By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
Robert Moehling, the “Robert” of Robert Is Here, the landmark produce stand southwest of Homestead, considers himself an animal lover. In back of his store is a large pen, shelter to numerous lizards, goats, chickens, and tortoises. But he has no love for the pack of dogs that has been terrorizing the rural neighborhood around his store. The dogs, which killed a neighbor’s goat and emu about a month ago, recently gnawed through the fence in back of Robert Is Here and into the animal pen. They attacked the goats, which bleated helplessly until a neighbor came out with a gun, fired in the air, and scared the dogs away.
“The dogs took off, but they killed the two goats. They ripped open their throats and stomachs. Just shredded them,” Moehling says. “And they had started on Centurion.”
Centurion is a 700-pound Galápagos tortoise, estimated to be 160 years old. The dogs bit the land turtle’s left front leg and gouged a gaping hole in his neck.
When Moehling discovered the centenarian’s wounds, he called the Everglades Outpost, a nearby wildlife sanctuary and rescue operation. The sanctuary’s Bob Freer tried to stanch the tortoise’s bleeding neck. When the bleeding wouldn’t stop, Freer called a veterinarian he knows who works on exotic animals. It took three men to lift Centurion into a van for the ride to the Bravo Animal Clinic in Cutler Ridge. The vet, Juan Fernandez-Bravo, cut short a vacation to rush back and tend to Centurion. It took a dozen stitches and antibiotics, but the tortoise’s prognosis is positive. “They’re pretty hardy animals, I believe he’ll pull through,” Freer says.
“He’s moving around and starting to get back to his old self,” Moehling notes. “But to lose a life that’s been going on that long would have been horrible. The vet put his date of birth down as 1841. I didn’t realize how bizarre that was until I saw it written.”
Moehling is replacing the goats, which interacted nicely with the tortoises. He’s noticed the goats hop onto the shells and ride around, and even seen the tortoises rise up to help the goats reach leaves on the trees.
The county’s animal control officers were contacted, but to date have not caught the dogs.
After tapping her paw impatiently for a week, The Bitch finally received official word on how a charcoal gray building (home to Borders Picture Framing and Gallery at 1601 SW First St.) is against the law. As reported two weeks ago, the Small Business Opportunity Center, a nonprofit organization that receives federal funds via the city for a commercial façade improvement program, sent a private painter on a mission to the frame store. According to owners Steve Meeks, Jr., and Steve Meeks, Sr., the visitor alleged the color of the building was illegal and offered to repaint it at no charge to them. But at that point they hadn’t received a notice of violation from the city and wondered what ordinance forbids charcoal gray or black.
Two Little Havana power brokers — Pablo Canton, administrator of the East Little Havana Neighborhood Enhancement Team, and SBOC director Luis Sabines, Jr. — were also unclear about which law applied, but they were certain the black façade had to go. “They’re either going to comply or get fined,” Sabines bellowed. “But trust me, that building is not going to stay black. We don’t accept black buildings in this neighborhood.”
Seeking illumination, The Bitch asked the city’s communications office for a copy of the ordinance that would be used to enforce Sabines’s decree, but received instead the current “Design Guidelines and Standards” for the Latin Quarter District. The 39-page document was authored by the City of Miami Planning Department way back in February 1988. Among its objectives: “To facilitate the development of the Hispanic character” and “encourage a tropical atmosphere” in the LQ. “White, off-white, and pastel colors for walls should be encouraged. Also earthtone colors are acceptable.”
Can one really receive a notice of violation and face hundreds of dollars in fines for not following guidelines? The city’s chief of operations for code enforcement, Irain Gonzalez, eventually called to clarify the situation. For a moment it seemed the Meekses were beyond the pale. “Guidelines are like a recommendation. A recommendation is not really enforceable. You can’t hold it against a guy who paints a color you don’t want,” he conceded. And then: “But it doesn’t apply to this case, because it’s in a special district.”
But the guidelines are for the Latin Quarter special district, also known as SD-14, The Bitch noted. What is enforceable, according to Gonzalez: an ordinance requiring the Meekses to apply for a permit to paint the building. “The Class 2 Special Permit will specifically say the colors that the building needs to be painted.” In other words, Gonzalez is ordering the Meekses to apply for a permit to paint a building they already painted.
Code enforcement inspector Marlene Castellanos issued the Meekses (who did not return calls seeking comment) a starkly un-encouraging notice of violation on March 31. “Building painted in black. Not allowed in SD-14 zone,” she wrote. But the ticket makes no mention of the need for a Class 2 Special Permit. It gives the framers a Friday, April 16, deadline, after which they will be called before the Code Enforcement Board. “Basically it means they have to come in and apply for a permit,” Gonzalez translated.
Bad news for the Meekses but good news for another fortuitous Little Havana painting operation. This year the SBOC (which is not located at the CAMACOL headquarters as previously reported) administered a large portion of the $700,000 in federal funds doled out by the city’s Community Development Department for its citywide commercial façade program. The SBOC, which administers the program in Little Havana, has a roster of twenty to thirty painters who typically bid for the façade jobs, Sabines notes. It was an SBOC-contracted painter who painted 1601 SW First St. yellow and pink five years ago, before Steve Meeks, Jr., and his dad bought the place. Sabines says he now has a contract with the Meekses to paint the building.
Watching a tape of a city council meeting may not sound like a good way to spend an evening, unless you’re into hard-core masochism. But there are those among us who, for whatever reason, purchase videotapes of public meetings from local municipalities. Cities, however, aren’t supposed to make a profit from selling the videos. “What they’re required to charge you is the cost of copying — materials and supplies — and they can make an additional charge if the duplication requires ‘extensive clerical or supervisory assistance,’” says First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin of Hunton & Williams.
But the City of Miami charges $35 for a video, and Miami-Dade County charges $30. By comparison, the cities of Homestead and South Miami charge ten dollars per tape. Miami Beach charges five dollars for a tape, though its meetings are accessible online, and will soon be available on CD for two dollars. New videotapes — with actual movies on them — rarely cost more than fifteen dollars, unless you’re buying something illicit. So why the pornographic prices?
“The price of $35 was set, I believe, by a previous director and he had somebody on staff do some research to try to figure out a reasonable cost,” waffles Miami’s communications director Kelly Penton. So exactly what kind of work goes into unwrapping a two-dollar blank tape, putting it in a machine, and pushing the button? “Well, we record in real time,” Penton says. “Basically you have to have somebody sit there with the tape. I mean, if it’s a three-hour tape and you just leave it there and come back and something happened to it, you have to start all over again.” Imagine a room full of city employees staring at TV screens, unable to leave lest there be some horrible technological breakdown.... In fact Marlene Mingo of Miami-Dade TV didn’t return New Times’s phone calls about the county’s $30 dubbing fee; perhaps she was monitoring the machines?
“That cost seems clearly excessive,” Julin says. “No question.”
Ron Francis, media specialist for Miami Beach, agrees: “It’s a rip-off. Actually we used to do it, too, until our lawyer said we had to stop.”
At least the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County let you know where you stand. Pilar Diaz, an administrative specialist with the City of North Miami, told The Bitch that you can only get copies of public meetings if you bring your own tape. “If people bring in a tape, it’s free. If not, they cannot get a copy.” When questioned about whether the city is statutorily obligated to provide videotapes of meetings to anyone who asks, for a nominal charge, she says, “Well, I guess anything is possible.”