FORT LAUDERDALE CRA COMPLIANCE REPORT RIFE WITH FALSE CLAIMS

The official audit is out. We think a few things were overlooked. Most significant is the unlawful use of Trust funds for Sun Trolley and the WAVE. Mass transit has never been a component of the Beach Redevelopment Plans. The Northwest Plan was amended over a year after the funds were illegally allocated. But…….we still have the lowest tax rate (4.119) of the twenty-five largest cities in Florida. Don’t believe me? Just wait five minutes and Jack will tell you about it again.

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On Tuesday March 15, 2016, the Fort Lauderdale CRA Board approved their fiscal year 2014/2015 CRA Annual Report. This report is required by law to be filed by March 30 with the City, Children’s Services Council, North Broward Hospital District, Broward County, and the State. This report details the agency activities from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015.

A few minutes later, on the next item, they voted to amend their 14 year old Redevelopment Plan for the Northwest CRA.   

The Staff memo about the amendment to the CRA Redevelopment Plan states:

“Over the past three months, Staff oversaw the process of significantly amending the redevelopment plan for the NPF CRA for the first time in 14 years.”

The memo says:

“As outlined by Sections 163.360, 163.362(5) and 163.370, Florida Statutes, the redevelopment plan for a community redevelopment area is the governing document for all redevelopment activities…

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Cronyism Pervasive in Fort Lauderdale’s NW CRA

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Mayor Jack Seiler appointed mega-developer Dev Motwani to the Northwest Progresso Flagler Heights CRA Advisory Board. This is the Board that advises the Commission on the administration of Trust Funds intended to eradicate crime, slum, and blight and to provide affordable housing for low and moderate income families in Flagler Village, Progresso, and Northwest Fort Lauderdale.

imgres-1Motwani with downtown crony Alan Hooper

 

Motwani attended his first meeting in September 2015. According the Board minutes, he participated very little in the conversation over the next few months.  

At the May 25, 2016 Motwani got active in the work of the board. He made two motions: first to approve the CRA’s Property and Business Incentive Program, and another to approve the agency’s new Property Tax Reimbursement Program.  After this sudden outburst of civic activism, Motwani quietly resigned.

On June 22, 2016 Motwani appeared before the Northwest CRA Advisory Board to present two funding requests for an upscale hotel development he is building in tony Flagler Village. The requests: $329,933 from the Property and Business Incentive Program, and $1,711,020 from the Property Tax Reimbursement Program.  The requests were approved and are now headed for a final vote by the Mayor and Commission. Motwani got over $2million dollars in his pocket after a few short months of “volunteer” service. 

As a member of the NWPF CRA Advisory Board, Motwani was subject to regulations set forth in Part III, Chapter 112, Florida Statues which restricts public officers from doing business with their agency and from having an employment or contractual relationship with a person or entity which is subject to the regulation of doing business with their agency.

 

Mayor Jack Seiler appointed Steve Lucas to the CRA Advisory Board. Lucas is Chairman of the NW CRA Advisory Board. Mr. Lucas works for and is a minority owner of Hooper Construction, Inc. Hooper Construction is a full-service general contractor and development company located in Fort Lauderdale. Alan Hooper is a City Commission appointee to the Downtown Development Authority. For the past ten years Hooper has annually received six-figure property tax rebates from the CRA Trust Fund.  That gravy-train came to an end. Now Hooper and Lucas want to do another deal.

 

 

 The City/CRA Staff has been meeting with Hooper Construction to discuss the newly revised CRA incentives for their storage company’s building. They have expressed interest in  applying for CRA incentives.

Conflict(s) of interest? Appearance of impropriety? Ethical lapse? No problem here, just like Tide, or Mr. Clean, Lucas’  City Commission Cronies can wipe that stain away:

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Credit: Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

According to the City, “as a member of the NWPF CRA Advisory Board, Mr. Lucas is subject to regulations set forth in Part III, Chapter 112, Florida Statues which restricts public officers from doing business with their agency and from having an employment or contractual relationship with a person or entity which is subject to the regulation of doing business with their agency. Section 112.313(12), Florida Statutes, provides that the City Commission of the City of Fort Lauderdale as the appointing body of the advisory board upon full disclosure of the transaction, can, by a two-thirds vote, waive certain conflicts of interest.”  

