Friday, August 28, 2015

Guest Blog: Miami Beach Restaurant Funeral Announcement: Piola succumbs to real estate investors

Monday, August 31st
From 5pm to 8pm

Dear Piola Friends & Family,

It is a great sorrow to announce that after 15 years of being located in the heart of South Beach, this will no longer be our home. Piola South Beach was known not only as a restaurant to Lincoln road regulars and Miamians, but as a second home. A place where family, friends, loved ones, and even people who would become significant to each other’s lives in the future could meet and experience what it was like to have a variety of cultures come together in cuisine.

After 15 years of making memories and bringing joy to customers Piola South Beach is being forced to relocate due to investors who are not only removing us from our home, but removing the heart and soul of Miami Beach that has distinguished our city from other cities around the world making Miami Beach the fun spirited city with a personality everyone could not help but love. The manner in which we are being removed from our location shows lack of dignity, character and heart. There was no form of negotiation nor effort made from the other party to come to a civilized agreement amongst partners who had been worked together for over a decade. Does this sound like the characteristic of any future establishment that you would like to call a second home?

Drawn to our wit’s end Piola invites you to be our guest and say a final goodbye this upcoming Monday August 31st from 5-8 pm.

We hope that our restaurant will always hold a special place in your hearts and memories. Just as all of you our customers will remain in ours.

Sincerely yours,

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Maggy Hurchalla: "The law says they (George Lindemann Jr. and George Lindemann Sr.) can't sell water. They claim that selling water is part of rock mining and they have the right to sell "the waters of the state" ... by gimleteye

Maggie Hurchalla needs money for her defense of a lawsuit levied against her, personally, (SLAPP suit) by the Miami Beach Lindemann family.

We have written about Hurchalla, a Miami native and former Martin County commissioner, extensively:, here and here and here (use our search feature, for more). The lawsuit against her, by Lindemann, claims she interfered with permitting of a rock mine -- including the plan to sell of water from that rock mine to a Florida municipality. The following is from Maggy Hurchalla's website:
In January 2013, George Lindemann, Jr., the owner of Lake Point filed a SLAPP suit against me for criticizing his rockpit project in Martin County. I stated in an email to County Commissioners that a hole in the ground in porous soil would not store water and the project would not save the Everglades or the St. Lucie Estuary. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. It’s particularly offensive to get sued for something you said when everything you said is true. A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is not intended to win. It is intended to intimidate by costing lots of time and money. I am continuing to SLAPP Back because I can’t admit that I secretly and maliciously lied about the project when what I did was to publicly and loudly tell the truth about it.
Originally, Lindemann marketed his Lake Pointe project to EB 5 program foreign investors. He had been a successful Miami developer on Biscyane Boulevard in the 2000's before seizing the opportunity, called to his attention by Big Sugar interests in Palm Beach, to become a rock miner.

Lindemann's property is at the south eastern edge of the Lake Okeechobee area. For the Palm Beach Post, Sally Swartz wrote in Feb. 2013, "Developer’s SLAPP suit seeks to silence Maggy Hurchalla":
The SLAPP — Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation — is nothing new in Martin County and on the Treasure Coast. Still, it is a shock that the developers of the Lake Point rock mines last week targeted environmentalist Maggy Hurchalla, demanding she retract what she has said to Martin commissioners in public meetings and e-mails criticizing the mining operation.

“It’s definitely a SLAPP suit,” Ms. Hurchalla’s lawyer Virginia Sherlock said, “The purpose is not to win, but to shut Maggy up and scare others. She has done nothing wrong.”

The lawsuit alleges Ms. Hurchalla, a former county commissioner and court-recognized expert on Martin’s protective growth plan, made false statements about Lake Point to try to kill a deal its developers made with the last county commission majority.

The 2009 deal gives Lake Point the right to mine its 2,200 acre property for 20 years. Then it would create a storm water treatment area to clean water flowing into the St. Lucie River, and to provide drinking water for West Palm Beach. The rock mine is located in southeast Martin County near Lake Okeechobee.

