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."

Not only is Pete a snake-catching failure, by the way, but his colleagues in Guam haven't had any luck either.

"Dogs are able to detect the brown treesnakes around cargo, buildings, etc., but to my knowledge have not yet been successful tracking snakes 'in the wild,'" Oberhofer says.

In truth, the NPS has found that other pythons, not dogs, make the best snake trackers. A less-publicized but more successful snake-control project involves placing radio collars on sex-hungry pythons, which then lead them to other sex-hungry pythons. But snake sex just doesn't get as much press as cute dogs.

Manifest Destiny

Salty air is murder on the rusty Tailpipe, but duty sent him down the I-95 asphalt to the Port of Miami the other day.

In front of a busy cruise terminal, the out-of-sorts auto part spotted a document. That's right, a 100-page sheaf of official-looking papers, lying on the sidewalk. Upon inspection, Tailpipe realized that he'd struck Homeland Security gold: the full passenger manifest (including each passenger's cabin number) for Carnival Cruise Line's Valor, which was scheduled to leave that afternoon on a seven-day jaunt through the Caribbean.

Tailpipe took the manifest for safe keeping, and it's a good thing. Manifests aren't supposed to be lying around high-security places like ports, the 'Pipe was informed by Carnival spokeswoman Jennifer de la Cruz.

The old cylinder could think of only a few ways that a determined criminal or terrorist might employ the document, like using the information to pose as a particular passenger or to identify members of the bejeweled set, whose cabins might be seeded with loot. But then, the 'Pipe isn't a bloodthirsty criminal with a genius for misdeeds.

"The manifest you describe is given to the stevedores so they can look up the guest's name and corresponding cabin numbers," de la Cruz said. She added that the cruise line "will address it [the misplacement of the manifest] with the appropriate parties," she added.

Just another job well done by Tailpipe — keeping America safe, one port at a time. It can't be long before Dubai Ports World comes a-callin'.

It's Been Good to Know You

Florida Atlantic University waved adieu to men's basketball coach Matt Doherty last week after the former Coach of the Year ditched the final six years of his seven-year contract to follow the dollars at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. For those who recall Doherty's arrival in South Florida (and there are plenty, for it was a scant 12 months ago), his introductory news conference in Texas sounded, well, a little familiar. Tailpipe pulled the tape to figure out why:

"I want to build a program; there's a difference between a team and a program. A team is a one-year deal. A program is built for the long run. I want to put systems in place to have a program here everybody will be excited about." — Doherty in the Dallas Morning News, April 25, 2006

"I'm excited about building a first-rate program here in Boca Raton." — Doherty in the Sun-Sentinel, April 19, 2005

"I didn't want to take a job to take another job." — Dallas Morning News

"I did inquire about a lot of places but didn't interview as many places as people thought. I was selective. I wasn't going to take a job just to take a job." — Sun-Sentinel

"I look at this as a destination point. With the commitment that we have here, why can't we do special things here?" — Dallas Morning News

"I am committed to making FAU basketball a national name. I am not going to hit and run; that is not my style. I am firmly committed to this place." — Sun-Sentinel

— As told to Edmund Newton

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