 

On Wednesday, the Mayor and Commission will vote to waive Crony Lucas’ conflict of interest. This will preserve the status quo and allow Lucas to wet his beak while retaining control of the Board.

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 But wait! That’s not all! We’ve got another CRA Board Member who wants to drink at the trough!

Jacqueline Reed is the CEO of Oasis of Hope, a Pompano Beach based non-profit. Ms. Reed an an appointee of Commissioner Robert McKinzie. The CRA is looking to partner with non-profit organizations that could assist with the file intake for individuals/families that are seeking to purchase homes and/or who currently own their home and are in need of rehabilitation. The non-profit agencies selected will handle the intake and initial review of each file and present a completed file  the CRA for final review and approval. Ms. Reed works for Oasis of Hope, one of the non-profit agencies that responded to the request for assistance.  This means that Ms. Reed’s employer (Oasis of Hope) could receive up to $1,500 per intake file submitted and approved by the CRA.

 

Conflict of interest? Appearance of impropriety? No problem. The Commission cronies can pass a simple resolution waiving the conflict. Next Wednesday the Mayor and Commission will vote to wash Ms. Reed’s stain away, along with Mr. Lucas’. RIght down the drain.

This will allow Ms. Reed’s group to also drink at the trough, while retaining her seat at the table. 

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Speaking of cronyism, you might recall  McKinzie was recently outed by the Broward Inspector General for well over a dozen civil and criminal violations of state and local campaign laws. McKinzie took double contributions from a number of Downtown Development Authority cronies, including lawyer lobbyist John Milledge, and multiple members of  developer and Forman family operative Jack Loos’ friends and family. McKinzie also took double contributions from mega-builder Chad Moss, and Las Olas landlord and Planning and Zoning Board Chairman Patrick McTigue. Each of the contributors violated the law along with McKinzie. Each has claimed their illegal contributions were oversights. Out here in Crony Country, we take care of our own.

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Did you know that the CRA has a closed list of contractors and they dole out funds to these guys to the exclusion of all others.

Would anyone be surprised to know that McKinzie’s construction company, Harper and Sons, is on that exclusive list? Here’s a copy of the City dated June 2016: 

Look closely and you will see that it not only lists McKinzie’s company, but also his home address in Plantation – the five bedroom three bath house. Not to be confused with his “official” residence in NW Fort Lauderdale…..the two bedroom one bath house….where he lives with his Doctor wife and four children.

 

Contractor's List

 

 

Bahia Mar – Too Tall, But Not High Enough

On Tuesday the Fort Lauderdale City Commission will again pursue pouring  gigantic hunks of concrete on top of one of it’s most fragile resources, our barrier island.

This swampland scam takes place under the guise of an “Innovative” design that is supposed to be so special that the regular zoning code just won’t work.

 

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Remember folks, this is a bit different. It’s public land. The citizens of Fort Lauderdale own Bahia Mar. Not the Mayor’s cronies…. er, developers that is.

 

It’s a foregone conclusion that Mayor Jack Seiler will do all he can to maneuver as many yes votes as he can. At his last election, Seiler took over $5700  from the Developers’ friends, family, staff, and quite possibly Jimmy Tate’s lawn man and pool guy. Over the course of just a few days in December 2014 at least 23 members of the RAHN Bahia Mar Development Team (including wives and children)  bundled-up $250 donations to the Mayor. Each was the maximum allowed by law.

https://fortlauderdalefreepress.wordpress.com/2016/02/04/seiler-took-5750-from-bahia-mar-development-team/

Mr. Bought and Bossed has to deliver this approval to the wealthy special interests if he wants to see more big money when he begins his next campaign.

We offer two perspectives here. We agree the new buildings are too tall, and we caution that these buildings are being built way too close to sea level.

It is quite possible that much, if not all of the property could become both un-insurable and un-mortgageable during the first thirty years of the developer’s proposed 100 year lease.

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First: The buildings are still decidedly too tall. City Staff should never have allowed this particularly monstrous proposal to advance to the Public Hearing stage. We know they are being pushed hard every day by City Manager Lee Feldman to cut corners while putting extra money in the till for Seiler’s cronies.

 

This new proposal reportedly takes their heights down from 39 stories to 29 stories. For a variety of good reasons, the Bahia Mar site is zoned for a maximum building height of 120 feet, or about twelve stories.

