Best of Barker’s View – A Critical Decision for Volusia County

You know the old adage, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”?  Here’s a little diddy from two-years ago.  Interesting. . .

Looks like the Hard Rock Hotel – you know, the project that was billed as a panacea for every problem facing Volusia County from beachside blight to head lice – has been “put on hold” for the foreseeable future.

Seems those pesky Sons of the Beach and Let Volusia Vote radicals may have all but spoiled it with their lawsuits and roadblocks to happiness and prosperity.

You remember the Hard Rock, right?  The magic potion guaranteed to revitalize Daytona Beach and save us from ourselves?

Just last year our friends at Toronto-based Bayshore Capital, Inc. promised that if we just gave up our heritage of beach driving, in turn we would receive 375,000 square feet of tempered steel and sex appeal; a sweet, sweet release from all our burdens in the form of a monolithic miracle of jobs, oiled-up pretty people in private cabanas, and luxury condos for the rest of us.

Bayshore’s hired mouthpiece, Glen Storch, warned us (like Oliver Douglas preaching to the residents of Hooterville) that if we balked at giving the Hard Rock what amounts to a private beach then our cure-all would be snatched away and we would be left to rot like poisoned rats in this hellish cesspool of economic affliction and violent street crime we pathetically call “The World’s Most Famous Beach.”

Our benevolent dictators – the uber-rich puppet masters who actually run what passes for “government” in Volusia County – immediately directed their hired hands on the County Council to give Bayshore what they wanted.

“Damn the needs and wants of those dupes and fools that put you in office – we know what’s best for them, and by God we own you.  You knew the deal when you sold your soul to J. Hyatt, Mori and ISC, and you WILL use the legislative process to our advantage. . .”

How must our ill-fated Chairman Jason Davis – the “Common Joe” with “everyday common sense” who ran on a populist platform to reform the very culture of County government – have felt when he realized that he had been bought and sold?

How must it have felt the exact minute Davis became everything he hated?

And how did you feel?

What was your reaction the moment you realized that your elected officials were no more than hapless dupes willing to sell your rights, heritage and lifestyle to yet another speculative developer?

Remember how you felt when Councilman Josh Wagner folded in a steaming pile of cowardice and corruption – changing his allegiance and voting for the very ordinances that would give Bayshore and others a traffic-free beach – in a cheap bait-and-switch gut-punch to his blindsided constituents?

Or when Judge Sandra Upchurch let us all know that in Volusia County the citizens right to petition their government to preserve a century-old historic use of our beach is “facially unconstitutional in its entirety.”

In many ways, the shock and anger of it brought out the very best in us – and fundamentally changed the way we view the political process.

Thousands of us went out and signed petitions started by a courageous few who realized that without a grassroots effort to fundamentally challenge the open thuggery of County government we were all doomed.

Many of us aligned with Sons of the Beach, Let Volusia Vote and other coalitions of concerned and civic-minded allies working tirelessly to let our elected officials and the wealthy power brokers know that there is some shit we plebeian’s won’t eat.

We supported the fine and courageous work of attorneys David Vukelja and Dennis Bayer as they continue to fight like rabid badgers for the fundamental right of citizens to petition their government for the redress of grievances.

And perhaps more importantly, we have learned the hard lesson that the very institutions we once trusted, the people we elected and appointed to serve our interests, have been corrupted and co-opted by greedy little bastards who have no qualm about using public resources, tax dollars and the judicial system as weapons against their own constituents.

As I write this a three-judge panel at the Fifth District Court of Appeal is hearing an appeal filed by Let Volusia Vote challenging Judge Upchurch’s finding.  If LVV prevails, people might still enjoy the fundamental right to have decisions on matters related to our beach ratified by the electorate: You know – you and me – that whole, government of the people, by the people and for the people thing that at one time was so popular in this country?

Here’s hoping that the Fifth District Court of Appeal does the right thing – for the right reasons – and reaffirms the fundamental right of citizens to effectively control political might and power when it is wielded counter to the will and needs of the people.

If not, I’m afraid we are doomed to have the fate of our beach, our heritage, and our lifestyle decided for us by cheap thieves and money-mad political grifters using a broken system to their own self-advantage.

