September 29, 2010

SoFla TV Stations Too Gutless

Here's the TV commercial that our local TV stations refuse to air: even WSVN, home of "if it bleeds it leads" turned it down. 

Shame on WFOR, WSVN, WFLX, WPBG, WPEC, WPLG, WPTV and WTVJ. You're all worthless parasites, if you can't even accept a few dollars to run a commercial that drives home an essential truth: fast food is bad for us.

September 19, 2010

Rick Scott; Liar or Idiot: Either way a Bad Choice.

I don't know which is worse; that Rick Scott ran a company that bilked taxpayers out of millions of dollars, or that his statements defending himself are so incredibly lame.

He's stated numerous times that he wasn't aware that his company was breaking the law; of course, as the CEO, it was his job to be aware of it.  Just as it will be his job as governor to know when legislation serves a legitimate need, and makes good use of taxpayer dollars.

And now, the Miami Herald reports that he was aware of his company's indiscretions.
The warnings were contained in the company's annual public reports to stockholders that Scott, now the Republican candidate for Florida governor, signed as Columbia/HCA's president and chief executive officer.
So it turns out that Scott has been lying the entire time.  But he offers up yet another incredibly lame defense:
"I don't know what the document said. I'm sure they used boilerplate that said something about they used all their efforts to comply with all the laws.''
And yet, he signed it.  He signed a document certifying that he'd read it, and that it was accurate.
Hospital expert James Roberts, now general counsel with Gainesville-based Shands Healthcare, said Columbia/HCA was playing a "roulette wheel,'' betting that the risk of fines was lower than the profitability of the physician arrangements.

Roberts agreed that the language about physician payments was "boilerplate'' but said Scott -- an attorney as well as a hospital CEO -- should have known better.
He's right.  "Ignorance of the law" is no excuse, particularly for a lawyer.

And again, what is the chief role of the governor?  To sign stuff.  To sign bills into laws.  To sign budget declarations.  To sign pardons excusing convicted felons.  To sign execution orders for condemned murderers.

Rick Scott couldn't be bothered to read documents in the past, critical legal documents, declarations of his company's intentions.  And now he expects us to elect him to a job where signing stuff is Job One?

Again, here's Rick Scott's statement on the matter:
"What happens in companies is that you have to take responsibility for what happens under your watch.  Mistakes that were made you take responsibility as CEO and you do everything you can to make sure those things don't happen. What I tell people is that's what I'll do as
But Scott hasn't taken responsibility for any of it; he's done nothing but make excuses time and again: he didn't know, he wasn't told, he doesn't remember.

I have no doubt that he will do for Florida what he did with Columbia/HCA; and that's a problem.

Florida deserves a governor who will at least read what they are signing, and stand behind their actions later.  We deserve better than Rick Scott.

September 17, 2010

Amendment 4 - the "Case Study"

Opponents of Amendment 4 cite St. Pete Beach as a "case study" into "the evils of Amendment 4."  They say that the 10,000 person community became mired in endless litigation, just a small taste of what would happen with a statewide mandate.

The St. Petersburgh Times sums up the background for us:
In 2005, St. Pete Beach's five-member City Commission was considering changing its development plan, the comprehensive plan. The commission was debating incentives to lure additional hotels that could increase the density of a development and change the allowed uses.

The talk of change didn't sit well with many residents, who collected petitions to get a series of charter amendments on the city ballot that would require voter approval for height increases and other changes to land use plans.

From there it got contentious. The city sued to stop the vote, saying the proposed charter amendments violated state land use law. A developer also sued, saying the petition process was costing him money.

The city lost its case on appeal, and in November 2006, voters narrowly approved most of the changes to the City Charter. The results: St. Pete Beach became the first town in Florida where residents directly controlled development decisions. Voters also elected two members of Citizens for Responsible Growth to the City Commission, giving them a majority.

That prompted a pro-developer group to start its own petition drive and propose its own amendments to the city's comprehensive plan. The city's elected officials — who had gone from being largely pro-development to anti-development — tried to stop them.

It got even more contentious. There were more lawsuits.

Then, another election, another change of power, and eventually, another referendum. This time, the pro-development side won.

The upshot — four years after city voters decided they wanted control over land use decisions, the entire process has been sidetracked and stymied by lawsuits and politics, petition drives and egos.
Right off the bat, something jumps out at me; voters introduced the referenda, and not the local governments.   Amendment 4 stipulates that local governments put up the referenda, not politicial action committees or concerned citizens.

