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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated

The non-conforming government operated vehicle maintenance
facility appeared virtually finished on a October 16, 2013 visit
Ever since I first began writing about Trolleygate, I have called it an obvious case of Racial Discrimination. Now it appears the United States Department of Transportation, writing the latest jokes in this comedy of errors, agrees with me. All brought to the good people of Miami and Coral Gables by [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff.

Legal troubles over the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility have grow exponentially since the residents of West Grove were first made aware of the project and launched a David vs Goliath legal challenge against the cities of Miami and Coral Gables, not to mention the powerful Astor Development, a company with deep pockets. Had the residents not had a legal team willing to work Pro Bono, they would have never been able to afford to take on this legal battle.


Unfortunately when the residents' lawsuit came up for a hearing the judge, while sympathetic to the residents' arguments, ruled not to rule, saying he had no jurisdiction. The residents' legal team vowed to continue to fight the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility and began to prepare an appeal.




And, it's a good thing that legal battle continued. Intrepid tree-shaking by the West Grove legal team discovered two very important documents, the first of which is the Smoking Gun email. This internal email was from Dakota Hendon (City of Miami Building and Zoning Department) to Francisco Garcia (City of Miami Planning Director). It stated in unequivocal language that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility did NOT comply with the Miami 21 Plan, which specifically ruled out things called "government operated vehicle maintenance facilities."

Rather than say "NO" to a multi-million dollar developer, there was some obvious -- if not obviously illegal -- jiggery-pokery performed by someone [still to be determined] within the City of Miami government. This person ordered the developer to re-write and re-submit the proposal, but this time leave out the word "maintenance." The developer did so and the building permit was issued under this second application, even though the only thing that had changed was the wording, not the building's intent.




However, the West Grove legal team shook out something far more important during its research. It turns out that City of Miami officials had been sitting on a report for years that said the soil at Armbrister Field contained high levels of toxins from Old Smokey, the not-so-affectionate name for the incinerator that belched out carcinogens for nearly 100 years -- before it was closed down in 1970. That discovery led to soil testing at all the parks in Miami and, GUESS WHAT?!?! It turns out that toxic ash from this incinerator was used as fill all over Miami, including many of its parks. Expensive remedial action will need to be taken while the parks are closed, ironically including the Marc D. Sarnoff Memorial Dog Park.




The White Elephant at 3320 South Douglas Road from another angle
NB: Don't get distracted. Soilgate is merely a side issue to this three-ring circus.

Soon after the West Grove residents had their case tossed out of court, the City of Coral Gables -- the city that Racism built -- filed its own lawsuit against Astor Development and the City of Miami. The suit alleges, essentially, that it was duped. Coral Gables was to accept transfer of a 'clean' government operated vehicle maintenance facility that Astor Trolley, LLC, built in exchange for land on which Astor Development, LLC wants to make gazillions of dollars by building a massive mixed-use development. However, Coral Gables is now concerned that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility is encumbered in lawsuits and wants a judge to either sever the contract it has with Astor or, in the alternative, rule that the non-conforming, polluting, government operated vehicle maintenance facility actually conforms to the Miami 21 Plan, despite the fact that it doesn't, smoking gun emails notwithstanding.




Which brings us full-circle to the [alleged] Civil Rights violations. According to a Department of Transportation investigation into Trolleygate instigated by a neighbour's complaint, the cities of Miami and Coral Gables [allegedly] violated the Civil Rights of the West Grove residents by not ensuring the project complied with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VI. The 13 page letter and memorandum from the Federal Transit Administration reads in part [PDF]:
As you know, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI) provides that "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require that public transportation services be provided in a nondiscriminatory manner. To implement this requirement, DOT regulations and the Federal Transit Administration's Title VI guidance require that entitles receiving Federal assistance, when determining the site or location of public transportation facilities, may not make site selections with the purpose or effect of excluding persons from, denying them the benefits of, or subjecting them to discrimination with respect to, public transportation services on the grounds of race, color, or national origin.

