Miami Dade County Community Forum

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning: How it Works by UEL intern

A day trip to Government Center and a meeting with Planning Staff helped me figure out what exactly goes on in the Planning and Zoning Department. Here’s the break-down:

In “Planning” is where the policy level analysis goes on. What that means is that those folks are planning the development for our county with a long-term view of how to get things done, and how the county needs to grow. They’re looking at our natural resources and working on protecting and using them well, especially in the marine industry. “Planning” interested me because so many of the recommendations from this department are ignored. I was amazed at how much public input went into their planning decisions.

“Zoning” is the place for actual implementation of “Planning’s” research. They codify the plans for growth—either through county codes or zoning code—and then interpret and enforce zoning rules that they’ve made. Obviously, there’s overlap between the two department halves.

The Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) book is the Bible of the Planning and Zoning Department. There are 10 required elements to the CDMP, but there could be an eleventh element added soon—“Community Development and Health.” One component of this new element is the recognition the obesity is a grave concern for our community comes the needs for a cure, or at least the beginnings of a cure, for this issue. So Planning and Zoning are looking at how to create open spaces in Miami for outdoor activity, and how to add an element of walkability to areas that would be otherwise accessed by cars. This proposed element might be incorporated into the master plan.

So what changes are coming for our county? Many changes will be made regarding urban nodes after the results of the census are available in 2012, when new information on demographics will be available. Net population growth is still something to be considered, especially because immigration is still strong, despite its decrease. The buzzword these days is “smart growth,” trying to get people to think not merely about how to increase the city’s GDP but instead to think about how to do so in a way that’s sustainable.

Want to participate in the planning for your community? Check out the charrettes held for the different areas of Miami, where community members can come and draw up their own suggestions.

To see some of the plans drawn up from old charrettes, click here

Note on the picture: This is a shot I took driving down Old Cutler right before the Coco Plum Circle. The shade from the trees makes the sidewalks in this neighborhood a great place to exercise.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What’s the Deal With the Billboards?

So in 1985, a county-wide vote passed a law against having signage of the east side of I-95 in the downtown area. And yet we have signs everywhere in that area—what’s the deal?

Hal F.B. Birchfield remembers that in January 2009 he received a letter from Mr. Sam Walthour, who pointed out an interesting county code. In the letter, Mr. Walthour wrote: “In addition, the county has brought it to the city’s attention that the billboard (the one at the police station they almost finished) is within the required 600 foot protected area of the expressway required by county code.” The rest of the letter is above.

Why is the law being ignored? Can anything be done about the eyesores in our community, the billboards being passed off as “murals”?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Metrorail

Some love it, some hate it--it’s Miami’s biggest form of public transportation, crowded in the morning rush hours with people dependent on this train system. Here’s my assessment of a random morning Metrorail ride:

I boarded the train at 9:30 and was impressed with its cleanliness. There were only a few newspapers left on benches, and someone had obviously worked to erase the graffiti on the windows, though traces of it were left behind. The train was well air-conditioned, and not very full in the later part of the morning. Then an announcement came on: “This train is out of service. Please exit the train.” The few disgruntled travelers got off the train, resuming their wait on the benches on the train platform. I had barely missed the 9:30 train, and would wait until 9:45 for the next train. Earlier in the morning, the wait time is 5-10 minutes on average, but the wait becomes longer as the morning progresses.

As I waited for the next train, I noticed a schedule of train arrival times posted on the platform. I knew train alerts were available through cellular phones (for info on this, click here), but the schedule was handy. A screen with an estimated time for the next train’s arrival would have been nice, because the listing is not always accurate, but the train times are fairly regular.

The signs on the platform were not translated into Spanish, despite the train’s heavy use by Spanish-speaking people. The sign in English that said “No smoking/No eating, or drinking/No loud music” was largely ignored, as evidenced by the token teenager blasting music through a cell phone.

Ten minutes later, the platform was getting busier and the out-of-service train was still the only one on the platform. By 9:42, the next train had arrived. I remembered, once on board, that there was free wi-fi on the trains, a nice new feature for the rail.

Although the train wasn’t very busy when it finally left at 9:47, during the busy morning hours, the trains could use better hanging handles for those who need to stand when the train is full. The stops were nice and quick, and the train stayed on schedule.

When it began raining lightly, I found my book getting damp from a crack in the window above my seat. I tried to close the window, but it was stuck. However, the train wasn’t full, and I switched to another seat.

We arrived at Government Center at 10:05. For the scatterbrained teenager or busy adult, the intercom reminding you to look for your belongings before exiting the train was nice.