Here are the relevant St. Pete Beach laws:
Section 3.15: Voter approval required for approval of comprehensive land use plan or comprehensive land use plan amendment. 
A comprehensive plan (“Plan”) or comprehensive plan amendment (“Plan Amendment”) (both as defined in Florida Statutes Chapter 163) shall not be adopted by the City Commission until such proposed Plan or Plan Amendment is approved by the electors in a referendum as provided by Florida Statute Sec-
tion 166.031 or by the City Charter or as otherwise provided by law. Elector approval shall not be required for any Plan or Plan Amendment that affects five or fewer parcels of land or as otherwise prohibited by Florida Statutes including but not limited to Florida Statutes Section 163.3167.

Section 3.16: Voter approval required for approval of or effectiveness of community redevelopment plan. 
A community redevelopment plan as defined in Florida Statutes Section 163 shall not be adopted by the City Commission until such proposed community redevelopment plan is submitted to a vote of the electors by referendum as provided by Florida Statute Section 166.031 or by the City Charter.

Section 3.18: Voter approval required for increase in allowable height of structure. 
No amendment to the City’s Land Development Code providing for an increase in the allowable height (as defined by the Land Development Code) of any structure (as defined by the Land Development Code) shall be adopted by the City Commission until such amendment is submitted to a vote of the electors by referendum as provided by Florida Statutes Section 166.031 or by the City Charter.
The article actually identifies the key difference between what St Pete Beach had, and what Amendment 4 is:
Blackner walked PolitiFact Florida through how she says the new process would work.

Say a developer proposes an amendment to the comprehensive plan to build a condo high-rise in the middle of town. Currently, an application would be submitted to the local government that has jurisdiction; the local government would follow its approval process — two public hearings, etc.; and then the state Department of Community Affairs would be asked to sign off on the amendment. None of that would change.

But if the developer gets his approvals, Amendment 4 would add one more step. Voters would either ratify or veto the developer's plans at the next regularly scheduled election.

What's critical to note in St. Pete Beach's case is that citizens themselves proposed amendments to the comprehensive plan — an end-run of the process established by state law.
In other words, what happened in St. Pete Beach was that citizens introduced referenda before there was actually a change of plan created by the local government, a situation that Amendment 4 does not create.

So what really happened in St. Pete Beach? Here's the basic narrative:

Back in 2007, Save Our Little Village (SOLV), a politcal action committee, submitted 6 ordinances by initiative.  This led to SOLV filing suit to compel the city to submit these measures to voters. 

But SOLV's victory in getting its initiatives on the ballot led to a lawsuit; in Pyle vs. the City of St. Pete Beach, a citizen claimed that four of the six ballot summaries were "false, misleading, and deceptive."  But by the time the suit was filed, the election was technically under way (absentee ballots had already been distributed) so the Court left the items on the ballot.  The Court pointed out that voters could reject the items having inaccurate summaries on that merit, or for any other reason.

That led to the next lawsuit, on the same issue, when voters approved the four initiatives in question.  A fourth lawsuit was filed, stating that the 4 ordinances (one created a countywide land use plan, the other three amended Land Development Regulations)  did not comply with the existing comprehensive plan.  A fifth lawsuit was filed, claiming that sections 3.15, 3.16 and 3.18 created an additional arm of the government, while a sixth lawsuit challenged the validity of the current comprehensive land use plan.

Now, Citizens for Lower Taxes is correct when they say St. Pete Beach was mired in lawsuits. The city was sued - but none of these suits are the results of anything mandated by Amendment 4.

But don't take my word for it; Ed Ruddencutter, former vice-Mayor St. Pete Beach, wrote in a letter to current vice-Mayor and Amendment 4 opponent Jim Parent:
St. Pete Beach has NEVER had a serious ballot issue in accordance with what you call our, "our mini-amendment 4 experiment here in SPB", also known as City Charter Section 3.15. The SOLV comprehensive plan vote was a citizen initiative petition, in accordance with City Charter Section 7.02, and had nothing to do with our requirement for a vote on Comprehensive Plan amendments. There has never been a Section 3.15 vote on a plan change that affected serious changes on land use, height, density or intensity. The lawsuits were as a result of a Section 7.02 vote only.

