On The Issues: Runoff Candidates Group III

What is your stance on development in Coral Gables?

I oppose development that is out of scale with the neighborhood, and inconsistent with the traditional architectural and historical values of Coral Gables. Coral Gables was originally conceived as a city for families and beautiful globally inspired neighborhoods. The City Beautiful should remain as such, and we cannot let developers build massive towers adjacent to residential homes. I would curtail the abuse and promote small scale growth consistent with the Coral Gables tradition.
Coral Gables has historically found that perfect balance between having a healthy and vibrant downtown and the most beautiful and peaceful residential neighborhoods. Of late, the scale has tipped in favor of overdevelopment. With the input and involvement of our residents, we need to bring our hometown back in keeping with the “City Beautiful”. That is why I pledge to all of our residents that during my term as Commissioner, I will not support variances that come before me asking for increases to the height of new projects beyond what the code allows. Our City Code is the envy of South Florida and communities across the nation try to replicate it. We should stay true to our rules and laws and work diligently to recapture that perfect balance between our downtown and our residential neighborhoods that we so fondly remember as kids growing up in our hometown.

If you had a vote, how would you vote on the upcoming Zoning changes on Miracle Mile?

NO. The new compromise may lower the maximum height and potential abuses on the Mile, but it also effectively guarantees that the existing structures will be demolished to make way for a Brickell on the Mile. I do not believe Miracle Mile is dead, and we cant make decisions for the future based on the warped reality of this COVID 19 economy. We can bring density to Miracle Mile, and tourism will be back soon enough, but we should preserve our main road based on the vision of our founders.
The voting for the zoning changes on Miracle Mile took place on March 9th and I think the Commission’s decision was a prudent one by keeping the height of buildings to no more than 4 floors, which is less than what the City’s Code allows today. As Commissioner, I have pledged to the voters of Coral Gables that I will not support any requested variances for additional height if any come before me and have asked my fellow candidates to make the same pledge. I am unaware if any of them have joined me.

If you had a vote, how would you vote on the upcoming Zoning changes on the Crafts section?

NO. The Crafts rezoning has been sold to voters as an organics community driven exercise to promote safety, and revitalize a forgotten neighborhood. Nothing could be further from the truth as this is a clear developer give away. Although evidently property owners will benefit from a tripling of the values of their home, as will its main advocate and beneficiary, my opponent Kirk Menendez, most of these few homes are rental properties. Developers will buy these units and bring more traffic to our neighborhoods.
The Crafts section zoning update took place in February with commissioners voting unanimously for it. I’ve lived in the Crafts section for 58 years and I’m likely the longest tenured resident in this neighborhood. This area was always envisioned as a mixed-use area, where commercial and residential uses could coexist synergistically and the Code updates aim to provide clarity to that Code. What I would add is that my pledge on height variances extends to this area. The Code will allow building up to a certain height and I will not support any variance requests that increases the height.

What is your vision for Miracle Mile?

For it to remain a traditional shopping district, as it is today, with the same look and feel that has attracted generations to the Mile for decades. I would increase residential units to the peripheral streets, and increase public transportation such as the trolley and the Freebee to reduce the number of cars in the downtown. I would further encourage and fund activities such as Illuminate Coral Gables, which has made our City Center famous nationally, and which will encourage commerce to the essential tax base of our City.
We need to focus more on attracting Coral Gables residents to Miracle Mile and less on tourists for its economic sustainability. To get there we need to draw more residents to live on or in close proximity to Miracle Mile to create a reliable and steady stream of customers for our retail businesses. In addition, I am a strong proponent of expanding our “freebie ride” service further into our residential areas to make visiting our downtown less of a challenge. In addition, I propose creating a small shuttle service for Miracle Mile that runs in a loop between Salzedo Street and Galiano Street to make travel along the Mile enjoyable even during our hot summer months.

Traffic is a large issue in the City. What would you do to address the gridlock?

