Friday, May 22, 2009

Odds and Ends: Vitran Homes, Gov. Charlie Crist, Pepe Diaz' chauffeur, and Bank United ... by gimleteye

Gov. Charlie Crist was headed to sign SB 360, the Bad Developer Bill, when a firestorm of public opposition attacked the idea that the special interests responsible for destroying Florida's economy should be given an easier bill of passage to wreck more of Florida's landscape. If Crist wants to be the next US Senator he has to reject this bill. And if he does veto this legislation-- plus a few other terrible bills on water and the environment-- he will have to run as a populist Republican. The money brokers and Club for Growth'ers have already expressed their distaste for Crist. Is there such a thing as a populist Republican? I think, the few that are left are developers or belong to Associated Industries. When the carpetbaggers are boasting their "green" credentials, you know the economy must be really, really bad. Which brings us to Pepe Diaz:

Earlier this week, I posted a photo showing a Miami-Dade police car at a mobile park in Key Largo where Pepe Diaz not only owns a lot, but is actively lobbying to convert the underlying zoning from trailer park to single family residences. The photo was provided by a reader. One commenter wrote, "I usually enjoy your insight but regarding this story you are wrong. First of all the police car you are showing belongs to a police officer that lives there and he is not a sergeant at arms. So before you print half truths like the herald..check your facts." If the police car belongs to a Miami-Dade officer, I was wrong. But if there is a half-truth to it, then Pepe Diaz-- a county commissioner who has lead the zoning vote for Lowe's to move the Urban Development Boundary that was recently rejected by a state court-- should disclose to the public how many trips from Miami to Key Largo were made, when he was driven by a sergeant-at-arms. Here is what Pepe said to the Herald:

''As you know, the responsibilities of a County Commissioner extend far beyond meetings at the Stephen P. Clark Center,'' Diaz told the Herald. "I have used sergeants-at-arms when necessary to ensure my safety and security.''

A few weeks ago, I wrote a long essay on the destructive growth industry in Florida, and in Miami in particular which is the epicenter of the housing bust. I cited, as an example, a fetid, crappy development in South Dade called Vitran Homes whose owner is a board member of one of the influential building trade associations that is always in front of the county commission (cf. Pepe Diaz) blasting away at citizen and environmental groups in order to get their zoning in farmland. Anyhow, a reader who is actually a resident of Vitran Homes found the article on the web (isn't the Internet a wonderful resource) and wrote this letter:

Hello, Alan;

"I came across your article on the internet when I googled "Vitran Homes" needless to say "Very Interesting". Unfortunately I am one of the 18 homeowners that got stuck in the community. I will be going on 2 years of living there this August and let me tell you I hate it!!!

The builder has never done anything to clean out the place I am surrounded by weeds and wild animals not to say the stray dogs "LOL". It's so unfortunate as all my life savings went into this home that this developer made look like a dream and was outrageously priced compared to what they are worth now and I can tell you I am really up-side down on it. My e-mail might be funny to you but I just thought I would share a piece of my mind and say how disgusted I am of this community and builder. I am now in the process of looking for a new place to RENT of course because my home has no equity therefore I cannot buy another property, I will probably end up renting the house to someone with section 8 just like Vitran Homes has done to all of the homes that were not closed on and just hope for the best. By the way I believe they are being sued on the remainder 91 homes by Ocean Bank,,,, geeeee I wonder if they are giving the Bank the rent money they are collecting.

Alan, if you know of anyone that I can speak to, to see what my rights are as I was lied to and taken advantage of by this builders false expectation and greed please let me know, I would love to sue them for the money that I put down on my house.... but I don't even know if this is possible. Anyways great article..... Thank you and have a wonderful day!"

Vitran Homes at the Preserves

Dear Reader, I assure you: there is nothing funny about your letter. Thank you for sending it. The story you tell is the flip side of the terrible zoning decisions made by the county commission, that turned Homestead, Florida City, and the edges of the county into disaster areas. Years ago, Homestead banker Bill Losner used to get up in public meetings and demand new development because the only development that existed at the time in South Dade was all for Section 8'ers. Well, Bill got what he wanted. He was able to build up his deposit and loan base and sold out at the top while the community he professed to love was wrecked by the building boom and, now, the foreclosure crisis. Maybe you should be in touch with Bill Losner to see if he will pay for your unhappy situation. Or, perhaps one of the attorneys who read this blog would be interested in taking your case: did you save any of the brochures showing the development as it was promised? We would love to print photos if you have them, compared to what is happening today at Vitran.

