News: Paul Pry Pages

By Anne Newport Royall


Monday October 24, 2011

Although the meeting was advertised for a 5:00 p.m. start, and the room was assembled by 5:05 p.m. with the 25 people who would participate in the workshop all present and signed-in, it was not until 5:25 p.m. that Sustainability Chair Commissioner Michael Gongora strolled in to call the meeting to order.

He explained that the gathering was prompted by the desire of the committee to “put some teeth” into a new recycling ordinance to “ensure recycling in the condominiums and multifamily housing units” and how that goal morphed into the widespread fear that code inspectors would be digging through the trash at apartment buildings and charging fines in the range of $5,000.00.

A political football was born.

At the last Finance and Citywide Projects Committee Meeting, the first showdown turned out to be almost too much for FCP Chair Deede Weithorn. Weithorn could barely keep apart dueling Commissioners Jerry Libbin and Jonah Wolfson, and booted the discussion to this meeting today, where more of the residents’ views could be heard over the battle between Libbin and Wolfson.

At this special workshop, the house was stacked in Libbin’s favor with the presence of the largest condominium managers in the City, the Continental Group. TCG staff was out in force at the pervious meeting and back again today. TCG comprised one third of the people in the room who were not a member of the committee, a City staffer, vendor or lobbyist.

Wolfson was a no-show.

Betsy Wheaton from Public Works, and the staff person for the Sustainability Committee gave a bit of background. “The County passed a recycling ordinance in 1992.”  It’s the law that is on the books today, although the bar to compliance is low: you don’t have to prove you recycle, you only have to have a method in place, a contract for example, to recycle, but there is no check or enforcement.

The City has a list of all the multi-family dwellings that are not compliant with County Code, and could ask the County to enforce their Code.

The Commissioners were previously warned that they are within their rights to pass a tougher ordinance than the County’s, but at the risk of being responsible for all enforcement.

Nonetheless, in 2007 the Sustainability Committee began to discuss the continued lack of recycling in the City and in 2010 proposed changes, which have resulted in the ordinance that passed on first reading in July of this year.

However, commissioners who were against the ordinance for one reason or another voted for it that day, with the condition it go back to Finance which sent it back today.

Libbin sensed the opening at the conclusion of Wheaton’s Power Point Presentation, which highlighted changes between first reading and today, and jumped in to make it clear he was on a very different page.

“Incentives make the most sense and I have a suggestion that does not require an ordinance.” Libbin had spent part of the day in meetings with trash haulers and public works trying to craft a deal to “get the ball rolling in 6-8 months, not the 18 that is spelled out in the proposed ordinance.”

Libbin wants to reach out, through a series of official letters from the City and follow-up calls from the haulers, to those buildings that are out of compliance. These letters would let the offenders know that the City is aware and additionally they can save money if they will only recycle. The haulers follow up and offer to modify client contracts to make room for recycling.

Libbin’s math goes like this: the three approved commercial waste haulers in the City tack on an additional 20% franchise fee to their bill that is payable to the City.

However that franchise fee is not charged to recycling services. Libbin wants to convince scofflaws that moving their recyclables out of their trash, they pay less for the trash hauling service. Finally, he proposes to threaten to turn them into the County if they don’t.

He wants to use 1.5% of the 20% franchise fee to cover the cost of the two sustainability officers he proposes it would take to do the letters and follow-up with inspections.

Al Zamora, Sanitation Director, agreed with the availability of the finding source to carry this proposal through and hire the staff needed.

Jason Neal from Waste Management said that even at a loss of revenue he would work with the City to have more compliance.

Chris Hevia, Vice President of The Continental Group pledged their support to compel enforcement.

Dusty Melton, Dean of the Miami Lobbying Core, volunteered to lobby Mayor Gimenez, pro bono, if the City wanted to pursue the County for more enforcement of the County’s ordinance.

Libbin’s calculations left out the expense of retro-fitting an older single chute multi-floor trash system, the added costs to a building’s staff to implement a program, or the cost to pay for the separate recycling containers and pick-up service. Or how the City could maintain the program, once the haulers revenue was reduced that affected the kickback to the City of the franchise fee to pay the costs of the staff.

