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
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.
My morning commute takes me from Brickell to Hialeah. For the past 6months, I’ve been watching the new Metrorail extension to the airport being built overhead. Its Impressive to watch this huge project being
put together like giant Lego’s. This is a huge step for Miami and I’m proud to finally see it coming together.
Unfortunately, what happens above sometimes comes at the expense of those below.
Every day, as I exit to 27th Ave from the 112 Airport Extension, I’ve noticed an increasing amount of construction debris on the sides of the road. Every day, week, month is gets worse and worse. A few items I’ve noticed….a leaning Yield sign, a knocked over barricade in the lane of traffic, an orange safety cone next to the barricade, several large nuts & bolts, a wrench, and so on. These are not articles that have fallen off passing cars. These items are littering the exit ramp, as a result of construction, a disaster waiting to happen. Even the storm drain is clogged with debris and a huge pool of water forms every time it rains, which is basically every day, because the water has no where to go.
Someone should be responsible for the removal of debris caused by the construction. If not daily, at least weekly, or monthly. This situation at this exit has gotten to the point where it poses a safety issue. What if it was night time and someone runs over that knocked over barricade? What if a truck tire kicks up that wrench and it hits a
car traveling behind it? What if……
A couple of weeks ago, I got 2 flat tires as I was navigating through the minefield of debris. I had enough!
I made a call to Miami Dade Transit Authority…spoke to a gentleman that was responsible for the construction oversight. I explained the situation and my concerns. It was explained to me that the contractor is responsible for cleaning the construction related debris. It doesn’t matter who is responsible, the debris is there, its dangerous and should be cleaned immediately. I feel, someone was not doing their job. I was informed that MDTA was going to look into it.
The next day after my discussion with MDTA, as I was driving to work and taking the 27th Ave exit, I noticed the exit was completely cleared of ALL debris, the Yield sign was upright and 5 men were working to clear the storm drain.
We often use this forum to gripe about what is wrong in our communities and the city.
This time, I want to use this forum to publicly say THANK YOU!!!
THANK YOU to MDTA for returning my calls promptly.
THANK YOU MDTA for taking prompt action.
THANK YOU MDTA for being efficient.
I was born in this city and I’m proud to call Miami my home!
Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald Transportation reporter, wrote last night in breaking news that the Miami-Dade Commissioners delayed their vote for a $0.50 hike in bus and train fares for Miami-Dade Transit. According to Lebowitz, the deferral puts more pressure on the mayor and the transit agency to find solutions to the current cash crunch faced by the agency, as well as to determine what promises can be salvaged from the 2002 People’s Transportation Plan campaign.
Also, in the article, Bruno Barreiro, the chair of the Commission, indicated that he is not against bringing a repeal of the $0.005 surtax, if any plans that would be forthcoming from the mayor and the transit agency were devoid of concrete plans on how to expand Metrorail as indicated in the original ballot initiative.
While the delay may mean a short-term gain for the increasing numbers of consumers of these services, it only puts off the pain of balancing the books into the future – if, in fact, this increase will balance them.
Unfortunately for those of us who do use transit, the demand elasticity just usually isn’t there for us to be able to choose an alternate means of conveyance. Especially with gasoline and diesel approaching, in some areas, $5.00 per gallon, many of us who use transit will take the fare hike in stride, and continue to use the services. $2.00 a ride, depending on length, isn’t all that bad, and it is in line with the single-rider fare of other major metropolitain areas.
Where the commission should watch out, however, is with the price of the Metropass. A fare hike from $75 to $100 will put the price of the pass out of reach of many of those who buy it, and might discourage companies that currently pay for part or all of their employee’s commute from keeping this benefit. Also of note here is that a $100 monthly pass will put the cost of this pass at or near the top of the list nationwide.
The County Commission decided to delay its vote Tuesday on the proposed transit hikes. I commend Carlos Jimenez and others for seeing that the issue had to be reconsidered. As Gabe mentioned earlier in the week, the monthly pass really needs to be consistent with the size/reach of our transit system (not higher than NYC). Not to mention that the last thing you want to do when ridership is up is to increase fares, but the fact is that the system needs to be funded. Unfortunately I think that this discussion is just the latest in a series of bad management and planning decisions that keep our holding our transit back.
