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BHA News, Vol. XI, No. 3 Fall 2001 Election Issue

Brickell PAC Endorses Manny Diaz for Mayor

The Brickell Neighborhood Political Action Committee announced its endorsement of the candidacy of Manny Diaz for City of Miami Mayor in the upcoming election. After a comprehensive review process of the 10 candidates, the PAC Steering Committee determined that Mr. Diaz, a new face on the political landscape, offers a businesslike approach to assessing problems and developing solutions - just what Miami needs now.

The PAC Steering Committee said they felt that Manny Diaz has a keen appreciation of the importance of neighborhoods, which is important for Brickell as well as for all of the other City neighborhoods.

"While all of the other leading candidates have already served the City in various capacities, Manny Diaz offers Miami voters a new perspective and a much-needed breath of fresh air in the City of Miami's top elected position," PAC Chairman Tory Jacobs said.
"Two years ago, the PAC took a bold step in endorsing the election of a political newcomer, Johnny Winton, to the City Commission, and Commissioner Winton has more than proven himself," Mr. Jacobs said. "We predict similar success in our support of Manny Diaz."

In the City of Miami Commission races, the PAC endorsed Joe Sanchez and Arthur Teele, Jr. for reelection in Districts 3 and 5, respectively. In both of these cases, their experience, and the leadership the two have shown while in office, worked in the City's favor in the view of the Brickell PAC. They are important allies to Commissioner Winton whose district encompasses the Brickell area.

Serving the Brickell residential community from the Miami River to Rickenbacker Causeway, the Brickell Neighborhood PAC was formed four years ago when BHA residents became frustrated by the lack of representation they were receiving at City Hall. Private developer and commercial interests were consistently winning out over the will of homeowners. The PAC, allowed to raise funds and support candidates and issues that align most closely with its constituents, has proven effective since its formation in garnering the attention of elected officials.

At the same time, the Brickell PAC empowers homeowning taxpayers with vested interests in the Brickell neighborhood but who are not eligible to vote. The PAC provides a voice in the election process for Brickell residents, some 16,000 strong.

For more on the history of the Brickell PAC and its stands on previous elections and issues, click on Brickell PAC on main menu.


On the Ballot: Bond Referendum, Most Charter Changes Get Thumbs Up from BHA

A $255 million bond referendum on the Nov. 13th ballot-the date of the anticipated runoff election for the mayor's race-got a vote of support from BHA Directors at their October meeting. City of Miami staffers, including City Manager Carlos Gimenez and Assistant City Managers Dena Bianchino and Bob Nachlinger, explained program's structure and how the timing is favorable for such investments without increasing taxpayers' current 1.218 millage rate.

Historically low interest rates make this a good time for a bond program, staffers explained. Additionally, the City hasn't issued bonds for several years leaving it with a large, untapped capacity for the debt service. Further, the City's bond ratings have improved and are expected to be upgraded again when officials travel to New York for a new review by the bond rating services.

Entitled Homeland Defense/Neighborhood Improvement Bonds, proceeds would be allocated among five major categories including Public Safety, Parks and Recreation, Streets and Drainage, Municipal Facilities and Historic Preservation. See the City of Miami's website for more details about the improvements planned.


President's Column: By T. Sinclair (Tory) Jacobs
We talk, we complain, we wish. . .NOW is the time to ACT!

On November 6th, we can elect Manny Diaz Mayor of Miami.
And, we should. We should because Manny Diaz is the best qualified candidate. The Brickell Neighborhood PAC's Steering Committee thoroughly evaluated the field and overwhelmingly endorsed Diaz' candidacy.

Manny Diaz will lead without being confrontational. He will put an end to the "us vs. them" perception that has been pervasive throughout the community, especially at City Hall. He has the energy, coupled with an incisive grasp of problems and issues, which enable him to provide the unifying force now so needed in our City.

Manny Diaz will fight for us, but not fight the Commission or the Administration. He knows how to make things work because, as a successful businessman, he knows how to motivate people.
Can Brickell voters make the difference again?

Two years ago, we pushed Johnny Winton, a neophyte politician, over the top. And he has done us and all Miami, proud.

Can we do it again, give another neophyte politician the momentum to win out over a crowded field of mostly previous officeholders? The campaign professionals say we can, provided that we get out the vote in our primary two districts.

Let's do it! Let's give Miami the leadership it deserves.

Most importantly, we all must vote. Our influence at City Hall is a function of not just our numbers, but even more meaningful, the percentage of eligible voters who actually vote.


Candidates Forum Draws Crowd for Mayoral Candidates

Eight of the 10 candidates vying for the mayoral office for the City of Miami addressed homeowners in a lively evening at the Tenth Annual Candidates Forum September 20th.

