News: Paul Pry Pages

Highlights and Actions From Government  Meetings

CITY OF MIAMI BEACH PLANNING BOARD

9/20/2011

The continuing saga of the Gansevoot vs. the neighbors seems to be coming to a quiet end.

After years of contentious battles between the hotel and the Roney Palace condominium association that shares its building, a battle that saw residents being restricted from entering parts of their former home, to the war over noise between the new rooftop pool venue, “Plunge”, and the condominium associations to the north, south and west, things seem to be settling down in and around this prime Sobe oceanfront location.

Attorneys Lucia A. Dougherty of powerhouse firm Greenburg Traurig for developer Sandy Lane and note-holder Credit Suisse, and Kent Harrison Robbins representing the Roney Palace condominium, may have to find other ways to fill their weekly quota of billable hours other than regular appearances before the Planning Board on behalf of these clients.

Back for a scheduled 60-day progress report, staff concluded that all of the conditions of the modified conditional use permit have been satisfied. With no valid noise complaints registered in the previous two months, further testing being done by sound-wave consultant ‘the Audio Bug’, a new trash compactor that makes pick-ups unnecessary for weeks at a time, and a traffic circulation study and plan on the books, it seems that all involved are happy with the current state of affairs.

So happy that prime-effected resident, neighbor Rose Barco came and stood in support of the Gansevoot. “There has been a substantial change in the operations” she testified.

This was music to the ears of Board chairman Randy Weisburd, son of Elayne Weisburd, the first woman elected to the Miami Beach City Commission in 1977. (Her husband, Sidney, followed her to the dais in 1983). Master Weisburd is a pro-business, no-nonsense family man who is tired of Miami Beach‘s reputation of being unfriendly to business. “I see the folks from Credit Suisse flew down to be here,” he noted. “I want to remove the burden of the 90-day appearance. I want to reward the behavior that we have seen this past year.”

Board Member Seth Frolich agreed; the applicant has “done an excellent job in turning the entire project around,” he said.

Fly-in-the-ointment Henry Stolar wrangled with the conditions for moving forward, asking that the reports on sound and traffic be presented to the Planning Department staff for dissemination and analysis by the Board before the November meeting. If all goes well, the applicant will not be asked to appear again this year.

“We hope not to see you until 2012” Weisburd concluded.

CITY OF MIAMI BEACH BUDGET ADVISORY COMMITTEE

9/20/11

When Mayor Matti Bower tasked this citizen’s panel to come up with solutions to the looming pension crisis, she placed in the middle of the battle residents who are now forced to deal with the monster created by the elected officials grating excessively generous pension benefits.

That move protected the mayor and commissioners from dealing directly with the wrath of the powerful  unions looking to preserve their entitlement in an election year.

At 4:00 p.m. the third floor training room of the Parking Department was filled with police offices, firefighters and representatives from all classifications of city staff, except the staff that was charged to be working the meeting. Not until close to 4:30 p.m. did Kathy Brooks, Director of the Office of Budget and Performance Management wheel in her box of agendas and water so that the meeting could begin.

The agenda advertised an opportunity for union leaders and rank-and-file employees to share their perspective on the challenges at hand starting at 4:00 p.m. with unions representatives. While more and more city staff continued to fill the room, Human Resources Department Director Ramiro Inguanzo reminded the BAC chair CPA Mark Gidney that the meeting was noticed for general employees to appear after 5:00 p.m. so they could participate and not interfere with the work schedule of the City.

The meeting kicked off with a set of ground rules by the Chair: each union would be granted five minutes to make their case before the board.

Adonis Garcia, firefighter and president of local 1510 was outraged at this notion. “I am insulted that you have given me five minutes to speak about my future and livelihood. I was planning to be sweet. I will not be so sweet now.”

Always passionate and animated, Garcia launched into his now-familiar soliloquy that would make a Jewish mother proud,  beating his well-toned chest and proclaiming how he and his fellow first-responders put their life on the line in exchange for their promised pension. “I don’t know if you know what it’s like to take a bullet or go into a crumbling building” he said to Gidney directly, “and wonder if you will ever see your family again.”

As to the notion of the City moving from a defined benefits plan to a defined contribution 401(k) type plan, as has been discussed, he challenged the Chair to elucidate on the origins of this corporately conveyed retirement scheme. 401(k)’s were first widely adopted as retirement plans for American workers beginning in the 1980s when certain accounting rules were changed. The 401(k)—named after that part of the U.S. Tax code holding its rules—emerged as an alternative to the traditional retirement pension, which was paid by employers. IBM Corporation was the first large, blue chip employer to embrace the new post-employment savings plan. Like scores of other big corporations saddled with unpredictable defined benefit pension burdens, IBM elected to freeze its traditional pension plans to get more control over its retirement expenses.

While first conceived as a supplement to a traditional defined benefit plan when those plans were frozen, 401(k) accounts have emerged as the primary source of retirement lifestyle funding, and IBM has become a leader in providing this type of benefits to its global workforce.

Nonetheless, Garcia will have none of it. “I was made promises when I started this journey [of employment] with the City years ago [and] if I would have known the promise would have been broken, I would have done differently,” he declared.

“If this venue does not give me the opportunity to talk, I will find a venue where I will be heard,” he threatened.