It has been a tumultuous time for Miami-Dade transit recently. The result of poor vision, bad management, and professional incompitance, the transit system is currently on life support. (This all with record high transit ridership on Tri-Rail reported today!).
The recent allocation of PTP tax dollars for the refurbishment of existing cars (and purchase of new ones) is indicative of the state of our transit. If the Trust hadn’t stepped in and bailed out MDT there would not have been anywhere to get the money from. In other words once the metro cars reached their lifespan they would have been tossed and we would have a really expensive piece of civic art. By not rehab-ing the cars some time back (as Baltimore did with its metro cars) the Commission basically put itself in a position where they had to buy new cars or close up shop. Not to mention the message it sends to Washington: that we aren’t serious about competing for transit dollars. As if the Orange Line didn’t have enough funding problems, this just adds to how disorganized the MDT is. When the feds look at our existing system and see that it is mismanaged, what incentive do they have to give us money when there are plenty of other cities out there that are serious about mass transit.
The Orange Line debacle is yet another indication of how flawed our system is. We are eligible for lots of free money to help build this line, and we are at risk of losing it because we don’t know if we can maintain the line for the next 30 years? Really?? Lets not even mention that the Feds are already miffed that we are going to downgrade our Tri-Rail service after giving us nearly half a billion dollars for track upgrades.
Whew. Where does that leave us with oil closing in on $150/barrel (and soon thereafter $200, and $250. and $300…)? We need our transit system more than ever. We need a successful transit system now, not under the 50 year plan, but the five year plan.
Truth is if our planners and elected officials were as serious about transit as they were about highway and road building we would already have a really great transit system. I think it would be a surprise to many here in our car-centered culture that plenty of other post-war suburban cities have developed amazing transit systems over the past fifteen years.
Incidentally, I had lunch with a buddy of mine named Dave who happily takes the bus everyday from his house in Kendall to work in Coral Gables. He tried to explain to me why transit works for him but not for his dad (who won’t take the bus to save his life). “Its really easy for me. It’s mostly a straight shot with one transfer. But my dad works five minutes away from his house. It’s easier for him to just get in the car and go. Transit can’t take us everywhere.” Now Dave is my friend so I didn’t reach over the table and smack him around, but that’s exactly the attitude that pervades our culture and is bred from policy decisions made at the top.
Our elected officials need to understand:
We NEED transit alternatives to the car.
We DESERVE multiple forms of transit that are safe, frequent, and far reaching without having to get into the car.
We need transit NOW.
- Free Dunkin Donuts on Thursday if you participate in the Commuter Challenge Day by riding Tri-Rail…Or, you could just print this voucher and go to your nearest Dunkin Donuts, but I’d still recommend giving the train a try…
- On that Note, with regards to Ryan’s Post on the absence of a regional farecard system, Larry Lebowitz, the transportation Guru at the Miami Herald, has informed me that MDT, BCT, Palm Tran, and the SFRTA are working together to implement such a system soon. Apparently the hold up is coming from the SFRTA. I’ll be working to obtain more information on the subject…
- Great Ideas, now just agree to build the darn thing downtown…
A loyal reader and transit user, Tom, led me to this document containing the latest adjustments in MDTA service. There are many cutbacks due especially to a lack of ridership (20% of the adjustments listed), including Tom’s typical late night ride home; Overnight 40. He writes:
“I’m a little miffed that they’re killing the overnight 40 service which I always use to get home late at night… but that isn’t the least of the absurdity!”
Other, more notable changes include the addition of the route 34 “flyer” an express coach bus which will travel from Florida City along the busway to the Dadeland south stations making a limited number of stops (Express Fare: $1.85.)
If you have a story, article, or anything you’d like to contibute, feel free to forward it along to me at email@example.com… I’ll be back soon with some thoughts on the district 2 runoff and the Miami Streetcar Initiative which is seemingly hanging in the balance of this election…
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