We fail to see how building something over twice as tall as allowed is “Innovative”, nor “Sustainable” (as heavily marketed in their proposal). It’s neither innovative, nor sustainable; it’s just a huge assault on one of the few remaining pieces of public land on the barrier island.

North Tower Elev.

Second: The Buildings are decidedly too low. What we mean by this is the lowest occupied levels of these new buildings are too close to sea level and will likely face severe flooding during their useful lifespan.To be more specific, the proposed Bahia Mar site will have an average grade of 6’11” above sea level. The existing hotel’s main floor will be 11” below grade at 6 feet.

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Remarkably, the proposed North Tower’s lowest floor is set at 4’4” above sea level and almost 3 feet below grade. That floor contains the FPL Vault, all the electrical equipment, and the emergency generator.

North Tower Section

The proposed South Tower’s first floor is set at 7’ above sea level and a mere inch above grade. Like the North Tower, the backup generator and all main electrical for the building will be located on this level.

South Tower

 

We fail to see anything “innovative” or “sustainable” in this crony-infested swampland scam.

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South Florida has been called “ground zero when it comes to sea-level rise.” It has also been described as “the poster child for the impacts of climate change,” the “epicenter for studying the effects of sea-level rise,” a “disaster scenario,” and “the New Atlantis.”

Huffington Post calls Fort Lauderdale “One of 14 U.S. Cities that could disappear over the next century”.

Here’s what the Insurance Industry is saying: 

RIMS 2016: Sea Level Rise Will Be Worse and Come Sooner

By Don Jergler | April 12, 2016

Sea levels could rise by much more than originally anticipated, and much faster, according to new data being collected by scientists studying the melting West Antarctic ice sheet – a massive sheet the size of Mexico.

That revelation was made by an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday at the annual RIMS conference for risk management and insurance professionals in San Diego, Calif.

The conference is being attended by more than 10,000 people, according to organizers. It was day No. 3 of the conference, which ends Wednesday.

Margaret Davidson, NOAA’s senior advisor for coastal inundation and resilience science and services, and Michael Angelina, executive director of the Academy of Risk Management and Insurance, offered their take on climate change data in a conference session titled “Environmental Intelligence: Quantifying the Risks of Climate Change.”

Davidson said recent data that has been collected but has yet to be made official indicates sea levels could rise by roughly 3 meters or 9 feet by 2050-2060, far higher and quicker than current projections. Until now most projections have warned of seal level rise of up to 4 feet by 2100.

These new findings will likely be released in the latest sets of reports on climate change due out in the next few years.

“The latest field data out of West Antarctic is kind of an OMG thing,” she said.

While Fort Lauderdale talks a great game about it’s sustainability efforts, The city has been reluctant to take steps that might imperil its real estate growth, which added more than $329 million in taxes in 2015.

The Florida building code requires all new construction, except one and two-family dwellings, be elevated one foot above the current floodplain. Fort Lauderdale follows that code, and hasn’t required anything stricter except to include single family and duplex homes.

Already, water regularly creeps over our sea walls, lapping against foundations every few weeks. When the earth, moon and sun align to drive waters as much as 18 inches above normal, the resulting King Tides inundate whole streets and neighborhoods.

The city is working hard to put climate resiliency measures in place, but they face a nearly impossible foe. Scientists have been predicting our region will experience well over 200 days of flooding annually by 2060.

Meanwhile our City leaders have directed the spending of our Water and Sewer funds to fix a budget shortfall of the WAVE Streetcar for their corrupt cronies downtown at the DDA.

According to National Geographic Magazine: “The oceans could rise two feet by 2060, according to the National Climate Assessment, as their waters warm and expand and as the Greenland and polar ice sheets melt. By 2100 seas could rise as much as 6.6 feet. That would put much of Miami-Dade underwater. For every foot the seas rise, the shoreline would move inland 500 to 2,000 feet…..

“It’s almost like, ‘Shhhh. Don’t talk about it,’ and so it’s not real,” says Richard Grasso, an environmental law professor at Fort Lauderdale’s Nova Southeastern University.”

 

A recent article published in Inside Climate News quoted Jenni Morejon, who until a few weeks ago served as Director of Fort Lauderdale’s Department of Sustainable Development. Morejon had full oversight of the Bahia Mar proposal.

Morejon said Fort Lauderdale couldn’t make huge changes to its building code without “direct and dramatic economic impact… It wouldn’t be palatable to developers.”

