Miami Dade County Community Forum

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Broward Sierra Club Asks that you Comment.

Florida, Everglades National Park, the first 'biological park' in our nation's history, is being threatened anew. And this time it's not lack of water, agricultural runoff, sewage, excessive motorized recreation or Burmese pythons on the loose.

Anxious to double the size of its Turkey Point nuclear plant on the shores of Biscayne Bay with two new nuclear reactors, Florida Power and Light (FPL) is attempting to make use of an old utility corridor it still owns inside the borders of the recently acquired East Everglades Expansion Area of Everglades National Park. The plan being put on the table is for FPL to swap out this corridor for one on the park's eastern edge. Three separate lines would cross approximately 7 miles of what is currently national park property on more than 300 towers. Two of the three lines would carry 500,000 volts along towers 150 feet tall, while the third would carry 230,000 volts along 90 foot towers.

Consequences for the park would be enormous. First of all, the towers would dominate the eastern horizon of the entire East Everglades Expansion Area - the heart of the Shark River Slough and the main source of water for Everglades National Park. They would be visible as far away as the popular Shark Valley Visitor Center and tram/bicycle path. But aside from creating a permanent industrialized viewscape for our beloved park, there are other consequences. Scientists are concerned about damage to vegetation and fragile wetland soils; hydrological changes due to the massive concrete pads that would have to be put in place in the floodplain to support the towers; the likely spread of invasive plant species due to both construction and maintenance activities; and effects (including collisions and electrocutions) on wading birds (already reduced by over 90 percent in south Florida since the 1930s) and migratory birds.

Submit your comments directly to the National Park Service at the following website.

Federal help on the way to homeowners facing foreclosure.

The Miami Herald reported today that effective August 15th:

Financially troubled homeowners who have an FHA-insured loan can apply for a modification under a program parallel to "Making Home Affordable" to help lower their payments and avoid foreclosure.

With reports that County and City taxes are expected to rise, this will be a welcome relief to some South Florida homeowners.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Florida Cabinet denies Lowe's move of Urban Development Boundary

According to the Miami Herald, the State Cabinet voted 3 to 1, siding with an administrative law judge, to reject the County Commission's move of the Urban Development Boundary for a Lowe's store.  The County Attorney signaled that it was over for the County. Lowe's might appeal. 

The Urban Environment League was a founding member and driving force in the  Hold the Line movement which was a broad coalition of people, government entities and groups in favor of holding the line on development in areas not served by infrastructure. The UEL agrees with the ruling, we don't think it is the time to move the UDB line.

The Miami Herald says:

Environmentalists and urban planners hailed the decision, saying it sets a precedent for dealing with counties that attempt to bend state growth management laws and allow sprawl. They hope the ruling will halt attempts by politically powerful developers who are seeking to move development boundaries in other counties, including the creation of a new suburb on the Everglades' doorstep in Miami-Dade called Parkland.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

EPA recommends denying Lake Belt mining


Last week it was reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends denying nine mining applications affecting 6,800 additional acres of wetlands in Miami’s Lake Belt region. In a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in early July, EPA expresses concerns about the environmental impacts associated with the proposed limestone mining. This includes the potential to “significantly degrade aquatic resources,” EPA said in the letter. The region forms the buffer between the Everglades Ecosystem and the urban development of Miami. According to the EPA letter, the nine applications would expand mining activities of APAC-Southeast Inc., Florida Rock Industries Inc., Kendall Properties and Investments, Rinker Materials of Florida Inc., Sawgrass Rock Quarry Inc., Tarmac America LLC, White Rock Quarries and Opa-Locka West Airport. The latest decision in the ongoing legal battle came in January, when a judge ruled against the Corps of Engineers and the mining companies, setting aside 10 of the existing mining permits covering hundreds of acres. The industry appealed the judge’s partial mining ban, with oral arguments scheduled in October. Lake Belt mining permits were originally issued for 5,400 acres in 2002.

City Commissioner Sanchez requests date change for Miami 21

According to the Coconut Grove Grapevine a local Blog:

The public has been quite upset today after finding out that Mayor Manny Diaz called for a Miami 21 meeting early next month. Commission chairman Joe Sanchez issued a statement today urging the mayor to cancel the August 6 Miami 21 meeting party because of the outcry but also because there is a Commissioners workshop on the budget for next year, scheduled the same day.

"It is our mandate from the people to focus 100 percent on the budget crisis," said Comm. Sanchez in a letter to the mayor.

There were two budget workshops scheduled weeks ago by Sanchez's office so, unlike other years, when they go into budget meetings in September the Commissioners will be educated and knowledgeable about the budget issues and will have had a chance to ask hard questions of the administration, and will be able to knowledgably address the financial crisis that the City is in and deal with the out-of-control salaries and pensions. He considers that the highest priority.

In all reality, it was a slimy decision on the mayor's part to have a Miami 21 meeting in the dead of summer when many interested parties are out of town. On the other had, the Commissioners' budget workshops do not involve the public, the public budget meetings are in September when most people are back in town.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"Miami 21" Zoning Ordinance Will Go Before The City of Miami Commission August 6th, 2PM

Just when most of us are on vacation (mentally or physically) there will be a very important City of Miami vote on Miami 21 - the ambitious rezoning of the City of Miami. What is your opinion?

