What’s the Point?
Each of the participating chefs and dining establishments enjoys a reputation for culinary excellence. From their kitchens, they provide thousands of diners with menu-selected fare or unlisted specials that are intermittently available depending on fate or whimsy. However, each of these artists specializes in signature dishes with which they have become identified. To sample these extraordinary offerings, restaurant patrons would have to visit each establishment and order the iconic fare. Discovering why these creations have become widely acclaimed dining experiences would take months and cost a fortune. At the Galt Mile Wine & Food Festival, participants can achieve this in a few hours - and for a pittance. Strolling from one station to the next, you can enjoy the culinary masterpieces unveiled by each of the best chefs in town.
|Galt Mile Wine & Food Festival Site (Click Graphic for More Maps)|
An Added Benefit
As you have probably observed, State Road A1A (i.e. the Ocean Highway) is undergoing a major renovation along the Galt Mile, , including bike lanes, expanded sidewalks, traffic safety upgrades, new hardscape features and narrowing of the thoroughfare from 6 to 4 lanes. In addition to structurally inoculating the severely deteriorated stretch of A1A against the weekend and late night drag races that plagued the route for decades, the plan foresees a host of improvements commensurate with its recent designation as an official Florida Scenic Highway. FDOT plans to realize the changes in two consecutive projects.
|WEEKEND AND LATE NIGHT DRAG RACE CENTRAL ON A1A|
ONE BLOCK NORTH OF CORAL RIDGE TOWERS COMPLEX
While the major structural changes are currently underway, the aesthetic embellishments are planned for the follow-up project scheduled for 2015. Projected enhancements will include an expanded 24-foot wide sidewalk on the east side of A1A with a 10-foot pedestrian merchant zone and a 14-foot pedestrian area, a 10-foot bicycle zone, including on-street parking, street trees, landscaping in the median islands and a double row of trees defining the pedestrian area.
|CLICK GRAPHIC FOR A1A DESIGN OPTIONS|
When the plans are finalized, FDOT will butt heads with the City of Fort Lauderdale over project funding. Neighborhood association officials will work with the City to maximize improvements distilled from a series of plans drafted over the past few years. However, some of the improvements are characterized as optional, municipal spin for “Get up the scratch!”
In 1996, Galt Ocean Drive and the surrounding area was transformed from a bleak, sand-blown strip into an elegant beachfront boulevard when a $3.5 million Galt Mile Improvement Project conceived and spearheaded by Galt activist Earl Lifshey was approved and financed by residents living on the block. Although only residents from two of the four Coral Ridge Towers cooperatives and our three northernmost association members live directly on A1A (CRT East, CRT South, Plaza East, Fountainhead, Caribe), all 28 Galt Association members have a stake in elevating A1A into a world-class thoroughfare.
We can either cough up the resources required to implement enhancements declined by the City, or explore funding alternatives. To that end, the Galt Mile Community Association arrived at an understanding with the promoter and sponsors of the Galt Mile Wine & Food Festival. If well attended, an annual festival stands to become a signature community event. If the event proves successful, in addition to fueling interest in the Galt Mile, a modest percent of the income will be dedicated to a firewalled community improvement fund. When FDOT or the City classify key project elements as “optional”, despite approving them in adjacent neighborhoods, the dedicated funds can be allocated at the discretion of the Advisory Board. Galt Mile residents won’t be forced to choose between a second tier improvement or none at all.
First, the event must be successful. If enough people buy tickets and attend the event, it will be repeated again next year, triggering the opportunity to subsidize neighborhood improvements that will substantially increase the value of every home on the Galt Mile.
SO – Buy a ticket. Enjoy the soft seaside winds wafting off the Atlantic and all the other syrupy trappings of paradise punch-listed by the promoter. Let tasty tidbits titillate your palate and as you drink your way to a late Saturday buzz. Most of all, revel in the prospect that you may have added a healthy footnote to the value of your home!!!
on the Galt Mile
September 30, 2012 - This year, about 20% of the Associations along the Galt Mile will renew their bulk television contract. Whether conducted by a committee, some board members or a building manager to whom the task was delegated, the association representatives handling this responsibility are in for some surprises. They will not be surprised by Comcast’s paper thin competition. Alternative bulk television service providers DirecTV and Dish Network are still using a contractual format that requires executing an additional (second) agreement with one of several broadcaster-authorized local vendors to perform maintenance services. These small “Information Technology” companies deftly cycle in and out of business, often resurfacing as some virgin enterprise that carries no liability for agreements executed under their previous incarnation. This bear trap loophole is usually a deal breaker.
AT&T has been courting Galt Mile associations for years, promising to challenge Comcast with its first viable competitor since the AT&T Broadband cable juggernaut merged with Comcast in 2003. Formed in 1999, AT&T Broadband was the largest provider of cable television services in the country. Spirited from IBM in 1997, new CEO C. Michael Armstrong hoped to recapture AT&T’s former corporate clout by morphing it into a communications supermarket. He spent close to $100 billion buying John Malone’s Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI) - which made AT&T the nation’s largest cable provider - and MediaOne in the hope that these cable companies would synergize a platform to build a nationwide AT&T-branded local phone service.
In 2002, the embattled CEO restructured the company, spinning off AT&T Wireless, AT&T Business, AT&T Consumer, and AT&T Broadband into separate companies. After rejecting Comcast’s 2001 purchase offer of $44.5 billion, a general Wall Street perception that AT&T lacked the managerial skill to effectively converge the company’s communication assets convinced the AT&T Board to abandon Armstrong’s vision. They finally agreed to a $29 billion stock transaction with Comcast for AT&T’s broadband division. By gobbling up its larger competitor, Comcast became the nation’s largest cable company – by far – leaving AOL Time Warner a distant number 2. Capitalizing on the fiscal clout that accompanies its frontrunner status, in January 2011 Comcast coughed up $30 billion for content goliath NBCUniversal.
In 2005, Baby Bell SBC Communications spent $16 billion to consume its former parent’s corporate remnants (reconstituting AT&T’s long-distance division and 10 of the 22 Baby Bells) and rebranded itself as AT&T, Inc. One year later, the reincarnated AT&T acquired BellSouth, valued at approximately $86 billion (or 1.325 shares of AT&T for each share of BellSouth at the close of trading December 29, 2006), adding and rebranding Cingular Wireless and Yellowpages.com to the AT&T asset base. A failed $39 billion bid in 2011 to acquire T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom would have made AT&T and Verizon the sole mobile platforms for megaportals like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and eBay.
AT&T Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Randall L. Stephenson refocused corporate resources to hawking the company’s Uverse brand, which it first conceived in 2006 as a vehicle for combining high-speed internet (HSI), IP telephone, and IPTV services. Hoping to maximize their share of an exploding “triple play” market built on bandwidth-intensive bundled products, it is going head to head with Comcast, the company that previously devoured AT&T Broadband. Ironically, their greatest obstacle is AT&T Mobility’s pitch black reputation for delivering cellular services as AT&T Wireless. In December 2010, Consumer Reports named AT&T as the worst wireless provider in the country. One year later, they earned the nefarious distinction of repeating as the nation’s worst wireless provider.
|AT&T CHAIRMAN AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE|
OFFICER RANDALL L. STEPHENSON
Preparing to compete for customers they once abused as AT&T Broadband, AT&T conceived a nationwide Public Relations campaign to catapult their Uverse entry into the bundled services market. As AT&T’s Uverse and Comcast’s Xfinity began a multi-year media mudfest, denigrating one another’s competing products, Comcast had difficulty exploiting AT&T’s disreputable cellular service history. Like the pot and the kettle, their shared vulnerability immunized each to the other’s anti-consumer indictments.
In 2004 and 2007, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey affirmed that Comcast had the worst customer satisfaction rating of any company or government agency in the country, including the Internal Revenue Service. On October 1, 2008, J.D. Power and Associates’ annual customer satisfaction survey for the nation’s top 10 largest cable and satellite television providers scored Comcast in the bottom 5 for each region of the country – and dead last in the demographically weighted East Region. In 2010, the iconic internet based consumer-review service - Rateitall.com - reported the average consumer review of Comcast as 1.7 out of 5 stars, again underscoring the chronic failure of its customer service policy. Despite Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ creation of a “Comcast Cares Digital Team” to improve customer service, the cable giant’s reputation remained fetid.
|COMCAST CEO BRIAN ROBERTS|
From local headquarters in Coral Springs, AT&T Account Executives have been dragging association board members and managers from all over Fort Lauderdale to upbeat private presentations meant to bolster confidence in the company’s Uverse brand and mute the customer service fiascos of their wireless division. These marketing events would invariably conclude with an insincere promise that the described services would be available within weeks at the potential customer’s location.
After years of misrepresenting the availability of their products to local associations, U-verse finally began providing internet services to Galt Mile consumers. However, they are not yet equipped to offer bulk television services to associations along Galt Ocean Drive. When asked why bulk television services were available to Associations on the other side of A1A, like Coral Ridge Towers, a representative of AT&T’s commercial development division admitted that AT&T expansion plans have less to do with proximity than the costs of mitigating structural and political obstacles. While Comcast is legally bound to allow AT&T paid access to their proprietary interred cable conduit along the Galt Mile beachfront, until the gateway charges enable AT&T to profitably deliver their Uverse TV services, Comcast will continue to monopolize the bulk television market along Galt Ocean Drive.
|CORAL RIDGE TOWERS|
Squaring off over a “triple play” bonanza that was expanded to a “quadruple play” Holy Grail by the addition of mobile broadband, these two corporate leviathans had an epiphany while swimming in debt from their respective evolutions into behemothic megacartels. Instead of building costly voice and mobile broadband networks across the country, Comcast teamed with Verizon earlier this year to compete with Uverse in Seattle, Spokane, San Francisco and a dozen other markets. To a lesser extent, Verizon is also handling bundled voice and mobile broadband services for other cable providers. Rather than financing a nationwide residential DSL-based broadband network inherently inferior to Comcast’s fiber footprint, AT&T is eying a similar pact with AOL Time Warner. Once comfortable with their new dance partners, only the FCC has the juice to enjoin one or both corporate gluttons from succumbing to instinctive “Black Widow” behavior and devouring their mates.
Associations that recently renewed Comcast contracts learned about changes in the telecommunications industry that impact how Comcast delivers services. In the two years after the “Digital Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005” forced broadcasters to transition from analog to digital transmissions on June 12, 2009, cable providers like Comcast distributed and installed no-frills Digital Transport Adapters (DTAs) that enabled customers to receive the digital signals carrying their basic cable content. Since every analog channel reclaimed by federal law unshackled enough bandwidth for 3 new High Definition digital channels, or 15 new standard digital channels, the telecommunications law squeezed out enough virgin wavelength for federal bureaucrats to hold a multi-$billion bandwidth auction.
Although the public legally owns the airwaves, elected officials who appointed themselves to manage “our asset” traded bandwidth for campaign contributions, no-show jobs for otherwise unemployable friends and relatives or condos in Palm Beach or Lake Tahoe. Tainted by broadcasters engaged in collusive bidding, the auction only brought in $19.592 billion for more than $50 billion worth of bandwidth. Of that, only $7.3 billion was transferred to the general fund of the Treasury (i.e. to the public).
Although ordered to begin all digital broadcasts by June 12, 2009, cable and satellite providers continued transmitting both analog and digital signals until they could develop, test and install the significantly less costly DTAs. Since the adapters (DTAs) were ostensibly designed to interpret basic digital signals, broadcasters would save truckloads of cash by omitting the interactive capabilities inherent in more costly digital set-top boxes. Each cable or satellite company further tweaked its DTAs to only decipher their unique proprietary signal, helping to stamp out an emerging niche market for generic DTAs. After digitally “customizing” their DTAs, each company forced its customers to install them on any television not already affixed to one of its more expensive interactive digital cable boxes.
|DTA INSTALLATION KIT|
Since the technologically simplistic devices were built for the sole purpose of carrying signal for basic cable channels, transmissions for premium services and/or an in-house channel could only be accessed by one of several more advanced digital set–top boxes or by inserting specialized adapters into the local system’s control panel. These “inserts” currently enable bulk service customers – like many Galt Mile associations – to watch HBO, Showtime, Starz, The Movie Channel, Cinemax, an in-house channel and other premium offerings on televisions fitted with DTAs. This is coming to an end.
The same legislation that enabled federal bureaucrats to fire sale our bandwidth also mandated “enhancements” to broadcasting consistency and consumer content control. Since the rudimentary DTAs are not equipped with programmable parental controls, premium content providers (i.e. HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, etc.) have prohibited Comcast from transmitting their signal to televisions fitted to DTAs. As a result, whenever a Comcast bulk services contract comes up for renewal, the “inserts” that enable DTAs to deliver these premium services must be removed from the main panel.
A small minority of Galt Mile associations fund lavishly expensive bulk television services for members. Since their televisions are connected to one of several premium digital channel lineups using interactive digital set-top boxes instead of DTAs, they are largely unaffected by these changes. However, a vast majority of Galt Mile Associations have historically controlled costs by tailoring a basic or extended channel lineup with an in-house channel and possibly one or two premium channels.
|DIGITAL TRANSPORT ADAPTER (DTA)|
While the inserts that provide access to in-house channels will remain intact as well as the full array of basic cable channels, bulk service customers that contract for limited premium services, such as two HBO channels or one Starz channel, will no longer be able to receive them on televisions connected to DTAs. The only exceptions to this policy are contracts that are renewed by exercising an automatic renewal clause, since they legally preclude alteration by either party.
As such, many Galt Mile associations will be faced with a choice upon renewing a contract. They can eliminate the one or two premium channels from their package, thereby saving each unit owner a few dollars every month for their association-assessed television services. While unit owners who still wanted the premium channels could purchase them directly from Comcast, the cost would skyrocket, often by 5 times what they saved when cut from the association bulk package.
