Who Represents You? Disregard For Residents A Growing Concern

Every two years, residents in Coral Gables participate in our City’s municipal election and elect what most voters believe to be individuals who will represent the interests of City residents.

Commissioners in the City of Coral Gables are elected to four year terms, the Mayor is elected to two year terms, in elections held in April of odd numbered years. The City actually pays a premium to hold its elections in April, as opposed to elections in general elections or primary as most other municipalities do. A move that reduces the number of voters who participate in the selection of our elected officials.

Although the makeup of the Commission has changed over these years, residents concerns continue to grow over who the City of Coral Gables Commission actually represents.

A public record request yielded a copy of the oath taken by Commissioners and City staff. The oath states as follows:

I, __________, do solemnly swear that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America, the State of Florida, the Charter and all Ordinances of the City of Coral Gables, and Miami-Dade County, Florida; that I am entitled to hold Office under the Charter, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the Office of City Clerk of the City of Coral Gables, Florida, upon which I am about to enter.  To my colleagues and to all those I represent and serve, I pledge fairness, integrity and civility, in all actions taken and all communications made by me as a public servant.

Interestingly, their only pledge is to “fairness, integrity and civility,” not to represent the interest of residents.

Who does the Commission Represent?

The recent battle between parents and the City Commission over the construction of a Wawa gas station across the street of an Elementary and Middle school has once again brought this issue into question once again.

Over the last six years, the Commission has been petitioned on a few occasions in order to request its action on issues such as the appointment of Ed Hudak as Police Chief, the removal of the Alice Aycock sculptures, to save historic properties in the City and to prevent the zoning changes to Miracle Mile. Most of these petitions have received over 1,000 signatures, yet only one has had its intended effect, the one to appoint Ed Hudak as Chief.

Even this, no-brainer petition, was controversial as Commissioner Pat Keon dragged her feet in a futile effort to appoint her friend, a retired Major who had moved out of the state. It took a back-room deal by then City Attorney Craig Leen to secure a temporary ‘interim-chief’ appointment of Hudak that did not become permanent for another year.

Silence on Wawa

When it comes to Wawa, the Commission agreed to a settlement entered into by the City Attorney that provided a fast track for the developer to bypass the regular requirements, including any public discussion where residents could voice their concerns. The issue came up at the October 27th City Commission meeting following a resolution by the City’s School Community Relations Committee’s request for the City Commission to open a truthful public comment period, following news that the School District, School Board Member, the School and parents were kept in the dark about the project. (See video summary created by a parent of a student at George Washington Carver Elementary). The question many continue to ask is, why?

Mayor Valdes-Fauli talked down to parents and was dismissive of their concerns at the Commission meeting, and went as far as saying that parent comments should end because “the lobbyists are here” and couldn’t be made to wait. The message from Valdes-Fauli was clear: parents and residents take a back seat to lobbyists under his watch.

Commissioners took up a second resolution by the School Community Relations Committee requesting that the committee be informed of projects affecting schools to ensure that it could fulfill its Charter requirement “to provide an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration between the aforementioned schools and their neighbors, including the City of Coral Gables.” What ensued was an astonishing 30-minute discussion by the Commission.

City Manager, Peter Iglesias, explained to the Commission he believed more people looking at projects could slow things down. So Iglesias believes a City advisory board meant to advise the Commission on schools should not be consulted on an issue that directly affects a school because it could delay the process for a developer who is only seeking to maximize profit on a property without any concern about who is affected. But why would we expect any difference from the City Manager who told Gables Insider in April that Coral Gables should not provide testing for COVID-19, as residents only care about their garbage being picked up and the city looking nice? Iglesias’ presence was requested at the School Community Relations Committee and he refused to attend.

Vice Mayor Lago made it clear, he believed the City would benefit from “more eyes” looking at projects. His colleagues disagreed.

In the end, the Commission made it clear the School Community Relations Committee should be sent notice only on projects where notice is required within 1,000 feet of a school, but with no intention of it being in an advisory role. (The Wawa project did not require notification, as it was finalized through a legal settlement).

