Tuesday, June 02, 2009

While Gov. Crist and Marco Rubio lock in battle for the US Senate, Florida is the victim ... by gimleteye

Fanatic: A person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm, as for a cause.

If there was any question whether Florida's economy is being choked by growth fanatics, the question was put to rest yesterday when Gov. Charlie Crist, who built a solid environmental record for his Senate run, signed the worst legislation to come down the Florida pike in a long time. Republicans run Florida, despite the growing lead by Democrats in registering new voters for state-wide elections. But before Charlie Crist gets a chance to persuade the new more moderate Florida in the general election, he has to run past the old Republican guard, representing the radical Jeb Bush wing of the party, packaged in the form of the former House Speaker from Miami, Marco Rubio.

Yesterday, Crist signed into law the "Growth Whenever Act". To understand why he signed into law this horrendous piece of legislation, you have to track back to Marco Rubio's hometown political base in Miami.

Poor Miami. It is a place like Chinatown, the famous Jack Nicholson movie whose character Jake Gittes is tragically drawn back, despite his best efforts, to the alluring, exotic, corruption of the place. Rubio did not accomplish much as the first Cuban-American House Speaker in Florida history. He is not well-known throughout the state because voters are so turned off by state government that they try to put it out of mind. That’s also part of the Chinatown story: there are some things you can never forget no matter how hard you try. What Rubio is, is well-connected to the Growth Machine that turned Miami-Dade farmland into examples of the worst excesses of overdevelopment, sprawl, and traffic congestion in the nation.

Rubio was anointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush as his proxy, when Crist supplanted him in the Governor’s Mansion. From the very first, Crist sought-- in his most amiable way-- to distance himself from the dark side of Jeb Bush: eight years of radical polarization in the state capitol marked by winners, who hewed to the Bush line, and losers who had the temerity to offer diverse points of view. The short-tempered Bush commanded through loyalty and micro-management and was driven by a conservative ideology that was not successful in itself so much as it was the lucky beneficiary of Florida's housing boom.

The hallmarks of that ideology were the conviction that markets and industries could police themselves better than regulation; exactly the framework of the legislation that Gov. Crist signed into law yesterday.

The ridiculously-named “Community Renewal Act” represents anything but “renewal”. It is more aptly called “The Bailout Bill for Land Speculators”, aimed to appease developers down in the dump who need a piece of good news, any news, to make it easier to swallow the massive hits to their net worth through property market decline and their ill-advised purchases of raw land at speculative values whose monthly holding costs are burning cash at an alarming rate.

The bill does two things principally: it eliminates the need for “traffic concurrency” in urban areas. That state planning requirement is meant to address taxpayer and voter frustration with mind-numbing traffic congestion. But the fanatical elements of the Growth Machine slipped in a poison pill; redefining urban as areas “with an average of at least 1,000 people per square mile or in counties with populations of at least 1 million.” In other words, a significant barrier to suburban sprawl has just been eliminated for the rural areas and wetlands critical to the environment and the Everglades.

The sole statement in the Governor’s press release is downright wistful, “"It's probably one of those bills where no one's going to be overly happy on either side of the argument. So hopefully, it's right down the middle and will be able to stimulate our economy and not do harm to our beautiful state." It is not right down the middle by a long shot, unless you are in love with median strips and swales in highways that the state and federal government count as "functional wetlands”.

In the St. Pete Times, 1000 Friends president Charles Pattison said, "The areas being exempted are not the ones that are urban and dense," Pattison said. "This is clearly meant to benefit development interests." Those interests certainly are happy with the new law "Our economy needs the shot in the arm that this legislation will provide," said John Sebree, the Florida Association of Realtors vice president for public policy. Associated Industries of Florida president and CEO Barney Bishop said the state's prosperity hinges on its ability to grow and the new law will provide a spark by "easing the regulatory burdens that have been stifling economic growth.” Florida Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mark Wilson also praised the legislation while criticizing "special interests and others" for making "a last-minute push to politicize" the issue.”