For associations that want to hang on to their low-cost premium channels, Comcast has agreed to a variety of compensatory compromises. For example, instead of a basic cable plan accessed by up to 2 or 3 free DTAs, in certain cases Comcast agreed to replace one of the DTAs with a digital set–top box and upgrade a basic channel lineup to one of their premium digital plans (i.e. their entry level “Digital Starter” plan) - under the same financial terms.
|DIGITAL SET-TOP BOX|
To offset the loss of their one or two premium content channels on sets affixed to DTAs, a television connected by a digital set–top box will receive the full family of channels offered by their premium content provider. For instance, for the same price, unit owners receiving two Showtime channels on every set would trade off those channels on their DTA-connected TVs and receive all 8 Showtime channels on any television attached to a digital set-top box; along with hundreds of free movies, free Showtime On Demand broadcasts, a substantially expanded premium channel lineup and the full complement of interactive On Demand services. The formula is applicable to any premium content provider (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz, etc.)
In associations that make the trade-off, unit owners who previously paid extra for a “Digital Starter” premium channel lineup or rented a digital set–top box to access premium services will no longer have to pay the monthly rental charges or service fees for these upgrades that are now included in their association cable package. However, the monthly costs for unit owners who subscribe to additional premium services or rent additional boxes will be unaffected by this agreement. Conversely, owners who have heretofore chosen to forgo paying for the additional features delivered by a digital set-top box will receive them at no additional cost.
Feeling the competitive heat, a few years ago Comcast and AT&T began offering associations financial incentives for initiating or renewing a bulk services contract. While these incentives have long played a part in finalizing a variety of utility agreements, they proliferate in neighborhoods that vendors consider "in play", where customers are newly empowered by a previously unavailable choice of vendors.
Since this leveraging tactic surfaces in every community where an embedded monopoly is confronted by a viable competitor, several communications consulting companies have carved out a niche market by representing preferred customers - like associations - in their negotiations with cable and satellite providers for these incentives. A majority of the agreements they negotiate for client associations yield checks written by the broadcaster to the associations for signing new or renewed agreements. The amount paid to the consultants for their services depends on the scope of financial benefits they exact from the provider.
Converged Services, Inc. (CSI), among the nation’s largest cable consulting companies, has been extremely active in the Galt Mile neighborhood. They’ve cultivated relationships with educational and advocacy organizations like the Community Association Institute (CAI), the Community Advocacy Network (CAN), Community Association Management Professionals (CAMP), etc., to market their services at association trade shows and expos. Targeting associations with expiring cable contracts, company CEO Jim Adams explains to prospective clients that his consultants’ intimate knowledge of Comcast’s business model and those of other cable and satellite companies affords them unique negotiating advantages. Adams and members of his entourage offer to negotiate on behalf of the association in exchange for a healthy percentage (usually one third) of whatever financial considerations they elicit from Comcast. Of several Galt Mile associations that contracted for these “consulting” services, for each one that seemed satisfied, another expressed regret for not having negotiated directly with Comcast.
Also known as a door fee, the cash disbursement provided to associations for signing a new Comcast contract is technically based on the number of units covered by the agreement. For instance, if a 200-unit association negotiates an all-cash signing incentive for $24,000, it would technically receive a door fee of $120 per unit. Of course, the signing incentive could alternatively be used – in part – to lower contract rates. Structuring at least part of the signing incentive as a door fee also addresses legal issues that impact the broadcaster’s access rights.
|CSI CEO JIM ADAMS|
The point people in Comcast’s marketing division are account executives. After being assigned to a neighborhood, an account executive will visit with associations that are heading into the final stretch of a Comcast contract. In the past, these field representatives developed personal relationships with association officials, managers and committee members charged with negotiating bulk services contracts. After a deal was inked, the representative became a critical contact person, bridging Comcast’s chronic servicing failures. As confidence in the company’s empty servicing promises bottomed out in South Florida, Comcast’s credibility became wholly dependent on veteran field personnel – like 27-year account executive Bill Talley on the Galt Mile – whose personal promises were often the only reason why associations renewed their contracts.
|27-YEAR COMCAST ACCT|
EXECUTIVE BILL TALLEY
Account Executives that service associations answer to a regional Director or Manager of Commercial Development. About 5 years ago, the Comcast Director of Commercial Development in Broward County was Ken Crawford. When Crawford sought to work with the neighborhood association to improve service in 2007, corporate superiors precluded him from addressing the company’s repeated miscues on a neighborhood level, insisting instead that he require customers to negotiate a frustrating and futile customer service maze. A year later, Crawford left Comcast to serve as the Director of Business Development at CSI.
|FORMER COMCAST MNGR|
Maggie Hutter is currently at the vanguard of Comcast’s local association business strategy. Serving as the company’s Broward County Manager of Commercial Development, Hutter and her account executives (such as Miriam Decker on the Galt Mile) realize that they must offer more than promises to wrap up a deal. Along with tailoring a television package to an association’s needs and addressing servicing concerns, Hutter and her account staffers must be prepared to negotiate association “door fees”.
|COMCAST'S MAGGIE HUTTER|
BROWARD MNGR COMM. DEV.
When contacted by CSI or some competing negotiating agent, Hutter knows what to expect. At the end of a horse trading session, Comcast will spread around some cash and walk away with a long-term association contract. If association officials choose to negotiate on their own behalf, Comcast will accord them equal standing with the professional stand-ins, clarifying that signing incentives are applicable to long-term contracts, generally for 7 to 10 years.
To fend off an unparalleled history of servicing ineptitude, Comcast is revising its call center strategy. Instead of filling the map with small call centers tasked with managing a broad range of cable catastrophes in a local catchment area, the company is creating large customer service centers that specialize in addressing one specific category of complaint. As the industry exploded, so did problems attributable to fast-changing technology, evolving business models, new services and other issues confronting call center personnel. Ill-equipped to resolve complicated technology snafus or small business scaling issues, staffers would pass problems up the chain to supervisors who disingenuously promised to “call you back”. After being bounced around for hours by clueless staffers, customers would beg for a costly service call, an eminently preferable alternative to calling back once their anger subsided.
Since each of the new call centers will concentrate on one of several specific customer service issues, staffers will receive in-depth training to resolve those specialized problems. According to Vice President of government and public relations Ray Purser in Comcast’s Houston region, the company is creating "Centers of Excellence" that individually specialize in sales calls, billing calls, repair calls and other targeted customer dilemmas. Houston will specialize in repair calls. A center in Tinley Park, Illinois will concentrate on billing issues. Business Services will be managed in Manchester, New Hampshire. Last year, the company opened a dedicated Spanish-language call center in Miramar. Under this new format, instead of forcing complainants through an often futile service wringer, calls will be routed to the center that specializes in the problem described by the customer.
V.P. RAY PURSER
Hutter knows that her company’s call centers are perceived as spin centers, where customers who patiently waited from 10 am to 2 pm for a tech to revive their lost service are told that the tech never showed because the customer unknowingly cancelled the appointment. For years, corporate call centers – seemingly based on other planets – have historically devised outrageous excuses for service snafus. Hutter and Galt Mile account executives plan to open communications with the neighborhood association. In addition to smoothing long neglected community relations, soliciting input from association officials who regularly field Comcast complaints will hopefully lead to improved service. On the bright side, if Hutter’s efforts bear fruit, the company may see a modest reduction in traffic on the popular nationwide internet venting blog “Comcastmustdie.com”.
FEMA Out to Kill
Flood Insurance Costs to Jump in October
July 25, 2012 - On April 4, 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced the termination of a program enacted in 2006 that allowed agents writing national flood insurance policies to rebate a portion of their commission to cash-strapped customers. In 1996, the Florida Legislature enacted Senate Bill 438, providing a statutory foundation for commission rebates (Florida Statute 626.572) to help smaller “Write Your Own” (WYO) private insurers better compete with industry goliaths. While the statute enabled individual insurance agents to voluntarily rebate a part of their commissions, in 2005 Senate Bill 1912 extended that option to licensed insurance agencies, authorizing them to similarly discount their products.
Delighted by the opportunity to expand consumer access to their products, especially in smaller communities serviced by local agents, FEMA officially initiated a commission rebate program later that year. Unburdened by corporate drawdowns for fueling the company’s private aircraft or sending corporate executives on fact-finding missions in the world’s gambling capitols, giving up a few points enabled mom and pop agencies to snag clients from industry giants. These voluntary flood policy commission rebates of up to 15% concomitantly played a critical role in the fiscal survival strategy of thousands of Florida associations.
Of the nation’s 5,554,617 flood policies, 37% cover Florida properties. As of May 31, 2012, the 459 governmental jurisdictions in the state that participate in the program represent 2,050,991 flood policies with a total exposure of $471,343,906,700. By definition, an overwhelming majority of these properties pepper the high-risk Florida coastline. These highly prized beachside locations also house a great majority of the State’s 60,000 common interest communities.
FEMA does not directly regulate insurance agents who sell standard flood insurance policies. The Write Your Own (WYO) private insurers that actually write the policies also market them through proprietary agent networks and administer any associated claims. Once a claim is submitted and processed, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) reimburses the WYO.
However, the Code of Federal Regulations (44 CFR, Section 62.23 and the “Financial Assistance/Subsidy Arrangement” 44 CFR, Part 62, Appendix A) that authorizes FEMA to administer the NFIP specifically empowers the agency to set standards that govern how participating WYO Companies sell and market NFIP flood insurance products. Changes made to these standards are supposed to be driven by some public purpose objective.
When Hurricane Andrew’s unprecedented devastation in1992 awakened FEMA to the necessity of pro-active emergency management, mitigation became the cornerstone of federal disaster assistance. On November 29, 1993, the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration (FIMA) was created to analyze and manage long-term risk from natural hazards. To reduce flood losses, one of its three new divisions adopted and enforced floodplain management regulations and created the NFIP to provide property owners with affordable flood insurance.
Exclaiming in a recent memo that FIMA had received numerous inquiries focusing on the federal National Flood Insurance Program, FEMA Deputy Associate Administrator for Federal Insurance Edward L. Connor added that “insurance rebating has been the source of many complaints from agents and companies.” After indicting the practice as “confusing to consumers,” Connor dropped the bomb, announcing “...effective October 1, 2012, WYO Companies shall not authorize the rebating of commissions on new or renewal NFIP policies.”.
|FEMA DEPUTY ADMIN. FOR FEDERAL|
INSURANCE EDWARD L. CONNOR
The enigmatic FEMA maneuver simultaneously stripped thousands of small agencies of their ability to compete with industry behemoths while significantly driving up insurance costs for thousands of associations. The fiscal havoc wreaked on hundreds of thousands of homeowners living in affected associations was compounded by the questionable zone assignments applied to the Agency’s recently redrafted flood insurance rate maps. Although data assembled by FEMA engineers enhanced the maps’ topographic accuracy, a new set of arbitrary risk assumptions approved by Agency bureaucrats will add $thousands in unjustified premium costs to associations unable to “grandfather” rates applicable to their former zoning designation. Simultaneously, recent Congressional negotiations over agency funding provides for a 5 – 20% general rate increase (depending on hazard zone designation) that’s scheduled to incrementally impact all renewals and new flood policies after October 1, 2012.
FEMA is inherently steeped in operational dogma. Although its mandate dictates a response to events with impacts that are virtually unpredictable, Congressional critics insist that FEMA adhere to a traditional business model – like the Post Office. In exchange for a series of 17 short-term Congressional funding reprieves since 2008, FEMA officials repeatedly made amorphous promises to raise rates and cut overhead. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed “The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012”, which authorizes NFIP funding through September 30, 2017. However, the agency’s $18 billion debt is in no way impacted by the rebates, which are wholly funded from the commissions voluntarily contributed by individual agents. Why did FEMA suddenly reverse a policy that helped consumers without costing the agency (or taxpayers) a dime?
The complaints fielded by Connor weren’t from customers or the thousands of agents that benefitted from the program. They were lodged by a small number of disgruntled agents employed by insurance conglomerates, including associates from Connor’s former employers Allstate and Chubb. When these agents complained to corporate about losing business to discounting local competitors, the insurance juggernauts sent lobbyists to convince FEMA that competition is “un-American”. Fearful of alienating prospective employers when faced with ‘life after government service”, FEMA bureaucrats jumped on the bandwagon. While insuring a cushy post-retirement parachute is certainly a time-honored motivation for shafting the public, Federal and State bureaucrats try to avoid appearing like shareholders in the institutions they are supposedly regulating.
Connor initially declared “The goals of the NFIP are better served by a system of uniform national pricing that will ensure that policyholders pay the same price for the same risk.” Hoping it would resonate with the public, Connor issued his outcry as if he were spearheading a campaign to protect the beleaguered agency’s premium income or shield consumers from an inequitable or fraudulent pricing scheme. However, NFIP receives full price for policies funded in part by commission rebates, consumers save money and smaller agencies successfully compete by offering clients a better price for the same product. When consumer advocates attacked the decision as a blatant attempt to favor a small group of politically powerful vendors by eliminating their competition, FEMA bureaucrats whipped up a new public rationalization for this overtly anti-consumer policy. A FEMA spokesperson announced that the program was being discontinued to stop a proliferation of “policy churning.”
This nefarious-sounding “buzzword” actually refers to the consumer practice of switching policies. When precipitated by an unscrupulous agent’s misrepresentations to a policyholder to generate additional commission income, the term connotes fraudulent behavior. However, it also applies when a customer cancels a policy to take advantage of a competitor’s better rates. The double-entendre backfired. Instead of quelling growing opposition to the ill-conceived decision, the statement functionally conceded FEMA’s intention to pump up profits for industry giants by stamping out local competitors.
