FRANCIS SUAREZ WANTS TO BECOME MIAMI'S "STRONG MAYOR." THERE ARE FOLKS IN THE SILVER BLUFF AREA WHO HAVE SEEN SUAREZ'S EXERCISE HIS LEADERSHIP SKILLS UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL AND DON'T THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA
FIGHTING CITY HALL
DECEMBER 11, 2017
Like many stories that are about Miami today, this story is a story about traffic and the efforts to deal with the massive traffic jams that have turned many Miami streets into parking lots during rush hour.
One of those streets is the portion of US 1 south of downtown that runs through several sections of the city including Coconut Grove, Silver Bluff and Shenandoah.
As the traffic jams became worse, drivers - often using cell phone apps - started looking for ways to avoid them by cutting through side streets in the Silver Bluff area between SW 17th Avenue and SW 27th Avenue, and US 1 and Coral Way.
Understandably, as folks started cutting through side streets, residents started complaining about non residents using their streets to evade the traffic jams, and those complaints in turn resulted in comments being made at city commission meetings about the need to try and find a solution that would make these residents happy.
The most vocal of the city commissioners was Francis Suarez, who's District included Silver Bluff, and in a response prompted by complaints from some residents and from the Silver Bluff Homeowners Association, he decided to do something.
What he decided to do was to have the city install "temporary delineators" (traffic poles) - along SW 22nd Avenue from US 1 north to Coral Way - as a way to block drivers to turn left from the avenue to these side streets, or from being able to cross the avenue from any of these streets.
Not all of the side streets could be blocked, but the decision was made to block access to 6 of the 8 cross streets, leaving only SW 23 Terrace and SW 25th Street as the only streets that could be accessed or crossed by using SW 22nd Avenue.
The installation of "temporary delineators" was just the first step in Suarez's plan. What he really wanted to do was permanently shut down SW 22nd Avenue from being used as an access road by spending upwards of $1.1 million dollars to seal off the street with a permanent barrier that would include tree planters.
The problem with this plan, including the installation of these "temporary delineators," was that SW 22nd Avenue is not a city street, it's a county street, and anything that is done to that street requires county approval.
As the process moved forward to install these "temporary delineators," Suarez told his fellow Commissioners that, "the County has allowed us to essentially replicate through this temporary project...mimic the project with delineators so that...the community gets the impact immediately."
The only problem with Suarez's claim was that on April 7th, when the City's CIP Department put together the Traffic Analysis Form for this project, they included this troubling comment: (See page 13.)
"The county has not approved the concept. It's been 5
months CIP is waiting for county comments and they
have not responded."
In the weeks after this Traffic Analysis Form was prepared, there was some confusion as to just what, if anything had actually been approved by the County.
There were residents who started making public records requests in an effort to try and understand what was happening, and they encountered the Rope-A-Dope that passes for public record compliance with the City of Miami when citizens show up asking for documents that might prove to be embarrassing to some public official. That in turn made it confusing and almost impossible to figure out how the decisions to place the "traffic delineators" on the street had actually been made.
On July 24th the temporary "traffic delineators" were installed, along with the road sign above. That's when most of the folks who lived on the impacted streets first learned about Commissioner Suarez's solution to the use of the streets in their neighborhood by non residents looking to evade the traffic jams on US 1.
It was also when it first became evident that the Commissioner might have a problem between understanding the difference between being a strong leader, and being a petty dictator, because while the Commissioner has always talked a good game about citizen involvement and participation, the installation of these temporary "traffic delineators" was done without any public notice being issued or without any public hearings being arranged by the city.
To reach the decision he did, it appears that Suarez relied almost exclusively on representations made by a handful of folks who lived on streets that ended up benefiting from his decision to allow certain streets to be closed to transect traffic, and who in several cases seem to have had previous political connections to both Francis and his father Xavier, and also from Beba Mann, the President of the Silver Bluff's Homeowners Association, a group who claims to represent 4000 residents, but in reality is a group of 40-50 folks who show up at meetings, and like most of these HOA's. is subject to the usual political backroom wheeling and dealing that often passes for civic participation.
In a matter of days, folks on 23rd Terrace and 25th Streets - the streets left open, and understandably became the only availoable streets for drivers looking for a shortcut - took to the web app Next Door, to denounce Suarez and the project, and questioned his and the City's failure to notify them before making the arbitrary decision that turned their streets into the equivalent of mini-highways.
One of the leaders of the effort, and the person cited by many as the driving force of this effort was a young attorney Mary Street, who along with her husband Matthew, along with a handful of other residents organized a petition drive that collected over 320 signatures from residents who lived on these streets, and who in the now time honored call of civic anger, declared that they "Were Mad As Hell, and Wouldn't Take It Anymore!"
By September 19th, the time of the 2nd City of Miami's Budget Meeting, these folks had managed to raise so much hell about their streets being turned into highways that they convinced Commissioner Suarez that perhaps he had made a mistake, or so it seemed from his comments below, where he instructs the Budget Director that he wants the money for the permanent redo of SW 22nd Avenue transferred to another account.
