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Lake Worth uses cops, code enforcement in brazen effort to get rid of city’s poor

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Lake Worth Commissioners Scott Maxwell, left, and Omari Hardy at July 24 meeting discussing how to change the city’s demographics

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org

During a workshop drenched in anti-immigrant and racist overtones, Lake Worth commissioners laid the groundwork for an ongoing code enforcement crackdown on low-income residents in some of the city’s poorest sections.

The goal: to push out low-income residents and ward off outsiders who don’t fit preferred demographics.

Lake Worth, population 38,000, bills itself as “an extraordinary place where tranquility meets creativity. Where the sun shines bright, and the ideas shine even brighter.”

Here’s one bright idea uttered last July by Vice Mayor Scott Maxwell more than four hours into a discussion about commissioners’ visions for Lake Worth: “We have to change the demographics, but no one is willing to say it…Lake Worth is the default repository for the poor and indigent.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Lake Worth’s racial makeup is about 43 percent Hispanic, 34.6 percent white, non-Hispanic and 19.2 percent African-American.

For the sake of progress, Maxwell argued, the city should not create an environment “where we welcome folks who are not supposed to be here.”

When Maxwell first ran for office in 2009, he hosted a now-defunct radio show about how illegal immigration hurt Lake Worth. The Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition accused him of having ties to the white supremacist group Stormfront, according to Broward New Times.

Omari Hardy, the lone African-American on the five-member city commission, responded that he wanted to attract individuals making $60,000 or more annually, preferably with a college degree. “I want that person,” Hardy said. “That person probably has a higher level of education than our average resident.”

Using city code and cops

To achieve their goal of reconstituting Lake Worth’s population, Hardy said the city can use code enforcement and law enforcement as “the stick” to go after owners of dilapidated properties.

“We do it through law enforcement, through code enforcement and through land development regulations that can encourage someone to sell their property for a lot more to someone else who can build something on top of it,” Hardy said.

A code enforcement citation handed out by Lake Worth this month as part of a crackdown on poor residents.

The video of the July 24, 2018 workshop has gone unreported until now. A non-profit organization called Palm Beach County Tenants Union alerted Florida Bulldog to the video’s existence amid an aggressive code enforcement campaign to remove derelict vehicles from streets and driveways as well as to slap building violations on dozens of mobile homes in Lake Worth’s poorest neighborhoods.

“We found this video and it corroborated our belief that the city was targeting immigrant, low income neighborhoods in massive code sweeps,” the tenants union said in a statement. “This is not about helping poor renters and property owners. This is about displacing those who do not fit the vision of the city’s redevelopment plan.”

Florida Bulldog placed two phone calls each and sent emails to Maxwell, Hardy, Mayor Pam Triolo, Commissioners Andy Amoroso and Herman Robinson and City Manager Michael Bornstein for comment. None of them responded.

Lake Worth is no stranger to selective code enforcement against minorities. In 2006, the city settled a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of eight Guatemalans who were evicted from their homes following heavy-handed inspections by code enforcement officers and sheriff’s deputies. The Florida Equal Justice Center, which represented the low-income immigrants, accused Lake Worth authorities of selectively targeting homes occupied by Guatemalan residents.

A city crackdown

Over the past year, the tenants union has tracked the city’s use of a $300,000 federal community block grant to fund a citywide sweep of broken-down cars and vehicles without valid license plates. In November and December alone, the city “red-tagged” 593 vehicles, towing away more than half that were parked on private properties, according to an analysis of the code enforcement citations issued during those two months and a Google map identifying the location of the vehicles that the tenants union provided Florida Bulldog.

Lake Worth Mayor Pat Triolo is flanked, left to right, by commissioners Scott Maxwell, Omari Hardy, Herman Robinson and Andy Amoroso

“Instead of using grant money meant to help low-income neighborhoods, they used it to go on door-to-door sweeps with sheriff’s deputies, intimidating residents in immigrant neighborhoods and fining them for things like flat tires & towing their work trailers from their own driveways,” a tenants union member said. “These are low-income neighborhoods with a large Guatemalan and Haitian population.”

The tenants union member was one of three Lake Worth residents who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they fear city authorities will retaliate against them. In addition to towing vehicles, Lake Worth code enforcement officers in early January launched a sweep into the Holiday II Mobile Home Park.