 

 

Best of Barker’s View – Volusia Politics: Pave paradise, and put up a Margaritaville. . .

This was originally posted in February 2017.  Let’s have a look back, shall we?

“Now most of the people who retire in Florida are wrinkled and they lean on a crutch.  And mobile homes are smotherin’ the Keys; well I hate those bastards so much.  I wish a summer squall would blow them all the way up to fantasy land.  They’re ugly and square, they don’t belong here, they looked a lot better as beer cans.”

–Jimmy Buffet, “Migration”

Hey, neighbors!  More good news!

The latest “Game Changer for this area” just arrived!

Woot!  Our troubles are over again.  Again.

I’m not talking about some Hard Rock Café with a motel attached, a goofy Russian condo/convention tower, or some weird temporary beachfront restaurant with a massive density variance, or even a discount outlet mall, or high-end sporting goods store that provides “synergy” with Daytona International Speedway, or – hell, you get the idea. . .

No.  I’m talking about Jimmy Buffet’s new Margaritaville “Latitudes Daytona” development by Canadian mega-developer Minto Communities!

According to an article by Clayton Parks in this morning’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, “Minto Communities announced that Buffet’s Margaritaville Holdings company has agreed to become a strategic partner in developing its planned 6,900 home community for residents 55-and-older on the north side of LPGA Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95.”

 Yep!  In just a few short months, you can live the artificially contrived vagabond lifestyle of the professional beach bum!  (For $200,000 to $300,000 plus HOA fees, that is. . .)

“With Minto’s expertise in creating master-planned developments and Margaritaville’s inherent ability to deliver fun and escapism, Latitude Margaritaville has the exact coordinates for those looking to live the Margaritaville lifestyle as they grow older, but not up,” stated John Cohlan, the CEO of Palm Beach based Margaritaville Holdings, in a news release.

Sorry Daytona Beachside.  You lost.  Fuck off.

Who needs the fun and escapism of an actual “beachside community” when we can just artificially create the idyllic coastal lifestyle you once represented in a mass of commercial sprawl west of I-95?

And if Minto’s resident Parrothead’s have a hankering for an actual beach, we can bus them over to one the marketing folks created far removed from the rabble and rubble of Daytona Beach.

Look, I’ve been a Jimmy Buffet fan since forever.  Even if he became everything he hated – hell, that’s the American dream, right?

I’m an old-time Parrothead who knows all his songs by heart – and the first guy you’ll see in a coconut bra and grass skirt while tailgating at a concert.

The fact is, Jimmy Buffet has become a quadrillionaire by selling a unique brand of escapism through his music – and myriad other similarly themed businesses – all built around the brand, which include bars, restaurants, apparel, beer, and resort hotels and casinos throughout the southeastern United States and Caribbean.

Believe me, every time Jimmy sticks his foot on a salty piece of land, he comes up with a gold nugget between his toes – and I have no doubt the Margaritaville machine will make a success of the world’s first “theme subdivision” right here on the “Fun Coast.”

Not to poop the beach party, but has anyone considered that this development – and others like it – are being built directly on top of our aquifer’s (read: drinking water) sensitive recharge areas?

Or the fact that we do not have the current infrastructure capacity (roads, utilities, police, fire, etc.) to absorb another 7,000+ homes into our already overburdened system?

They say Latitude Margaritaville at Daytona Beach is expected to be the biggest master-planned community ever built in the Volusia-Flagler area.

Almost everyone I speak with regarding these developments cite traffic gridlock – increased pressure on our transportation infrastructure – and the potential environmental impact of paving over our sensitive wetlands and virgin forests west of I-95.

Apparently, when it comes to infrastructure repair and replacement funds, we’re broke as all get-out – just ask county manager Jim Dinneen.  He’s wringing his little hands and wailing that we need an additional sales tax, and I mean right now.

No, we tied up most of our transportation funds on “other projects,” and what remained we used to extend Williamson Boulevard to Mori Hossieni’s ICI Homes new 1,300 home, 400 townhouse, development “Woodhaven” in Port Orange.