Developers of the mine contributed to the campaigns of current Commissioner Doug Smith($9,000) and former commissioners Ed Ciampi ($9,000) and Patrick Hayes ($7,000), the majority that approved the deal. Voters booted Mr. Hayes and Mr. Ciampi in the last election.

The deal includes a contract between the county and the South Florida Water Management District that claims Lake Point is exempt from local regulations.

Along with Ms. Hurchalla, Lake Point also is suing Martin County and the water management district.

The SLAPP suit claims Ms. Hurchalla “is singling out Lake Point” and trying to put it out of business and that the project has followed the rules, hasn’t destroyed wetlands and has met public notice requirements.

Ms. Hurchalla has made no comment on the lawsuit.

Criticizing government is, of course, a constitutional right. A SLAPP is not filed with the intent to go trial but to intimidate people, to scare them and to shut them up. The idea is that when the defendants have to spend money on lawyers and endure the stress of a lawsuit, protests will end.

But residents, Ms. Sherlock said, “have the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Comments and communications with elected officials are very highly protected. The idea you should get sued for speaking out is mind-boggling.”

Rock mining is a highly profitable industry in Florida, dominated by large, secretive and mostly foreign-owned corporations. It is quixotic for an individual investor to jump into its midst, without any prior experience and only capital.

It is not clear if "selling water" that belongs to the people of Florida was Lindemann's original plan for the development at the heart of Lindemann's suit against Hurchalla and if fellow billionaires in Florida who own hundreds of thousands of acres around Lake Okeechobee recruited him to be their proxy; to fight for what they really want -- not just to own the land but to own the water above and under their land.

In an age of scarcity, there is no commodity more precious than water. To be instantly granted ownership of water to go along with property rights would fundamentally change the state of Florida.

Using a lawsuit, a SLAPP suit, to help rewrite Florida water law would fit the interests of everyone from the Fanjuls to the other big land owners in Florida including the King Ranch in Texas. It is not for nothing that US Sugar flew by private jet top GOP legislators and Gov. Rick Scott from Florida to Texas for luxury hunting trips on property where the King Ranch also owns the water underneath. (Scott, by the way, reached out to Hurchalla before the Nov. 2014 election, to show his sincerity in wanting to understand how to better protect Florida's environment-- a ploy repellant in retrospect of Scott's anti-environmental jihad since reelection.)

Who put George Lindemann up to the wisdom of changing Florida water law? Being a proxy for other billionaires, including Big Sugar Fanjuls who have also pressed to permit rock mining in the Everglades Agricultural Area, could explain why the court record for this lawsuit, according to Hurchalla, now totals nearly three hundred thousand pages.

The use of the legal system to harass citizens ought to raise the ire of Floridians throughout the state. In the last session of the legislature, a new law was passed making it harder for special interests to levy SLAPP suits. That law can't help Maggy Hurchalla now. You can.

If you have money to give to a great cause in Florida, help Maggy now.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

When China sneezes, Miami catches the flu ... by gimleteye

1987 stock market crash, 1998 Long Term Capital implosion, the boom and bust, 9/11, the real estate bubble and crash of 2007: these decidedly US events had one thing in common -- they were all cushioned by the astonishing rise of the Chinese economy. China has not only been the largest buyer of US debt, its factories and products have substantially maintained US corporate profits and US equity markets. In the interconnected world, China has been the (arrogant) dominant player.

China's lack of transparency accounts for a seemingly impregnable political dictatorship rife with corruption. It has also enabled, inside the United States, a willingness to accommodate and to tolerate trade with a partner along the lines of a destructive co-dependency. We have eagerly absorbed low labor cost goods from China, built on the back of a massive peasant migration to China's megacities. To a significant extent, China's contribution to our own economic stability allowed our government to paper over our own speculative asset bubbles and to mask the vast concentration of wealth at the top .01 percent. US consumers and savers have meekly wondered for nearly twenty years why our own government says inflation is low, when evidence points in the opposite direction except as measured by government approved consumer market basket.

These dissonances could be maintained for a long time, so long as China balanced its own books. To any curious observer, the massive real estate bubble in China has been visible for many years. It is not the stock market correction in China we should fear, it is the real estate asset bubble popping there.

