Heartbreak Hotel

It's the end of an era on Hollywood Beach, where small, cheap motels are all that stand in the way of another playground for the wealthy

Anderson can offer no specifics about city policies that would attract smart growth to Hollywood Beach — she recommends asking the CRA's Martinez those questions.

But Martinez cancels an interview at the last minute, then ignores a list of questions sent by e-mail. Instead, he writes a letter full of platitudes about the importance of maintaining the village-like atmosphere of Hollywood Beach but offering no specific ideas on how that can be accomplished, given the complexity of market forces. Nor is he able to reconcile that sentiment with his agency's established pattern of giving precedent to developers in instances like the Hollywood Grande.

No, the person most qualified to grasp the nuances of Hollywood Beach redevelopment would seem to be architect Bernard Zyskovich, who was hired by the city to draft a plan that would keep the best features of the beach and bring new ones. However, Zyskovich's public responsibilities would seem to put him in conflict with his private business as a paid consultant for developers who broker deals with city commissions. He wouldn't return calls either.

Giulianti has, more than anyone else, nurtured Hollywood's reputation for coddling developers, and she has her own interests in the changing beach scene: She recently purchased a unit in the Villas of Positano. But Giulianti has a stormy relationship with the media. In her most recent "Facets of the Diamond" column, published in the South Florida Sun Times, Giulianti asked residents to ignore all media — except the Sun Times.

She was not inclined to grant interview requests to New Times. "We have all seen how you cover the issues," she wrote in an e-mail. "So there's no reason to try giving you the facts."

Bober, Giulianti's opponent in the March 2008 mayoral election, was a bit more voluble.

"I do believe the mayor, in her quest to make the beach a luxurious place, is out of touch with the average small-business owner on the beach and the average resident," Bober says. "Hollywood Beach has always been a place for everybody. The last thing we want people to believe is that it's only for the wealthy."

But Bober adds that keeping alive the tradition of small motels is something that must be addressed at the state level. "The real relief is going to have to come from the Legislature. The small lodges are hurting from taxes. The problem is so pervasive, the Legislature will have to do something meaningful."

What that "something" is, Bober couldn't say. Nor could a powerful member of that Legislature, Sen. Steve Geller.

In the Legislature's January special session, which ended January 19, Geller and other lawmakers focused entirely on the issue of cutting insurance rates, which they did, by 10 to 30 percent. "Unfortunately, there wasn't much we could do about the [property tax] affordability issue," Geller admits.

He blames much of the current crisis on Save Our Homes, the 1992 constitutional amendment that capped annual property tax rates at 3 percent for homesteaded properties, shifting the tax burden to landlords, snowbirds, and small businesses, like motels. This makes new investment on the beach so expensive that only the very wealthy can afford it.

"Those are the problems presented by Save Our Homes," Geller says. "But having said that, I'm not prepared to revoke it."

Gov. Charlie Crist, who ran as a Jeb Bush Republican but since his election seems to be coming out of the closet as a big-government populist, has proclaimed that he'll go after high property tax rates after slapping down the state's insurance industry. But Geller says he's expecting steep resistance to any changes in Save Our Homes. "I would say that one of the top two or three issues of the regular session will be property tax relief — but whatever we do, the local governments will hate."

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