Overall, it’s hard to find a complaint about the Metrorail. It does its job well in a city that desperately needs to make a shift towards using public transportation more heavily. Keep a lookout for the new routes being planned for the Metrorail.

The Everglades Skyway

The case for the Everglades Skyway: A bold step in restoring the natural flow of the Everglades

Environmentalists are coming together to unite for the development of a skyway that could drastically improve the natural water flow of the Everglades that has been averted through canals due to the construction of the Tamiami Trail in 1928. The road has been strangling the Everglades National Park from the vital flows of water from the North, thus creating a dry and distorted southern landscape affecting many fisheries that are dependent on a healthy ecosystem.

The concept of the Skyway was developed as a restoration project to help restore the historic sheet flow of the Shark River Slough, an area of the park that has enormous economic value in terms of fisheries, recreational opportunities, flood protection, and water quality. The original plan was to elevate an 11 mile stretch on the Tamiami Trail, however, the project has now been positioned into 3 phases. The phase currently being pushed is a 5.5 mile bridge, which is now in the public review process. The public review will last until July 27th 2010, where it will then go into a Final Review until November 19th 2010, and a Final Review of Design on March 31st.

Environmentalists are seeking support from the community to help move this project along, which can help generate jobs, support tourism, benefit wildlife and restore the water flows of the Everglades.

There will be a public review meeting on Thursday, June 24th from 6-9pm at the South Dade Regional Library, 10750 SW 211th Street, Cutler Bay, FL 33189. Map: click here

To learn more about the Everglades Skyway, visit their website at

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let the water flow! Raise Tamiami Trail to achieve Everglades restoration.

When: Thursday, June 24th
Where: South Dade Regional Library
10750 Southwest 211th Street
Cutler Bay, FL 33189-2809

Everglades National Park is parched. A new proposal to elevate 5.5 miles of Tamiami Trail announced in May 2010 by federal officials will remove the dam created by the 1928 road construction and restore natural water flow to the River of Grass.
Although six alternatives were put forward, the preferred 5.5 mile alternative yields the highest ecological and economic benefits to South Florida and Everglades restoration. This second phase of bridging will bring thousands of local jobs to South Florida and create a larger than life birds-eye view of America’s Everglades.

• Increased water flows to Florida Bay will restore abundant sport fishing opportunities in Florida Bay and aid the re-establishment of sea grass beds.
• Seamless integration with the 1-mile bridging project currently underway can achieve significant cost savings on planned restoration efforts.
• Ecosystem benefits will assist in the recovery of wading birds like the snail kite whose populations have suffered a 90% decline.

Your voice is needed! In order to secure the additional 5.5 mile bridging alternative and ensure critical waters are delivered to the Everglades, Florida’s residents, elected officials and businesses need to weigh in at the upcoming public meeting.

For additional questions or comments contact Dawn Shirreffs at Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund at or (305)653-9101.

Can’t attend??? Written comments will be accepted through July 27, 2010 and can be submitted electronically to or or mailed to Everglades National Park, Tamiami Trail Next Steps Project, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead, FL 33034-6733. View the plan online at .

Climate Change Meeting

From the Miami Herald:

On Wednesday:

Senior Obama adminstration officials are in town for a public meeting of the Federal Intergency Climate Change Adaption Task Force, 9 a.m. to noon at the Miami-Dade County Commission Chambers.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Why Didn't They Do a Better Job Notifying People?

An excerpt from the Miami Herald:

"After 20 million gallons of sewage gushed into Biscayne Bay, a public advisory continues Monday. But Sunday, unaware swimmers still hit some of the bay's beaches.

A warning about possible sewage contamination in Biscayne Bay continued Sunday and was extended to Monday -- but that didn't keep people out of the water over the weekend.

The cause of the precautionary public advisory was a break in a 72-inch sewer line at Northwest 18th Avenue and 157th Street. It burst about 7 p.m. Friday and spilled for 12 hours, sending about 20 million gallons of sewage into the Biscayne Canal before it was stopped, the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department said.
Crews stopped the leak by shutting off the valve and rerouting the flow, Water and Sewer spokeswoman Adriana Lamar said Sunday.

On Saturday, health officials issued an advisory and asked people to avoid swimming and recreational activities in bay areas from Oleta River State Park, near the rupture point, south to the Julia Tuttle Causeway, including Bal Harbour Beach and Haulover Park.