“The city set up a meeting with residents there,” the union member said. “They brought pizza and kids’ toys, and then proceeded to awkwardly tell the residents through a translator that code enforcement would be inspecting everyone’s mobile homes for compliance, and they would have to tear off any additions at their own expense.”

Lori Milano, Lake Worth’s assistant director of community sustainability who oversees code enforcement, did not respond to a phone message requesting comment.

Code enforcement officers have cited the owners of nearly half of the 70 trailers at Holiday II, according to the second anonymous resident, a Guatemalan woman who received six violations, including for peeling exterior paint on her trailer, failing to remove old tree stumps and not having a valid trailer registration.

Some of her neighbors have received violations for illegal additions that were already part of the mobile homes when they purchased the trailers, the woman said. “Some of the fines are for $150, $200 and $300,” she said. “I have lived here for five years. I bought it for $2,000 and spent about $10,000 fixing it up.”

The woman said residents are scared they won’t be able to pass subsequent inspections and be forced out of their trailers. “Some neighbors are saying we should look for a new place to live,” she said. “But I don’t want to leave. Uprooting my children is not easy and moving will be very expensive. It’s hard to find a three-bedroom house that my husband and I can afford to rent.”

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  • How about we talk about Americans who have worked hard to achieve their dreams and live in south florida. Do illegal immigrants have the same right as them?

  • Yes, your civil status doesn’t mean you are not protected under the laws of your host country. When I was living and working in Mexico as an undocumented English teacher, I would have been awarded the same protection against criminal activity as any Mexican. If someone stole from me, I could call the police…that’s how its supposed to work here too. Unfortunately our ICE and Border patrol enjoy tremendous over-reach, Targeting immigrants for prosecution specifically makes our communities much more dangerous. It protects criminals from prosecution because the victims are afraid of “the authorities”, Criminals are free to pillage and steal. This is why in many cities we find crime rates drop when the police focus on crime and not on the civil status of the residents….Like many midwest towns that have undocumented workers in the factories and farms.

  • There should be a standard that all residents have to abide by. If we have code, we should all have to follow it rich or poor. Yes I agree they need have the ordinances in more languages so it is understood by everyone in the community. I bought an old crack house and have been fixing it up, and all I get from my neighbors are that they are so happy that I’m cleaning it up. No one is saying I wish it was still a abandoned crack house. We all want a cleaner, safer, and better city, and if we ever want anyone to invest in Lake Worth we need a better standard of code that is followed.

  • According to PBSO, there are approximately 15k illegal aliens (that’s the legal term) who are undocumented, uncounted and living in Lake Worth. That’s not people coming through the immigration system of the US or documented asylum seekers waiting for their process who are counted among our numbers as persons residing here. That’s “half” the documented population of Lake Worth. More come everyday, and Lake Worth has made it on the list of destinations for those looking for a safe place to live under the radar by those advocating for them to do so. That’s completely unsustainable for our city regardless of how you feel about the issue of immigration and immigration laws. What to do about it is another thing. When areas of Lake Worth become destination targets for junkies, pimps, hookers and drug dealers, the way it typically is dealt with is law enforcement and code.

  • You can be poor, but there is no excuse that you can’t be clean and abide by any of our Laws, whether it be Local, State or Federal! You come to this Country and need to Assimilate, part of that means speaking the Language! We should not have to go through taxpayers expense to put things in different languages! I certainly wouldn’t move to another Country and not speak the Language. Don’t Enable, Educate please!

  • I live in lake Worth and I think this is absolutely deplorableI voted for all of these people and I won’t vote for him again

  • Talking about education. Does this Lori not know that the second language of the United States is Spanish…. does she not know that about a quarter of the U.S. was once owned by Mexico and Conquested by the Spaniards. in every other country two languages are taught in school, Mandatory. The U.S. falls behind with one. I agree everybody in our country needs to learn English however lets not dumb down our citizens. I learned two languages. That’s real education. Educate Lori.

  • I live in one of the neighborhoods in Lake Worth where they are red-tagging vehicles for having a low tire or a work trailer. We are not “dirty.” We are not “junkies, pimps, and dealers.” We are everyday people who work and lead honest lives. Maybe we don’t have time or money to have perfectly manicured lawns–but that’s probably because many of us are maintaining everyone else’s properties. Try being a single parent working for minimum wage ($8.46) and then the city slaps you with a fine for having a work trailer that you need to do your job. And if you can’t make the 5 day time period in time, the city tows it away. There is no reason for the city to be so punitive to its own residents–especially when this whole operation is being funded by a grant that was supposed to go towards positive community projects (like parks, after-school programs, trash clean-up crews, sidewalks, etc.) Instead of that, they are going after working people for things that don’t hurt anybody and aren’t even eye-sores. There are plenty of places to park in our neighborhood and Code is even going on private property to tag cars in private parking spots: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pRD7QZHM9k Meanwhile, there are still terrible potholes on our streets. Our city representatives should be working for the people who live here–not people they want to replace us with. They should be ashamed of themselves.

