Monday, July 23, 2018

How dirty is Miami real estate? A LOT DIRTIER than you think ... by gimleteye

It is time for reflection, after a long run as a Miami-Dade taxpayer. When I moved from the Keys to Miami in 1992, I embraced the challenge of calling attention to the importance of preserving open space and farmland as a buffer between the intensely developed areas of Florida’s most populous county and the fragile beauty of the Everglades. Previously, I spent nearly four years as an advocate for Monroe County marine resource issues and had become involved for the first time in my life in local county politics, part of a successful effort to run out of office a majority who had proudly called themselves, “The Concrete Coalition”.

In Miami-Dade I discovered two planning tools critical to protecting the downstream economy and environment in the Keys; 1) the Urban Development Boundary embraced by the county but under constant pressure by developers and the supply chain of special interests and 2) state law mandating comprehensive land use plans by every one of Florida’s counties.

“All growth is good” propelled Miami into the 20th century, but by the end of the century it was evident that a new model needed adjustments. These two planning tools were intended as a rationale framework to bring together competing interests. The problem, of course, is that the competition between civic values and private property owners is not fair. One of the ways failure manifests is through the unregulated influence of corporate law that encourages property owners and speculators to hide their identity through invisibility shields like limited liability corporations.

Every issue of concern to Miami Dade taxpayers — traffic congestion, overburdened schools, fire and police protection — manifests through county politics. And as we know, too well, county politics are extraordinarily influenced by deep pocketed donors who now, thanks to the Citizens United decision by the Bush Supreme Court, give unlimited amounts of money to support causes and candidates.

Today, there is attention on the decision by Mayor Gimenez and the majority of the county commission to support the extension of a major state highway, SR 836, into the southwest corner of Miami-Dade; exactly the geographic area that absorbed my interest after moving to Miami two and a half decades ago. It is as true today as it was then: it is impossible to know who one is negotiating with, when one’s opponent can shield his or her identity through a limited liability corporation, or, LLC.

Eye On Miami is virtually the only space in the media universe where this and related issues have been investigated.

We have mapped to the extent possible, with freely donated time and energy, the LLC’s behind the push that absorbs so much of the elected officials' attention. Sometimes the identities are well known — lobbyists, for instance, who are required to identify themselves. But those are just the tips of the icebergs.

A very small group of land speculators, who are extraordinarily wealthy through the growth of suburban sprawl, dominate the outcomes that put such huge costs on the backs of taxpayers. They’ve figured out the playbook to persuade voters that their cause is noble: ie. “jobs” and that opponents are “elitists”and worse.

If voters knew their names and could make the linkages, it would be a start to a level playing field. At least, then, there would be some “sunshine” to illuminate a path for voters. That’s why, in 2016, I was so excited to learn about an Obama Treasury Department initiative to require the disclosure of LLC ownership in property transactions, as a test case in a few areas of the nation. Miami-Dade was an obvious place to start. I wrote at the time, this was “the best story of 2016”. Attention was being paid.

The Herald's recent report, "How dirty is Miami real estate? Secret home deals dried up when feds started watching", is a book-end to the federal effort to find out who is behind the biggest land deals in South Florida. It turns out that as soon as the speculators found out the feds were watching, they stopped using LLC's..

LLC transactions declined by 95% during the study period. The breathtaking number answers the question, “How dirty is Miami real estate?” The answer: Very.

The land flippers and speculators who stand to benefit from Mayor Gimenez’ SR 836 jihad don’t want to be identified, but we know they exert profound influence.

The take-away is as true today as it was those long years ago: VOTE. If you care about Miami-Dade, your taxes, and your quality of life; vote for candidates who aren’t stuck on the suburban sprawl merry-go-round because they are tethered to campaign cash from special interests whose identities are shielded by corporate law.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eye On Miami is the voice of reason, truth and the best investigative reporting I know of. Keep up the great work!