And make no mistake – you and I did, in fact, pay to extend Williamson Boulevard 2 ½ miles further south to accommodate Mori – the High Panjandrum of Political Power and poster boy for using public funds to eliminate private risk and overhead for developers.

When you factor in proposed developments in southern Volusia, to include the Farmton project, and the “Restoration” (sorry, just choked on my coffee there for a second) development near Edgewater and New Smyrna Beach – you begin to see the potential environmental and infrastructure impact.

Recently, a group of concerned environmentalist representing everyone from the Sierra Club to the Friends of Spruce Creek Preserve, Inc., employed a Washington D.C. based law firm to challenge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “come one, come all” process for approving development projects.

Last summer, the News-Journal reported, “Several related projects in Volusia County aim to open a swath of undisturbed, ecologically valuable land to development and urban sprawl from cities along Florida’s eastern coast,” according to a “Notice of Violations” letter to the Corps on behalf of local environmentalists.

 “The Corps’ piecemeal approval of individual projects, and its deliberate disregard for obvious indirect and cumulative impacts, constitute clear legal violations.”

The letter asks the Corps “to remedy these violations in order to avoid litigation.”

I hope they sue their eyeballs out.

Environmental protection groups are seeking a moratorium – or at least a deep-breath – on any project that could cause potential harm to our sensitive local eco-system until a formal environmental impact study can be completed and a statement issued – research that is almost a decade overdue.

Look, Volusia County doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to growth management.

The process – first, foremost and every time – involves giving massive amounts of money and incentives to the right people – those who stand to make a ton of cash developing our sensitive recharge areas and green-spaces – using the “we’ll worry about the impacts later” model and hoping against hope that they can mitigate the resulting problems using the tens-of-millions in new tax dollars they hope the projects will generate.

Another interesting element of the fun-in-the-sun, tequila-soaked “Margaritaville” development that bears watching is the teaser in Mr. Park’s article, “The community will also operate for its residents a private oceanfront beach club in Ormond-by-the-Sea that will be accessed via a loop shuttle bus.”

Ormond-by-the-sea? 

 What the fu.. (excuse me) happened to the Buffet-themed ‘Landshark Bar’ that Consolidated Tomoka teased us with when they were seeking massive concessions and variances for their vacant beachfront just north of the county’s Taj Mahal-like lifeguard station?

Never mind.  We’re just along for the lovely cruise.

What will be, will be.

And there’s not a damn thing you or I can do about it.

But, in an area where existing residents are hyper-sensitive (for obvious reasons) to the whole concept of “private” anything near what’s left of our beach – that didn’t sit well with me.

Fellow residents of Coastal Florida’s original La-La Land – sit back, spool-up a cold Margarita in your Margaritaville blender – put on your best Margaritaville flowery shirt and copyrighted flip-flops – put some Margaritaville seasoning on your trademarked salsa and chips – and anesthetize yourselves into peaceful oblivion.

Because some holding company is about to own the rights to your whole fucking way of life.

After all, life is infinitely less complicated once you sell your soul. . .

 

 

 

Angels & Assholes for February 1, 2018

Hi, Kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Earlier this week, someone on social media opined that reading Barker’s View is like watching Fox News – “Angry, twisted versions of facts that are always spun negative.”

Guilty as charged.

To show that I’m not a complete Debbie Downer, I thought we would start this week’s segment with a little game I like to call, “Guess Where?”

The rules are simple – study the photograph below and take a wild-ass guess if the thing depicted is in Kabul, Port-au-Prince, Juarez or the Daytona Beach Resort Area?

Come on.  Play along.

hotel 7

Our friends at the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Beachside Redevelopment Committee and the Regional Chamber of Commerce are welcome to join in!

It’ll be Wide.  Open.  Fun!

Asshole:          City of Deltona

It’s clear to anyone paying attention – Florida has its issues.

But something the beleaguered residents of the Sunshine State have going for us is a robust public records law – one that ensures the people’s right to know what our government is doing with our money, and why.

In fact, under the law, public officials are required to interpret record requests in the broadest possible way – that means not quibbling over non-existent technical exemptions.

