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NUMBER 1 - JANUARY, 2019
HOW DID THESE ILLEGAL ELECTRIC SCOOTERS END UP ON THE STREETS OF MIAMI? THE SAME WAY EVERY OTHER GANGSTER ENTERPRISE HAS SET UP BUSINESS IN THE CITY SINCE THE BEGINING OF TIME. THIS TIME HOWEVER, THE BACKROOM DEALING RAISES QUESTIONS OF WHETHER THE GOINGS ON IN CITY HALL ARE RIGGED FOR THOSE WHO ARE CONNECTED, AT THE EXPENSE OF PUBLIC SAFETY AND QUALITY OF LIFE
Two weeks ago I wrote a story about the sudden appearance of illegal electric scooters in Miami. Over a very short period of time residents and visitors in parts of the city like Wynwood, Brickell and Coconut Grove discovered dozens and dozens of these scooters ready to be rented and driven on the city's sidewalks and streets. When the riders finished zipping around, the scooters were easily discarded helter-skelter like the ones above,
All of this was occurring without permission or authority, because as I originally wrote these scooters were illegal according to Florida Statute 316.003(77).
It was like having squatters wander into your home one day with items to start a business, and proceed to set up shop on your porch while giving you the finger when you asked what they were doing.
Tom Falco who publishes the Coconut Grove Grapevine fell in love with them and declared that their appearance in the Grove was pretty much the best thing that had happened since the Hippies showed up in the 60's with free weed, free love and the occasional dose of clap.
I wrote several responses to Tom's stories that he refused to post pointing out that all of those photos that he posted of these electric scooters on the sidewalks and streets of the Grove were evidence supporting the claim that they were not only illegal, but that they represented a real threat to people on both sidewalks and streets.
Neither of the two principal companies - BIRD and LimeBike - or any of the other companies currently contemplating plopping these electric scooters anywhere in the city made any effort to comply with any law before they physically showed up and started putting electric scooters on sidewalks throughout the city.
For instance, none of them had applied for business license (BTR), the first step in establishing a legal business in the city, and in fact, this was not just an oversight, but was actually part of a well-thought out strategy of invasion that starts with these companies often showing up in cities unannounced, putting these electric scooters on any piece of public or private land that they figure they can get away on a short term basis, hiring high-priced lobbyists and then, like any invading army, trying to get the natives to accept their presence as a fait accompli and negotiate an agreement that gives them the right to stay, and on terms that benefit them.
These companies are all operating off of a set of ground rules that spell out just how the folks behind what have been described as "disruptive industries" believe that business should be conducted in the 21st century.
The Pied Piper of this business model is a guy named Bradley Tusk, who started out as the campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg in New York when he ran for Mayor, and then became a political advisor to the folks who came up with the idea for UBER. (The Michael Bloomberg connection will surface again further down.)
In the July 2016, edition of Inc. Magazine, Tusk was so proud of his strategy that he explained it in very plain and simple language, and that upon reflection reveals little more than a gangster approach to forcing yourself on unsuspecting communities whether they want you or not.
It's essentially the same model that organized crime has always used to set up shop, and with similar results, especially when you consider Tusk's admission that if you first give politicians money and political support and they still don't do what you want, then you go and find whatever dirt you can to force them to play ball, and if that doesn't work, then you do what's needed to get them removed.
Here is how Tusk explained that business model to Inc. Magazine.
The reality of Tusk's message is not necessarily about creating public good, as much as it is about insider dealing making.
This strategy of invasion by these so-called "disruptive industures," are as much, if not more about creating a business model funded by venture capitalists - which is one reason why Bradley Tusk's company Tusk Ventures also bills itself as a venture capital firm - that serves as the foundation to turn these ventures into publicly traded companies through an Initial Public Offering (IPO), where the insiders and investors hope to cash by becoming either billionaires or centi-millionaires.
The two most aggressive companies vying for dominance in this scooter market are BIRD - they have the Black/White scooters like the ones in the photo above - and LimeBike - the Green/Yellow scooters - who first showed up in several Villages in the County last year with bicycles.
Nationally, BIRD has been the more aggressive of the two companies, and the subject of flattering/unflattering stories, HERE, HERE, that focused on both the amounts of money that they've been able to raise in a very short period of time and the disruptive, and even arrogant way in which they have invaded some cities.