Ours is: Important public hearings should not be held in August.

Read the notices on 16A-17A in the Miami Herald or look at the notices on-line, there is a PDF. Our criticism is that the notices should be in color on-line, as a land-use map not is color, with a color key rendered in B&W, is not useful.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Boothless Tolling on Rickenbacker Causeway? My View by Dario Gonzalez

It would be unwise to pursue boothless tolling on the Rickenbacker Causeway unless we can first slow traffic as it enters the Causeway. Yes, an oxymoron, wait then hurry up.

Electronic toll collection technology is all the rage but only appropriate for highways. The Causeway functions like the majority of our roads where vehicle drivers interact with others and negotiate movement in conflicting directions. Signals, stop signs and lower speed limits are some of the ways those interactions are managed. Anyone watching traffic from outside of a moving vehicle knows that traffic already moves too fast on the Causeway.

The number of accidents, car-car as well as bicycle-car, attest to the dangerous speed of traffic and the occurrence of this behavior is evident by the frequent scene where cops are issuing motorists citations. The Causeway is heavily trafficked by Key Biscayne residents, tourists and used recreationally by area residents; it is not solely a conduit delivering vehicles from Miami to the end of the Key. Unfamiliar drivers, first time or, occasional visitors may drive more slowly and erratically as they figure their way towards their destination and take in the skyline. Besides the fact that the Causeway has many, many lanes, it bears little similarity to a highway.

Do we need a Rickenbacker Highway for higher density and intensity development? Miami needs to embrace the maturity of dense building but highways don’t have to be a part of that future. Without planned areas of preservation, areas targeted for dense development are counter productive. People living in dense areas would search further away from the urban core for recreational activity, further into the ever-expanding fringes of our County. That type of exploration encourages sprawl and creates even more traffic. Removing an oasis from the urban core does not bring us closer to the sort of maturity that typifies a metropolitan city.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Frank Rollason says: The financial crisis gives Miami a chance to get back to basics.

Opportunity in Adversity appeared in the "Biscayne Times," a monthly publication about the Biscayne Corrridor, published by Jim Mullin.

It’s budget time for local governments, and the pressure is on like never before. The county’s newly elected property appraiser has already sounded the alarm, delivering the “bad news” to municipal leaders that the assessed value of real estate has dropped significantly. That will have a negative impact on governmental coffers. The leaders have only two choices -- they can raise their millage rate or cut their budgets.

The millage is the rate at which we are taxed on our real property, and it is set by our local elected officials. Right now in the City of Miami, we have a millage rate of 8.25, which means that we pay $8.25 for every $1000 of assessed value. So if the value of your home is currently set at $400,000, you multiply the millage rate (8.25) times 400 (the number of thousands at which your home was valued), resulting in real-estate tax imposed by the city alone in the amount of $3300. Your total property taxes, including those levied by all the taxing authorities (the county, the school district, and the state) would be $8862.

Now, let’s say your assessed value has dropped 20 percent to $320,000 and the millage rate remains the same. Your new City of Miami taxes would be $2640 -- a reduction of $660. However, here comes the rub. If the current millage rate is maintained, the available property taxes to the city government will drop by the same 20 percent. You can see the dilemma facing our elected officials. They must either raise the millage to make up the difference, cut the budget by the amount of lost tax revenue, or enact some combination of the two. No elected official wants to sit in the “raise taxes” hot seat.

Before commissioners finalize the budget, they must first set the maximum millage rate for the coming year. They can lower it at the final hour, but once set, they cannot raise it. So to hedge their bets, they will almost surely raise the millage rate to a level that will produce enough revenue to run the city -- based on projected new property assessments. Therefore it is our elected city commissioners and no one else who ultimately determine what our taxes will be.

The commissioners and the mayor set the tone for what kind of budget the city administration will propose. For instance, if the commission were to pass a resolution directing the city manager to present a budget requiring no millage increase, the administration would have clear marching orders to develop a budget significantly reduced from last year.

Such a directive would, in turn, elicit a response from the administration that services will most certainly have to be cut, usually through staff layoffs. This is known as the “sky is falling” scenario. All the doom-and-gloom predictions are delivered to the elected officials with a basic message: “Sure, we can cut the budget, but you commissioners will be responsible for cutting those services your constituents now enjoy, from police and fire protection to trash pickup, parks programs, road maintenance, and much more.”

You can imagine the commissioners squirming, then posturing, as they prepare us for the inevitable.

We taxpayers recognize the realities facing us and that something has to give. First, our basic services (police, fire, solid waste) are not going to be cut -- that would be political suicide. We will probably end up with a hybrid of the two options, some cuts and some millage increase, with the hope that property values will come rise over the next few years and the millage can be lowered.

The main issue to be addressed is how we got into this position. Governments have a tendency to grow in size and expenditures, consuming greater and greater amounts of money until the squeal factor kicks in -- that’s the point at which taxpayers start raising hell. When times are good and residents are sharing in a booming economy, it’s easier to spend more without sparking complaints.

It’s been relatively painless for our elected officials over the past few years because the cash flow has increased as a result of property values rising at an unprecedented rate. The assessed values have increased so much, in fact, that Miami commissioners have been able to lower the millage side of the tax equation while revenues actually increased. Though they boast that they’ve lowered our taxes, they really have not. They’ve just lowered the rate at which taxes are calculated. Today, however, the “cheese is binding,” as they say, and something must change. I suggest the following actions be taken by our elected officials:

• Keep the millage exactly where it is right now. Because that will mean a drop in revenue, the stage will be set for meaningful budget cuts.