  • As a resident of lake worth I’ve witness this first hand. When contacting the compliance officer in hopes of locating the Lake Worth City Code compliances written in black and white so to speak looking for guidelines and advice to ensure my home is within standards I was given only a website link. These people are being payed to enforce as well as ASSIT in providing information to residents of Lake Worth. Some residents aren’t good with English but yet they expect to ensure they are within standards. How can one fix what they are not being explained? Through intimidation? No. I’m a legal US resident with flaws in speaking English and understanding it but once again I pay taxes for these people to provide with me answers and not only given a simple website link attachment.

  • Although you need a certain amount of code enforcement, In my opinion running everyone’s registration parked on the street is overstepping they’re authority. And I question the legality of that behavior.

  • Deport the fucking illegals already!!!!!!!! The town is overrun. Where is ICE and why have they not been called???? Every elected official should be screaming his head off about this.

  • Same thing happened in ft. Lauderdale. Many people had beautiful land yards but we’re
    Told to violate doe a
    Kleenex on the ground. It’s called selective enforcement and before you judge anyone you should look at the master plans to see if your neighborhood is targeted
    This practice is done
    To being in urban residences and increase the tax base. Don’t be naive people. Sharon Bourassa , Esq. I sued ft lauderdale
    For this

  • Ft lauderdale code enforcement targeted the nw section for alleged code violations. Same thing happened in ft. Lauderdale. Many people had beautiful land yards but were
    Told to violate if a
    Kleenex was found on the ground. It’s called selective enforcement and before you judge anyone you should look at the master plans to see if your neighborhood is targeted
    This practice is done
    To being in urban residences and increase the tax base. Don’t be naive people. Sharon Bourassa , Esq. I sued ft lauderdale
    For this.

  • This is even affecting me and I’m not a minority unless you consider single mom (yes, I’m white), struggling w 2 jobs, trying to keep a roof over our head, fed, and paying the ridiculous water/electric bills this city has. Then they want you to replant your yard but won’t help w the water bill. So they will just keep fining people. And mishandle grant money… come on maybe if they did something to fix the infrastructure people would want to live in the city. Citations and fining isn’t the answer. They just don’t want to have to admit they are failing as a city.

  • Oh yeah, and I’m college educated

  • The Lake Worth lawmakers are completely incompetent. We have just successfully removed a $95,000 lien on a home sold to our tenant with a Land Contract. The city and their attorney refused to acknowledge our contract and slapped fines and liens on us. We were forced to hire an attorney at great expense to fight this unjust violation. Today we have reversed the lien and fines through the magistrate court. Lori Milano and the city’s attorney should be fired. Justice has prevailed but we are out thousands of dollars. Lake Worth needs to clean up the neighborhood but their approach is WRONG.

  • They are also trying to get rid of all gays.now it has become a shouting match we a gay person walks down the street yellin fagot. Really I gots should be shut down.isnt that called a hate crim?

  • Lori Milano when she worked for the City of Fort Lauderdale, she and her cohort assistant City attorney, Paula Tighe fabricated false code violation against myself and property. This was for the benefit of their friend and my neighbor, Frank Rush, across the canal from my property. The intent of Frank Rush was to drive me out of my property and force me to sell it.
    This trio connived to come up with totally false code violation and they relentlessly pursued me with the threat of $500/day. They offer no recourse for me to correct the violations, because there were none to correct. Therefore I was forced to sell my property, which just sold for $1.5 million. This was not a slum piece of property.
    Lori Milano was fired from the City of Fort Lauderdale on suspicion of mortgage fraud.

  • This is corrupt person and should not be in a government position or any position of power over a people. She cannot and should not be trusted.
    I have kept full legal documentation of transcripts of Lori Milano’s shenanigans.
    Lake Worth be careful of this person her services are for sale. She has no ethics. Maybe Lake Worth is looking for a person with no morals, judging from some of the statements made by City officials ??

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