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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871 ► Throwback Thursday

It was supposed to be a normal meeting of the Miami Planning and Zoning Board last night. The first 2 items were deferred from last month and there were a number of citizens who wanted to speak to it. 

Normally when I attend a meeting at Miami City Hall, I know all about the issues that will be discussed. I knew nothing about this issue. All I knew is that one of my sources, who has yet to be wrong, strongly suggested I make time for the 6PM meeting without telling me why. That was the first time they were ever wrong. It turned out to be a 6:30 meeting.

And, the meeting didn't even start at 6:30. It took a few extra minutes to get a quorum. However, once the meeting was gavelled to order, it moved pretty quickly to the first 2 agenda items, which had been deferred from last month in the hope that the residents and developer could work out an amicable deal. That didn't appear to have happened.

MAP LEGEND:

A: The 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue; B: The 4
parcels on the south side of Day Avenue; C: Brooker St. is
where Coconut Grove ends and Coral Gables begins; D: Douglas
Avenue; E: The Trolly Garage, which was the last time the city
tried to run roughshod over the neighbourhood and won a Pyrrhic
victor that cost the city a lot of money, all because of
[allegedly] corrupt Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's meddling.
In a nutshell, and not to get too deeply in the weeds: A developer wanted to "upzone" 8 parcels of land along Day Avenue to commercial from residential. Upzoning is the new word for variances, which appear to be routinely approved despite what the neighbours may want.

First to speak was the City of Miami's lawyer, who seemed to have been asked by the board previously, to give the city's recommendation on the upzoning request. After a whole lot of yadda, yadda, yadda the city decided to take a Solomonic approach. It recommended approval of upzoning the 4 parcels on the north side of Day Avenue (labeled A on the map to the right) and recommended denying the upzoning on the 4 parcels labeled B on the south side of Day.

Next it was the lawyer's turn to speak on behalf of the developer. It was a whole lot more yadda, yadda, yadda, but this time couched in lawyer talk. However, as he spoke you could hear the citizens, the stakeholders, the taxpayers grumbling over the wording and assumptions being made.

Then the meeting was opened to public comments. People were asked to line up at the podiums on either side of the dais and given 2 minutes to explain their support or opposition to the application for upzoning. No one spoke on behalf of the upzoning. All were opposed.

First up was J.S. Rashid, CEO of the Coconut Grove Collaborative Development Office, who spoke about how his organization is trying to maintain the fabric of the historic West Grove neighbourhood for decades, which continues to be whittled away by decisions made in Miami. He talked about the neighbourhood development zone which had been created previously and how this was more about equity than it is about the zoning of a few parcels. He brought up how there may be 8 parcels of land, but that represents 14 residential units of affordable housing for disenfranchise people. While he was hoping for a compromise, he said if there's not a net benefit to the community in affordable housing, he was prepared to oppose the project in toto.

Then the various shareholders, citizens, and taxpayers turn. It was, in essence, the same arguments heard every time the people of West Grove come out to protect their neighbourhood. Paraphrasing many of the comments: 
"You can't do this."

"Once again the historic fabric of the originally Bahamian neighbourhood is being destroyed for the sake of commerce."

"Currently, this is affordable housing. If these are lost, what will replenish the supply of affordable housing in this impoverished neighbourhood?"

"We are 3 generations of Grovites who have lived on this block for over 30 years." 
It look as if the board was about to recommend they defer the issue all over again, because it truly seemed as if there might still be room for compromise. However, the lawyer for the developer didn't think more negotiations would have been productive and asked for a decision.

Then it was time for more comments from the public. Step up Professor Anthony Alfieri. You may remember reading about Professor Alfieri in the Not Now Silly Newsroom's An Introduction to Trolleygate and Trolleygate Violates 1964 Civil Rights Act ► Not Now Silly Vindicated. Alfieri was also instrumental in unearthing Soilgate (pun intended), when his team researching Trolleygate found a memo alluding to contaminated soil in several parks in Miami. Alfieri is from the University of Miami's School of Law and the Center for Ethics and Public Service; not to mention Founder of the Historic Black Church Program.

Professor Alfieri made the comparison to Trollygate, that I had been waiting for, and how an approval of this upzoning would trigger Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968. As part of his presentation Alfieri remarked that they have been receiving anecdotal information -- which was still being compiled -- that developers across the city have been using coercion, intimidation and interference to deal with those opposed to upzoning plans. If that can be proven it could trigger the Klu Klux Klan act of 1871:
The Enforcement Act of 1871 (17 Stat. 13), also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Force Act of 1871, Ku Klux Klan Act, Third Enforcement Act, or Third Ku Klux Klan Act, is an Act of the United States Congress which empowered the President to suspend the writ of habeas corpus to combat the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and other white supremacy organizations. The act was passed by the 42nd United States Congress and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on April 20, 1871. The act was the last of three Enforcement Acts passed by the United States Congress from 1870 to 1871 during the Reconstruction Era to combat attacks upon the suffrage rights of African Americans. The statute has been subject to only minor changes since then, but has been the subject of voluminous interpretation by courts.

This legislation was asked for by President Grant and passed within one month of the president's request for it to Congress. Grant's request was a result of the reports he was receiving of widespread racial threats in the Deep South, particularly in South Carolina. He felt that he needed to have his authority broadened before he could effectively intervene. After the act's passage, the president had the power for the first time to both suppress state disorders on his own initiative and to suspend the right of habeas corpus. Grant did not hesitate to use this authority on numerous occasions during his presidency, and as a result the first era KKK was completely dismantled and did not resurface in any meaningful way until the first part of the 20th century.[1] Several of its provisions still exist today as codified statutes, but the most important still-existing provision is 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Civil action for deprivation of rights.
The city's lawyer couldn't answer whether approval of upzoning would trigger the Civil Rights lawsuits, but stressed as strenuously that the Planning and Zoning Board is a single issue board. Civil Rights lawsuits was not within its purview to adjudicate.

Whether it had anything to do with the Klu Klux Klan Act of 1871, or whether common sense prevailed, the developers request was DENIED.

Which is it's this week's Throwback Thursday.