On the morning of July 3, 2018, two crews showed up without warning at a wooded lot on North Halifax Avenue in Daytona Beach. Brandishing chainsaws and other implements of destruction, they set about hacking down underbrush, small trees, and 29-inch, 32-inch and 38-inch Live Oaks of a size as to be deemed “historic.” Destroyed along with the site and buried in mulch were the archaeological remains (human and otherwise) of a Native American village that had occupied that beautiful land some 2,000 years ago.
Also destroyed, by the way, were the homes of about 50 homeless people who had been living there, along with the few shards of their belongings.
In the footprints of the Conquistadores.
‘One of our greatest advantages is that our state’s leadership understands what it takes for a business to thrive and is committed to creating an environment that promotes growth and prosperity for all Floridians.’
— Eric Silagy, President & CEO / Florida Power & Light Company
“According to the Florida County Government Guide: “‘The State of Florida has one of the most comprehensive and progressive land use planning programs in the country.
“‘[T]he Community Planning Act was enacted by the Florida Legislature for the purposes of strengthening the existing role, processes, and powers of local governments in the establishment and implementation of comprehensive planning programs to guide and control future development. … [It includes] laws, rules, regulations, and policies affecting all planning and development activities of the state and local governments.’
“‘… This statute requires that all local governments adopt, maintain, and implement land use plans and development regulations for all future development actions. It also requires that all geographic areas within the state be included within the jurisdiction of a local comprehensive plan and that all development actions be consistent with the adopted plan.’” [emphasis added]
In addition to the omnipresent Comprehensive Plans is a maze of “Master Plans” detailing development plans for every aspect of state and city life.
Then there is the Florida Strategic Plan for Economic Development which brags, “Chief Executive Magazine ranked Florida as the second-best state in which to do business in 2018, for the second year in a row, up from sixth in 2010.” Then it goes on to describe the wonders of “Opportunity Zones” which will:
“enhance local communities’ ability to attract businesses, developers and financial institutions to invest in targeted low-income areas. These new Opportunity Zones will help Florida’s communities in need to secure investments and bring more economic development to local businesses and provide more job opportunities to local families.”
The zones — based on U.S. census tracts — are part of a federal program to grant tax breaks to corporations investing in “distressed” neighborhoods, and are portrayed as a plan to fight poverty and create jobs. In fact, it is a plan to fight the poor, particularly the Black community (which constitutes 40% of the nation’s Homeless population), as well as the Latino communities throughout the state. (For a United Front Against Gentrification explores this dynamic in St. Petersburg in some detail.)
Florida has 4,245 census tracts, and Rick Scott has designated 427 such zones (approx. 10%) as Low Tax Opportunity Zones, claiming, “These Zones will make a real and lasting difference in some of our highest-need areas … ensuring that every Floridian has the chance to live the American Dream in the Sunshine State.” [Of 12 such zones in Volusia County, a cluster of them in Daytona Beach includes Census Tract 810, right across the Halifax River from the bulldozed property on Halifax.]
Less thrilled is the Brookings Institution, which warns:
“a state’s Opportunity Zones could also serve as a subsidy for displacing local residents in favor of higher-income professionals and the businesses that cater to them—a subsidy for gentrification.”
Or the Converation, where Jeff Weaver writes:
“Sadly, these policies almost inevitably result in tax giveaways for investment that would have occurred anyway, as we’re beginning to see with opportunity zones. Under such circumstances, displacement from gentrification is the likely result.”
But the City of Daytona Beach is all too eager to jump right in:
“Our mission is to encourage economic development in Daytona Beach by retaining and facilitating the expansion of existing businesses, attracting new viable businesses to the area and fostering the development of complementary business clusters. We shall remain mindful of the community vision …”
Apparently, that “community vision” includes driving out the homeless, and the Daytona city government has supported the Juggernaut over the homeless at every step. As the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported on July 30:
“A few weeks after a North Halifax Avenue lot was cleared of all vegetation, questions are being raised about whether any city codes or state laws were violated. … It appears a new city effort to get homeless squatters off private property may have run amok in the case of the narrow lot between the Overlook Apartments and Cobblestone Village condominiums. …
“City spokeswoman Susan Cerbone said Assistant City Attorney Gary Glassman gave the property’s owner, Patrick Sullivan [president of local realty and development company Shamrock-Shamrock], “permission/approval to clear the property, not realizing Mr. Sullivan had already been told he couldn’t clear cut the property by other city personnel.”
The local newspaper details another outrage — the knowing destruction of “archaeological remnants”:
“The report penned by a historic preservation planner and an archaeologist says the ridge crest above the river was densely populated for 2,000 years, and what’s left tells a story about technology of the time, sources of food there, and the settlement pattern. … ‘It is perhaps the last example of a continuous occupation village midden along the middle stretch of the Halifax River.’ …
“When a local resident complained to code enforcement that work was being done without a permit, a code inspector sent an email saying the complaint was determined to be unfounded. …
“Neighborhood residents have contacted the state Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] and Volusia County Health Department since they’re worried about the environmental impact of burying things found in the homeless camps and the possibility of drug users’ needles and human waste washing into the river water. …
“We have just begun our investigation into the matter,” [DEP spokeswoman Ashley] Gardner said. “The department takes instances of noncompliance seriously, and we will hold the property owner accountable if violations are found.”
An official with the Volusia County Health Department inspected the site July 18 and no bio-medical waste was found on the ground, said department spokeswoman Holly Smith. The health department referred any further investigation to the DEP, Smith said.
The lengthy article details how the demolition violated multiple city policies and laws, over “historic” trees. It was opposed by responsible city officials, concerned neighborhood residents who didn’t want things like used hypodermic needles buried next door, and by “other city personnel.” It ignored the well-known fact that previous attempts to clear the property had been disallowed. Yet the Volusia County Health Department, a development company, the Daytona police, the city attorney’s office, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and city code inspectors colluded to present us a “done deed.”