Traffic calming efforts, including those near the entrance and adjacent streets of City parks and recreational areas, are required citywide, as we have already done in some streets in the North Gables. This will ameliorate the speed and traffic abuses many of our residents encounter daily. I would examine the closing off certain streets near the boundaries and the redirecting of traffic to main streets to preserve our neighborhoods. However, enforcement of our traffic laws continues to be the main tool for safety, and I will insure Chief Hudack has all the tools at his disposal to solve this problem.
Unfortunately, Coral Gables is positioned between a major business center in Downtown Miami/Brickell and the west part of Miami-Dade County where the majority of County residents live. In addition, four of the major roadways traveled on between west and east Miami-Dade County (U.S. 1, Bird Road, Coral Way, and 8th Street) all cut through our city. I would propose greater enforcement by police to curtail speeding cars, working with Miami-Dade County to better synchronize our stop lights to maintain a constant flow of traffic, and better use of technology to keep existing traffic on the major roadways and off of our residential streets.

How would you address cut-through traffic on residential streets?

Along with traffic calming modifications to our streets, I would examine the closing off certain streets near the boundaries and the redirecting of traffic to main streets to preserve our neighborhoods.
Improved signage, strategically placed, not allowing traffic to turn from the major roadways onto our neighborhood streets from 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm on weekdays. The Police Department would need to have officers cover those areas, on and off, in order to send a strong message to drivers that if they violate our City traffic laws there will be a price to pay.

What is your view on the role of residents in the Legislative process in the City?

The Commission is answerable to the residents of Coral Gables, and their will should be the guiding principle that informs all their policy making.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address - November 19, 1863).

Government serves the people. The people do not serve the government. Our residents must be part of the legislative process from beginning to end. I propose passing legislation requiring that the City’s public notice radius be significantly expanded for zoning matters pertaining to development of a certain scale and for all matters concerning the historical designation of buildings and other structures. Additionally, public meeting notices concerning zoning matters on Miracle Mile should go out citywide.

How often have you participated in City Commission meetings?

I have attended every commission meeting in the past two years, and sporadically before that point.
I first spoke before the City Commission in the early 1990s when the City was contemplating building a new and expanded Coral Gables Youth Center. I spoke on behalf of all of the kids I coached throughout the years at the Youth Center and for future generations of Coral Gables children and families. And I have participating in numerous City Commission meetings on a broad array of topics ever since. I am no stranger at City Commission meetings.

What will your top 5 priorities be if elected Commissioner?

1. Voting NO on the Crafts and Miracle Mile changes if they issue survives the election.
2. Appointing involved residents, not developers and special interests, to City Boards.
3. Expanding transparency, by promoting notice of all board and city meetings, and moving the Commission agenda to evening meetings.
4. Promoting preservation by creating a specialized fund to allow the City a first right of refusal on historic properties.
5. Modifying our Pension Plan to reduce its financial burden on future challenges, such as sea level rice, and infrastructure funding.
Public Participation
We need to go above and beyond what our rules and regulations say about public notice. The City must expand all public meeting notices so that residents are brought into the process at the beginning stages and not at the end when the City Commission is ready to take a final vote. I will present legislation to expand our public meeting notice on all zoning matters concerning development of a certain scale, all matters concerning historical designations, in addition to creating a system whereby Neighborhood Associations and schools are also officially notified of agenda items that impact their respective areas.

Seniors
As we start to make our way out of this pandemic, we must make certain all of our homebound seniors are able to receive the COVID vaccine as soon as supplies are made available to the City. I will work closely with the City’s Administration and our Fire-Rescue Department to implement a door-to-door outreach program to ensure all of our seniors are safe, vaccinated and accounted for. Our seniors, many who grew up and raised their families in our community, are the backbone of our hometown. Their hard work, dedication and selfless service for others has helped give us a community we can all call home. They must not be overlooked and they must never be forgotten. I promise to honor, as I have always done, the foundation they have laid; the very foundation which we all stand upon today.

Sustainability
We need to switch properties with septic tanks onto our sewer system. Our aging septic tanks are leaking and contaminating our aquifers. The overall cost is very high. However, through my years of work in our state capital and in Washington DC, I can help access state and federal funds, partly through grants, to start the conversion, at the very least, one block at a time.

Parks
Having coached at the Coral Gables Youth Center and at St. Theresa Catholic School for over 25 years, I know the importance of having ample green space where children, adults and families can come together to enjoy outdoor activities safely in our City Beautiful. As your Commissioner, I will push the City to more aggressively acquire green space throughout the City for future neighborhood parks, including much needed dog parks.

Mobility / Downtown Coral Gables
I will introduce legislation to significantly expand the trolley and "freebie ride" services throughout the City, in addition to the creation of a shuttle service on Miracle Mile to encourage and facilitate residents visiting, shopping and dining on the Mile and the City's Downtown area. We cannot continue to depend mostly on tourists to help sustain our Downtown economy. We need to bring our residents back into the fold. Plus, it will greatly help resolve some of the current parking concerns.