Last week, we learned that the City of Deltona’s event manager, Chris O’Donnell, resigned his post just one month after the city’s $9 million community center opened.

It’s important, because Mr. O’Donnell was a major salesman for the tax funded project – including providing decision-makers with dubious projections that the center would bring in some $970,700 annually – a figure significantly higher than what similar public facilities realize.

With a few weddings, a birthday party and a smattering of civic events under its belt, is it possible that Mr. O’Donnell came to the sobering realization that Deltona’s highly touted new center wouldn’t come close to his initial earning predictions?

Or, are there internal or political conditions inside City Hall that made it impossible for him to continue?

The suspense was exacerbated by Mr. O’Donnell’s cryptic comment in the newspaper that he would never work in city government again.  That’s strange, because wild horses couldn’t pull most bureaucrats out of their cushy offices – highly sought-after jobs with important titles, regular pay and awesome benefits (I know, I was one of them. . .)     

What gives?  

Unfortunately, the details of exactly why Mr. O’Donnell left the public service remain open to speculation – but when it comes to Deltona government – it seems conjecture and guesswork are typically all we have to go on.

Why is that? 

As I understand it – Deltona’s uber-weird City Manager, Jane Shang, has unilaterally exempted O’Donnell’s letter of resignation under the terms of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act – a federal law designed to protect the privacy of medical records and healthcare information.

I also find it interesting that O’Donnell recently told the Daytona Beach News-Journal he is prohibited from discussing the terms of his departure due to a “non-disclosure” agreement he signed with Deltona.

That’s odd.

Why would a local events manager be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

I mean, literally everything about the facility – from the budget to fees to bookings – are open for public scrutiny.

Once again, the City of Deltona has succeeded in turning some routine human resources matter into a Hardy Boy’s mystery – and it is completely unnecessary.

In my view, Jane Shang and other senior administrators have worked overtime to keep the public’s prying eyes out of city business.  This includes the imposition of onerous fees and other hoops designed to frost the windows at City Hall and hide the machinations of this wholly dysfunctional government.

Again, why?     

I sincerely hope that the Daytona Beach News-Journal doesn’t take this bullshit lying down.

In my opinion, any news organization worth its salt owes it to their consumers to dig deep and challenge pseudo-exemptions to our cherished open records law by government pencil pushers with a paranoia disorder – even on issues that don’t seem that important on their face.

Angel:             Commissioner Rob Littleton, Ormond Beach

In an open letter to the editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Ormond Beach District 4 City Commissioner Rob Littleton put into words what many of us have been thinking.

As our elected officials in both municipal and county government are ramping-up an intensive “re-education” campaign designed to sell We, The People on their latest money grab – a one-half cent sales tax increase, ostensibly to fund transportation infrastructure improvements in Volusia County – Mr. Littleton is a voice of reason.

In his letter, Commissioner Littleton explained that he has a real problem with three aspects of the plan that is being foisted on us by the powerbrokers.  These include the potential for using tax dollars generated by the increase for other than transportation needs, disparities in funding distributions, and the use of public money (and staff time) to sell the tax hike with this “vaguely defined” education campaign.

Mr. Littleton asked, “Do they (constituents) want their property tax dollars used to sell this to the voters?” 

According to a dubious private study, bought and paid for by that Star Chamber of uber-wealthy elitists over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance, voters will most likely support the half-cent measure – but it will require a disciplined, well-funded, and well-executed campaign plus strong and nearly universal support from the local governments through the county.”

Well, it appears Mr. Littleton is one servant-leader who is not in lock-step with the crowd.

It takes political courage for a lone public official to stand up, speak the truth, and ask the hard questions – especially when certain last names are involved.

The fact is, given the abysmal track record of Volusia County’s current administration – and the very real fear that any tax increase will ultimately be hijacked and diverted for things other than the original selling point – Mr. Littleton is right to be skeptical of the motivations of those who stand to benefit most.

In my view, we need more like Rob Littleton in public office.

He has demonstrated the strength of character and fortitude to stand against a very strong flow and logically consider the best interests of his constituents – rather than blindly push the self-serving notions of a few political insiders with a profit motive.

