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2021: A Year To Remember - Local Stories That Made Headlines

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - As 2021 comes to a close there were several local stories in addition to the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside that made headlines during the course of the year.

For example, the crown jewel of South Florida's tourism draw was plagued by violence. On South Beach, in the city's entertainment district, the sound of gunfire was not uncommon and not just on the weekends. There were also a number of fights and assaults.

Mayor Dan Gelber, fed up and frustrated, demanded that the area be repurposed.

"We have to change this area, it can't be an entertainment area only," he said.

Voters gave the mayor a place to start, a straw vote favoring a shut down of liquor sales from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.

In Miami Gardens, there was a terrifying mass shooting at the El Mula banquet hall on May 31st. Automatic assault rifle-toting shooters jumped out of an SUV and sprayed the crowd.

Two people were killed and more than twenty were injured. Eventually, two suspects were arrested, but charges were dropped against one.

At the time, Miami-Dade Police Director Freddy Rameriz said, "This type of gun violence has to stop. Every weekend it is the same thing. This is targeted not random."

There was also the beginning of closure when Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School gunman Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty to killing 17 students and faculty.

During the hearing, Judge Elizabeth Scherer asked Cruz how he wished to plead.

"Guilty," repeated Cruz to each of the charges.

Tony Montalto, who lost his 14-year-old daughter Gina in the massacre, said at the end of the hearing, "We need all Americans to come together to stop school shootings."

Cruz faces a sentencing hearing early in 2022 where the death penalty is on the table.

Come on down! That's the message floated nationwide by Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. His target was high-tech startups from the northeast and California.

Why are they coming to Miami, abandoning California and New York? South Florida real estate state executive Harlan Goldberg had the answer.

"We are seeing actual families relocating here, they have been given the opportunity over the last year to examine their lifestyle. The pull of South Florida goes beyond the beach, the weather. For the New Yorkers, South Florida has reached a point where there is more than just fun in the sun," he said.

For many professionals and the companies they work for, it was all about dollars, cents, and taxes.

"In Florida, we don't have a state income tax. in California that tax rate is over 12% and is scheduled to go higher. When we start laying out the tax savings they really start to think about it," said Staci Parrish, Director of Tax and Accounting at Fiske & Company, one of South Florida's oldest CPA firms.

Many in the restless American workforce, battered by the impact of COVID, decided to move east and south. The result is southeast Florida single-family homes and condos gained record sale prices and rents skyrocketed. It was tough to find a place to live in Miami.

"Something that would normally rent for fourteen hundred, fifteen hundred, is now getting an additional four-to-five-hundred so you are over two thousand dollars a month for a studio in the Design District," said realtor Kim Rodstein.

In South Florida, Cuba is never far from the headlines.

In July, the island nation saw massive protests across the country, cries for freedom fueled by food and medical shortages. Those protests echoed in Miami as thousands hit the streets.

Cuba instituted a major crackdown, 1,200 people were arrested and many are still jailed at year's end. The regime, in power since 1959, remained in control in an atmosphere of increasing repression.

And in the "So Florida News Category," the topper was iguanas in toilets. It happened more than a few times.

CBS4 Reporter Ted Scouten observed, "It's creepy. Think about what would happen in the middle of the night. Sitting down. Bare behind and there is something in there!"

The homeowner who had to fish the iguana out of the toilet responded, "something big with teeth that can bite you down there."

Not a pretty thought.

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