Do you believe City staff is doing a good job?

The ordinary workers and civil servants, including our firefighters and police officers, are doing a wonderful job. However administrative and related staff have mismanaged the bureaucracy, and seem incapable of eliminating bottlenecks in city services, such as permitting and garbage collection problems for residents. I promise to audit our budget, and along Commissioner Lago, use my skills as a CPA, to find efficiencies in our government.
I work closely with the Parks and Recreation Department due to my lifelong work with the Coral Gables Youth Center and as the former Chairperson of the City’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. I have the utmost respect for the work of the Parks & Recreation staff and their care with our kids. The City has many more dedicated employees who either lay their lives on the line like Police and Fire or who give of themselves to make sure we have a better quality of life. As Commissioner, I will work with my colleagues on the dais to give the City Manager and his staff direction, based on residents input, on where improvement is needed. If we ever adopt the mindset that we cannot get better as a City government, then we have failed.

The Commission will need to make tough decisions on the City’s financials in the 2021-2022 budget, what changes would you make to address shortfalls?

Refinancing our Pension liability would cut over 15 million dollars over paid from our budget, reducing a significant financial burden on residents, and freeing resources for the future.
1. Ensure that there is no waste in our City’s budget and that we are operating with the highest efficiency. I am committed to opposing any legislation that raises property taxes.

2. Work with our Procurement Department and our City Manager to ensure that we are getting the best price available from our vendors and empowering the Administration to protect our taxpayers’ dollars.

3. Sharing resources and greater collaboration would lead to savings. For example, unused equipment can be transferred from one department to another, and inventory can be jointly managed. In addition, the City can find opportunities to partner with other governments, non-profits or private organizations.

We live in Tree City USA, what is your stance on our tree canopy and its preservation?

It is an invaluable City resource, and one of the draws that makes the City Beautiful such a desirable and wonderful place to live. I would continue efforts to expand our tree canopy, while preserving the existing beauty of our City.
Our breathtaking and beautiful tree canopy is the envy of all of South Florida. We must protect and preserve our tree canopy at all cost. It adds to the quality of life of all residents, as they walk, bike or run, and it also enhances the value of our neighborhoods while keeping home energy usage down during our hot summer months. In fact, I believe we should learn from the visionaries that helped create our tree canopy many years ago and continue to plant additional trees that will provide a canopy in areas where such tree canopy is lacking.

What is your stance on climate change and what role do you believe the City can play in curbing it?

This global problem does require a global solution, but that does not absolve the City of Coral Gables, or our residents, of responsibility. Promoting alternative energies, such as solar, as a requirement to new construction, while expanding our tree canopy, and moving city vehicles to a greener alternatives are necessary steps we need to continue. Improving our zoning code to answer the challenges of sea level rise, including the promotion of higher foundation near waterway and coastal areas, are the answers for the future.
Climate change and sea level rise are global threats that are knocking on our City’s door. We have a problem, as does the County and other parts of our state, with aging septic tanks that are leaking into our aquifers. Sea Level rise has accelerated the timeline of this problem. As the water table rises, the buffer between it and the septic tanks diminishes. As the buffer diminishes the contamination of our aquifers increases. To some, sea level rise is a threat only to waterfront properties. But in reality, it is a threat whose tentacles reach deep into our City Beautiful.

What is your vision for the City’s historic preservation?

The City's Mediterranean inspired architecture is one of its main draws for tourist and residents. It helps preserve our property values, and enhances the quality and beauty of our neighborhoods. Such a valuable resource has to be maintained, preserved, and supported by city government. I have been a vocal supporter of historic preservation, including attending meeting of the board and at the commission when the more recent challenges to historic properties have been on the agenda. I want to create a historic preservation fund to allow the City to purchase historic properties, or give the taxpayers a first right of refusal, so that these properties are not lost to future generations. I also want to expedite permitting and historic preservation review of new additions and construction to historic properties to avoid the frustration many owners encounter, and which unfortunately encourages demolitions.
In the late 1960s, the City Commission voted to tear down Coral Gables Elementary to allow for an office building to be built in its place. A new but smaller Coral Gables Elementary was to then be built where the Anastasia Hotel was situated between the Youth Center and the public library. At the same time, the City Commission agreed to hand over partial control of the Youth Center to Dade County Public Schools. Thanks to Mr. M. Lewis Hall, Jr., a lifelong Coral Gables resident and attorney, who took on the City in court and won at the 3rd DCA, today we still have our historic landmark school and the Coral Gables Youth Center, One decade later, the City Commission contemplated tearing down the Biltmore Hotel. Then a decade after that we lost our Coliseum to the wrecking ball. The threat to our City’s history started many years ago and continues today. We must be vigilant and preserve our past so that we can properly set a course for our future. I am an avid fan of our City’s history always researching, reading, looking at old films and photos from bygone days. We also need to do a better job of teaching our children about our past so that they can one day grab the mantle of historic preservation and protect our City Beautiful.

