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True: Nothing Says Miami (government) Like Billboards

Those of us who mistakenly thought our big local needs were things like affordable worker housing and transportation upgrades missed the biggest need of all: more and bigger billboards closer together on our skyline.
While the rest of us snoozed, our thoughtful commissioners knew that what every Miamian wants to see is advertising towering overhead on billboards and buildings, bigger and brighter and ever more intrusive.

Besides, commissioners knew that the visitor industry was hungering for a year-around Art Basel effect with public art everywhere: the great outdoor art known as billboards plastered on every public building, filling parks and towering over highways. What a great attraction for visitors bored with beauty, nature, fine architecture and the landmarks that now fill our vistas.

In fact, the new rules are creating a great tourist lure with its own slogan for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to promote globally: “Nothing Says Miami Like Billboards.”

And the wonderful thing is that three elected officials got the brilliant idea of more and bigger brilliant billboards at almost the same time. It must be coincidence, because none of those who have slipped this idea into law or are near doing so ever mentioned the high-powered, deep-pocket billboard lobby that has had politicians in its pocket for years. Just coincidence – but it’s catching, like the flu.

Sure, almost everybody must want bigger billboards nearer home because only two county commissioners voted no when outgoing Chairman Jose “Pepe” Diaz in his last day of many years on the dais pushed through billboard legislation last month.

Certainly, nobody from the public spoke against it. Maybe that was because the vote had been scheduled after a Dec. 22 public hearing but was quietly pushed up to Nov. 15, as the commission suspended its own rules that required committee review and a hearing first and waived the requirement that municipalities get a four-week to six-week notice before the action.

Mr. Diaz was right, of course: if people got proper notice they’d have screamed about raising the legal limit for billboards along highways 20 feet higher and allowing the billboards 200 feet nearer estates and single-family homes. Just make sure they aren’t there to object and ram it through.

In the City of Miami, two commissioners simultaneously dreamed up their own legislation “independently.” It’s catching, and again purely coincidence based on the evident public need to blot out the sunshine with the bright lights of digital billboards.

First out of the box was former mayor Joe Carollo, who has been watching out for the public for decades and knew that we were missing digital billboards in our bayfront parks. These billboards would give mom and dad the chance to tell the kids to put away their ever-present cellphones and get out to our great open-air parks without missing a digital minute.

He must have been right because he faced only one no vote, from Manolo Reyes, who doesn’t know digital beauty when he sees it because he asked how these billboards “would impact the environment and city residents.” What could he possibly be thinking? Or maybe he just hasn’t been talking with the right lobbyists. Former Miami commissioner Marc Sarnoff, for example, once said he wanted to make Miami more like Times Square. Looks like he’ll get his wish.

While Mr. Carollo’s plan would get billboard art into three parks, he apparently didn’t go far enough. Competing legislation by Alex Diaz de la Portilla calls Mr. Carollo a piker and says he’ll up the ante, allowing billboards three times the total area of the biggest highway billboards and up to 10 stories tall on all government lands in the heart of Miami. Now there’s a sport.

Again, only Mr. Reyes vote no in the first round. “This opens every single city property for one of those signs,” he complained. Yes, and every other government property too. And more than one sign, because there are no limits.’
Well, there actually are limits: at 10 stories, the sky is the limit.

In the county, Mr. Diaz suspended the rules to pass a billboard bonanza without having to face annoying public comments. In the city, Mr. Diaz de la Portilla got the rules changed so the commission-appointed Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board can’t slow the billboard steamroller with annoying questions. Just another coincidence, no collusion.

Final city votes are upcoming in what will be billed as a revenue-generating tool for billboard fees. When times are bad that claim is a good cover for bad legislation. But the city is awash in tax revenues and expanding staff.
No, the real sales pitch for towering billboards changing digital messages every eight seconds just has to be their natural beauty. Just like putting lipstick on a pig.


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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail

Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.


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Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.

“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.

Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.

We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.

Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.

The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal



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‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price

Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.

What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?

It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.

A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.

Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.

She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.

Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.

“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.

It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.

She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.

“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.

The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.

Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.

“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.

Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.

She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.

“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.

In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.

News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.

“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.

One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”

That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.

No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.

They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.

“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.


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