Plea for Formal Remediation of Unreasonable Noise and Maladministration
Dear Commission Grieco:
I have posted this letter on the Web for your easy reference. You have said that my letters are too long for your cell phone, so I am hoping that you have access to a desktop or laptop computer. I am also hoping that your colleagues have the equipment and power of continuous concentration to consider this document and act upon it. If I do receive a response, I shall provide voluminous factual information to support my thesis upon request
This is my petition for legislative and administrative action to mitigate unreasonable noise, vibrations, exhaust fumes, and other pollution in construction projects in the City of Miami Beach by requiring contractors to include statements of probable pollution impact and their remediation program in their bidding documents, and by requiring owners and developers to provide temporary housing to residents whose lives are unreasonably impacted by construction pollution in all events, and especially when the city waives the charter provision of a civil right against such disturbances.
The need for such legislation was made evident to your neighbors during the horizontal drilling of a 2/3 mile long redundant sewer line. The noise, vibrations, and fumes around the entry and exit holes can only be described as torturous, of the nature that terrorists and other criminals are subjected to by the police power in other parts of the world in order to drive them out of their buildings or to confess to their crimes.
The only expression of concern was that the customers of Joe’s Restaurant, frequented by the affluent and vested interests, not be disturbed.
The charter protection was waived by the city because the drilling contractor had contracted to be present on the North Dakota pipeline. A responsible city official for that reason declared that the project was “time sensitive,” but implied that the city was in imminent danger of being inundated by sewage, which if expressly stated would have been a bald-faced lie. There was no emergency. In fact, an engineering report stated that there was a very small chance of a break in the existing sewer main, and that there was no imminent danger of it failing. The drilling team left town a year ago and the redundant project is just now winding up.
Many complaints and pleas were submitted by victims to the mayor, commissioners, and administrative officials. Responsibility for the outrageous disturbance on weekends and evenings was shamefully shirked by administrative officials, with the exception of Eric Carpenter. The mayor was too important to receive the victims at city hall; the commissioners, who were notified time and again of the issue, were unresponsive.
The rule of thumb when only a small number of people are disturbed is not to provide for their general welfare but to ignore them the best one can. This usually works politically because of the local culture: with some remarkable exceptions, people not only do not love their neighbors but they do not even want to know them unless there is something in it for them. Further, traumatized people tend to be concerned with their own predicaments to the exclusion of others.
The duty to address the complaints was delegated to the general contractor and his public relations employee. Shutting down the project until adequate sound protection could be obtained was out of the question due to the drilling team’s scheduling needs. The general contractor slapped together a wooden box for the gigantic engine to reduce the decibels. That project created more noise in the evenings and took all too long for a minimal result. In fine, it was too little too late, including too late to file for an injunction in circuit court, and the racket dragged on for months. The public relations sophist did what she could, which was to simply shine people on with specious rhetoric.
A meeting was held by your powerful neighborhood association. A public works official finally publicly addressed the ongoing nuisance. As an engineer he had no sympathy with the people suffering the unreasonable pollution due to a drilling process that is usually employed out in the boondocks and not in the residential neighborhoods of small cities such as ours. I have an account of that meeting if you have a personal computer and the time to consider it.
That account includes the tearful complaint of a woman who was being tortured by unreasonable vibrations and noise at 419 Michigan Avenue, near your home. She apparently thought David Mancini was the city’s official contractor, and that the 419 Michigan Avenue project was his responsibility, which he has nothing to do with.
As you know, the groundwork at that site for a small hotel, across Michigan from the healthy Vibe studio, seemed almost interminable due to water conditions. I estimated that the entire declared valuation of the hotel construction was absorbed by the groundwork, although a superintendent told me the extent of the groundwork was expected. Still, I have asked the building department to collect affidavits and documents upon completion to make sure that a correct value is declared and all permit fees are paid, which has not always been done in the past under the city’s Rob Peter to Paul to Breakeven Policy.
I hope that woman has recovered. I shall never forget her tearful plea for relief from the awful noise and vibrations. But manly engineers and city officials are deaf to such pleas from small minorities. There is always collateral damage in the fog of war against nature. The fact that there are so many complaints in our city creates a din that tends to deafen city officials unless, again, there is something in it for them if they respond to it.
There were so-called activists around town who could have raised enough hell to get some relief. Unfortunately, they either had their noses in the wrong place, or they were afraid to speak up because they had their own needs. After all, His Honor the Mayor said after the last election that people who complained about things would have to wait until the next election to be heard.
Therefore, I hope you will at least respond with your position on what you can do to make sure that city officials in instances such as this provide for the welfare for all stakeholders, not just the welfare of those represented by the power elite’s political bureau on the commission.
“What is that awful smell?” I asked my next door neighbor when I reached the outdoor landing to our apartments on the second floor.
“I put mothballs on the ground around my motor scooter,” she said, pointing to her scooter next to the mailboxes downstairs.
“Why? It is nauseating.”
“So the cats will go away. The manager of the building over there said it is a good idea. She will do it too.”
“I thought you liked cats. You were feeding them up here by your door.”
“They peed here,” she motioned to her doorway, “and they peed on the cover of my motor scooter downstairs, so I put the mothballs all over.”
“What kind of mothballs? Some are poison to humans.”
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t care. I have to protect myself. They peed on my cover and I got a rash when I handled it.”
“I am getting a headache,” I declared, and went inside, where I did a little research, and texted her.
“I shall see if I can find another way so the landlord does not get fined and people don’t get sick. There must be something else.”
“Find something good because I need to take care of myself with the cat urine.”
“I shall try. There could be big fines and you might get sick too.”
“I’m already sick with cat urine.”
“Should I have Animal Control call you?”
“You call them and tell them about the cat. I do not want to be involved. Please.”
“See if your mothballs are marked SAFE for humans.”
She did not reply to that text, so I linked her to Florida’s animal cruelty statute Section 828.08 providing up to a year in jail for putting poison out in public areas, and informed her that I did not want to call Animal Control because the police might be called in to arrest her.
I also linked her to an article on mothballs and how they can harm children—a little girl often visited her father in the apartment right above the area she had poisoned.
“I feel like you are mad at me. I just try to protect myself.”
“I’m not mad. I am trying to protect you. It is a crime.”
“Whatever. Everything is a crime. If you care you call Animal Control and deal with that. My life is busy. I have no time for that.”
I then linked her to an article on using cayenne pepper to keep cats out of gardens.
“Cats HATE cayenne powder,” I texted. “Cayenne makes them sneeze, run away. I tried black pepper once. Only cayenne works.”
I went to the Publix grocery store and purchased some cayenne for her to use.
“I put cayenne bottle on your door, I texted. “If it works we can buy big bottle. Put some also around door landing.”
When I went outside, I found she had thrown the bottle on my doorstep.
“You don’t want it? I can make soup,” I texted. I did, and I felt like a pressure cooker as blood rushed to my head.
The horrible odor diminished. The cats were still around, including the black-and-white cat I call Sylvester because he is a very smart cat, careful to avoid strangers, especially anyone carrying a cage.
The cats walked right by the mothballed area, but eventually stopped coming around so often. The neighbors in the downstairs area said the cat excrement and urine around their doors was indeed a nuisance.
I sent the poisoner an image of a pregnant tawny cat perched on a window air conditioner—the no-maintenance landlord refuses to fix the central air conditioners. I joked that Castro might drop mothballs from planes onto her homeland.
Landlord refused to fix central air conditioners and replace appliances
I was watching my favorite cop show, Da Vinci’s Inquest, a month later. I became nauseated, and not at the sight of the bodies. I had my window open because the landlord had refused to fix the ground air conditioner that serves my studio.
