Saturday, September 17, 2016

Downtown Disposium - The Tour!

As previously discussed, the DDA wants to impress its friends with its many accomplishments next week. We would like to impress our friends with its many failures, and the failures of the other cronies that make up Fort Lauderdale's upper crust.

On Saturday, September 24th, there will be walking tour of downtown Fort Lauderdale, starting at 3 pm at Stranahan Park. Food Not Bombs & company will be helping everyone take in the sights and stories of some of the most hotly contested parts of downtown. There's a lot more wrong with this City than the Mayor or the City Manager.

From FATS Village to Riverwalk, there's a lot of millionaires who are working closely to ensure that the future of downtown is one for the wealthy, and not for the homeless, the working class, or the Black community of Sistrunk. In the meantime, we have some infographics up as well as last weeks' introductory video,

Onward to the Downtown Disposium, next weekend!
All Aboard Florida/Brightline in Fort Lauderdale \ Downtown Disposium

Broward County Continuum of Care Board \ Downtown Disposium

Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority \ Downtown Disposium

Fort Lauderdale NW Progresso Flagler CRA \ Downtown Disposium

Stranahan Park \ Downtown Disposium

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Downtown Disposium

On Friday, September 23rd, The Downtown Development Authority of Fort Lauderdale will be hosting a "Downtown Symposium." Local developers and politicians will be rubbing shoulders with visiting DDA representatives from other states, and presumably touting the many exciting projects the DDA has been promoting in recent years.

In reality, the DDA is another piece of the problem in Fort Lauderdale; another City entity meant to serve the public interest, controlled by millionaire developers and property owners. They try to avoid the limelight, but there are plenty of stories out there about their recent efforts. There's their role in supporting the City's homeless hate laws. The money pit known as the Wave Street Car. Their attempts to privatize Huzienga Plaza. Their illegal campaign contributions to Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners. Another project, the "yellow shirt" Ambassador Program" is a low-security team recently implemented to make sure poor people don't bother wealthy people in the Riverwalk area. It also has a sleazy origin story within the DDA.

The biggest problem of all is that these entities don't even operate in great secrecy, but rather in a vacuum, deprived of public interest and oversight. Few can define what a Downtown Development Authority or a Community Redevelopment Agency is. Fewer still can explain how their relationship with the wealthiest interests in Fort Lauderdale can make incredibly toxic long-term consequences for the poor people of Broward County.

With that in mind, Fort Lauderdale Food Not Bombs welcomes the public to learn about these concepts, from a grassroots perspective, at their own Downtown Disposium at the end of September. We'll be throwing a lot of information on this blog between now and the end of the month to build this understanding.

On Friday, September 23rd, we encourage the public to help welcome DDA guests at the Broward Performing Arts Center.

Finally, on Saturday, September 24th, we're taking everyone on a tour of Fort Lauderdale for the Downtown Disposium. This walking tour of downtown will introduce everyone to concepts like DDA's, CRA's, and how it relates to rapidly gentifying streets, from Sistrunk to Riverwalk.

Lots of details will be announced later. For now, enjoy this educational video about the Downtown Disposium.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Homeless Board Doesn't Want Homeless Advocates & More

After a long delay, Broward County's Continuum Care of Board met again on Wednesday, September 8th, and there was much to discuss. One of the most surprising, and contentious subjects of discussion, was a proposal to reduce the amount of "homeless advocate" seats on the CoC Board from 4 to 1 and replace them with representatives from local Chambers of Commerce and other County administrative roles. The proposal also called for the seats reserved for the Homeless Providers and Shareholders Committee from 2, to 1, another seat that usually represents homeless services workers.

The overall effect was to replace almost all the homeless advocates on the board with even more bureaucrats, of which there are already close to 20. It would be misleading to say that this seemed like an overly popular idea amongst the CoC board, and frankly it's a bit of a mystery how this even came up in the first place. The proposal, which was not disclosed and voted on in a typical manner for the CoC, ignited yet another great debate at the meeting, and it was decided that the issue would be brought to the Broward County Commission sometime in the next month or two.

What will the Broward County Commission say about that? We hope to have more insight on that later.

County & City Dance Around Anti-Homeless Laws
One CoC Board Member who has not been seen much this summer is Broward County Commissioner / Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief. The Vice Mayor was actually pretty vocal this time, and, when weighing in on the ongoing quagmire that is the Fort Lauderdale Storage Ban Saga, said that she felt the County should do something right away to resolve this issue. But, she also felt the first step would be for the City of Fort Lauderdale should repeal the storage ban. And Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis agreed. 

This is not the first time we have reported Commissioner Trantalis as saying that the anti-homeless laws of Fort Lauderdale should be gotten rid of. However so far very few people have continued to push the Commission on this issue and it just seems to be all talk. At this time, the homeless hate laws are not going anywhere until there's a little more pressure on the people involved.

Fort Lauderdale's Brightline/All Aboard Florida station
Fort Lauderdale's Great Homeless Displacement Master-Plan Isn't Looking So Good

Also worth mentioning is a fantastic new article by the Florida Bulldog. Martin and Indian River counties have been suing All Aboard Florida, the commuter train line that has been putting in huge new train stations in Broward, Miami, and Palm Beach counties this year. The case is not going well for All Aboard Florida and has led to speculation that AAF is running out of money.