Amendment 4 does not state that citizens can change the local land use code by referendum; it only mandates that once a land use change has gone through its process - which dictates that in fact the measures are drafted and reviewed by City officials - the voters have the final say on whether or not those measures can take effect.

The Florida Supreme Court described it in 2005:
...the proposed amendment at issue in this case alters only one step in an already established process.  It does not give the public the power to establish policy, collect funds, administer those funds, or adjudicate liability. - SC04-1134
Interestingly, this is the exact document linked by the Say No To 4 website, only they conclude that the court finding indicated that it adds all kinds of complexity to the process.

The "case study" cited by Citizens for Lower Taxes does not, in fact, stand up under close scrutiny. 

September 16, 2010

Amendment 4; Is it really "Vote for Everything?"

This is the first of a series investigating Amendment 4.  Future articles will address statements and claims made by both the supporters and the opposition to the amendment.

Today, we examine the claim the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Amendment 4 dictates that we "vote on everything."

According to Ballotpedia. this is the current wording on the ballot:
Amendment 4: Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans.

Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice. Provides definitions.
On the face of it, it means that the city wouldn't be able to change an industrial district, like say, the marinas along the Miami river, into a residential area.  They'd have to write up a referendum and put it on the ballot, and let the voters decide if the zoning can change.

Real world examples of the kind of radical changes to zoning include the City of Miami's attempt to allow a condominium project to be built on the grounds of Mercy Hospital, or the numerous attempts to change the Urban Development Boundary to allow shopping centers to be built in the Everglades.

Citizens for Lower Taxes claim that the amendment would require citizens to "Vote on Everything," a stark contrast to Florida Hometown Democracy's claim that it would only come up a few times each year.

According to the Citizens for Lower Taxes website:
The Florida Supreme Court  plainly indicates that Amendment 4 would trigger votes not simply on all land use items, but, in fact, on every change to a local government's comprehensive plan. Citing statute, the court points out that Amendment 4 would lead to referenda on:

"A capital improvement element; a future land-use plan element; a traffic circulation element, a sanitary sewer, solid waste, drainage, potable water, and natural groundwater aquifer recharge element; a conservation element; a recreation and open space element; a housing element; a coastal management element; an intergovernmental coordination element; a transportation element; an airport master plan; a public buildings and related facilities element; a recommended community design element; a general area redevelopment element; a safety element; a historical and scenic preservation element; an economic element ..."
The problem is, that's not actually what the finding says.  Sure, that entire section is a verbatim quote, it's just taken entirely out of context. The list is actually part of existing Florida State Stature 163.3177, "Required and optional elements of a comprehensive plan."

Back in 2005, the Court was asked to rule on whether or not Amendment 4 followed the proscribed template per the dictates of the Florida State Constitution.
The Attorney General petitions this Court for an advisory opinion regarding the validity of a proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution submitted by Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc., and the accompanying Financial Impact Statement submitted by the Financial Impact Estimating Conference.

...the Court limits its inquiry to two issues: (1) whether the amendment violates the single-subject requirement of article XI, section 3, Florida Constitution, and (2) whether the ballot title and summary violate the requirements of section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes (2003).
The Court was addressing a specific complaint about  the amendment's ballot wording;  specifically, the first line:
Public participation in local government comprehensive land use planning benefits the conservation and protection of Florida’s natural resources and scenic beauty, and the long-term quality of life of Floridians.
The court writes:
"The first sentence of the ballot summary in this case is misleading... because it focuses the voter on “scenic beauty” and “natural resources,” while local comprehensive plans include multiple components, many of which do not involve strictly environmental or aesthetic considerations.  Section 163.3177(6)-(7), Florida Statutes (2004), sets out the required and optional elements of comprehensive plans, which include..."
In other words, the Court is addressing the fact that the wording of the first sentence indicates that the amendment is to allow us to vote on "scenic beauty" and "natural resources,"  when the reality is that they rarely come into play in most comprehensive plans.  It is not stating that the amendment requires a referendum on each and every one those elements in ss 163.3177, just that many of those elements would be included in a referendum to change a local comprehensive plan. That being the case, saying it was for "scenic beauty" and "natural resources" is misleading.  On that ground, they ruled against the amendment.

