Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Our Mayors Are Blind to Illegal Signs. Guest Blog by Peter Ehrlich, Jr.
The two mayors' contempt for the rule of law is shameful. And so is the Children's Museum's arrogance, as well as that of the so-called "civic leaders" responsible for its governance.
The museum, built on property leased from the City of Miami on Watson Island, recently installed three giant, programmable signs on two of its exterior walls – two signs facing eastbound MacArthur Causeway traffic, the third facing westbound traffic.
The signs, whose images change every few seconds, are manifestly illegal under the county's Sign Code. Both mayors know that, because Mayor Gimenez's own County Attorney Robert Cuevas told them in a forewarning, April 2012 written memorandum.
The countywide Sign Code contains 10 simple rules that determine whether a programmable sign is legal or is illegal. And those regulations apply throughout every city, not just in Miami. Both mayors know that, too.
One rule requires that programmable signs advertise only products and/or services available on the sign's premises. Another rule requires that the size of the property on which the sign is located – in this case, the size of the museum's property leased from the City of Miami – be at least 10 acres.
Among other advertisements recently, the museum's signs have blasted commercial messages for cruise-ship vacations, air travel abroad, resort stays in the Dominican Republic, and tickets to a technology exposition. None of those goods and services is available for purchase at 980 MacArthur Causeway, the museum's street address.
Moreover, the museum's building footprint is well under one acre in size. With modest outdoor patio and yard areas, the museum's entire leasehold property is enormously smaller than the minimum 10 acres required by the Sign Code.
The rules are simple. The violation of law is undeniable.
What's a community to do about this obvious and insulting lawlessness by The Miami Children's Museum? What's a community to think of the countywide mayor and the Miami mayor who turn their noses up at a law they are sworn into office to uphold?
Several options present themselves:
1. Tell members of the Code-violating museum's governance structure to obey the law. According to the museum's website, the executive committee's chairman is Jeffrey Berkowitz and the board of trustees chairman is Alan Potamkin.
Also serving in governance positions are Madeleine and Micky Arison, Jeff Bartel, Marcus Bach-Armas, Patricia Baloyra, Sandy Batchelor, Ana Bond, Irma and Norman Braman, Don Browne, Linda Coll, Marianne Devine, Michelle Diener, Lucia Dougherty, Sheila and Lawrence Forman, Pat Frost, Lilia Garcia, Jennifer Boin Getz, Sam Getz, Barbara Havenick, Florence Hecht, Gerri Helfman, Adolfo Henriques, James Jones, George Knox, Erika Koopman, Rahul Kothari, Richard Lampen, Kirk Landon, David Lawrence Jr., Randall Lee, Judy and Donald Lefton, Robert M. Levy, Adam Malamed, Jill and Robert Mark, Janet Moreira, Tracy Mourning, Melissa Netkin, Jonathan Nitkin, Leslie Pantin Jr., Adrienne Pardo, Beverly Parker, Wayne Pathman, Evan Reed, Gary Reshefsky, Stephen Riemer, Susan Rosenthal, David Samson, Lisa Schejola-Akin, Laurinda Spear, Mijanou Spurdle, Samuel A. Terilli Jr., Robert Traurig, Kelley Werner and Jody Wolfe.
Simply ask all of these people why The Miami Children's Museum is knowingly and blatantly violating the law. The violation is outrageous. Ask them whether the museum's adults are setting a good example for the law-abiding children of our community, whom they purport to serve. And tell all of these people that they should be as ashamed of themselves as our two mayors should be ashamed.
2. Contact your own county commissioner. County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan was concerned enough about news reports last year regarding the museum's signage intentions that she requested a formal county attorney evaluation. Part of County Attorney Cuevas' April 2012 memo to Commissioner Jordan, her commission colleagues and Mayor Gimenez stated:
"If it were determined that a municipality [such as the City of Miami with regard to The Miami Children's Museum] is not properly interpreting or applying the Code, the County Commission or the Mayor could authorize that appropriate action be taken to require any city permitted or authorized signs not in compliance be made to comply with the Code or be removed."
Ask your county commissioner what she or he intends to do about the Children's Museum's clear violation of the County Code, and how soon they are going to act to unplug those three signs.
3. Ask yourself whether this is pay-to-play politics, once again, at Miami-Dade County. According to Mayor Gimenez's own website for his 2012 re-election, he launched that entire campaign effort on October 15, 2011 at the home of Jeffrey Berkowitz . . . yes, the very same, top leader of the Code-snubbing, law-breaking Miami Children's Museum.
Is the museum getting a free pass on its County Code violations because of the chummy, personal and very political relationship between Mr. Berkowitz and Mayor Gimenez?
Peter R. Ehrlich Jr. is a director of Scenic Miami-Dade County (www.scenicdade.org), an affiliate of Scenic America.