This creates a peculiar scenario for the City of Fort Lauderdale. The All Aboard Florida station in downtown Fort Lauderdale is at the center of a development plan to completely re-make the areas that have been the primary spot for chronically homeless people to stay in the area for decades. What would become of this massive, half built train station, and the retail and condo properties planned for the surrounding blocks, if AAF collapses? What would the City, DDA, and other elite interests do if their primary scheme for permanently displacing homeless people in downtown, results in even more un-used and half-realized properties in the very area that was to be gentrified?

Our only insight at this time is that the train station facade would make for a lovely new homeless shelter.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Commissioner McKinzie Really Doesn't Like The Sistrunk Sharing

Last year, the Sistrunk Sharing was created as a synthesis between Food Not Bombs and Black Lives Matter activists. On the first Wednesday of every month, the sharing takes place at Lincoln Park on Sistrunk Avenue, and usually has some vegan and vegetarian breakfast foods, baked goods, juice, coffee, etc.

Much like Stranahan Park, the Sistrunk area has its own issues over what classes are best served and where. And so for the 2nd time this year, Commissioner Bob McKinzie dropped by the Sistrunk Sharing to let people know that he wasn't happy about us being there.
McKinzie and the rest of the City Commission
"We don't want this here." He then went on to let everyone know they were illegally parked.
This attitude towards food sharings from the Fort Lauderdale City Commission is not exactly news worthy. Yet it is quite rare that one of them would feel the need to come to the sharings in person, not once but twice, to express this.

McKinzie, for anyone keeping track, was appointed to replace Bobby Dubose during the sharing ban controversy, and so far has mostly distinguished himself as being perhaps the most overtly nepotistic Commissioner in the City. You can read, among other things, about McKinzie's cozy arrangement with the new caretakers of the troubled "Fort Lauderdale Chronic Homeless Housing Collaborative" here. He's also recently run into trouble for taking illegal campaign contributions from another long-time frenemy of the homeless advocacy community, the Downtown Development Authority. McKinzie is also one of the only City Commissioners who is not term-limited to 2018.

Sistrunk Sharing September 7th, 2016
For anyone even mildly curious, sharing food in the City of Fort Lauderdale in a public park is still quite legal. Despite the millions of dollars going into the Sistrunk area, things aren't changing that much for the community. It seems like we need more things like the Sistrunk Sharing and less things like politicians that serve the whims of corporate and developer interests.

Friday, August 12, 2016

DDA Extortion For Huzienga Plaza Begins

A shadow has been hanging over one of the "public" spaces in downtown Fort Lauderdale: Huzienga Plaza/Beaubier Park is at risk of being privatized. The Downtown Development Agency, facing a large shortfall over many of its projects, has been threatening to sell the property unless the City of Fort Lauderdale rents it out.

On Tuesday, the City Commission of Fort Lauderdale will formally vote on the request to rent the park from the DDA for $100,000 a year. The undercurrents of this situation are sad but predictable. The DDA has engaged in a series of boondoggles that have gone nowhere for years, including the WAVE streetcar, anti-homeless programs such as the "Ambassadorship program" and supporting the City's anti-homeless laws, and trying to get a new Federal Courthouse built.

The DDA claims they have to get this revenue from the Park to make up for the lack of taxes that they are collecting from downtown businesses, and have even suggested that if the City does not rent it that they will sell it to a developer. The DDA themselves are a veritable cabal of millionaire developers and property owners, appointed by the Fort Lauderdale City Commission.

What the fuck gives them the right to extort the City for $100,000 a year for one of its parks, or risk it being privatized?  Homeless hate laws take on many forms, and this is surely one of them. The DDA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars the last few years making sure Riverwalk and Huzienga are well-guarded against unsavory homeless people. They've also made a spectacular effort to revitalize and gentrify the area, a noble effort if at any point there was any provisions made for the indigent people who already live in the area.

Will the City support this effort? In the past they have not acted particularly happy with the DDA's demands for help with their budget problems. But we're now closing in on the last year of Mayor Seiler's tenure, and how many times have we seen this City Commission get a proposal forwarded to them by the City Attorney, and supported by downtown's 1%, that they did not like?

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stranahan Society Pt 2 - A New Shelter? And More

Following up on our recap on the first meeting of the CoC's ad hoc committee to address Stranahan Park issues...

Board Member Frank Pontillo talked at length about San Diego's ePATH program, which provides a full service shelter and sharing program. The real question is, is anyone else really serious about this? The City of Fort Lauderdale has staved off a new shelter program in downtown for 20+ years. Properties such as "The Tree," which is already a gathering place for homeless people, has languished for decades and is perfectly positioned. The Federal Courthouse is supposedly being knocked down and replaced. There are a number of interesting possibilities, but will anyone actually allow it to exist? It seems very unlikely.