• Direct the city manager to develop a “zero-based budget” (ZBB) instead of the “line-item budget” currently employed. A ZBB process requires city departments to begin with zero dollars and build up their proposed budgets from there, starting with required or mandated expenses (union contracts, service contracts, fees, and so on), and working their way toward the end product. This method quickly and clearly identifies discretionary expenditures that can be eliminated -- just as you and I do every day, depending upon our available cash.

The line-item-budget process allows departments to begin planning where they left off the previous year and make adjustments, usually by implementing five-percent or ten-percent reductions. The “damaging results” of those cuts (the doom-and-gloom scenario) are then presented to the commission by the city manager. Keep in mind that roughly 80 percent of Miami’s budget is consumed by salaries and fringe benefits. Significant cuts are simply not possible without impacting employees. By utilizing the ZBB process, the impact on the employees will be greatly reduced as unnecessary programs and expenditures are ferreted out.

• Eliminate all departments and offices not specifically called for in the city charter. It’s time to get back to basics, and there is no better way to trim the fat than to eliminate those functions not dictated by the voters of the city. If a function is truly necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of the residents, just place it before the voters and have it approved and made a mandate of the charter -- plain and simple.

It’s also time for our elected officials to bring the mission of the municipal government into focus. The pending budget crisis should be viewed as an overdue opportunity to get the city back on track providing the basic services for which it was formed, building up reserves for lean times, and making this community an affordable place in which to live, work, raise a family, and retire without the constant fear of being pushed out because of taxes that are out of control.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The MIMO on BIBO


Mimo on Bibo is the Miami Modern District on Biscayne Blvd.

Their Website says:

Our volunteers are from all walks of life with sights set to continue on the path to bring the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District to the forefront and show everyone it is a vibrant and welcoming “destination”.

Our common goal is our motto: “Progress through Preservation”.

UEL Former President, Nancy Liebman, is active in the group.

The restaurants in the districts are always going the extra mile. For example ANISE WATERFRONT TAVERNA has live music and dance shows. Every Wednesday, starting tonight they are having sound from Greece, Spain and the Mediterranean.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Florida Department of Revenue what is the Reasoning?

Miami Herald Columnist, Jackie Bueno Sousa, reported in the Herald yesterday that property records are not being listed accurately on the My Home, property appraiser website. People buying distressed properties (foreclosures) are listed as the owner, but the prior selling price and prior sale date is listed under their name. This is printing false records. In Broward they put the new information in except they put a "D" next to it signifying it is Distressed and will not be counted per orders from the Florida Department of Revenue.

How does this action by the Dept. of Revenue Statewide, change all of Florida reporting numbers?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mayor Carlos Alvarez talks to the Editorial Board about the Budget

Change of plans. We tried to post the video of the Editorial Board meeting but it crashed the blog. Now it is gone from the Herald site. Here is the Marlin's groundbreaking instead and much more embarrassing and should be seen by Miami Dade residents so they know who to thank when they go to vote:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Virginia Key Master Plan: Smoke, Mirrors & Toilets. By meow

What I've read about the EDSA plan makes me wonder about the creative talents of the Stone family. This is not meant to speak ill of the departed, but the late Edward Durell Stone Jr., founder of EDSA, was the son of a prolific architect. In the 1960s, Edward Sr. was commissioned by Vanderbilt University to design a complex of six undergraduate dormitories. What he came up with was some very nice-looking buildings with a lot of modern touches, except for one important thing: The three toilets on each floor had no doors or even partitions, and, to make matters worse, they sat directly opposite the large mirror mounted above the long row of communal sinks.

It makes me wonder if the same sense of taste influenced the master plan for Virginia Key.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What an interesting day in Miami for local news of Baseball, Budget and Parks . . . by Fran Bohnsack

Today's UEL blog features a Letter to the Editor (borrowed from the Miami Herald) that hails from a Chicago resident. Readers may recall that Chicago is often cited by the Mayor of Miami as the "world class city" that Miami wants to be. Yet somehow this writer's take on the Marlins' stadium calls Miami's "world class project" the "fleecing of taxpayers." Truer words were never spoken.

On the same day, Miami-Dade Commissioner Carlos Gimenez expresses outrage that the proposed Miami-Dade budget includes a millage increase "right off the bat." He objects. Wish we had a few more like him. And if any of you noticed, the budget also includes cutting the Parks department by 25%! Time to take some corrective action ... ideas anyone?

Posted on Thu, Jul. 16, 2009

Oversight warranted on stadium project Re the July 12 editorial Jaw-dropping Marlins stadium deal: Kudos to The Miami Herald for calling out the problems with the Marlins stadium deal -- even as the price tag climbs to $2.4 billion before ground has been struck. Such corporate welfare and outright fleecing of taxpayers for the sake of building an already-over-budget baseball stadium is especially dangerous during these foul economic times.

Increasing the tax burden on tourism, a key industry for the Miami area, absolutely will hurt the local economy. While local officials and taxpayers might believe that residents will not have to bear these tax burdens, they are sorely mistaken.