Debra Lebowitz, a committee member, was not completely sold about changing course against the ordinance change, “I like the idea of putting the onus on the County” she offered, but reminded the Commissioner that the numbers that turned out for the last meeting was because people were “panic stricken at a small part of the ordinance. If the fines are after a lengthy period of education, then the fines are not a terrible thing.”

The item moves back to the full Sustainability Committee in November, and from there back to FCP in December or January of 2012.



Once David Kelsey assured the crowd that “No one will be going through your trash,” his take-home lesson from yesterday’s Sustainability Committee meeting, the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club got underway with guest Group 6 Commission Candidate Maria Meruelo.

Maria Meruelo

Appearing relaxed and confident, she was accompanied by one of her teenage sons who sat beside her at the front of the U-shaped table. ??Meruelo gave a brief personal history, and declared that it was the “attitude of city officials that is hurting us.”

When mentioning the “15% unemployment rate of Miami Beach” which is higher than both the regional and national averages, she concedes, “that there are some competent people at City Hall,” and suggested replacing the others with more residents.

She said she believed that Code Compliance is used as a “tool to harass and intimate,” and shared the story of a friend trying to open a 700 square foot salon in the City, and his nine-month permitting process, “He is afraid he will have to close even before his grand opening.”

Speaking with ease, she turned the topic to Urban Beach Weekend, saying that the “current leaders have let this go on for 10 years’” and suggested City-sponsored events that “honor our veterans” instead.

She spoke to the “culture of corruption and favoritism of City Hall” by recounting how “two big players called me” during the week of qualifying in an attempt to discourage her running. “I want to thank those two individuals to give me the “umph” to stand up and fight. I am here to offer you a choice,” the smiling Meruelo said.

“There are three commission seats up, and only one race is competitive,” she remarked, commenting on the apathy. “It’s the whole attitude that no one cares. I care and I am here to give you a choice.”

“Any questions?” she asked as she confidently scanned the room.

The normally loquacious members were silent. Not a peep from Harry Cherry; not a sound from Dee Lawrence, Elsa Urquiza, Harold Foster, Alex Fernandez, Anne Swanson, Dessiree Kane, Frank or Marian DelVecchio, Dave Crystal, Stanley Shapiro, Jerry Libbin, Mark or Deede Weithorn, or the 25 others in the room. Just quiet.

You could hear the music playing above her head.

Harry Cherry finally broke the ice, “There is a longstanding problem with the building department. Why put Code in that department?” he asked, testing Mereulo’s knowledge of city organization issues.

“There is no rationale to this,” she agreed

David Kelsey took the mike. “I am surprised there are no more questions.” He prodded Stanley Shapiro to at least offer his usual voir dire.

“Okay okay,” Shapiro acquiesced. “How much money have you raised, who are your supporters and when did you last vote in Miami Beach?” Shapiro, ever the partisan, did point out that he, like Meruelo, was a Republican, a rarity in this election.

“Don’t worry,” Kelsey offered Meruelo. “He asks that of everyone.”Meruelo reiterated her campaign promise made at her only other public appearance, the five-minute infomercial running on MBTV-77: “I have not collected any money from anyone. I am 100 percent funding my own campaign so I don’t owe anyone anything.”This drew a round of applause, and that led to a few more questions.

Alex Fernandez asked Meruelo how she would pay for a parade and the other alternative programming she suggested for Memorial Day Weekend. “We spend over $1 million now; there is money to do things.”

Fernandez engaged her with, “Parades cost money and need police and sanitation, and these are tough budgeting times.”??Meruelo countered that different permits could be issued for better events. “The mayor first said she did not issue permits, then we learned she did.”

“That’s not what the mayor said,” defended Lynn Birnstein from the City Manager’s Office. “There were no stages on public property.”

And “the mayor has nothing to do with the issuance of permits. Everyone knows that,” Fernandez said in another jab at the newcomer.

Meruelo could not be knocked off her high ground. “It’s the attitude and the tone,” she shot back. “This is not a racial issue. Everyone is welcome, black, green, white—everyone.”

Election Day’s guest will be Joseph Centorino, the new Executive Director of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and just a few weeks on the job following a 25-year stint at the Miami-Dade?State Attorney’s Office. The TMBC meets at 8:30 a.m. at David’s Café 2 on Lincoln Road and Meridian.