Morejon went on to explain that the plan is to introduce stricter building standards gradually over the next half-century as climate projections, technology and construction methods improve. “But yes, that means you’ll have some buildings built in the last five years that likely won’t make it in next 30 to 40 years,” she said.

http://insideclimatenews.org/news/01032016/ft-lauderdale-climate-change-global-warming-rising-sea-level

The biggest economic challenge posed by climate change in South Florida may be one that business leaders are loath to discuss—that fear of this slow-speed crisis could stall development. 

Remember, if you see Mayor Seiler please thank him for keeping taxes low.

 

 

FORT LAUDERDALE CRA COMPLIANCE REPORT RIFE WITH FALSE CLAIMS

On Tuesday March 15, 2016, the Fort Lauderdale CRA Board approved their fiscal year 2014/2015 CRA Annual Report. This report is required by law to be filed by March 30 with the City, Children’s Services Council, North Broward Hospital District, Broward County, and the State. This report details the agency activities from October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015.

 

A few minutes later, on the next item, they voted to amend their 14 year old Redevelopment Plan for the Northwest CRA.   

The Staff memo about the amendment to the CRA Redevelopment Plan states:

“Over the past three months, Staff oversaw the process of significantly amending the redevelopment plan for the NPF CRA for the first time in 14 years.”

The memo says:

“As outlined by Sections 163.360, 163.362(5) and 163.370, Florida Statutes, the redevelopment plan for a community redevelopment area is the governing document for all redevelopment activities that occur within the community redevelopment area.” 

 

And it also says:

“If a project or program is not outlined in the redevelopment plan, it cannot be undertaken by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

It sounds like a pretty big deal. A project or program has to be outlined in the plan to be legal.

We decided to take a look at what was in the old CRA Plans for both the Beach and the Northwest and we also took a look at what is in the new CRA plan that was approved yesterday by the CRA Board.

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Secret Formula for Government BS (Compliance)

Next we read The CRA’s 2014/2015 Annual Report and it’s all good news – the CRA spent a lot of money has blessed itself as squeaky clean – 100% in compliance with Chapter 163.

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Every project in the report has a “Compliance Analysis” and according to the report, every dime spent by the CRA was for projects and/or programs that are part of the plan and therefore in compliance. We did some research and came to a differenct conclusion.

We matched up the Annual Report against the CRA Redevelopment Plans that were in effect during the period covered by the report. We found at least $9 million in CRA expenditures for projects and programs that we can’t find anywhere in these CRA Redevelopment plans.

It would appear that in 2015 the CRA misappropriated a lot of money on stuff that is “not in the plan”.

 

Here’s a short list of the items we could not find reference to in the Redevelopment Plans for these two CRA areas.

 

Beach CRA
Holiday Lights 130,000
“Great American Beach Party” 36,450
Fireworks 82,500
Sun Trolley 220,000
468,950
Northwest CRA
Flagler Village Civic Assoc. 142,500
Christmas Lights 87,498
“Light Up Sistrunk” 50,000
Sun Trolley 196,709
Wave Loop 7,800,000
WAVE Feasability Study 300,000
“Urban Intervention” 59,999
Marketing and Branding 241,312
8,878,018

We’re pretty sure these items are not projects or programs outlined in the plan…… 

We’re going to reach out to those folks the report is supposed to assure – The State, Broward County, the Hospital District (they need money real bad), and Children’s Services Council. It was originally their money.  We’re going to point out to them how much CRA 2014/2015 Report is pure, unadulterated BS. 

Btw – notice the majority of the illegal spending is in the Northwest CRA?

That’s how it is done in the third most racially segregated city in Florida.

 

School Board Chair Flies to Chili??

It looks like Broward School Board Chairwoman Dr. Rosalind Osgood has just returned from a tasty, mouth-watering vacation trip to Chili!!!????

 

 

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“We are on our way to Chili…”

It sounds like Dr. Osgood had a spicy and delicious adventure.

Now that she’s back, we suggest that she share her tasty experience with Broward’s third-grade geography students. We think the third-graders will be fascinated to hear about her adventures and her first hand experience with

the heat in Chili.