Increased hotel taxes result in reduced demand for hotel rooms, which means fewer jobs and a weakened overall business climate.

There is near-unanimous agreement among economists that subsidizing stadiums and convention centers is bad public policy. Yet governments continue to shovel tax dollars into these high-profile, low-return projects. As The Miami Herald suggests, proper oversight and transparency of the process is a must.

JOHN NOTHDURFT, legislative specialist, The Heartland Institute, Chicago

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mayor Carlos Alvarez to release proposed budget for FY 2009-2010 Today

Mayor Carlos Alvarez will release and discuss details of the proposed budget for FY 2009-2010 at a news conference today, at noon. He said:

"Miami-Dade County is facing a budget gap of nearly $400 million, my goal is to present a responsible budget proposal that balances the demands for service with the costs of providing that service. Every hard choice is being considered, and together with our Board of County Commissioners, we will work to address the needs of our community."

Through targeted reductions, Miami-Dade County has successfully closed budget gaps totaling more than $400 million dollars during the past two fiscal years.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Get Involved: The County Comp Plan is Getting an Update

The Department of Planning and Zoning is in the process of updating the Miami-Dade County Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) and invites you to participate in the process. Long range strategic planning has never been more important for this community. The CDMP establishes plans and policies for the County for important topics such as land use, transportation, parks, economy, housing etc. Although we face many challenges related to how we will grow and develop, we can effectively deal with these challenges and create a dynamic community if we all work together towards developing meaningful public policies.

The update of the Comprehensive Plan is required every seven years and is part of a State mandated process resulting in an Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR). The EAR is an appropriate vehicle to reassess how we are doing and where we need to go as a community. Our next EAR is due for adoption by the Board of County Commissioners in October 2010 (EAR2010).

The process for updating starts now and your involvement is crucial to our success. There are several ways you can get involved:

· Five town hall meetings in August to solicit ideas on issues and listen to your concerns (See flyer)

· Stake holder meetings

· Additional public hearings before Community Council, Planning Advisory Board and the Board of County Commissioners (Check the website for meeting calendar)

· Dedicated website for the express purpose of receiving your comments, suggestions and ideas throughout the process

Do you think you have nothing to offer? Tell them why the Urban Development Boundary is important to you, or how you feel about wetlands, or sprawl. They need to know what you are thinking. Your opinion is important!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Marlins Stadium: Other Views in Miami Herald

Posted on Sunday, 07.12.09 - Stadium is a bad deal for taxpayers
BY NORMAN BRAMAN

I read with great disappointment, but not surprise, Wednesday's front-page article about the Florida Marlins' stadium's final costs being more than $2.4 billion.

This does not include the cost of the city-paid parking garage (about $100 million), the land, infrastructure costs, overruns or operating costs of about $1 million annually due from the public trough.

I engaged in expensive litigation with Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami not because I don't like baseball, but because I believe the people have a right to vote on this issue and because, especially in these difficult economic times, our governments must be fiscally responsible if they are going to meet fully the basic needs of our community.

Throughout the protracted litigation, I warned that stadium, parking and infrastructure costs would far exceed the flowery and unfounded ''projections'' bandied about by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and County Manager George Burgess, who seemed oblivious that he could be bamboozled in his secret negotiations with the Marlins.

If you don't believe this, check on the web the deal to be put to a public referendum (What a concept!) for the proposed San Francisco 49ers' stadium. (Remember, the Marlins also were given all stadium-generated revenue.) It is unbelievable how both local commissions abdicated their responsibilities by rushing to OK this mammoth giveaway of public funds to private millionaires before they truly understood the enormity of this folly.

What makes the stadium deal even more deplorable is that the sole rationale for approving this disaster in the making was the hope of ''making Miami a world-class city,'' as if Los Angeles is less of a world-class city because it doesn't sport a professional football team. Both commissions had no idea of the financial capability of its private-entity partner -- and still don't.

Neither commission performed or researched any studies, or had any facts, to support their blatant exaggerations that ''thousands'' of local jobs would be created. (See Ike Seamans' Feb. 26 Miami Herald article The myth of 'thousands of new jobs' and Burgess' testimony that the permanent jobs at the new stadium only will replace existing ones at Dolphins Stadium.)

Other exaggerations: that a stadium creates positive economic impact and increases tourism (independent studies clearly conclude to the contrary) and that Marlins' attendance will increase. Not even the Marlins did those studies.

Yes, locals may be given some temporary construction jobs, as they would have received had the commission voted to revitalize the Miami Beach Convention Center, a mecca for tourism, but unfortunately, most good stadium jobs will be awarded to skilled laborers brought in by the ''no-bid'' contractors.

Rather than a world-class city, Miami is now the laughingstock of the professional sports world for this piƱata awarded to a private business.

It is important not to forget that Major League Baseball refused to be on the hook for anything, and the Marlins don't even have to put in one cent until the county has expended all of its construction funds. Can you imagine if the Marlins' limited-liability companies are unable to put in their $120 million -- the county loaned them $35 million more -- after partial completion of the stadium? Who do you think will be forced to pony up more funds to complete the stadium?

