Miami Dade County Community Forum

Friday, August 28, 2009

Decisions on Virginia Key Should Be Postponed

The UEL, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, MNU and numerous other groups are organizing a public design workshop that is scheduled to be held at the Rusty Pelican on September 26. The idea is to create a positive event, building on the work of EDSA and gathering additional public input in helping to plan the future land uses of the island. We expect at least several hundred people to attend.

Towards that end we request that any action on the EDSA plan or its offspring be deferred by the city commission until at least October if not later. We assume that any revised plans would also have to go before the Waterfront and Planning Advisory Boards again.

In addition, we would like some preliminary discussion about how the fate of this island relates to the financial state of the city. All to often in the past, parks and other public spaces have been set up to alleviate fiscal distress in the city. Beyond the deed restrictions that have seldom been acknowledged by EDSA there are not clear guidelines or principles about the value of public space in Miami. In such a void, it frequently becomes an easy target and then can never be redesigned as a natural or even a public area. We need to continue to have positive public dialogue and think creatively about this island but not waste the public's attention with mixed messages about unwarranted commercial development.

Gregory Bush
Vice President, Urban Environment League

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Regarding Virginia Key and Miami 21

Dear Mayor Diaz:

I am writing regarding the Miami 21 zoning atlas as it relates to proposed zoning for Virginia Key.

Specifically, I am concerned that the environmentally significant North Point area of Virginia Key has been zoned T-6 under Miami 21, (Urban Core), one of the highest and most dense uses in the city. In addition, other environmentally significant and fragile areas are zoned CS, which may allow for considerable commercial development, including all the Marine Stadium Basin lands, which are adjacent to the Bill Sadowski Critical Wildlife Area, and the Virginia Key Park Trust lands, which include restored hammocks, dunes and beaches that are sea-turtle nesting areas.

In light of the extraordinary environmental resources of Virginia Key, I would urge you to consider amending the Miami 21 zoning atlas to a T-1 zone for environmental conservation for Virginia Key, including a majority of uplands, restored dunes and hammocks and land capable of being restored to natural states, as well as the North Point and City Landfill, , and all submerged lands, as well as beaches.

Miami 21 defines T-1 as follows:

“A Natural Transect (T1) Zone is a zone for environmental conservation.

a. A T1 Zone is to be left in an essentially natural state. Modification of the natural conditions shall be according to Local, State and Federal guidelines. Public access to T1 areas may be limited if it presents a threat to wildlife and plant life within the areas.

b. In a T1 Zone, improvements shall serve solely to protect natural elements. Any paved, graveled, mulched, boardwalk or otherwise improved surface or any habitable, enclosed or air conditioned space shall be kept to the minimum scale necessary to fulfill its purpose..... Only activities and improvements which reinforce the natural character shall be allowed and upon a finding that there is no negative effect to the environment based on a study of potential environmental impacts to be provided by the applicant.”

The Miami 21 T-1 natural areas zoning appears to be the "true" Public Parks zoning and consistent with your commitment to protect the natural resources of our community and restore the environmental values of Virginia Key while enhancing public access.


Blanca Mesa
Friends of Virginia Key

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Resolution on FPL Power Lines on US1

Proposed 80' tall power lines along US1, image courtesy of FPL.

A Resolution of the Urban Environmental League in opposition to FP&L‘s proposal to utilize above ground transmission lines for power produced at the expanded Turkey Point Nuclear plant.

WHEREAS: FPL is currently expanding its nuclear generator facility located at Turkey Point in south Miami Dade County and,

WHEREAS: the people of Miami Dade County will assume any environmental risk for this expansion for future generations and,

WHEREAS: all the rate payers of FPL’s system are absorbing the construction cost of this plant currently in their monthly bills and,

WHEREAS: the increase in capacity from the plant expansion far exceeds the future needs of Miami Dade County and therefore will make available substantial power to be sold to FPL’s customers outside Miami Dade County and throughout the power grid of the entire United States and,

WHEREAS: FPL has taken the position that these transmission lines are only feasible above ground and located along US1 through the unincorporated area, the Village of Pinecrest, South Miami, Cutler Bay, Coral Gables and Palmetto Bay and,

