Seeing America by rail was a privilege, and now it's lost: Congratulations to John Anderson for researching, writing, and experiencing "The Last Amtrak" (September 12). I grew up (one year old in 1935) making annual summer round trips (always by Pullman) between New York City, my home, and Los Angeles, where my grandparents lived. First choice of transportation was the New York Central ("water-level route") to Chicago with a change of railroad stations and a three-hour layover in which to explore a great city.
Boarding the Santa Fe streamliner with its Southwest motif, and the 40-hour time to Los Angeles, was a real treat. My mother and I traveled alone together, perhaps unusual for the time. Each year the German dining-car steward on the Santa Fe, Mr. Tausch, greeted us warmly and by name. People such as Bing Crosby and Eleanor Roosevelt were fellow travelers. Occasionally first choice was completely booked and we had to settle for second -- the Pennsylvania and the Southern Pacific or Union Pacific streamliners.
As a child I always considered myself extra patriotic because I had seen much more of my country than my peers, who spent their summers at sleepaway camp. The only time those luxury trains were ever sidetracked was to allow the troop trains to speed by during World War II. These incidents provided civilians with more than a few pangs of conscience.
I regret that my children and grandchildren have been denied the privilege of transcontinental train travel. It was truly one of the joys of my childhood -- gone now but never forgotten.
Suzanne R. Fishman
And don't think those innocent little community councils are safe: Francisco Alvarado wrote a commendable story, both detailed and factual, about Miami-Dade's community councils ("Inside the Country Club Community Council," September 12). As I read it, a slow shudder came over me and I thought: Oh no, not again!
Being rich and connected enables a person to "buy" a seat on a community council. Why would any candidate shovel out $50,000 or $60,000 to win a seat that pays nothing? It's been done and will continue to be. Once word gets out that a council member is willing to "grease the machinery," the sleazy zoning applications begin appearing before that council. The honest board members can sense something's not right. All zoning attorneys carry their reputation with them as they hop from firm to firm. The same with certain land developers. Add to this a small contingent of starving architects moonlighting as "zoning consultants." After awhile you learn who they are, what their game is, and how they are connected to the downtown crowd. (Our appeals process goes to the county commission and/or circuit court.)
In the summer of 1996 I had the good fortune of collaborating with Miami-Dade Commissioner Miguel Diaz de la Portilla as he was shepherding the community council concept through the legislative process. The end result wasn't perfect, but it was a vast improvement over the existing system.
Unfortunately the two issues I was unsuccessful in changing have now come back to haunt us. First, the residency requirement is only three months; it should have been at least two years. This just reinforces Miami-Dade's reputation as a breeding ground for "hop around" candidates. Second, there is no spending cap on campaign expenditures. But the county attorney advised us it would have been unconstitutional to enact such a requirement.
Overall the present process is working quite well for our constituents. Educating the people about land-use issues has been one of our primary objectives. There are many, many community council members who wear the badge of honesty with pride. They do not seek to be mini-commissioners. They are accessible yet incorruptible. My hat's off to all of them.
A.C. Charlie McGarey, chairman
Redland Community Zoning Appeals Board (Community Council #14)
Eat hot lead, Hollywood: I beg to differ with Brett Sokol. Perhaps "sending a man with a loaded revolver" (his description of Miami Beach Police Maj. Tom Weschler in the September 12 "Kulchur" column "Rebel Without a Causeway") will send the right message to Hollywood about intentionally misleading local officials regarding the economic benefits of filming on location, and about abusing the good will of local communities. Somehow those messages have repeatedly failed to reach Miami Beach City Hall. (Note to Mayor Dermer and the city commission: Can you say "fact-checking"?)
Is anyone going to research the completely misleading and inaccurate data allegedly provided by the Florida Department of Transportation regarding traffic flows on the MacArthur Causeway, which the city used to justify its greedy and incompetent decision? The traffic may be the same, numerically, every day of the week, but patterns within those days differ radically.
Most of the Monday-through-Friday traffic is daytime, and most of the weekend traffic is nighttime, with some extra traffic on Saturday and Sunday afternoons if it's good beach weather. On weekend mornings the causeway is virtually empty. (I'm a long-time South Beach resident and can see the causeway from my window.) They could have done the filming Saturday through Tuesday and only inconvenienced commuters for two business days rather than four. Better still, they could have filmed on two successive weekends and inconvenienced virtually no one.
Karen L. Oleet
Worries over Jilda's detractors, reads free weekly only occasionally: I'm an eleventh-grade student at Coral Gables High School and am interested in a future career in journalism. Admittedly I don't read New Times every week but I did catch Rebecca Wakefield's article "Is Jilda Unruh Getting Stiffed?" (September 5) and found that it raised some interesting questions.
I have seen many of Channel 10's investigative reports concerning the school board, the school district administration, and the surrounding controversies. I've also discussed many of those topics with teachers and classmates. Because I'm familiar with the reports it was really disappointing to see the reaction of several New Times readers regarding Ms. Unruh's reporting skills and the station's courage with respect to the viewers' right to know.
So what's the deal here? Are these letter writers so disconnected from what happens within the school system, or do they dislike school kids so much they would rather not hear the bad news and believe everything is just fine? I hope this ostrich behavior is not infectious. I would rather believe that owing to Ms. Unruh and WPLG's good reporting, the school system will be improved if for no other reason than embarrassment.
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Did free weekly take the bait? Regarding the letters to the editor in the September 12 issue, which could have been titled, "How Do We Loathe Jilda Unruh? Let Us Count the Ways," I think you guys have been had by a letter-writing campaign.
You don't have to be an FBI agent to see that those letters were all a little too orchestrated, a little too similar, a little too personal. I smell a rat. I'd bet you a week's salary you couldn't locate those people and verify those letters if you tried.