Developer Sullivan’s attorney Keri-Ann Baker clarified everything. “[W]e were happy to clear the lot but we didn’t want to do a bunch of studies.”
The article does not record how any of the homeless felt about all this.
The assault doesn’t end here.
The News-Journal later reports:
“The ordinance is modeled after one adopted in St. Petersburg, and that rule has already been tested in the courts: Two years ago, the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the city’s ordinance did not curb First Amendment rights. … Even before that ordinance was passed, however, Daytona Beach police were getting tougher with homeless people in public parks, issuing citations for blocking sidewalks, public consumption of alcohol and ‘loitering’ around restrooms.”
That sound you’re hearing outside your window is the crunching of the bones of the Homeless.
What is to be done?
“Rather, I’d be asking, what CAN be done?” states Gayle Gorlewski, co-chair of the Volusia County Green Party. “We are in the heart of one of the most vicious states in the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. How do we even start? And we need something that can endure. Something that can provide a springboard for future struggle.
“Legions of lawyers work overtime to mask the assault on the Homeless in ‘legal’ language,” says Gorlewski. “We remember Anatole France’s bitter quote, ‘The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.’ We prefer to speak not only in terms of legal rights but in the language of Human Rights.
“We need to lay out some fundamental principles,” Gorlewski continues, “and we need to identify some of the chinks in the Juggernaut’s armor. So a good start would be with the ‘Florida Homeless Bill of Rights.’”
That document was drafted for the Florida State Legislature, and has been introduced in various cities around Florida. It states in unequivocal language that “Every person, regardless of housing status, has the following Human Rights”:
Right to Housing.
Right to Equal Treatment.
Right to Employment Fairness.
Right to Personal Safety.
Right to Enjoy Public Space.
Right to Rest.
Right to Medically Necessary Treatment and Behavior.
Right to Vote.
Right to Personal Property.
Right to Social Exchange.
The teeth of the Bill, such as they are, is that “every local law enforcement agency shall annually compile, review, and make available to any inquiring party, the number of citations, arrests, and other enforcement activities made pursuant to laws prohibiting” a list of activities essential to a decent, human life. But that doesn’t take the anti-homeless statutes and ordinances off the books. Nor does it clear out the state’s county jails, the “home” of too many of our Homeless.
“They say one of Daytona’s ordinances is modeled after one adopted in St. Petersburg,” points out Gorlewski. “In fact, Daytona’s are in toto nearly identical to those in St. Pete. So the Pinellas County local of the Green Party has actually drafted a series of statutes — they call them the Dignity Ordinances. Each of 10 ordinances attacking the Homeless has been rewritten to bring the Homeless out of the shadows. Let them panhandle. Let them camp in the parks, and so on. We cannot allow our governments the ability to make the homeless invisible. Clearing out the Homeless is just a first step toward driving up rents so high that nobody but the rich can afford to live here either. Daytona’s water and downtown districts are just their first targets.
“As co-chair of the Green Party of Volusia County, I intend to do several things,” Gorlewski continues. “We can learn from St. Petersburg as that city seems even further down the road to full gentrification. Then there is the foundation laid by Pastor Mike — our local street pastor and homeless activist — who was carrying on the fight before he sadly passed away at the end of August. Our chief of police had declared Mike an ‘Organizational Terrorist’ after he and 100 homeless people camped out and surrounded the Municipal Building in the middle of the downtown Daytona Beach’s retail district for three weeks back in 2016. They made sure that the crowds flocking to our Speedway knew what was being done to Dayton’s Homeless. We want to see that his work continues.”
Steve Baker, Secretary of the Volusia Green Party and a long-time activist, hints at a political strategy. “It’s always the same thing — do something egregious and then blame it on the poor. A Green Party mayor would not have allowed this type of thing to happen.”
The Question is Power!
“The Gentrification Juggernaut rolls on,” adds Rose Roby, co-chair of the Pinellas County Green Party. “But we’ve made a start here in Pinellas and St. Petersburg. We’ve endorsed the Homeless Bill of Rights, of course, and we’ve rewritten the local laws. But drafting good laws is only a start. Passing them — and enforcing them — in the face of the Development Juggernaut is something else again. We will have to be able to bring organized force to bear. That only comes from, dare I say it, actual organizing.
“But I say, in for a penny, in for a pound! The recent campaigns of Robin Harris for County Commission in Orange County, and of Elijah Manley for School Board in Broward County teach a big lesson to all of us. As Elijah explained after the election, his campaign started with a powerful and radical message. Then they knocked on some 40,000 doors. They got 43,000 votes. It works! You do have to have the message, for starters. Then you require the organization to get that message out to the people. We have to have our own machinery. Message. Organization. That equals Power!
“By wielding even a small measure of actual power, we can start to hammer away at the chinks in the Juggernaut’s armor. They are investing billions in this state. They are expecting billions and more in return. But that return — called ‘Return on Investment’ or ROI — is always a gamble. When they look at Florida, their eyes are aglow like the eyes of Cortez and Ponce de Leon as they gazed upon the riches of the New World. They see a paradise for white people. But what they can’t see is that the people of Florida are restless.
“We know Florida is a humanitarian disaster in the making,” Roby concludes. “We also know it’s an environmental disaster in the making. We know that the poor are hardest hit by both. By running more of these serious campaigns like Robin’s and Elijah’s, we can create what we call a Hostile Development Climate. We can really mess them up. Then we can halt the racist assault. Then we can begin to create a decent environment for all the people of Florida.”
— Jeff Roby
September 11, 2018