Treed Off | Undercurrents | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Treed Off

A beloved ficus tree that sprouted from the soil back in the 1920s and boasted a 120-foot-wide canopy has fallen to a rich developer's ax.

We blame the Sun-Sentinel. And we're none too happy with Broward Circuit Court Judge Tom Lynch.

Back in July, New Times Music Editor Jeff Stratton wrote a news story about the tree after standing beneath its massive branches at NE Seventh Avenue and Fifth Street over in Victoria Park. Stratton had waited out the rain while speaking to the block's last residents, who were being booted to make room for the Ellington, a jazzy, snazzy row of $350,000 to $400,000 townhomes that will soon sprout up on the site.

Neighbor Dave Tinnerman hoped to start a campaign to save the ficus. The tree didn't cause problems for the residents, who enjoyed its shade. And it was magnificent. But it made life hard for the Brenner Group, which is developing the site.

In August, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle submitted an application to make the tree a historical landmark. Yet the Sun-Sentinel, the tree's hometown newspaper, didn't publish a word. On September 26, the Herald, based 30 miles south of here, printed a story about the debate on page 1B with a huge picture. Still, not a word from the Sentinel.

Then on September 30, Lynch sided with the developers (isn't that a song?), calling the tree "exotic," "non-native," and a "nuisance." (C'mon, Tom, we know you're a nature lover. Whose side are you on?) And the Herald followed the story. Still, the Sentinel was silent.

The Sentinel finally deemed the tree worthy of attention only as it was being destroyed this past Saturday. But a page 1B picture was too little and too late. The loss of the tree, Tinnerman says, is "absolutely pathetic. The city just screwed the pooch from the beginning, and that's where the fault really lies." Naugle and City Commissioner Tim Smith paid lotsa lip service to saving the tree, but Tinnerman says, "There used to be ten water meters on that street; now there'll be 50. Who's happy?"

Another story the Sentinel missed: name-calling in the governor's race after the nationally broadcast debate September 27 between Jeb Bush and Bill McBride. Alan Stonecipher, McBride's communications director, termed moderator Michael Putney a "little dweeb" in a phone message to Putney's producer at WPLG-TV (Channel 10), Dan Leveton, after the debate. "I was just shocked that somebody would leave a message like that on a recording," Levitan says.

Putney wasn't angry but scored Bush the superior debater. "McBride started out strong, but by the end, he ran out of gas," Putney recalls. As for Stonecipher, Putney termed him "that little weasel."

The business of monitoring South Florida police scanners for the news industry has lost its competitive edge. Bob Sherman, who pioneered the scanner-monitoring business in the region in 1974, died Sept. 24. An obituary in the Herald called Sherman "a news hound" who managed to "always stay in the lead of the day's news...."

Oddly, Sherman died two days before New Times printed an article profiling his sole competitor, John Wolmer of Oakland Park. In a decade-long feud between the two, Wolmer says he captured the business of nearly every South Florida daily news outlet. Their dispute was fueled by Sherman's 1998 conviction on a harassing phone-call charge for flooding Wolmer's lines with prank calls. From his scanner-filled office, Wolmer says, "Well, I guess I'm on my own now."

This past March, New Times took a hard look at Broward's homeless shelters in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood, which receive millions of dollars from taxpayers each year. Some advocates complained that the Hollywood shelter -- called the Broward Outreach Center -- wasn't an emergency refuge like its neighbor to the north. Rather, the Hollywood facility required would-be tenants to commit to an eight-month program, and they weren't allowed to work for the first two months. As a result, beds were rarely available.

When Broward County awarded Broward Outreach a contract to operate a 200-bed emergency shelter in Pompano Beach, skeptics feared that similar management would keep those beds scarce.

Well, the Pompano shelter, a quarter mile north of the county jail on Blount Road, opened its doors in late August, and city and county officials gathered there September 27 for a ribbon-cutting. Residents who were milling about the courtyard told New Times that, yes, they were here for a six-month program, which begins with a 60-day lockdown. Hmmm. That sure didn't sound like Broward Outreach's contract, which requires it to "provide short-stay housing (7 to 60 days)," for which it will receive $2.1 million in county funding.

Dianne Bates, executive director of St. Laurence Chapel Caring Center for Homeless People, which Broward Outreach contracts to bring in Pompano-area homeless, confirmed that a long-term stay was required.

So we telephoned G. Steven Werthman, who heads the county agency overseeing the three shelters, and asked for a copy of the admission criteria. It described a maximum 60-day, rather than a six-month, stay. "How that earlier version was promulgated, I don't know," he said. "I was involved in earlier conversations with Broward Outreach Center, and I thought there was a clear understanding that it would be a 60-day program initially, with any changes to be made through a formal process."

Why then, was St. Laurence Chapel, which will refer the lion's share of clients to the shelter, out of the loop? "They're going to need to get the revised criteria," he responded. "As a matter of fact, since you brought that to my attention, I'm going to call them."

We'll keep an eye out.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.

Latest Stories