Longform

A Guide to Trashing Taxpayers

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Michelle Niemeyer, a lawyer who ran against Sarnoff and lost in the most recent election, says the traffic circle serves no purpose other than to enhance the values of the commissioner's homes. "He doesn't have trucks going by there anymore," Niemeyer says, noting the circle is too small for the intersection. "As soon as they drew the outline of where the circle was going, I knew there wasn't enough room for it," she says. "Now that it is finally built, it is even more obvious. It even feels tight going around in my little car."

Hialeah Landmark and Fountain

Year built: 2005

Cost: $411,848.56

What's dumb about it: You can't enter this building because it serves no other purpose than being a six-figure backdrop for a fountain.

Why it was built: Longtime Mayor Raul Martinez wanted a monument celebrating his power.

During the '80s and '90s, a coral rock fountain on a grassy patch at SE Fourth Street and Okeechobee Road was a rallying point for Hialeah political candidates. Signs for council contenders Jimmy Gunn and Silvio Cardoso as well as the city's then-on-the-rise mayor, Raul Martinez, littered the city-owned property, which is conveniently located at a major entrance to Hialeah. On weekends, Martinez, his allies, and their opponents would stand in front of the fountain and wave to passing, honking motorists. "In 1983, this was the place to be," Martinez says. "It was a prime corner." The site's political history gave el alcalde (now in a runoff to regain his job) the excuse to erect an expensive monument to greet residents and visitors entering La Ciudad Que Progresa.

Today, driving west on Okeechobee Road, you can't miss the two-story pale-yellow structure. The Mediterranean-style building, which features two sentry towers and a stone fountain, is an oddity among the rows of low-rent motels and warehouses. It is a gargantuan reminder of the generosity of Hialeah taxpayers. In the original budget, the city figured $20,000 was enough to cover the railings and other metal work, and $23,010 would buy all the stucco needed for construction. Wrong. The city council had to approve an extra $12,700 to finish the structure. Add expenses beyond materials, and the project cost more than $400,000.

When the plaza was completed six years ago, Martinez hailed it as a monument to the diversity of Hialeah's Cuban residents, from recently arrived balseros to older exiles. "We are proud of the city of Hialeah," he said, "and we sometimes tend to forget that." Yet the plaza is no visitor attraction. There are no sidewalks that invite folks to walk up to the structure to take pictures. There is no parking either. You can't even enter to enjoy the view from the second-floor terrace. It is a six-figure waste of taxpayer money brought to you by the city's once and future ruler.

Miami Gardens Park-and-Ride Lot

Year built: 2011

Cost: $1.8 million

What's dumb about it: Motorists rarely park at the lot to ride a Metrobus.

Why it was built: To persuade drivers to abandon their cars for the public transit system.

It's a balmy morning this past November 1. Bernardo Rodriguez peddles a red BMX bicycle on busy NW 73rd Avenue at Miami Gardens Drive past a chainlink fence with a banner that reads, "Park & Ride Lot now open, serving bus routes 73, 99, 183, and 286." One sedan, a truck, and a rusty station wagon are the only vehicles in the 150-space lot.

"Nobody here," he says. "Ever." During an hour that New Times spends at the lot during rush hour, a total of four people show up.

In 2006, taxpayers shelled out $1.8 million for the two-acre lot. It was supposed to persuade neighbors in this moderately affluent suburban neighborhood to abandon their vehicles and ride public transit to Aventura or Dadeland. A new express bus could even take them to the Palmetto Metrorail station or southwest Broward County.

It took five years to complete the project. Since July, when it opened, the lot has been virtually empty. The $1.8 million provides for an average of 36 riders per day, county records show. That's about $72 per day in fares, meaning it will take somewhere around 70 years to repay the expense, even if you don't account for the cost of buses. And that express bus to Broward? Killed due to budget cuts.

"It just went up, out of the blue," says Barbara Hagen, a 66-year-old Country Club of Miami homeowner. "The only people I have seen parking there go to the IHOP next to it." She and several neighbors protested the county's use of the two acres for a parking lot when the issue arose in 2006. "The transit department assured us the lot was going to serve the area near I-75 that was being developed," she says. "If they had express buses going to the airport and seaport in Fort Lauderdale or going to Naples, the lot would make sense. That would be revolutionary. But they don't."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.