Legal Concern

Commissioner Michael Mena’s biggest concern was protecting the developer’s right to develop their property. Mena voiced his concern over a legal claim by the developer if the City took seriously the concerns from parents and residents.

He went as far as implying parents and those voicing concerns about the project were being racially insensitive as they were trying to prevent the development that would benefit the Lola B. Walker Foundation, made up of the residents of the MacFarlane Homestead Historic District of Coral Gables. The developer had presented a list of over 60 signatures from residents of the district.

The legal concern seems to be a growing trend on the Commission. On numerous occasions, staff has brought up the potential legal implications to ensure the Commission votes their way on projects.

But the legal concern is one that has made City Attorney’s office thrive over the last few years. The City Attorney’s office budget has increased from $933,958 to $2,728,798 since 2015, a 192% increase in budget, a clear demonstration to the litigious inclinations of the City Attorney’s office. The office was one of the few that saw an increase in budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, where the City was forced to trim the budget by nearly $119 million.

The City Attorney’s office worked out the settlement and gave itself and the City Manager authority to approve any permits to ensure expediency. A clear example of taxpayer dollars paying for developers to do as they wish in Coral Gables.

In the end, Commissioner Mena told parents and residents were told the City would take no action as this was involved a zoning plan that was created years ago. Interestingly enough, the Commission has taken up numerous zoning ordinance changes (as seen on this 21 page list provided by the City Clerk through a public record request from Gables Insider). Most of these zoning changes have been at the request of developers in order to maximize their income on properties. On most of these projects, the Commission has acquiesced and disregarded the concerns voiced by City residents.

Miracle Mile Or Soon-To-Be Brickell Mile

On November 30th, the Commission will have a special sunshine meeting to discuss the zoning changes to Miracle Mile. Zoning changes meant to benefit developers who seek to go beyond the current legal building limits on Miracle Mile. Residents have been voicing their concerns about these changes for many years. The issue was placed on the Commission agenda for the October 27th meeting and most residents found out this was being discussed through a Gables Insider article.

The plan would allow developers to build higher, with more density, less parking and create what some have called a Concrete Canyon on Miracle Mile. A complete change to the vision of Coral Gables many residents bought into when they purchased homes in the City.

The City’s Director of Planning and Zoning, Ramon Trias, who has long been an advocate for developers in front of the Commission, subscribes to a vision that Coral Gables should remove parking in the downtown area. In a presentation made before the Property Advisory Board in 2016, Trias explained his belief that if the City removes parking and requests developers build less parking spaces, people will stop buying cars.

Valdes-Fauli, who will not seek re-election, and Commissioner Keon, who has filed to run for Mayor, are both actively lobbying to promote these changes.

Valdes-Fauli has made it his mission to ensure these changes take place, staking his legacy on this. He sent opeds to the Miami Herald and Community Newspapers this past week advocating for the changes, in an attempt to sell this massive change to a Brickell-like Miracle Mile to residents of the City.

Keon, as previously reported on Gables Insider, has said on the dais that “I think maybe, it takes more meat off the bone than you really want to do. I think you need to leave enough meat on it to encourage people to develop.”

Silencing Of Dissent

The Commission recently enacted changes to the public comment portion of Commission meetings. Residents can now address the Commission for a maximum of 2 minutes each to address any concern they have with the City, at the beginning of every Commission meeting. The measure, proposed by Vice Mayor Lago, was not well received by others on the dais. In the end, the measure was passed, but with a limitation of 30 minutes for all public comment. In other words, only 15 residents can address the Commission at any given meeting.

Over the course of the last few months, campaign videos depicted a former Mayor of Pinecrest yelling at residents from the dais. Here in Coral Gables, Valdes-Fauli has made that mayor look like an angel. He has told residents to “shut up”, “get out of here” and launched personal assaults on others.

The mayor’s recent jabs have been towards historic preservation advocates. He frequently touts that he lives in a historic home, which he sought designation for. In contrast he jabs that the preservationists don’t do the same and designate their own homes as historic. What about that fairness, integrity and civility oath?

