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Photo in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A, September 2008; March 2018 photo below of HB's North Beach and southern Hollywood Beach, looking left-to-right, looking north, HYDE Condominium, Etaru Japanese Robatayaki restaurant, and Hollywood Beach in the distance, with umbrellas. All photos by me, © Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.
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Friday, June 2, 2017

Updated: A veritable trainwreck of a public meeting. Wednesday's embarrassing Vacation Rental Ordinance Amendment presentation at Hollywood City Hall was not a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination

Looking west at Hollywood City Hall, #HollywoodFL, around 5:40 PM.
May 31, 2017 photos above and below by South Beach Hoosier.
© 2017 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

A veritable trainwreck of a public meeting. Wednesday's embarrassing Vacation Rental Ordinance Amendment presentation at Hollywood City Hall was not a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination

Updated/Corrected at bottom on June 7th, 2017 at 3:15 PM 2017-06-02

Wow! So THAT was embarrassing. Color me dumbfounded. 
Almost but not quite... speechless.
In short, What I believe is the city's ill-conceived plan that seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all solution to solve a genuine problem for some residents in certain neighborhoods.
So tell me, when has THAT approach ever worked successfully in South Florida?

The Vacation Rental Ordinance Amendment presentation at Hollywood City Hall late Wednesday afternoon by the city's Chief Civic Affairs Officer, Lori Mertens-Black, was easily THE worst-run public meeting in the City of Hollywood I've attended since returning to South Florida from the Washington, D.C. area in late 2003.
I returned to South Florida, where I grew-up, having been an eyewitness to history at hundreds of congressional hearings over the 15 years I lived and worked in the DC area.
Hearings and presentations that had more than their fair share of high-level controversy, flashes of anger and pique, and even outright witness intimidation.

I've been to many high-profile hearings, including some where well-known people in a variety of fields, from business to unions took the Fifth, and watched as one persistent Congressman after another sought to ask a variation of the very same questions, as if the word order was what prevented the witness from testifying, not their fear of self-incrimination.
But I never saw anything in Washington quite like what I witnessed Wednesday afternoon in Hollywood.

(Of course, I HAVE seen meetings as bad, if not much worse, many times, at City of Hallandale Beach public meetings, whether City Commission, CRA or Planning & Zoning meetings. I was even once publicly threatened with arrest by a HB official for video recording portions of a scheduled public meeting where only one or two other members of the public were present. But that's another issue for another time.)

For the record, I saw Hollywood Mayor Josh Levy and Commissioners Debra Case, Traci CallariPeter Hernandez, Richard Blattner and Linda Sherwood sitting amongst the audience. I didn't see Comm. Kevin Biederman present, but he may've well come in at some point without me noticing.

This presentation was originally scheduled for the smallish Room 215 at Hollywood City Hall but had to be moved next door to the Commission Chambers after it started, because of the large number of people who showed up.
This, for a presentation that I only heard about that same day, Wednesday, shortly after Noon.

Which is to say that the A/C in Room 215 was completely inadequate to the task, and there were far too many people standing in the very narrow hallway outside the door, trying to peer in, including popular Broward County Commissioner Beam Furr.

Commissioner Furr is a former Hollywood City Commissioner and someone whom as most of you regular readers of the blog know by now is someone I've always supported politically, in large part because of his enormous common sense and willingness to take on the Broward establishment and bureaucracy in policy issues that will give residents and consumers more and better choices.
Last year he was one of the leading voices responsible for finally getting Broward into the 21st Century via Broward County's agreement that introduced Uber, Lyft and other TNCs into an area that is tourism-reliant.

I got in a quick hello and smile with him before the meeting started, as well as with Mayor Josh LevyThe presentation began with some introductory remarks by the Mayor.

Apparently, the people responsible for putting this event together thought that the this issue was VERY important. But apparently not important enough to be held in a room with more than 50 seats.
So into the Hollywood Commission Chambers everyone marched..

Lori Mertens-Black listed some of her preliminary ideas for solving the problem -ideas that she said are to be presented to the entire City Commission at a future meeting- and you won't be surprised to learn that, naturally, Hollywood being Hollywood, her diagnosis and prescription includes MUCH MORE government and much-higher fees for owners of Vacation Rental properties in Hollywood, regardless of their size or location within the city or even how often they're used in the course of a year.
Yes, one-size-fits-all.

Her preliminary plans also don't make any distinction between whether these homes are owned by out-of-state investors, or, by Hollywood residents like your friends or neighbors, who have established a relationship with Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia's HomeAway, or TripAdvisor.