Rosalind Osgood

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For Sale or Lease: DDA’s Riverfront Park – More on the Cash Crisis at Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority

We previously reported that the Fort Lauderdale DDA is teetering on the brink of insolvency. A recent memo we obtained shows a newly revised budget that relies upon a major cash infusion from the City of Fort Lauderdale’s coffers to keep the DDA’s lights on through the remainder of this fiscal year.

 

It took a lot of imagination to concoct the original budget. The 2016 revenue budget was balanced on an assumption that the City of Fort Lauderdale would “swap” $425,000 in cash to the DDA in exchange for $865,000 in Federal Transit Grant funds. Generally speaking, it is illegal to “swap” a Federal grant for cash. In addition, the DDA anticipated using these funds to lobby for more Federal grants. That too, is generally illegal. Fort Lauderdale Free Press broke this story which triggered an ongoing Federal investigation of the deal. It also caused City Manager Lee Feldman and Mayor Jack Seiler to publicly deny the existence of the deal. 

https://fortlauderdalefreepress.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/feldman-seiler-were-not-engaged-in-this-transaction/

It will take more than a vivid imagination for the agency to not run into the red and out of the green. The revised budget being presented later this week is balanced based upon a new assumption: that the City of Fort Lauderdale will commit to renting and operating the DDA’s Huizenga Plaza Park site at Las Olas and Andrews for at least the next five years.

 

This “balanced” budget assumes the DDA will receive their first $100,000 rent payment by June and continue paying $100 K per year for five years. The DDA has also assumed that the City will absorb all park operating costs by June. Over five years, the rental, maintenance and programming is estimated to cost the City over $1mm. The DDA has threatened to sell the park to developers if the City does not meet their cash demands.

 

The DDA also sees some solvency salvation from another source of City funds – they have their eyes on the City’s Northwest CRA Redevelopment Trust Fund. Both the DDA and the CRA are special taxing districts whose boundaries overlap in a portion of Flagler Village. The DDA taxes commercial property only. This year they are assessing the highest millage rate allowable under State law.

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The DDA ‘s ever-lurking lobbyist John Milledge is working on legislation that would allow the DDA to levy property taxes in Downtown and Flagler Village on both commercial and residential property. In the meanwhile, they hope to tap into more of the City’s CRA Redevelopment Trust funds to balance their ailing budget. A recent City audit found the CRA has been spending funds illegally.

While the DDA wants to divest their park on the Riverwalk, they seem interested in using CRA funds to build a different park on City property across the street from developments built by Ellis, DDA Board Member Alan Hooper, and CRA Board Member Dev Motwani. One DDA Board Member Jim Ellis told the DDA Board that he already has CRA funds in-hand . This park would be a sexy complement to the  $7.5mm CRA funded streetcar loop that parades the WAVE in front of some DDA Board Members’ properties. 

From DDA minutes:

“Mr. Ellis said years ago, he presented a package to the City where he would tear down the building and do landscaping, irrigation and trees but the City was not in favor of that. He explained how he has CRA funds available. Mr.Ellis said he could get an estimate and present a package to the Board using CRA monies. The Board was in favor of having another workshop to discuss.”

 

According to Board minutes, the DDA also hopes before June to collect $250,000 from the Northwest CRA Redevelopment Trust Fund to expand their no-bid Downtown Ambassador contract with Lois Frankel’s friend Willy Perez.

https://fortlauderdalefreepress.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/congresswoman-frankels-cronies-overcharging-fort-lauderdale-dda-for-1-2million-no-bid-contract/

DDA Board Member Ellis has publicly stated that he is adamant that these funds stay “East of the tracks”.

From all appearances, the Ambassadors will be employed to provide private security for the Board Members projects using money that is supposed to be used to eradicate slum and blight and provide affordable housing for low and middle-income families.

 

Fort Lauderdale City Manager Accused of CRA Misappropriations, Forced to Step Aside

We reported a few weeks ago that there is mounting evidence of gross mismanagement and illegal activity at the Fort Lauderdale Community Development Agency. On Tuesday, the City Commission/CRA Board plans a stunning move to amend their by-laws to revoke the authority of City Manager/CRA Executive Director Lee Feldman to manage the Agency.

 

By LawsThe move to neuter Feldman follows on the heels of scathing audit findings that reveal the City has been using CRA Redevelopment Trust Funds to cover expenses in places other than the CRA. Over the past two fiscal years, Feldman and his staff questionably allocated over $1.5 million in Redevelopment Trust Funds to the City’s General Fund for “Service Charges” to cover the City’s payroll expenses.  These funds ended up paying for work performed outside the CRA. Spending CRA Trust Funds in this way is a violation of Florida statutes. 