Another thing that happened Friday was discussion over the "Broward Local Coalition." Mason Jackson of Career Source suggested that the business community should lead it. The business community, of course, wasn't there, but if you flip over the Downtown Development Authority's meeting notes you will see that they do seem interested in the issues - encouraging the sweeps of homeless people's property and discouraging downtown businesses from letting their employees share food with the homeless. Few would be against the reformation of the Local Coalition, which fell apart in 2009 or so, but leaving it in the hands of the same people who created the Homeless Hate Laws of Fort Lauderdale is abominable. We'll be keeping a close watch on that one, particularly considering how closely the DDA seems to be connected to the storage ban enforcements of the last few months.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Stranahan Society Speaks, Part 1

On Friday afternoon, the Homelessness Continuum of Care Board (CoC)  tried something a little different. They held a meeting that focused solely on the alleviation of the woes of Stranahan Park.

Friday's Homelessness CoC meeting took
place in County Commission Chambers
Although much of the CoC's business is done yards away from the largest population of chronically homeless people in Broward County, it is not a frequent topic of discussion for them. In fact, since many only meet once or twice a month and are constrained by Florida's Sunshine State Law, the CoC does not communicate directly with one another in the way one would expect executives from major homeless providers that collaborate together would. Some have staff for that sort of issue, but it remains a problem.

Friday qualified as a well attended CoC assembly with an audience at around 30. Homeless people and homeless advocates spoke about many things, including endemic problems in the HAC system that are well known to the homeless community (shelter representatives were in attendance but mostly silent). Also mentioned were property confiscations, the criminalization of homelessness, and complaints of over-policing. Relatively few homeless service providers or advocates from the Stranahan area were present. Absent was anyone from the Fort Lauderdale Women's Club, or any of the other homeless-bashing residents or business-people that frequented similar City meetings in the past.

Afterwards, CoC Board members addressed most of these issues amongst themselves. Ultimately, the Board chucked any vote (which would have to pass 2 more levels of County Government before having any possible legal authority) to an as-yet unscheduled 2nd meeting of the "Ad Hoc Central Fort Lauderdale Committee."

Several things of interest were discussed by CoC Board Members that should not escape notice.

Of perhaps greatest interest was discussion around the controversial enforcement of Fort Lauderdale's storage ban law - one of the original "homeless hate laws" that this blog was made in resistance to. Most present were in agreement that Fort Lauderdale needs to seriously revise the way in which they are carrying out these enforcements. Commissioner and Board Member Dean Trantalis claimed that this is already in progress, but did not say anything to suggest that these enforcements would stop anytime soon. In a separate comment, he did say that these laws were not working and were a mistake, but said nothing about simply repealing them.

Several others complained specifically about anti-homeless laws. The Board ultimately gave little focus to this issue, and one even suggested that there was nothing at all that they could do. (The Board has in fact been sitting on a letter that they have been intending to send to the Cities of Broward County discouraging them from creating or enforcing homeless hate laws, for about a year.)

Fort Lauderdale City Attorney Lee Feldman was present and apparently communicating with Commissioner Trantalis from the audience. After Feldman left, Trantalis said that he had been told by text by the City Manager that no enforcement actions resulted in anyone's property being thrown out. This is quite simply not true. The City Attorney should certainly be asked that question again sometime.

Representatives of the Broward ACLU and Public Defender's office were also present to register their discontent over how this situation has been handled. CoC Chairman and BSO employee Scott Russell said he would facilitate a meeting between law enforcement and these civil rights attorneys. The CoC largely waxed apologetic about the storage ban, but they still are not doing much about it.

Showers and restrooms were a topic that seemed to have some traction in the form of the Live Fresh Shower Truck program. Hope South Florida suggested that they would be willing to operate this program locally, and Commissioner Trantalis said he thought the City may be interested in paying for it. This would be an incredible investment for the City of Fort Lauderdale, which has not put any significant funding to new homeless services in years. Will the City really decide to spend half a million dollars a year to give homeless people showers while doing everything they can to get rid of the same people?

More or less glossing over the notoriety of our current shelter system, focus went towards the idea of asking the County to support a new homeless shelter in Fort Lauderdale. One Board Member envisioned a full service facility, with mid term and permanent housing, full time food services, and intake and social work specialists. Other board members felt the need to remind everyone that nobody is ever willing to propose a space for such a project and its too unrealistic, which felt a little like they weren't really there to look for solutions at all.

Incredibly, Commissioner Trantalis suggested that the City of Fort Lauderdale would support this initiative. He elaborated that he thinks that the City has learned from its mistakes in creating the anti-homeless laws of 2014 and that they were coming around to discussing alternatives. This would be quite a sea change if there were any merit to it...what few public statements the City has made about the homeless this year have not been encouraging. All sharing ban court proceedings are still dragging on, and will enter their 3rd year in November.

In fact, on the same day the Sun Sentinel reported that the City may put up to $176 million to renovate its parks in downtown. While the potential sales tax funds may also go towards programs like public transportation, that help the homeless, so far there is no indication that any of the money focused towards public parks would be used to create the very services that Friday's CoC meeting was talking about.

We're going to have some more analysis on this some time later in Part 2.