But wait, hasn't the City of Hollywood already proven beyond a reasonable standard that it is structurally unable to properly administer and enforce their existing ordinance? Yes.
So, why would her solution be stakeholders paying a lot more for a system to the very people who have proven they can't run it fairly or effectively?

I say this because Mertens-Black said something so crucial in understanding the city's colossal failure to deal with what's a very real problem for some people and a few neighborhoods -but also a problem of a lack of imagination, including the city's failure to include all stakeholders in the search for solutions- that I don't want it to blind you to everything else I'm going to say.
But you'll have to hear it from someone, so it might as well be me, right?
Try not to keep thinking about THESE numbers as you go to sleep...

According to the City of Hollywood's own records, only 52 property owners of Vacation Rentals in Hollywood, out of what they claim is a universe of 785, have complied with the city's current ordinance.
That ordinance was passed in 2015, while I was out of the area.

Let that number sink in on you: 52 out of 785. 
(Personally, I think the number is well over 785.)
Batting just over .300 consistently for at least ten or so years usually gets you in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Batting .15096 does not.
Consistently batting .150 gets you to retire from baseball.
Yet 15.096% is the city's current compliance rate with Vacation Rentals.

So, in short, the very people who are most responsible for the current reality that nobody is happy with, are now the ones who are going to suddenly solve it? No, not in my opinion.

Especially as long as the city continues to fail to appreciate why so many reputable and hard-working Hollywood homeowners are not complying with the current system.
And even worse, not trying to get the people who do comply more involved in resolving the problem, as they would/should other stakeholders on any other public policy issue in the city.

Something that you would think that would have occurred to them by now, given how long this has been a problem and given how low their compliance rate is.
But clearly, as Wednesday's presentation showed, it has NOT.

Based on many personal conversations I've had with people in Hollywood who are directly involved, they don't believe the current system is anything close to being fair, and see little to make them believe that a new system will be any fairer if it is "improved" by the current crew at City Hall.
Frankly, some think it's just a flat-out money grab, nothing more.

If any issue cried out for hiring experienced-but-impartial consultants in Hollywood to help get a handle on this problem, it's this one, since the city is clearly NOT an impartial actor.
Especially when the city's first suggestions for solutions all require a LOT MORE money, even from people who have been complying with the city's current ordinance.  

Many of the people I've spoken to about this issue the past few years believe that there are many in Hollywood, including some members of the current City Commission, who would end what they are doing tomorrow if they could, even if they have done nothing wrong, and have not ever been cited with a complaint.
And who would do that with no thought as to its negative effect on tourism and the local economy.
That's the other thing that was striking.
There was ZERO serious discussion by the city's officials regarding the changing nature of tourism and the economics of that in Hollywood. 

Based on what I heard Wednesday afternoon, the people I've spoken to who are involved in this slice of the tourism trade are correct in thinking that, because most of the speakers at Wednesday's meeting made absolutely clear that they want to eliminate them.
Or, at a minimum, place them at a clear disadvantage to many other actors -consumer choices- on the scene, including the influential and well-heeled hotel establishment that dominates most aspects of Hollywood's civic and political life, including the well-run Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which is much more active than most such groups in South Florida.

After what I observed and heard Wednesday, it's clear to me that I have no choice but to send a very pointed email to Hollywood City Manager Wazir Ishmael and Mayor Josh Levy and the rest of the Hollywood City Commission next week, expanding upon many of the points that I had wanted to make at the presentation at Hollywood City Hall but never got a chance to publicly state, including many questions to the bureaucrats about why the whole meeting seemed so one-sided and lacking in perspective.

Considering the tsunami of vituperative words, insane allegations, false innuendo and snide insinuations that were flowing in the room, and the palpable sense of anger that was hanging over the proceedings from start to finish, perhaps it's just as well that I didn't walk up to the podium microphone.
You see, my plan had been to illuminate a few things and throw some much-needed doses of fact-based reality on everyone present, including the city's bureaucrats, and hold up a mirror to many of the loudest complainers at the presentation.
Let the facts get publicly aired in a way they have not thus far, including economic facts.

By the way, for what it's worth, I left the meeting at Hollywood City Hall after about 90 minutes. I did so after Comm. Peter Hernandez, above, got the opportunity to speak despite my having raised my hand multiple times less than 50 feet from Mertens-Black from the very beginning of the resident feedback portion of the session.
It's also why I got up in the first place and started taking photos before leaving.

The truth is that I doubt my comments would have gone down very well with most of the Hollywood Lakes bien-pensants in attendance, given the self-evident antagonistic and closed-mind set of so many of them, unable as they were to see the larger picture, just their own.
That is to say, the only picture they see is one where the sky-is-falling.