One wishes it were possible to easily understand how much of Miami's real estate bubble is dependent on investment from China, because that number would give a better sense of what is to come in Miami's real estate based economy. It is not hard to envision, however, that many Chinese investors who have piled money into condominiums built through the EB5 visa program will need to liquify.

Back in 2008, it seemed that not all the king's horses and all the king's men could put Humpty-Dumpty (Miami's real estate boom) back together again. Except for China's influence in the world economy.

When China sneezes, the US economy catches the flu. But if China's economy doesn't just sneeze but catches the flu (meaning, its real estate bubble collapses), what happens to the US economy then? That is the question being asked by stock market investors, exacerbated by high frequency trading and algorithms running in computers and components made in China.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The climate change argument is over, but local government dithers ... by gimleteye

The roll over of climate change denial is occurring exactly as British 20th century poet TS Eliot might have predicted.

For those not inclined to remember Eliot, the $400 million dollar investment by the City of Miami Beach of new water pumps to recirculate tidal flood off certain commercial streets back into Biscayne Bay is one example how reality seeps in. Another; Miami Dade County Board Chairman's Jean Monestine mild proposal for "a resolution directing the Mayor to study and make recommendations on the consideration of sea level rise for zoning applications and applications to amend the Comprehensive Development Master Plan."

Always fear that word, "study", because it portends the resting place in a dusty storeroom in County Hall where taxpayer-funded county studies on protecting the environment and taxpayers are filed.

Read closely, the county resolution tip-toes forward as fall King Tides approach low-lying Miami. (I was an original member of the Climate Change Advisory Task Force, an appointee of then Mayor Carlos Alvarez.)

In April 2008, the report of the Task Force to the County Commission included the following recommendation:
Require all County agencies (and entities that receive County funding for significant infrastructure or built investments) to assess climate change impacts on the agency’s/entity’s responsibilities. This assessment should be incorporated into their master planning agenda or such a planning process should be initiated if it does not exist. The assessment should include the impact of sea level rise on all public investments and identification of vulnerabilities in order to produce strategies for mitigation and adaptation. These assessments should utilize a 50-year planning horizon.

Rationale: It is suggested this mandate utilize a 50 year window for planning (assuming at least 1.5 ft. sea level rise within that time frame and at least 3-5 ft. over 100 years) with interim benchmarks. There is an urgent need to incorporate climate change impacts into all basic planning and permitting. There is also a great need to coordinate action plans among related agencies. For instance, coordination of use and protection of the Biscayne and Floridan Aquifers (by the County’s Water and Sewer Department (WASD) and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)) is of critical importance to address the impact of salt water intrusion on the fresh drinking water supply and on vegetation, including agriculture, in the County. The protection of drinking water quality/purity implies increasing the groundwater level to maintain hydrostatic water pressure landside to counter the sea’s rise. Higher groundwater changes stormwater drainage functionality and increases inland vulnerability to flooding. The Committee also began initial discussions about how some current capital projects could be impacted by sea level rise and targeted those issues for further discussion and possible future recommendations - for instance, the planning of the new Port Tunnel and how to incorporate the implications of sea level rise projections.

On this critical issue -- that seven years later appears to be bubbling to the surface -- the county commission did little.

In a 2010 letter, Miami Dade environmental groups wrote to then County Commission Chair Dennis Moss pleading to consider sea level arise among issues of concern in the periodic review of the county master development plan: "... the climate change/sea level rise language is not strong enough to appropriately plan for mitigation and adaption strategies."

So what is different, seven years after the completion of a study requiring thousands of hours of volunteer time and county staff work?

On the one hand, the proposed resolution the Monestine resolution acknowledges sea level rise will impact development in Miami-Dade.

On the other hand, the resolution appears to be doing little more than pass the buck to the mayor who happens to be running a reelection campaign, significantly depending -- as usual -- on contributions from the development community. This leads to a question: is global warming still a political hot potato to be passed back and forth until rising waters force relocation or is local government ready to require that sea level rise be part of the equation to zone future development and direct taxpayer investment.

