By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
On the first floor Alberto Lorenzo, a political operative who specializes in grassroots campaigns, acknowledged he had taken time from Johnny Winton's election campaign to organize one busload from West Miami. The group was excited about the idea of a new park, he said. "We only [show our support] if we believe in the issue," he insisted.
In a later interview Lorenzo admitted that allowing an expansion of the landfill was a tough call and that some of his friends were on the other side. He denied having a financial stake in the deal and insisted he doesn't give money directly to instant supporters such as the bus riders, though he pays his assistants who help turn out supporters.
The real reason he was at the commission meeting, he confided, was to help his old high school friend Cardoso. "I am very good at mobilizing people and I did that for Silvio," he said later.
Talking with Lorenzo was Francois Illas, the inseparable sidekick of Herman Echevarria. Illas maintained he was just there to have lunch with Lorenzo, but he stayed for the rest of the hearing. Cardoso, Echevarria, and Lorenzo go back a long way. According to state records all three served on the board of directors of a savings and loan called Global Bank that went belly-up in the Eighties.
Also downstairs circulating in the crowd near Lorenzo was Alexander Gomez, vice president of Dade Recycling Center, the former owner of the landfill. Flanked by a publicist, Gomez insisted: "The majority of people here are those who work in the dump and their friends and family."
Lorenzo and Illas led the greenshirts to the ground floor of the government-center food court for another lunch. The seniors upstairs in the commission chambers weren't as lucky; they sat and waited for the hearing, which finally started at 4:19 p.m., nearly eight hours after they had arrived. By that time several of the greenshirts were sound asleep in their seats. Others were talking and laughing loudly in an attempt to keep themselves amused.
Guillermo Olmedillo, director of the county planning and zoning department, opened the hearing. Olmedillo told commissioners that as of the night before, his office had received 1428 protests against the zoning increase and 1193 in favor. The show of support arrived at the last minute. Just the day before, Olmedillo had noted that the numbers were 1306 against and only 2 in favor.
Olmedillo played a crucial role in the history of Peerless Dade's bid to expand.
First he determined the zoning change needed to pass muster with the Developmental Impact Committee, which consists of seven high-ranking county officials. The DIC usually only hears issues of countywide concern, and is also generally viewed as favorable to business. It delivered a 5-1 vote in favor of Peerless Dade.
The vote riled residents fearful of an enlarged dump. Yet what made some neighborhood activists even angrier was the decision to have the county commission, and not one of the fifteen local community zoning appeals boards, hear the application.
Lawyers for Peerless Dade acknowledge they never could have surmounted the residential opposition they would encounter from the community zoning board, whose purpose is to give power back to local communities. Eight months after filing the application, Peerless amended the property boundaries around the landfill to include a right-of-way on NW 170th Street, a parcel of land the company does not even own. (County rules specify that an applicant must only prove ownership of 75 percent of the land they wish to have rezoned.) With the inclusion of the right-of-way, the application area now covered two zoning-board territories. Olmedillo thus decided the hearing should be held by the county commission. Because of perceived influence peddling, outraged residents believed members of the county commission would be more disposed to favor the company's petition.
After Olmedillo introduced the zoning petition, Al Cardenas, chairman of the Florida Republican Party and chief lawyer and lobbyist for Peerless Dade, strode to the podium to start the company's presentation. He began by explaining the waste in the landfill would be odorless construction and demolition material. He then announced a team of stellar legal and professional help who would deliver the case for the dump. The all-star group included Jack Luft (former development director for the City of Miami), a landfill consulting firm, and several traffic experts, among others. Cardenas also introduced co-counsel from the powerful Washington, D.C., law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, which counts among its members former senators Bob Dole and George Mitchell. Yet during the course of the hearing no one from the firm spoke. Santiago Echemendia, co-counsel from Cardenas's law firm of Tew, Cardenas, Rebak, Kellogg, Lehman, DeMaria & Tague, declined to detail exactly what the influential beltway firm accomplished for his client. He commented cryptically: "Sometimes you need powerful lawyer-lobbyists to do business in Miami-Dade County."
But there was more. Cardenas also introduced nine letters from the construction industry, including the Latin Builders Association and the Association of the Swimming Pool Industry of Florida. He added four glowing testimonials from people who use a landfill that has been converted into a park in Broward. Then he offered Peerless's "community support," and an alleged agreement between the company and a political-action committee called North Dade Citizens Association (NDC).