Health officials will determine whether to extend the no-swim advisory Monday after reviewing new water-quality test results.
Despite the advisory, swimmers frolicked and kayakers paddled Sunday at Oleta River State Park.

A white warning sign about the advisory, about the size of a sheet of paper, was posted on a board beside the front gate.
Beyond that, there were few clues about the possible sewage in the water. Families visited with beach towels and barbecue fixings. About 3 p.m., two flags flew at the beach: a yellow flag indicating a need to exercise caution and a purple flag to warn of dangerous marine animals. A red flag with a line crossing out a swimmer would indicate the water was unsafe to enter, but such a flag was not flying.

It looked like a typical summer day at the Oleta park's beach."

The cause of the sewer break is still under investigation, and no more notification of the tainted water has been made.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The UEL Dinner Last Night

There are so many people to thank for making this one of the events of the year - about 180 people came to thank County Commissioner Katy Sorenson for her years of service. First of all we want to thank all of the toasters, thank you for your messages. Jim DeFede thank you for your role as a masterful Master of Ceremony. As Commissioner Rolle would say: "You done good."

Motes Orchids, your flowers were smashing especially the Orchid for Katy. Martin Motes made a new hybrid orchid, registering this new orchid as "vanda Katy Sorenson". Thank you Chief of Staff Sylvia Farina for helping us with logistics. Thank you Rusty Pelican for making a delicious dinner for all of us and the view of downtown was spectacular. We thank our Pianists Albert Harum Alvarez and Su-Gi Min.

Best of all, the sense of family in the room was strong - That sense of Community is what Katy inspired, uniting all of us from different corners of the County.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The UEL Dinner in Honor of County Commissioner Katy Sorenson

We are looking forward to celebrating Katy Sorenson's public service to the community tonight at the Rusty Pelican at our Orchids & Onions Award Dinner/Annual Meeting.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Miami Herald: Employee palm cards for the oil spill

"Florida, under siege and potentially surrounded, is fighting damaging oil spill publicity by urging its frontline to speak with one voice.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm has printable ``palm cards'' on its website that businesses can give employees being bombarded with questions about the BP oil disaster.

The cards, which are slightly larger than business cards, offer a script of things hotel and other hospitality employees can tell people who ask about the spill.

``Florida has 825 miles of beautiful beaches. Some areas have been impacted, but most of Florida's beaches are unaffected, and you can count on us to keep providing you accurate, real-time information to make your vacation decisions,'' a card reads.
There's a similar card with answers on how to deal with the media.

The palm cards offer different answers based on whether a business' area has been affected by oil.

``We meant these cards for the frontline tourism industry employees,'' Visit Florida spokeswoman Kathy Torian said Thursday. She said many employees are probably getting questions about the oil spill from consumers, and said the media card is ``in case they get accosted'' by reporters.

Torian said the cards have been updated as the oil spill situation has changed.

``Employees may not have time to keep up on all the latest information about the oil spill,'' she said.

On Thursday, Visit Florida held its first industry-wide webinar to update business owners and others about the organization's plans to promote tourism in the wake of the spill.

Almost 500 people tuned in.

``I think people don't realize what all we're churning out to help out with this situation,'' Torian said. She pointed out the palm cards and a ``share a little sunshine'' campaign on Facebook that encourages people to share pictures of their ``favorite Florida scenes'' so visitors can get real-time views of conditions."

Read more here

Monday, June 14, 2010

Letter to City of Miami Commissioners asking for a NO vote on 2 million dollar grant.

Community Activist Grace Solares wrote to all City Commissioners on June 10th asking them to reject the $2 million dollar grant by the Omni CRA for environmental Remediation at Bicentennial Park (hit on pages to enlarge them):

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Public Speaks: Miami River

If you attended the charrette, you already know some of the issues that were raised. The AIA team helped us think about four main topics:
1) What we valued in the Miami River
2) What we currently use the Miami River for
3) What impediments the Miami River faces
4) What our vision for the Miami River is

The charrette was fueled by strong concerns about the River, as well as disagreements about how it should be used. Some topics of contention were:
-How can we make the river part of the public realm?
-Can the river be a seam, rather than a divide, in community?
-Is the rumor of criminal activity around the river true? And how much of a problem is it?
-Is there ever follow-up to the plans made for the river?
-Does Miami have a proactive or reactive civic input to government?
-Why are the meetings about the River even held at places like the Hyatt, a place where many people who live along the river wouldn't feel comfortable?
-What can be done about the hierarchy between home owners and renters who live along the river?

What do you think about these issues? Feel free to comment below.