Tuesday October 25

The Planning Board was moving right along with is short agenda and short board. Attorney Seth Frolich’s chair was empty, which was apropos for the most heated discussion of that day involving changes to the way board members are selected for Land Use Boards.

Land Use Boards in the City are the Zoning Board of Adjustment, the Historic Preservation Board, the Design Review Board and the Planning Board.

This ordinance has been winding it’s way through the City for over two years and serves to clarify membership categories by limiting professionals, such as attorneys and architects to those with experience in Florida and allowing for more flexibility in filling the designated seats, by exchanging the developer on the Planning Board for an attorney.

Planning Board Member Henry Stollar drafted an eight-page treatise on the ordinance, seeing it as an opportunity to address several areas of concern with the composition and vetting of the boards.

Frank del Vecchio stood, and in a round about way asked for a continuance, so that an in-depth conversation and analysis can take place.  And while chairman Randy Weisburd was in personal agreement with that, Jonathan Frye took the floor and started chipping away at parts of the proposal, starting with the substitution of the developer slot on the planning board, “This must be a joke,” he asked rhetorically,“To have a proposal where there would be no developer on the Planning Board.”

Frye also opined that the seats on the HPB that were designated to be filed from the members of the Miami Design Preservation League and the Dade Heritage Trust needed to become at-large. “Those two organizations lobby in front of that Board, our Board all the Boards,” complaining of an inherent conflict of interest.

Jonathan Belloff stated he liked the added application requirements as drafted by Stollar.

When it was Stollar’s turn to speak, he tried to follow Del Vecchio’s lead to have the item continued. Or at least open up the discussion to include the items he wanted discussed.

“You can’t do that” interjected Interim Planning and Zoning Director Richard Lorber, “You have a referral from the City Commission to do one thing: consider this proposal as it is before you.”

Stollar asks for a legal opinion, and Debra Turner, sitting in for Gary Held backed up Lorber all the way.

Cue the superhero music. At that moment, Jorge Gomez swoops in and takes the mic, the former Director of Planning and Zoning and now a current Assistant City Manager reminds the Board that they can indeed recommend ordinance changes, and outlined the procedure to do just that.

Stollar breathes a sigh of relief, abet a short-lived one. He believes this proposal has languished so long, laying dormant over 25 months he noted, that to wait a few more to make sure “we get it right” is the best course.

Lorber would have none of that. He stresses the urgency of getting it done while this commission is in session, as questions always arise after a new commission comes on regarding appointments. “This is just housekeeping,” he implored.

Stollar noted that two rounds of new appointments have come and gone with out these changes, and reiterates the importance “to do it right.”

Just when the issue seemed straight to a continuance, Lorber tried again to get some action on the proposed ordinance, “It’s early, it’s only 3:00 p.m. There is only one item left”, he beseeched.

Stollar’s motion for a continuance died for a lack of second.

Frye took the floor and started making changes to the ordinance, which were voted on one by one. Then Stollar got his chance to suggest changes, most of which died for lack of a second.

Lorber was concerned with the affirmative vote to remove the partition of seats for MDPL and DHT by turning those seats into additional “at large” seats for anyone who lives or works in Miami Beach and had an interest in historic preservation. “We are not here to change policy,” Lorber noted.

In the end, after all the changes, the ordinance, as amended, passed 3 to 2.

However, it takes four votes to make a positive recommendation to the Commission, so the official outcome, according to Turner, is “the Planning Board does not recommend the ordinance as amended.”

The companion piece, to be based on Stollar’s recommendations will come back to the Planning Board in December or January of next year.

The final item on the agenda, recommending a zoning change to the three blocks of R-PS4 to allow a 25 foot height increase on the waterfront passed after a small love-fest of former height-limit stalwarts that agreed the devil is not in the height, but in the details of what goes on in the space.

With small  neighbors like Prime 112, and large good neighbors on the horizon for 321 Ocean Drive, now seemed like the time to allow for increased height in the Historic District. The ordinance now moves to the Commission where the real fight between preservations past, present and future will meet on the blue battlefield of the Commission Chambers.

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