The last minute push the Growth Machine refers to was the massive public outpouring of opposition to the “Growth Anywhere Act”. Gov. Crist had intended to publicly sign the bill last week but an avalanche of calls, emails, and faxes pushed the issue off his daily schedule. Citizens who have been fighting bad growth in Florida for decades—well before the current economic crisis disclosed its rotted core—had reason to hope that Crist would veto the bill.

It didn’t happen, and not because Crist somehow came to his Chamber of Commerce senses and resisted the attempts by “special interests and others” to politicize the issue. Crist allowed this terrible bill to become law for approximately 254, 491 reasons. That is the amount of money recorded as campaign contributions in Marco Rubio’s quarterly campaign finance report, filed on April 9, 2009 at exactly 4:50PM.

If Crist needed more time in the past week to think about signing the “Growth Whenever Act”, it was likely to give his advisors more time to game play the harsh reality of raising money in Florida, as a moderate running against Marco Rubio and the remnants of the Jeb Bush machine. What you can see in the Marco Rubio Senate Exploratory Committee, Inc. report is enough tell-tale signs of trouble from the Miami branch of the Growth Machine that propelled Jeb Bush to office in 1998.

Here are a few of the highlights. Caesar Alvarez, CEO of Greenberg, Traurig the Miami-based law firm whose origins are tied to Miami land use law for zoning and permitting sprawl in farmland and wetlands, $2400, Alan Becker, Becker and Poliakoff, a Miami-based law firm with an extensive zoning and land use permitting practice with close ties to Rubio, $2300, Ronald Book, ubiquitous lobbyist, $2400, Silvio Cardoso, former president of the Latin Builders Association and sprawl builder, $2400, Santiago Echemendia, Tew and Cardenas, the law firm mostly closely associated with Jeb Bush, $1000, Herman Echevarria, a political consultant close to former Miami Dade mayor Alex Penelas and an array of Latin Builders, $2400, Ann Herberger, Bush family fundraiser, $1400, Miami-Dade lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez, $1000, Miami-Dade political consultants Marin and Son, total of $7200, Mestre family interests in Redland garbage and land development, total $12,200, Milton family interests, Miami’s major developer campaign contributors, total $4800, Miami sprawl developer Stanley Tate and family, $4800.

The Woods Herberger Group received $30,000 as campaign finance consultants during this period.

Also of note, along the lines of no good deed goes unpunished: Crist’s massive effort to put US Sugar lands into public ownership that garnered so much good press and goodwill with Floridians, significantly antagonized Fanjul family interests, sugar barons who are powerfully connected to the Miami-based Growth Machine by employing legions of downtown lawyers over decades to cement their interests on top of wetlands. The “Growth Anywhere Act” clearly accrues to their interests.
Contributions to Rubio from the Fanjuls interests total $11,200: (Cantens, $1000, Dominicis, $2400, Oscar Hernandez, $1000, Albert Recio, $1000, Armando Tabernilla, $1000, Jose ‘Pepe’ Fanjul Sr., $2400, Jose Fanjul Jr., $2400)

Understand that these contributions, while they may seem “big money”, are just telltale signs of the millions that will be required to wage a primary battle by Rubio, who is running as the true conservative, against Crist whose popularity will have more traction in the general election if he is resourceful enough to survive a primary where the putative claims of a resurgent Republican will be on full display, with the protective shielf of Jeb Bush. Recently, Jeb Bush Jr. “endorsed” Marco Rubio.

The growth fanatics are struggling through the worst climate for development since the Great Depression. They banked a lot of wealth during the housing market asset bubble—from cement and rock mining, to highway construction and engineering infrastructure, to building sprawling suburbs. The state of Florida is wracked by the economic crisis and is cutting services to alarming levels. But most Floridians are clueless how Republicans who run Florida are itching for their shot to use economic stimulus in whatever form it arrives and whoever gives it to them to rebuild their net worth through rapacious development.

