover last year, has hired an investment bank and is considering options, which could include a sale, its owner said Monday. Full story HERE. Posted June 1, 2015 -- Updated: 4:30 pm
Will Rebuilt Liberty Square Be Really New -- Or Repeat of Past Failings?
Miami-Dade has announced a $200 million plan to redo poor, problematic Liberty Square. Studies show that concentrated poverty in public housing often leads to continued dysfunctional neighborhoods. Author Marvin Dunn has an idea about how that can be avoided this time. Full story HERE. Posted May 20, 2015
Miami 1980 vs. Baltimore 2015
On the 35th anniversary of the McDuffie riots, several involved in those tumultuous events say very little has changed in black's poorest neighborhoods -- noting disturbing similarities with recent events in Baltimore. Also: Marvin Dunn, co-author of 1980 riot book, asks Miami to install marker where Arthur McDuffie died. Full report available HERE. Posted May 16, 2015.
For more posts, click on Older Stories at left.