In Santa Monica, California, they had to pay a 00,000 settlement after setting up without permits and racking up more than 000 in fines.
BIRD is a company that was founded by Uber's ex-VP of Driver Growth, Travis VanderZanden, and that Tusk's company, Tusk Ventures is an investor in BIRD.
Here is a portion of a New York Times story from June 12th, that talks about their latest funding efforts.
One of the benefits of a company like BIRD raising so much money is their ability to try and put a polished veneer on their otherwise gangster behavior by hiring high-priced lobbyists to sweet talk politicians into overlooking the thuggish way that they muscled their way into a community, and using these lobbyists to get them any kind of agreement that will allow them to add another city to their list of locations, thereby feeding the narrative that this is a company worth investing in.
In Miami, BIRD hired Jose Felix Diaz, a former State Representative who's now with the major lobbying firm Ballard Partners, along with Katherine San Pedro, another partner in the firm. In addition, BIRD also sent Matt Yale, their director of Regulatory Affairs from Chicago, to play kissy face with the locals.
Yale seems to have devoted much of his time to Commissioner "Selfie Boy" Russell, with offers of meetings and copies of a draft interim agreement and even a draft ordinance, and for good measure dangling a possible interview for Russell with the New York Times reporter who was writing the June 12th story.
Below is a portion of the text message string between Yale and Russell, that indicates not only Russell's eagerness to see these scooters on the streets of Miami, with or without any permits or permissions, but also his interest in making sure that any participation with the Times reporter would only occur, "if it's "(t)he right message and Angle."
Russell might be weak on legal niceties like permits, permissions, or on looking out for the safety and well-being of the overwhelming number of residents in his District who would not be scooter riders, but he's definitely learned in the last year and a half all about managing his image and covering the "Angles.".
(To see a larger version of this, and all the other public records citied in this story, click HERE.)
On May 30th, according to an entry in the Mayor's calendar, and a story that appeared on Channel 10, WPLG's website, BIRD held a press conference at the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative in the West Grove that was supposed to be an announcement that they were making these illegal electric scooters available for "free" to the graduates of the Initiative's Job Training Program.
The event was attended by Mayor Suarez, Commissioner Russell, and a TV crew from Channel 10.
The only problem is that when I spoke to Joe King, the VP of Operation for the Thelma Gibson Health Initiative, he disagreed with the Channel 10 article I read to him.
He provided me with a written response that stated:
"As mentioned, Bird Scooters representative Matt Yale was in
contact with our agency about the potential for our clients to
use Bird scooters for commuting locally, as well as collecting
the scooters nightly to earn money. Our organization is happy
to partner with companies who expand opportunities for our
clients but it was explained to Mr. Yale that until our board
approves a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and
information like insurance, Sunbiz and such which need to
be vetted, that any public statement relating to this potential
partnership should include the language of "intent"."
The lack of a press conference did not stop Channel 10 from shooting the below promotional video of these scooters zipping up and down Grand Avenue illegally, nor of an employee of BIRD posting a link of the Channel 10 video on his Twitter Page.
So, in addition to posting a story on their website that was not factually true, Channel 10 ended up basically shooting a TV commercial for BIRD.
How does something like that happen, and how does that constitute, "news?" "News" would have been reporting that they were lured to an event that was fake, and that the scooters were operating illegally.
This cross-promotional hustle in support of an illegal activity reveals not only the willingness to try and take advantage of a non-profit in the West Grove without bothering to comply with any of the legal niceties like an agreement or insurance, but the most disturbing thing about all of this was the attendance of both the Mayor and a City Commissioner at this staged event.
For the Suarez and Russell to be hustled so easily does not inspire confidence in their ability to tell shit from Shinola without it being rubbed on their noses.
But it gets better, or worse, depending on you level of cynicism.
THE CEASE AND DESIST LETTERS
There's been real concern voiced by growing numbers of city employees - I've yet to talk to a single city employee who has not voiced concern about these scooters being on the sidewalks and streets of the city - and especially among some police officers who are seeing the flagrant misuse of these scooters by riders zipping in and out of traffic on streets and sidewalks putting pedestrians at risk, as well as by residents who couldn't comprehend how these scooters started showing up in various parts of the city almost overnight, and in some cases, they are upset over near miss experiences with these scooters.
