Talk of the Town in June

A Testament to Live Theater

The Annual Auction at Actors’ Playhouse 

Talk of the Town in June

Sometimes it takes a village, and last month the community stepped up at the 31st Annual Reach for the Stars Gala Auction at Actor’s Playhouse on Miracle Mile. With food provided by a stunning array of 28 city restaurants, from Bachour, Bulla, Clutch, and Forte, to Morton’s, Pascal’s, Pincho, and TUR, the popular event auctioned donated gifts via live and silent auction. Headlining this year’s trove was a one-year lease for a 2022 Lexus RX 350, provided by Lexus of Kendall. Auction items also included a luxury cruise courtesy of Azamara, hotel packages, fine jewelry, restaurant dinners, golf packages, art, home décor, sports collectors’ items, beauty treatments, and more – all contributed to the theater. 

The evening was hosted by Actor’s Playhouse Founding Board Chairman Dr. Lawrence E. Stein and Executive Producing Director Barbara S. Stein. The live auction was led by Erik Sanudo of TEBO Estate Buyers & Sales, with a little help from Actors’ Playhouse Artistic Director David Arisco. Funk Pedal, featuring Von Henry on vocals, Don Slesnick III on guitar, and Michael Curtis on bass rocked the house as the spirited bidding raised $160,000 to help fund the Actor’s Playhouse mission: To enrich the Gables with high caliber live theatre productions. “I was moved by the level of community support,” said Barbara Stein. “This is a city that loves its live theater.”—Brooke Noble 

Kings Bay Backlash 

Nearly $3 Million in Grant Money is Rejected by the City Commission 

One of the perennial issues facing Coral Gables – and all of Miami-Dade County, for that matter – is the need to convert septic tanks to sewer hookups. As water levels rise due to climate change, underground water will ultimately leach into the tanks, polluting the aquifer and Biscayne Bay. With that in mind, city staff applied for a grant to convert the homes in Kings Bay from septic to sewer. Kings Bay, a community of some 154 households, is the last bay front Gables community still on septic tanks – and hence a likely future polluter of the bay. The good news: city staff was awarded a grant of $2.7 million from the state to help pay for conversion. The bad news: It had to be matched by another $2.7 million. 

With scant notice, the city proposed the matching funds come from Kings Bay residents – to the tune of about $20,000 per home. Even if payments were stretched out for 10 years, that would still mean $2,700 per year per household. Worse yet, representatives from Kings Bay who addressed (and even heckled) the city com- mission said the price tag could climb far higher, since homeowners would be responsible for hooking up to the sewer line, moving trees, repaving torn up driveways, etc. 

As expected, homeowners were against the proposal. Sooner or later, the entire city is going to have to convert – and pay. Why should Kings Bay be singled out for a special assessment? That sentiment was conveyed to the Commission through numerous emails and phone calls. The only problem, as pointed out by representatives of non-profit Miami Waterkeeper, is that if the $2.7 million is returned to the state, it will be lost, and the state will be less likely to issue further grants to an ungrateful Coral Gables. 

For that reason, Commissioner Rhonda Anderson proposed a delay of 30 days, to give staff a chance to find alternative ways to pay the residents’ portion. But her appeal went nowhere. Vice Mayor Michael Mena declared he would not leave the residents in a state of uncertainty. Mayor Vince Lago bemoaned the loss of nearly
$3 million in environmental funding but voted with Mena and Commissioners Jorge Fors and Kirk Menendez to reject the grant. He later told Coral Gables Magazine that he voted “no” for the sake of consensus and subsequently wished he had voted to search for alternative funding. The motion would still have been rejected 3-2. 

One thing Anderson pointed out was that residents were not informed of the grant and proposed surcharge until April 17, hardly enough time to make an educated decision by the time the Commission took up the issue on April 26. Indeed, one resident told commissioners that, now that she was learning more about the benefits of sewer lines over septic tanks (improved real estate values, among them), she wished there was more time to explore other funding solutions. Staff, meanwhile, were instructed to see if they could save the grant for another purpose. As of press time nothing had come of it. – J.P. Faber 

Question of Privacy 

A Lawsuit Against the City’s Cameras Continues 

Mobile surveillance camera on US 1

Raul Mas Canosa has lived most of his life in Coral Gables. “It is a city I love,” he says. “But Big Brother has now taken over our city… spying on me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, day and night. And I think that’s wrong.” 

The source of Mas’ agita is law enforcement’s use of Automated License Plate Readers, which the city has used since 2015 to capture the images of car license plates entering and leaving the city. The idea is to provide a “geo fence” around the city, to help capture would-be criminals who enter the Gables to commit crimes. It paid off handsomely a few years back when an alleged murder suspect from New England was ‘tagged’ driving through the city. 

Mas Canosa does not see it that way, and filed suit in 2019, saying that his 4th Amendment rights (protection from unreasonable searches and seizures) had been violated. 

Discovery in the case revealed that as of January 2019, the city had cataloged 393 photographs of Mas driving around the city. Each photograph includes the precise date, time, latitude, and longitude of his vehicle, and an estimate of the nearest address and intersection. The 80 pages of documents show “it is clearly my vehicle,” Mas says in a video produced by the New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group that took on the case. “In some cases, you can see my dog’s head sticking out of the window.” 

Talk of the Town in June
Automated license plate reader at the entrance to a bridge in Coral Gables

Last year, a trial court ruled against Mas, deciding that since he was driving in plain view, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy. That was not a sufficiently good reason to deny the case, say NCLA attorneys, who took the case to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in December. 

“People have various reasons to keep their habits secret,” says Sheng Li, an NCLA lawyer. “Their church-going habits, for example. We are not saying that ALPRs have no use. The problem is that the data is being stored for three years. There is no need for that long.” The use of ALPRs, says the NCLA, amounts to “warrantless surveillance” that infringes on the privacy rights of residents like Mas Canosa. 

The city does not see it that way, especially since it never used the data against Mas Canosa. “The city is very pleased to have pre-vailed at the trial court level and is confident that the appellate court will agree with the lower court’s ruling,” said city attorney Miriam Soler Ramos in a statement. “The City is glad to be able to continue using this effective law enforcement tool.” –Mike Clary