I stood up, was dizzy on my feet, and then I realized that mothball fumes were wafting in my window. I went outside. The smell was such that it might knock a man down if he stayed a few minutes. White mothballs were all around the poisoner’s scooter and the mailbox area.
Not realizing that the poisoner was at home because at that hour she usually works at the health center nearby, and my taps on her door went unanswered, I texted her as follows:
“Too much poison making me sick. I have no AC and need windows open.”
I waited, and I received no reply. She had been warned, and she obviously did not care about anyone but herself. For some people there is only one number, Number One, around which the world turns, and all the other numbers are of no consequence if they do not serve Number One.
I called the police, informing the operator of the situation, and saying that I was reluctant to call because the landlord might evict me if he is fined, but the poison is dangerous and making me sick.
I evacuated the premises. Several men drinking beer out front scrambled when I told them the police were on the way to deal with the poison.
“Whew, I can smell it out here,” said Officer Garcia, Badge 705, as she stepped out of her patrol car. “You are lucky. I happen to be the department’s only animal cruelty officer.”
“I was watching my favorite cop show and was poisoned.”
“Now you can watch real cops.”
A towering cop, a quiet and very serious looking fellow, got out of another squad car to accompany her. He agreed that Da Vinci’s Inquest is a very realistic cop show.
I showed her my texts to the cat poisoning woman.
“You know your stuff,” she said.
I stayed on the street, nearly vomiting as the officers went and repeatedly banged on the poisoner’s door. She was indeed at home. A loud conversation ensued. She lied, and said she had not put the mothballs out before, and that she put them out because raccoons with rabies were around, and that no children lived on the premises.
A neighbor from a back unit happened to come by, and said that she had been sickened by the moth balls a month prior, and had to visit the doctor.
The officers made the poisoner pick up every mothball. Officer Garcia gave her a thorough education on the law, and made arrangements for Animal Control to come out and care for the cats. The neighbor in back promised to care for the pregnant tawny cat.
The fumes lingered after the mothballs were removed. When you smell the fumes, your lungs are actually being poisoned. I asked Officer Garcia if the fire department should come over and wash the yard down. She said that should not be done because the poison would stay in the soil. She said she had a headache from being near the poison.
Officer Garcia noticed the broken lock on the front gate, and I mentioned that neighbors bring their dogs onto our yard to defecate.
I stayed in front for quite awhile, then went inside and kept my windows shut although it was very warm due to the unusual winter heat wave in South Florida this year.
Three days after the police visitation, the neighbors got together and fixed the locks on the gates at our expense because the landlord had refused to do it for several years hence the yard is overrun by undesirables.
I advanced the poisoner’s share for the keys because she was not home, and is not liked by the neighbors because she calls the police on everyone for making the slightest noise, which is fine by me because I like peace and quiet although I offered to speak with them so she would not have to call the police.
She did not repay me for the keys, and I said nothing, just smiled and greeted her pleasantly when I saw her. But she is not speaking, and passes me by stone-faced without a glance. I supposed that her ex-husband was correct when he told me that she loves to make enemies.
I am an understanding fellow, bear her no malice, and would prefer to be a friendly neighbor, which is rather untraditional in this old crackhood in chic South Beach. But what can one do? I warned her four times, she had made two people sick, she actually asked me to call the authorities, we refused to bring criminal charges against her, and now she treats me like poison.
“Floatopia will NOT be tolerated!” screamed Philip “King” Levine on his Vanity Timeline @mayorphiliplevine aka @mayorego. “STOP!” yelled the King, and he screamed again, “NEVER AGAIN!”
Yelling and Screaming has been banned by the King because almost all Yelling and Screaming, like everything else that happens in the realm, is about HRM. Of course an Exception must be made for His Exceptional Self.
Thousands of commoners descended upon the Royal Beach from the poorest precincts of the Realm with floatation devices on the Sabbath. The flash mob snarled traffic and littered the Beach, and many carefree participants relieved themselves in the ocean. They brought their own food and beverage. Only one sale was made on the King’s Beach, an inflatable plastic inner tube, purchased at Walgreens.
The main complaint was the traffic, for only the King is allowed to snarl traffic, with his Get It Done capital improvement programs in order to line the pockets of developers, contractors, and event promoters bearing Letters of Patent, to boost money laundering and tourism, and to ostensibly save the Realm from Global Warming and Sewage.
His Majesty commanded his Chief Horseman, Jimmy Morales, Esquire, to announce a scheme to His Majesty’s Court to violate his subjects’ common law right to float in such a way that the new law would avoid the Appearance of Impropriety abhorred by The Kings Inn.
That the King is above the Law as the Source of the Law is beyond the shadow of a doubt, wherefore the Court, which, according to Chamberlain Michael Grieco, a Barrister specializing in criminal cases, “almost always” approves Recommendations that His Majesty commands Sir Morales to make to the Court, will compose a Pragma, upon which shall be placed the Royal Seal, that there shalt NEVER AGAIN be a Floatation Day without a Floatation Tax of 2,822 Norman shillings (US$200) levied on each Floatation Device and duly remitted to the Royal Treasury. Only the floatation devices of Cuban refugees shall be exempt from the Floatation Tax.
That absolutely legal device is expected to STOP Floatation Day because only the most loyal of subjects, few in number, will pay the Tax or go to Gaol, for he who pays the King shillings or takes his shillings is the King’s man.
“The noise is too loud!” “What?” “THE NOISE IS TOO LOUD!”“WHAT?” THE NOISE IS TOO DAMN LOUD! IT’S DRIVING US CRAZY!” “OH, NOISE. NO, THE NOISE IS ACCEPTIBLE BECAUSE WE HAVE PERMITTED IT!”
Noise from the trenchless drilling of the Miami Beach redundant sewer in densely populated South Beach has nearly driven people anywhere near the engines crazy.
The main fault is laid upon the government and not the contractors, from which we have already received illuminating comments from John English of Horizontal Technologies, an industry spokesman and consulting subcontractor to general contractor David Mancini & Sons and drillers Spartan Directional, and Hard Rock Directional:
“You are starting to embarrass yourself now. I have read better stuff in middle school papers. Not even sure what the article is about. I doubt they are interested in my opinion that the article is poorly written. Continue your tantrum until someone notices. I saw a young girl doing the same in a grocery store this weekend, just as annoying…”
Mr. English, an avid fan of Ayn Rand who quotes Atlas Shrugged on his company’s website, has compared the protection of human beings from excessive and unnecessary noise in densely populated Miami Beach to unwarranted governmental protection of birds and snails in their natural environment.
Atlas Shrugged is a novel that rationalizes selfishness. Sales of the book soared after the Enron Scandal because businessmen felt they were being unfairly prosecuted for saving the nation.
Mr. English said that anyone who associates noise with civil rights is an “idiot.” Since that category would include hundreds of legislators throughout the country, they are being apprised of his opinion even though he does not think it would matter to them.
On the other hand, he said there was room for improvement in horizontal directional drilling. Even so, he said, benefits at present far outweigh its costs.
Human beings may listen to recordings of the noise taken before and after the city’s wooden attempt at noise reduction:
BEFORE THE WOODEN RESPONSE
Channel 10 edited the video tape to make it appear that the city had taken “reasonable” steps. The gentleman who made that statement was himself trying to be reasonable, and was disappointed in the editing, especially after hell-on-earth continued.
