An effort to crack down on human trafficking by banning hourly rental motels in Miami was drowned out Thursday by personal disputes, as city commissioners ultimately pushed back a vote on a bill until next month.
The tension mounts at the town hall when Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla spoke about his proposal to ban hourly rentals in hotels and motels in the city, arguing that these establishments allow prostitution and sex trafficking.
“I think this is a serious problem. Miami needs to take serious issues seriously and start prioritizing the good things. Stop talking nonsense and start talking about the big issues, ”Díaz de la Portilla told the Miami Herald in an interview.
He pointed to a bunch of motels on Southwest Eighth Street in Flagami and mentioned other places in Little Havana and Allapattah, which is in his neighborhood, as problem areas. Politicians from other Miami-Dade cities have spoken out in favor of the legislation, with Coral Gables new mayor Vince Lago referring to his efforts to tackle “the devil” in the nearby city.
But Commissioner Manolo Reyes, whose district includes Flagami, asked for a postponement after he said he spoke with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle about the strengthening of the order.
“We talked about a lot of different things that could be added to this ordinance,” Reyes said. “She would like to have some time to watch this.”
Commissioner Joe Carollo agreed with Reyes and questioned whether a traffic problem was really concentrated in and around these hotels.
“The last thing I want to do is make it look like we have a problem where we don’t have a problem,” Carollo said. He said he wanted more time to closely study crime statistics and possibly expand the order to include a crackdown on massage parlors where he suspected trafficking was occurring. The proposed changes might not go far enough, he said.
Díaz de la Portilla said the issue was urgent and suggested that political influence was stand in the way of a policy that would benefit the neighborhoods around these businesses.
“This is what we see here today. Some special interests get in the way. Very little special interest. A very big deal of cash. Prominent lawyers working on their behalf because they want to continue this business model, ”he said. “And as a government, as policy makers, this business model can no longer be part of everything that has to do with Miami.”
The commissioners are fighting
Thursday’s back-and-forth was the latest outbreak between Carollo and Díaz de la Portilla, former allies whose once-powerful political alliance has deteriorated amid scandals and accusations of impropriety.
At one point, Carollo suggested that Díaz de la Portilla obtained a “new hallelujah religion” after being accused of pushing a code inspector into an unlicensed party venue operating after the curfew. Díaz de la Portilla has vehemently denied the wrongdoing, and three police camera videos show no physical altercation.
“Do you want to talk about your incidents? Said Diaz de la Portilla. “It was not an incident. It was a made-up incident.
“Don’t interrupt me,” Carollo said. “I have the floor. If you want to deal with it, let’s go to the radio station, and we can deal with it. “
Commission President Ken Russell tried to defuse it, to no avail.
“If you want to make it personal, with a lie, which you know to be a lie, I will make it more personal,” said Díaz de la Portilla, waving his hand and speaking above Carollo.
“You don’t intimidate me. You’re a little man, Carollo yelled.
“You can shout whatever you want,” said Díaz de la Portilla.
Carollo, angered that Díaz de la Portilla had said four of those hotels were in Little Havana, asked aloud for the names of the companies. Díaz de la Portilla said he was not a “snitch.”
After more discussion, Russell hit the hammer and called for a vote. Russell, Carollo, Reyes and Commissioner Jeffrey Watson voted to reconsider the order on June 24. Díaz de la Portilla, who wanted a vote on Thursday, was the only vote against.
More in-depth debate to come
The show drowned out a political discussion that takes place in various cities of Miami-Dade. Coral Gables adopted a similar measure in 2016, and Hialeah’s board recently gave initial approval to its own ban. Lago spoke out in favor of the order after the postponement, pledging to return in June with survivors of sex trafficking.
“I faced the devil, face to face. Not once, not two, but 13 times, I have carried out undercover operations with the Miami City Police Department, the City of Coral Gables and Kathy Fernández Rundle’s Human Trafficking Division ”, Lago told the commissioners. “I went to all of these hotels at 2 or 3 in the morning. I have seen unspeakable acts against women in our community.
Oscar De la Rosa, vice chairman of Hialeah City Council, and developer Avra Jain were also present to defend the ordinance. Jain spoke to the Herald about the transformation she saw after she bought a series of motels on Biscayne Boulevard on the Upper East Side – once known as a prostitution haven – and eliminated hourly rentals.
“Overnight it was transformative,” she said. “You no longer saw prostitution. You have seen families walking the sidewalks, people with their dogs, and new businesses opening. “
This story was originally published May 13, 2021 6:03 pm.