WHEREAS: the cost of said line being placed below ground is alleged to be $18 million per mile which is a larger amount than the cost of above ground placement and,

WHEREAS: FPL has shown no credible proof of this cost differential and,

WHEREAS: FPL has stated that the required cost for the line to be placed below ground must be paid by either rate payers of Miami Dade County and/or the impacted municipalities regardless of the fact that the power transmitted will be sold through FPL’s entire system and outside that system, and,

WHEREAS: all the impacted communities have committed to make the areas along US1 livable public spaces and have adopted various plans and other actions to achieve this goal and the installation of above ground lines will be disastrous to these investments

Now, therefore it is resolved that,

1) the Urban Environmental League opposes the above ground lines on the basis of equity to the rate payers of Miami Dade County and requests the Public Service Commission and the Cabinet to address the equity issue and requests the true cost of underground to be borne by all the users of the power

2) requests the Miami Dade Board of County Commissioners with the impacted municipalities to join in opposition to the above ground transmission lines including litigation if necessary and,

3) requests the Board of County Commissioners to investigate the possibility of building its own underground transmission line and charging FPL a fee for its use which covers the capital and operational cost with a rate of return equal each year to the rate of return allowed to FPL by the Public Service Commission with any surplus revenues generated by the County Commission to be used for under grounding power lines throughout Miami Dade County.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Restore Parks Funding in Budget by Barbara Falsey

Everyone understands that these are tough times. Everyone understands that the County’s budget faces challenges. What everyone may not understand is that the proposed cuts to the Park and Recreation Budget will affect services in the short term and the sustainability of parks and recreation into the future. These cuts undermine the ability of parks to spur economic development through tourism, and by simply attracting and keeping families and businesses in Miami-Dade County. These cuts also threaten our quality of life by degrading the everyday pleasures that the beauty and wide range of opportunities for play and relaxation parks provide.

Everyone has cherished memories of time spent in parks – on picnics, playing ball, swimming and splashing in the ocean or in a pool, dropping our children off for an after-school program, taking our parents and grandparents to programs where they meet and interact with others. When we travel we go out of our way to see the beautiful parks and public spaces in the communities we visit. When we are at home, and especially in times when “stay”cations are replacing vacations away from home, we look forward to taking time to ride bikes, go to playgrounds with our children, play golf, go fishing, climb trees, lie in the grass, have picnics, listen to music, in safe and clean open areas.

All of those experiences are threatened by budget cuts that will reduce park programs, reduce maintenance of fields and park buildings and bathrooms, reduce the care of our precious natural areas, and threaten the long-term future of one of this county’s most important assets – its parks. The Department operates and manages over 258 properties – from the Deering Estate, to the Zoo, to Hauolver and Crandon Beaches, to natural areas and the local parks in neighborhoods that provide sports and recreation programs to families throughout the entire county. The programs and facilities offered at these parks are part of the County’s arsenal in the fight against childhood obesity, juvenile delinquency, neighborhood disintegration and environmental degradation.

The proposed budget threatens all of this. It calls for a $22 million dollar reduction and the elimination of 222 full time positions and of part time positions that make up the equivalent of an additional 202 full time positions. These reductions mean less park security, and reduced maintenance for playgrounds, pools, playing fields and tennis courts. The budget proposes to shut down any after-school, sports or senior program that does not “pay for itself” through fees and charges and it reduces nature center and environmental programming to a pay as you go activity. All of these draconian measures are proposed just at a time when more and more people are turning to parks for an affordable and safe way to spend time. It simply makes no sense and unless some funding is restored to the Parks Department, this budget will compromise the quality of our lives and our environment now and in the future.

It is not too late to raise our voices. On September 3 the Board of County Commissioners will hold a full public hearing and cast a first vote on both the budget and the tax rate. Two weeks later they will hold a final public hearing and vote to approve the budget for the fiscal year that starts on October. There is still time for us to rally to make sure that our parks and vital park programs are protected.

