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How Miami's Cute New Trolleys Led To A Civil-Rights Investigation

Dave Reid/Flickr http://bit.ly/1dOK8dy

In recent years, snazzy trolleys painted like old-timey street cars have been rolling on Miami-Dade streets. They're free to ride and hit hotspots from Miami’s Midtown to Coral Gables.

But what's gotten the county, and some of its cities, in trouble with the federal government is where the trolleys don’t go: the West Grove, a predominately black neighborhood in the city of Miami.

The Miami Herald’s Jenny Staletovich has written extensively about this ongoing issue. Here's an excerpt from an earlier story of hers explaining why the Federal Transit Administration claimed Miami-Dade, Miami and Coral Gables violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

In response to citizen complaints, federal transit officials are taking a closer look at how Miami-Dade County and local cities are spending tens of millions of federal dollars doled out to help finance the trolleys and a slew of other transportation projects. The money, part of the massive $787 billion stimulus package pushed by President Barack Obama, was approved by Congress in 2009 to boost the country’s depressed economy. At issue is whether the local projects fail to serve poor and minority communities, potentially violating the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The inquiry is part of an expanding probe that began last fall, when federal transit officials found that Miami, Coral Gables and Miami-Dade mishandled a plan to move a trolley maintenance garage from Coral Gables to the West Grove. The plan was approved without sufficient input from West Grove residents, as required by the civil rights law, federal officials said.

Although the city of Coral Gables is cooperating with the feds to solve the complaint, its city attorney, Craig Leen, disagrees with the FTA’s accusation — at least where the Gables is concerned.

“There is one trolley that is owned by Miami-Dade Transit that we basically borrow. They let us use it under an agreement,” Leen told WLRN. “It is a tremendous extension of jurisdiction by the FTA to argue that because we have this one trolley that means any facility we build, even if it doesn’t use any federal funds, is subject to Title VI.”

Jenny Staletovich breaks down this complicated issue.

WLRN: Regarding Craig Leen’s response, is that a similar reaction you’ve heard from other city and county officials concerning what the federal government has said?

"It doesn't service our areas, we're in the city of Miami. Then there's the noise issue, there's the traffic issue, and then also there's the pollution." — Clarice Cooper

Staletovich: The city of Miami has a separate issue because they have 19 trolleys that they use federal money to pay for. Their issue is the routes that the trolleys take. [West Grove resident] Clarice Cooper, who filed the complaint, says that they have trolleys running all over the city in many different neighborhoods, but they don’t have them running through the West Grove. And that’s her complaint: the buses that they have available they have to pay for, the free trolleys don’t come into their neighborhood.

What’s the next step? How is this getting resolved?

Well, Miami-Dade Transit, as a recipient of the fund, administers it to these 18 different cities who are getting money. So, it’s their job to insure that the Civil Rights Act is being followed.

What have the feds found? Are the cities following the rules or is this sort of a widespread issue of noncompliance?

The feds are in the middle of looking into Clarice’s second complaint, that Miami in particular is not following the law with its 19 trolleys. They are also meeting monthly with the county and with the cities to try to bring them into compliance and make sure on these various projects they’re following the law.