Thursday, June 14, 2018

On Transit And The Environment, In Miami-Dade It Is Always A One-Way Conversation ... by gimleteye

Why do we have the same "dialogue" about transit and the environment, every few years in Miami-Dade? Because it is not a dialogue. A dialogue is between parties. What we have in Miami-Dade are dialogues for "show" and to maintain appearances.

In fact, this critical policy area affects everyone's life here. Every single day, commuters are confronted with the consequences of poorly planned transit and the constant shifting of goal-posts where it comes to our quality of life.

Transit and the environment is a one-way conversation. Between big sprawl developers, large-scale farmers, and their industry associations, supply chains and the politicians they support.

Although there is citizen resistance to the one-way conversation, every time there is an issue like the extension of a major highway (in this case, SR 836) it needs to regenerate. Gov. Rick Scott and the state legislature made sure that citizen resistance to growth and transit plans had minimal traction through the administrative courts. And over time -- especially after the Citizens United decision by the Bush Supreme Court in 2010 -- developers and their attorneys turned to challenging protesters and imposing significant costs like counter-lawsuits against the resistance.

Moreover, among protesters -- from neighborhood associations to civic groups and environmentalists -- there is no institutional connection between one generation of opposition and the next. Because there is no institutional connection, there is no funding or money to fund the resistance beyond the indignation against the next tranche of assaults against the environment and quality of life through zoning decisions at the county level.

The Knight Foundation -- which has the funding capacity to provide that institutional connection -- could have chosen to assist this critical area of public policy in the past. There were many, many chances. But the Knight Foundation leadership never had an appetite for conflict with developers, their downtown law firms and lobbyists. The celebrity culture has not been kind to Miami's natural environment or to the cause of middle-class commuters from distant suburbs to downtown jobs.

On the other hand, the connection between electeds and the developer class is hard-wired. The money is always there. It is used to exploit the profit formulas of converting low-cost farmland (former Everglades wetlands) into suburban sprawl. Citizens are fragmented. Finance and insurance is united to a single goal: build as much, as fast, and as profitably as possible. Advocates for sprawl have perfected marketing pitches that include paid-for local crowds to support more of everything that is bringing traffic to a crawl and closer and closer to the Everglades.

Next week, the county commission is poised to approve a major roadway extension using the argument -- long known as a lie -- that expanding highways relieves traffic congestion. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is term-limited, and retreaded county commissioner Joe Martinez are leading the way. Gimenez and his staff, in a meeting with environmentalists, asked for an "alternative" to widening SR 836. The invitation was a baited trap.

Citizens have had victories along the way, but these are skirmishes in a battle that has defined our political culture.

On June 19th, there is a landmark opportunity for one county commission district to change direction. In District 5, voters will elect a new county commissioner. Eileen Higgins is challenging the wife of Bruno Barreiro who resigned his seat to run for Congress. Barreiro had been a charter member of the unreformable majority who rubber-stamped zoning changes and expansion of development beyond the urban development boundary.

Electing Higgins would send a message, if voters have enough sense to give her a chance on the county commission to change the one-way conversation.

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