Friday, March 16, 2012

In Miami-Dade volunteers and activists can't keep up ... by gimleteye

There are plenty of Miami-Dade citizens who have the interest in the Urban Development Boundary and other quality of life issues and only a small handful who have the time and knowledge to devote to these issues. It is no wonder that so much cost of growth is foisted onto the backs of taxpayers. That is what lobbyists do, when public policies are rigged to benefit private profit.

How many people know that the fee assessed to rock miners in Miami-Dade County aimed to provide seed capital for a new water treatment plant to benefit millions of people who drink water was shifted permanently to building an underground wall to prevent people and farms beyond the urban development boundary from flooding? I assure you, not many. That's what the Florida legislature did this session, thanks to your elected representatives.

There is just too much ground to cover for civic activists. The lobbyists know it. That is why one of the favored tactics of the lobbyist class is to send citizen activists on "fishing trips" or down rabbit holes. Invent really awful legislation that will never see the light of day, while making sure the less bad stuff makes it through the pork grinder.

People seem to have forgotten that federal and state environmental regulations were created in the first place through the recognition that citizens need protection from local profit impulses. In the bad old days, this tendency was expressed through dumping toxics directly into rivers and streams. As the decades passed and our knowledge grew, it turns out that modern activities and pollution are harmful in minute quantities. It doesn't take an oil drum filled with sludge, only a few parts per million or billion to wreck what people treasure.

As a result of greater understanding and science, private business launched ever more sophisticated attacks on environmental rules and regulations. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression-- a kind of slow motion dissolving of housing markets led the way-- provided all the cover lobbyists and industry needed to eliminate regulatory authority at ever level of government.

That's the backdrop for the neutering of local environmental agencies like DERM, state agencies like DEP and DCA, and now the call by arithmetically challenged county commissioners like Pepe Diaz to assemble a public "working group" to change decades of policies surrounding the urban development boundary in 90 days.

County Commissioner Jose Pepe Diaz' proposal (in Committee on March 14) is a sham, but it raises a point worth consideration.

Why aren't citizen advocates or their representatives compensated to the same degree as lobbyists like Jeffrey Bercow, representing developers, or Truly Burton, representing the South Florida builders, or other "environmental land use" lawyers, when they are called to service by government officials like Pepe Diaz?

So here is a bright proposal: levy special taxes on rock miners and developers, to be paid into an independent trust fund, allowing charitable conservation organizations to fund activists and staff at the same wage rate as Mssrs. Bercow et al. Does $750/hr sound right, to you? It does to me.

The other day in county chambers, attorney Bercow said that all developers want is "a level playing field", a kind of tongue-in-cheek complaint. I'm all for a level playing field: fund an independent trust, with granting rules allowing equal access by conservation and civic groups whose missions are to protect the Everglades and Biscayne Bay. That would bring us closer to a level playing field; providing funding for citizens who are capable, for lawyers and scientists and engineers to compete with FPL, Lennar, Atlantic Civil, DiMare or Florida Crystals.

There is a not-so-bright myth circulating that environmental groups are "rich". That they have plenty of money to throw staff at civic engagement and even lawsuits. What a crock of s#$t. I know, because I not only know these groups, I spent the better part of two decades volunteering, helping to lead, and helping to fund the same entities that Diaz and Joe Martinez and the rest of the Unreformable Majority want to drag into their "working group" instead of taking on the burden of accountability, themselves.

On the front lines, over this same period of time, we have watched the county commission allow the local environmental authority's mission to wither, staff to be demoralized beyond belief, funds raided, diverted, and lobbyists given keys to the kingdom. It's a crying shame.

The point is this (because I really don't expect rock miners and developers to give a single cent to fund their opponents): the long slow decline of civic participation and engagement is, in part, a result of the 40 Year War on the Environment. The black hats know this perfectly well. Smart. Voters, not so well and not so smart.


Geniusofdespair said...

That Pepe Diaz is an asshole. On Wednesday he lamented that he would have had a NEW high school in his district if the UDB line was just moved. Yes, Lowe's might have built the building BUT WE ALL WOULD HAVE HAD TO PAY TO STAFF IT AND RUN IT. School Board member Evelyn Greer spoke at the commission meeting saying there was no funds. They would have had to take money from OTHER districts to fund this school.

Further, the State of Florida and the Courts rejected the UDB move for the Lowe's store. The Store resorted to what amounted to extortion in my eyes -- move the line and we will build a school.

Pepe le Pew couldn't understand that the courts are smarter than he is and goes by standards -- that if he were a thinking man, he would follow. It is your friggin' drinking water we are trying to preserve Pepe. Where the hell do you think the water comes from? You can have a school and a Lowe's store and every other stupid amenity but if you can't drink the water what the hell have you got?

Anonymous said...

We get what we pay (vote) for.

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, who would have lived in the homes and who would have shopped at the Lowes? We have a surplus of homes in the 305 with few jobs to support. While more people are looking to live in the urban centers, where services should be concentrated and are cheaper to expand, developers are looking to plow under wild land.

Anonymous said...

you're to be commended for your long and ongoing efforts to advocate for a clean and healthy environment in south FL and the Keys. too bad we can't clone you. the lack of funding for environmetal causes in the region has always amazed me. maybe it's the model that south FL NGOs follow? maybe there's another approach and better approach to get a number of well funded programs active in south FL. geez, there's about what 7 million poeple and a gadzillion tourists in the region. what's lacking??

Anonymous said...

The two comments that made me laugh out loud from that public hearing was the one by Berkow about wanting a level playing field. The other was Diaz saying that environmentalists don't want a permanent UDB because they use this as a fundraising tool.

I'm quite sure we'd all rather protect farmland and open space and the Everglades and move on to enjoying those places. Audubon could go back to bird watching, Sierra could go back to hiking and canoeing, and we'd all live a couple years longer from the drop in stress levels.

Anonymous said...

"How many people know that the fee assessed to rock miners in Miami-Dade County aimed to provide seed capital for a new water treatment plant to benefit millions of people who drink water was shifted permanently to building an underground wall to prevent people and farms beyond the urban development boundary from flooding? I assure you, not many. That's what the Florida legislature did this session, thanks to your elected representatives."

While I agree with the premise of the post and I applaud both Gimleteye and GoD for their tireless efforts, the quote above is a good example of why we are losing ground in the environment here in M-D County and at the State level. The leaders of the environmental/activist movement don't even understand the issues well enough to lobby on them. the purpose of the wall is to stop seepage from the Eveglades eastward through the flood protection levee. That part is true, but the proposed wall is not meant as flood protection. It is meant to keep precious water in the Everglades, especially due to increased seepage caused by these huge holes in the ground created by rockmining activites. And the reason the rockimne industry wrote the change into the law was because Miami-Dade Water and Sewer hadn't spent a dime even studying the need for an upgraded plant this money was put aside for. In fact, it appears that they don't need the upgraded plant which was to deal with 1) capacity issues and 2) contamination issues -- neither of which have arisen. The money put aside from rockmining is meant to mitigate for loss of wetland habitat. According to modeling, the seepage wall will improve hydrology in the Everglades. Is that not a good thing? Now, part of the problem is that the State and Federal governments look at that money as belonging to the rockminers rather than the poeple of Florida and the County gets no traction arguing otherwise.

Anonymous said...

keep up the good work brother