And residents have not been the only victims of Valdes-Fauli’s scare tactics. On more than one occasion, Valdes-Fauli has sought to silence Vice Mayor Lago, Commissioner Mena and Commissioner Fors, if he has not agreed with their perspective on issues.

Not All Is Broken

It is important to note, Vice Mayor Lago makes it a point to hold office hours every week and holds two annual town halls to listen to resident concerns. Lago is also known for returning phone calls and answers every single email. His midnight hour email responses are a staple of his dedication to resident concerns.

Prior to COVID, Commissioner Fors also held community meetings to listen to resident concerns. He also engaged with the Coral Gables Neighborhood Association (CGNA) to have open dialogue with resident concerns.

How To Ensure The Right Thing Is Done?

The Commission does have options:

  1. It can take into serious consideration what residents have to say and take a vote reflective of the will of residents not developers.
  2. As the issue is not time sensitive, they can allow this issue to be taken up by the newly seated Commission following the April election, where voters will decide whose vision for the City they identify with.
  3. As stated above, the City will hold its municipal election on April 13th. With an issue as important as the zoning of Miracle Mile that could have a huge impact on the future of the City for generations to come, this could present a great opportunity for the Commission to place an item such as the rezoning of Miracle Mile on the ballot for residents to decide the fate of their City. This was, after all, the request made in the flower sculpture petition the Commission shot down back then.

Will The Commission Represent Residents Or Developers?

As we look back, the residents have unfortunately lost many battles over the last few years, mostly by design.

  • Elections are held in April in Odd-Numbered Years. This is by design to give candidates cooler weather leading up to an April election. It also is during spring break when families travel and the University of Miami student population is preoccupied partying it up. Could you imagine if the University of Miami student population had a chance to vote for Coral Gables officials?
  • Meetings are held at 9am on Tuesdays. If you are a working professional, Coral Gables elected officials want you to sacrifice a full working day to wait around for your item to be discussed. In July of last year, a Gables Insider survey of subscribers showed that over 67% of you wanted Commission meetings changed to 5:00PM. Sometimes it can be hours before an item is discussed. Coral Gables does everything from employee of the month awards to zoning items all in the same meeting. Having an extra meeting to separate things out would just mean more work. Nothing in the city’s charter dictates the times of meetings. One commissioner tried to change this but was voted down. The following municipalities have meetings after 5pm:
    • Homestead
    • Florida City
    • Hialeah
    • Doral
    • Opa-Locka
    • Miami Springs
    • South Miami
    • West Miami
    • Golden Beach
    • North Miami Beach
    • Miami Shores
    • Biscayne Park
    • Surfside
    • El Portal
    • Sweetwater
    • North Bay Village
    • Bay Harbor Islands
    • Bal Harbor
    • Virginia Gardens
    • Hialeah Gardens
    • Medley
    • Key Biscayne
    • Aventura
    • Pinecrest
    • Sunny Isles Beach
    • Miami Lakes
    • Palmetto Bay
    • Miami Gardens
    • Cutler Bay

The question now is, will the current and future commissions continue the trend of standing for developers or will they make it a point to listen to the will of the City’s residents?

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25 thoughts on “Who Represents You? Disregard For Residents A Growing Concern

  1. I do not feel represented by the elected politicians of the city of Coral Gables, or by the commissioners or the mayor, it seems that they care more about interests represented by those who lobby for things that do not directly benefit the Coral Gables community, I have 45 years of living in this city and everything is getting worse, now they want to fill the city with super concrete monsters with 16-story buildings. Horrible is this going to be. In the city there is no longer parking in the residential area, everywhere whoever can get it in the municipality puts a sign that says no parking, even on the edge of the street on the County land. Parking in the residential area has become a neighborhood fight. The traffic is terrible and no municipal authority cares to fix it. The community is to blame because they choose by voting not because of the candidate’s merit but because they allow themselves to be convinced because they eat rice and beans. That is not democracy.