The longstanding unnecessary and excessive noise was actually permitted by the city against its own ordinance, on the excuse that the construction had to be performed on an emergency basis to save the city from an imminent disaster, of being flooded with sewage. There was no imminent danger of the old sewer main bursting, as can be seen by documents offered to the city commission. This was simply another rush-to-construction project performed in accord with the Mayor Philip Levine’s “Get It Done” mission. Mayor Levine is a wealthy developer and public relations mogul. His public relations program represents him as a sort of messiah come to save the city from global warming.
“Oh, oh,” the girl moaned, “I’m so sick, I’m dying, I’m dying” the girl uttered under her breath after she entered Manuel’s South Beach Internet Café. Things are black.”
“Here, sit down,” said Manuel, taking her gently by the arm and guiding her towards his own reclining chair in the rear of the cafe. She staggered slightly, and sat down on the ottoman in front of it instead.
“Oh,” she moaned again, putting her elbows on her knees and her face between her hands, “I’m going to die. I can’t breathe.”
“You can’t breathe?” Manuel asked.
“I’m having trouble, trouble breathing….” I noticed she was sweating slightly.
“Do you want me to call the emergency service?” Manuel asked.
“Yes, please, I’m so sick, please.”
“Okay.” Manuel picked up the phone and punched in the numbers.
“Have you eaten something?” I asked.
“You haven’t eaten anything today?”
“Did you eat yesterday?”
“I had breakfast, a roll.”
“Have you been drinking or taking any drugs?”
“I was drinking. last night. I think somebody, somebody poisoned me. Now I’m going, going to die,” she panted – her breathing was shallow.
“You’re not going to die. You will be all right, so don’t be afraid, there is no reason to panic. Take deep breaths.”
“The emergency service is coming,” Manuel said. “I’ll get you some water.”
“No, I can’t drink, it hurts when I drink. Oh….”
She proceeded to curl up in a fetal position on the ottoman. Manuel helped her get up and onto the reclining chair, and then he went outside to direct the emergency service when it arrived.
“It’s going to be okay, so don’t you worry. You look like you have what I had a couple of times and did not know what it was,” I offered.
She turned her head and looked at me with questioning eyes.
“Yeah, I had a couple of margaritas in Waikiki on an empty stomach, thought I should have something to eat so went to a hamburger place, but as I was standing in line I started feeling weak, things went black, I fell over backwards, hit my head on the floor and was knocked out.”
The girl’s eyes continued to beg askance of me.
“The police were called. They thought I was drunk so they put me in a booth, slapped me in the face a couple of times. I came to, managed to get around the corner and into my apartment, where a friend found me in a coma a day later, so I was taken to the hospital.”
“They’ll be here soon,” Manuel announced from the front door – we could hear the sirens.
“I was referred to the neurologist who had treated an astronaut for a concussion after the spaceman fell down in the bath tub. He told me about low blood sugar. I think that is what you have, from drinking and not eating because you’re not used to doing that. It’s important not to panic, not to try to stand up and go somewhere, because that is what I did the next time, and fell over again, this time in the bathroom. I fell under the urinals but nobody helped me, and they just peed over me.”
My depiction distracted her for the time being, but when two Miami Beach firemen entered, she began to moan again, her breathing went shallow, and she did not respond to questions as they were testing her vitals.
“You need to respond to me, young lady, if we are going to help you,” one fireman said.
No, she had not eaten anything today and not much the day before. No, she was not taking medications. Yes, she had been drinking alcohol the previous night. No, she had not used drugs, but thought she must have been poisoned.
“Your vitals are normal,” he said.
“You have what is known as a hangover,” was the stunning announcement.
She looked bewildered.
“What? But I’m so sick.”
“We can take you to the hospital, but it will cost you.”
“Probably twenty-thousand dollars by the time they get done testing you,” I chimed in.
“Does this cost me?” she asked wanly.
“No, there is no charge for us coming here,” the fireman said.
“Should we give her some glucose?” the other fireman asked.
“No,” he answered, and said to the girl, “You need to hydrate, to go home and drink some Gatorade. Where do you live?”
She explained that she was from Scandinavia, was staying at a hostel across the street, and then she began to cry.
“What will they think? They will laugh at me.” She sobbed ashamedly.
“It does not matter what they think, young lady, and they will understand because they have had hangovers too, and will go get you some Gatorade and some pasta,” I said.
“Your health is the important thing, not what people think,” said one of the firemen. “Come, we will take you there.”
“Remember, never drink on an empty stomach, and if you do, drink plenty of fluids afterwards and eat something,” I said to her as the firemen took her out the door. They put her in the ambulance and drove her to the hostel in style, with lights flashing.
The poor girl, I reflected, her parents evidently did not educate her about the hazards of drinking on an empty stomach, or explain what a hangover is and what to do about it. Strange, for I thought most Scandinavians from the Vikings on down were experienced drinkers.
She was back at the Internet Café the next day, feeling much better and thankful for our Southern hospitality. She said her roomies at the hostel understood very well what had happened to her, and went out and got her some food and Gatorade.
Systemic Corruption Suspected in Spot Zoning for High Class Folk
28 July 2014
By David Arthur Walters
321 Ocean Enrique Norten in South Beach was not spot zoned for the benefit of middle-class permanent residents, but for the exclusive benefit of the likes of its New York owners and developers and their international jet-set clients who can well afford to invest millions of U.S. dollars in each condo, most likely their second or third home, or to speculate with money fleeing from other jurisdictions.
We may never know where the seed money for the 321 Enrique Norten project came from or its amount since the identity of the partners (“members”) in 321 Ocean Drive LLC, the registered foreign limited liability company that holds the title to the land, is a secret, as is the identity of the partners in its listed managing member, 321 Ocean Holding LLC, a Delaware limited liability corporation unregistered in Florida except with the City of Miami Beach as a lobbyist. A local limited liability company registered in Florida, 321 Ocean Manager LLC, was apparently set up to further shield the operators. If the condominium law of Florida were properly drafted in the public interest, the names of all the natural persons who own over a 10% stake in and/or otherwise control the artificial persons presently established to shield their identity and liability would be public record placed online.
The developers, David Arditi, Joshua Benaim and Tim Gordon of the Aria Development Group, studied and worked in finance together on the East Side of New York City. Arditi’s parents, who control Miami’s Cardinal Development, have thirty years experience of local real estate experience. The developers have advertised their expertise at funding developments with the deposits of condo buyers; a tactic that burned depositors became all too familiar with when Miami was Ground Zero in the last financial meltdown. In any event, the seed money required for a condominium development is way beyond the means of most developers so they must borrow from banks. David Arditi, when asked, “Is bank financing important to your business strategy, specifically with regard to condo development?” said that, “In the past two years, we have consummated five transactions, all of them on an all-cash basis.” (16 August 2013 South Florida Business Journal)
As for the Delaware managing member of the Miami Beach land owner, Delaware asks for the least information of all states, providing anonymity that even offshore jurisdictions do not provide. The New York Times observed in a 30 June 2012 article that, “Big corporations, small-time businesses, rogues, scoundrels and worse — all have turned up at Delaware addresses in hopes of minimizing taxes, skirting regulations, plying friendly courts or, when needed, covering their tracks. Federal authorities worry that, in addition to the legitimate businesses flocking here, drug traffickers, embezzlers and money launderers are increasingly heading to Delaware, too. It’s easy to set up shell companies here, no questions asked.”
Delaware vies with offshore financial jurisdictions to be the most secretive jurisdiction in the world. Two million corporations and limited liability companies are formed in the United States each year in states that do not require revelation of the beneficial owners. U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Chuck Grassley have attempted to get a law passed that would require states to obtain lists of beneficial owners of corporations and limited liability companies formed under their laws. Of course the American Bar Association objected, on the grounds that it would be too costly, undermine the attorney-client privilege, and interfere with state regulation of attorneys.
