Saturday, January 30, 2016

Miami Traffic: The Kendall Federation of Homeowners Associations Shakes An Angry Fist ... AGAIN ... by gimleteye

The Miami Herald "Naked Politics" features a brief note: "In Kendall, homeowners group wants to freeze growth until "unbearable" traffic eases": The Kendall Federation of Homeowners Associations on Thursday passed a resolution urging Miami-Dade commissioners to impose a moratorium on new development west of the Florida Turnpike until traffic improves. The resolution calls the traffic "unbearable" and "becoming worse".

In 1992, when I moved my family from the Keys to Miami, I was already involved with group efforts to protect Florida Bay and the Everglades from upstream polluters. In the Keys, coral reef decline, Florida Bay algae blooms, and upstream pollution by Big Sugar absorbed the members of local grass roots groups and the Everglades Coalition.

I decided to focus my energies and interests in Miami, on land use laws and zoning on the fringe of Miami-Dade County. On a piece of paper, I formed "the Alliance for Sustainable Communities", a new non-profit organization.

In the Keys, I had learned hard fought lessons of comprehensive land use planning: especially where the intersection of money, politics, development, and environmental concerns collide. Richard Grosso, a young attorney, was battling to use state laws to limit inappropriate development. Traffic concurrency mandates in state law featured high on the list. Richard was also a warrior who represented community groups and activists like Dagney Johnson, Grace Maniello, Debbie Harrison, and George Kunst who I joined to tangle with the pro-growth Monroe County Commission. (We called county commissioners, the Concrete Coalition.)

To make long matters short, the state laws the public relied upon were bit-by-bit eroded and then eviscerated by successive Republican governors GOP legislatures, with the coup de grace delivered in the first term of Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

What is no more, however, does deserve retelling.

With "Alliance for Sustainable Communities", I began enlisting allies. I started by contacting homeowner associations already formed to protect, at least in name, quality of life from the impacts of overdevelopment. Traffic, of course, was the number one issue. Twenty five years ago. Through this project, I formed friendships with Lizz Plater Zyberk and her husband, Andres Duany, the Miami-based founders of New Urbanism.

One of the first groups to sign onto the project -- grouping the interests of homeowner associations under an umbrella to protect quality of life -- was the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations, then run by a pixie firebrand, the late Dorothy Cissel. Dorothy set our first meeting at a gas station parking lot at the corner of Kendall Drive and, I think, 157th Avenue. I was thirty years her junior, and she looked at me as if to say, "Do you really have any idea what you are dealing with, here?" She pointed west from 157th Avenue and said: "None of this land" -- mostly vacant farmland at the time -- "should be developed into sprawl". It is all sprawl now.

Well. Dorothy Cissel was a fighter just like my friends in the Keys. We'd give it our best shot, I promised her.

The Kendall Federation, that recently passed a resolution asking for the "M" word -- MORATORIUM -- on future growth -- represented nearly a thousand homeowners at the time. The board of directors was fractious on issues of growth, because developers or their surrogates, threw obstacles mostly devised by pro-growth lobbyists and the Latin Builders Association.

To pull all the homeowner associations together required work and focus. At the time, I had a single ally to quality of life issues on the county commission, a young Cuban American attorney; Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. The first project, we decided, that could benefit from a groundswell grass roots movement was a simple one that was extraordinarily toxic to the builders: to give county commissioners the authority to require a 2/3rds supermajority vote by county commissioners -- instead of a simple majority -- to change or modify property zoning. (I have a lot of documentation that is boxed away somewhere, and my memory is a little foggy on the details but retelling accurately the history would be an interesting thesis project.) Diaz de la Portilla, now a state senator, no longer represents the public interest as he did in his early days as a smart, motivated and knowledgable county commissioner.

The Kendall Federation of Homeowners was a strong ally, and Dorothy Cissel knew how to wield influence at County Hall during a series of hearings on the measure. The auditorium was packed on the day of the decisive vote. The Latin Builders Association lobbied ferociously to halt the measure they derided as stopping growth and hurting jobs and damned it as the complaint of "I've got mine'ers". They also used the ethnic card: Anglos versus Cuban Americans.

In a famous 1993 hearing, County Commissioner Javier Souto flipped his vote and sided with Alliance for Sustainable Community allies. It was a shock and surprise, and the Latin Builders board members in the audience stamped out the county auditorium in a cold rage. The measure passed and stands to this day. But go take a look at the intersection of Kendall Drive and 157th Avenue and consider: what did we win that night?

As with so many other land use battles; we won the skirmish but lost the war. Sprawl crept westward to the Everglades and is about to swallow Krome Avenue. That was another battle -- for the western edge -- that Richard Grosso and allies like Pat and John Wade fought and lost, trying to use state laws governing growth that were ultimately burned in a Florida lobbyist/developers' version of Krystal Nacht in Tallahassee.

Growth management in Florida is dead. The GOP legislature empowers local county commissions to chart their own fate except, of course, when it comes to hydraulic fracking to benefit oil and gas drillers: then, what locals want, doesn't count.

One of the reasons that Eye On Miami refers to the county commission as "The Unreformable Majority" stretches back to that experience in the early 1990's. The 2/3rds zoning ordinance proved valuable in raising the threshold to change zoning designations, but it also enriched and empowered the lobbyist class and environmental land use lawyers like Greenberg Traurig who had milked the system on behalf of land speculators and developers of sprawl for many, many years. After the 2/3rds zoning ordinance, they just adapted to milk the system more efficiently.

I do hope that the Kendall Federation shakes its angry fist again, at County Hall. The "M" -- MORATORIUM -- word was toxic to the status quo at County Hall, then, as it is now. It just takes three times longer to drive downtown, to park in an exorbitantly expense county garage, to trundle up the escalator to the county auditorium, to use it.


Anonymous said...

There should be a study done on speeding in Kendall related to frustration of wanting not to get stuck in traffic in order to get from point A to B on time.

Anonymous said...

you know, if the Kendall Federation of Homeowners and all the other residents of the area want to ease traffic, maybe they should support a Metro rail line along Kendall Drive or SW 104th Street from Dadeland to Krome. Or at least stop opposing it every time someone dares to float it as an idea... Until Miami-Dade County gets serious about mass transit (and stop with the idea that buses and busways are the answer to anything other than worsening traffic, please) and really builds out the system, the area cannot seriously be considered "world class."

Dave said...

That was my first reaction as well: Isn't this the same Kendall Federation of Homeowners that torpedoed Metrorail expansion to West Kendall because they said it would ruin their views (views on Kendall Dr?)

Anonymous said...

We need to become a "No Growth County" for the sake of those of us
living here and staying here. All others wanting to come here should be warned of the potential, already-- Los Angeles hazard of too many cars and undocumented immigrants.