One man at the charette was old enough to remember when Indians regularly canoed down the Miami River, and several others shared their personal experiences.

What do you value about the river?

The Miami Herald summed up the AIA report on recommendations for the river:

"The team's 40-page report also outlines some specific proposals that could use the river and is bridges, its existing parks and pieces of the emerging greenway along its banks to establish pedestrian connections with Miami International Airport, the Civic Center's hospitals and justice facilities and the new Marlins baseball stadium with surrounding neighborhoods -- Brickell, downtown, Little Havana and Allapattah.

Also strongly suggested:

• Establish water taxis with stops at key places along the river, as well as kayak and canoe liveries to encourage recreational use.

• Address storm water sewer issues that send polluted rain runoff into the river and make environmental stewardship a priority.

• Start improving the river's public realm by removing fences that separate existing segments of the greenway and isolate several public parks on the river.

• Capitalize on the 14 cargo terminals on the river that serve shallow-draft vessels using shallow-draft ports in the Caribbean -- a niche that can be turned into a potential advantage once the Panama Canal widening is completed to accommodate super-cargo ships.

• Promote the river aggressively to familiarize Miamians with its often little-known assets, including a string of riverside parks."

Read more here

Miami Modern Metropolis: Paradise and Paradox in Midcentury Architecture and Planning.

Join us at the iconic 1963 Bacardi Building for a discussion
centered around the themes of the recently published book,
Miami Modern Metropolis: Paradise and Paradox in Midcentury Architecture and Planning.

Free. RSVP to

Enjoy cocktails and hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Bacardi U.S.A

FRIDAY, JUNE 11, 2010
6:00 - 8:00 PM
Bacardi Building
2100 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33137
Free secure parking
(enter at NE 22 Street)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A UEL member asked us to post this Video about Amendment 4.

The Urban Environment League has no official position on Florida Amendment 4 but we do have a strong position on the right of the public to be heard. The public put this Amendment on the ballot and we believe they are entitled to have the voters vote on it. The UEL recommends that you get informed on both sides so you can make an informed decision.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BP paying FL workers: Is it enough?

PENSACOLA -- The people of the Florida Panhandle whose livelihoods depend on a Gulf of Mexico sullied by the spewing oil well trickle into a BP claims office, hoping to leave with a $5,000 check to help them get through the month.

The massive oil spill has spooked tourists and left those who live off the Gulf without open waters to fish or boats to sell, rent or fix. In turn, BP has opened 25 claims offices from New Orleans to Key West and, as of Sunday, paid $48 million to about 18,000 people for their economic losses.

The proud, independent coastal workers find it difficult to take money from the company whose disaster has left them grounded, watching and waiting for the worst of the oil to come ashore.

``It's a strange thing,'' said Paul Galusha, who fixes electronics systems on boats. ``I've been self-employed for 12 years. I work hard. . . . I don't ask for [money], but I'm broke.''

Read more here

Monday, June 7, 2010

Planned Media Towers along Biscayne Boulevard (Excerpt from the Florida Business journal)

“The electronic billboards planned for a garage next to downtown Miami’s performing arts center would be the equivalent of 25 and 35 stories tall, according to Edie Laquer, the developer’s spokeswoman. Some early reports had described the towers as 20 stories tall atop an eight-story garage.

On June 2, the spokeswoman said both would sit atop a 100-foot-high garage, which would bring the tops to 35 and 45 stories above street level, based on 10 feet per story.

Some residents oppose developer Mark Siffin’s idea.

‘Mr. Siffin made a bad bargain at the height of the real estate market, and now cannot make anything work in the property without placing completely inappropriate large, garish, brightly lit advertisements in the middle of our developing arts and residential district,’ area resident Barbara Bisno said in a letter to a county commissioner. ‘Are we all to suffer so he can complete his contract for sale?’”

“Siffin does not own the site where the project would be built. He has a $190 million contract with McClatchy Co. to buy a roughly 10-acre site that includes the garage parcel. The developer has given McClatchy $16 million so far toward the purchase. The overall City Square project includes the garage and a 640,000-square-foot retail complex.”

Read more here

Friday, June 4, 2010

Miami River Catalyst Plan: Events open to the public

The first is on Monday, June 7 at noon, in the Robert King High New Board Room at 1407 NW 7 Street. AIA will make a presentation and then stick around to answer questions. This is a good opportunity to get a idea of what’s going on with the Catalyst Plan.

