Midtown Walmart: City Official's Offensive Email Emerges Just Before Final Vote Tonight
Tonight, city council members will decide the fate of one of Miami's most divisive issues: Walmart's bid to build a big-box store in midtown.
The mega-retailer's plan to invade Miami has pissed off opponents, inspired passionate protests, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars -- perhaps millions -- in lobbying and public relations fees. So what could make the situation even more incendiary?
How about an offensive, arguably racist email sent by the city's chief of urban design openly mocking Walmart customers?
The following email -- obtained by New Times -- was sent by Enrique D. Nuñez, the City of Miami's chief of urban design, on March 6, 2013, at 2:39 p.m. (in other words, during work hours).
The recipients are all fellow members of the Planning & Zoning Department: Carmen Sanchez (assistant director), Kimberly Kennedy (administrative aide), Lydia Sacher (administrative assistant), Antonio Perez (planner), David Snow (position unknown), and Harold Ruck (chief of community planning).
We should point out that Planning & Zoning is precisely the department charged with reviewing and approving Walmart's application for a Class II Special Permit to build in midtown.
Neither Nuñez nor planning director Francisco Garcia responded to repeated requests for comment yesterday.
In his email, Nuñez is clearly forwarding an email featuring photos from the popular (possibly racist and classist, certainly condescending) blog People of Walmart.
But Nuñez puts his own imprimatur on the offensive email by ominously adding, "Coming to Midtown."
Here's the email in its entirety (broken up into JPEGs). You can decide for yourself if this is something Nuñez should be sending around the office. By the way, records from 2011 show Nuñez making more than $112,000 per year.
This email was sent several weeks after the Urban Design Review Board (UDRB) rejected Walmart's application for a permit and seven months before the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board (PZAB) -- under pressure from Director Garcia and Walmart lobbyists -- approved the plan. The UDRB, comprised of citizen volunteers, directly oversees Nuñez as the chief of urban design.
Although ostensibly anti-Walmart, the email also adds fuel to the fire for critics of the plan. They argue that the city hasn't been neutral but rather has gone out of its way to allow Walmart exceptions to city code not allowed under midtown's master plan.
Grant Stern, a mortgage broker who has led the fight against Walmart, says tonight's vote -- scheduled for 6 p.m. at city hall -- shouldn't even be happening.
"This is not how due process is supposed to work in this country," he says, arguing that the city has allowed Walmart to skip many of the normal steps for such permits. "Due process means that everybody is subject to the same rules."
Walmart's sketch of what its midtown store might look like.
Instead, Stern says city officials -- including those in the Planning Department -- have let Walmart have its way with the permit process.
"The city sandbagged us," he says. "The city's duty is to defend the application. Frankly, they are just letting Walmart do it.
"The public has objected every step of the day to black-letter violations of the law," Stern says, dismissing claims that opponents have had their say in hearings. "The city is simply choosing to ignore it continuously.
"This is the height of closed government," Stern adds. "This is something that would happen in Afghanistan, where a public official ignores all grievance, redress, and restriction of law."
Stern says he expects commissioners to reject Walmart's plan tomorrow, sending the mega-retailer back to square one.
Even if that doesn't happen, Walmart's opponents are likely to appeal in court. And that could mean even more embarrassing emails.
Today's city commission hearing begins at 2 p.m.; however, Walmart's permit application is scheduled for 6 p.m.
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