Just over one year ago, Miami voters approved a ballot measure giving developer Jeffrey Berkowitz the go-ahead to build an oddly shaped, 1,000-foot bay-front tower called Skyrise Miami. The tower would lure hundreds of thousands of tourists, Berkowitz pledged, and even better, taxpayers wouldn't foot a cent. City Mayor Tomas Regalado took to the airwaves making that same pledge.
A few months after the vote, though, a more complicated story emerged: While city tax rolls won't back the project, Berkowitz and county leaders had quietly agreed to put millions into infrastructure. That's reason enough to scrap the whole vote and start over, Raquel Regalado argues in a new legal filing this week in a suit she's started with auto magnate Norman Braman.
"Election law is very clear on how to represent to the electorate accurately what they're voting on," Raquel Regalado tells New Times. "Legally, it's very clear we have a strong case."
The latest motion, which asks a Miami-Dade Civil Court judge to overturn last summer's vote, introduces some new evidence to prove Regalado's contention that voters were tricked. New exhibits include emails that Regalado contends show Berkowitz's attorneys signing off on ballot language calling the project "privately funded" even as they were working behind the scenes with the county to secure millions connected to the plan.
"These emails don't leave any other interpretation as to what was going on," she says.
Here's the central argument, as Regalado's attorneys write in the new motion: "By representing that SkyRise Miami would be “privately funded,” the ballot falsely represented to the voters that the Developer would be exclusively responsible for funding the SkyRise project and that no public monies would be used for it."
Skyrise's backers, though, argue that the project is actually privately funded. Those millions of county tax dollars are going to pay for nearby infrastructure upgrades, not for the project itself, they argue.
Regalado says she's confident a judge won't buy that argument. "They're trying to play this little game," she says. "They're trying to disassociate this infrastructure funding from the project, but the fact is this work is being done for Skyrise."
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The lawsuit is soaked in political drama, with Regalado, who is currently a school board member, already lined up to challenge County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
This week's motion is the latest shot over Gimenez's bow as the younger Regalado lines up her challenge, with billionaire Braman in her corner (and funding her current lawsuit).
As for the sticky issue of her dad's role in promoting Skyrise as tax-free to voters, her latest motion echoes his contention that neither Berkowitz nor city staffers told him about the talks with the county to get funding.