Several petitions aimed at pressuring FEMA to rescind this damaging decision before its October 1st effective date are being circulated – some by the insurance agencies that were functionally crippled by FEMA’s patronage of their larger competitors and others by advocates for the thousands of associations (and millions of homeowners) whose insurance rates will unnecessarily skyrocket. One such petition was launched by the Community Advocacy Network (CAN), and can be accessed online at: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/petition-to-fema-regarding-detrimental-decision-to-disc.html.
By taking half a minute to add your signature, , you can help thwart an openly abusive attempt by FEMA bureaucrats to forbid competition, push local agencies into the cornfield and stick it to South Florida association homeowners. Can you think of a more productive way to spend the next 30 seconds?
The Devil’s in the Details
June 23, 2012 - Tackling an overstuffed agenda in the final Galt Mile Presidents Council meeting before the summer hiatus, officials from 22 of the 27 Galt Mile associations heard from a panoply of public officials and local bureaucrats. Along with updates by State and County representatives, reports from member associations about shared operational stumbling blocks and a spot review of the failed 2012 omnibus association bill, a team of municipal officials helped defuse community enmity over confusing threats mailed by the City to unit owners and their associations. After apologizing for the ill-conceived correspondences and discussing contradictions that belabor several vague municipal policies, officials from building services, code compliance and the City Manager’s office expressed their intention to cooperatively develop non-contentious viable resolutions with Commissioner Roberts and neighborhood association officials. Kicking off the proceedings was District 91 Statehouse Representative George Moraitis, who distinguished himself in his 2011 rookie year by shepherding his Omnibus Association Bill to fruition.
|PRESIDENTS COUNCIL CHAIR PIO IERACI|
Rep. George Moraitis: The Association Bills
Moraitis’ star rose within a year of winning the District 91 Statehouse seat vacated by Ellyn Bogdanoff when she ran for the District 25 Senate seat formerly occupied by Florida CFO Jeffrey Atwater. Months after his election, Community Advocacy Network (CAN) Executive Director Donna Berger (Managing Partner at Katzman Garfinkel & Berger – KG&B) and Becker & Poliakoff (B&P) lobbyists Peter Dunbar and Travis Moore decided to collaborate on four association bills built around Ellyn Bogdanoff’s groundbreaking 2010 legislation quashing a $multi-million mandate to retrofit sprinklers in high rise associations.
|GOVERNOR RICK SCOTT SIGNS HOUSE BILL 1195|
WITH REP. GEORGE MORAITIS AND PIO IERACI
The final legislative configuration teamed Senator Mike Fasano’s Senate Bill 530 with Representative George R. Moraitis’ House Bill 1195. Backed by the two legal powerhouses and coordinated statewide support from millions of association members, the bills empowered associations to punish deadbeats, prevent speculators from forcing their neighbors to subsidize their defaults, streamline bulk purchases to diminish a bloated statewide unit inventory and reverse dozens of expensive and counterproductive legislative glitches enacted in previous years. On June 16, 2011, Moraitis was recognized by a grateful coalition of community associations as “Legislator of the Year.”
|REP GEORGE MORAITIS AND DONNA BERGER|
LEGISLATOR OF THE YEAR
Feeding on the infectious enthusiasm generated by his first-year legislative triumph, Moraitis decided to use the same formula to further empower associations in 2012. Teaming with newly elected Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and buoyed by unprecedented support from millions of condo and co-op owners, his House Bill 319 was poised for success. Drawing on impressive legal clout and a busload of political influence, as his bill whizzed through House Committees, Bogdanoff’s Senate counterpart followed suit. In addition to allowing associations to postpone retrofitting their elevators with Phase II Firefighter Service until their next modernization (when the cost becomes negligible), fast tracking impact glass hurricane protection, suspending voting and use rights for delinquent unit owners and deadbeat speculators and providing Cooperative homeowners with statutory rights that previously only benefitted condo owners, the bills corrected glitches affecting the maintenance of association records, Board member certification and association recalls. Suddenly, the music stopped.
|GEORGE MORAITIS, PIO IERACI & ELLYN BOGDANOFF|
When a legal problem dogs an association, a good attorney can give its members a new lease on life. However, when attorneys opt to believe that they are better equipped to make decisions for an association than its members, it’s time to reboot the process. A conflict over a statutory provision that spelled out a lender’s financial obligation when foreclosing association properties suddenly took center stage in Moraitis’ high-flying bill. Called the “Safe Harbor” amendment, it limits what a foreclosing bank must pay in association dues to “12 months of the unit’s unpaid assessments or 1 percent of the original mortgage debt, whichever amount is less.” This crushingly inequitable statutory guideline has been manipulated by lenders to push hundreds of associations into receivership.
In response, cash-strapped associations hired specialized collection attorneys to challenge lenders who exploited safe harbor protections in order to stiff associations and force their unit owners to pay the bank’s ignored obligation. Using a variety of unorthodox tactics, some lawyers proved in court that the bank’s claim to title was faulty or fraudulent, enabling the judge to award title to the association. Since a client association’s very survival was often at stake, others flirted with extortion and blackmail by hinting that the local bank branch would be shunned by its unit owner customers if word leaked out that the lender cheated their association, forcing its unit owners to subsidize the lender’s unpaid dues.
Becker & Poliakoff, despite a deep roster of association clients, also represents Bank of America, HUD and other “A” list mortgage lenders. Rationalizing a need to “protect associations from themselves” and exhorting that angry banks may hit back, firm attorneys insisted that Moraitis add language to his bill confirming that associations were not entitled to one cent more from lenders than delimited by the safe harbor provision. Executive Director Yeline Goin of CALL (Community Association Leadership Lobby), B&P’s advocacy stepchild, warned that deep-pocketed banks would countersue or threaten to choke financing in the association market (a threat repeatedly leveled by the lending industry to intimidate lawmakers). Despite their obvious conflict of interest, B&P arguments resonated with Moraitis, a real estate attorney who feared being blamed for threatened lender reprisals. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as popular with the vast pool of association supporters who asked “Why is a pro-bank provision in an association bill?” Ironically, their question became the bill’s epitaph.
Ignoring its negative impact on his credibility and hoping to win points for sticking to his guns, Moraitis stubbornly refused to sever the controversial provision from his bill. The results of a CAN poll released in the February 2012 edition of the Florida Community Association Journal suggested that 82% of the bill’s association supporters perceived the provision as a favor to B&P’s lender clients. Since the bill had already survived a full House vote and Bogdanoff's sister bill (Senate Bill 680) enjoyed good support in the Senate, bill proponents surmised that it could weather a deep split in support if they nervously stood by Moraitis and his allied “legal muscle” while momentum propelled it across the finish line.
They ignored a factor that was staring them in the face since day one of the session. Florida Senators were not about to risk alienating voters they might need to survive a redistricting process they could no longer manipulate. After flipping through dozens of angry emails from his hometown Space Coast constituents on the final day of the legislative session, Senate President Mike Haridopolos decided that Moraitis’ safe harbor provision was political Cyanide. Following a 60-second conscience-testing epiphany, Haridopolos drop kicked the bill off the Senate calendar, consigning it to the Tallahassee cornfield.
Having recounted his legislation’s disappointing implosion, Moraitis promised the Galt Mile audience to revive the failed bill in the upcoming 2013 legislative session. After admitting that dropping the divisive safe harbor language could have salvaged the bill’s positive provisions (and chalked up another impressive “first term” win), Moraitis shifted focus to his efforts on behalf of Port Everglades.
Moraitis Protects the Port
When the Panama Canal is reconfigured to accommodate supersized transports, tankers and cruise ships in about two years, plummeting shipping costs will significantly shift newly ramped up international patterns of commerce. Port Everglades will have to compete with other East Coast and Gulf ports for an impending trade windfall that could deliver a steroidal jerk to the State and local economic recovery. Moraitis pointed out that while tourism continues to play a major role in the regional economy, it has been nosed out by the Marine Industry. “Port improvements enhance both of these economic engines,” exclaimed Moraitis.
In preparation for the projected August, 2014 completion of the canal’s expansion, ports in Savannah, New Orleans, Norfolk, Baltimore, Miami, the Port of South Louisiana (tonnage king of U.S. ports) and Port Everglades are racing to adapt their facilities for berthing and offloading oceangoing monsters carrying two to three times the cargo of the largest vessels currently able to navigate the canal. Despite a gubernatorial death grip on the State budget, Representative Moraitis was instrumental in lining up state funding for the construction of a turning notch, deepening and widening the port channel and development of an Intermodal Container Transfer Facility. Moraitis stated “These improvements will bring $billions in new revenues and tens of thousands of new jobs to Broward County and the State.” He’s right. It will.
STEVEN M. CERNAK
Commenting on the port’s new leadership, Moraitis acknowledged “I’m pleased with the Broward Commission’s appointment of Steven M. Cernak as new Port Director.” Cernak, who doubled revenues while serving as Director of the Port of Galveston before recently taking the reins from retiring Port Everglades Director Richard Allen, just completed similar structural improvements in Galveston, where he deepened the channel from 40 to 45 feet. In Port Everglades Cernak plans to enlarge the channel to the 50-foot depth required for Post Panamax shipping (nomenclature for ships that are 25% longer and 50% wider than the largest vessels able to pass through the canal). Instead of continuing to divert cruise ships to Miami when port facilities are overloaded, Moraitis described a $54 million renovation project for four cruise terminals that Cernak is building in partnership with the Carnival Corporation.
|PANAMAX VESSEL ENTERS LOCK|
While collaborating on the association bills, Moraitis and Bogdanoff also teamed to promote legislation needed by the Broward Commission to enable local projects. Keeping a promise to the Galt Mile Community Association, Moraitis safeguarded vulnerable state funds appropriated to renourish our shrinking beach. He also described his funding efforts for other Broward infrastructure projects, including the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport expansion. Before issuing a reminder about his upcoming Statehouse campaign, the incumbent candidate detailed plans to “continue building local economic infrastructure, bring more jobs to Broward, improve educational opportunities and fight for better access to healthcare right here at home.”
Chip LaMarca’s Staffers
|COMMISSIONER CHIP LAMARCA'S DIST|
DIRECTOR JOHN DAVID NEWSTREET
The meeting segued to Broward Commissioner Chip LaMarca’s representatives, Commission aide D. Ryan Saunders and recently hired District Director John David Newstreet. After introducing himself and describing his previous service to Senators Mel Martinez, George LeMieux and Ocala Congressman Cliff Stearns, Newstreet invited attendees to contact him with any County concerns. LaMarca’s staffers recognized Plaza South resident Terry Claire, who the Commissioner appointed to the Broward County Library Advisory Board given her leading role in repeatedly rescuing the Galt Ocean Mile Library from the County budget axe. After promising that LaMarca will keep the local library’s doors open, Saunders shot off a reminder about the key role played by his boss in reviving the threatened Beach Renourishment project.
|TERRY CLAIRE AND FRIENDS OF GALT|
LIBRARY PRES. HERMAN GARDNER
Bruce Roberts and the City Team
Galt Mile President Pio Ieraci introduced District 1 City Commissioner Bruce Roberts, who opened by enumerating a litany of municipal issues impacting the Galt Mile community. Referring to the new panhandling ordinance, Roberts asserted “It doesn’t target homeless people; it targets illegal activity, whether or not the perpetrator is homeless.” The ordinance outlaws aggressive panhandling - when a request for money is couched in an implied threat. Roberts also clarified that the law recognizes that being homeless doesn’t entitle people to treat public parks like their private property. In addition to establishing a set of citywide panhandling prohibitions, it precludes any soliciting in the downtown Business District – mirroring a 1993 ordinance that shields the Fort Lauderdale beach from panhandlers.
|CITY COMMISSIONER BRUCE ROBERTS|
|“CHEPO” & COMM ROBERTS|
Thanking Commodore resident José “Chepo” Vega for his ongoing efforts to maintain the Galt Ocean Mile neighborhood in a “Disney-like manner,” Roberts lamented the recent explosion of “Utility Graffiti” on the street and sidewalks. He imparted plans to arrange a meeting with Damage Prevention Liaison Sergio J. Clavijo of Sunshine State One-Call, contractors responsible for the admittedly improper markings, the utilities they work for and Galt Mile officials.
|SERGIO J. CLAVIJO|
Prehistoric Open Permits
Accompanied by a team of City officials with ties to the Building Division, Roberts addressed two festering neighborhood hot potatoes. With the help of Fort Lauderdale Building Services Manager Terry Burgess, Roberts sought to explain why Galt Mile associations and unit owners received letters threatening financial retribution for unresolved construction permits opened in their names. With few exceptions, construction performed in Fort Lauderdale requires a permit issued by the building department. Along with defining a project’s scope and verifying contractor credentials, the permit forms a basis for follow-up City inspections to insure that the work was properly completed. When the project passes a final inspection, the permit is closed, precluding further work without a new permit. Unfortunately, contractors don't always complete the process, leaving the permit in limbo.
When City Manager Lee Feldman streamlined the City’s organizational table, folding 16 bloated bureaucracies into 9 more manageable departments, staffers uncovered a truckload of construction cases that were inadequately closed out. Closer scrutiny revealed hundreds of open permits, in many cases going back decades. Since most property owners know little about regulatory documentation required for construction projects, they were understandably flustered by an official municipal correspondence threatening penalties for jobs performed years earlier. Correcting these oversights isn’t simply an exercise in overzealous record keeping protocols; unresolved permits discovered during a title search become impediments to selling (or buying) a property.
|CITY MANAGER LEE FELDMAN|
Targeted unit owners were suddenly required to locate contractors who were no longer in business or had shuffled off their mortal coils. Building managers and board members were confounded by letters describing repairs to equipment that had been discarded years earlier. The Galt Mile Advisory Board requested that Commissioner Roberts investigate this dilemma. A few months later, he was applauded for informing association officials that the City would only actively pursue open permits going back to 2007.