Both commissions have jeopardized our governments' financial foundation by approving this deal. Current and future generations will pay and suffer the consequences of reduced services because, in addition to much higher-than-projected interest rates on the bonds, our elected officials were forced to pledge non-advalorem general revenues in order to induce Wall Street to sell the bonds. (General revenue helps pay for necessary services like housing, healthcare, education, fire and police protection, etc.)

I suspect that when the day of financial reckoning arrives, Diaz, Alvarez and Burgess will be difficult to find -- and will be enjoying their pensions. (That's another ticking financial time bomb.)

We have appealed the trial court's ruling to, and hopefully will prevail at, the Third District Court of Appeal and, if necessary, the Florida Supreme Court. But, regardless of the legal issues, this open-ended waste of public funds that can tap into the general revenues is irresponsible public policy in the extreme.

There has been a huge disconnect between what The Miami Herald's reporters have written about the stadium project and what the Editorial Board wrote, or, more inexcusably, failed to write. The board has abdicated its obligation as our community watchdog.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Marlin's Stadium: Miami Herald Poll on Community Pulse.



With 83% of those responding NO to the question: Will the new baseball stadium benefit Miami Dade County? -- you might think the elected officials would think twice about their decision or at least conduct their own scientific poll.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Can we get some good news?

News has been grim in the dog days of Summer: We have to fight with lawsuits to protect our quality of life in South Florida as our elected officials are not doing it for us. It was recently announced that Lowe's is going to appeal an Administrative Hearing decision, which would not allow them, through our County Commissioners, to move the Urban Development Boundary for a store. There is also the lawsuit that has been filed by Weston to challenge SB 360. 360 is now a law put in place by our State elected officials. We recently found out that County Manager George Burgess was not accurate in his assessment of the cost of the Marlin’s Stadium deal. Outside sources confirmed it would cost at least $2.4 Billion, at a time when our community is scrambling for funds. Governor Crist has given the power to control Florida’s greatest commodity “water” to 5 individuals, removing 5 water management District Boards and public comment from the process.

News for our pocketbook is also grim. The newly elected Miami Dade Property Appraiser has revealed that almost every city has seen more than a 5% property value decline which translates to less revenues. The County decline is at about -10%. The unemployment in Miami Dade is at about 9.6%. Citizen Insurance premiums are set to sky-rocket according to reports in today's Herald and FP&L is having hearings to increase rates. Mortgage's low introductory interest rates are resetting for thousands. The middle class is getting squeezed from every direction.

Citizens are feeling more and more powerless in South Florida. What are our next steps to turn things around? Any of you have any ideas?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Marlins Stadium: Price Tag for the County: $2.4 Billion. By Fran Bohnsack


As reported in the Miami Herald today:

As Miami-Dade County commissioners worked late into the night to finalize financing for the Florida Marlins stadium last week, Commissioner Katy Sorenson posed a simple question: What's the total cost of financing going to be?

Burgess fudged: "I don't know off the top of my head."

Commissioner Katy Sorenson asked the question because she wanted it on the record. The Commissioner had to wait until the following day to get the answer from Bond Counsel. Perhaps the vote would have been different if this was on the record earlier. As the Herald reported:

The total cost is finally in black and white: $2.4 billion, spread over 40 years, to repay $409 million in bonds that will primarily, though not exclusively, cover stadium construction.

Was George Burgess trying to hide this information or was it that he truly didn't know? Why would he promote this deal without all the information on the table, especially the bottom line!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crist Signs Another Controversial Bill Into Law

According to Craig Pittman of the St. Pete Times:

With a stroke of his pen last week, Gov. Charlie Crist put the future of Florida's water resources in the hands of five people. Crist signed into law Senate Bill 2080, which gives authority over issuing state permits for wetlands destruction and water consumption to the executive directors of Florida's five water management districts.

Now the five — four men and one woman — are trying to figure out how to wield their significant new power over development and water-use permits, yet still give the public a chance to be heard.

Who is this Meeting Really For?

Representative Erik Fresen (R-Miami) will be hosting a forum regarding Florida’s new growth management laws. Representatives from the development industry -including the Builders Association of South Florida (BASF) and the Latin Builders Association (LBA) - as well as those from local governments will be in attendance.

The forum will take place on Wednesday, July 8th at 6:00 pm in the City of Coral Gables Youth Center (402 UniversityDrive, Coral Gables, Florida).

"I felt it was important to create a forum whereby the development industry, local governments and citizens could discuss what this legislation actually does and how it affects current growth management practices. It's important for everyone to be on the same page"
Fresen said.

Fresen was a lobbyist before being elected and was working for applicants that wanted to move the UDB line.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Simple but Enduring Contribution to Miami’s Sustainable Future By John Van Leer Sc.D.


Mayor Diaz wants the City of Miami to be known globally as an example of Sustainable Green living. Therefore Virginia Key needs to be developed around its natural and historic assets. The park design must encourage exercise, use solar powered water craft and solar tram systems for energy efficiency and quit operation. A strong emphasis on public transit is needed to break Miami’s twin cycles of obesity and automobile dependence. Such a park will not need parking garages.