For the poetical disinclined, the final stanza of TS Eliot's, "The Hollow Men" may need to be etched at the entrance to County Hall:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Miami-Dade County resolution on sea level rise

Gov. Rick Scott and Florida GOP: the public interest be damned ... by gimleteye

With the obstruction of the law in fulfilling the mandates of Fair Districts, Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Florida legislature have shown a complete disregard for one of the most important provisions of democratic protections. Their failure to follow a Florida Supreme Court order to draw Fair Districts is not an isolated example: it is the normal practice of a ruling elite that is impervious to criticism.

Consider the following. The state's regional water management districts are powerful entities, supervised by appointees of Gov. Rick Scott.

Although water district governing boards have always skewed towards Big Ag and developers, Gov. Scott takes the micromanagement of district affairs to be a crucial way to enforce loyalty of regulated industries. It is a signature example of one hand washing the other, far from the view of the public.

According to the following news report, today the governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District could vote to ignore an administrative law court order, objecting to a permit for mangrove destruction.

This issue is properly filed in the folder: "the devil is in the details". Gov. Scott has proven nearly as skillful in papering over his tracks with those details as he was in private life, where he accumulated a fortune -- buying his way to the governor's mansion -- gaming the medical reimbursement system. Smart, yes. "Good for the public" never enters in the equation.

There are no overarching principles to guide this governor's sense of democracy, other than what is good for a narrow band of special interests who are alternately giddy and compliant, so long as their profits are protected.

In other words, the public interest be damned.

Permit Recommendation Denying Mangrove Destruction for Neal’s Perico Development Could be Approved by SWFMD on Tuesday
Bradenton Times, August 22, 2015
by Staff Report

BRADENTON — Pat Neal’s development needs a permit by SWFMD to destroy mangroves in order to build four homes on Perico Island. SWFMD approved a permit for destroying the high quality mangroves on the island, adjacent to the pristine Florida waters of Anna Maria Sound. Though an administrative law judge has recommended that the water management district's board deny the order, the board will cast a final vote on Tuesday.

Monday, August 24, 2015

U.S. response to climate change, economic salvation and market dependence on China ... by gimleteye

With our attention diverted to the affect of Chinese flu in world financial markets, people ought to be focused on what these declines really represent.

To a significant degree in recent decades, the growth of the Chinese economy helped Western economies buffeted by dislocations in local markets as industries and jobs disappeared instantly into low-cost labor nations.

Our dependence on China has never been secure because of influences beyond our control: endemic corruption, a gargantuan speculative bubble in real estate and related, artificially inflated demand for industry and production covered by a miasma of the worst pollution in the world.

What will replace an anemic China?

The answer, suggests Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist and economist interviewed recently by Bill Moyers, is a full throttle effort to redirect investment away from climate change threats to new carbon-limited energy and transportation models.

As I've written before, climate change deniers are fading into the crowd. Still Congress and our politics are paralyzed by issues of climate change because the campaign finance system spins on the axis of a few billionaires whose fortunes depend on the fossil fuel industries.

Just one example: Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, from coal country Kentucky, has been tasked by the billionaire Koch Brothers with enforcing Congressional opposition to BOTH global warming and campaign finance reform.

What the billionaires who control American politics are really saying is that if the ship is going down, we are all going down with it.

How is it possible that American voters don't understand their interests are not served by suicidal politics?

Today, the stock market will be badly shaken again by news from China. Freeing ourselves from dependencies on China require opportunities from a new Marshall Plan in the one policy area that Republicans seem determine to block: facing the existential threat of climate change.

You should not want to go down with their ship.

How Do We Get People to Care About Climate Change?
August 21, 2015
by Richard Schiffman
This interview first appeared at the Yale Environment 360 blog.

Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist and economist, has been doing a lot of thinking about a question that has bedeviled climate scientists for years: Why have humans so far failed to deal with the looming threat posed by climate change?

That question is the focus of his recent book, What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming, in which he analyzes what he calls the five psychological barriers that have made it difficult to deal realistically with the climate crisis. Those include: the distant nature of the problem (it’s far off in time and often in other parts of the globe); the doom-and-gloom scenarios about the impacts of climate change, which make people feel powerless to do anything about it; and the psychological defenses that people have to avoid feeling guilty about their own contributions to fossil fuel emissions.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Banksy: bring Dismaland to Miami! ... by gimleteye

The despair-themed "bemusement park" coordinated by street artist Banksy opened yesterday in southwest England, with large crowds sullenly waiting to buy an entry ticket to the site specific installation, featuring some of the planet's famous artists.