The meeting hall was packed at the Immanuel Lutheran Church where homeowners from the Brickell neighborhood, Miami Roads and South Miami Avenue, as well as Brickell area business people, gathered to hear the platforms and ask questions of those running for the City's highest office.

Among the issues, parks and greenspace and the interests of citizens versus the interests of developers came up often, as did the scandal, corruption and mismanagement that has plagued the city in recent years.

José Garcia-Pedrosa told residents that Miami came in dead last among American cities in park space per person and that the city needs equalizers like parks and cultural attractions. You "don't build a city only by pouring concrete," he said. Open spaces and quality of life defines a city.

Former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez said in his view Bicentennial Park, Watson Island and Virginia Key should remain open parks available to the public. Addressing a topic high on the list for Brickell residents, Suarez said that commercial encroachment needs to be kept in check and that it's a matter of adhering to the zoning code that's in place to protect residents' interests.

Emilio Antunez told Brickell residents that the size of City government needs to be limited, that neighboring property owners' will should take precedence in zoning considerations and that competition and privatization are needed.

"Rather than finding ways to bilk people and encourage them to move elsewhere, I would like the city to become a nicer, less expensive, tax and fee-wise, place to live and do business," he said.

Commissioner Willy Gort, giving up his commission seat to run for mayor, said that interaction between the commissioners and the mayor is critical and that the current level of communication is not where it should be. Commissioner Gort is optimistic for the City, however, saying that its geographical location places Miami at the center of the global market. He said he will work to make this City the capital of the world."

Incumbent Mayor Joe Carollo cited the positive progress the City has made in the past four years while he has presided as mayor, including more growth than ever, the lowest crime rate since 1967, and the lowest millage rate in the past 50 years. When you mention Miami, people get "a gleam in their eye," the Mayor said, "Everyone wants to come."

Candidate Manny Diaz said while Miami's growth rate has been only seven percent, the poverty rate has increased 70 percent. Mr. Diaz, who was later named the Brickell Neighborhood PAC's endorsed candidate, blames corruption and self-dealing which has made Miami lag behind other cities. Miami "needs to go back to basics and even involve the schools" in the successful way Chicago has, he said.

Danny Couch said his qualifications stem from his experience as an administrator for the City of Miami Beach and his ability to identify mismanagement.

Maurice Ferré, a former mayor of Miami for 12 years who is credited with much of the growth experienced in Miami and Brickell in the 70s and 80s, said what many observers of this election have agreed upon: "This is an important election that will decide the direction the City of Miami will take."

Thank You
The BHA extends its gratitude to all the candidates for participating in the Forum and sharing their views. The BHA also thanks its partners in sponsoring the 10th Annual Candidates Forum: Miami-Roads Neighborhood Civic Association, Brickell Area Association and South Miami Avenue Homeowners Association. Above Dr. Robert McCabe of the South Miami Avenue Homeowners Association queries candidates. At right, Joe Wilkins of the Miami Roads Neighborhood Civic Association explains the evening's format to the candidates.


Brickell Medians: Just in Time for the Holidays
By Christmas, you'll have your beautiful medians and landscaping in place."

That was the word to BHA in mid-October from Albert Dominguez, Assistant Director of Public Works for the City of Miami, overseers of the project. The colorful little flags seen everywhere mark feeder placements for the new irrigation system, the first step in the process.

The City's $100,000 investment in the Brickell median project will be combined with a $30,000 grant from the Florida Department of Transportation, lobbied by the BHA.

Many residents recall that a new irrigation system and landscaping was completed for the medians only six years ago. The installation was plagued with an underground watering system that never worked properly as well delayed maintenance by the City and its subcontractors. The landscaping never held up and the newly planted medians quickly deteriorated. City staffers vow that this time it will be done right, in a way that will be lush and lasting.

Other Roadwork
On 25th Road and Brickell Avenue east to the water, Coscan Homes, the builder of The Metropolitan, has improved the medians with added landscaping and irrigation. Mr. Dominguez says he hopes that Coscan will complete the enhancement of the one-block stretch of 25th Road by blacktopping the remainder of the street which now has a patchwork appearance.

In other roadwork, north of the Brickell residential neighborhood in Brickell's commercial district FDOT has the road dug up to bring utility lines underground to businesses. Other work in the area is aimed at improving flood control systems. A city-wide cleaning of storm drains is going on now, Mr. Dominguez said. City crews are inspecting piping systems and casements.

"We think with all the construction, the system is suffering due to being clogged by debris," he said. "We've adopted additional policies for development companies to clean the storm water management infrastructure since they're the ones messing it up."