But that's the 2005 ruling.  In 2006, the court found in favor of the revised wording (see top of page) of the amendment in SC06-161:
We conclude that the ballot title and summary sufficiently explain the chief purpose of the 2005 Proposed Amendment and do not mislead the public. 
So the Florida Supreme Court says it's Constitutional. 

But that wasn't the complaint; Citizens for Lower Taxes maintains that the amendment means we'll have to "vote for everything:"
Voters will be asked to vote not only on big development projects but also on all minor or technical changes to their local comprehensive plan.
But what does the Supreme Court actually say about what the amendment will lead people to vote on?
The Act does not provide a descriptive definition of a “comprehensive plan,” but instead defines the term as “a plan that meets the requirements of ss. 163.3177 and 163.3178.”  § 163.3164(4), Fla. Stat. (2005)
And what does that mean, exactly?  The Court clarifies:
The 2005 Proposed Amendment defines a “local planning agency” as “the agency of a local government that is responsible for the preparation of a comprehensive land use plan and plan amendments after public notice and hearings and for making recommendations to the governing body of the local government regarding the adoption or amendment of a comprehensive land use plan.” 
In other words, the Court is saying that the Amendment means that voters will be asked if the land can be used for a purpose, but that the details that enable that purpose remain in the hands of the local government.

In 2005, the outdated ruling favored by the amendment's opponent, puts it even more clearly:
...the proposed amendment at issue in this case alters only one step in an already established process.  It does not give the public the power to establish policy, collect funds, administer those funds, or adjudicate liability.  In fact, the statutory scheme already in place allows local governments to utilize a referendum process in regard to a plan amendment if the amendment affects more than five parcels of land.

Contrary to what Citizens for Lower Taxes claims on its website, the Florida Supreme Court is not saying that Amendment 4 means we'll have to "Vote on Everything" at all.  Quite the opposite, it finds that existing government agencies will still decide what goes into the comprehensive land use plan.  It just means that the voters, and not local governments, decide if the comprehensive change goes into effect.

September 15, 2010

Twenty Five Years in Cars

Looking back, I realized just how many cars I've owned since moving to Florida.  I paid cash for most of them, clunkers that I drove into the ground.  Friends will tell you that I never have luck with my cars, but I think that considering what I paid for them, I did very well.

But I have to admit, no one has ever dated me for my taste in automobiles.

1964 Rambler Classic  (1982-1986)  "Dame Elizabeth" is the car that brought me to Florida.  It ran great, but had vacuum powered wipers. That is, instead of electric motors, it ran off the same vacuum system that operated various valves in the engine.  It was a real throwback, and on the surface it seemed like a cool idea because you could adjust the rate of the wipers by pulling a knob.  However, stepping on the gas or the brakes also changed the rate - drastically.

One day, the pulley for the water pump shattered, and proved irreplaceable in pre-Internet America.  The garage welded the pieces back together, but it was out of true, and every six months or so the inescapable wobble would destroy the water pump.  Combined with the inability to see while driving in Florida's torrential summer squalls because of the wipers, I replaced it. 

1978 Mercury Bobcat Station Wagon  (1986-1987)
Bought from my boss at Rent-A-Center for about $700.  Coldest A/C of any car I ever owned; there was a leak in the gas tank, so I couldn't fill it more than half-way. One spark plug socket had bad threads, so periodically the plug would pop out, forcing me to pull over, wait until the engine cooled before re-inserting it.  The V6 engine eventually devoured the rings (as they always did on Fords, I later learned), leaving me the option of replacing the engine or the car.  I chose the car.

1976 Chrysler Cordoba  (1987-1989) "The Enterprise"
Biggest car I ever owned;  I used to joke that the hood was so long it was like driving an aircraft carrier.  The body was totally cherry, but the leather seats were rotted out; "fine Corinthian" my ass. But I wanted a car in excellent mechanical condition, and by god I got it. It ran great, but the 360 cubic inch V-8 sucked down fuel like it was going out of style. You could literally watch the needle move while cruising down the highway. I could not afford to drive this thing out of the county, let along out of state.