At the Presidents Council meeting, when Roberts repeated his take on the City’s open permit policy, Building Services Manager Terry Burgess added that all permits had to be closed for properties being sold - notwithstanding when they were originally issued. Troubled by seemingly contradictory messages, association officials requested clarification. Admonishing that open permits serve as serious obstacles to selling a property, Burgess tried to surgically excise the discrepancy by proclaiming “While all open permits have to be closed, we are only actively pursuing those going back to 2007.” It didn’t work. However, before audience grumbling could coalesce into complaints, Burgess diplomatically invited those burdened with much earlier permits to contact him, promising to fast track closure. Every association official in the audience scrambled for a pen and paper as Burgess said “You can reach me at 954-828-5913.” His email address at the Building Services Division is TBurgess@fortlauderdale.gov. For those association officials who knew little about Burgess, his decisive remedy helped validate his recent ascendancy to the top spot in Building Services.
Roberts jumped on the second hot button issue. In Mid-April of 2007, Galt Mile associations received official notices from the Building Services Department that threatened financial penalties for not extinguishing lighting on parking decks, patio decks and other association areas. Several association managers called Building Services and asked if they could turn off the lights listed in the notice. Building Services told them that doing so would elicit a violation notice; that they were required by law to light these areas. Armed with letters and tapes proving that a City Department was planning to violate beachfront associations for leaving their lights on and/or turning them off, the neighborhood association voted to leave the lights on and commence an action against the City. First, they would contact Building Services and give them an opportunity to explain their seemingly schizophrenic behavior.
Code Compliance Officer Al Lovingshimer, City liaison to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, apologized for the misunderstanding and explained about a virtually unknown City ordinance passed to enable sea turtle survival. A few days later, officials from several City departments asked to address the neighborhood association and further explain the dilemma. At the subsequent May 7, 2007 Presidents Council meeting, former Building Department Community Inspections Manager Catherine McCaffrey (currently an Assistant Parks and Recreation Director) apologized to attendees for the ill-advised violation notices and introduced Facilities Manager Tom Terrell from Public Works and Environmental Services’ Kris McFadden to explain the threat posed by artificial lighting to nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings. After detailing the evolutionary basis for marine turtle “Disorientation Events,” Broward County Natural Resource Specialist Lou Fisher answered questions about how people and sea turtles perceive light differently. City officials and the neighborhood association agreed to explore a resolution to the lighting dilemma.
In subsequent meetings, Lovigshimer and Galt Mile officials negotiated a process that balanced the needs of sea turtles with those of local residents and their associations. By respecting the security concerns of unit owners and the financial constraints of their associations, the mutually conceived plan cured 90% of the Galt Mile code violations by the following November. Taken by cancer a few weeks later, Lovingshimer was posthumously named “2007 Code Enforcement Officer of the Year” by former Building Department Director Valerie Bohlander on November 20, 2007.
An open channel between the Galt Mile Association and code compliance successfully addressed turtle-safe lighting issues over the next three years. As a rule, when a violation was reported, the compliance officer would work with the association to cure the infraction inexpensively and in a manner that didn’t compromise resident safety. If a violation involved a major fixture, such as a parking deck lamp, the officer would recommend an inexpensive shield to temporarily deflect light from the beach. When the fixture approached the end of its useful life and was budgeted for replacement, the association would incorporate a turtle-safe substitute into its lighting plan. By blending short and long term solutions, associations achieved compliance without incrementally burdening budgets or creating a gauntlet of dangerous tripping hazards.
In late 2010, personnel changes in City government left a vacuum in city policy that crippled the process. With no guidance from the City, when newly elected board members and/or new managers who were oblivious to the ordinance evaluated their associations' lighting needs, they applied for and received City approval for lighting elements that once again endangered sea turtles. As compliance unraveled over the next year, no attempt was made by the City to revive the process they unilaterally slammed shut a year earlier. Soon after the Turtle Nesting Season began in March, associations began receiving threats from code compliance reminiscent of those that sparked the 2007 conflict. The adage that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it” assumed a special significance as resident resentment over the ill-advised violation notices exploded overnight.
LIGHTING IS PREVENTABLE
Code Officers Clear the Air
Fortunately, one code compliance officer who originally participated in the 2007 negotiation realized that the communication lapse would rekindle the acrimony that blistered the neighborhood five years earlier. After an April 25th conference with Galt Mile representatives he worked with during the 2007 negotiations - Compliance Officer Mario Sotolongo reached out to Building Services Manager Terry Burgess. At the May 17th Advisory Board meeting, Galt Mile officials and District 1 Commissioner Bruce Roberts explored defusing a growing community rancor fueled by the mailed threats. Having witnessed how quickly this misstep deteriorated into a neighborhood polemic five years ago, Roberts suggested a comprehensive vetting of this issue at the upcoming June 4th Presidents Council meeting.
To help address this conflict, Commissioner Roberts and Building Department head Burgess asked veteran Building Official Chris Augustin and code officer Sotolongo (who currently serves with fellow officer Dick Eaton as City liaison to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) to join them at the neighborhood caucus. Also invited was Greg Brewton, the longtime Guru of Planning and Zoning before his elevation to Director of the Department of Sustainable Development, parent agency to the Building Services and Code Enforcement Divisions. Since Department heads take their marching orders from City Manager Lee Feldman’s office, Assistant City Manager Suzanne Torriente filled out the city delegation. Tempering an impressive set of management skills with common sense, Torriente works with Brewton to insure that his Department and its Divisions constructively implement and execute City policy.
|ASSISTANT CITY MANAGER|
Given his reputation for amicably settling scores of potentially volatile Galt Mile turtle lighting violations, Burgess introduced Mario Sotolongo. The code officer apologized for the confusion resulting from the violation notices. After reviewing the purpose for the turtle-safe lighting ordinance, Sotolongo surprised a skeptical audience when he exclaimed “We will never achieve compliance with this law.” The room muted as Sotolongo continued “We need to find a balance that’s fair to you while providing for the survival of sea turtles. Correcting lighting violations doesn’t have to be expensive and should never sacrifice personal safety.” After inviting notice recipients to contact him, he offered his assurance that “By working together we can always find a solution that works for everyone.” For association representative that failed to record his contact info, Sotolongo’s telephone number is 954-828-6326 and can be reached by email at MSotolongo@fortlauderdale.gov. Following his conciliatory missive, Sotolongo opened the floor to questions.
In a knee-jerk initial spate of jeers and complaints, members contemptuous of the City’s 2007 decision to darken A1A without enhancing a local police presence blamed the city for the concomitant spike in crime along the beach. Several members complained about safety and security dilemmas created by the ordinance. Others vented about a poorly balanced policy that pits residents against sea turtles. When Assistant City Manager Suzanne Torriente and Commissioner Roberts intimated their intention to revive a framework that will enable code officers to work constructively with each association to address compliance issues, the rancor abated.
|CITY DARKENS A1A IN 2007|
Several audience members asked why areas roughly 30 feet wide were being cordoned off around every turtle nest on the beach, observing that 2 or 3 such nests rendered the beach impassable, even at low tide. GMCA President Pio Ieraci described a letter he received from Beach Raker, the Pompano vendor responsible for daily beach maintenance along the Galt Mile shoreline. At several coastal sites where adjacent turtle nests were each encircled by a 30-foot exclusion zone, the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) used to pull the sand rake was forced to drive through the surf in order to pass the otherwise blockaded beach.
|FISHER - NEW RULE FOR MARKING NESTS|
Ieraci contacted Natural Resource Specialist Lou Fisher of the Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Departments, inquiring why the restricted zones were expanded to 30 feet. A Marine Biologist who spearheads the County’s Sea Turtle Program, Fisher agreed that the buffer zones were excessive. Since the sole purpose for erecting warning signs and roping off nest areas is to deter curious beachgoers from disturbing the nest, handling the eggs and/or interacting with the hatchlings, only one in five nests will be measured for the large buffers going forward. 80% of the interdicted zones will be sized more closely to the nest, eliminating the obstacle to beach maintenance while providing beachgoers and turtle watchers unfettered access to the unrestricted beach area.
Notwithstanding their beef with the City, most Galt Mile residents are innately protective of their sea turtles. One night last July, when some kids began digging at nests between Regency Tower and Playa del Mar, residents from both buildings yelled from balconies high above that they were calling the police. One idiot began raining down chicken bones, olive pits and assorted detritus presumably filched from her garbage. Within minutes, the nests were surrounded by unit owners who were soon joined by the Galt Mile Security patrol.
|RESCUED NEST BETWEEN PLAYA DEL MAR AND REGENCY TOWER|
Although Presidents Council meetings are ordinarily adjourned at 9 PM, the atypically congested agenda for this seasonal finale ran past 11 PM. Following the palliative outreach by our municipal officials, President Don Larson and Manager Lisa Edwards of Coral Ridge Towers North gave a progress report about employee benefits. Larson volunteered to investigate the perks and pitfalls of treating this shared expense collectively to exploit a bulk discount. Unfortunately, time constraints precluded scheduled presentations by several local vendors.
|CRTN MNGR LISA EDWARDS|
|GMCA OFFICIALS PIO IERACI|
AND ERIC BERKOWITZ
With the parties now on the same page, Roberts’ next challenge is morphing good intentions into a palpable policy. On June 12, Roberts’ Commission Assistant Robbi Uptegrove began scheduling the first of several meetings with City, State and association officials to address Utility Graffiti, revive a non-contentious turtle-safe lighting process and flesh out the procedural outline for closing open permits. If the July 24th “Utility Graffiti” conference engineered by Uptegrove is even moderately successful, its impact will ripple across the state since hundreds of other Florida communities are equally chafed by contractors who fail to remove markings that blight their streets and sidewalks. If we work throughout the summer, by autumn we may also have viable processes for permit closure and turtle-safe lighting compliance. Having set the table for comparably sticky forums, both Roberts and Uptegrove know that the Devil is in the Details.
Some Useful Links
Building Department Permit Links
Sea Turtle Links
Click Here to Sea Turtle Nesting Season is Here - What You Should Know
Click Here to "Turtle-Safe Lighting Ordinance" - Aa Applies to Galt Mile beachfront associations
Click Here to Beachfront Lighting and Sea Turtles
Click Here to Sea Turtle Nest Locator Program
Click Here to How You Can Help
Click Here to Volunteer and Educational Opportunities
Click Here to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) - Sea Turtles
Click Here to FWC - Fish and Wildlife Research Institute - Sea Turtles
Click Here to FWC - Certified Wildlife Lighting
Click Here to Sea Turtle Conflict on the Galt Mile
Click Here to Companies that make Turtle-Safe Lighting for Galt Mile associations
May 10, 2012 - On May 3, 2012, the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) convened a meeting at the Beach Community Center to inform neighborhood residents about a $2.1 million FDOT plan to resurface State Road A1A (SR A1A) from Flamingo Avenue to Oakland Park Boulevard. Among the 35 “interested parties” who attended the 6 PM meeting were curious local residents, apprehensive neighborhood vendors and relieved representatives of the Galt Mile Community Association. Financial Project Number 423000-1-52-01 (the preferred identifier for FDOT projects) had banged around on the back shelf since 2007. After 6 years of tweaking, the long-rumored project was reanimated and fitted with a May 7, 2012 start date.
|BEACH COMMUNITY CENTER|
Hosted by information specialist Miranda Iglesias (Public Information Officer at The Corradino Group) on behalf of FDOT, the project was described by Project Engineer Michael Melendez (President of Genesis Enterprises & Engineering Services, LLC) and construction coordinator Sara J. Duffoo (Senior Project Engineer at Target Engineering Group, Inc.). While removing old asphalt and repaving the 1.07 mile stretch of A1A, the triple R project (RRR - FDOT jargon for resurfacing, restoration and rehabilitation) will alter the character of the thoroughfare in compliance with objectives defined over the past six years. Among the major roadway improvements are a change in the number of lanes available to vehicular traffic and the addition of new bike lanes in both directions. The six lanes of North Ocean Boulevard that currently serve as a raceway through the Galt Mile neighborhood will be reduced to four lanes abutting new curbs and gutters.
|INFORMATION SPECIALIST MIRANDA IGLESIAS|
Intersections within project limits will also receive a makeover. ADA compliant curb ramps will be installed and left turn lanes extended. Signalized intersections at NE 32nd Street, NE 34th Street, NE 36th Street, NE 41st Street and Flamingo Avenue will be adorned with new Mast Arm Assemblies and enhanced with video detection capability, further dampening the strip’s attraction to weekend & post-midnight speed demons who habitually view traffic signals as course markers. New stripes and traffic lines will map the layout at intersections, delimit the lane reduction and isolate the new bike lanes (in lieu of a physical barrier). The route will benefit from new signage and medians modified from NE 32nd Street to Flamingo Avenue will receive modest landscaping improvements (an FDOT contract provision limits the funds available for landscaping enhancements to 4% of the overall contract amount).