It is interesting to note here that David M. Arditi, in his capacity as managing member of 321 Ocean Manager LLC, in a letter dated 1 July 2011, informed the mayor and commissioners of the City of Miami Beach that, that it would be sad if he and his fellow developers do not get their way so they can become permanent members of the community, yet at least they would leave something positive behind. For example, “We brought in foreign investors to restore the contributing historic buildings at 304 Ocean Drive and 205 Collins Avenue.”
The 304 Ocean Drive building is directly across the street from 321 Ocean Drive. It has not been restored. In fact, it has been and continues to be a nuisance in terms of appearance and code violations.
Annette Schiffler Marciano is the presiding officer or manager of the owners of 304 Ocean Drive and 205 Collins Avenue: 304 South Beach LLC and 205 Collins LLC. In a 7 July 2011 letter to the mayor and commissioners, wherein she represented herself as an “ardent preservationist” and urged them not to approve of a citywide charter amendment pressed by Mayor Bower that would require local voters to approve of zoning amendments raising height requirements, which would allow the development of 321 Ocean Enrique Norten, she said, “I first acquired the Atlantic Air Apartments located at 205 Collins, currently undergoing a full renovation. I subsequently acquired the dilapidated contributing property located at 304-312 Ocean Drive. I will begin a full restoration by year end and return the property to its original splendor…. Please do not kill this project with a sweeping charter amendment that few property owners and residents are aware is even up for debate.”
Schiffler did not respond to my communication of 8 April 2014: “The renovation of 205 Collins Avenue is indeed splendid. However, the 304-312 Ocean Drive property remains sorely blighted, and a check of the city’s Code Compliance records indicate it has been a nuisance property in terms of code violations. That is, it has not been returned to ‘original splendor’ nearly three years after your testimony, which was used to support a spot zoning amendment to allow a mammoth structure to be placed in between two low condominiums on the beach across the street from your Ocean Drive property. I will deeply appreciate hearing from you as to why 304-312 Ocean Drive has not yet been developed, and when you expect work to begin and be completed. Also, it will interest my readers to know who the ‘foreign investors’ are, and what their relationship with the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten developers is. My deadline for this portion of the story is April 15.”
In fact, according to the county appraiser’s records, Schiffler recently flipped the property in August 2013, gaining her secret investors $2.260 million, and it is presently owned by Sea Spray Development LLC, managed by Hollywood developer and investment bankers,, Yair Wolff, and Tamir Lubezky, an Israeli. They operate under cover W Capital Group, a vulture capitalist organization they apparently founded around 2009 to take advantage of the Great Recession.
Wolff and Lubezky, with Luis Revuelta, the architect playing second fiddle to starchitect Enrique Norten across the street at 321 Ocean, in tow, are playing the same historical “preservation” game as the Enrique Norten developers: Get your existing structures declared unsafe and entirely demolished, and then persuade the preservation board, after the fact, to allow a luxurious structure to replace it although it has nothing to do with Miami Beach’s quaint history as a poor man’s Art Deco paradise.
That is exactly Wolff and Lubezky have recently applied for at 304-312 Ocean Drive, complete demolition of the “former” 3-story apartment building. On the other hand, an old building adjacent on the property at 320, similar to the one sitting at 304 Ocean Drive, is being preserved and has been nearly renovated by unlicensed general contractor Jihad Doujeiji, husband to the late Sharon Lewis, a famed interior design, under an arrangement he described (hearsay) as a nontaxable like-kind exchange with his accountant. An accountant by the name of Michael A. Rauf appears as the secretary of 3157 Inc., the current owner of 320 Ocean Drive, the former owner, 320 Ocean Drive LLC, being controlled by the Doujeiji. Doujeiji is known among very wealthy persons for getting work done well at low cost; however, the renovation of 321 Ocean Drive drags on and on because he has other contracts to fulfill upon which cash will be immediately paid. As for licensing, when prohibited from using his deceased wife’s general contracting license, he rented licenses from other contractors to observe the permitting formality, or he proceeded without permits, on millions of dollars of renovations, including a million dollar renovation of a Sunset Harbour penthouse. When asked to recover fees uncollected due to understated contract valuations and unpermitted work, city officials did not respond.
The previous owner of 304-312 Ocean Drive, Project Madison LLC, certainly did not think 304-12 Ocean Drive was unsafe when they picked up the property in 2009. In 2010 they applied for permission for “partial demolition renovation and restoration of the existing two (2) and three (3) story building, including the construction of a new roof top addition, and the construction of a new 3-story structure on the vacant portion of the site, as part of a new hotel project.”
Now all that is not to say that the persons invested in the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten are scoundrels or worse, or that developers are generally “scum of the earth” and their lawyers “suck,” as is popularly believed. It is just to say that there are good reasons for everyone to know who the natural persons foreign and domestic invested in major developments in their communities are. Again, the personal identities of substantially beneficial owners, and the financial managers of substantial investments in the aggregate, should be publicly disclosed. As for attorneys, lists of all the clients of all attorneys licensed in the state should be a public record filed quarterly.
The sale of the 321 Enrique Norten penthouse alone, for $25 million, is expected to more than pay for the stated $18 million cost of the entire development. Although Tom C. Murphy, who controls the Coastal Condominium Construction Group building the project, and who testified in favor of the spot zoning and then got the contract to build it, claims to live in the neighborhood, his construction workers certainly could not afford to buy the smallest unit in the project. And, once the project is finished, the rank and file who attend to the needs of the well-to-do residents will not be able to afford to live in the vicinity, and many of them will have to take long bus rides to work.
Indeed, 321 Ocean Enrique Norten is for the top 3% of the population, located on the most affluent edge of the upscale South Pointe neighborhood, a special district where local taxes are retained to improve the posh enclave instead of shared with the surrounding community. The spot zoning that makes the project a reality is the work of the real estate industry’s rotating politburo or political cabinet, the Commission of the City of Miami Beach.
We see in Miami Beach the last resort version of the national situation described by Hedrick Smith, in Who Stole the American Dream? (2012). Public opinion is ignored (change to Charter re zoning shot down) and special financial interests prevail despite popular notions of how democracy is supposed to work. Political scientists have long observed that legislators “simply tune out the opinions of average Americans when voting on legislation, especially when powerful financial interests get engaged.” Princeton professor Larry Bartels said that senators “were vastly more responsive to affluent constituents than to constituents of modest means.” And Princeton professor Martin Gilens said that “Influence over actual policy outcomes appears to be reserved almost exclusively for those at the top of the income distribution.” The mystery remains as to how politicians get away with policies contrary to the general public interest.
If there is one form of social power over material things that almost everyone loves, it is money, so much so that the medium of exchange, which was once only part of the definition of Mammon, and then only in its gold and silver form, and which has no inherent value as mere number, has replaced Mammon, the greedy idol of material wealth, becoming an abstract treasure laid up in heaven on earth, the kingdom of god ruled by the mundane elect, increasingly from penthouse palaces atop ever higher air castles have the right of support from all levels below.
The pragmatic logician and geodesist Charles Sanders Peirce once said that what makes America great is that every poor slob thinks he can get rich. And our history confirms that positive thinking has led from rags to riches, from log cabins to mansions and even to the White House built by enslaved labor.