A Bigger Vision
The Brickell Homeowners Association is considering further major enhancements to the Brickell streetscape, having contracted the nationally acclaimed firm, Wallace Roberts & Todd, to work with its committee chaired by Paul Lewin. BHA is seeking ways to make the Brickell neighborhood feel more like a residential neighborhood, as well as to improve its appearance and safety for residents.

Pedestrian lighting, entry gateways and methods for integrating the individual properties with the street are all under consideration to help accomplish the mission, Gerry Marsten of Wallace Roberts & Todd explained to BHA Directors. Funding for the improvements, which Commissioner Winton has said he will assist with securing, could be obtained through crime prevention and environmental design grants.


BHA Recommendations on Proposed City Charter Changes and Ballot Questions for Nov. 6th

YES: Ballot Question #1 ­ Watson Island Development Proposal for "Island Gardens" by Flagstone Properties, LLC
The City requested proposals for the redevelopment of the existing 13.4-acre Watson Island Marina and the adjacent 10.8 acres of undeveloped land into a marina and mixed use waterfront development to emphasize diverse and public open spaces, pedestrian activity, and offer a mix of uses.

After a competitive selection process, the City Commission approved the recommendation of Flagstone Properties as the successful proposer to develop a mixed-use development including a fish market, marina facilities, public gardens, a maritime gallery, two hotels, 14 restaurants, dining, and retail ­ Island Gardens. Flagstone proposes the creation of approximately 2,500 permanent jobs and approximately 10,000 jobs during the two-year+ construction period. Flagstone will invest $281 million in the project.

NO POSITION: Ballot Question #2 ­ Property Tax Exemptions
This proposed Charter change will:

  • Allow the City to use property tax abatement as an economic development tool within the City as it currently is in the County and in the State.
  • Allow for no decrease in tax revenue, as the exemption would only be granted for added improvements made by new or expanding businesses.

This economic development will provide incentives for businesses to create jobs in the City.
*Though tax abatement as an incentive for development is a proven tool, it must be used with great care so that current taxpayers aren't faced with unfair competition.

Charter Amendments
NO: Charter Amendment #1 ­ Civilian Investigative Panel

The proposed Charter Amendment will:

  • Establish an independent panel composed of a police chief appointee and exclusively civilian members nominated by the public and approved by the City Commission to act as independent citizens' oversight of the sworn Police Department.
  • The Panel shall be advised by Independent Counsel appointed by the Panel with the approval of the City Attorney.
  • The Panel shall have subpoena powers that may only be used upon approval of Independent Counsel and in consultation with the State Attorney.
  • The Panel may not confer immunity and shall not interfere with any pending or potential criminal investigation or prosecution.
  • The Panel may conduct independent investigations of police misconduct, review policies and make recommendations to the City Manager and/or Police Chief.

YES: Charter Amendment #2 ­ Charter Clean-up/Update
The proposed Charter amendment will:

  • Keep in the Charter all of the Citizens rights currently provided.
  • Amend the language of the Charter to make it gender neutral.
  • Reduce the size and complexity of the Charter by eliminating provisions which have been superseded by changes in State law.
  • Remove from the Charter sections governing operations which have been transferred to Miami-Dade County.
  • Move those items from the Charter which should be addressed in the City Code.

YES, WITH CONDITIONS: Charter Amendments #3 ­ Sale or Lease of City-owned Property
The recommended changes for selling or leasing City-owned property are as follows:

  • Create exceptions in the referendum requirements for certain non-waterfront City property valued at $500,000 or less with authorization by four-fifths of the Commission.
  • Provide exemptions from the competitive process for conveyance of property acquired by foreclosure, tax delinquent or certain non-waterfront property that is 7,500 square feet or less or is non-buildable.
  • Create an exception from the referendum requirement for the issuance of license agreements for less than one year on Watson Island which will permit the staging of short-term events like Cirque de Soleil.
  • Allow a onetime extension not to exceed 25% of the original term or 10 years, whichever is less, of existing leases, for the purpose of funding additional capital improvements.

*BHA recommends approval of this charter change with the contingency that the extension referenced in the item above be given only if the capital improvement is made.

Amendment #3, part 2 ­ City-owned Real Property
The unified development project (UDP) process is the mechanism by which the City develops its property in partnership with the private sector. The proposed charter amendment will:

  • Provide the participation of those with certain expertise or affected residents in the preparation of documents that invite developers to propose a project.
  • Provide for two stages in the invitation and award process. First, firms would qualify to participate in a second phase without the proposers having to bear major up-front costs until after the City knows enough parties are interested.
  • Changes to the process would attract more interest and increase competition, thus improving the City's return on its property.