Next, the AIA is holding a Public Charrette at the Hyatt Regency, 400 SE 2nd Avenue in the Stanford Meeting Room on Monday, June 7th at 6:00 pm. This will be the meeting where AIA launches its “visioning process,” and if you’d like to be a part of this process please join!

And finally, on Wednesday June 9th at 6:00 pm in the Ashe Auditorium of the Hyatt Regency, 400 SE 2nd Avenue, AIA will “unveil the vison/goals” that were formed with YOUR input at the charrette on June 7.

These community-wide events will truly decide the future of the Miami River Corridor, please come and make changes for the better in your community.

For more information about the event, or to schedule interviews with team members, contact Joel Mills at (202) 280-9040, or at

image from Critical Miami

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oil Spill to hit Florida Beaches Today

An excerpt from The huffington post by Brian Skoloff:

"Scientists say the Gulf oil spill could get into the what's called the Loop Current within a day, eventually carrying oil south along the Florida coast and into the Florida Keys.

Nick Shay, a physical oceanographer at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, said Monday once the oil enters the Loop Current, it likely will end up in the Keys and continue east into the Gulf Stream.

Shay says the oil could affect Florida's beaches, coral reefs, fisheries and ecosystem within a week.

He described the Loop Current as similar to a "conveyor belt," sweeping around the Gulf, through the Keys and right up the East Coast.

Shay says he cannot think of any scenario where the oil doesn't eventually reach the Florida Keys."

Further updates from the Huffington post indicate that an oil sheen was sighted and verified only nine miles off the Florida coast. Officials are have estimated that it will hit the coast sometime today.

FLA officials have asked for $150,000 from BP for beach protection, but the request has gone unanswered for over three weeks.

(Graphic from Protect Florida's Beaches)

Amendment 4: A Remedy for Politicians Who Can't Say No to Developers

From our friends at Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition:

"Supporters of Amendment 4 are going to demonstrate on June 9th in front of the Yolo Restaurant from 4:30 to 6:00, the people who are most responsible for our overdevelopment problems are meeting for an Anti-Amendment 4 fund raiser. See below... We will have T-shirts and a banner but please bring home made signs against your project. Please come and bring a friend."

Click here to see more

Commissioner Katy Sorenson's dinner

We'd like to remind you about placing an ad in the program for Commissioner Sorenson's dinner; it's a lovely program, so please send in your well-wishes for Katy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Miami Herald on Gulf Oil Spill: Sea life likely disrupted for years

Here is an excerpt from the Miami Herald article Sunday by Rene Schoof:

"It's probably going to be one of the worst disasters we've ever seen," said Paul Montagna, a professor of ecology at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi.

"Instead of creating a typical spill, where the oil goes to the surface and you can scoop it up, this stuff has been distributed throughout the water column, and that means everything, absolutely everything, is being affected," he said.

Further complicating the toxic effects of the oil, the chemical dispersants - used as never before a mile below the surface - have changed the crude in ways that will keep it from breaking down.

The dispersants have modified the oil, keeping it in a form that's "much gooier and much oilier, and that has a lot of us worried, because it means the stuff is not going to degrade very easily," said James H. Cowan Jr., a professor of biological oceanography at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Because of the high pressure deep underwater, it's harder for dispersants to break up the oil, he said.

"A lot of us suspect that we may be dealing with this for decades," Cowan said.

BP's use of the dispersants also is likely to keep the damage hidden.

Larry Crowder, a professor of marine biology at Duke University, said the dispersant, Corexit, had kept much of the oil off the beaches, making it "harder to get 'Film at 11' about the effects." Many species that are killed by the oil in the water will die and sink out of sight.

"That may be the preference of the oil companies: to keep the damage out of sight, out of mind," Crowder said.

Scientists said at the seabed, where the gusher has spewed as much as 37 million gallons of crude since April, the world is like a refrigerator with the door shut: about 40 degrees and dark. Bacteria that degrade oil don't work well in those conditions.

"A lot of the technology that worked pretty well in shallow water we're finding - oops - there are some things we didn't know or think about," said Texas A&M's Montagna. "Obviously, there were no contingency plans."

BP's response plan for a spill in the Gulf didn't anticipate oil staying underwater. It said measurements would be made on the surface to calculate the size of the spill.

Layers of oil reach out in all directions under water, LSU's Cowan said, some deep, where they degrade slowly, and others moving toward the surface. One layer is a few hundred feet down in the water and 300 feet thick, he said.

He and his research team have been out checking the reefs with remotely operated vehicles. Most of the oil they've seen is near the shore, he said, "but we now think we're beginning to see some oil on the reef environment in a little deeper water."