These concerns prompted several meetings at City Hall in recent weeks, where it was decided that the companies needed to be informed that they could not continue to operate illegally, while at the same time, because the Mayor and Commissioner "Selfie Boy" Russell value their images as young, progressive visionaries; images tied to the opinions and financial support of the millennial target demographic of the average scooter rider rather than to concern for the safety and well-being of the general public, that here was also discussion to draft some sort of legislation to legalize these scooters.
This effort was confirmed at last week's meeting when Commissioner "Selfie Boy," announced that he would be sponsoring such legislation at the next Commission meeting.
And here is where things veer off into It's Miami, Bitches! territory.
Last week, Chief Assistant City Attorney Rafael Suarez-Rivas wrote two letters, one to BIRD, and the other to LimeBike.
The letter to LimeBike sent on June 13th, was a short, direct order to "immediately cease and desist," within 72 hours, and failed to reveal that the city would be "considering regulations establishing a licensing program..."
The BIRD letter sent on June 14th, was far more solicitous, "respectfully" requesting that BIRD "cooperatively cease and desist," their operation within 72 hours.
VICTORIA MENDEZ AND THE LIES SHE TELLS ME
City Attorney Victoria Mendez and I have a long history of her lying to me. On two occasions I've had to sue the city, for its refusal to provide me with public records, in large part because she lied to me about the documents not existing, and the city in turn has had to pay 2,500 in attorney's fees to the law firm that represents me to settle those cases.
I don't just throw around wild accusations when it comes to the lies that Mendez has told me over the years. She lies, I catch her. I write about it, and on occasion if she really pisses me off, I sue the city!
So let me explain this lie.
The two letters with different messages were purposely sent, and not because of some after the fact change of policy on how to deal with these scooters between the writing of the first and second letter.
This was admitted by none other than the author of the letters, Chief Assistant City Attorney Rafael Suarez-Rivas, who in an accompanying message that he sent to one of Commissioner Russell's staff that included the copy of the letter to LimeBike, stated:
"Here is a letter that was just mailed to an Operator. We are planning
to send a somewhat similar letter to others vendors operating in the
City. We are gathering their contact info. We will copy you with those
letters as well."
The key words are, "We are planning to send a somewhat similar letter to other vendors..." If the intent had been to send the same letter, he would have written that.
For Mendez's claim to be believed, Suarez-Rivas would not have sent, much less admitted sending the letter to LimeBike and then consequently stating that the LimeBike letter was not the same, but "similar" to the one that would be going out to BIRD and the other companies clearly indicates that there was a separate policy in play for each company.
Make no mistake, and I have been able to confirm this with a source inside the City Attorney's Office that the letters sent to BIRD and LimeBike were written the way they were on purpose. The question left ponder is what's coming next?
REMEMBER I TOLD YOU TO REMEMBER MICHAEL BLOOMBERG? WELL, WHERE YOU FIND HIM YOU'LL FIND MANNY DIAZ
When I introduced you to Bradley Tusk of Tusk Ventures, I pointed out that Tusk had started out his career as the campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg's campaign for Mayor of New York.
In Miami, if you ask any inside player in the city to name a local political player linked to Michael Bloomberg, it would be former Miami Mayor, Manny Diaz. (HERE) (HERE)
That would be the same Manny Diaz who was photographed walking down a Boston street a week ago with Miami's current Boy Mayor, Francis Suarez.
More importantly, since 2012, Manny Diaz has served on the board of the Bloomberg Family Foundation, which is the parent organization that operates a number of initiatives including the, What Works Cities initiative.
Manny Diaz sits on the board of this initiative, and the City of Miami was chosen as one of the ten cities to compete for the million grand prize, or one of the four million runner up prizes.
Do you wonder what the house rulles are when you get to spend a billionaire's money? Do you have to recuse yourself from voting on a deal if one of the potential recipients is the city you used to be Mayor of, or is it insider's rules, where suckers is just another name for people who think the game isn't rigged.
Personally, being the cynic that I am, I'll bet that Miami will get one of the million runner-up grants, Francis Suarez and the propagandists in the newly configured Communications/Propaganda Office will spin it as a combination of winning the lottery combined with the brilliance of the current leadership of the city, and everybody will meet at the millionaire's saloon to toast their good fortune to being in on the deal flow.