Kathleen Phillips, attorney for both the firefighters union and the police union spoke next to provide some background for the committee members. “A little over a year ago these two unions came to the table and signed off on concessions to balance the budget. It is disconcerting to be asked to come back and have our pockets picked again.” She complained that the City has not implemented those changes and therefore have not benefited from those savings. “We do not want to become part of a circus that does not know the history of what we have given in the past,” she concluded.

Committee member John Gardner responded, saying, “We are not here to negotiate. We are not here to cut your pension. We are here to look for solutions. We want to hear what this pension means to you.”

The usually calm, cool and collected Alex Bello, president of the Police Union was not so cool and calm this day. He emotionally spoke of what his pension means to him and his family, “This is personal. This is about my five-year old girl. If I get shot answering a burglary call at your home, (my pension ensures) my little girl with have a life. 14 years ago, (when he joined the force) I was promised a pension and certain terms and conditions had to be met. That’s why it’s personal.” Bello continued, the City “paying an outside attorney $300 thousand dollars to fight a judge’s decision” to place the pension changes on a public ballot so they may be implemented “is personal, very personal, Sir… there is a reason we have pensions.”

Richard McKinnon, dapper president of the local CWA expressed “surprised that we were invited to this meeting. Our pension was overhauled last year. We have done our share.” Then he reminded the committee that his organization has taken the lead on pension reform with a proposal that would cap at just over $100 thousand dollars the annual pension payout. “We hope that you will join our efforts and sign our petition to include this reform on the November 2012 Ballot.” McKinnon proposed other changes too, in the vesting of benefits that favor longer-term employees.

With that, board member Dushan Koller took to the podium and began scolding the union representatives and other workers in attendance, which led a mass exodus as his remarks continued.

“You come here and cry. You are here to protect your cookies.  Who is going to pay for this?  This (the pensions) is unsustainable. What you have been promised was a mistake.”

And while the meeting continued after that, with few others coming forward to speak, the air was taken out of the room and the meeting adjourned shortly thereafter.

DADE BOULEVARD BIKE PATH COMMUNITY MEETING

9/20/2011

“Who can argue with an off-road bike path?”, quipped Public Works engineer and Project Manager Rick Saltrick. It seems the Palm View neighbors can.

The $4.5 million federally-funded project to rebuild the seawall on the north side of the Collins Canal from Alton Road east to Washington Avenue has been in the works for years. The City’s Flood Management Plan calls for the raising of all of the City’s seawalls to deal with global warming and it’s consequences.  According to Saltrick, the City of Miami Beach has seen a 7-inch sea level rise in the last 100 years with  projections calling for another 7” to 18” inch rise in the next 100 years.

While the existing canopy of trees will be removed to make way for the project, the 7000 feet of lost canopy will be replaced with 15,000 feet of new tree bloom.

While the Palm View neighbors would have preferred more screening of their homes that sit across the canal, the project landscaping is limited to how much shade can be generated over the canal. Why?

Sea grass! Specifically, Johnson’s sea grass, which was listed as an endangered species in 1998 and is special because it is the only known species to reproduce asexually.

To accommodate a small, 12-inch overhang the new seawall will require, the project will have to pay a mitigation fee for the future death of the grass to the tune of a quarter of a million dollars.

You read that right; $250 thousand dollars of federal money for this project will be dedicated to paying the federal government to mitigate the effects on sea grass of doing this project.

Only in America.

On a positive note, an additional feature of this meandering path will be the use of pervious concrete, something heretofore not used on Miami Beach. This drip-through uber porous hardscape will not require additional drainage. We will have to wait and see how it holds up to the test of time.

Also included in this very eco-friendly project are LED lighting and the return to native vegetation along the Canal in the form of gumbo-limbo, mahogany and palm trees.

Gary Hunt of neighboring Bayshore liked the project, even after complaining about the choice of trees, treatment and plans presentation. ‘I think this is great, bike lanes separated from the roadway.”

Perhaps Saltrick did have it right after all.

MIAMI DADE COUNTY COMMISSION

9/20/2011

Readers will remember that at last week’s CIP meeting the issue of moving forward with the above- and below-ground street improvements on Hibiscus Island was on the agenda. With the project stalled again, the homeowners association asked, and was granted, an abatement of the collection of their 1/15 assessment for the Overhead Relocation Improvement Special Taxing District, also known as the project to put underground utility lines on the island.

Although 25 percent of the 181 parcels have paid their assessment in full, the remaining 135 remaining properties will not have their annual portion added to their tax bills this November.

Ian Kaplan, Hibiscus Island Utility Undergrounding Chair For Palm Hibiscus Star Islands Homeowner’s Association remains optimistic that the project will proceed with hastened speed now that the “The City of Miami Beach has stepped up to take full control of the project and is currently finalizing a contract with a “Design Criteria Professional” to prepare and organize the full design package for the entire Palm and Hibiscus Islands Right of Way Improvement Project which shall include the Hibiscus Island Utility Undergrounding Project. This coordination and all inclusive approach shall maximize the savings for the Utility Undergrounding Project and minimize inconvenience to the residents for this major infrastructure upgrade, which includes upgraded storm water systems, new streets, lighting and landscaping.”

With the issue of FPL requiring their entire fee upfront has yet to be decided, and the County slashing its debt service millage by 50 percent, Kaplin remains confident that the financial issues will be “sorted out between Miami-Dade County policy and FPL policy.”

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