This brings me to the end of "Odds and Ends": the disintegration of the region's powerhouse bank, Bank United, in Coral Gables. Again, it is fitting that the collapse of the largest casualty in the nation's economic crisis would happen right in our backyard: the same backyard, by the way, where Florida Power and Light wants to jam through two new nuclear reactors to supply ever growing "demand" for electricity. The taxpayer is on the hook for billions and billions. It would be a truly educational experience for taxpayers, if the Treasury Department and FDIC would publish photographs on the Bank United website of the underlying properties BankUnited invested in, to put a face on the foreclosure crisis.

I mean, every single cratered loan has a physical address. And a lot of those physical addresses are right here in Florida. Understand this too: that the fire sale of these toxic assets to other banks and investors are guaranteeing gargantuan profits to some of the very same people who caused this recession/Depression. You bet, I'm disgusted. But my disgust doesn't start with the favorable deals that are ripping off US taxpayers. The conditions for this disaster were created in the formula of converting farmland and wetlands into sprawling suburbs. Those conditions needed changes in underlying zoning, accomplished in Miami-Dade by the constant favorable treatment of special interests and developers and speculators by the unreformable majority of the county commission. (You can watch on May 28th, how the county commission will bend over for Florida Power and Light in its request to move forward its new nuclear power plants by mining 10 million cubic yards of fill next to Homestead AFB.)

People need to see with their own eyes that the suburban landscape, the strip malls, and overdevelopment of commercial and retail in suburbs, is what wrecked the US economy. It is those builders and developers who are fighting for easier rules and regulations through SB 360, who represent Vitran Homes, who are flattering Pepe Diaz as a great genius for promoting a new Lowe's at the edge of the Everglades, and naming stadiums in honor of a collapsed economic model.

We might consider asking UM President Donna Shalala to remove Bank United's name from the University of Miami auditorium. It has to be a morale killer for the students, don't ya think?

Maybe our readers could contribute their ideas for a new name for the center. I'll start off: The Foreclosure Auditorium at the University of Miami.


Ho Hum, not again said...

The county commissioners are still approving plats in south dade. Duh.

Geniusofdespair said...

I spoke the State Attorney's office about this homeowner's plight.

They said this homeowner should try calling 1-800-226-9101
Division of Land Sales, Condos and Property. This might be a good start.

Good luck homeowner. All the rest of you, sprawl is bad. Stay away from these developments in farmland.

Anonymous said...

I'm telling you: the reputation of the builders associations couldn't be more tarnished. The Latin Builders, The South Florida Builders. The Vitran Homes example raises the question: shouldn't the boards be scrubbed clean of builders, developers and bankers whose projects are now bankrupt, foreclosed and otherwise the responsibility of the US taxpayer? Oh, but maybe that would mean that they wouldn't be able to form a quorum...

Anonymous said...

Another great column. Bravo! The architectural term for an egress from an auditorium is a vomitorium. You can look it up. I would suggest that BankUnited be giving naming rights only to the vomitoria, provided that the full "BankUnited Vomitorium" name be posted. This will preserve their presence, and in a manner more consistent with their contribution to the Florida and national economies.

The rest of the building can be named the Cristal Palace, in honor of our next Senator.

Anonymous said...

Great information. Sad though.

When will the Herald do a story on how much money Manny Diaz and City Commissioners spend on their police drivers and their SUV's?
I read Manny Diaz's driver made $297,000 in 2008 and Manny Diaz lives less than a mile from City Hall.

Anonymous said...

"People need to see with their own eyes that the suburban landscape, the strip malls, and overdevelopment of commercial and retail in suburbs, is what wrecked the US economy."
Your blog is entertaining with hit or miss analysis. This is a miss.

Strip malls, and the suburban landscape have very little to do with the US Economy...even if you believe the economy is "wrecked".
As for the guy that bought a crappy development in a crappy area and is wondering why his value has gone down...were you expecting a windfall you "greedy" bastard? Butch up. You made a stupid investment in a stupid location...take it like a man...or cry to Gimleteye who will refer you to a lawyer to unravel your stupid thought process and blame someone else.