Now, it's just wild speculation - and maybe it's not so wild - but do you think that maybe, just maybe, behind the Cuban Coffee Curtain at City Hall there is also connection between the Mayor and Bradley Tusk that was facilitated by Manny Diaz, and that that connection has influenced the way that Tusk's company, BIRD Scooters - and remember, Tusk's company is not only doing the marketing and promotion for BIRD, it is also an equity investor - was treated by the City Attorney's office?
To appreciate the strength of that connection you need to know, or remember, that the lobbyist for LimeBike is Michael Llorente. Llorente was Suarez's Chief of Staff during his first commission term, and I have written about the connection between him, Jesse Manzano, another partner in LSN Partners, who has served as Suarez's campaign manager. (HERE), (HERE)
The degree of disrespect shown by the difference of language between the BIRD and LimeBike letters indicates either a breach has developed between Suarez and his LSN pals, or that BIRD has acquired a foothold inside of City Hall, not matched by anyone else.
This brings us back to Victoria Mendez, because besides lying, her second skill is survival, and that has always been predicated on knowing which way the wind blows, sometimes even before the wind does.
HOW HAVE ELECTRIC SCOOTERS FARED IN NEW YORK CITY?
I cannot continue without pointing out that in New York City where Bradley Tusk lives, the Bloomberg administration in 2004 outlawed the use of electric scooters.
In 2014, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the City went further by outlawing electric bikes, another problem that's coming to Miami.
Here is a portion of a story in the Queen's Gazette about these bikes:
"A law passed by the City Council last April went into effect on
November 11, prohibiting the use of electric bikes in the five
boroughs. Under the law, it is also illegal to sell, lease or rent
the vehicles in New York City and fines for violation of the law
start at ,000.
Restaurant and other business owners will be held liable for
violations racked up by food delivery or other employees caught
illegally operating the electric scooters while on the job, police
The City Council passed the measure following a series of serious
pedestrian and motor vehicle accidents involving food deliverers
who use the electric bicycles to cut the time it takes to make
deliveries. Drivers often bolt onto the sidewalks to avoid traffic
and park on the sidewalk to make deliveries, zig-zagging around
pedestrians who are forced to run for cover, police officials said."
The agenda for the next Commission meeting isn't up yet, but there are 3 items - in fact there are probably 4 or 5 - that are all predicated on efforts by one or more Commissioners, along with the Mayor, to screw the residents in the time honored tradition that occurs every June and July, when the sleaziest and slimiest deals often show up for a vote while people are away on vacation, or distracted by the heat.
The first of those has to do with the changes in Historic Preservation language in Sec. 23 of the City Code regarding the "wooden shotgun houses" in the West Grove. The second is the long awaited proposal sponsored by Joe Carollo and his sidekick Manolo Reyes, to create a new Housing Department, or Authority, or the Bend Over Because We've Got Plans To Screw Somebody ordinance. People, especially people and groups concerned with affordable housing in the city need to pay real close attention to this one.
The third item is whatever ordinance Commissioner "Selfie Boy" and the Boy Mayor come up with to legalize these electric scooters.
The fact that both the Mayor and Commissioner "Selfie Boy," openly supported these electric scooters, and in Russell's case he even went so far as to encourage these scooters to be put in his District when he knew that they were illegal, does not bode well for him or the Mayor showing much concern or respect for the safety and quality-of-life and limb to the overwhelming number of residents and visitors to Miami who WILL NEVER use one of these scooters to go hither and yon.
Among the many concern that any draft ordinance raises is one about insurance coverage for folks who end up getting hit and hurt by these scooters.. A reading of the current user contracts of these companies should alone make the City of Miami balk at the notion of having these vehicles anywhere within the city limits, unless these companies are required to assume some liability for the damage - and it's not if, but when - their scooters cause.
ARE OTHER COMMUNITIES HAVING SIMILAR PROBLEMS?
In the meantime, I went on Google and asked the question: "Cities having problems with electric scooters."
Below are some of the stories that popped up.
Folks in Miami might pay attention to what folks in other cities are saying and doing about this problem, and if they are really concerned about the safety and quality of life issues that these scooters can pose, then they should mark their calendars now and show up at City Hall on June 28th.