Florida is not only swamped with foreclosures, since 2007 more than 600,000 permits have been issued for new home construction: a number greater than all the housing starts anticipated in the entire US for 2009. Within the economic hurricane that has enveloped Florida is another isolated hurricane whipping through the Republican Party. If the Democrats, as evidenced by their annual event at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, are behaving as though the economic crisis has no origins, no address, and no way out but platitudes—deserving only a side note by keynote speaker DNC Chair Tim Kaine—the Republicans clearly know what they want: giving free passes to the same Growth Machine that wrecked Floridians’ quality of life and put the economy in such jeopardy in the first place. That is what Charlie Crist did yesterday, pushing back optimistically at the grim legacy of fanatics who control Florida.


Scott said...

I think you hit this issue on the head. One of the reasons Crist signed the bill is because he knew it would probably receive little media attention. I wish the Herald would provide a better depth of coverage on these issues.

Anonymous said...

There is no getting this evil genie of unfettered growth back into the bottle now. Some characterized the fight as a NIMBY issue. It is not- it’s a planning issue. Let’s face it. Planning in Florida is not done through public charrette, but rather through political contribution. Sad state of affairs. I am shocked both by those in Tallahassee who claimed to be environmentally minded who voted the bill (where were the ‘mavericks”) as well as those locally who never spoke up to fight it. Add this to loss of funding for Tri-Rail and misspending transportation dollars (more important than ever that they go to deliver mass transit). I hope everyone can work from home over the Internet.

Gimleteye said...

The Herald has completely missed explaining for its readers why Miami is the political epicenter of the housing boom and bust. At least Eyeonmiami is laying down what pieces of the record are available to civic journalism.

same as it ever was said...

I'm surprised you're surprised that our Guv is nothing but an environmentalist of convenience. And I still don't know what strong enviro record you refer to. Is it that overpriced sweetheart deal for US Sugar? Just wait, the Great Fanjul Bailout to follow...

a thin silver lining? said...

If you consider it consolation, the worst of the potential damage from SB360 was clipped out of the bill by Sen. Gelber with a whole lot of pushing by the County. Yes, this county.

There's an edit to the traffic concurrency language that allows Miami-Dade to count the urban infill line (roughly the Palmetto Expressway) as an equivalent. That means sprawl west of that requires traffic mitigation by developers still.

The bill remained a stinker because it deleted DRI review and it did terrible things to growth management in the rest of the state. The County commission rushed a veto request to the Guv to no avail.

Gimleteye said...

Thanks for that information.

andrew said...

Below is a letter sent to the editor of the Miami Herald on May 23, 2009 but never published.


Oops, there goes BankUnited, Florida's biggest banking concern, except for $4.9 billion from the FDIC and US government backstopping of all their toxic assets. Oops, there goes a $5 billion hole in the state budget plugged for now by the US taxpayer. Curious to know when the Herald will take off the rose-colored glasses and level with its readers about what is in store for those of us who live and work in this state. Gov. Charlie Crist knows! That's why he is going to seek asylum in the US Senate in 2010.

Before hurricane season The Herald readily joins in the preparedness effort. When a storm does approach the paper helps warn people to seek shelter. No happy talk about how everything will be fine and how these things usually blow over and how we'll be back to normal in no time. Well economic hurricane season is about to begin. A season unlike any since the Great Depression. Shouldn't you join in the preparedness effort?

Florida's economy has always relied on three great engines--growth, tourism, and agriculture. All three are sputtering. A thousand people a day used to move into Florida and homes, roads, schools, and malls used to have to be built for them. No more. Goodbye growth engine. People from around the country and around the world flocked to Florida to enjoy its sunshine and beaches. No more. We all live in an economically depressed country and world now unable to generate visitors. Goodbye tourism engine. The smallest engine is even threatened with unprecedented drought conditions. If that worsens, goodbye agriculture engine.

Florida's old economic engines are failing and there are no prospects for building new engines. The Herald would do this community a great service if it would treat this dilemma with the gravity of a hurricane. Because it is at least that dangerous. Economic happy talk is the road to calamity.

Paul A. Moore