This is the car that taught me that a lot of mechanics are stupid.  There are only two occasions where it needed any work, and both times I would have been better working on it myself.  But I had no tools, and no place to work on it.  The first time, the thing choked itself off.  I had AAA tow it to Lake Worth's Auto Hospital, figuring they could work on it overnight (as advertised), and I could pick it up and drive to work the next morning without missing a beat.  But when I called the following morning they hadn't had a chance to look at it. They told me it needed a tune-up, and it would be ready in "a few hours." Finally, I picked it up in the afternoon, but driving home it was still running rough.  Not wanting to lose another day to the Auto Doctor, I stopped at an auto parts store, read the Chilton's manual, and sure enough when I opened the distributor cap it was full of rust.  Somehow, the $50 tune-up didn't include checking that.

A year or so later, I was driving along I-95 when the engine just cut out.  It was exactly like someone turned a switch.  I had it towed to a garage - NOT the Auto Hospital - and they replaced a cheap component and pronounced it fixed.  I was happy enough until it cut off again. Had it towed back.  Now I was told that the carburetor needed to be rebuilt, and that my problem was caused by flooding.  Well, I didn't believe him, but made him guarantee that the rebuilt carburetor would absolutely solve the problem.  "Absolutely!"  When I came to pick it up the next day, it wouldn't start.  Turns out, there was a component in the ignition that went bad, causing it to stop conducting electricity once it got warmed up.  His boss read him the riot act after learning I had said that "it just cut off" and that I had suggested "it's an ignition problem" when I filled out the paperwork.  I only paid for the carburetor, the garage paid for the new ignition system.

It ran great after that.  Still sucked down gas, though.

1980 Datsun 200SX (1989-1992)
I bought this with the proceeds of my first stint on a cruise ship, for about $1,200.  This was a great little car, a 5-speed with a sun roof, a perfect replacement for the gas-guzzling Cordoba.  It was stolen in 1991, after I left my key-ring in the door late one night; I had and armful of groceries and kicked the door shut without thinking.  Thankfully, it was recovered a few months later.

It was recovered due to an electrical problem I'd been tracing down when it was stolen.  I had been stranded several times with a dead battery, and I'd just put in a new battery when it was stolen.  But I wasn't sure if the battery was the original cause or if the alternator was going bad.  It was stolen before I could figure it out.

The police "found" the car during a traffic stop.  They pulled it over because it was running without headlights after dark; the driver had discovered the battery wouldn't charge, so he tried to drive it only during the day, and only for short distances.  He maintained that he didn't steal it; a friend "lent" it to him in exchange for some tools, and the guy wasn't suspicious because his friend had the keys.  My keys.  The car was on the road every day from the time it was stolen, and it was dumb luck that they found it.

I put in a used alternator that I got for $25, installed it using tools the guy had forfeit when the cops caught him in the car, and I drove it for another year, until someone ran a stop sign and broadsided me one night.  Luckily, they hit just forward of the driver side door, so I escaped injury.  But the car was bent into a new and exciting shape.

1980 Mazda B2000 (1991) bought this a few weeks after the 200SX was stolen   I had been hauling a lot of equipment around, and thought that maybe this $500 pickup with the tool locker was the answer. It wasn't.  The first time I locked tools in the locker, they were stolen.  Piggy banks were more secure than that thing.  So when I gigged around with my guitar, there was no place to lock my gear while I went out for a post-show drink.  I  stowed the guitar and amp in the locker one time, but I sweated it the whole time, knowing how easy it was to pry the lock off.

About the time I discovered that head gasket was blown, they found my beloved 200SX.  So I scrapped the B2000, after trying to sell it for several weeks, in which time it, too, was stolen. Unlike the Datsun, it was stripped, and its carcass abandoned a few blocks away.  The thieves netted four mis-matched tires, an aging K-Mart battery, and a stereo that ate cassette tapes.  I considered myself lucky to get $125 for it as scrap.

1986 Mazda GLC  (1992-1993) hatch didn't open.  But it ran well enough, until the front right break caliper locked just enough to completely fry my right front wheel assembly.  I was driving along I-95 at the time, smelled something burning, and looked in the rearview mirror and realized I was leaving a trail of smoke.  It was pouring out of the wheel-well.  When I got out and peered through the smoke, I could see that the brake disc was glowing white-hot, and metal was...dripping...out of the mechanism.

I just couldn't bring myself to fork over $1500 to repair an $800 car.  Fortunately,  Mom was moving to England for a year or two, and gave me her Mazda 626.

