Coral Gables Residents Propose Groundbreaking Revisions to City Charter

Javier Baños

Baños is the Editor of Gables Insider

In a pivotal meeting on March 21, 2024, the Coral Gables Charter Review Committee carefully reviewed a swath of proposed amendments, heralding potential shifts in the city’s governance landscape. These proposals, originating from the city’s residents themselves, reflect a community-driven effort to refine and enhance the mechanisms of municipal operation. From making referendums more accessible to redefining the eligibility for executive benefits, the proposed changes aim to foster a more inclusive, transparent, and efficient governance framework. A long list of suggestions organized by the executive board of the Coral Gables Neighbors Association, CGNA, presented various areas of concerns for residents.

A cornerstone among the suggested reforms is the modification of the city’s referendum process. Under current regulations, initiating a referendum requires the backing of 12% of registered voters in Coral Gables, a benchmark many citizens find daunting. Proposals suggest recalibrating this threshold to 12% of the average voter turnout in the last three elections, thereby lowering the bar for community-led legislative initiatives. This approach also extends to the recall of elected officials, with a nod to potential constraints imposed by state legislation.

Addressing executive benefits, the community has called for a reevaluation of who qualifies for these top-tier perks. Presently, approximately 90 city staff members are eligible for such benefits—a number residents suggest should be confined to department heads and their deputies. Moreover, to uphold ethical standards within the city’s governance, it is proposed that employees earning $100,000 or more annually be prohibited from owning or working for consulting firms with business ties to the city. This policy would also extend, under certain conditions, to employees earning less, who would be required to disclose any external employment, thereby safeguarding against conflicts of interest.

In the realm of development and urban planning, the residents propose stringent review mechanisms. Any development project seeking to bypass zoning codes or land use designations would require unanimous approval from all requisite city boards and a supermajority vote from city commissioners. This measure aims to preserve the integrity of the city’s urban landscape and foster more thoughtful and community-oriented development processes.

The meeting also unveiled suggestions to integrate the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) into the development review process, paralleling the involvement of the Historic Preservation Board, to ensure transportation considerations are integral to project approvals or denials.

On matters of municipal property and urban design, the residents advocate for a democratic approach to the sale of city-owned assets, necessitating a resident vote. Additionally, there is a call for all city projects to adhere to Mediterranean architectural standards, preserving the city’s aesthetic heritage.

Significant, too, are propositions aimed at enhancing the democratic fabric of city governance. These include aligning city elections with federal election timelines in November to boost voter turnout, requiring supermajorities for alterations to commissioner salaries, and setting stringent thresholds for dipping into city reserves beyond the current 25% of the budget threshold.

Each of these proposals, born from the voices of Coral Gables’ residents, encapsulates a shared vision for a city that values democratic engagement, ethical governance, and the preservation of its unique character. As these suggestions move through the review process, they represent not just potential changes to the city’s charter but a reaffirmation of the community’s role in shaping its governance. The Charter Review Committee’s deliberation will continue next month, with final proposals expected over the summer months.


16 thoughts on “Coral Gables Residents Propose Groundbreaking Revisions to City Charter

  1. Galan-renters are coral gables residents too, as such they are allowed to run for office.

  2. The debate over “Mediterranean Revival” architecture in Coral Gables comes down to two essential issues: 1. how to preserve our original 1920s buildings and 2. whether modern interpretations of
    our signature ancestral architecture glorify or defile the genre. Let’s remember that George Merrick
    went so far as to identify some of his famous Villages as “Florida Pioneer,” “Dutch South African,” “Javanese” and “Chinese.” Mediterranean? Not even close. Instead, we got a curated collection of
    international building styles beautifully re-imagined to suit our sub-tropical climate. Brava to Karelia Carbonell for educating us on what makes our city not only beautiful but important.

  3. Re: the Charter Review Committee Meeting and the call for “all city projects to adhere to Mediterranean Revival architectural standards” I wish to offer the following comment:

    George Merrick was a visionary developer, a poet, and a man with a cosmopolitan view of the world. As such, he took a multi-cultural approach when planning his stylistically diverse “Villages”: Italian, French, Dutch South African, Chinese, Spanish Mission, Mexican Hacienda, Persian, African Bazaar, Tangier and Neapolitan Baroque. Obviously, George Merrick did not mandate a one-size-fits-all architectural standard.

    In more recent times, other architectural styles have come along and contemporized our built environment. That being said, Coral Gables could continue to endorse faux-Mediterranean Revival building styles and offer developer incentives in the process. It could become a repository of the past like Colonial Williamsburg and other “living museums.” Or it can be in the moment.

  4. After listening to the recent Charter Review Committee Meeting, it’s become apparent to me that the call for “all city projects to adhere to Mediterranean Revival architectural standards” as a way to preserve “the city’s aesthetic heritage” is shortsighted, and sadly, in my opinion, misunderstood.

    George Merrick, our city’s founder, did not adhere to one architectural style. Yes, on one hand, he envisioned a predominant style throughout his fledgling city, influenced by the residential buildings surrounding the Mediterranean. But on the other hand, Merrick created a variety of thematic “villages” highlighting distinct architectural styles. Today, Coral Gables has seven unique villages including the Italian Village, the Chinese Village, and several French Villages. Merrick would have built many other distinct “villages” if not for the real estate collapse of the 1920s. Clearly, at least architecturally speaking, Merrick was an avid internationalist who mandated a design diversity that in subsequent decades came to include Art Deco, Brutalist, Googie, Neo-Colonial, New Formalist and Post-Modern.