Existing Recession Stressed Miami Lessees - Don’t Deserve City Subsidized Competition

Miami already has Bayside Marketplace & Marina along with the predictable shops and restaurants located conveniently near underutilized Hotels in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Ample Dry Stacks for “Thunder Boats” plus the Dinner Key Marina already exist in Coconut Grove as well as the Marina near the Rusty Pelican with more dry stacks. As soon as the recession is over, fuel prices will resume their inevitable steep upward march so that Thunder Boats and SUVs will continue to be even less sustainable and will continue to loose market appeal on economic and health grounds. Virginia Key should not compete with the existing high intensity tourist venues, which could undermine the existing City of Miami leases at Bayside, in the Grove and at the Rusty Pelican Marina. Rather we should stress sustainable forms of ecotourism and wholesome exercise and eating for a sustainable Miami.

Respect Teddy Roosevelt’s “Preservation for Generations yet Unborn”

U. S. National Parks, which were the “brain child” of Theodore Roosevelt, draw millions of tourists from around the world and have been widely emulated worldwide. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge was also designated by President Theodore Roosevelt on March 14, 1903 as the world’s first National Wildlife Refuge, when Miami was a 7 years old frontier town immersed in wilderness. Pelican Island was to be the first protected habitat in a “string of pearls” along this Atlantic Coast Flyway, to protect Pelicans and other nesting birds together with myriad migratory species. Virginia Key’s Nature Preserves draw nature lovers and birders, with its unique position directly astride the Atlantic Coast Flyway. This Flyway is followed by countless migratory birds from as far as the Canadian Arctic to South America and the Caribbean. Virginia Key is home to nesting Bald Eagles and visited daily by flocks of Roseate Spoonbills and Ibis who feed on the flats west of the Key. In addition, Nesting Turtles, Miami Dolphins and Calving West Indian Manatees are regularly seen. Many endangered species of native plants are found on Virginia Key, and nowhere else, along the shore, in the shallows and within the hardwood hammocks. These unique habitats will further thrive if they are maintained as connected habitats and can each be expanded.

History on Virginia Key must also be respected

The Virginia Key Beach Park Trust with its civil rights history, merry-go-round and train rides and special events will draw people nationally. Why not ask President Obama to dedicate its rebirth along with our new Green Central park? This excellent facility would put Miami on the map for something besides insurance fraud and mortgage malfeasance.

The Iconic MIMO Miami Marine Stadium with its floating stage can once again draw people for paddle sport recreation, concerts, sunrise services, rowing events, dragon boats spectacles, triathlons and other passive uses. An internal combustion free basin is compatible with a world class nature preserve are both fostered. Why not strive to create an Urban Paradise where the people of Miami can enjoy beauty and tranquility every day of the week? These are quality of life issues for everyday Miami residents and visitors, not just the wealthy go fast boaters. Miami is woefully lacking in these kinds of passive activities which will attract top line companies to our area from around the world. It is no accident the Microsoft and Boeing other high tech companies call Seattle home with its emphasis on natural beauty and physical fitness.

Walking, Biking, Rowing and Paddle Sports for Fitness not Fatness

It is far more sustainable to encourage fitness over fatness. Thousands now enjoy Miami’s increasingly popular bike path along the Rickenbacker Causeway, which ties into Mayor Diaz’s Bike Miami campaign in such a natural way. If there is a market, let it be an open air farmers market for locally grown organic food. If there is an eating venue, let it be an open air organic restaurant where Miamian’s can learn proper nutrition.

Historic Beginning of Miami tied to Biscayne Bay


Because Miami grew up around Biscayne Bay, before the Flagler’s Railroad arrived in 1896, it is entirely fitting and proper that Miami's Central Park should again be centered within the Bay on Virginia Key. Miami has always been a naturally water centric place. In the beginning, there was only the primitive Military Trail from Ft. Lauderdale to the Miami River for a road, with corduroy sections through the marshy spots and thick mangroves to cut off the breezes further inland. Thus it was much more pleasant to sail down the breezy bay rather than to bump down such a rough bug infested road.

The Gateway visitor's center for Biscayne National Park must also be centrally located as the first stop in this Central Park so that the greatest range of visitors may access the beauty and serenity of both of these Miami and national treasures. How many cities have such a beautiful protected bay and two national parks with such rich history? Yet our local population and visitors hardly know anything about either the Biscayne Bay National Park or the Virginia Key parks much less enjoy them regularly.

The Central Park Visitor’s Center Based upon Local History

From the response of the attendees at all the Virginia Key planning meetings, it was clear that most folks want a refurbished Marine Stadium and to bring it back its special sense of place. It had long been a venue for evening concerts and rowing races in a passive lagoon setting. It was also clear that a visitor’s center was needed for both Virginia Key and Biscayne National Park. A natural idea is to build the visitors center under the existing Marine Stadium building seats so that the Historic and Iconic MIMO building may be preserved, enhanced and displayed while serving dual purposes.

Mayor Diaz has stated that he wants all future Miami Buildings to be LEED certified for sustainability and energy efficiency. He has required leaders in the City of Miami building department to attend LEED certification courses and to allow LEED buildings to go to the head of the line for permitting. A design gets extra LEED points if an existing building is used rather than being scrapped. More LEED points are earned for easy public transportation access. The roof design of the Marine Stadium is ideally designed for catching rainwater water, which will earn additional LEED points. The water collected could naturally irrigate a beautiful butterfly garden of native species which could surround the visitor’s centers for education while lessening the visual impact of the visitor’s centers, allowing the MIMO structure to stand out. In this way the built footprint on Virginia Key is not increased. Parking for the events at night can share the existing parking lot used by the park attendees during the daytime. The original architect of the Miami Marine Stadium is still alive. So Mr. Hilario Candela would be the logical one to do the combined design work.