In 2003, when the neighborhood association complained bitterly about their local stretch of A1A devolving on weekends and evenings into a drag strip, traffic checkpoints ordered by then Police Chief Bruce Roberts intermittently slowed the nightly racing by hot rods and Harleys. In 2004, former GMCA President Robert Rozema asked former Mayor Jim Naugle to look into the sky high accident rate at the intersection of Galt Ocean Drive and A1A one block north of Oakland Park Boulevard; a block known as the Galt Mile’s “Bermuda Triangle” and ground zero for several major accidents every year and near weekly fender benders. At an April 7, 2005, meeting convened at the Beach Community Center, after personally fielding scores of dangerous driving and noise complaints (and hundreds more submitted in writing), former Commissioner Christine Teel and former City Manager George Gretsas asked then Chief of Police Bruce G. Roberts to formulate a “Traffic Enforcement Action Plan” aimed at stopping the chronic traffic and noise abuses along A1A.
|INFAMOUS GALT MILE TRIANGLE|
At a subsequent meeting of the neighborhood association’s Advisory Board, Chief Roberts explained, “This action plan was devised in response to numerous citizen complaints concerning unlawful driving practices. There has been a noticeable increase in this activity and local residents and vehicular traffic has been negatively affected. The goal of this high visibility enforcement was to aid in the reduction of crime, reduce unlawful speeding, reduce excessive noise created by unlawful equipment installed on vehicles, educate offenders who are committing violations and to improve the quality of life for residents.” Although infractions abated during the following six month period in which 1,361 traffic citations were written by 25 participating Officers and 6 Police Service Aides, they ramped up again when police resources were ultimately “reallocated”.
|FORMER POLICE CHIEF|
A municipal engineer was also assigned to explore the locally infamous “Galt Triangle”, where the southern end of Galt Ocean Drive empties into A1A (North Ocean Boulevard). Inexplicably, drivers heading south on A1A tend to run the traffic light one block north of Oakland Park Boulevard, precipitating repeated collisions with vehicles entering from Galt Ocean Drive and pedestrians crossing A1A. Vehicles turning onto A1A from nearby intersecting side streets also treated pedestrians like pinballs. Community leaders and City officials offered a variety of possible rationales for the light being ignored and the dangerous turns. Some blamed a poorly placed traffic signal or confusing signage while others surmised that anxious drivers heading south on A1A might be preoccupied with the traffic light at the busy Oakland Park Boulevard intersection and inadvertently overlook the preceding light and/or street signs a few blocks north.
|HEADING SOUTH ON A1A|
While failing to definitively diagnose the enigmatic accident zone or effectively curb the traffic abuses, these preventive actions shed light on the some of the underlying problems. Former Police District 1 Commander Major Mary Negrey (later promoted to Assistant Chief) told the Advisory Board in 2006 that until the City Commission passed adequate regulatory tools, A1A’s status as a vehicular demilitarized zone would continue. For instance, due to a poorly drafted traffic ordinance, sound measuring equipment ordinarily used to discourage noise pollution was precluded for use against traffic noise violations, forcing prosecutors to build cases around the subjective judgment of an arresting officer. Hundreds of violators simply waltzed out of court. To deter a spectrum of dangerous and illegal driving practices and the nightly noise disturbances that proliferated along the neighborhood’s main artery, Negrey looked to other municipalities for guidance in developing recommendations for shoring up local traffic laws.
|FORMER DISTRICT 1 POLICE|
COMMANDER MARY NEGREY
In 2008, Galt Mile representatives met with City officials to consider implementing a neighborhood Master Plan. Instead of the current patchwork of minor fixes and opportunistic projects targeting relatively isolated problems, the plan would encompass landscaping, structural and aesthetic improvements for the entire Galt Mile neighborhood, and outline an overall strategy for commercial development. It would also enhance the neighborhood’s transportation connectivity; address security needs, facilitate traffic flow, clarify expectations for beach and block maintenance, and provide a realistic basis for attracting development consistent with the community’s vision.
At the same time, the Florida Department of Transportation was preparing to rehabilitate State Road A1A from Flamingo Avenue to Oakland Park Boulevard. Engineering Consultants bidding on the lucrative project were charged with improving upon a scope of work that would bring the thoroughfare into compliance with State and local regulations, address traffic safety issues and maintain the neighborhood’s character. To address the third objective, City officials scrutinizing the mechanics of a Galt Mile Master Plan recommended that aspiring applicants elicit feedback from the Galt Mile Community Association.
At a September 2008 meeting with Mike Sherman from H.W. Lochner, an engineering consulting company competing for the FDOT contract, GMCA President Pio Ieraci and Vice President Eric Berkowitz reviewed the project and clarified relevant safety and aesthetic issues that would impact the community. While the discussion helped identify traffic and pedestrian hot spots, it additionally sought to insure that the outcome was aesthetically consistent with the surrounding neighborhood. One month later - after the City handed the FDOT engineering consulting contract to GBF Engineering - GMCA officials met with Michael Melendez, the bid winner’s engineering consultant. Melendez explained that an A1A corridor study conducted by project planners had begun evolving solutions to the widespread dangerous and illegal driving practices and the nerve-wracking noise pollution.
To measure how a reduction from six to four traffic lanes would impact traffic volumes and service levels on State Road A1A from Oakland Park Boulevard to the northern City limit, the City of Fort Lauderdale and the Broward County MPO had commissioned Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. to perform a Lane Reduction Feasibility Study on September 5, 2007. While confirming that a four lane A1A could easily manage current and future throughput without burdening adjacent or alternate routes, a subsequent study summary concluded that a lane reduction would curb speeding and reduce the number and seriousness of crashes.
Following the Kimley-Horn Study, the City hired urban planners Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin to prepare conceptual design options that illustrated the roadway segment, pedestrian hardscape treatment, site furnishings and landscaping based upon six and four-lane scenarios. The options included four variations ranging from restriping the existing roadway and incorporating bike lanes, to relocating existing curbs, expanding sidewalks and accommodating new bike lanes, including on-street parking and street trees.
To present the new concepts and elicit local input, the City hosted a 6 PM public meeting on May 7, 2009 at the Beach Community Center and provided the design options on the City’s website along with an interactive opportunity to comment. Galt Milers overwhelmingly supported an option that offered an expanded 24-foot wide sidewalk on the east side of A1A with a 10-foot pedestrian merchant zone and a 14-foot pedestrian area, a 10-foot bicycle zone, including on-street parking, street trees, landscaping in the median islands and a double row of trees defining the pedestrian area.
|GLATTING JACKSON KERCHER ANGLIN DESIGN OPTIONS|
Although willing to approve the beautifully designed preferred option, its $8.7 million price tag spooked FDOT. On November 3, 2009, the City Commission authorized staff to forward it (with revisions) to the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for inclusion in a list of projects which are considered annually for funding. Now envisioned as the first of two projects that would morph the dilapidated speedway into a high end thoroughfare, as an interim measure, Melendez and City staff tweaked the project into a 4-lane roadway with buffered bike lanes and peppered with targeted safety and landscaping modifications.
Reducing A1A to 4 lanes would serve to structurally inoculate the roadway against street races wherein competing vehicles require dedicated lanes. Carving out bike lanes would relieve a perceived need by bicycle enthusiasts to illegally vie with pedestrians for sidewalk space one block east on Galt Ocean Drive or risk being pancaked on A1A by a gardener’s pickup traveling at 75 MPH. Following an extended debate over project impacts, community & City leaders, local vendors and project planners coalesced around the 4-lane option. With a plan in the works to clean up this concrete pustule, on July 20, 2009, former FDOT Secretary Stephanie C. Kopelouso notified Broward County that its 32 miles of A1A had been designated as a Florida Scenic Highway.
|FORMER FDOT SECRETARY|
STEPHANIE C. KOPELOUSOS
On January 12, 2010, GMCA officials met with FDOT Project Manager Jim Hughes and Project Engineer Michael Melendez to insure the plan would serve as a stepping stone to elevating the Galt Mile stretch of A1A to a level of excellence worthy of a “Scenic Highway” designation. Although Lauderdale-by-the-Sea had successfully worked with FDOT to develop their segment of A1A into a beautiful transportation corridor, A1A’s reputation as the “Ocean Highway” – a tailored picture postcard beachfront boulevard – is exquisitely exemplified by the stretch approaching and adjacent to the Fort Lauderdale beach.
|FDOT PROJECT ENGINEER|
The sleazy road connecting the two is a dilapidated, dreary, dangerous speedway filled with patched and unpatched potholes, extensive spiderweb cracks and catch-as-catch-can landscaping. One block east of A1A, the parallel Galt Ocean Drive is adorned with a luxurious package of aesthetic amenities such as pavered crosswalks, pink aggregate sidewalks, interred utilities, landscaping uplights and decorative lamps. Contrasting the Galt Mile neighborhood’s blighted stretch of A1A with surrounding well-appointed thoroughfares to the east, north and south serves to emphasize its shared characteristics with a seedy airport perimeter strip.
|A1A NEAR OAKLAND PARK BOULEVARD|
On August 18, 2010, Melendez and Hughes convened another public meeting at the Beach Community Center to better explain how the plan will address longstanding community concerns while improving the route. With an eye to thwarting the speedway, Project Engineer Melendez remarked “This is not a typical project. You usually don’t have many opportunities to reduce the number of road lanes. You can see where people speed up because of the open corridor. One of the benefits will be to slow down traffic, not to the point where it obstructs traffic, but to allow more pedestrians to walk on the sidewalk and bring more exposure to businesses along A1A.” Commenting on a planned 6-foot bike lane unique to the neighborhood, FDOT Project Manager Jim Hughes added “There’s a lot of bicycle traffic in the area with no bike lanes, so I think the bike lanes will be a big addition.”
|A1A A BLOCK NORTH OF CORAL RIDGE TOWERS COMPLEX|
The design plans were completed in the spring of 2011 and bid packages were sent to contractors the following autumn. Vying against Ranger Construction (headquartered in West Palm Beach), the Hialeah-based Community Asphalt Corporation and Hardrives, Inc. of Delray, on October 7, 2011, the job was snagged by Weekley Asphalt Paving, Inc. The Pembroke Pines contractor appointed Jorge Perez to supervise construction. Not surprisingly, their initial winning bid of $1,728,489.86 has since been incrementally sweetened by almost $400,000. Welcome to the Venice of America!
|PLAYA DEL MAR|
PRESIDENT RAY GARCIA
Association officials and local vendors raised some legitimate concerns at the May 3, 2012 meeting. Playa del Mar President Ray Garcia, a partner in the popular Ocean’s Grille Restaurant on A1A and member of the neighborhood association’s Advisory Board, asked how long access to his establishment would be squeezed, noting that the project was scheduled to run through December. Responding that the project would proceed in segments, contractor liaison Duffoo assured him that the inconvenience would be minimal.
|OCEAN'S GRILLE RESTAURANT ON A1A|
|L’HERMITAGE I MANAGER|
L’Hermitage I Manager Patricia Quintero - who also serves on the GMCA Advisory Board - explained that her association’s entrance sits at the east end of Oakland Park Boulevard, where the project might impair access. Duffoo explained that construction would travel across the project limit of 1.1 miles over a seven month period. As such, its proximity to - and impact on - any particular location would be relatively brief. GMCA member associations most affected by the project are Coral Ridge Towers South and Coral Ridge Towers East, which both share an eastern border with A1A and whose members have complained for decades about living next to a drag strip. Melendez explained how the lane reduction would help mitigate their quandary.
|CRT SOUTH AND CRT EAST OVERLOOK A1A|
Evidently oblivious to the project’s 6-year planning history, some attendees repeatedly queried panel members about the May 7 start date, intimating some undisclosed agenda to rush into the project. Several residents and vendors also complained about the inconveniences that unavoidably accompany right-of-way improvements. “It is what it is,” answered Duffoo, adding “We will gladly meet with any concerned homeowners and local merchants and work to minimize any problems related to the project.” After being told that the staging areas as yet hadn’t been selected, one homeowner asked when FDOT would begin blocking off local streets.
SARA J. DUFFOO
Information specialist Miranda Iglesias retorted “FDOT must notify the City 14 days in advance when planning to close either a traffic lane or the entire street. As of today, no notice has been given to the City. However, when curtailing traffic becomes necessary, we will give a two-week heads-up.” Despite vague criticisms by two seemingly confused homeowners and the understandable expressions of concern by local vendors about the project’s short term impact on their businesses, a majority of the audience expressed approval for the May 7 start date, noting that it was timed to commence after “the season”. GMCA President Pio Ieraci thanked the project hosts and announced “The vast majority of local residents have been anxiously awaiting the promised improvements and appreciate your efforts.”
As the meeting closed, we asked the panel about additional improvements that would create a roadway more aesthetically consistent with SR A1A segments just north and south of the route’s project limits and more closely reflect the neighborhood’s character. Michael Melendez answered “While the current project lacks the resources required to transform the Galt Mile segment of A1A into a corridor befitting a designated scenic highway, we tailored the plan to serve as the first of two developmental stages en route to that objective.”
Although it took almost 6 years, Melendez and City staffers made good on their promise to begin transforming the neighborhood’s primary thoroughfare. Nevertheless, if we want to see the second stage come to fruition in our lifetime, the neighborhood association will have to begin convincing Broward MPO to line up stage two funding shortly after the current project’s December completion date. After all, other than the few dollars expended to maintain the Galt Mile Library and an annual promise to renourish the beach, we received nothing from the County for the past three decades. Since the Galt Mile is one of Broward’s primary sources of tax dollars, some might think we were overdue.