However, the circulation of wealth is not what it used to be; the old adage, that the rich get richer and the poor poorer, is proven by ever bigger numbers. Evolution is from simple to complex; purity is bound to fall into corruption. The day of reckoning is nigh; Miami Beach shall inevitably be uncovered by an apocalypse according to the law of averages or god. The greatest concern of the power elite of the City of Miami Beach today is that an extreme high water event will destroy the wealth they have built upon the sand. Yet the climb to heaven along a wall of ever taller towers along the beachfront is bound to accelerate, until what is raised high is laid low, or the population is stifled by gridlock.
Since every poor slob may still believe he can get rich if he really wants to in this great nation, but maybe he only wants a decent living, it is interesting to note that Peirce was not greedy enough to pursue material wealth to its logical conclusion. He lost his job with the U.S. Coast Guard and Geodetic Survey when funding was withdrawn, was unable to secure a university position because of romantic indiscretions, then received pittances for odd jobs here and there, including writing reviews, dictionary and encyclopedia articles. He wound up in dire straits, at one point a fugitive from justice over bad debts and an assault charge. He was an evolutionist, yet for him the dominating factor was not unending strife and competition, but love and cooperation. Social Darwinism offended him with its glorification of unbridled capitalism, which he called “the Gospel of Greed.” Yet he had his financial ambitions. He invested part of his inheritance in 2,000 acres of land near Milford, Pennsylvania, and built a house upon it. However, he who had coined the term “pragmatism” got no return on his investment other than his own usage of the property. Sorely impoverished and malnourished, his penury was especially pathetic during the last twenty years of his life. His great friend, William James, raised funds from fellow academics to put decent food on Peirce’s table; otherwise, his fare was stale bread from the local baker.
In any event, it appears that the City of Miami Beach is degenerating, like the rest of the nation, from pristine purity, or, if you please, from original sin, to a state of systemic corruption. Of course Miami Beach has a long history of criminal corruption, apparently not ending a couple of years ago with the latest wave of F.B.I. arrests. Departments of city government are frequently characterized as racketeer-influenced, corrupt organizations. When at city hall, I still look inside magazines lying around on the chance of finding a grand or two, and I also check the toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms for wads of cash.
However, I speak here not of criminal corruption but of systemic corruption. What we may have here is the usual crony capitalism with its regulatory favoritism and the manipulation of the economy for the benefit of the vested interests and the meretricious professionals who serve those interests in public and private offices. So inured are they to the culture, the customary way of doing business, that whatever they do seems normal to them.
The City of Miami Beach has a fascistic constitution with an unbalanced, strong city manager, weak mayor form of government. The commissioners, many of whom are lawyers, are paid less than $10,000 per annum while maintaining outside businesses, a formula that fosters inattention to public business along with undisclosed and conflicts of interest condoned by self-serving codes of ethics. The mayor, who chairs the commission, has scant executive power. The highly paid executive is the unelected city manager, presides over the feudal departments via their well paid directors, “princes” that have considerably autonomy provided they back “the Boss” whenever needed.
In a word, Miami Beach is a dictatorship, the dictator being subject to removal by the commissioners in an infrequent political coup during an extraordinary struggle for power and its spoils. There are negligible democratic elements. Merely 4,000 votes in a city with a generally apathetic population of 100,000 may win a commissioner’s seat; many of those votes are obtained with the help of tightly knit neighborhood associations. Factions do occasionally crowd the commissioner chambers and raise a clamor one way or the other, sometimes moving the commission to vote according to the loudest outcry no matter how irrational and rude, although its origin is in fact a tiny, vocal minority of constituents. Thus are the loudest squeaks oiled to maintain the machine. Absent the clamor, most decisions are conclusions foregone. Dictators and kings alike have been moved throughout history to respond to major clamors or lose their heads. Until then, they enjoy sovereign immunity from liability as if they were gods.
Miami itself is rapidly becoming a “world class” city despite its low-class reputation as the “northern capital of Latin America” and the “top money laundry in the United States.” Miami Beach has long been a magnet for people fleeing bad weather including mobsters. The beach has its good souls yet is filled with runaways and with people on the make or on the take who will dump you in a New York minute without so much as a goodbye when you are no longer useful. Florida itself has always been a famous place to secure large sums from creditors and governments, to con people out of their money, selling swampland, engaging in Ponzi schemes—Ponzi himself practiced for awhile in Florida.
Sky-high condos with glass walls are in vogue. Humans, like bees, love to swarm and build hives. Towers filled with babbling people climb to heaven, as if piled up for a holocaust of vanity. At least people who live in glass houses tend not to throw stones, no matter how arrogant they might be, so do not worry about the neighbors if the flooring underlayment is up to code. Still, people worry about the Flood, although the Lord promised there would never be another, having realized that everyone created in his image was originally evil because wherever good is found evil must exist, and every god, to be a god, needs a devil.
“Boss” Jorge Gonzalez ruled the city administration for fourteen years, during a period of astonishing real estate development, until a clamor was raised on 2012 over the F.B.I. arrests of several corrupted city employees. Previously, in 2008, two current city employees and one former city employee were arrested for accepting money and/or gifts from a developer by the name of Michael Stern, but no clamor was raised to remove Gonzalez. A bribery charge had been brought against Thomas E. Ratner, an chief electrical inspector with close ties to Stern, who agreed to rat out Ratner. And then Mohammed Partovi, a plans examiner, pleaded guilty of accepting a Rolex watch and cash from Stern. Andres Villareal, a city building inspector pled guilty to accepting $100,000 cash from Stern. Henry Johnson, a city planner, pled guilty to receiving at least $17,500 in bribes from Stern. Johnson’s duties included both planning and assessment of traffic impacts for new developments that would require the payment of concurrency mitigation fees paid by developers to compensate government agencies for the impact of increased traffic and parking and the like. For instance, a developer in 2008 was supposed to pay $35,000 for each parking spot that he did not provide with the development.
Curiously, Frank Del Vecchio, who lives next door to 321 Ocean Drive, objected to the concurrency planning element yet did not raise the Noisy Hotel Scare over the plans to build a 7-story Bijou Hotel on that site, next door to him, where the historic Simone Hotel had once stood. Johnson had worked on the plans for that development, but that was not mentioned in the arrest warrant. Del Vecchio claimed that tens of thousands if not millions in concurrency fees may have been corruptly avoided throughout the city because the city planners just rubber-stamp whatever is submitted by developers.
According to the Miami SunPost, Del Vecchio was the first person to appeal on the concurrency issue since the ordinance was passed in 2000, winning the appeal on Oct. 3, 2007. He said he appealed because his review of the application for the Bijou Hotel project “documented that it patently and improperly understated the project’s accessory use traffic and parking impacts, representing tens of thousands of dollars in understated concurrency impact fees and several hundred thousand dollars in payments required in lieu of providing the parking spaces required.” Carter McDowell, counsel for the Bijou at 321 Ocean, who back in 2002 had represented the Bijou and three other properties that would be affected by a zoning change then wanted for the Savoy Hotel redevelopment, said that Del Vecchio’s complaint was merely technical, over a piece of paper missing from the file. Johnson was removed from the Bijou process not because of wrongdoing, claimed Planning Director Jorge Gomez, but because it had been politicized by the criminal charges. Richard Lorber, planning and zoning manager for the city, took over the Bijou file from Johnson. The Bijou plan was not realized. Jorge Gonzalez promoted Jorge Gomez to assistant city manager in late 2009, and appointed Lorber as active planning director. Lorber then made a positive recommendation on the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten application. He would be suddenly dismissed in 2014 by the new political regime’s city manager, Jimmy Morales, a mere two months after he was positively recommended by Morales to become the department’s permanent director. The only explanation for the dismissal was that the administration wanted to go in a “new direction,” raising speculation that the alleged “Yes Man” for developers favored by former city manager Gonzalez may have raised some objections to the new regime’s manipulation of real estate development in the city.