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A Total Breakdown in the “Tone at the Top”

City Auditor John Herbst stated that he has “seen conflict between the CRA Director and the City Manager due to the fact that they do not share the same mission. “ Herbst went on to say: “This was due to the diversion of TIFF revenue” and things the City Manager “would like the CRA to undertake to relieve them of their obligations”.

Feldman and his staff have been unable to provide documentation of the work performed. Feldman was also caught allocating CRA Trust Funds for non-CRA personnel positions that were vacant for either a portion of the fiscal year, or the entire fiscal year.

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As sadly befitting for the third most racially segregated city in Florida, the majority of the illegally appropriated funds were tapped from the predominantly black Northwest. To add insult to injury, Feldman had the Beach CRA Director’s salary paid out the Northwest CRA’s Trust fund while leaving the Northwest CRA Director’s seat vacant and the agency virtually rudderless for the past year. This has caused irrevocable hurt and lost opportunity for the historically segregated and underserved northwest community. 

 

Mayor Seiler says of this gross mismanagment: “Ever since we did the restructuring in an effort to try and fix what happened in the first decade of this century I think we’ve created an agency that doesn’t have anybody where the buck stops. We’ve got….24 people with their hand in the pocket….24 people that are cooking in the kitchen…with nobody that’s the head chef……

Maybe it’s time for Seiler to do a little less distancing, and show a little more leadership  in his role as Chairman of the CRA.

 

Fort Lauderdale Ranked as one of the Nation’s Worst Cities for Young Families

Fort Lauderdale received an “F” grade in 2016 study of America’s Best Cities for Young Families. Fort Lauderdale ranks as the worst city in Florida and the 9th worst city in the nation for young families. This should come as no surprise to the leaders of the third most racially segregated city in Florida.

Seven Florida cities ranked in ApartmentList.com’s 30 worst cities for young families. They were: Orlando (30), Gainesville (28), West Palm Beach (27), Miami (26), Tallahassee (22), Miami Beach (13) and Fort Lauderdale (9).

All seven Florida cities received an “F” grade in the rankings. Of the 474 cities included in the study Allen, Texas was ranked best in the nation with a score of 97.2. Fort Lauderdale came in at number 466 with a total score of 13.5.

 

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  The study centered around four factors — safety (35 percent), housing cost (30 percent), school quality (25 percent) and child friendliness (10 percent). The housing cost category is based on the percentage of the median renter income required to rent a two-bedroom apartment. “Child friendliness” was based on census data, scoring cities based on the percentage of population under 18. 

The analysis centered around the 4 factors that were identified as being important to families:

  • Safety (35%):  FBI data was used to rank cities by the number of violent crimes and property crimes per 100,000 residents.
  • Housing Cost (30%):  Census data was used to calculate the percentage of the median renter income required to rent a 2-bedroom apartment.
  • School Quality (25%): Cities were ranked on high school graduation rate for public school districts based in that city. Comparing schools across different states can be challenging, but using high school graduation rate data from the Department of Education was the method used estimate of overall school quality.
  • Child Friendliness (10%): Communities with a greater percentage of children tend to be more child friendly. Census data was used to score cities based on the percentage of the population that’s under 18.

These factors were weighted using the percentages listed above, and used this index  to assign grades and rankings to the nearly 500 cities in the study. 

Don’t lose hope Fort Lauderdale, you’re still one of the top 10 Best Cities in the U.S.  for Parking according to NerdWallet.com.

 

County Commissioner Says WAVE North Loop a “Ripoff” of Fort Lauderdale CRA Funds

The Free Press is reporting live from somewhere in Fort Lauderdale – the third most racially segregated City in Florida 

“The Little Engine that Couldn’t”

At a Transportation Workshop held earlier this week, Broward County Commissioners expressed frustration and concern about seemingly endless delays and over $50 million in cost overruns of the Fort Lauderdale DDA sponsored WAVE Modern Streetcar Project.

The Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority’s WAVE Streetcar project is now 13 years in the making; it’s four years behind schedule and $52 million over the original $142 million cost .

The Florida Department of Transportation has offered to take over the final design and construction of the lagging project some have described as “the Lawyer’s Loop”.