To ensure compliance with FTA's Title VI regulatory requirements, entities receiving Federal assistance must conduct a Title VI equity analysis for all public transportation facility siting decisions. This analysis will generally include outreach to persons potentially impacted by the siting of the respective facility, and consideration of the equity impacts of various siting alternatives. When a potentially discriminatory impact is found, the transit agency must revise its plans in order to avoid or mitigate the discriminatory impact. If, upon taking mitigating actions and reanalyzing the proposed site selection, the transit agency determines that minority communities will continue to bear a disparate impact of the proposed site selection, the transit agency may implement the site selection only [emphasis in original] if the agency has a substantial legitimate justification for the site selection and can show that there are no alternatives that would have a less disparate impact on the minority community.
The entrance and maintenance bays for the fake trolley buses as
viewed from Frow, a quiet residential street, on October 16th
Cutting through the verbiage: Because both the cities of Coral Gables and Miami accept Federal Dollars to run the free fake trolley buses, they both need to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI. When Astor Development decided to build this in a predominately minority neighbourhood without consultation, it [allegedly] violated the Civil Rights of the struggling neighbourhood. Furthermore, when Coral Gables refused to give the residents of West Coconut Grove a Fake Trolley Stop, it [allegedly] violated their Civil Rights.

However, the comedy doesn't end there. The first paragraph quoted above starts out "As you know..." It turns out that both Miami and Coral Gables claim that they didn't know and have never considered Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Oh! Stop!! My!!! Sides!!!! According to Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald:
An investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation, triggered by a neighbor’s complaint, found the county failed to ensure the cities followed the law. The cities, in turn, violated the law by not conducting a study during the garage’s “planning stages” to ensure that race did not play a part in determining where it was built or whether the garage would have an “adverse impact” on the West Grove neighborhood, which has long struggled to attract business.

The two municipalities, which say they were unaware of the requirements, also failed to perform public outreach as required by the law, the investigation found.

[...] University of Miami law professor Anthony Alfieri, whose Center for Ethics & Public Service has helped residents fight the garage, said the ruling calls into question whether the governments violated the law in other projects where federal transportation money was used.

“This letter and memorandum raise a significant question about whether the county and these two municipalities have ever been in compliance with Title VI, because apparently they’re not aware of the objectives and have no program in effect,” he said. “Title VI is one of the main provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, so this statute is 49 years old. People marched and died because of this.”
If this were really a situation comedy, this would be where the plot complications begin. Miami and Coral Gables have now committed to conducting the FTA study that should have happened long before the building permit was ever issued; just like the Trolleygate Dog and Pony Show was only mounted by [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff after the residents of West Grove discovered he had worked behind their backs to grease the wheels to get this white elephant approved. That's our sitcom character Sarnoff: Always putting the cart before the horse. Hilarity ensues.





Still not laughing? Maybe the latest finger-pointing from Astor Development will get a chuckle or two out of you. According to the same Miami Herald article:
Astor, however, believes the city should have made sure the Civil Rights Act was followed.

“The city of Coral Gables recently learned that they were subject to the rules and regulations of the FTA, of which the city manager and the city attorney were not aware of in the past,” Astor spokesman Tad Schwartz said.

“Their compliance with the FTA program was not disclosed in any way with our agreement. This wasn’t in our contract.”
Here's where the comedy ends because: TAXPAYERS' MONEY!!! Every dollar spent on this project so far has been a monumental waste. When [allegedly] corrupt Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff decided to help Astor Development push this project through Miami City Hall, it had the reverse-Midas effect: Everything touched by this project has turned to manure. Astor Development purchased the land and threw up the structure. Astor, Miami and Coral Gables have all hired legal teams for the various lawsuits past, present, and future. This is throwing good money after bad and, except for Astor's money, the taxpayers are on the hook for it all.

ROLL CREDITS: This comedy of errors has been brought to you by [allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, the anti-Midas, who decided a developer's desire to build once again trumped the interests of his own constituents.