This announcement should have put an end to the project.
Instead, Suarez argued after the meeting to me and others that because this was a "temporary" effort it should be allowed to continue to the end of the test period, and in the process another traffic study should be conducted.
This decision only served to piss off the people who lived on these streets even more, because they saw this as just an act by Suarez to drag his feet, while looking for any wiggle room that might allow the project to continue to go forward.
In an effort to placate their anger, Suarez decided to hold a long overdue public hearing on this entire issue that was held at City Hall on October 21st.
The meeting lasted over 5 hours and a lot of folks expressed their opinion. Understandably, those living on the 2 streets most affected by the increased traffic were opposed, and those on the streets that had become protected against the use by non residents voiced their support for the plan..
Here is the transcript of that meeting which was paid for by the folks who were opposed to the plan.
Five days after Street sent the above email, the Memorandum below was issued by the County stating that the final traffic study - a study conducted by high school students standing on street corners counting cars - was not "benefiting the overall network," and the City of Miami to remove the temporary "traffic delineators" and return the street to the way it was before all of this confusion took place.
The cost to the City to install and then remove these temporary "traffic delineators" was somewhere around $60,000 - $65,000.
None of this convinced Mary Street and Cesar Ramos, from the Shenandoah neighborhood who got involved when he and his neighbors found out about the final plane to block off SW 22nd Avenue in August found out about the plans in August, to stop their efforts to continue to make public record requests.
Their efforts soon led them down a path where they were told that documents that should have been in the possession of the city, the city claimed were in the possession of the county, and the county in turn joined in this fun by claiming that the documents that the city said were in their possession were really in the city's possession.
Some documents were provided with pages missing. Some documents were even provided in a CD that was encrypted and therefore were impossible to open.
It got to the point where Mary Street finally realized what so many others before her had come to realize when dealing with the city and the county, and that is there comes a time you end up having to threaten to take them to court to make them realize that their bullshit has to stop.
Contrary to those who say you can't, you can fight City Hall and win, and the photo above is proof of that!
It's never easy, in fact, it's often very difficult, but if you have objective evidence that you're being screwed, you can at least wage a righteous fight, and that's what the folks on 23rd Terrace and 25th Streets did.
The removal of the "temporary delineators" didn't cure the real problem however, because that problem might actually be beyond solution, at least and until the sea water rises to a level that convinces a sizable number of people that perhaps Miami is no longer a city worth living in.
It's difficult on the other hand to know what Francis Suarez has learned as a result of this exercise, because I'm sure he will argue that he was trying to find a solution to a problem that impacted on the residents of his Commission District, and who rightfully turned to him for help.
Unfortunately, the fact that traffic has become a major, and constant issue of discussion, is also no small part a problem that was caused by the decisions that Suarez and his fellow City Commissioners made over the last 8 years, as well as the continual dithering and bullshit back and forth between County and City Officials and the various agencies created to deal with this problem.
Suarez's has repeatedly pointed with pride to his long-term involvement with the Miami-Dade Transportation Planning Organization, where he now serves as the Vice Chairman, as evidence of his commitment to trying to solve the traffic problems in this county.
The only problem is that other than talking and arguing about trains versus buses and the use of various right of ways, nothing of substance has been accomplished other than the spending of taxpayer money in ways that has not resulted in improvements in all the time that this organization has been in existence.
His participation as a member of the Transportation Planning Organization certainly didn't provide him with any insights or guidance in dealing with this particular problem, and no matter how he tries to spin the shutting down of this project, two facts are very clear: First, his solution not only didn't work, but he managed in the process to piss off enough people that any future efforts will be met by suspicion and distrust.
Secondly, instead of taking the initiative to shut this project down when it became evident that a hard decision had to be made, Suarez punted, and left the hard decision to the County.
That's a fatal flaw that a referendum making Francis Suares a "strong" mayor canot change or correct.
Francis Suarez is a nice guy, and I've repeatedly said that I'm sure he's a good husband and father, and a nice neighbor to live next to, but he's also a guy who is very much in the shadow of his father, and who has taken so much money from so many developers, realtors, land use attorneys and building contractors - hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars - that at the end of the day this money has indebted him in a very real ways to the very people who have, and will continue to benefit from the terrible traffic problems that their never-ending rush to build condos and apartment buildings on every piece of empty land left in the city helped create, and which they want to continue to do no matter the eventual costs to everyone who lives in Miami.
It's Miami, Bitches!
MARY STREET JOINED NEIGHBOR GUS GARCIA, WHO TURNED ONE OF THE REMOVED TRAFFIC POLES INTO A CANDY CANE, TO CELEBRATE THE REMOVAL OF THE TRAFFIC POLES.
City workers and equipment removing the temporary "traffic delineators" in early December.