Fort Lauderdale’s total cost share to date for the WAVE is about $46million. Beyond that the City will now be responsible for 25% of any construction costs that go over the updated $195 million budget.

FDOT and the County will require the City, the CRA, and the DDA to keep their checkbooks open until the end of the job.

County Commissioner Lois Wexler remarked: “The progress is terrible. It’s not going anywhere. I’m in the same place I was 11 years ago when I came in office. What should concern all of us is you’re buying a pig-in-a-poke”

 

County Commissioner Dale Holness expressed concerns that stakeholders in Northwest Fort Lauderdale are adamantly telling him that the WAVE Northern Loop is “ripoff” of CRA redevelopment funds from the Northwest community. Holness said that he would not support additional funding for the WAVE unless it includes expansion across the tracks and westward on Sistrunk Boulevard.

Holness said, “the community that needs this the most …it’s going to their doorsteps and turning away. It’s not going across the railroad tracks…..that infamous railroad track that’s caused so much angst over the years.”

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(The intersection of the railroad tracks and Sistrunk Blvd. is the dividing line of the third most racially segregated city in Florida (also, we would point out – one of the top ten best cities for parking according to NerdWallet.com)

Holness went on to say “It seems short-sighted to me that we would have designed this system that would go all the way up to Sistrunk Blvd on the east side of Andrews Avenue and the railroad track and not cross the tracks at all….to ensure that folks on the other side have access to transportation to Downtown so they can get to work. But even beyond that, so there’s some economic development that can take place that’s so greatly needed in that area – the community that has been left behind for so long.”

At the time of the WAVE Loop’s quick and quiet approval, some members of the Northwest community expressed concern that no plans or studies had ever been done to substantiate how this investment fit into their approved redevelopment plan.

Florida law requires CRA’s to stick pretty close to their adopted plans. It’s pretty much against the law for a CRA to spend money on projects that are not described in their adopted plan. Taxpayers are supposed to be able to give public input as to what those special taxes can pay for.

Some experts have told us the rules are pretty simple, but pretty strict. According to state law, all the CRA money is supposed to be in a trust fund, and only spent on authorized projects in the adopted plan. 

Generally, the legal experts say “If it’s not in the plan, you can’t do it”

 

 

 

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Fort Lauderdale’s CRA REDEVELOPMENT PLAN                                                                                       “IF IT’S NOT IN THE PLAN, YOU CAN’T DO IT”

As a general rule, CRA money is supposed to be used to eradicate crime, slum, and blight and to build affordable housing for low and middle -income families. A CRA can do other stuff, but the project has to be in the plan before it can be funded.

We delved into the City’s official 2001 Redevelopment Plan. We looked everywhere, even in the couch cushions,  and we could not find any mention of streetcars, trolleys, buses, or mass transit of any shape or size or location east or west of the tracks. Nothing.  

We understand the City intends to amend their CRA Redevelopment plan sometime later this year in an effort to “come into compliance”.

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In other words, the CRA Board may have broken the law by approving this project before having the authority to do so……

The Fort Lauderdale CRA took out a $7.5million loan to fund 100% of the cost for the WAVE Northern Loop. The Loop takes the streetcar on a short parade around some very desirable private property in the heart of trendy Flagler Village.

The CRA has taken on almost $900,000 per year towards debt service for the project. The 11 year loan gets paid off just as the agency loses its authority to exist in 2025. The CRA has about $5 million a year to spend on Redevelopment. They spent almost $3million last year on operating costs. Add in the debt service, and it looks like there’s little left for the taxpayers who live across the tracks.

The otherwise financially embarrassed Downtown Development Authority (running out of money fast) is comfortably collecting a surplus of about $500,000 more per year in property assessments. They are squeezing the downtown property owners for $500,000 per year more than needed to make the payments on their $19.5 million loan for the eventual construction of the WAVE. 

 

County Commissioner Tim Ryan lent his perspective on expanding the WAVE streetcar into Northwest Fort Lauderdale. “In my view, it’s all based upon ridership and if the studies indicate that the greatest ridership is going to be based upon expanding it on the 17th Street Causeway and to the Airport, then that’s where we go.”