Angel:             City of Daytona Beach & First Step Shelter Board

 There is a memorable quote from a long-forgotten movie starring Danny Devito – “All I know is, the choices we make dictate the life we lead.”

I’m a strong believer in personal responsibility, and the importance of good decision-making to a happy and healthy life.  My father taught me that.

My life experience proved to me that sometimes things conspire against the best of us – and when you’re living on the ragged edge of sanity, addiction, or complete financial ruin, it doesn’t take much to end up in a living hell.

Sometimes people slip through the societal cracks.  In the Halifax area, we drive past them every day, tourists walk around them at beachside parks and they live and die in the shadows.

And we shake our heads in pity – or cuss them for what they represent in a resort area already struggling with blight.

But the question remains, do we, as a society, have a moral obligation to provide for those who cannot adequately care for themselves?  That small, but very visible, segment of our local population who – for myriad reasons – can no longer meet what Maslow described as the basic physiological needs of food, water, clothing or shelter.

Well, that is the age-old conundrum – and I certainly don’t have the answer.

What I do know is that the City of Daytona Beach – and those who dutifully serve on the First Step Shelter Board – continue to work tirelessly to find a compassionate solution to the problem of chronic homelessness and the deleterious economic and social impact it is having on the Halifax area.

Even when they don’t agree – they never stop trying.

I admire that.

This week, city officials took their case to the First Step Board, explaining that conditions at the “safe zone” near Clyde Morris Boulevard and Bellevue Avenue are becoming untenable.

The solution proposed by Daytona Beach was relocating the encampment to a patch of scrub near Derbyshire Road – a location which would put the safe zone near the “Boomtown Boulevard” of the LPGA corridor.

For good reason, the board rejected that idea – but allowing a growing tent city in the middle of a major commercial corridor, literally on the doorstep of Embry-Riddle, isn’t the best option either.

It’s a tough problem, but that doesn’t mean we should stop thinking about alternative solutions.

The City of Daytona Beach has borne more than their fair share of this difficult burden, now it is time for Volusia County and other area municipalities to step up to the plate.

In my view, the Volusia County Council has – like always – simply thrown money at the problem without taking a whit of responsibility for finding workable answers.

Unless someone with the strength of personality and political clout of Mrs. Forough Hossieni takes the lead and ramrods a project (like Hope Place) to fruition, our county officials are seemingly blind to the catastrophe unfolding on our streets.

Chronic homelessness is a countywide problem that will ultimately require a countywide solution.

And with the First Step Shelter still over a year out – we desperately need workable options to the current safe zone – solutions that will require strong leadership and creativity.

Unfortunately, as usual, the Volusia County Council is out-to-lunch when it comes time for the heavy lifting.

In my view, it is high time for Ed Kelley and those dullards sitting on the dais of power in DeLand to stop sitting on their laurels – smugly content that throwing around copious amounts of our money is the sole extent of their obligation – and begin working collaboratively with Daytona Beach to develop alternatives.

Look, I take a lot of cheap shots at Daytona Beach city officials – but I have been incredibly impressed with their efforts to find a compassionate answer to an incredibly difficult problem.

Clearly, the City of Daytona Beach should not be expected to bear the full impact of this growing humanitarian crisis alone.

Trust me – with “Speed Weeks” just days away, I suspect we will see some movement on this issue very soon.  I only hope the very real needs of those we are trying to serve aren’t forgotten in the shuffle.

Asshole:          B-CU Board of Trustees

Just before this forum published last week we learned the grim facts of Bethune-Cookman University’s involvement in a weird luxury apartment development in Daytona’s struggling Midtown neighborhood – a project that was so secret apparently not one of the university’s trustees – or anyone in city government – was aware of it.

Now, Canadian developer Heron Group has been left holding the bag after B-CU abruptly backed out of the deal – and there will be hell to pay.

It is apparent that the Heron Group, unlike the B-CU board of trustees, does not hesitate to protect its interests.

A blistering lawsuit recently filed by the Heron Group’s able attorney charges – among other sins – that Bethune-Cookman engaged in fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment and breach of contract.

The suit is seeking calamitous damages against the university totaling in the tens-of-millions.