  2. The concept of the selfless public servant that has only the best interest of the people in mind is a fantasy. No one runs for office that does not have a personal agenda to either benefit from the power of the position or to satisfy a personal need to impose their ideology on the masses.
    Rarely are there exceptions and they are few and far between. It is up to the voters to do their due diligence when choosing candidates and carefully review their background , otherwise we will continue to be misgoverned.

  3. What an excellent article! It appears to me that our residents don’t want our City to continue allowing the horrible trend to build those concrete monsters that keep getting approved to keep the developers happy!
    Of course we have been told multiple times that we should move into the 21st century! Does that mean changing everything we hold dear in the City Beautiful that we chose as our home, so that the developers, and God only knows who else, can continue enriching themselves? The time is now, we the people need to stand up and not allow the City staff, and some elected officials to disregard what we want! If we allow this so called “zoning code rewrite”, to be adopted, it may very well be the end of Coral Gables as we know it! Please remember to contact our elected officials, by phone, emails, letters, etc. so they can’t claim ignorance of what our wishes are and vote accordingly.

  4. I dealt with the Mayor and Keon when they were pushing a fire station among exclusive homes in Cocoplum Circle. They even wanted to pay 1M more than the asking price for the property and would not give the surrounding homeowners the time of day regarding their concerns. They would not listen and had an arrogant attitude. The Mayor did not care what we said and stated he would be reelected no matter what we felt. You get what you voted for, now live with it. This is the City Beautiful, it is not a concrete jungle. We DO NOT want Miracle Mile built up, we do not want off site parking and we do not want low rent housing which is what is also proposed within this zoning change request, Bet you did not know they were going to do that. Keon as Mayor will be total destruction to our City and so will this proposal. We pay the taxes and we make the decisions. Listen to us….No No No to the Miracle Mile development !!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. I also received the letter from Bilzin, Sumberg whom are land development attorneys for RC Acquisitions LLC that own all those properties with the exception of 225 Malaga their main principal/manager is W Allen Morris per Sunbiz.org these prime properties are directly positioned West of Ponce de Leon Blvd across from a current on going massive real estate development by a centuries old Mexican Tequila Co. Im a proponent of development which is a right i also believe an urban municipality such as CG should be on the cutting edge & not stuck with some zoning laws dating back to 1925.

  6. Thank you for this article. My eyes have been wide open to this for a long time, and these are the politicians I voted against. The comments about the pension liabilities are valid. We should learn more about that and seek/propose solutions that won’t eventually damage the quality of life we expect to enjoy as residents of Coral Gables. I hope more residents participate at the next elections.

  7. Thank you for this article and making me conscious that I certainly voted for the wrong people. Lesson learned.
    We must be sure to read and find out who will truly represents us, the residents and not the developers and the special interest groups. Please continue your excellent reporting.Vice Mayor Lago will get my vote and I also already know commissioners who will not. They seem to forget we put them in office and can also kick them out of office at the polls. I urge all to look at the record of each commissioner and keep doing so until the election of April 2021

  8. This begins with the mayor who is a total arrogant dinosaur. Every email is either so childish that, in my case, the city legal counsel personally apologized for the total stupidity in his email to me, or is met with total silence. But the residents are to blame for voting in a string of dinosaurs who look down at residents. I have lived in Coral Gables since 2006 and have seen a huge deterioration in the quality of the commissioners, in the quality of the services and in the way that laws and regulations are broken to favor their friends.

  9. https://communitynewspapers.com/coral-gables-news/lets-bring-miracle-mile-back-to-life/

    The above was published in the Community Newspaper. for the Mayor regarding development. My reply (below) was not published by the Community Newspaper perhaps because the mayor and some commissioners have been advertisers?? Or limited free speech allowed in their product??

    My not published reply: This article would have a modicum of credibility if the mayor had not accepted so many campaign contributions from developers, developers relatives via numerous corporations, the building industry, etc.. They piled in the last week of the election. He was not alone…
    “Just recently I drove the four- block stretch and was shocked to count 40 empty storefronts” The mayor ignores recent history above. The city’s horrific delays in the recent revitalization project addressing parking and sidewalks, crippled the businesses on the mile, many not recovering. The business owners I spoke to all lamented that much of the public began new shopping patterns elsewhere and was not aware of the projects completion soon enough. This coupled with the mandatory retail closures earlier this year finished off many of the independents.. Finally, due to the pandemic many people do not want to go out and shop in person, thus driving the online shopping explosion (the mayor did not even walk the four blocks as he stayed in his car). One could even argue that the Mile is healthy, considering recent events. Successful business’s that reinvent themselves will survive.