By the way, no criminal charges were bought in regards to the allegedly uncollected concurrency fees. I would later uncover instances of concurrency fees and permit fees going uncollected in Miami Beach; high officials did not respond my reports. Jorge Gonzalez would be embarrassed himself in 2010 when it was revealed that he had hired a new building director, Cynthia Curry, a county budget analyst and assistant manager previously scandalized but unprosecuted for certification of overbillings on an airport contract. A Miami Beach fire inspector, David Weston, who insisted in 2006 that millions were missing due to uncollected building permit fees, was fired. He said he had reported what he believed was criminal behavior to city officials, and to local, state, and federal law enforcement, and then was interrogated as if he were the criminal. Weston continued pressing his allegation with city officials and law enforcement since then. His allegations were included in an inflammatory Miami New Times article of 6 February 2013 entitled ‘Miami Beach Fire Department is Aflame with Corruption.’ The city commission asked the administration for a report. Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks, formerly the city’s budget director during a scandal involving corrupt procurement practices culminating in the October 2012 arrest of Procurement Director Gus Lopez over $600,000 in payoffs from 12 companies, and City Attorney Jose Smith, who would prematurely resign in 2014 to become city attorney or North Miami Beach with a drastic cut in pay, reported that Weston had been terminated for violating the city’s code of ethics, not mentioning that the county’s ethics commission had cleared him. Weston pressed his concerns with the new city manager, Jimmy Morales, shortly after he was appointed. Morales promised not to brush the matter under the rug, and then did just that.
Scandalized city officials urged anyone with information about possible corruption to take it to the FBI. So many people informed that it was said that the FBI office was virtually buried in rat droppings. The consensus of law enforcement seemed to be that the city officials had discretion to reduce fees at will; therefore, any corruption would be moral instead of criminal hence could only be resolved politically.
All in all, the impression is that Miami Beach, proudly following a long tradition of criminal corruption, is systemically corrupt; that is, what appears as egregiously evil to outsiders is perceived as normal necessity or banal by insiders. It is the system and not them at fault. They were following custom if not direct orders. Interestingly, the legal term ‘banal’ (from ‘ban’ – ‘proclamation’) refers to the privilege a medieval lord had to command his vassals to perform military service, or his tenants to carry his grain to a “banned” or proclaimed space i.e. his “banal mill” for grinding, or to his “banal oven.” The performance of the duty is so commonplace, habitual, and hackneyed that no individual has a twinge of conscience even over commissions of obviously evil deeds.
On the other hand, some land use professionals who do business with the city believe it has the most professional and ethical planning staff in South Florida. The arrest of a few government officials alone may not prove that the city government is a criminal racketeering operation. Perhaps those who have been thinking inside city hall boxes for a long time suffer from institutional blindness, fostered by an administration that frowns on internal dissension, and disciplines employees and outside consultants and contractors who publicly criticize it, as if it were a big business corporation i.e. a fascistic organization. A culture is developed where even honest, hard-working employees and consultants see no evil, thus do they serve the power elite in good faith with consciences clear.
People always have reasons for disliking public authorities, and a few residents hated the handsome Gonzalez with a passion, for his demonstrable arrogance, for the impression given that they were not his boss, that his boss was the commission—that much was true according to the city’s constitution.
All the above was pretext, however, for the opposition faction on the commission to seize power over the direction of real estate development, and to manipulate it to their ends; in effect, to replace one set of developments and developers with another set. Commissioners Ed Tobin, Esq. and Jonah Wolfson, Esq. led the coup, engaging retired lawyer Frank Del Vechhio, Esq., who represents himself as a community “advocate,” to ‘raise the rabble’ to demonstrate against the Gonzalez regime.
Gonzalez was then involuntarily retired after 14 years of service. The commission dismissed the recommendations of a highly paid recruitment firm and hire Jimmy Morales, a political insider and good old boy from the beach then working as city attorney of the troubled city of Doral, as business manager for the beach although he had no city management experience—the justification for the city’s fascistic constitution is that it be run in a businesslike fashion. And then the faux opposition recruited a wealthy friend of Bill Clinton, Philip Levine, to run for mayor, he spending well over a million dollars for the small city’s mayoral seat. Furthermore, Levine supported a slate of other candidates, the result being a majority on the commission, expected to march in lockstep, at least until the honeymoon is over. New elected Commissioner Michael Grieco, a former state attorney and now a criminal attorney, said that the commission almost always blindly follows the new city manager’s recommendations. Thus far the commission has indeed been Jimmy Morales’ rubber stamp.
The electoral rules precluded the former mayor, Matti Herrera Bower, who had previously been a city commission, from sitting as mayor for another term, but she would not go away, and ran for commissioner and lost.
Bower, who as mayor was handpicked by her predecessor, Mayor David Dermer, an anti-high-rise activist and condominium lawyer, was known for her support of the poor, her antipathy to high-rise development, and a talent for cleverly obstructing agendas with hysterical antics. She opposed the successful 2002 amendment to double the maximum height limitation of theRPS-4 oceanfront historical district that includes the property now being developed as 321 Ocean Drive, from 35 to 75 feet, proposing that the maximum be 55 feet instead. The purchaser of the historic low-rise Savoy Hotel down the street had desired the zoning amendment for expansion according to plans submitted by licensed local architect Luis Revuelta. Del Vechhio testified in favor of periodic incremental increases from the existing average of around 35 feet so as not to alarm people by going whole hog—frogs will remain and perish in water gradually raised to the boiling point. He did not raise the Hotel Noise Scare that he would raise as the reason why the 321 Ocean Enrique Norten residential condominiums for the wealthy should be built next door to his own residence instead of a hotel.
Nine years later, Commissioners Ed Tobin and Jonah Wolfson, with Frank Del Vecchio acting as counselor-at-large for the upscale South Pointe community, led the movement to raise the ceiling further, to 100 feet, this time on behalf of 321 Ocean Enrique Norten. Del Vecchio, by the way, is a sincere man of apparently modest means who lives with his charming wife in a condo next door to 321 Ocean Drive. He claims that his constituents are the poor hence are virtually nonexistent in his neighborhood. He serves without pay on several civic organizations. He played an instrumental role in the election of Phillip Levine. The apparent irony of his position on 321 Ocean Enrique Norten will be considered elsewhere in a discussion of The Big Hotel Noise Scare.
Neither Enrique Norten nor his company Ten Arquitectos, which submitted plans entitled “321 Ocean Drive” to the city for approval of the zoning, appeared to be registered as an architect in Florida although he is credited as the designer of major projects in town including a colossal luxury development under construction, nearby 321 Enrique Norten, developed by Jorge Perez’ Related Group. Luis Revuelta, who drafted the plans for the owner of the historic Savoy Hotel at 425 Ocean Drive for its successful 2002 effort to raise the height allowable in the RPS-4 Zoning District from 35 to 75 feet, is distinguished by a number of handsome projects, is now only the architect on record for 321 Ocean Enrique. Although Revuelta is a top local architect, Enrique Norten, hailed as a so-called starchitect, was apparently wheeled in for publicity and political connections.
Greenberg Traurig, the most powerful law firm in the state, having had even The Florida Bar, the regulatory arm of the Supreme Court of Florida, as its client, was retained to lobby the planning director and city attorney for the spot zoning needed to erect the two luxury condo buildings on the lot. Greenberg Traurig’s lobbying lawyers, as we know, have been involved as lobbyists in several colossal fraud scandals, yet we may supposedly rest assured that The Firm does not condone wrongdoing, that it cooperates with investigators, and terminates bad lawyers when they are caught red handed in misconduct.
