Thursday, August 31, 2017

Urban Development Boundary Task Force, Mayor Gimenez, and Hurricane Harvey: Lessons from a costly disaster ... by gimleteye

Every resident and taxpayer in Miami-Dade County knows this about Hurricane Harvey: there but for the luck of God, go I.

While much attention is being paid to the causes and effects of a tragic, historic, monster storm (costing as much as $40 billion -- a number that is incomprehensible, really), it seems that very few in Florida are paying attention to how unsustainable growth and development literally pave the path to disaster.

One of the best examples is happening right now, through a Task Force created by Mayor Carlos Gimenez to "examine" options for expanding the Urban Development Boundary in far west Miami-Dade County, where big farmers and land speculators have been itching to build the next version of Kendall at the edge of the Everglades.

A report in the New York Times, today, provides the perspective of a rice farmer in South Texas:

A century’s worth of unchecked growth, he’ll tell you, has brought prosperity to many. But it also has altered the landscape in ways that have made both the droughts and the floods more destructive and made that prosperity fleeting. Much of the region sits atop the overtaxed Gulf Coast Aquifer, and though efforts have made over the last 40 years to limit withdrawals from it, enough water has been sucked out of it that the ground still subsides in some places, altering runoff patterns and allowing flood waters to gather.

What’s more, those more than 2 million newcomers to the region are living in houses and driving on roads and shopping in stores built atop what once was prairie that could have absorbed at least some of the fury of this flood and the next. What once was land that might have softened the storm’s blow is now, in many cases, collateral damage in what could turn out to be a $40 billion disaster. ("A Texas Farmer on Harvey, Bad Planning and Runaway Growth", Aug 31, 2017)

A lingering consequence of eight years of Gov. Rick Scott has been to erode the willingness of local political leaders to plan for the future. Scott killed the Florida Department of Community Affairs, whose intent was to help counties and municipalities balance the interests of taxpayers in sound infrastructure investments to balance growth. Without a strong state presence, communities tend to be victimized by special interests and their rationalizations for development plans and zoning that otherwise might be resisted.

In Miami-Dade County. the builder/ rock mining/ developer lobby cannot wait to exploit the weakness in political will in order to build more highways into former Everglades wetlands, more platted subdivisions, and to seed the landscape with as many new residents as financing and insurance will permit.

Some speculate we are back to the pre-2008 financial and housing bubble. In fact, we are one hurricane away, as we were in 1992, from another multi-billion dollar disaster.

Voters should pay attention, although they haven't in the past when it comes to task forces filled with special interests. Who cares about task forces or attending public meetings held during in distant locations?

We are precisely in this predicament -- as is Houston -- because voters dismissed the problems of growth-at-any-cost. In fact, it is the single constant refrain of Gov. Scott: Jobs! Deregulation! as it is, President Trump.

Houston lacks any zoning, and the result -- unbridled growth in low-lying lands -- sharply amplified the costs of Harvey. If this example is not a flashing warning to reject moving the Urban Development Boundary in far west Dade and to stop the reckless expansion of 826, south and west, then Miami-Dade taxpayers deserve whatever is coming.


Anonymous said...

Well said and spot on! I only wish every politician and voter in the county would read this.The only hope is the slow and painful process of educating voters and getting things changed toward the ethic of sustainability. Keep up the great work, Gimlet.

Anonymous said...

The hypocrisy is killing me. What does the mayor's sustainability office say about this? What about the water and sewer director?

Anonymous said...

Is Comprehensive Planning still the law, or did they eliminate this great law?

Ratchet said...

We won our fight to protect our wetlands earlier this year in Martin County. People came out and filled the hearing room on a week day night hearing that lasted past 10pm. The developers on our commission were thwarted this time but promised that they would be back.