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Saturday, August 17, 2013

West Grove Residents Lose ► Polluting Bus Garage Will Go Ahead

Indefatigable Coconut Grove community activist Laurie Cook leading the protest
The residents of west Coconut Grove had their hopes dashed yesterday when Miami-Dade County Judge Ronald G. Dresnick ruled that a polluting diesel bus garage will go ahead in their residential neighbourhood as planned.

Prior to the hearing about 50 resident of the Grove gathered in the 100 degree heat for a public awareness campaign on the courthouse steps, until they were kicked off the steps and made to use the sidewalk. Then everyone gathered in courtroom 4-2 at 10:30 a.m. to hear oral arguments.



[This was the coldest room I have ever been in. After we all came in sweaty and clammy from the heat, everyone was immediately chilled to the bone and remained that way until the hearing ended at 1 p.m. Meat lockers are not kept this cold. It must be so the law won't spoil. The court clerk had what appeared to be a blanket pulled over her shoulders. The lawyers were the only ones not disadvantaged by the cold. Now I know why they all wear suits.]

The meat locker called Courtroom 4-2. Can you see their breath?
The legal arguments went on for nearly 2.5 hours and when it was all over the judge ruled -- to make a long story short -- that he really didn't have jurisdiction to issue the residents an injunction to stop the polluting diesel bus garage based on the several legal arguments presented.

To make a long story long: The judge decided he wasn't going to rule on the Plaintiff's Constitutional arguments, which were about prior neighbourhood notification (where residents only have 15 days to file a protest) and how one gets word a project has finally been approved. Those approval notices are posted every 2 weeks on a hard-to-find area of the City of Miami's web site. [I'm net savvy and I've never been able to find it.] Furthermore, as I learned in court from the plaintiff's lawyers, 49% of West Grove residents do not have access to the internet. And, even if they did, they would be required to keep checking the city's web site every 2 weeks -- 26 times a year -- in case a building permit has been issued on a project of local concern. It's a lot like that opening scene of the Hitchhiker's Guilde to the Galaxy when a work crew arrives to demolish Arthur Dent's house for a highway bypass. They tell him that he had every opportunity to protest the highway because he could have always gone to City Hall to see the plans:
“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
Another Plaintiff argument the judge rejected was that the Coral Gables Bus Garage would be a "government vehicle maintenance facility" which is specifically EXCLUDED by the Miami 21 Plan for the Douglas Road corridor. That argument didn't fly for 2 reasons, as I understand it. * Defendants argued that the bus garage is currently owned by Astor Development and, therefore, it's not government operated yet. Only when Astor Development signs over the bus garage to the City of Coral Gables would it become a government vehicle maintenance facility . . . or, maybe not.

The other argument from the defendant seemed far more arcane to me, but the judge bought it. Lawyers for the defendants argued that under the Miami 21 Plan a commercial gas station, or tire repair place, would be allowed on that site and these places could provide minor repairs. Therefore, it came down to the definition of "minor repairs" versus "major repairs." Furthermore, defendants argued, a gas station or tire garage would have similar environmental and noise impacts on the neighbourhood. That might be so, but those businesses do not start their day at 5 a.m. and run to 11 at night. Their hours would be limited to whatever the Miami by-laws allow, as in any city, and 5 in the morning to 11 at night would not pass muster. Regardless of those details, in essence, the judge ruled that it appeared to be merely a by-law violation if (when?) major vehicle repairs are done in a place where only minor repairs are allowed.

Nor was the judge swayed by the safety arguments of the plaintiffs. The design of the diesel bus garage, with bus parking and bays in the rear, requires the buses to enter on Frow Avenue and exit on Oak Avenue; both are residential streets, without sidewalks, upon which thousands of children walk to school -- to say nothing of all the other residents, some of whom are elderly and infirm, just like in any neighbourhood.

None of the safety or environmental issues -- those that most concern the residents -- mattered to the judge because those arguments were not legal arguments. Legal arguments are the clauses and subclauses of the written law and the precedents the lawyers can cite for the judge to rule one way or another.

However, what the residents of west Coconut Grove were reminded of, as if they needed further reminding, is that "the Colour Line is the Poverty Line is the Power Line (Ambalavaner Sivanandan, 1923 - ). If this were a White neighbourhood this never would have happened; not because the residents would have successfully won an injunction in court. It would never have come to court because had this been a White neighbourhood the property values would have been such that Astor Development would have never found cheap land to buy in West Grove. Those 9 decades of Systemic Racism are described in the several previous articles on Not Now Silly under the rubric "No Skin In The Game." People tell me they are shocked at what the series reveals.


* I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television. I only had few minutes to debrief Ralf Brookes, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, before he rushed off to a depo, as he called it. If I misunderstood anything I will provide corrections once my bone-headed errors are pointed out to me.