1984 Mazda 626 (1993-1997)
Free car that ended up costing me a bundle.  My mother never missed an oil change or tune-up; the car came with a folder with the complete service history.  The head gasket blew about 6 months after I got it.  But it was an immaculate car, so I paid to fix it; so my "free" car cost me a grand, but it was a great car, right?  Then flooding in Jupiter caused the starter to fill with water; $275 to have it rebuilt.  Running off a rain-slick road, I miraculously avoided damaging the car - I thought.  6 months later, discovered that the transmission mounts had broken when I went off the road, and the transmission had been quietly chewing up the gears due to the misalignment. Rebuilt transmission: $2,000.  But hey, mom took care of this car, so I can probably get another ten years out of it, right?  The car started running hot: $125 bucks to replace the cooling fan motor - and that's getting a mechanic friend of my dad's to sell it to me at cost; the dealership wanted $275 for it. Then the radiator started leaking while I was on a trip; to make it home, I dumped "stop leak" in it.  $500 to replace the radiator, but now the car was still overheating.  Not only did the head gasket blow again, this time all four cylinders were cracked.  I finally accepted that this fucking car was going to nickel and dime me to death, and scrapped it.

1989 Ford Escort (1998)
After scrapping the 626, I went out on cruise ships for a couple of years.  I picked up the Escort for about $800 bucks when I settled in Fort Lauderdale to free-lance. It wasn't a great car, but a good deal for someone who didn't have a steady job right at the moment.  After a couple of months of free-lancing, I ended up at Actors' Playhouse full time.  Then I discovered that the soft brakes were much more intense than a master cylinder, and rather than replace the entire brake system, I sold it to the mechanic for a couple of hundred bucks, and bought another car.

1988 Honda Prelude (1998-2002)
Since I was working, I decided to get a car I really liked; but still unwilling to go into hock for a brand new car, this was the compromise.  It cost me $2,500, and was worth every cent.  It was another 5 speed, with an even better sun-roof than the 200SX.  By 2002, it was showing its mileage and age, and when my dad gave me his old car, I was going to scrap it.  But it was still running, and Mike Vines needed a car, so I gave it to him.

1997 Honda Accord SE (2002-2007)
My dad wanted an SUV, and decided the trade-in value was pitiful, so he gave me his Accord SE.  What a sweet ride!   Fully loaded, with aluminum wheels, sun roof, clean as a whistle, the only thing I didn't like was going back to an automatic transmission.  This car was taking care of me, and I was taking care of it, right up until it was stolen the day before Thanksgiving.

2001 Chevy Cavalier  (2008-  )
2001 CavalierI needed a car, a friend needed to sell a car to finance a move to LA.  Good karma.  Merely adequate car.

I call it "The Last Chevy I Will Ever Own."

Why? All the little things; the dashboard that became brittle and cracked into a dozen pieces, the cupholders that are too small for many cups (and the ones that do fit block the A/C and vent controls), the compartment light that comes on no matter what and stays up for minutes after you leave the car, the mirror brackets made completely of plastic that get snapped off in a car wash.  Very little thought went into the details of this car, and every time I drive it, I find myself being irritated by stupid petty design and construction choices that would have cost pennies to do right.

But it runs really well, for all that.

Looking Back a Quarter Century

In 1985, I arrived late one September evening in a 1964 AMC Rambler loaded with everything I thought I would need for the next few years.  It wasn't quite everything I owned; but at 21, I didn't own a lot to begin with.  So I left boxes of books at my dad's house, and my winter clothes at my mother's.  I had clothes, a few favorite books, my guitar, and a component stereo system. 

I had to get off I-95 around Stuart to take the Turnpike down to Palm Beach Gardens because the interstate wasn't finished.  And I hadn't realized just how big the state was; when I finally got to Boynton Beach, it must have been after 10 pm.

For the first couple of months, I stayed with my grandparents.  It was my grandmother's invitation that brought me down; I had been studying acting in New York, and auditioning without much any success.  I had decided that it wasn't a matter of talent; I had plenty of that.  But so did every other actor in The Big Apple.  It was a numbers game, really; the jobs went to the actors with the best resumés and the best connections; often with emphasis on connection.

I had only done a couple of professional gigs around South Jersey, at all two of the professional companies that existed there at the time.  That didn't include working at the Brigantine Haunted Castle.  The rest of my resumé was community and college theatre, and that didn't impress anyone.  I had no connections because I hadn't done enough work to make them.

