Haul of Shame

Waste dumps, illicit lobbying, paid supporters, hidden agendas. Or politics as usual in Miami-Dade County.

"I would like to acknowledge those in the green shirts and white caps who are here in support of us," Cardenas informed the commissioners. Those in the white T-shirts laughed and catcalled in response while Commissioner Katy Sorenson, acting chair of the meeting, banged her gavel to restore silence. "Also with us here today are Mr. Willy Hernandez and Frank Serra," continued Cardenas. "They are residents of the project's neighborhoods and they are board members of the North Dade Citizens Association. They will discuss their support for the project, including the settlement agreement and resolution of support."

Cardenas made it clear he would counter any allegations of manufactured support for the zoning change with accusations of his own. In particular he alleged there were forgeries in the 1288 petitions from dump opponents. "Our forensic document examiner has found that there are at least four persons who account for a total of 37 different petitions," he claimed, among other charges. (The team never used the expert. Peerless's counsel, Santiago Echemendia, said that because of the late hour, the examiner had to leave before she could testify.)

He also laid out the undeniable reality that the county is rapidly running out of landfill space for construction and demolition material, a fact that will have broad economic implications.

Attorney Robert Gilbert (left) grilled William Hernandez and Frank Serra about their support for the dump
Attorney Robert Gilbert (left) grilled William Hernandez and Frank Serra about their support for the dump
Frank Serra
Frank Serra

Cardenas then moved to the pearl of the Peerless plan. "The ultimate conversion [of the landfill] to a park is probably the highlight of our presentation," he told commissioners.

By the end of the landfill's estimated 30-year life span, the company planned to deed the entire 368-acre tract to Miami-Dade County for a park, which would feature baseball, softball, and soccer fields, tennis courts, basketball courts, and miles of paved trails for biking and walking. In addition the company would create a trust fund of up to five million dollars to help maintain the park. As Peerless Dade completed different sections of the landfill it would turn them immediately into parkland so residents wouldn't have to wait the full 30 years. The first section would be ready in five to seven years, Cardenas estimated.

It quickly became apparent, though, that the county attorneys had not had time to study thoroughly the gift they were being offered. After some probing from Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, County Attorney Robert Krawcheck explained that under the Peerless plan, it was possible the county could get stuck with cleaning up a polluted landfill, or lose the promised five-million-dollar trust fund for a park if the deal fell through.

"Is this [park promise] worthless?" Diaz de la Portilla asked.

Krawcheck responded: "In some respects it could be worthless."

By this time many in the Peerless camp had had enough. A number of the greenshirts were in open rebellion. They had been sitting in the commission chambers for almost nine hours straight. One lady fretted her son wouldn't know where she was. Many of them didn't speak English and couldn't follow what the speakers were saying. Instead of listening they talked loudly among themselves, and the lawyers representing Peerless in the front row continually glanced angrily at their "supporters."

At one point Cardenas walked back and exchanged sharp words with one of the women. "Miss, you are here to help us. Please be quiet," he said sternly. "If you don't want to be here, leave."

So some did. About a dozen or so departed the commission chambers soon after, at about 6:30 p.m. They boarded one of the four buses waiting outside the government center. By the time they returned to Hialeah, nearly twelve hours had passed since they had first set out.

Shortly thereafter William Hernandez, vice chairman and a founding member of the North Dade Citizens Association, began reading from a prepared speech. Hernandez had originally opposed the landfill, but changed his mind after Peerless Dade promised to restrict truck access, plant trees around the site, and agree to a citizens review board. These concessions and others formed the basis of an agreement ironed out with the company and approved by eight executive board members of the NDC. Hernandez trumpeted the park as a $30 million asset for the community. It would be called a Christmas park.

"We know that is a good deal for all," he concluded.

Close by, Carl Dasher's attorney Robert Gilbert lay in wait. (Dasher was one of the founders of the NDC; his vehement opposition to the agreement led Peerless to throw a SLAPP suit at him.) Gilbert questioned whether all eight members had in fact approved the deal. "According to my conversations, they gave me the right to enter into that agreement," Hernandez responded. "If they have changed their mind, it is news to me." (Later one of the eight would claim she and her husband, also a board member, had never approved it.) After Hernandez came Frank Serra, another executive officer of North Dade Citizens Association. Serra appeared nervous and read haltingly from his statement. He praised Peerless for giving something back to the community and related how happy he would be to play with his daughters in the Christmas park. "For many years they will be proud that their father made this decision," he said.

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