Allen West’s Last Message
February 16, 2012 - Amid a whirlwind tour of town hall meetings, Congressman Allen West made a pit stop at the Beach Community Center from 5 to 7 pm on January 11th before heading to the Jupiter Community Center on January 13. Like a similar meeting held there last February with West and State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, it was convened by the neighborhood association as a platform for the community’s local elected officials.
|BEACH COMMUNITY CENTER|
Addressing a healthy local audience of roughly 150 Galt Mile constituents; West blended patriotic dramaturgy with a dark picture of our future. After marching a perimeter around the Beach Community Center auditorium, a six-person police honor guard preceded a strained rendition of America the Beautiful performed by a would be club singer in a cheap tux. A Powerpoint presentation that West used to rally the weekday dinnertime audience was punctuated by the theme from “Patton”.
|WEST AND BOGDANOFF LAST YEAR|
Following a half hour of introductory theatrics that culminated with West pinning a bag full of medals on local Vietnam veteran Edward Ayers, he opened his town hall meeting by welcoming local officials that dropped by to share a sound bite with the controversial congressman. Ayers was originally awarded three purple hearts, a Republic of Vietnam Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal following his service in Vietnam. In time, he lost them. West needed a hero. Ayers wanted his medals replaced. Shazam!
|CONGRESSMAN WEST PINS MEDALS ON EDWARD AYERS|
Since the meeting was hosted by the neighborhood association to broaden local access to the District 22 Congressman, Galt Mile Community Association President Pio Ieraci moderated an hour-long question and answer period. Rather than rehashing the evening’s animated repartee, West provided a policy brief for release to his Galt Mile constituents. A few days earlier, he slipped a copy to the local media.
|PIO IERACI INTRODUCES CONGRESSMAN WEST|
Given ensuing events, it might be the last message that West delivers as our Congressman. On January 31st, West jumped ship, announcing that he would forego running for reelection in District 22. He issued a statement that began “After much prayer, reflection and discussion with my close friends and family, I am announcing today my decision to seek reelection in Florida’s proposed 18th Congressional district. I have always believed the state of Florida would be best served by having both Congressman Tom Rooney and myself in the House of Representatives working to solve our nation’s most pressing problems.”
|CONGRESSMAN TOM ROONEY|
A squirrelly redistricting process reconfigured West’s already Democrat-heavy 22nd Congressional District by frontloading a battalion of additional Democrats. Earlier in the day, the 16th Congressional district’s Representative Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) decided to move his campaign, announcing that he would run in the newly formed 17th Congressional district on the coast, which includes a sizable Republican constituency carved from the western part of his former 16th Congressional district.
West, in turn, will run in Rooney’s former stomping ground, which is re-numbered from 16 to 18 under the new plan. Although the swing 18th District was abandoned by Rooney for the solidly Republican 17th District, it’s still West’s best chance to reclaim the new life he carved out in Washington. About 25% of West’s former district will be part of his new 18th district, which is based in Port St. Lucie.
The third party in this round of political musical chairs is former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Boca Raton, who abandoned his U.S. Senate bid when the redistricting music stopped. Term limited out of the Florida Statehouse in 2010, Hasner will step into the G.O.P. vacuum left by West in Congressional District 22.
|ADAM HASNER TO RUN IN DIST. 22|
Challenging some anonymous hostile constellation of conspirators, West concluded his statement with “As a 22-year United States Army veteran who commanded troops in combat, one should never underestimate my ability to be a strategic thinker. My voice for the restoration of constitutional principles for our Republic shall continue to resonate through Florida and on Capitol Hill.”
West went ballistic upon discovering that his reelection aspirations hit a brick wall. Prior to the rookie congressman’s first year in Washington, he became a Tea Party icon, cultivating access to their hyperactive social media network. They blame Tallahassee Republicans for trying to wax West’s political career. Despite his rookie credentials, West’s veteran fundraising skills have inflated his campaign war chest to $5.85 million, which he’ll need to wage a campaign on untested swing turf.
|WEST AT PALM BEACH TEA PARTY|
West’s January 11th message to the last Galt Mile audience he is likely to represent in Congress randomly borrowed from a recent policy paper about misadventures on Capitol Hill. Drawing on the heroic military persona he developed for his successful run at congressional predecessor Ron Klein, West’s message offers an overwhelming list of obstacles that threaten every aspect of American life. As I said, a dark picture of our future. The following apocalyptic vision ends with West standing alone against the primary forces of nature – in defense of the Republic. See for yourself: – [editor]
POLITICS OR POLICY?
By Congressman Allen B. West
In November 2010, I was elected to represent the constituents of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. Along with others of my Freshman class, I was sent to Capitol Hill on the wave of discontent sweeping our nation regarding the failure of those in our Nation’s Capital to adhere to our constitutional principles. I was sent to address our inability to rein in wasteful spending, spiraling debt and deficit, and provide the courage to tackle the critical reforms that must be made to protect and preserve Medicare and Social Security.
|CONGRESSMAN ALLEN WEST|
In January 2011, I again reaffirmed the oath I took 22 years ago as a young Second Lieutenant in the United States Army to support and defend our Constitution and this nation, and the standards I carried onto this battlefield of ideas were the same that I have always carried: conviction, character, integrity and a patriotic love for this country.
|CONGRESSMAN ALLEN WEST TAKES OATH OF OFFICE|
Unfortunately, there are not many in Washington, D.C. who carry those standards, as the events of the last few days of 2011 have demonstrated.
I stand with my fellow Americans who are disgusted and disappointed by the absurd political machinations we have just witnessed with the passage of this ludicrous two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and sustained growth rate (SGR) for Medicare providers.
How anyone can attempt to defend this decision as the proper and intelligent way to implement policy is beyond me. However, this decision exposes a far great systemic problem on Capitol Hill, and indeed America.
Along with the United States Senate’s inability to pass a budget in nearly 1,000 days -- forcing the passage of numerous Continuing Resolutions simply to keep the Federal Government sputtering along -- not to mention the refusal of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to consider the nearly 30 bills already passed by the House of Representatives designed to stimulate jobs and economic growth, this two-month extension, and the ridiculous dance carried out by the negotiators, exposes clearly the political dysfunction paralyzing our country.
|SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID|
Furthermore, this political dysfunction is representative of a societal dysfunction enhanced by manipulative demagoguery promoted by a complicit media.
The United States of America is at a critical crossroads in its young history. We are facing enormous challenges both within and without.
The Federal debt has swollen to over $15 trillion, with three straight years of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Our government must borrow 42 cents of every dollar it spends. Without critical reforms, our Medicare and Social Security programs will be bankrupt within 15 years. Nearly 49 percent of Americans are on some form of government aid.
As we begin 2012, Iran continues on its stated course of acquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq is imploding before our eyes. Egypt is falling to radical Islamists. The future of North Korea is uncertain and unsettling.
Yet with all of this facing our nation, is the best we can offer our citizens a pathetic two-month extension of payroll tax reduction and unemployment benefits? The House of Representatives passed a one-year extension. We sent that bill to the Senate – after all, it is what President Obama and Majority Leader Reid asked for.
|ALLEN WEST AT BEACH COMMUNITY CENTER - JANUARY 11, 2012|
But clearly the President and Senate Majority Leader are not really interested in doing what is right for the country and we, the people. Americans are looking for certainty and confidence in the American economy and this limited extension delivers neither. The insane Kabuki dance will continue as another problem remains unresolved.
Our nation is desperately seeking leadership in our Nation's Capital, not crisis management, and these elected officials continue to demonstrate, again and again, that they are incapable of leading.
This two-month extension is just another instance of political antics triumphing over policy and principle. It again demonstrates that incompetence and ineptness clothed in election-cycle sound bites win over common sense and problem-solving.
Men and women of principle are becoming a dying breed in this Republic, sadly hastening the decline and eventual demise of these United States of America. I will not allow that to happen.
Allen B. West
22nd Congressional District
Egad! - [editor]
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Imperial Point Hospital AUD A&B – 6401 N Federal Highway
Commissioner Bruce Roberts’ District 1 Pre-Agenda Meeting
City Commissioner Bruce Roberts’ District I Pre-Agenda meeting will be held at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, January 7 & 21, 2013 at the Beach Community Center. On Monday, October 15, 2012, a second meeting will take place at Imperial Point Hospital.
Two or more City Commissioners and/or Advisory Board members may be present at this meeting. All are invited to attend.
The Date: Monday, January 7 & 21st, 2013
The Time: 6:00 P.M.
The Place: One of two locations, The first meeting of the month is held at the Beach Community Center and the second at Imperial Point Hospital (see below):
south side of hospital entrance towards the back
For more information, please call the City Commission office at 954 828-5004, Fax: (954) 828-5667, Email: RUptegrove@fortlauderdale.gov
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SOUTHEAST FLORIDA CHAPTER
ANNOUNCES THEIR ANNUAL
CAI-SEFL 2013 Day of Education and Trade Expo
Please join us for this free event featuring speakers recognized Statewide and over 100 exhibitors demonstrating goods and services for community associations.
Make your voice heard just weeks before the opening of the 2013 Florida Legislative Session! Learn about the proposed changes and ask your local legislators, Florida House member George R. Moraitis, Jr., District 93 and Florida Senate member Maria Sachs, District 34 along with Travis Moore - CAI Lobbyist and a representative from the Florida Department of Condominiums your questions.
FREE Board Members Certification Course! Two (2), one (1)-hour CEU courses for Licensed Property Managers, including the impact of Social Media and Association Insurance! And the LEGAL UPDATE COURSE!
The Date: Saturday, January 26, 2013
The Time: 8:30 a.m. through 4:00 p.m.
The Place: Signature Grand
6900 State Road 84, Davie, FL 33317
The Day's Agenda
- 8:30 – 10:30 am - Free - Board Member Certification Class (presented by Kaye Bender Rembaum, P.L.)
- 8:30 – 9:30 am - Social Media Marketing (Presented by Virtual Fundamentals) - FREE Class for Manager Members (1 credit)
- 9:30 – 10:30 am - Association Insurance Update (Presented by Scarr Insurance Group) - FREE Class for Manager Members (1 credit)
- 9:30 – 3:30 pm - TRADE SHOW FLOOR OPEN - Features over 100 products & services!
- 12 Noon - Lunch
- 12:15 – 1:30 pm - KEYNOTE PANEL - Discuss legislation pending in 2013 with Representative George Moraitis, Senator Maria Sachs, Lobbyist Travis Moore - a Panel of Experts!
- 2:00 – 3:00 pm - Raffle Drawings
- 3:00 – 5:00 pm - 2013 Legal Update (presented by Mirza Basulto & Robbins, LLP) - Overview of the laws passed during the 2012 Legislative Session & Preview of Bills Filed for Consideration in 2013 (2 credits).
Cost of Continuing Education Credits is free for members - $50.00/CEU for non-members (Lunch Included in Registration Fee). For Lunch only - $20.
For further information, please contact Jill Prioetti, CED, at 954-816-0661 or click here to the CAI Trade Show web page. Door prizes and giveaways all day long – Win a $500 Cash Prize or an iPAD! Admission and Event Parking are Free.
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SOUTHEAST FLORIDA CHAPTER
ANNOUNCES THEIR ANNUAL
Join your CAI-SEFL friends and colleagues this November and enjoy a day of fun on the fairways. Show your support for the Chapter and join your ‘golfing buddies’ for a day on the links. Golfing experience is not necessary; this is a fun, social event. Best Ball Format!
The Date: Friday, November 30th, 2012
The Time: 11:00 A.M.
The Place: Jacaranda Golf Club
9200 West Broward Boulevard
Plantation, Florida 33324
Contests for men and women include: Closest to the Pin and Longest Drive.
- 11:00 a.m. - Registration
- 12:00 Noon - Shotgun Start
- 4:30 p.m. - Tournament Awards Dinner & Raffles
- Golfers will have the opportunity to win raffles, door prizes and a Grand Prize in the Grand Raffle!
- Awesome hole-in-one contest prizes!
- Tournament is Best Ball Format!
An awards dinner will wrap up the day’s activities. Trophies will be provided to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the team that “Should Have Gone Fishing!”
The East & West Courses at Jacaranda Golf Club
Host to many PGA, USGA, and FSGA Championships. Winner of the South Florida PGA "Golf Club of the Year", Jacaranda Golf Club has distiguished itself as South Florida premier golf club.
|NATIONALLY FAMOUS #3 WATERFALL HOLE|
A $10 Million renovation to both courses breathed new life into a classic South Florida design. Both East and West courses have been transformed with new fairways, tees, greens, cart paths and landscaping. The restoration showcases a combination of new technology and traditional design allowing both the scratch golfer and the weekend warrior to compete on the same playing ground.
For more information, call Jill Proietti at 954-816-0661 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Click Here for the 2012 Golf Tournament page on the Southeast Florida Chapter of CAI web site.
Click Here to register for the CAI-SEFL 2012 Golf Tournament. Click Here for info about sponsorship opportunities for the Golf Tournament.
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Scam - of the - Month
August 8, 2010 - Florida has always been a fertile environment for motivated scam artists. Recently, the National Insurance Crime Bureau tagged the Sunshine State as the national leader in auto insurance fraud, a recession-driven scam wherein vehicle owners dump their cars into canals before shooting off loss/damage claims to understandably skeptical carriers. Although active throughout the year, the summer seems to hold special significance for Florida fraudsters. Several Galt Mile residents recently expressed concern about having been victimized by three of this year’s summer stings - two statewide and one national in scope.
|Vehicle Dumped in Canal|
Every property owner in the State just had their pockets picked. Don’t worry; your money is still in your wallet... at least for a while. Here’s the deal. A Coral Ridge Towers (Original) resident who owns several Florida properties paid an early June insurance premium to Citizens Property Insurance Corp, the windstorm carrier for one of her properties. A month later, she was informed by Citizens that her check, along with thousands of others, is probably lining the pockets of some audacious thief operating out of Hialeah.
On June 24th, this creative crook strolled into the Post Office and dropped off standard change-of-address forms for the Jacksonville Corporate Center offices of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. and for a dedicated P.O. Box used by Florida’s “insurer of last resort”. Mr. Tricky Doggie requested that all correspondences be forwarded to an apartment in Hialeah. Fortunately, the reliably dysfunctional Postal Service screwed up the second change-of-address operation (targeting the company’s P.O. Box), so only 213,000 client mailings were diverted from the Citizens Jacksonville office at 6676 Corporate Center Parkway to the scammer’s Hialeah address.