YES: Charter Amendment #4 ­ Commission Salaries
The annual compensation of $5,000 for City Commissioners was established in 1949 and has not changed since 1949. The necessary attention and dedication to official duties by City Commissioners has significantly increased, encompassing a major portion of each Commissioner's daily activities. The proposed amendment will:

  • Amend compensation for Commissioners to establish the initial salary at 60% of the Mayor's salary.
  • Salary to be increased annually in an amount equal to the Consumer Price Index but not more than 5%
  • Amendment would take effect Nov. 6, 2001.

Commissioners' salaries would be an estimated $60,000 annually.


Interested in Saving a Life?

Brickell residents interested in learning CPR are invited to contact BHA Secretary of the Board Mac Seligman via email to Editor. If enough residents are interested, a class conducted by the American Heart Association could be held in the Brickell neighborhood, sponsored by BHA.


Airport Official Updates BHA on Security, Noise Issues

While always her top concern, safety and security now overshadow all other priorities for Miami International Airport Director Angela Gittens, senior staffer Miguel Southwell reported to BHA Directors at their October meeting.

"The public has to have the confidence to travel," Mr. Southwell said, "We have to provide that confidence."

Mr. Southwell, who worked with Director Gittens at the Atlanta airport before she recruited him to follow her to Miami as Assistant Director in charge of Business Development, substituted for his boss to appear before Brickell Homeowners' montly meeting. The long-awaited presentation was going to be all about airport noise abatement, which understandably took a back seat to security concerns after September 11th.

"We don't know if people will tolerate these long security waits," Mr. Southwell said, "but right now we don't care as we have to be secure."
Other governing principles under which Ms. Gittens operates the airport, he said, include economic vitality, customer service and the final one that's been the contentious issue in Miami for so many years, environmental responsibility.

Economic Engine
"The airport has to be self-sustaining," he said. "When you consider that the parking fees alone generated in one year in Atlanta, for example, are $100,000,000, you're talking a lot of cash."

Indeed, airports are the economic engines of a community, and the new leadership at MIA is intent on marketing the airport to new international airlines. They've identified roughly two dozen nations around the world that could link to MIA, with each new linkage worth about $2 million a year for the Miami community in terms of new business generated.

For instance, if Miami is linked to Hong Kong, Mr. Southwell explained, in just nine months' time that level of economic impact is achieved with business between the two cities greatly facilitated by the airport connection.

Even in our global economy, there's nothing like really being there, apparently.

Friendly Skies?
And then, once those international flyers are here, the next critical component of a successful airport operation is tested: customer service.

"We believe that the airport makes the first impression of the city," Mr. Southwell said. "The immigration officer is the first line of defense - and hospitality - for the City."

The challenge is how to balance policing with hospitality. Volunteers are under consideration as customer service reps, as well as logical improvements to the environment of the airport to make it more customer-friendly.

We don't want to hear it
Economic vitality and courtesy to support South Florida's vital tourism industry are important to Brickell neighbors, but perhaps hard to appreciate with the airplane noise overhead throughout the day. Aside from the disturbance of noise pollution, President Jacobs explained, people have to literally stop business as planes pass overhead. It's more than annoying, it's unprofitable.

It's hard to fathom that MIA doesn't have a noise abatement program in place, especially when one learns that other communities have successfully addressed the issue. When residents hear that the Atlanta airport spent $326 million on their noise program, it becomes even harder to understand what's wrong in here. No noise abatement program in Miami seemed a surprise to Mr. Southwell as well, who is trying to identify what the problem is that has kept us lagging behind.

In communities where airport building expansions have been delayed, it has been because of public outcry against airports' lack of responsiveness to the concerns of the community around and below, he said.

"If airport authorities and communities band together, the FAA has go along," Mr. Southwell said.

Many BHA Directors who have been in numerous meetings with airport staffers, local elected officials and hoards of dissatisfied citizens say that they believe the problem is with airport management and foreign airline company pilots who don't want to do what it takes, and usually costs more, to be responsive to the community.

They have to achieve steeper altitudes faster, which takes more fuel, and they have to adhere to take-off and landing tracks rather than the "spaghetti" patterns they are currently allowed to follow, BHA Director Mel Frankel said.

Until that happens among those in charge at MIA, the FAA won't solve our problems, it seems. With the new leadership here in Miami with Angela Gittens and her staff, BHA officials have some new hope.
Naturally, you'll be hearing more on this...


