Sunday, May 24, 2009

Miami Herald finally reports the implosion of suburbs ... by gimleteye

It took the Miami Herald a while, but the newspaper finally got around to reporting the ghost town subdivisions in the outer reaches of South Dade: "Real estate bust turns South Dade suburbs into modern ghost towns". It covers some of the same grounds as the AP story published two months ago: "Disaster: Homestead, FL. hit by foreclosures".

That AP story featured our blog, (when the story was finally printed in the Herald, the part about our blog was redacted) and the relentless criticism we have leveled against the political infrastructure that propelled Miami's suburbs into farmland and wetlands. (See: "Paving Paradise", by St. Pete Times writers Matthew Waite and Craig Pittman.)

The Herald story touches on some of the key players in the housing debacle, Silvio Cardoso, Sergio Pino and Caribe Homes, without mentioning their role in deforming the purpose of local government to pushing through zoning decisions that so clearly resulted in massive destruction of the south Florida landscape and economy.

The Herald editors wouldn't have had to stretch far to link the ghost towns to financial instruments -- ie. mortgage backed securities that are referred to as "toxic debt" in an endless stream of reporting on bank failures (BankUnited) and a crippled economy.

Throughout the 1990's, I pressed the Herald to write about the Miami-Dade southern suburbs, in the far western and southern reaches of the county, and the sham economic growth they represented. The flip side of that story is the destruction of the Everglades, of Florida Bay, and Biscayne National Park. For the most part, the Herald was and remains mute on making the connection.

The Herald has been sitting on this story for more than a decade, because powerful advertisers in the newspaper-- from furniture suppliers (Rooms-To-Go, Carl's Furniture) to Sprawling Subdivision XYZ (Lennar, Caribe Homes: just read the paper!) are so important to the paper's bottom line. Any implicit criticism of the suburban sprawl model elicits howls of protest from advertisers, like Pino and the clatch of downtown lawyers who represent the Growth Machine.

Even in the context of today's story, note of Pino, of Lennar's Parkland, and of the Builders Association of South Florida is antiseptic; isolated and segregated as though the main feature that Herald readers have to learn is how to read between the lines.

The biggest economic crisis since the Depression was caused by ginning up instant-grow suburbs in farmland and wetlands through zoning changes lubricated by law firms (cf. Greenberg Traurig), local elected officials, tying in big engineering firms (Post Buckley), road paving and rock mining contracts, with Wall Street financiers and the home grown wealth destroyers (BankUnited): all pulling down billions in fees and commissions and compensation before the parade stopped. Why should this be the subtext of the story, and, not the story itself?

I will give the Herald credit for mentioning Lennar's Parkland project, now in the form of a state permitting process (DRI) that the Florida legislature wants to kill off and that Gov. Crist may sign into law (SB 360). Parkland is exactly the kind of "growth" that carbon copies failure on the future, expecting a different result.

The author of today's Herald story was one of the investigative reporters in the outstanding 2008 Herald series, "Borrowers Betrayed", that would have won a Pulitzer if the publisher and editor had unchained the reporters and allowed them to chase the corruption of mortgage fraud up the political food chain to Tallahassee and Washington, DC and into government policies that used the "ownership society" to front for the biggest Ponzi scheme in US history. It is mostly a story about powerful Republicans who are now trying to re-brand themselves.

The Miami Herald had the biggest story spanning two centuries in its grasp and let it slip away.


Geniusofdespair said...

Caribe Homes is Carlos E. Martinez who donated to Natacha Seijas' campaign, among others.

Anonymous said...

This article seems like urban sprawl light. If they really wanted to get to the root of the problem and name the names, they could have but didn't.

The only upside in today's paper was the Neighbors Section in South Dade. Ken Forbes was paid $20K by Holland & Knight for "community outreach on a land deal" according to Juan Mayol. And, Losner's bank paid Forbes $26K for "various consultant-type" services from 2004-2007.

Forbes also marched a group of supporters from Naranja to support Parkland at the PAB. I wonder how much he got for that?

I guess this bought more than a few box lunches for the "supporters" of applications in South Dade to just pave over paradise for chump change!

Forbes was also part of blocking the Redland Incorporation, which led to years of fighting and mediation - on the County dime.

It's all sickening and even sicker because I cannot move the heck out of this mess they call Miami Dade County.