Miami 21 attempts to reduce downtown parking by 30% while establishing mass transportation corridors. Neighborhood parks are envisioned with athletic fields, within easy walking distance in all neighborhoods, with sidewalks and bike paths for safety and fitness. These policies will increase walking and public transportation as we wean ourselves of auto addiction and oil addiction and epidemic obesity. Virginia Key’s development must reinforce these objectives rather than contradict them.

Transportation Connectivity

In addition to the existing large parking lot at the Miami Marine Stadium, where folks could safely leave a car for a day or two, when they visit the Biscayne National Park, people need to be able to gain access by public transportation. This would include bus shelters, with large Photovoltaic Panel covered waiting areas. These B busses stop on one side of the platform while solar powered trams load on the other side. Trams deliver passengers to all parts of Virginia Key without the need for massive parking structures. The other end of the B bus route will access the new Inter Modal Center by way of Metro-rail. From the Inter Modal Center, Tri-Rail trains can carry tourists to the airports of Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Bicycle rentals and sailboats are now available across the causeway from the future visitor’s center. Bikes are a healthful way to get around Virginia Key on a network of 2 meter wide bike paths, which would naturally connect to the enhanced Rickenbacker Bike Path along the causeway. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas Nature Center and Cape Florida on Key Biscayne are on the same bike path. Tricycles for seniors or parents with young children and bicycles built for two should also be available. Anyone should be able to bring a bike, a tent and a knapsack or a canoe/kayak (or rent one) aboard a passive public boat into your magnificent parks from the visitor's centers. More LEED points earned.

Instant Immersion in Biscayne National Park

Most of Biscayne National Park’s area is shallow clear water, so the park’s boats should not only be transportation between land sites, but must allow park visitors to directly experience these unique habitats. Boat transportation should be available to all who come at a reasonable price and be whisper quiet electrically powered so the serenity of the bay is immediately felt. The naturalist and/or bird life should both be easily heard. What a thrill to hear a dolphin chirp with its sonar at close range.


The roof is a photovoltaic array providing both 10.5 Kilowatts of peak power and shade but is also open to bay breezes. The slender hulls and electric motors are about 90% efficient so that the vessel is completely self powered, consuming the power of a common toaster while cruising at 5 knots (top speed 9 knots). Internal batteries in each hull provide power for cloudy or night operation. There is no fossil fuel engine so no noise, no smoke and no vibration. In Switzerland similar boats download excess power to the grid at the end of each day of operation.

I personally glided on Sun21 up the Intracoastal Waterway for 3 inspiring days from Sebastian to St. Augustine Florida into a 20 knot headwind. We passed the Pelican Island National Wildlife Sanctuary with its nesting birds, which Roosevelt moved to protect 106 years ago. We got close to a number of other bird islands without disturbing the birds and could hear their sounds quite clearly.

In his proclamation, Mayor Diaz stated that “The solar-powered catamaran, using 10 kilowatts of solar modules and two 8-killowatt electric motors, represents the ideal and efficient vessel for clean and efficient water taxis to pilot Miami tourists and commuters”.

The subsequent Intracoastal trip culminated with receiving a similar proclamation in New York City from Mayor Blumberg on May 8, 2007 and the presentation of a Swiss drafted Ecological Constitution to the United Nations the next day. Go to www.transatlantic21.ch to see trip photographs or www.sun21.ch for the underlying organization and trip information.

Adapting a Solar Cat for Central Park & Biscayne National Park

Instead of sleeping accommodations below decks, a long row of seats atop the batteries could provide comfortable viewing through underwater windows in the sides of the vessel. This is similar to Silver Spring’s long time use of electric glass bottomed boats, except more efficient and self powered.

Tourists will see the sun dappled sea-grass meadows, coral heads/reefs, brilliant fish, sponges or the mangrove fringe go by. Hydrophones mounted in each hull could provide the sounds made by the animals seen through the viewing ports and beyond. In windy weather the trip to Elliot’s Key will be in the Bay along the mangrove fringe. In calm weather the trip can be made outside by Hawks Channel and Cesar’s Creek. When parked at Elliott Key, the resident lobsters will be clearly seen and heard in the harbor. Water clarity changes will be clearly seen as we go southward in the Bay or out to Stiltsville raising public awareness about Biscayne Bay water quality issues. At night, showers of bioluminescence will be clearly seen below to go with the stars above. Alternatively, underwater lights could illuminate points of interest which contrast day and night behaviors of organisms. Special cruises could be scheduled to witness the underwater spawning event of corals, fishes or sponges on well known nights and protected locations.

Dockage near the Marine Stadium/Central Park

An inexpensive floating dock could be installed near the Seaquarium to receive passive boats for the Central Park headquarters. The pickup area would be exposed to full sun, to recharge the solar catamarans and offer sheltered dockage for other park related vessels.