The BBC published a riveting report yesterday. Read it here.
Readers, what would "Miasmaland" feature as exhibits?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Grove Isle Bigwigs: growth management gone and so is your view ... by gimleteye

The turmoil at Grove Isle over a developer's plan to erect a new high rise condominium blocking the million dollar views of current residents has a certain irony. Auto magnate Gus Machado and former Miami Herald publisher Alberto Ibarguen are among the powerful residents of Grove Isle who have taken their objections against the developer's plans to court, the same way as Venetian Causeway defenders of their right to view.

Although the legal wrangling is taking place in Miami-Dade court, with attorneys arguing over the fine points of local zoning law, the arguments take place in an atmosphere deprived of state land use planning regulations.

While it is true that Growth Management laws -- stripped by the Governor-in-Thief Rick Scott -- would not have blocked a local zoning controversy from gaining traction for residents, it is indisputably the case that the goal of growth management was to provide a framework for placeholders, including developers and residents, emphasizing an overarching principle to guide community growth.

Grove Isle residents are scarcely the only coastal residents snake-bit by indifference to the importance of good land use regulation. Florida is so much the poorer for Governor Rick Scott, the GOP legislature and the collapse for which they are largely responsible; state land use planning.

I can hear the lawyers for the developer in the Grove Isle case complaining; that's not what this is about. But anyone with a modicum of knowledge can't dodge this Lilliputian arrow: if you had fought for growth management laws instead of blocking them through indifference or support of growth-at-any-cost, your view would not be so threatened.

Developer's plans roil Grove Isle tranquility
August 22, 2015


Grove Isle, the gated island enclave just off Coconut Grove prized by residents for its tranquility and panoramic bay views, has been less than tranquil lately.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Miami New Times recognizes a conservation legend in Miami, Lloyd Miller ... by gimleteye

Good on Miami New Times for recognizing one of the few, authentic environmental activists in Miami-Dade County: 95 year old Lloyd Miller.

The time is long past due that local press highlighted members of the small, intrepid band of environmentalists in Miami. Without knowing who these people are, and what they have dedicated their time, energy and in many cases money to fight for, how will a younger generation become engaged by example?

So continue on, Miami New Times. As for the rest: The Miami Herald? CBS? Michael Putney? WPBT? The paucity of reports about environmentalists needs context.

One of the incidents reported by the New Times involving Lloyd Miller at the end of a pistol-whipping by a younger Bill Losner, founder of a community bank in corrupt Homestead resonates particularly.

Losner was a tireless advocate of turning Homestead, at the edge of not one but two national parks, into suburban sprawl and an extension of Kendall. If there was an environmental initiative in South Florida, Losner was the loudest bully opposing it. As the housing boom crested and before the crash, Losner sold his shares in the bank for reportedly more than thirty million, but during his time as one of the forward phalanx -- standing behind him, community icons like Bob Traurig -- Losner relentlessly opposed environmental protections.

The Miami New Times only captured a small glimpse of Lloyd Miller, who fought to return more natural water flows to the eastern edge of Everglades National Park and from there, to renourish Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay. Opponents -- including James Humble also of South Dade and other big farmers -- still exert significant control over governmental agencies that, in name, protect natural resources and South Florida wetlands.

A former director of Friends of the Everglades, Joe Podgor, once said, "Saving the Everglades is a test. If we pass, we may get to keep the planet." Well, we are not doing well on either front but it is not for want of trying by at least a few.

It is a good sign that Miami New Times decided to highlight a 95 year old activist. The Times' example is worth reconsideration by Miami's mainstream media: with climate change and sea level rise generating attention on Miami from around the world, isn't it time to acknowledge that maybe the sentinels who fought long and hard on South Florida's environmental issues could provide an inspiration to the new generations who will find themselves stuck in a context no one believed was possible, not the past publishers and executives of the press.
A photo of "Dismaland", a site specific work of artists, coordinated by guerrilla street artist Banksy, and set to open  in a few days in South West England.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

With climate change: a world without beaches is coming your way ... by gimleteye

Today, the American West is on fire. Tomorrow? Actually I'm talking about "the day after tomorrow", but not exactly in the way of a science fiction movie depicting Manhattan buckling under a sudden tsunami of imagined sea level rise. On my mind is the more gradual loss of beaches around the world.