As the ramparts built by the university’s disgraced former president Dr. Edison O. Jackson continue to crumble, we are left with a very bleak picture of a terribly compromised institution – one with absolutely no substantive oversight and an immoral lack of accountability by senior administrators and trustees.

Look, I’m just a smartass with a thesaurus – but these are truly smart people – and it defies logic to say that board members and senior staff with extremely close ties to the university, and the community, simply didn’t know what was going on.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first-time intelligent people ignored their best instincts – or their responsibilities.

For instance, Bethune-Cookman University’s At Large Trustees include luminaries such as the Halifax areas own Dr. Kent Sharples.  Excuse me?

I mean, how many more local institutions of higher learning are we going to allow ol’ Kent to involve himself with?

I’m just asking.

Only in Volusia County can you go from the American Music Festival disaster to the boardroom of the CEO Business Alliance and Bethune-Cookman University. . .

In most industries, senior administrators are given one bite at that apple before they are exposed as jacklegs and cashiered out of the service – but not in academia – or economic development organizations, I suppose.

Is it possible everyone was too busy accepting honorary doctorates, bickering over commencement speakers and bullying whistleblowers to notice that Dr. Bethune’s beloved institution was being looted by some of the very administrators charged with protecting and promoting it – or was something even more nefarious afoot?

I mean, how could the Board of Trustee’s not have known?

The answers to these increasingly difficult questions will ultimately be revealed – and this sordid mess won’t end well for those who feebly attempt to sweep things under the rug and clean up the evils of the past.

This growing scandal is too big to contain now – and the very fate of a once great university hangs in the balance.  It is time for those with direct personal involvement to step aside and allow professionals to investigate, formulate the appropriate charges and begin the process of bringing those responsible to justice.

It is going to be expensive – and it is going to take time.

I say again – in my view, this difficult period should rightfully begin with the immediate resignation of the Board of Trustees.

It is time for complete transparency, and anything less is counter to the goal of exposing the truth and rehabilitating the reputation of this important institution.

Quote of the Week:

 “Do residents believe government employees should take time and effort away from serving the citizens in order to promote this new sales tax?  Do they want their property tax dollars being used to sell this to the voters?  Of course they don’t, and neither do I.”

 –Ormond Beach City Commissioner Rob Littleton, writing in the Daytona Beach News-Journal, regarding the proposed half-cent sales tax increase.

 News & Notes:

Near the end of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the title character reckons it’s time to light out for the territory, lest Aunt Sally “sivilize” him – “I can’t stand it.”  Huck said, “I been there before. . .”

I know how he felt.

Now and then you must throw off the yoke, spit the bit and go a little crazy.  It is the only effective preventative I know for the curse of complete insanity – a condition I stagger closer to everyday.

It’s time to recharge and relax.

This week, the Ancient and Honorable secret order known as “The Fun Pigs” will launch on another great adventure, seeking wanton fun and shameless debauchery in a place that holds great significance for my wife Patti and I (more on that later).

Yep!  We’ve iced down some cold beer in the Yeti, laid in a supply of fine spirits, and fueled up with a full tank of freedom as we set out on another infamous road trip.

During this brief hiatus from the roil and churn of local political shenanigans, I’ll be posting a few “Best of Barker’s View” segments – and adding some goofy quips and commentary describing our escapades on social media as well.  (If you’re not already following BV on Facebook and Twitter, now would be a great time to get off your arse and join the fun!)     

As always, thanks so much for reading.

I am proud to report that January 2018 was one of the best months in the history of this experiment in alternative opinion blogging – and I sincerely appreciate your continued interest.

Please know that I’ll be back tilting at the windmills of life here on Florida’s Fun Coast on Monday, February 12th, when Barker’s View will join Big John on “the fastest two-hours in radio” – GovStuff Live! – beginning at 4:00pm.

Find us at 1380am or online at www.govstuff.org (listen live button)!

We are also in the planning stage for a possible “Barker’s View Readers Party” – a good, old-fashioned kegger – sometime this spring, with all donations going to support those intrepid souls at Sons of the Beach in their fight to protect our heritage of beach driving and access!

Stay tuned!

Have great weekend, y’all!