Therefore, in our next chapter, we shall examine Greenberg Traurig’s legal memorandum declaring that the spot zoning of 321 Ocean Drive was not spot zoning, along with the city attorney’s legal opinion endorsing it. Finally, we shall conclude with a chapter, The Noisy Hotel Scare – Paper Tiger!
MIAMI BEACH—I landed in Ft. Lauderdale in 2004 and was intent on finding an apartment there when my plans were rudely interrupted by Hurricane Jeanne. The hotel I had booked cancelled my reservation because it had overbooked. I found myself huddling in a hot and dark room of a seedy motel on West Broward Boulevard while Jeanne blew over.
The motel was interesting to say the least. The property been purchased by Russians, who conveniently neglected to take the motel franchise signage down. The Russian “exchange students,” were exceedingly cute in their maid outfits, were the main attraction. I first saw them swimming nude in the scum-laden pool one night as the storm moved in. They were virtual prisoners at the motel, not allowed to go to the beach or anywhere else for that matter.
The motel was packed with refugees from the storm. Everyone had gotten illegally gouged at different rates, the maximum that could be haggled from each of them, despite the Florida law against gouging in emergencies.
Panhandlers were going from door to door asking for money and food. One woman from the hood, “Big Mama,” would barge into rooms unannounced and ask for a cigarette while casing the rooms for stuff.
I had nothing worth stealing: one suitcase of shabby clothes. I did have one donut left, and some water in the bathtub. Stores were closed due to the hurricane, and the promised free breakfast was not there.
My old friend Hanley ‘Doc’ Harding managed to get through the motel phone system to me; he insisted he was coming to bail me out of the dump whether I liked it or not. Doc, a former Navy SEAL and a perfect pal to have, always did what he said he was going to do. He had lost a leg in a motorcycle accident after coming home from a covert operation, He also had the cancer that would do him in, but he made the most of it, teaching at police department’s traffic school, transporting prisoners, selling chemical and nuclear warfare protective tents, and designing a new kind of anti-terrorism training facility.
I stayed overnight at his condo in Sunny Isles, where he lived with his mother. She had also lost a leg, and would soon lose the other and her life after her cat bit it and the wound got infected. Doc said she had been in the beauty business, and had been married to one of Meyer Lansky’s sons for awhile. And then took me down the hall and introduced me to a lady who had inherited some of Houdini’s stuff.
The next morning, Doc’s girlfriend came over. She told me I would be a fool to stay in Ft. Lauderdale, that Miami would be a better place for me to find work, the only drawback being that I did not speak Spanish. I had lived on the southern end of Miami Beach before it was branded South Beach. It was really run down but relaxing back then. I asked Doc to take me on down so I could find temporary quarters and see what was going on. I wound up at the Clay Hotel on Espanola Way and Washington Avenue, where I stayed nearly a month.
I shall always have fond memories of the Clay Hotel, which offers private rooms, rooms with shared baths, and hostel lodging. That hotel on Espanola and Washington was once Al Capone’s favorite hideout on the beach. The experience was quite exotic for me, what with all the world travelers around. My first little room was right on Washington Avenue, where there was a virtual rush hour when the clubs closed in the morning. I would hate that racket now, but I loved it when it was new to me.
When I am asked what it is like to live on South Beach in the thick of things, I am wont to say, “It’s great until you find out where you’re at, but that’s true of everywhere, and you may never find out if you’re not interested in the truth.”
Many of the employees at the shops around the hotel told me they would never live on South Beach, and it is frightening to work on Washington Avenue, but it was all right for me at the time, mainly because I love to be near a beach. Besides, people from out of town say they would give their right arm to live in South Beach.
No one bothered me at Clay Hotel except the stranger who kept calling: “Hello, honey, do you want to talk?” The desk clerk could do nothing about it, so I got another room, this one in the back building. The mosquitoes in the room were a hassle when I opened the only window; it was right over the garbage bins of a restaurant. I learned what “no abra la ventana” meant from the maid I when complained about the mosquitoes. She said she wanted to move back to Cuba now that her son was grown and out of college, because, she said, her back hurt like hell and American was only about money.
The walls were paper thin, so the screams from orgasms next door and heads banging on the wall woke me up for about a week. No problem, really, the whole affair was rather intriguing when fresh.
$50 a night was dirt cheap for a tourist, but not for me. I managed to rent a room for $550 month from David Muhlrad at the Plaza South Hotel. Muhlrad controls many apartment buildings on South Beach; most of them are occupied by Hispanic immigrants. He was not interested in knowing who I was when I signed the “Contract for Accommodations” on October 22, 2004, under the heading “The Plaza South, A Fully Licensed Adult Living Facility.” The contract would be returned to me signed by someone whose signature I could not make out. He gave me a calling card that read, “Ari Schuster, Managing Director, The Plaza South, The Only Deco A.L.F.”
The hotel (now the Gale-Regent Hotel) was in a sort of limbo, with only the ground floor currently devoted to assisted living. I was later informed by a member of the staff, who said she was the only one with practical nurse training and hence was resented by the Haitian caretakers in charge, whom she said were robbing their charges blind, that Mr. Schuster never came to the property, that the license on the wall was just borrowed. At no time during my tenancy ending December 2005 did I see anyone except Muhlrad in the little A.L.F. office.
As for the claim of stolen valuables, I would notice that the underpaid staff wore fine clothes and jewelry, and owned homes here and in Haiti. Yet appearances can be deceiving. I did not know if the practical nurse was credible inasmuch as she seemed disturbed, always paranoid about a tenant on the second floor, a cab driver whom everyone called “Sling Chain” because he had a long key chain that jangled when he walked: she said he was a crack addict, was stalking her, and was in the habit of picking up women and assaulted them in his cab. He was decrepit for his age, perhaps from crack abuse, which he admitted, and had a bizarre sense of humor.
I offered Mr. Muhlrad my references when I met him to rent a room, but he said to never mind, he knew people, and I “looked good.” He refused to take my check, stating that he only took “cash money, for obvious reasons.” Indeed, the low-income hotel aspect of the property was conducted on a cash basis only, no questions as to identity asked. If a regular Plaza South resident did not cough up the currency, their doors were “booted” i.e. they were locked out, in violation of state law, but what did they know of the law?
Mr. Muhlrad seemed nice enough as we chatted. I asked him how he liked the hotel business, mentioning I had managed several big discount tourist hotels in my day. He responded that one had to be crazy to manage the Plaza South. And he did behave crazily at times, screaming like a madman at elderly tenants who had complaints or who had not paid the rent, which I hear approached $2,000 a month including powdered eggs, macaroni, peanut butter or tuna sandwiches, and the like.
Although the elderly tenants were yelled at by Mr. Muhlrad, and perhaps had valuables stolen by the caretakers, I saw no evidence of physical abuse. Eventually the kitchen was shut down, and, some time before the hotel closed the old folks were hauled away, without adequate notice, to the related Hebrew Home, where I heard they were doubled up two to a room. One old man called the police, complaining he was being kidnapped or taken away illegally against his wishes, but he was written off as senile.
I still see one old lady around. I asked her how things were going at the Hebrew Home, and whether she had any regrets. “At my age it is not good to have regrets. I just keep going.”