Parks are civic spaces – not pay as you go enterprises. Neglecting grounds and facilities and natural areas now will cost us more in the future to repair and restore – if repair is possible. The loss of quality time spent with children, with our families, with each other in beautiful and freely available public parks can never be restored. Write your Commissioners and the Mayor – let them know how important parks are to you and that it is unacceptable to compromise them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Miami-Dade County Budget Hearings

Friends, in these tough economic times we need our vital County services more than ever. Unfortunately, Mayor Carlos Alvarez has proposed draconian cuts to important county departments. Zoning, historic preservation, parks, transit and many others are facing UNNECESSARY cuts under the guise of reducing the size of government. A very minor increase in property tax (amounting to $20/ property owner) could avoid the worst of the cuts.

There are several ways you can get involved:

1. Share your concerns with the Budget Planning and Sustainability Committee. They will be meeting Aug. 24, 25, 26 and 27.

Chair: Katy Sorenson, d. 8 305-375-5218

Carlos Gimenez, d. 7 305-375-5680
Joe Martinez, d. 11 305-375-5511
Barbara Jordon, d. 1 305-375-5694
Sally Heyman, d. 4 305-375-5128

2. Attend one of the public meetings to discuss the budget. These are scheduled throughout the month of August, with 3 scheduled for this week alone. Call 311 to find a meeting located near you.

3. Attend the Budget Hearing on September 3 and / or September 17th. Meetings start at 5:01 and are held in the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 N.W. 1st Street

Monday, August 10, 2009

Some Questions about the Miami Circle Ground Breaking by Fran Bohnsack

A fellow UEL Board Member recently drew our attention to the proposed site for the Miami Circle, pointing out that it seems a bit light on trees. I thought maybe that was because of the sensitivity of the site, but now I think the issue may be money; the state doesn't have enough of it and the Miami Circle is on a budget. I noticed something else, too. The advertisement credits the Historical Museum of South Florida for making the circle site happen, when in reality there were lots of helpful partners involved -- not to mention that UEL was a founding advocate from day one! Katy Sorenson, too.

I've sat through many meetings of the Miami River Commission discussing the Miami Circle. The MRC played a leadership role in getting the state to step up to their responsibilities when the sea wall was collapsing. And the Florida Inland Navigational District's local Commissioner helped cut a lot of red tape and contributed funds to save the site. Even the Downtown Development Authority helped. There were many others who also participated -- they should all be given credit for their important efforts as well! Let's give credit where credit is due.

As to the trees . . . what do you think, readers?

My idea was that this site is fragile and doesn't really want very much traffic. People should be able to see it and appreciate it without necessarily hanging out there the way you might at a park. With so many residents around and such little park space available, I could easily see it becoming the neighborhood dog run if it's design was too comfortable (and I am a doggy fan). It's also sacred to some folks, so keeping it meditative suggests attracting the few rather than the many. And my last thought on the limited canopy is that the area is so crowded with high-rises that seeing this small swath of green grass is like discovering a jewel in a surprising place -- breathtaking!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Miami 21 Doesn't make the Cut.

The Miami Herald reported today that after almost 7 hours of public testimony, the City of Miami had a tie vote on Miami 21. Commissioners Spence Jones and Sarnoff voted for it and Commissioners Regalado and Sanchez voted against it. Angel Gonzales was absent. The defeat of this massive zoning reform was a setback to Mayor Manny Diaz's legacy. It was hinted at in the article that it might come back for a vote.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

An Open Letter on Miami 21. By Ernie Martin

I wrote this to my friends concerned about Miami 21:

Thanks for your focus on our neighborhood and on the many shortcomings of Miami 21. I had a long conversation with Arva Parks yesterday, and we both have numerous concerns about Miami 21. It was an ambitious undertaking and the City took many erratic turns, and, although the City (utilizing our tax dollars) spent a huge amount of resources on what many of us think, or at least thought at the time of the launch many years ago, was a quite noble goal. Everyone, of every political stripe, from greedy developers, to historic preservationists, to neighborhood groups trying to preserve a quality of life, agreed an overhaul was necessary. Cynicism is justified for those that believe no effective overhaul of a city’s zoning can possibly succeed without a moratorium first. The City launched the effort, a noble adventure, but then gave it no urgency by allowing business-as-usual during the deliberations, while the City ran amok in inappropriate overdevelopment. No wonder that no one got serious until the City, under the current inept system, drove itself into financial collapse, making itself a caricature of urban financial idiocy unmatched in the country, except perhaps Las Vegas.