Historic Passive Sailboat/Hybrid “Egret” Concept

Another type of passive boat with a Miami heritage would be the shallow draft “Egret” style sailboat like the one moored at the Barnacle. To make it more practical to operate on a daily basis, it could be fitted with an efficient electric motor, like the ones in Sun21. The bricks, used for internal ballast, could be replaced with lead acid batteries both to store energy for the motor as well as to act as ballast. This type of boat can regenerate electricity to charge the batteries while sailing. Since Commodore Munroe was the original designer, it would be fitting to use it for the run between the Barnacle State Historic Site and Central Park. Egret could easily electrically power its way out of the Barnacle mooring area straight into the prevailing ESE wind and then do a beam reach NE to Central Park regenerating all the way. There are a significant number of retired boat captains with active USCG licenses, who would love to dress up like the “Commodore” to operate such a vessel.

Water Transport from Miami-Circle, Bayside and Bicentennial Park

There is a sailing catamaran tour boat at Bayside, which could stop at Central park to pickup and discharge passengers at the Rusty Pelican. There is also a more traditional schooner which operates out of Bayside which could do the same service. If bollards can be installed at Bicentennial Park and now that the seawall has been repaired at the Miami-Circle, additional stops could be added. It would then be possible to travel to the Carnival Center, Art Museum and Science Museum by passive boat in the moon light. Or one could go from downtown to the Rusty Pelican or see Jimmy Buffet in concert again at the Marine Stadium. In addition, boat service to and from South Beach would be desirable.

Solar Trams Provide Tranquil Transportation

Each tram car would be shaded by a photovoltaic array which also provides propulsion power. The quiet electric towing vehicle is similar to electric vehicles in use at MIA to tow airplanes away from the gate and to provide starting power for jet engines. As the length of the train of tram cars increase, the power generated by the increasing number of PV panels would increase. Senior citizens who normally have trouble hearing the speaker over the roar of an engine would have an easy time listening. On week days when demand is low, the tram cars parked in storage would produce power for FPL and would create a credit towards the park’s electric bills.

John C. Van Leer Sc.D.
UEL/RSMAS/University of Miami

Friday, July 3, 2009

City of Weston Poised to Fight State of Florida. By Fran Bohnsack
















Weston is appealing to other municipalities hoping they will join them to mount a legal challenge against unpopular Senate Bill 360 that Crist recently signed into law. Here is the letter Weston is sending out (Hit of the pages to enlarge them).

According to the Daily Business Review:

Seven governments have joined Weston [in opposing the law], and several others are considering this within the next two weeks, said Weston City Attorney Jamie Cole of Weiss Serota Helfman Pastoriza Cole & Boniske in Fort Lauderdale.

Three cheers to Weston!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Get to know Urban Environment League Board Members


Paul Schwiep has been a UEL Board Member for half a dozen years. Paul is also a member of the Transportation Trust, which is overseeing our Miami Dade County Bond money. He has received many awards for his volunteer efforts including the one mentioned in the graphic at top: From the Everglades Coalition in 2008. The Barley Award is one the Coalition's highest honors.

The UEL is also a member of the Everglades Coalition, recognized for its work with Hold the Line.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Peter Hernandez on Virginia Key in Miami Herald

City of Miami Manager Open Letter to Community:
Posted on Wednesday, 07.01.09

Virginia Key plan will reflect community wishes

Re the June 25 editorial Virginia Key plan is a dud: Virginia Key is an island consisting of approximately 1,030 acres. Of that, the Virginia Key Master Plan proposes improvements to only 257 acres -- 25 percent of the total area -- and reclaims more than 60 acres of inaccessible dredge fill and 116 acres of polluted landfill to provide recreational opportunities.

The master plan respects the existing 491 acres of conservation areas, improves beaches and coastal hammock areas and recommends improvements to the North Point area to include a recreational center, eco-campgrounds, nature trails for pedestrians and biking trails for all ages.

The administration has remained committed to obtaining public participation and input in the development of the Virginia Key Master Plan. Its concepts are being revised to reflect comments made by the public while continuing the goal of providing access to more than 200 acres of new parks and open spaces. Specifically, as a result of recent input from the Waterfront Advisory Board and Planning Advisory Board, the administration is considering the following revisions:

• Reorganize the existing marina and dry stacks.
• Move wet slips and moorings westward out of the lagoon/basin.
• Significantly reduce the number of parking garages.
• Incorporate an island circulator and potential water-taxi service to create greater connectivity.
• Reduce retail space along the basin.
• Increase visual prominence to Marine Stadium.

I hope that the Editorial Board and the public have a greater understanding of the city's vision for Virginia Key.

PEDRO G. HERNANDEZ, city manager, Miami

Andrew Georgiadis' Letter In Miami Herald on New Urbanism.

New urbanism is rooted
in old world tradition


Re the June 22 cover story Recession crimps some town center projects: I enjoyed Scott Andron's article. Well done! Just a small correction:

New urbanism does not eschew the traditional urban planning model. It embraces traditional urban planning. Rather, it rejects conventional urban planning. These terms are distinct and have quite different meanings in the planning profession. In fact, new urbanists use the term ''TND'' or ''Traditional Neighborhood Development'' to emphasize that the creation of pedestrian friendly, compact, mixed-use neighborhoods is part of a centuries-old tradition of city building that was interrupted in the Post WWII era by what has become conventional auto-dominated sprawl.

We'd like our movement to be associated with tradition, since it is derived from precedent and tradition, unlike sprawl, which was a relatively recent invention, and which is not traditional at all.

Andrew Georgiadis
Dover, Kohl & Partners,