Miami Springs says United Teachers of Dade mural violates code

·6 min read

The United Teachers of Dade has been cited by Miami Springs for code violations after it unveiled a mural that includes a child of color reading a book, a verse from a Maya Angelo poem, and a Gay Pride rainbow.

“If you do not see the word mural on an ordinance this does not mean it’s allowed, means you should make an inquiry with the Building & Zoning department first and present your mural,” Miami Springs Councilwoman Jacky Bravo said in an email to the Herald on Aug. 31. “We are not talking about a small stamp on the wall. Seems like they took a blind eye on this one, and unfortunately has caused an issue to be dealt with.”

The vibrant mural was unveiled last March at 5553 Northwest 36th Street, in the UTD parking lot. The union represents more than 30,000 county school employees, including teachers and other staffers.

Last year, former President Barack Obama made a surprise stop to UTD where he campaigned for President Joe Biden, in what was his first South Florida event in two years.

Months later, a mural went up with a political message to Florida lawmakers, its artist said.

On March 18, a mural went up and UTD tweeted: “Today, we unveiled “RISE”, an art mural that depicts the importance of #publiceducation and its crucial role to ensure a functioning #Democracy; it symbolizes the resilience of our community and their continuous fight for #justice and #equality. Stop by UTD and check it out.”

“The idea was to make a mural that addressed pending legislation in Tallahassee, at the time, that would affect public schools, as well as the rights of minorities and those in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Luis Valle, a Miami-based artist who was commissioned by the union to paint the mural. “It is about inclusivity for all people and all cultures.”

Valle named his mural “Rise” and says it is a call for all who struggle to stand and face life’s challenges using benchmarks that include education, justice, and free speech. The mural now faces its own challenge.

UTD reply

“UTD reviewed all the codes before contracting our mural artist in order to perform our due diligence,” United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in an emailed statement to the Herald on Oct. 11. “Additionally, we spoke to a former council member to double check our findings and that individual also concluded that the Miami Springs City Codes did not address this topic.”

Hernandez-Mats submitted a permit application on May 17 for a “mural painting” and paid a $125 permit fee, according to documents obtained by the Herald through a public records request.

However, the city requires permits to be obtained before work starts.

Miami Springs’ code compliance division issued a “notice of violation” on March 25 to the union site’s property owner, UTD Building Corp., for violations that include:

--improper size of wall sign

--improper placement and/or width of wall sign

--improper construction of sign

--failure to comply with applicable color palette

“Failure to correct the violations by the time due shall cause this case to be set for hearing before the code compliance board and may result in fines, costs and/or a lien levied against you and the property,” the notice said. “Fines imposed shall not exceed $250 per day for a first-time violation.”

The city gave UTD until April 24 to correct the violations, according to the notice. Potential fines, as of Oct. 13, could run as high as $43,000.

“Following conversations with the city and in effort to resolve the matter amicably, a permit was submitted after the citation,” Hernandez-Mats said in her Oct. 11 statement.

When asked by the Herald which former Miami Springs council member, and who exactly at the City of Miami Springs, spoke with Hernandez-Mats, UTD spokeswoman Sonia Diaz replied via email on Oct. 12: “We are not at liberty to disclose that information and have nothing to further add on this matter.”

Diaz also declined to say whether Hernandez-Mats lives in Miami Springs, citing safety concerns.

“The art piece is not a sign for the building or our organization; it has no logo or company name on it because it is an artistic expression in the form of a mural with no other intent,” Hernandez-Mats’ said in her statement.

Miami Springs’ color palette

Bravo attached and highlighted a portion of the code, in her Aug. 31 email to the Herald, which says a sign’s “base colors and materials shall be warm pastels, light pastels or shades of white selected in compliance with the approved City of Miami Springs color palette.”

According to the city’s color palette, accepted hues for the Northwest 36th St. district include “American white,” “Montgomery white,” and “China white.” Rainbow colors are not listed.

“In the interim, we have been victims of vandalism in a city that we perceived as being exceptionally safe,” Hernandez-Mats said in her statement.

A vandal captured on video recently defaced the colorful mural, shortly after the Herald made inquiries about it, causing an estimated $1,500 in damages, police said. And the person who tossed red and black paint on the mural could have inadvertently done UTD a favor.

If the mural damage is deemed “irreparable,” Miami Springs may impose a fine not to exceed $5,000, according to the violation notice. This amount is $38,000 less than potential fines of $250 per day, for about 172 days, which currently totals $43,000.

However, the mural is easily repairable, according to the mural’s artist.

“No biggie, easy fix,” texted Luis Valle, who painted the mural. “I will fix it as soon as I am back from Mexico.”

UTD’s headquarters are on Northwest 36th Street. Rapid hotel expansion along this corridor, which includes the city’s adult entertainment district, has resulted in a crime surge that includes shootings, rapes, and drug dealing.

Miami Springs has recently placed 8-foot-fences off Northwest 36th Street to rein in crime including prostitution and other “immoral behavior,” city officials said. Public access to several residential roads, and sidewalks, have now been blocked.

The fate of UTD’s mural now lies with city officials. In a similar 2010 case, Miami Springs ordered a popular tattoo shop, also in its business district, to remove a mural behind its shop that its owners insisted was art.

“We hope that at or before the upcoming hearing we will be able to identify an acceptable approach to resolving the issue and avoid the need for the hearing or prevail upon the board at the hearing that the alleged violations of the cited code provisions are inapplicable given the non-commercial nature of the mural,” Hernandez-Mats said in her statement.

Attempts to reach Miami Springs Mayor Maria Mitchell, and City Council members Bob Best, Walter Fajet, Victor Vazquez, and Jacky Bravo, through email and phone had been unsuccessful by Thursday afternoon.

In an email Thursday morning, the Herald asked Miami Springs leaders for an update on the code violation issued to UDT and what each would like to see happen with the case.

The next Miami Springs City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25, at 201 Westward Dr. The meeting will be broadcast live at https://www.miamisprings-fl.gov/meetings.

Those who cannot attend in person may email their comments, which will become part of the meeting’s official record, to cityclerk@miamisprings-fl.gov.

Theo Karantsalis can be reached at karantsalis@bellsouth.net.

This story was updated to reflect the date of the next City Council meeting.

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