    The above charter review call reminds me of the misguided Mediterranean Bonus initiative that was created in the 1980s. I believe it was a reactionary move to halt the “modern” architectural designs that were populating the city at the time. [Today, these same designs are nationally heralded as meritorious architectural works] The initiative stymied architectural creativity.

    While it is prudent and important to preserve a city’s cultural and architectural identity, one design style does not wholly define it. Mediterranean Revival is our city’s foundational heritage but its preservation should not not mean homogeneity in architectural styles. George Merrick’s city is an example of a full spectrum of designs just as he planned it.

  5. So sad. We pretend to be upscale Gables, better than all surrounding communities but we attack employee salaries, benefits and even the coffee they drink, and still expect concierge service. A small percentage of residents are giving the rest of us a horrible reputation. I hosted a party for March Madness and my guests asked if I was going to charge them since Gables residents are so poor. Please don’t speak for all of us, check your own benefits at your employment and how would you feel if they were removed. I’m embarrassed to say I live in Coral Gables. Coral Gables employees you are under valued, disrespected by the vocal minority. I appreciate all you do for us.

  6. on the matter of little gables a voter referendum can occur but the commission can still override the voters choice which would be a political mistake on their part

  7. “Skin in the Game” must be a requirement of the new Charter! No one would invest in a company where Board members do not own shares.
    Why do we allow a non-property owner to run for election to our City’s Board[Commission]?
    Perfectly appropriate for a US Citizen who resides in Coral Gables in a rental unit to be registered to vote in our elections, BUT, the qualification for participating in an election for Commissioner/Mayor should require property ownership in order to serve in these positions!
    As a property owner in Coral Gables for close to 50 years, it never occurred to me that someone could run for a Board[Commission] seat without property ownership, as for as long as I can remember, every Commissioner/Mayor was a property owner. Our current Commission has one member who is not a property owner and that was a total surprise to me!!
    I would not propose that a charter revision would require that Commissioner to resign, but my proposal is for the property ownership requirement to be for any future election!!

  8. Comment on “little gables” is interesting since we no longer adhere to Mediterranean style by building square homes with flat roofs in all of Coral Gables

  9. City wide elected leaders ensures that the entire city is considered and not one zone that become bickering points for each district (look at the county). 5 elected officials and staggered terms ensures a majority are always up for election every 2 years and can be changed quickly if residents disapprove (see county again as 13 fiefdoms and previously “tenured”) 10% is a good number for any referendums- do your work if you really think something is bad. Mediterranean needs to be memorialized for all city projects and development bonuses need to be strict on Mediterranean architecture. Selling public land or right of ways need referendum. NO take home vehicles- we are not paying police to live in Broward pay tolls, gas, wear of vehicles. Pay council and set a COLA. Pay all staff by the same contracts- PW, solid waste, parks should get overtime like police if working festivals, farmers market, etc. All employees should have state FRS retirement vs local burden. Overall we do much better than most cities and we need annexation to expand our tax base.

  10. From this article:
    “ On matters of municipal property and urban design, the residents advocate for a democratic approach to the sale of city-owned assets, necessitating a resident vote. Additionally, there is a call for all city projects to adhere to Mediterranean architectural standards, preserving the city’s aesthetic heritage.”
    On the upcoming August ballot, Coral Gables residents will have the opportunity to vote AGAINST the annexation of Little Gables, which will cost CG taxpayers 23.6 Million Dollars over 5 years.
    Little Gables does not adhere to Mediterranean architectural standards, preserving the city’s aesthetic heritage.

  11. The following is a brief on the comments the undersigned touched upon at last week’s pubic Charter Review meeting

    1) Charter has ample definitions of City Manager’s fire/hire/delegate authorities but has no definition of CM’s role and responsibilities and that is a crucial void

    2) CM new hire I suggest should be by Supra majority; in this case 4/5ths commission vote

    3) All CG elected members. commssrs /mayor should serve same amount of years, be it 4 years, or even 2 years with no disparities as it currently exists

    4) CG population surpasses 51,000 and it’s only served by an old system of only 5 elected members which is under-represented The elected members roster needs to be updated by 2 more positions to 7

    5) Geographic data shows very significant revenue donor areas south of Gables waterway have not ever had an elected official so a “map zone” needs to be enacted and adopted to treat all areas of CG equitably in being represented at the commission

    6) Lastly; as an economist and financial analyst I’m trying to comprehend the logic of inmediately compensating new CM such a substantial $285,000 salary plus plus while at the same time paying terminated CM 1/2 that amount…… from my perspective it should be that new CM hire earn 6 months pay then have a review and public hearing to approve such a huge amount. There are metrics for reviewing performance or “score cards” but it was not taken into consideration

    Thanks and Best Regards

    Gonzalo Sanabria
    944 San Pedro Avenue

  12. Stop the theft of our alleys & public rights of way by billionaire developers thru our conflicts of interest P & Z board, Commission. STOP all projects immediately requiring the above mentioned. Per Merrick law our alleys are not for sale.

  13. The proposed changes make a better government, more accountable to the residents.
    The regular riders on the gravy train will oppose the changes.

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