I'm sure this will probably come as news to many of you, even the well-informed regular readers of the blog who live outside the immediate South Florida area.
As you should know from my past posts about the city, Hollywood is a thoroughly liberal Democratic redoubt in what is Florida's most-liberal county.

Think of my old home of Arlington County VA, but with a beautiful and delightful beach ambiance instead of high-rise gray glass monstrosities full of federal bureaucrats.
But in this comparison, Hollywood also has about a good 60-80% less college-educated people living here.

You can be sure that particular email and subsequent blog post here will feature facts that can be substantiated by ample evidence, something that I thought was COMPLETELY
lacking by Mertens-Black and 99% of the local public who did get a chance to speak.

From my perspective, Mertens-Black seems to have made little-to-no effort to look critically at her own Power Point presentation and think about what might've been missing from it.

Long story short, to me, someone who, for a variety of reasons not worth going into now, is in a unique position to speak about this issue with more than a little passing knowledge of the realities, it was patently obvious.

At a minimum, what Mertens-Black ignored was that a whole swath of stakeholders DO exist in this city who own Vacation Rental properties and who DO live on the premises or next door.
Hollywood residents who don't do anything wrong because they have all sorts of reasons to be just as concerned with being good neighbors as keeping their guests happy.
But Mertens-Black acted as if such people don't exist in Hollywood.
Worse, she acts like they don't get to have their chance to participate in public policy, too.

But those kinds of people do exist, and I know several of them.

Trust me when I tell you, they are doing MUCH MORE to try to increase and encourage tourism spending in Hollywood than many of the hotels, restaurants and businesses in town who take tourism for granted, and whom, in my opinion, ought to be doing MUCH MORE than they do now.
Frankly, I might have to start naming some of some of those apathetic businesses in coming posts if the city is going to pretend that everyone is in this together, when clearly there are some who are prepared to let others do the heavy-lifting and marketing of the city and its attractions.

That email of mine next week will also emphasize some old-fashioned common sense ideas that are seldom if ever seen in government circles in South Florida when elected officials and bureaucrats say they want to solve problems - like punishing only the guilty parties, NOT everyone in a particular tourism industry niche.

Like actually suggesting workable solutions that work for the largest number of people, including tourists to the area, whom as i stated earlier, so many residents at the presentation seemed to take for granted.
As if there was no other place in South Florida or the state where they could go and have a good time and spend their money.

To me, rather than sound like a sensible way of eliminating the bad actors and actions that cause the vast majority of complaints by homeowners, the preliminary "solutions" proffered by Mertens-Black actually look like they will make things WORSE for the very people who are following the law, or waiting for the city to make their rules more reasonable, practical and enforceable based on observable facts.

That is, as opposed to what exists now, which is LOTS and LOTS of complaints to the Hollywood Police and to City Hall about a small handful of properties, most of which are clustered in the Hollywood Lakes area - the affluent area in eastern Hollywood, west of the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway that's home to both the most civic-minded and well-informed residents of the city

I know because of both past personal experience closely following what takes place in Hollywood, and because I now live in that area, though with no water in my backyard via a swimming pool or canal.

Me being me, and wanting as much citizen interaction as possible, I can't help but wonder why this presentation was scheduled for 4 PM on a hot and humid Wednesday afternoon at City Hall when there weren't any other public meetings scheduled that day.

Instead of say, 7:00 PM at the ArtsPark stage at Young Circle on Monday night, when the army of very popular Food Trucks are there and lure hundreds and hundreds of people into Downtown Hollywood.
That way the entire city could participate if they wanted to, and weigh-in with their point of view, instead of the reality, which was that 90%-plus of the people who were heard on Wednesday live in upscale Hollywood Lakes.

I guess that's a question without an answer, but it's the sort of outside-the-box thinking that the city has always been claiming for years that it wants to have MUCH MORE of, but which, factually, seldom if ever actually takes place.
Instead, it's more of the same old, same old...
The same old, same old that is NOT working.

Here are some tweets from a very frustrated me, posted hours after the presentation was over and I had some time to sit down at home and think about what I just witnessed.
You know, to give you a sense of what transpired.

MUCH MORE on this issue is coming next week, but there's clearly no point in my giving away all my thoughts and information here before I share it with the city's elected officials, and ask them to explain the logic and sensibility of the process they are embarking upon, which to me, at present, looks like directions to a dead end.
And more problems in the future.

For a person whose job entails some aspects of being in charge of a city's civic engagement, I think Lori Mertens-Black has a LOT to learn about doing it successfully.
Her failings in that regard, as well as those of other influential groups in Hollywood, many of whose dramatic failings were also on full display recently, will be the subject of a future blog post here. 
Teaser Alert: It won't be pretty.


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