Mr. Freer said...

You two were on top of this story for years and that's why you won the "Best Blog Award!" Keep the pressure on the thieves!

Anonymous said...

First anon. Send the Forbes article to Robert Meyers, Ethics Commission. For years I've been complaining to him about Forbes who lobbies for developers w/o being a registered lobbyist! He appears before CC #15, where his wife is a board member. How can he get away with that? It's obviously a conflict of interest and unethical. I've never seen Patricia Forbes abstain to vote on a project her husband spoke in favor of. Forbes has a group of people that he always brings to the hearings to speak in favor of every new development project -at the community councils and before the BCC. Who pays them? Nobody believes they do it for free.

Anonymous said...

Here is an editorial that should have appeared in the Herald:

The year's worst bill cries out for a veto

By Howard Troxler, Times Columnist

Published Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dear Governor,

So, how's it going? I bet this time of year, everybody wants to tell you which bills passed by the Legislature you should approve or veto.

Forgive me for adding to all the noise. Still, you really should veto Senate Bill 360, the so-called "growth management" bill.

I know a lot of people want you to sign it and I know their reasons.

The stated goals are good. Help get Florida moving again. "Fill in" our urban areas with new construction.

But, hiding behind those goals, this bill goes way too far. It guts the Growth Management Act of 1985. It basically repeals that law.

Is that your legacy?

The bill repeals our rules for controlling growth in too many places. In fact, the list is ridiculously broad.

For example, the bill weakens growth rules for any "dense urban area" — anywhere there is a population of 1,000 people per square mile. That's about one person per acre!

You have a letter from the Florida chapter of the American Planning Association on this precise point. It says:

"This is not true urban density. Applying this definition across entire jurisdictions also results in conservation, agricultural and rural areas being treated as 'dense urban land areas.' ''

Every big county and any decent-sized city (something like 245 cities) would be exempt from the rules, or could declare big development within their borders to be exempt.

Along with "dense urban land areas," also exempt would be anything called an "urban service area" or a "community redevelopment area."

Lastly, so would anything labeled a "job creation project" — what a loophole!

SB 360 further says we no longer have to use the rule of "concurrency" for new growth — we no longer have to worry about whether our local roads can handle it. We are just flat throwing that silly rule right out the window.

Instead, the bill says that we will study something called a "mobility fee." Study. Consider. Plan.

You also have a letter from the group 1000 Friends of Florida on this point about roads. It says:

"The resulting congestion, inefficiency and level-of-service failures will have unintended and incalculable consequences for the state transportation system, and Florida's economy."

On top of all that, this bill largely throws out our rules for bigger projects, which are called "Developments of Regional Impact."

The key word there is "regional." Bad decisions made by even a little burg or county can have a major impact on entire regions, even the whole state.

This is not a close call.

You should veto SB 360 and ask for tighter definitions of "dense" areas, reining in the too-broad scope, while praising the Legislature's intentions and asking it to try again in 2010 — when you'll have another chance to sign it.

Like I said, we had more than a half-century of the kind of cheap, destructive, unregulated growth in Florida that this bill seeks to bring back.

You grew up here. You saw it. You are a Floridian.

But you're more than that. When you hold that pen in your hand to sign or veto this bill, you are Florida.

In your heart, you know this bill is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Posted on Saturday, 05.23.09

Princeton activist under investigation

The Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust has accused Ken Forbes, a well-known activist from Princeton, of ethics violations for misreporting his income on financial disclosure forms from 2006 to 2008.

On April 29, the ethics commission found ''probable cause'' in the case, meaning there is enough evidence to go forward, said Michael Murawski, the commission's advocate.

Investigators allege that Forbes violated the law when he submitted financial disclosure forms with ''incomplete and/or erroneous'' information and also turned in his 2007 form after the due date.

County law stipulates that Forbes has to disclose his income because he was appointed to a Miami-Dade board, the Naranja Lakes Community Redevelopment Board in 2004, and continues to serve there.

Neither Forbes nor his attorney, Charles Francis McKinnon, could be reached for comment by Friday.

Investigators took an interest in Forbes last year after receiving tips, Murawski said.

Murawski wrote a memo to the ethics commission explaining the investigation.

On financial disclosure forms submitted in 2006, 2007 and 2008, investigators noticed a lack of information about Forbes' income.