In a curious footnote to this misadventure, Citizens didn’t cancel the bogus change-of-address order until June 29th. Although the mega-carrier ordinarily receives thousands of letters and packages every day, on Friday, June 25th, the mail bag was empty. The corporate inbox remained vacant for five full days before some ambitious executive trainee decided that the absence of mail to headquarters was sufficiently troublesome to justify an official inquiry to the Post Office.
|Citizens Jacksonville Corporate Center offices|
Company spokesperson Christine Turner Ashburn said “Citizens will credit customers for payment if their checks were cashed in the scam.” For customers who reacted quickly to early reports of the incident and called their banks to stop payment on their checks, the company assented to reimburse any related bank charges. The roughly 200,000 rerouted letters and packages contain premium payments ranging from a few $hundred to $thousands. If any of those premium checks mailed prior to June 28th were yours, contact a dedicated toll-free Citizens hotline at 1-888-685-1555. When our neighbor in Coral Ridge Towers called the hotline, she was informed that investigators were trying to reconstitute payment records and a Citizens representative would get back to her. Her outstanding payment hadn’t been recorded.
Not to worry, Citizens will pick up the tab – that is to say – we will pick up the tab. The untold $millions bilked from Citizens will ultimately be billed to every insured property owner in Florida. It will be buried in the “Citizens Assessment” line item on every premium statement. Ashburn said that although the carrier is working with criminal investigators, USPS protocol includes no front end red flag capable of preventing this type of deception. Rather than suing the Post Office for this elephantine operational gaffe, the Citizens think tank opted to deploy a “hair of the dog” strategic response. They allocated $97,000 for a direct mailing to possible victims. Mildly amused by the ironic rewarding of the Post Office for enabling a thief to steal $millions from property owners statewide, Ashburn remarked “It’s almost comical.”
The real danger to Citizens policyholders whose checks were hijacked doesn’t end with a palliative reimbursement by the company. Since every hostage check provides a doorway to its issuer’s financial identity, a far greater threat is posed by the scam’s potential for identity theft. After cashing out, the scammers are likely to record tens of thousands of account numbers, bank routing numbers and any names and addresses linked to the accounts. The swindler(s) can either directly engage in a spending spree or sell the data using any number of private and public venues. Since many of these are available on the internet, the crook(s) can plausibly consummate these rip-offs from the kitchen table while still clad in pajamas. Given the prospective secondary shock waves facing their customers, Ashburn said “We’re going to send out direct letters to anyone who could have been sending us something. If one person’s identity gets taken because of this, we haven’t gone far enough.”
While conceding the danger, Ashburn skirted admitting to future liability for adverse financial consequences. Instead, she recommends that prospective victims protect themselves by contacting their financial institutions, credit card insurers and credit card bureaus to flag their suddenly vulnerable accounts. By alerting these agencies, victims stand a good chance of foiling future efforts to fraudulently open lines of credit using their identities. If you receive a congratulatory letter from the local BMW franchise for purchasing a new Z-4, it’s too late.
The second shell game - first reported by a Galt Mile vendor - is one of two scams referenced on the Florida Division of Corporations official website, www.sunbiz.org. Along with the usual junk that penetrated his internet security program’s email spam filter in early July, the local merchant received an email requesting a fee for complying with some official State corporate notice requirements. Experienced in wading through a daily complement of email hustles, he forwarded the phony phishing expedition to the neighborhood association and asked whether we were aware of similar flimflams. In the field of computer security, phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, account numbers, Social Security Numbers and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication – such as an email.
On July 10th, the Florida Division of Corporations posted a warning on its website about two widely posted misleading emails. In one case, an entity masquerading as a “Compliance Services” arm of the official State agency is emailing Florida companies, requesting their annual minutes and a fee of $125. In fact, no state agency requires the filing of a company's annual minutes. In the second scenario, something called the “Florida Online Corporate Annual Report Filings” is also emailing businesses, inviting them to file their annual reports on that group’s website. The correspondence is designed to create the false impression that the company is engaging in an official state-sanctioned service effort.
|Bogus Sunbiz Site|
While the first set of bozos is raking in $125 payments from clueless victims, they also stand to receive enough corporate data to initiate a credit scam. While the second suspect site lacked the panache of exacting a fee for inducing a corporate victim to self-compromise fiscal security, a quick trip to the perpetrator’s web site reveals an attempt to solicit data useful for corporate identity theft, personal data about any officers and/or directors and a shot at collecting $50 for a Certificate of Status ordinarily costing $5 or $8.75. To legally insulate themselves from actionable liability, the Division launched the Consumer Alert on the home page of their website. They repudiate claims outlined in the emails and deny any association with the two entities.
The third gambit, embodied in an email sent directly to the neighborhood association, exemplified the State’s most prevalent of summer frauds, those exploiting the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. In May, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum warned residents against paying a fee for processing loss or damage claims resulting from the Gulf oil spill. Since British Petroleum’s (BP) authorized third-party claims administrator, ESIS, is processing spill-related claims on BP’s dime, McCollum exhorted “Floridians need to be on the lookout for people posing as authorized adjusters and requesting fees for free claims services.”
In June, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an alert about “scam artists” using e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, flyers, mailings and telephone calls to solicit money. The FTC reported receiving hundreds of complaints about scammers raising money for bogus environmental causes and fly-by-night charitable organizations or offering fraudulent remediation services. Others toured beachfront neighborhoods, offering to expedite loss claims for a fee or to help homeowners brazenly fabricate “airtight” damage claims. In the email sent to the neighborhood association, an outfit called Industrial Recovery offered a similar service for a fee. However, if requested account information was submitted, the fee would be waived. The snow job was immediately forwarded to McCollum’s office.
In July, the Federal Trade Commission issued another consumer warning. Scammers had begun using fraudulent job ads to exploit the State’s huge pool of unemployed recession victims. Desperately needed jobs were offered in exchange for an up-front fee, usually for training or “certification”. In Atlanta, the police nailed owner Tanya Callaway of a temp company called Just Business. Callaway and partner Atlanta Police Officer Corey Hymes collected hundreds of $80 fees for jobs supposedly guaranteed by BP. The oil company never heard of Callaway or her employment business.
Closer to home, McCollum is prosecuting Able Body Labor, a Clearwater-based temporary staffing firm with 170 branches in 25 states. Another targeted company, Southern Cat of Lynn Haven, is a nondescript opportunistic enterprise cobbled together two years ago. When employment entails exposure to hazardous substances, the law requires that candidates undergo Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard training, otherwise known as HAZWOPER, prior to qualifying for certification. Although the two companies advertised the training as free, when applicants graduated, the companies demanded fat fees of up to $450 before releasing their certificates.
The reason why the Gulf oil spill scams have received such intensive focus from consumer protection agencies and law enforcement is largely a consequence of their nationwide impact. In one particularly egregious June event, nearly 800 members of the Yakama Nation tribe in Washington were offered $40-an-hour jobs clearing tar balls from Gulf beaches. To secure the jobs, they had to provide names, addresses, social security numbers and other data useful for identity theft. Many resigned their regular jobs in order to take advantage of the opportunity, only to learn they were defrauded.
If you’ve been targeted or victimized by any of the tricky hair balls that seem to flourish in Florida, let us know. Your identity will be fully protected. Last November, 3 Galt Mile residents reported falling prey to a fraudulent HUD website. When informed that a well known reporter from a reputable local newspaper read the article and requested introductions, the contributors refused, insisting on continued anonymity. They got it... and so will you! Prior to contacting us, please file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by visiting ftc.gov or calling toll-free 877-FTC-HELP. Sharing your experience will help others find the courage to fight back.
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Bogus FHA Website
Scams Galt Mile Residents
November 6, 2009 - Senior AmeriFirst Underwriter Theresa Schmitz forwarded an email with an importance designation of “High” to Broward Coalition President Charlotte Greenbarg on October 28, 2009. Given her fiduciary responsibilities, Terri is recipient of official informational bulletins from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The message was originally from Congressional Liaison Cheryl Marken of HUD’s Miami Field Office.
|Broward Coalition President|
Addressed to “HUD Partners and Elected Officials,” Marken’s email states: “HUD’s Web team has confirmed that the site www.fhamodification.com is NOT a HUD site. The site has good information (all copied from legitimate HUD sites), but when you click on ‘contact us’ we do not know who ‘us’ is. The proper HUD authorities are investigating this matter, and I do not know if anything can be done other than preventing unauthorized entities from using HUD’s seal, but it is important that you know this site is out there and not affiliated with HUD or FHA.” The message closes with a warning, “FOREWARN your friends, family or neighbors of this recent HUD warning to stay away from company listed.”
Of the three Galt Mile residents who recently sent emails to the Galt Mile Community Association asking about the fraudulent website simply entitled “FHA Modification”, only one had already divulged personal data. She was referred to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to hopefully limit the damage wrought by these identity thieves. The web is ablaze with sites similar to www.fhamodification.com. Impressively bedecked with HUD and FHA logos, the site would pass even informed scrutiny as an official government offering. In fact, it is a “phishing” website.
In the field of computer security, phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, account numbers, Social Security Numbers and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. While most phishing expeditions are promulgated to access existing accounts, others seek to elicit names, addresses, telephone numbers, names of family members and identifying information useful for initiating new accounts. Ordinarily, an email is used as the hook, baited with an anxious admonition to confirm mottled bank account or credit card data, claim some mysterious refund, address an account threatened with suspension or verify a recent nondescript charge or withdrawal.
The “mark” is sent to a web site impeccably designed to mimic a credible and trustworthy institution, where logins, passwords, account numbers, email addresses, etc. are cheerfully harvested by crooks that will either sell the data or simply bang away at the newly accessible accounts. Although the websites of banks and Online Payment Services are traditionally simulated, the scam is metamorphic, adapting to take advantage of opportunities indigenous to the economic climate. As such, many recent rip-offs were socially engineered to exploit lucrative real estate and mortgage lending opportunities.
After acquiring email lists either stolen and brokered on the black market or purchased from mostly questionable commercial data purveyors such as First Data Solutions or 1st Source Information Specialists, Inc., the scammers usually cast a wide net, randomly hooking a few victims. If a customized list enumerates clients of a particular financial institution, the more targeted variation of the scam is known as “spear phishing”. After TD Ameritrade announced in September 2007 that their database of 6.3 million customer email addresses, account numbers, dates of birth, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and trading activity was hacked, the thieves decided that the stolen information would be geometrically more valuable if packaged with user names and passwords. They launched a follow-up spear fishing attack. To help violated customers contend with the resulting blizzard of baited spam (junk emails), the company purchased $6 million of spam-blocking software from Trend Micro Internet Security.
When an attack is directed at certain high profile business targets such as senior executives and major stockholders, the term coined for such ambitious enterprise is “whaling”. A Survey conducted by leading information technology firm “Gartner Research” found that during the 12 months prior to August 2007, 3.6 million people in the United States lost $3.2 billion to phishing assaults.
By inserting links to an often imperceptibly misspelled URL or subdomain, bogus websites imitative of those managed by HUD, Fannie Mae, FHA and a wide variety of mortgage banks are soaking additional $billions from unsuspecting online targets. The current economic turbulence has nurtured a battery of predatory mortgage bottom feeders, foreclosure frauds and other recovery-related scams conducive to phishing. When mimicked institutions that actively monitor the internet discover a fake internet presence, they simultaneously alert customers (potential victims) and report the suspected website to the authorities. Unfortunately, the international nature of these crimes undermines implementation of a concerted effective response to violators. Almost half the thefts in 2006 were committed by groups operating through the St. Petersburg-based “Russian Business Network”, a legally bulletproof web host for sites specializing in child pornography, patent piracy and other variants of cybercrime.
|RUSSIAN BUSINESS NETWORK|
In March, HUD found a site that bilked $millions from unwitting mortgage clients, http://bailout.hud-gov.us/. To demonstrate the international nature of this criminal enterprise (as officially classified by the FBI in 2004), the Domain name was registered in Germany and the site was hosted in California. Newspapers and local governments nationwide issued releases warning readers and constituents against potential victimization. On March 30, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) won a Stipulated Preliminary Injunction, freezing the site’s assets.
Since then, the FTC has been closing similar sites at a healthy pace. As evidenced by the recent HUD warning, the phishing business is adequately lucrative to outlast these disjointed deterrent strategies. For a few hundred dollars, rudimentary familiarity with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language - the main coding language on the internet) and lust for a quick buck, any slime ball can set up a phishing bear trap. Since rooting them out is only useful for limiting the prospective damage, it is imperative that people never respond to online requests for personal information. To avoid victimization, first install good virus protection software. Some downloadable freeware versions are adequate for this purpose and most internet service providers offer free online or email protection (including Comcast and AT&T). If an email or an instant message stirs concern about any of your accounts, call the bank or credit card issuer and make an inquiry. Protecting yourself is seldom that simple. DO IT!
November 20, 2009 - ALERT! - Since posting this article on the GMCA website, 2 Galt Mile residents reported receiving suspicious emails with the following content:
We are contacting you in regards to an unusual activity that was identified in your mailbox. As a result, your mailbox has been deactivated. To restore your mailbox, you are required to extract and run the attached mailbox utility.
Best regards, xxxxxxxxxxx.com technical support.
Another email contained the following text:
Dear user of the xxxxxxxxxxx.com mailing service!
We are informing you that because of the security upgrade of the mailing service your mailbox (email@example.com) settings were changed. In order to apply the new set of settings click on the following link:
The hackers want the user to click on a link provided below the text, initiating one of two consequences. In one case, the link triggers installation of a computer virus. The other carries the user to a site with another link that the user is encouraged to click, which also infects the user’s computer with a virus.