Arva and I agreed that perhaps the best analogy to our current dilemma is the current debate over health care reform. Everyone agrees that the current system is dysfunctional and harmful to all of the stakeholders, except the profiteers. It sucks. Everyone agrees that change is needed. But almost every stakeholder has a little gripe about something or other, and a clamor emerges to do nothing, leaving the current ineptitude in place. Who knows when another opportunity will arise for a better system? In health care’s last attempt at reform, it took 30 years for another stab at the problem.

In the case of Miami 21, almost everyone agrees that it has good elements of neighborhood livability, energy sustainability, low-income mixed use housing opportunities, walk ability and pedestrian/bicycle friendly streetscape, and a myriad of other improvements. Reporter Andres Viglucci reported today on the principles of Miami 21 and their potential for great benefit, similar to what is exhibited on Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater.

Sitting through dozens of hours in public hearings, Arva and I came to the conclusion that many people (the majority that spoke) wanted to keep the current system because it allows them to make more money; that an articulate minority of actual residents represented by many groups and most effectively by Miami Neighborhoods United, made eloquent arguments that the plan does not go far enough in protecting stable single family neighborhoods such as our own. The Commission will have a tough time choosing between these competing interests: the neighborhood groups are strong because they tend to vote for our elected officials that will protect our neighborhoods, but the developers are also strong because they give the vast bulk of campaign funds to elected officials which assure their development agenda.

The majority of the pressure comes from developers, but neighborhood individuals and groups, although a minority of political influence, will lose a great opportunity to make meaningful change if they don’t support Miami 21. It will take years, probably decades, for it to come back. If it passes, it contains many provisions to fight individual shortcomings in individual neighborhoods for specific projects. If it fails, we will go back to the status quo that everyone hates—but developers are excellent at manipulating. If we fight for individual changes under the current system, we will continue to lose; if we fight for individual changes under Miami 21, we will, at least, be fighting from a platform that supports our policies of neighborhood preservation. All passionate urbanites and neighborhood preservationists abhor compromise—we know what is right, and feel inferior if we don’t go to the wall—but sometimes are goals are easier to achieve from a supportive policy base, although not perfect, than to revert to a failed status quo.

I urge my neighbors to support Miami 21, and then use its improved platform to choose our battles strategically.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Chaotic City of Miami Commission Meeting

During a meeting discussing the EAR (Update of the City's Comprehensive Plan) the City Clerk couldn't figure out what was going on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

County Budget Cuts

The Urban Environment League is against the massive budget cuts to the Parks department. In an article today in the Miami Herald it was reported that cultural groups are gearing up to protect their interests from budget cuts Mayor Alvarez has proposed. Hundreds of people showed up at a Science Museum meeting to discuss the proposed budget and lend support to cultural entities and programs. The Herald says cuts would:

• Squeeze $14.8 million of funding down to a mere $4.4 million.

• What were 500 grant recipients would be whittled down to about 100.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Is Amendment 4 the Right Answer?

There is an article in the Miami Herald today about Amendment 4. The author says:

In the complex world of comprehensive land-use plans, the public cannot vote.

However, this uneven balance of power could change in the 2010 elections. A proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution would give the public the final say on changes to a comprehensive land-use plan that have been approved by commissioners.

Given that changes to a development plan determine the fate of a community for future generations, it is vital that those changes reflect voters' interests, maintains Florida Hometown Democracy, which is promoting Amendment 4.

Contrary to the arguments of the amendment's foes, the objective would not be to ask voters to approve all changes, no matter how minor, like putting an addition onto a house. Instead, it would be limited to significant changes in development policies.

What is your opinion readers? Do you want to leave the last word with voters or politicians?