Ryan went on to say “On a project that is so immensely expensive, you can’t just build it and say it will lead to economic development. You have to already (I think) be there. You have to have consultant reports, disinterested consultant reports that say the levels of ridership”

Fort Lauderdale City Manager and CRA Director Lee Feldman seemed agreeable as he told the group that the Northern Loop is being funded by the Fort Lauderdale CRA and that the City has commissioned a study to explore the viability of moving the WAVE west on Sistrunk into Northwest Fort Lauderdale

Commissioner Holness asked if a ridership study was done on the WAVE Loop Extension.

Fort Lauderdale City Manager Lee Feldman answered “No”….“We did not do a study for the ridership of the (WAVE) Northern Loop”

Commissioner Holness said, I’m confounded by this, that we couldn’t find a way to make it happen….. But a lot of that money is collected on the other side of the tracks. None of that money is going to the people on the other side of the tracks that are paying the taxes.”

A visibly agitated Holness said “That’s not fair at all. That’s totally unfair! It’s not right! It’s not just Dale Holness raising the concern – the community is raising this concern, leaders are raising this concern, even Congressman Hastings.”

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bruce Roberts told the County that State Representative and former Northwest Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Bobby DuBose saw the CRA’s $7.5 million eastward expansion of the WAVE Northern Loop as a “precursor” to expansion westward on Sistrunk.

 

Former Fort Lauderdale Commissioner, State Representative Bobby DuBose

“It was championed by him”, Roberts stated.

 

In the third most racially segregated city in Florida, without a study, you can only ride the train on the white side of the tracks.

Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority Audit Predicts Coming Cash Crisis

According to a recent Auditor’s report, Fort Lauderdale’s Downtown Development Authority will run short on cash as early as October of this year unless a revenue shortfall of $425,000 is shored up. To stay afloat for the year, the DDA assessed Downtown property owners the maximum millage allowable under state law. 

 

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The DDA 2016 adopted budget anticipates a $425,000 cash grant from the City.  

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DDA Auditors Keefe & McCullough state in their recent year-end audit:

“The fiscal 2016 operating budget was based, in part, on receipt of a $425,000 grant from the City of Fort Lauderdale to: 1) continue development efforts on the construction of a new Federal Courthouse in the downtown, and 2) the extension of the Wave Streetcar Project to Port Everglades and the Fort Lauderdale International Airport.”

Last year the DDA spent almost $300,000 in high powered D.C. firms lobbying for federal funds to build a new courthouse.

 

Needing more cash, DDA Director Chris Wren proposed a way to continue funding these efforts – the DDA would sign over federal streetscape grant funds to the City in exchange for cash to lobby for more federal funds.

 

The problem with this scheme is that it’s generally illegal to use bricks and mortar grant funds for lobbying. By swapping the funds for Fort Lauderdale’s cash, Wren hoped to bypass those regulations. 

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 Wren and the DDA Board had good reason to believe they would get the City’s $425,000. They knew they  had strong support from City Staff. Former long-time DDA staffer Elizabeth Van Zandt and City Transportation Director Diana Alarcon were offering a deal to exchange $500,000 in City cash for $865,536 in federal streetscape grant funds.

The City would seemingly have an upside of $365,000, along with funding for a project manager staff position.  There was a pony in this pile for everyone.

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The Secret Formula for Government Bullshit

 

 

 

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Former long-time DDA staffer Elizabeth Van Zandt and City Transportation Director Diana Alarcon were offering a deal to exchange $500,000 in  City cash for $865,536 in federal streetscape grant funds.

In September, Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners publicly approved the DDA’s budget including the $425,000 grant. Then, just a few weeks later the City seemed to have changed its mind about the money.  A citizen pointed out that maybe this was a violation of federal law…..

An October 20 email from City Manager Lee Feldman sternly stated:

“We are not engaged in this transaction”

 

 

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Mayor Seiler chimed in: “We will investigate”

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  The DDA auditors state in their report:

“Receipt of these revenues are now in question, and discussions with the City of Fort Lauderdale on obtaining alternative financial assistance is presently underway”

The DDA’s auditors have now publicly raised questions as to how the DDA will continue to operate without a quick infusion of cash from someone:

“The Authority’s ability to operate at the present level of service going into fiscal year 2017 is dependent, in part, on replacing the budgeted $ 425,000 with equal or more funding from alternative sources whether from the City of Fort Lauderdale or elsewhere.

 

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Maybe the DDA should consider outsourcing itself………