So my grandmother is talking about the vibrant local theatre scene, and particularly this acting workshop she found, led by Bob Carter, who had studied with Lee Strasberg.  I was, at that time, studying at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in New York. 

It occurred to me that there had to be less professionally trained actors in South Florida than New York; and here was a place I could continue studying the same techniques.

I got a job, I found an efficiency, and found my way into the local theatre scene.  In 1989, I realized that there was a higher demand for production, and moved to the wings.  I still performed occasionally onstage until 1994, when I decided it was time to fish or cut bait. I've been working full-time in theatre ever since.

Florida has changed, and not just the theatre scene. 

Urban Renewal
In 1985, people were afraid to go into downtown West Palm Beach.  I remember trying to get a friend come and see me in something at Actors' Rep, two blocks south of Clematis Street.  "Isn't that, you know, down town?" she said.  "Isn't that dangerous?  People get shot down there!"  But we knew that Clematis Street was going to change.  We desperately tried to keep that theatre going, despite low attendance and evaporating support.  Florida Rep, which operated out of the space where the Cuillo Center is, wasn't in any better shape.  both companies closed in the early 90s.

There's theatre downtown again, but it's all "new growth."  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  And the two companies - Palm Beach DramaWorks and Florida Stage - are everything Actors' Rep and Florida Rep were not; well managed, well funded, with the resources to ensure that every production is at least as well-produced as the one before it.

While the Kravis Center certainly drew in people, it can't get all the credit; the Downtown/Uptown project, an urban redevelopment program, cleared the field for the Center, literally. It bought up the entire ghetto and bulldozed it, intending replace it with shops and restaurants and living space.  Which eventually happened, although the original team went broke after leveling most of downtown.  Kravis Center didn't have to revitalize a slum, it just had to lure developers into an area prepped for re-development.  For a while, the Kravis Center dominated the landscape.  Eventually, the re-development did happen; it's called CityPlace.

The Broward Center for the Performing Arts revitalized downtown Fort Lauderdale beyond any question.  It stands over Esplanade Park, where the people gather once a month for a Jazz Festival along the river, and wedding occur at least weekly along the Riverwalk. Himmarshee Village is home to thriving restaurants and clubs.

Actors' Playhouse did much the same thing for Coral Gables.  Once home to dozens of wedding shops that closed up at 5pm, the theatre started drawing crowds in the evening.  Restaurants now make up most of the businesses, along with galleries and high-end shops.  When I started working there in 1999, the meters and garages stopped collecting at 8pm.  Now the meters are twenty four hours, and the garages are attended until at least 1am.  Harder on the consumer?  Perhaps, but it's an example of the revenue streams that open up when the arts come to town.

The Beach
Spring Break was still going strong in Fort Lauderdale when I moved here.  It was painful to watch the city fathers kill their biggest tourist draw of the year, erecting fences and barriers to limit views of the beach - and to keep drunken college students from stumbling into traffic on A1A.  I suppose it was necessary, but it's allowed South Beach to overshadow the place "Where The Boys Are."

25 years ago, beach access came to mind before sand, when talking about south Florida beaches.  It's still an issue in spots, but now global warming and rising oceans tend to dominate the conversation.

Getting Around
I-95 was completed a few years after I arrived; a few years later, when they started to resurface the older parts of the interstate, Tri-Rail was started, in an attempt to lower dependence on driving down the highway.  No one was sure if the system would have a life beyond the project, so no track was laid, inexpensive stations were built, and the even the trains were those used by another system that promised to buy our trains when and if Tri-Rail was disbanded.  While it hasn't really reduced traffic to a noticeable degree, no one is talking about closing it down, either.

Traffic is heavier. And where it used to really tail off in the summer, it's now merely dipping from "awful" to "really bad."  And the vehicles have gotten BIGGER, due largely to the fact that SUVs were exempted from emission control and fuel economy standards, so the automakers pushed them over more logical choices.  Of course, this as more than doubled fuel prices over the last twenty years.  If we'd stayed the course of smaller and more efficient cars, it's very likely we'd be paying less than two bucks a gallon.

Stormy Weather
The day before Hurricane Andrew hit, I was walking into the Florida Professional Theatres Association yearly meeting.  It was a networking/mass audition event, and it was held in West Palm Beach that year.  As I walked in the door, I found my boss, Louis Tyrell, standing with David Arisco of the Actors' Playhouse in Kendall, and a future boss.  They'd just heard the hurricane was going to hit us.