In both cases, the links in the emails are coded to simulate valid communications from the user’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) or web host, but they are not. They LOOK like they contain either your web-site address or your email address, but they do not. A quick “Google” of the text revealed that this malicious email is nationwide, with client admonitions from IndyWeb, a web host serving Indianapolis, Indiana and local web hosts such as Host Depot. Please be extremely cautious with these kinds of emails and don’t hesitate to delete them ASAP.
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Driven to Distraction
August 22, 2007 - Over the summer, 58 Galt Mile residents corresponded with the Galt Mile Community Association after having received notification that a law was passed during the 2007 legislative session governing newly enacted draconian penalties for traffic violations. Although two letters and one telephone call were received, the vast majority of communications were forwarded emails containing the original threatening content or emails describing the penalties at issue. The forwarded emails revealed a statistically improbable similarity in structure and content generally indicative of an organized agenda – otherwise known as a hoax.
While several variations of the email were sent, the following version is representative of the basic genre. It was sent by a friend who shall remain anonymous. This is the email’s content:
Eric: do you have any way of verifying the recent changes in Florida Driving Laws enumerated in this email? Thanks - (name deleted)
Attached was the following document:
This was received from someone who should know, and who is attempting to get the word out to people in his company. I think for those of us in Florida, this is really worth knowing, and for those not from Florida, worth remembering should you decide to travel this way.
Subject: FLORIDA DRIVING LAW –
This is very interesting for you to read – new Florida driving laws enacted today…
- These are new fines that were implemented on 8/1/07 for the State of Florida.
- As of 8/1/07 cell phone use must be “hand free” while driving. Ticket is $285. They will be looking for this like crazy – easy money for police department.
- Cell phone use in the construction zone – Double Fine
- Carpool Lane – 1st time $1068.50 starting 8/1/07. 2nd time is doubled 3rd time is tripled and 4th time license suspended
- Incorrect lane change – $380. Don’t cross the lane on solid lane or intersections. Block intersection $485.
- Driving on the shoulder – $450
- Passengers over 18 not in their seatbelts – both passengers and drivers get tickets
- Speeders can drive only 3 miles above the limit
- DUI (Driving Under Influence) = Jail (Stays on your driving record for 10 years!)
Please forward to ALL friends and family...
In the Urban Legends and Folklore section of About.Com, they offer, “This message is a slightly revised version of an email hoax circulating since January 2007 which purports to announce new California traffic laws slated to go into effect this year. Similar copycat hoaxes have also circulated in Texas and Georgia. ”
An April 14, 2007 article published in the Palm Beach Post explains, “Hundreds, if not thousands, of Floridians are getting e-mails warning of new traffic fines including $285 for improperly using a cell phone and $1,068.50 for illegally driving in a carpool lane. Outraged motorists are calling Florida’s motor vehicle department demanding to know more about the new laws. The answer: There are no new laws. It is all an email hoax.”
A broadcast on NBC6-TV News reported last week, “‘We have been getting a lot of calls on this,’ Pat Santangelo of the Florida Highway Patrol said. NBC 6’s Hank Tester quizzed cell phone users on the street in South Florida. ‘I heard about that,’ Cindy Maradona said. ‘I was all ready to buy a Bluetooth.’ It turned out the e-mail was only a rumor. ‘I have seen the e-mail you have seen,’ Santangelo said. ‘That’s not anything official from the state of Florida.’”
|NO YAKKING WITHOUT CELL PHONE MOUNT|
Another web site devoted to exposing rumors, scams and hoaxes, Snopes.Com, provides more extensive background for the email, stating that the original email was entitled, “New traffic laws going into effect in California in 2007” A June 2007 variant of this message claimed the new traffic laws applied to Texas, not California. That version is also false, as the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has noted on its web site:
“False information has been circulating regarding new traffic laws. There are no new traffic laws going into effect in July. More specifically, there are no new laws going into effect in July related to cell phones, seat belts or carpooling. No cell phone bills were passed this Legislative session. (This misinformation started as the result of an inaccurate e-mail and incorrect information on various Web sites.)”
A July 2007 variant of the e-mail asserts the new traffic laws applied to Georgia, not California. That version is also false, reports Georgia’s Governor’s Office of Highway Safety:
“An e-mail has begun making its rounds across the country listing several traffic laws that supposedly took effect in Georgia on July 1, 2007, including carpool lanes, incorrect lane changes, driving on the shoulder, and DUI. The e-mail also lists fines for the violations.
The e-mail is false and is being adapted for various states as it is passed along, most recently listing Georgia.
Please be aware that this is false information and no such changes have occurred in Georgia.”
Another July 2007 variant of the e-mail asserts the new traffic laws applied to Florida. That version, which elicited unnecessary statewide concern as expressed by residents along the Galt Mile, is also false.
As a rule, if unsolicited information mysteriously appears in your email box, it warrants a skeptical reception. Typically, these will be sent to you by trustworthy friends who received – and then forwarded – the fake messages out of a genuine concern for you and their other friends. This imparts to the information an undeserved appearance of credibility. The victims of the email hoax often wind up confirming its veracity with one another, thereby further perpetuating the scam.
Ironically, many of the correspondences were post scripted with suggestions that some or all of the hyper-punitive penalties contained in the hoax email are worthy of enactment, intimating that they could possibly help abate Florida’s burgeoning traffic death statistics.
Widely distributed internet hoaxes will usually be reported in the local media, as was this one. If searching the news media for confirmation of the unsettling news usually contained in these scams leaves you cold, there are web sites, such as Snopes.Com (www.snopes.com) and the “Urban Legends” site, that collect and expose these hoaxes. As such, two minutes of surfing will clear the air. If the info isn’t there, wait several days and try again. A new or recently revived hoax may require some investigation before being admitted to the “hoax-identifier” web sites. Notwithstanding, another one bites the dust!
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Jury Duty – Identity Theft!
April 5, 2007 - Scams abound without end. As long as people believe that short cuts are a fruitful path to accomplishment, they will get caught in their own trap. This scam takes advantage of the widespread ignorance that most people have about how the jury system works and inadvertantly eliciting the Government’s ire. I recently received this information in an email from Lorraine Alfano, the concierge at L’Hermitage. Lorraine has a penchant for checking out information that doesn’t pass the smell test. This Jury Duty Scam didn’t make it passed her nose!
“Most of us take the summons for jury duty seriously, but enough people skip out on their civic duty, that a new and ominous kind of scam has surfaced. Fall for it and your identity could be stolen, reports CBS.
In this con, someone calls pretending to be a court official who threateningly says a warrant has been issued for your arrest because you didn’t show up for jury duty. The caller claims to be a jury coordinator. If you protest that you never received a summons for jury duty, the scammer asks you for your Social Security number and date of birth so he or she can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. Sometimes they even ask for credit card numbers. Give out any of this information and .... Bingo! Your identity has just been stolen.
The scam has been reported so far in 11 states. This scam is particularly insidious because they use intimidation over the phone to try to bully people into giving information by pretending they're with the court system. The FBI and the federal court system have issued nationwide alerts on their web sites, warning consumers about the fraud.
Pass this on.”
The person who contacted Lorraine also said, “I checked Snopes and this is for real.” This is the link to Snopes (a scam check site): http://www.snopes.com/crime/fraud/juryduty.asp
Thank You, Lorraine! - *editor
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A True Rarity – A Lifesaving Email!
July 22, 2005 - I am often targeted by an assortment of confused individuals who implore that I send out an email to “ten other people” in order to achieve cosmic wealth. My finger has been conditioned to delete these prior to contacting the area of my brain that cognates. I recently received an email from Lorraine Alfano, the concierge at L’Hermitage, which prompted me to alter my usual behavior. It is excellent advice; it saves lives. After sending it off to friends and family, I decided to make it available to everyone. Following is the message contained therein.
“Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness spells disaster. The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms of a stroke. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:
Ask the individual to SMILE.
Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently) (i.e. It is sunny out today)
If he or she has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.”
After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three questions. They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association’s annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent brain damage.
A noted cardiologist said if everyone who gets this e-mail sends it to 10 people many lives will be saved. My physician agrees; so do I.
Thank You, Lorraine! - *editor
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Do Not Call SCARE
Have you received an email warning similar to this?
In 31 days from today, cell phone numbers are being released to telemarketing companies and you will start to receive sale calls. YOU WILL BE CHARGED FOR THESE CALLS. To prevent this, call the following number from your cell phone: 888-382-1222. It is the National DO NOT CALL list. It will only take a minute of your time. It blocks your number for five (5) years.
If you’ve received an e-mail telling you that your cell phone is about to be assaulted by telemarketing calls as a result of a new cell phone number database, REST ASSURED THAT THIS IS NOT THE CASE. Telemarketing to cell phone numbers has always been illegal in most cases and will continue to be so. In response to recent e-mail campaigns urging consumers to place their cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission issue this advisory to give consumers the facts. Not sure? Click Here to see for yourself!
Here’s what you need to know about the National Do Not Call Registry program:
FCC regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent.
The federal government does not maintain a national cell phone registry. Personal cell phone users have always been able to add their numbers to the National Do Not Call Registry — the same Registry consumers use to register their land lines — either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling toll-free 1-888-382-1222 from the telephone number they wish to register. Registrations become effective within 31 days of signing up and are active for five years. There is no cut-off date or deadline for registrations.
Business-to-business calls are not covered under the Registry.
To learn more about the National Do Not Call Registry and the rules that enforce it, visit the FTC at www.ftc.gov or the FCC at www.fcc.gov. For more information about a planned “wireless 411” directory, visit http://www.qsent.com/wireless411/index.shtml.
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Phishing on the Galt
Internet scammers casting about for people's financial information have a new way to lure unsuspecting Galt Mile victims: They go “phishing.” Phishing, also called “carding”, is a high-tech scam that uses spam (unsolicited “junk” email) to deceive consumers into disclosing their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords, and other sensitive information.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the emails pretend to be from businesses the potential victims deal with - for example, their Internet service provider (ISP), online payment service or bank. The fraudsters tell recipients that they need to “update” or “validate” their billing information to keep their accounts active, and direct them to a “look-alike” Web site of the legitimate business, further tricking consumers into thinking they are responding to a bona fide request. Unknowingly, consumers submit their financial information - not to the businesses - but the scammers, who use it to order goods and services and obtain credit.
Banks and Internet Service Providers like America Online and Comcast will never ask you for password information via phone or E-Mail, as that information is private and is only known by users. Additionally, ISPs will never ask for billing or payment information through E-Mail.
To avoid getting caught by one of these scams, the FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, offers this guidance:
- If you get an email that warns you, with little or no notice, that an account of yours will be shut down unless you reconfirm your billing information, do not reply or click on the link in the email. Instead, contact the company cited in the email using a telephone number or Web site address you know to be genuine.
- Avoid emailing personal and financial information. Before submitting financial information through a Web site, look for the “lock” icon on the browser's status bar. It signals that your information is secure during transmission. Always ensure that you’re using a secure server when submitting credit card information. To make sure you're using a secure server, check the beginning of the web address in your browsers address bar - it should be https:// rather than just http:// (note the “s” after the “http”).
- Review credit card and bank account statements as soon as you receive them to determine whether there are any unauthorized charges. If your statement is late by more than a couple of days, call your credit card company or bank to confirm your billing address and account balances.
- Report suspicious activity to the FTC. Send the actual spam to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you believe you’ve been scammed, file your complaint at www.ftc.gov, and then visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Web site (www.ftc.gov/idtheft) to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from identity theft.
- Visit www.ftc.gov/spam to learn other ways to avoid email scams and deal with deceptive spam.
The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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Pay - per - Call cam
A fast-growing scam that has been identified by the National Fraud Information Center, the F.C.C. and others is the “809”, “284”, “876” or some other three-digit phone number. You may receive an e-mail, usually with a subject line of “ALERT”. The message reads something like: “I am writing to give you a final 24 hours to settle your outstanding account… If you would like to discuss this matter to avoid court action call (e.i.) 1-809-496-2700.” Or, you could receive a similar message on your answering machine asking you to call an 809, 284, or 876 number. Since there are so many new area codes these days, many people unknowingly return these calls. If you call from the United States, you apparently will be charged $25 per minute - or more.
The 809 area code is located in the Dominican Republic and can be used as a “pay-per-call” number, similar to 900 numbers. Since 809 is not in America, it is not covered by U.S. regulations of 900 numbers. Similarly, “876” is an area code for Jamaica and “284” goes to the British Virgin Islands...same deal!
The bottom line is do not respond to these e-mails or messages by calling the 809 (or 284, or 876) phone number. Trying to fight the charges later can be a real nightmare since you actually did make the call!
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A Word of Caution
60% of all emergency patients go to the hospital by private transportation, some even drive themselves! Using a private vehicle, you have no control over the bridges and you are at the mercy of an open bridge. Conversely, when EMT personnel determine that there’s a real emergency in your home, they radio the bridge control center and the bridge is ordered locked down until after your ambulance passes. The moral of this story is “a real emergency should be handled as such with nothing left to chance.”
This article was written by Robert Eagan. It continues to be excellent advice! [Editor]
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THE TAX ADMINISTRATOR'S OFFICE SAYS:
“You may be the cause of increasing your own taxes!”
Every time an owner sells an apartment for a price representing something other than the real property, that price is registered in the tax appraiser’s roles as the real estate value on which taxes are levied.
This can amount to many thousands of dollars, resulting in severely over valuing the real property and it’s taxes. Most buildings avoid this by the use of a form that requires the buyer and seller to report only the actual value of real property to the County Tax Collector who, incidentally, also encourages buyers and sellers alike to do it right.
After all a $5000 built in sound system shouldn't raise the taxes levied on a real property!
This useful advice was also written by Robert Eagan. When buying or selling a condominium, request the appropriate form from the condominium’s business office! [Editor]
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