Fate of Historic Brickell Park Still in Peril

Residents, historians, environmentalists and parks advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief when the sale of Brickell Park to a private developer fell through a few months ago when the remains of Native Americans were discovered on the property. Development on ancient burial grounds is highly sensitive, restrictive and difficult.
However, it is reported that the City has now entered into negotiations with another developer, putting our area's last remaining waterfront greenspace at risk.

The Save Brickell Park group is still active trying to fight the sale including legal action against the City, however, a greater public outcry is needed according to historian and environmental advocate Greg Bush to protect this public land. Dr. Bush is seeking to develop a video documentary to reach large audiences about this critical issue before it's too late. Please see the column authored by Dr. Bush below.

COLUMN: Land Value­Brickell Park and the Political Landscape of Miami

By Greg Bush, President, Urban Environment League

Brickell Park, a two-acre waterfront park in downtown Miami, is the last piece of open land on Biscayne Bay. Originally given to the city by the Brickell family in 1925, the park was later allowed to deteriorate by various city administrations and is now seldom used. It has been slated to be sold to a private developer for a high-rise office building.
The issue is a critical one. In a recent national study by Peter Harnik, Miami's park system was cited as among the worst in the nation in terms of budget and amount of open space.

The question of title to the park is now in litigation because the City failed to get the deed back when a land swap with the Brickell family fell through in the late 1980s. Nor did the administration even allow a foundation to move forward in trying to enhance the park with a new design - done at no cost to the public. The zoning status as park remains. The city manager, following the dictate of a 1999 commission resolution, is presently trying to sell the land, the proceeds of which would be divided between the city and the family. One recent bid was in the range of $18 million.

Further litigation is likely after archaeologist Bob Carr confirmed finding numerous bones of Native Americans, thus activating State legislation. A State planning process has been initiated for the nearby Miami Circle, and a baywalk and planning effort for the entire area should be initiated as soon as possible. City Commissioner Johnny Winton is examining the feasibility of rescinding the 1999 order to sell the park, and he may bring the issue back before the Commission.

The Need to Produce a Video in Rapid Order
The sale of this invaluable waterfront park is imminent, yet the documentation of the issue to stop the sale is intimidating. The public largely does not understand nor appreciate the complexity of the background of this important public controversy, and the news media has ignored it. It is important because first, there is precious little open space in the Brickell Avenue area. Second, the park remains a sacred space for native people. Third, there is a need to heighten public sensitivity related to preserving and enhancing this prime piece of waterfront land.

A video documentary, completed in several formats within a rapid time frame, could have a significant impact on the proceedings and benefit the public's use of this park space in the future. It could underscore to City officials and others that such inattention to public space issues will no longer go unchallenged. It would highlight issues related to the political system, changing land value, and the sources of civic apathy.
This is the first of a series of documentaries to be produced by the Florida Public Space Project of the Urban Environment League.

The Concept Behind the Video Documentary
The 15-minute video documentary will involve completing legal and picture research into the background. Four or five interviews of participants would be conducted among the following people:

  • Dan Paul and/or Richard Hunt (civic advocates and lawyers)
  • Archaeologist Bob Carr
  • The City Manager and/or City Attorney
  • Historian Arva Moore Parks
  • City Parks Director Alberto Ruder
  • A spokesman for Native Americans
  • The Brickell family, if available

The narrative would be constructed as a kind of historical puzzle, seeking to understand why the park is being sold, the financial pressures that the City has been under, and the various attempts to sell off other waterfront parks in recent years. Viewers would see numerous historical images of the area, reaching back to the era of the Brickell Trading Post and the early development of Brickell Avenue, enabling the audience to assess the Park's value as public waterfront land and as part of a broader tapestry including the baywalk and the Miami Circle.

Selected materials would be offered for use to commercial TV stations and a 15-minute documentary would be offered to Channel 2-WPBT as well as Channel 17/34-WLRN and other outlets. Teaching modules for Miami-Dade County school children would be developed to fit with curriculum.

Funding is currently being sought for production of the video to bring this important issue to the forefront of the public's attention and understanding. The pricetag is estimated at about $16,000. To assist with underwriting or for more information contact Professor Bush via email, gregbush@aol.com.

BHA News publishes columns on matters of timely interest to neighbors on a space-available basis. If interested in submitting a column for possible inclusion in a future issue, please contact Editor Natalie Brown at nbrown@miamisci.org.

BHA Gives

The Brickell Homeowners Association has continued its support this year for neighboring Southside Elementary school students for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah with a donation for turkeys and toys for the children. Miami Police Officer Jeffrey Giordano coordinates this special community effort every year to make the holidays bright.

The BHA also made a contribution to the New York City Firefighters' Fund after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

 

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