Bulldozers Gone Wild

Bad, CRA! Bad, Bad CRA!

Mayor Mara Giulianti and the City of Hollywood recently went on trial for their attempt to "eminent domain" a Harrison Street beauty shop owned by the Mach family. Their idea is, of course, to clear the way for yet another gleaming, expensive condominium tower near Young Circle.

Broward Circuit Judge Ronald Rothschild is expected to rule in a couple of weeks on whether Hollywood followed proper legal procedure in attempting to take the property. The Machs' attorneys have argued that the city's notorious Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the legal entity behind Hollywood's aggressive use of eminent domain, should be quashed. By law, they argue, CRAs must be used to turn around land considered "slum and blight." Downtown Hollywood and Hollywood Beach? Tailpipe knows the neighborhood well, and despite a few late-night drunks from the Hollywood Boulevard clubs puking in the gutters, slum and blight aren't in the picture. Rothschild's ruling could dismantle the CRA — a solution that the Machs' attorneys refer to as "the nuclear option."

This may all be news to readers of the local newspapers, but some Broward County officials have been quietly appalled by Hollywood's out-of-control CRA for at least three years. Tailpipe has a copy of a June 19, 2003, report by County Commission Auditor N.W. Thabit, citing significant problems with the CRA.

"I found one!"
"I found one!"
Matt Doherty
Matt Doherty

Some of the issues Thabit raised were wonkish, such as the way Hollywood divided the CRA into two districts ("Downtown" and "Beach") when state law mandates that there should be just one district. Leave that one to the government geeks, not this corroded auto part. More interesting was Thabit's concern about CRA money. "I have noted the disbursement of public funds to private entities to aid private ventures," Thabit wrote.

Though Thabit doesn't go into particulars, he could have mentioned the generosity of Hollywood's CRA to developer Steve Berman. The City Commission, acting as the CRA, approved an incentive package of up to $13 million for the first phase of Berman's project, Radius (originally called La Piazza II). For the second phase of Berman's Radius, Hollywood was kind enough to agree to use its eminent-domain powers to acquire a private parking lot Berman needed for his project.

Then there was Gary Posner and Patricia Peretz's Hollywood Arts District — or HART — at Young Circle. Using a promise to bring a new 400-seat theater to the city, they wangled $7 million from the CRA to build a 17-story condo tower and a privately operated charter school. After the deal was in place, Posner and Peretz quietly dropped the theater offer, saying it was too expensive.

Old stick-in-the-mud Thabit was unhappy about the CRA's practice of handing out cut-rate real estate deals, upfront loans, and giveaway grants to developers with profit-making deals. "I recommend that the Board of County Commissioners actively seek changes to the Florida Statutes which would eliminate the use of public funds to aid private development," Thabit wrote.

Did the County Commission do anything? That's another story. (The short answer: no.)

Meanwhile, though, Hollywood simply grows more arrogant, beginning last year as it used its CRA to seize private property to make way for more publicly subsidized buildings erected by politically connected developers.

Does Tailpipe hear the words nuclear option echoing through the streets of Hollywood?

Slithery Business

You've heard the stories. Burmese pythons, dumped in the Everglades by pet owners who have found their slithery charges increasingly unmanageable, have been breeding like crazy in the predator-free environment. They feed on native species and skeeve out tourists, and they seem to be downright omnivorous. Last summer, a photograph of a python that exploded when it tried to swallow an alligator circulated worldwide. What's next? A German tourist in Bermuda shorts being sucked peristaltically down a python's gullet?

The National Park Service was desperate.

Enter "Python Pete," an 18-month-old beagle owned by NPS wildlife technician Lori Oberhofer. Her idea was to train Pete to recognize the scent of the snakes, allowing NPS hunters to track them down and kill them. Oberhofer, who's stationed at the South Florida Natural Resources Center in Homestead, says she was inspired by park rangers in Guam who use dogs to track invasive brown treesnakes in the forests. After she began training Pete, the newspapers came knocking.

The image of a puppy chasing 15-foot snakes makes for good newsprint, and much ink was spilled on Pete. Reporters joined Oberhofer during Pete's daily training sessions, where he sniffed out snakes hidden in mesh bags. By 2005, he was the darling of the national spokesanimal set, featured in articles in local, national, and international media outlets, including NPR's All Things Considered and National Geographic.

But the truth is that young Pete has been a dud.

Oberhofer is candid about Pete's failings. "I've managed to take him out on some good python sightings," Oberhofer reports, "but found each time that Pete was leading me to heavy brush piles."

It's not Pete's fault, Oberhofer insists.

"He gets too excited when we're out and overheats himself within a half hour," she says. "I'm hoping as he gets older, he'll become more mellow and I'll have more time to work him."

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