I went and secured the theatre as best I could; the following Monday I wrote Florida Stage's first hurricane plan, so we wouldn't have to figure it out in an emergency again. 

I took my supplies - a milk crate full of canned goods and a gallon of water - over to my friends' house.  We listened to the radio and played poker until the wee hours.  The next morning, the first stories creeped out.  And I looked at my milk-crate and realized how massively unprepared I had really been.  This was underscored in the following weeks, as I drove truckloads of relief supplies from the staging area at Palm Beach Fairgrounds down to the relief station at Metrozoo.  You couldn't see the house that were left standing, because the debris was piled so high.  And if it hadn't been for the convoy, I'd never have found where I was going.

I was working for Dave Arisco when Katrina and Wilma hit;  the theatre was largely undamaged, but in the aftermath of Wilma we lost a weekend of GREASE because the entire region was without power.  And even when we got power back at the theatre, most of the traffic lights were still out.  Still, we were lucky that time.  During Andrew, the old Actors' Playhouse lost their roof, and a lot of their subscribers lost their homes.

But on a personal level, I was prepared; I had packed my fridge and freezer full of ice, I had an assortment of food, and a proper camp stove.  We had a gas grill out back of my apartment building, and I set up a tarp for shade.  The building was fine, but for the lack of power.

Sunshine State of Mind
I've now lived and worked all across South Florida, from Jupiter to Coral Gables.  When I moved here in 1985, I thought I'd build my professional resume for a few years, and then move back to New York City.  But when I visit there, I am overwhelmed at how gray it seems to me.  Even the drabbest corner of South Florida is ablaze with color and life; and nature hasn't been buried under yards of concrete, despite the best efforts of our various county commissioners and state representatives to allow that to happen.

I've met fascinating people, from all walks of life; artists and writers and lawyers and politicians and yes, famous actors. I know this place, and how it was shaped, and why it's  like it is.

I've lived here over half my life; I am a South Floridian.

September 2, 2010

Boobs Banning Boobies

The Keep A Breast foundation was simply trying to create a catch phrase that would keep awareness of breast cancer in the public eye.

They never imagined that grown-ups would take offense.

But the boobs who run the high school in Rocklin, California have taken disciplinary action against a student wearing one of the bracelets.

I guess dying of cancer doesn't offend them as much as the word boobies.

You have to wonder, did any of them, at any point, do what they're supposed to be teaching our children to do, and open a dictionary?

Merriam Webster:
boo·by  - noun \ˈbü-bē\
plural boobies
Definition of BOOBY
1  an awkward foolish person : dope
2  any of several tropical seabirds (genus Sula) of the gannet family
This is what got their knickers in a twist?  We haven't seen a display of ignorance since some dunces in Wilmington, North Carolina, decided that "niggardly" was a racial slur.  (it's not.)

Kelly Avants, a boob for the Clovis Unified School District, is quoted:
" with sexually suggestive language like 'boobies' is not allowed on our campuses. Please understand that the issue is related specifically to the choice of language on these bracelets and the fact that it specifically violates our existing dress code policy.”
So, Kelly, you find boobies to be sexually suggestive?  Really? 

I got to be honest with you, I think that anyone who finds "boobies" to be "sexually suggestive" is need of serious therapy.  I mean, I see a booby and think "stinky fish breath."

It's sad that ignorant boobs are allowed to run our school system, where they can rain down punishment on children doing nothing more than showing awareness of the critical health issues that they and their families and friends face.

In fact, I find it offensive that ignorant boobs are permitted to work in education, where they can inflict and instill their painful ignorance on our children.  Boobs like these have denigrated our entire scholastic endeavor.  I think anyone offended by the word "boobies" should be terminated from their jobs in education.

Jim Aisenbrey, the Principal of Baltic High School in South Dakota, is quoted by NBC4i:
"If you say, 'No, we're not going to allow them,' it's going to appear insensitive to the cause, which is not the case, but at the same time you also have people in the community that would be upset if that was allowed,"
Psst. Jimbo, maybe, you should, you know, educate them.  You could, you know, act like the educator you claim to be.

Are you a man, or are you a booby?

And what will you do when the Audubon Society starts celebrating National Titmouse month?