Poor people cannot be choosy, and I was glad to land a cheap room in paradise, reasoning that a tourist would be glad to pay $100 night for it. Mr. Muhlrad was doing some painting at the time, and it looked like he was making a serious effort to spruce up the interior of the decrepit building. After that initial period, he was seldom around; he arrived in his vintage Cadillac from time to time, went in and picked up envelopes stuffed with cash, issued a few orders to staff, screamed at some little old lady who complained about something or the other, and took off.
So there I was, in room 211, directly under the room where two whores and their pimp plied their trade. And down one hall a Mexican drug dealer resided, as well as the black guy who wore suits and raged against white people i.e. “crackers.” An alcoholic-nosed photographer, who said he worked for the police department, also lived down that hall. He liked to go around and tell people there were warrants out for them. Down another hall was the formerly homeless, foul-breathed packrat with the goiter; his room was always filled with flies. Oh, there was a beautiful, charming woman who had a successful acting career until she got hooked on crack by her boyfriend, and turned to prostitution, with him as her pimp, serving only black guys—I liked her a lot but had learned my lesson after falling in love with a heroin addict out west.
And I must not forget the mentally ill guy who set fires in his room and in the stairwell by my room. The outside door to that stairwell was unsecured, by the way, so vagrants used the stairwell for a toilet, and sometimes vagrants got into the halls and slept.
Independent male and female prostitutes who could not afford rent were working inside the side entrances of the building, between the Plaza South and the adjacent hotel, or simply having sex in the unlocked path between the buildings. Muhlrad was asked to secure the area, which was also used for drug trafficking, but whatever locks he had placed were broken the same day. Two elderly tenants said they enjoyed watching the sexual encounters through their windows at night.
There were a few rather decent tenants: some young workers, and some people driven out of other buildings, conveniently condemned by the city and taken over by developers. These tenants did not know what was really going on with the property until everyone gathered in the lobby for a hurricane and exchanged notes; they were appalled, especially when a crack addict came into the lobby and said he was going to kill some “crackers” that night. Several of them moved out the next month.
Eventually we would all be kicked out of Plaza South with inadequate notice when it was sold to the Morgan Hotel Group in late 2005; off-duty cops kicked down the doors of the holdouts. The guy with the goiter threatened to set fire to the building. The carpenter who lived on the third floor and liked to talk tough all the time called the cops on the cops after his door was kicked in and his cat got loose.
As for me, I was a damn fool for moving out early: I ran into Sling Chain months later and he told me cash money was paid to some tenants to get lost. I could have pretended I was still in the room and collected the cash. One of the Haitian managers sold me the television in my room when I paid the balance of my rent, and delivered it to me with her car. She offered to sell me other furniture, but I had no way of moving it.
Mr. Muhlrad was merely managing the Plaza South for Russell Galbut, his relative by marriage, who owned the property until he sold it to the Morgan Hotel Group. Since then Plaza South was left vacant, a blight on the development around it, a terrible eyesore despite the fact that Morgan Hotel Group is spending large sums on renovating the Delano Hotel just across Collins Avenue. (It is now the upscale Gale-Regent Hotel managed by Menin Hospitality, in which Mr. Galbut has relatives and a major interest).
Mr. Galbut is powerful real estate developer with considerable influence on city officials to this day although he received some rotten press back in the good old days over his relationship with Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud, who was imprisoned for corruption in 1993. The Galbut law firm reportedly handled some of the dirty money. Daoud has alleged some of the dirty details in Sins of South Beach, a book wildly popular in Miami Beach.
The Galbut interests reportedly own a vast amount of real estate in Miami Beach via a web of companies, including considerable property in the now forgotten “CANDO” art district promoted by former Miami Beach mayor David Dermer, purportedly to curb gentrification. The promotion was actually intended to accelerate gentrification and cure the blighted nature of the area hence hundreds of “vulgar” people were evicted from their humble abodes to make way for the noble “gentry.”
Mr. Galbut has in the past refused to disclose just how much property his syndicate holds in the area. In April of 2005, his nephew, Keith Menin, at the grand opening of the Sanctuary, a former nursing home converted into a posh condotel a half-block from the Plaza South, bragged that an entire neighborhood would eventually go on the block.
I met Mr. Galbut once, at the Plaza South. The prostitutes working two beds in the room above me created a problem I could not ignore. I had gotten used to the sounds: the frequent slams of the door, the floor-creaking walks to the beds, the beds banging against the wall, and the groans. But the water from their bathroom was destroying the ceiling and walls in my bathroom, so I went upstairs and complained to the pimp, who was in the room with two of his girls. He did not care, he said, because his girls needed to wash themselves after doing their tricks, so he would not turn off the water, even though he knew a defective pipe was flooding everything below. The water eventually reached the first floor, soaking the ceiling and a wall of the old folk’s dining room. I was worried the ceiling would collapse on the aged people while they were eating their scrambled eggs or tuna sandwiches.
Mr. Muhlrad never responded to emergency calls on the Sabbath, so I went out of my way to find Mr. Galbut’s phone number and called him on a pay phone – I could not afford a cell phone, and there was no one on duty downstairs at night despite the fact that some of the elderly tenants might need help. I warned him that if the water continued to flow, the building would be damaged so badly it would have to be evacuated. He knocked at my door that evening with his boy Friday in tow. I advised him to survey the damage downstairs, and showed him the damage to my room—he was interested in the photos of high rises I had pasted on a wall to serve as self-suggestions to move up to better living conditions. Plumbers and carpenters were brought in the next day and they fixed the pipes and walls.
I did not receive nor did I expect any thanks from a kingpin like Russell Galbut, but since I had considerable experience as right hand man for real estate wheeler dealers and as a major tourist hotel manager, I went over to his building on the mainland with my resume, but he would not see me. That concluded the last dream I had of being brought in from the cold. “To hell with The Establishment,” I said.
I had several encounters with members of the Miami Beach Fire Department while at Plaza South because of the defective fire alarms. They went off frequently; tenants evacuated the building although we suspected we were hearing another false alarm.
Coincidentally, the alarms sometimes sounded on the Sabbath, when Muhlrad would refuse to answer even emergency calls from the Fire Department. I learned that he was once in charge of the city agency that enforces compliance with city codes. I learned that requests had been made but ignored by city officials due to his pull, to place security in the building at night to protect people from fire; that seemed to be a great idea to the old folks, not only for fire safety, but for any emergency—the room phones did not work.
I admired the fire fighters whom I met. For example, one night, during a downpour, anguished cries were coming from the area outside, waking everyone up. The cries resembled what a trapped cat might make. I got someone with a cell phone to call 911. The firemen came over and found a homeless man huddled under the air-conditioning duct, crying desperately in the rain. They spoke with him very kindly, and found shelter for him.
I also had my first encounter with the Miami Beach Police Department, which is getting a lot of bad flack in the press lately. Too many of us including myself tend to remember how bad things were, and ignore how much better things are at present. I recall that the Mexican drug dealer at Plaza South was dealing drugs openly on Collins Avenue in front of the South Plaza, and was also dealing up and down Washington Avenue, hustling his drugs to passersby. He was not the only one doing that, by the way; there were petty drug dealers everywhere. I warned him that everyone knew he was dealing, that he had been seen for months on the street handing off drugs for cash, and, one day the coppers were going to nail him.
“I’m protected. If anyone tells on me, they’re dead. I’ll have them killed or kill them myself.”
Well, I was right. A month later some officers came in ready for combat, taking not only him out but two others as well. He was back on the street a few months later, and then he disappeared, maybe transferred out by the cartel or busted again. Nowadays I am never approached by dealers on Washington Avenue, but I am never around that avenue after ten at night anymore if I can help it, because I know where I am. After all, this is South Beach.