Members of Miami Neighborhoods United and the Urban Environment League hosted a debate between District 7 candidates Julio Robaina and Xavier Suarez. We were pleased to have Stephen Stock from the CBS4 news moderate the debate, and had a wide range of questions for the candidates.

On the big issue du jour of smaller government these candidates took similar positions, but a closer look at their responses to the questions reveal the differences in how they perceive the problems facing our community- especially with regard to Miami-Dade’s land-use and transportation challenges.

Question: If elected Commissioner, how would you address land-use challenges to the urban development boundary?

On this issue, Robaina scored big points by describing his past work fighting to hold the UDB and his state legislative opposition of the dismantling of the Department of Community Affairs. Suarez also made the case to hold the line - for now. “With today’s demographics - hold the UDB.” He went on to say that that the county’s  planning department tracks demographics better than most people give them credit for, and that expansion should be allowed to occur with proper demographic data to support it.

Question: At present, there are some legal challenges to the Marlins Stadium.  If the matter were to come back to the County Commission and you are one of the Commissioners, what changes to the Agreement with the Marlins would you introduce for consideration by the Commission as a whole?

On the Marlins stadium both were in agreement that the Global Agreement was no good, with Suarez also going after the Miami Streetcar, which was a very minor part of the deal that created the Marlins Stadium and the Port Tunnel. (What does the Streetcar have to do with the Global Agreement you ask? Look Here..) Robaina said that if the opportunity presented itself he would seek to amend the contract with the Marlins so that any cost overruns are not paid by the county; Suarez also made a similar comment.

Question: What is your position as far as using county tourist bed-tax dollars to fund renovations for the Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium?

Robaina took the position that tourist bed tax dollars should be spent on improving the Miami Beach convention center, not going to sports franchises. Suarez supported giving money to Sun Life, noting that the tourist bed tax was an industry approved tax for the purpose of building stadiums.

Question: This coming year’s County budget promises to be another very challenging one in very tough economic times for our community.  What do you propose to do to keep taxes down and maintain County services ?

Both candidates are in favor of eliminating discretionary spending and the ending the practice of reallocating carryover funds from previous years. Suarez announced that “draconian measures must be taken to streamline the budget,” and that he would seek to reduce the number of county departments from 64 to 25, with salary caps for non-constitutional officers. Robaina also advocated a reduced number of departments.

Question: How will you work toward the goal of expanding mass transit to reach 20 % of the citizens of Miami-Dade County by 2020 (from a 6 2% baseline)?

Suarez showed some transit acumen when he corrected a statistic referenced in this question. He correctly noted the transit mode-share was much lower than 6%. His plan for addressing large gains in ridership was to expand on the trolley system that is currently being implemented by the City of Miami. His vision is for a fleet of 2000 ‘trolleys’, minibuses and jitney’s that are privately run in some cases and that do not cost taxpayers anything.

Robaina had more concise, long term vision for premium Metro-rail expansion, starting with the East/West line  . He made the case that while Metro-rail is not perfect, it is only part of a network. He spoke of building a transit network, re-examining the rate structure, and encouraging more Transit Oriented Development.

Question: Do you support true charter reform, including two-eight year terms, easier citizen petitions, and other recommendations made by the Charter Review Task Force?

Both candidates support the 2- 4 year term maximum, applied retroactively, with Robaina pledging to only seek one 4-year term. (Refreshing news to voters still in the process of purging establishment candidates. ) Suarez made a good point that real charter reform should be made on the ballot in a general election when more citizens are likely to vote. He also said that one reform that was missing from the current discussion was to require competitive bidding rather than the current selective procurement process.

Question: What is your platform on reducing CO2 emissions?

Both candidates talked a good talk on this one, with Suarez noting that CO2 emissions would be best addressed by “getting people out of their cars and onto mass transit.” He also said that the managed lanes are counter productive (surprising  given his vague answer about the Busway).  Robaina went back to the issue of expanding the local passenger rail system as the key.

Question: If elected Commissioner, would you support a restructuring of County government to allow for a truly independent transportation authority?

Robaina strongly supported the idea of an independent transportation authority, noting it would allow for a streamlining of the transportation planning process, and contribute to the reduction in municipal responsibilities currently overseen by the County. Both candidates criticized the tolls, and made statements in favor of abolishing MDX. Robaina made the connection between abolishing MDX and creating a Transportation Authority, while Suarez did not see the need for it.

Question: What is your view on converting the South Dade Busway into a limited access expressway?
Robaina skirted the issue, saying “we need to do a charrette to decide what to do in the area.” Suarez said that he believed the buses to be ineffective, but did not give a clear answer on the issue.

Question: Are you in favor of phasing out the Unincorporated Municipal Service Area? What roles should the county play in government (question asked by former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre)

Suarez gave a quick recap on what UMSA means and its implications. Anything in Dade County that is not within one of the 35 municipalities is under the responsibility of the Miami-Dade County. In these areas, the County serves as the local government, offering zoning, permitting, public works, and other local - and necessary - government functions. Both candidates agreed that either by annexation or by incorporation, the UMSA should be phased out. Suarez made the case to “remove the classic municipal functions” from the county, while Robaina  wants “the county to get out of the UMSA business.”

Thanks to the two candidates for the great dialogue. Both candidates showed their experience and knowledge of the issues. Suarez talked a good talk on the connection between cars and CO2, but his trolley plan left a lot to be desired. Robaina was very clear about his desire to expand the transit network, and supports the creation of an independent transportation authority. Two worthy candidates, but Robaina wins for his solid support of Metro-Rail expansion and transportation governance reform.

5 Responses to Reflections on County Commission District 7 Debate: Julio Robaina Has Transit Vision

  1. brock says:

    I wholly appreciate this re-cap, thank you very much. I’m pleasantly surprised by Robaina’s support for Metrorail, we need our new mayor to strongly support transit and smart growth. We need major change.


  2. Good recap. Thanks. Glad someone was listening.


  3. Rog in Miami Gardens says:

    Thanks for the recap, indeed. You do wonderful journalistic work, man. I appreciate you!

    Brock is so right. However, I hope Robaina isn’t just talking a good game, only to find that his words do not become reality later on.


  4. Anonymous says:

    thanks for this….Robaina it is!


  5. Marice says:

    Robaina had been front and center in making South Miami an All America City. He is aware that alternative green transportation, holding the urban boudary, and people-centric walkable communities are all inter-related. We need that voice in District 7!


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