During those years, Forbes reported that his primary income came from ''self'' for consulting and community organizing.

When asked about his secondary income, Forbes wrote ''N/A'' or left the form blank, the memo said.

Investigators discovered since 2004, Forbes was paid $92,012 by six entities: Naranja Optimist Club, law firm Holland and Knight, First National Bank of South Florida, Palm II, Citizens Integrated Voices Inspiring Changes or CIVIC and another group, NCAC.

During an interview with investigators, Forbes told them ''he does not have a primary source of income . . . and gets his income from his wife, a data entry clerk for the Miami-Dade County School Board,'' the memo said.

But as a community activist, Forbes said he ``sets up meetings between developers and/or lobbyists and members of the community concerning issues in the community.''

He said he testifies on behalf of developers and lobbyists at county zoning meetings.

''He emphasized that he does not keep any money for arranging the meetings or appearing on behalf of developers,'' the memo said.

When investigators spoke with William Losner, president of First National Bank of South Florida, they got a different story.

From 2004 to 2007, the bank paid Forbes $26,000 for ''various consultant-type services,'' the memo said.

''These funds were deposited into the Respondent's personal account and that Respondent's personal expenses (i.e. mortgage and car payments as well as cash withdrawals at Seminole casino) were made from this same account,'' investigators said. ''Other funds received were either deposited into different accounts under the control of Respondent or were cashed,'' the memo continued.

Holland and Knight attorney Juan Mayol told investigators he hired Forbes to help with community outreach on a land deal. The firm paid Forbes $20,000 in 2006, investigators said.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the article on Ken Forbes. It unravels the whole shenanigans by Forbes and his sidekick J.L. Demps. I was positive these people didn't do it for free. They don't even hide it! When they enter the room, they high-five with the attorneys -obviously their benefactors. We all know that Forbes is one of the "chosen ones" by Commissioner Moss. That connection should also be investigated by Robert Meyers -although I doubt he'll dig that deep!

Anonymous said...

Wonder what land deal Mayol was paying Forbes for?

Anonymous said...

From the year, it sounds like it was the big avacado grove parcels off of SW 272 & SW 157, but who knows, there were so many dial who was (and still is) winning at the BCC Juan zoning hearings during 2006-2007 I've lost track.

If it was that one - they did breach their covenant in regard to the trees they were supposed to leave(shocking)about 5 seconds after their building permits were approved - DERM never took action and knew about it. (shocked again)

Anonymous said...

Forbes has been scaming the system for years. Check out his PACs,; he pays his wife and cronies with PAC money. Where is the IRS when you need them.

Anonymous said...

Forbes was Losner's lackey to get a crowd against Redland incorporation. Since when is East Goulds the Redland?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Losner will come to the rescue of Forbes and Shiver and put them in business together buying foreclosed properties and selling them to witless idiots.

Anonymous said...

You know what would be very interesting to find out if Ken Forbes gave testimoney before CC14 after receiving payments from Losner and/or Holland & Knight. The reason is would be interesting is that our fearless Pat Wade used to ask if anyone was compensated on any particular application and Ken Forbes made regular appearances there in addition to CC15.

Since Fernandez Rundle does little about public corruption in regard to the County Commission, maybe McCollum could sway my vote by an investigation into the Discretionary funds issue; paid "consultants" giving testimony without registering as a lobbyist or disclosing same; the former Homestead City Council who approved paving over every scrap of farmland the Williams family annexed in to its' city, et al. And, of course, the zoning attorney's along with the developers and the BCC who supported this mess. They always say, follow the money.......

Heck, I'd even head his South Dade office if he actually investigated and prosecuted all involved in this Ag land destruction down here and the people who destroyed and approved the destruction.

oh said...

Charles Francis McKinnon > I believe he ran or runs the Naranja CDC that used to be housed at the big flea market on US1 that is owned by Rene (whatever his last name is). Rene is has a nice county parking lot he shares with the busway folks.

I believe that McKinnon was part of the CDC people who sold a CDC house on 268 street to people who were not qualified to keep it under the terms of their mortgage; they used it for rental property instead of their home.

Didn't Forbes, Rene and Loser sit on that CAA/OCED board in Naranja? I think Rene and Forbes sit on that Naranja Community redevelopment board together. It is an awfully small world in south Dade.