It's happening, now. Slowly. And apparently, unalterably, given humanity's inability to match political and economic responses to the degree of long-term threat. Unless, of course, one counts "beach renourishment" as an antidote to sea level rise.

Ours is one of the last generations where -- in the first world -- everything is working.

I've been wondering -- imagining, more like it -- how our politics will deal with food prices that will rise, as a result of crop instabilities much more quickly than water at the shoreline. The thought bubbles proceed from there: how many more hundreds of millions will become climate change refuges, as is happening now in conflict-ridden, poor regions of Africa and the Mideast, before our politics catch up? And, if our politics continue to represent mainly large corporate interests, will the needs of people for a safe planet ever trump corporate interests, or, will our politics principally serve to corral consumers around markets and corporations that have more rights than people?

These are big questions that most people evade because they are too hard and too depressing to imagine. So instead, let's substitute a brief discourse in depicting how iconic shorelines will change with sea level rise within just a few generations as predicted by climate scientists.

Because google is a reliable source for billions of images, I tried to search for "a world without beaches". Couldn't find a single image and the reason is simple enough: at least for the time being, a world without any beaches is beyond camera range.

So far, the modelers and planners have focused on anodyne maps that require a few stages of mental imaging. It might be easier to grasp by just looking at our beaches and understand that they will entirely, completely disappear.

Substitute for this, your favorite beach

The nearest neighbor to what the planet's coast lines will look like -- everywhere -- is the forlorn landscape of water managed for hydroelectric projects like the Tennessee River valley. These are beautiful but they are haunting because these are not natural places. They are artificial ones we created. The same will be said about a world without beaches at all.

TVA landscape
The memories created from nature's orphan landscape cannot reveal because these places are shadowed by destruction. The nearest relative are shorelines created by acts of violence in nature, recent as measured by geologic time. This is a Vanuatu coastline in the south Pacific.

Volcanic coastline in South Pacific, Vanuatu
Think of your favorite beach, then close your eyes and imagine the same beach under ten feet of water. Or twenty or thirty. That is the future for the children, and if you don't find something wrong with that there is something wrong with you.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Culture of Amazon ... by gimleteye

On Sunday, The New York Times published an eye-popping account of the work culture at secretive Amazon, based on information provided by more than 100 past and present employees who spoke on and off-the-record. The report lays out the outlines of a brutal, even savage work environment that pushes sacrifice to corporate values to extremes.
Toilet paper-delivering drones may not be a thing (yet), but history was made over the weekend when Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld’s exposé on workplace practices at Amazon became the most commented-on story at The New York Times.

The article — Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace — describes a culture of intense competition, 80-hour work weeks, and interoffice sabotage at the nation’s most valuable retailer.

Amazon has revolutionized my life as a consumer the same way that Microsoft did thirty years ago when I first started using computers.

Earlier this summer, on the small Maine island where I spend part of my time, I asked the local UPS driver how much of his daily route was delivering packages from Amazon. His response: 80 percent. Retail merchants on Main Street have all but vanished. Even Walmart -- the ultimate retail category killer -- is feeling the sting of competition from Amazon.

As a result of Amazon's success, its founder, Jeff Bezos, is one of the world's wealthiest entrepreneurs. In response to the New York Times report, Bezos says that he "doesn't recognize" the company depicted there.

I circle uneasily around issues of wealth creation driven by technologies, wringing the human component of labor out of product cost and shareholder value.

Where practically everything is available within a few keystrokes and a few days, daily commerce may soon happen without any human intervention at all. It's not just the realm of science fiction and film.

Who wouldn't want robots on the ground against ISIS instead of American soldiers? On the other hand, what happens when corporations and technologies are turned against us?

In some respects, the story of Amazon tells us we don't want to know answers we already have.