What do you believe makes you best qualified for this job?

I am the only candidate that does not owe any favors to any developers or other special interests. As a small business owner, working for over 16 years as a CPA and an attorney, I have had the financial fortitude to fund half of all funds to my campaign, and the remaining has come from long time clients, residents, friends, and family. I want to mitigate the worse abuses of development in our city, and preserve our historic small town neighborhoods for the future. I will be a Commissioner that will serve the residents, and will utilize his years of experience as an accountant to improve our budgets, keep taxes in check, and have an open door policy to taxpayers. I have made Coral Gables my home for the past 11 years, and I want my small children, Lorenzo and Amelia, to have a prosperous, environmentally conscious, and inclusive City they will be proud to call their home once they are ready to have a family. After more than 15 years in city boards, I want to continue my service as an advocate for residents and change the conversation in the Commission to focus its legislative priorities in the financial challenges of the future, while maintaining the cultural heritage of our foundational principles. I view public service as a calling, and an opportunity to reciprocate the miraculous gifts this nation and South Florida has afforded my Cuban born family. I welcome residents to call me at 305-519-5581. I will be honored to receive your vote.
I am a lifelong resident of Coral Gables since 1962 and a proud graduate of Coral Gables Sr High School, Class of 1980.

Most people know me from my half century relationship with the Coral Gables Youth Center where I grew up, where I coached for over 25 years and where today I am the longest serving President of the Coral Gables War Memorial Youth Center Association since the World War II era. In other words, I have experienced and I have partaken in our community’s “Legacy of Service”

I also bring extensive experience in Government Affairs having worked for nearly a decade advocating in Tallahassee and Washington DC to help pass legislation and bring much needed funding for the benefit of South Florida and especially those in need. Additionally, I have worked as an Assistant City Attorney, Chief of Staff and as the Executive Director of a local public agency.

I not only know our community, having given nearly 40 years of my life to tirelessly serving its children and families, but I bring a wealth of government experience and expertise to help our City government better serve its residents.

What can be done to improve the state of our City’s pension system?

As a past member of our city’s retirement board, I experienced, with considerable dismay, the challenges that face our city’s pension system. Coral Gables has one of the most poorly funded plans in Florida, saddling our taxpayers with an additional collective mortgage of over 200 million dollars of an unfunded liability owed to our employees and retirees. Despite a historically improved stock market and increased funding from our commission, the improvements have been relatively modest. The fluctuations of the stock market during the COVID-19 pandemic have only emphasized the uncertainly of this dilemma. I want to place all cards on the table and take a fresh look at this predicament, to refinance this debt and find a solution that will allow our employees and retirees to receive the benefits they were contractually promised, while reducing the burden on our residents. No option will be simple, and it will require the hard work of achieving a workable compromise between our employees, retirees, and Commission, but we must make hard choices that forever eliminate this albatross from our city finances.
The City’s Retirement Board has a plan in place to fully fund the City’s pension within 12 years. If however, we as a City experience an economic downturn that impacts the Retirement Board’s plan, I would consider several measures that would help keep the 12 year plan on track such as requiring greater contributions into the plan by future employees and making changes to the way the assets are managed, including shifting to assets that have lower fees and are less volatile.

How can residents learn more about you?

The can call me at (305) 519-5581, email me at [email protected], or visit my webpage, at www.JavierForCoralGables.com.
I respectfully ask that everyone access my campaign website at www.KirkMenendez.com to learn more about me, my background, my platform and my vision for our City Beautiful. And I also encourage everyone to please ask in the community about me and my decades of service at the Coral Gables Youth Center and throughout our community.
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