Days of El Portal's Lives

This tiny village is one of the county's most diverse, and boy do they fight about it

Gonzalez, meanwhile, finds the Colombian inside the mobile home where she lives with her Cuban boyfriend. Gonzalez knows just about all the trailer-park residents, and he is aware that fortysomething Carmelita has occasionally "flown off the handle" in the past, though she has no arrest record and the machete is a new touch. A meek Carmelita, dressed in bike shorts, bright orange T-shirt, and snakeskin mules, insists she was only defending herself. But even the boyfriend's version of events tends to corroborate the Jamaican women's story, and Gonzalez -- by now having received two more calls -- decides he'd better take Carmelita temporarily out of the mix by arresting her.

"My problem is," Gonzalez explains, "three people say [Carmelita] was waving the machete in the street, which would be aggravated assault. I think everyone's calmed down now, but I'm by myself today, and I don't want to leave and have them kill each other. This time I feel better being more cautious."

He drives Carmelita to the village hall, where the police station is, to fill out the obligatory hour's worth of paperwork before transporting her to the county jail. This takes Gonzalez off the street, and, pursuant to an intramunicipality agreement, officers from Miami Shores and Biscayne Park will answer the two disturbance calls Gonzalez can't get to (one is a trailer-park resident attempting to kill himself). Carmelita, meanwhile, worries that she's supposed to take the bus tomorrow to one of her two jobs, but she doesn't know anybody with the money to bail her out.

El Portal natives such as Hugh Gladwin, standing on the Tequesta burial mound, know it all tends to come back around
El Portal natives such as Hugh Gladwin, standing on the Tequesta burial mound, know it all tends to come back around
Daisy Black: First black mayor of El Portal and longest-serving council member, but she still has to survive mudslinging every two years
Steve Satterwhite
Daisy Black: First black mayor of El Portal and longest-serving council member, but she still has to survive mudslinging every two years

"You've heard the term trailer trash," says Gonzalez. "I don't believe that. Some of the officers don't want anything to do with this place, but I prefer to patrol here. Where I grew up in New Jersey, I used to be one of those kids like the ones here; they don't have anywhere to play except out in the street."

And there may be even more of them out on the streets soon, which was the reason for this past Thursday's village hall meeting. The hall was packed for a presentation by the developers of a proposed low-income apartment complex. Even though the housing is not to be within El Portal's limits, the location -- on NE 90th Street, east of Biscayne Boulevard -- is near enough that residents are worried about the impact on traffic, crime, and property values. Just as the neighborhood is becoming a desirable upscale destination, here come 800 people who don't even make $30,000 per year, free to roam the streets of El Portal.

The 150 or so citizens in attendance at the meeting were overwhelmingly against the proposed complex. They were also overwhelmingly white in a town whose population is 62 percent black. Mayor Audrey Edmonson, an early supporter of the development, is convinced the leaders of the opposition, who are white, gay men (at least one is running for council in December), are playing the race card solely to discredit her politically. That is plausible, but even more palpable at Thursday's meeting was a prickly "poor-phobia." One of the main concerns focused on the type of security fences and gates that would surround the complex.

"I don't know why you can't develop condos on a high-end scale," complained one audience member, to applause and shouts of approval.

"This is about how you will affect our property values," said another. And ever-higher property values, of course, represent the future of El Portal. Around here, speakers made clear, low-income housing doesn't fit anymore. Miami-Dade County suffers from an extreme shortage of affordable housing, but the working poor who live in them are simply not the permissible element to loose on the prestigious El Portal. They will have to live somewhere else. Come December, Audrey Edmonson will know whether she will have to pay for thinking otherwise.

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