    Don’t let this trojan horse ruse of the Mayor’s fool the residents of Coral Gables.

    LET’S NOT ALLOW OUR MANIPULATED ELECTED OFFICALS TO RUIN MIRACLE MILE!

  10. Joyce Newman- the way to fix the city budget is to fix the massive pension drain our tax dollars have to fund. Why doesn’t anyone ever address the cost side instead of always demanding more tax revenue?

  11. Can Gables Insider publish the votes for important issues so the citizens will know who is supporting developers/city employees in contradiction of the best interests of the residents? Again, I urge ALL residents to request a copy of the pension payments to retired employees and an accounting of the massive pension fund deficit. The overdevelopment and and the massive pensions are integrally tied together. With huge developments, not only do the commissioners/mayor keep the developers happy ( and keep the $$$ flowing) they think that the increased tax revenues will finally reverse the unsustainable pension deficits. We owe the city employees $600 million. An absurd amount for a town with 56,000 residents. Publish the votes!

  12. We need the right people on the dais to create a check on uncontrolled development:
    Vince Lago for Mayor.
    Rhonda Anderson for Commissioner.

  13. It seems our city government is seeking tax money by allowing more development.
    If we want less development I think we need to be willing to pay more taxes . If we want our city to be Beautiful & unique we need to be willing to pay more ourselves to prevent the need for added taxable structures to cover the city budget .

    Also can we have Public Financing of campaigns ?

  14. What an excellent article; I salute its author. Sadly, our City leaders seem to all too often act from a posture of “defense”. “We had better do this, or we had better do that, or the developers will sue us”….and so it goes. City’s have powers that developers don’t. City’s can impose moratoriums. Perhaps our City may investigate further into their powers as a”City” vrs. what developers are able to get away with. One thing that the author does not expound on is the apparent lack of attention paid to our City Boards that are supposed to be made up of City residents, appointed by Commission and some staff members. The Mayor and some on the Commission seem to be more receptive to what staff dictates to them, and ignore most resident made-up boards. Unfortunately, City staff seems to be more guided by developers and those with ‘special interests’, than listening to residents. The system in Coral Gables is not working the way it should. I’m hopeful that a new administration can fix this, – and even change the voting schedule so that there is more participation and inclusion of City residents going forward. Great article! Thanks for sharing this, – Gables Insider!

  15. Lou S. You have my vote! A Runaway Government and Passive Citizens will leave us with an unrecognizably overdeveloped CG. In the face of a decline in retail (pre-covid) and projected decline in office space why continue to promote development if not so that developers, lenders, and real estate attorneys can continue to generate income? I’m going to convince Bloomberg to run for mayor: fiscally conservative; experienced in running a large and complex metropolitan government; environmentally conscious; a proven businessman who has knowledge of and can weigh the economic impact of development plans; an ego in check , not given to self aggrandizement

  16. Excellent Journalism on a subject that needs exposure. Why do residents have to “fight City Hall” and end up losing to developers, lobbyists and other special interests? The former Riviera Neighborhood Association spent years fighting unwelcome, out-of-scale development. In spite of 94% of households (over 500 residences), signing a petition against the Paseo de la Riviera, and, residents spending $75,000 + to hire lawyers & an urban planner to fight this development, the city commission voted 4 – 1 to give the developer everything he wanted. Now the world drives by the PRISON DE LA RIVIERA… a monstrous, concrete wall of ugliness that the commissioners gushed over just a few years ago when they approved it. Residents: please pay attention to the candidates running in the April 2021 election and question their motives and stances on things like their commitment to informing and standing by the residents. Also, plan on attending, via Zoom, the November 30th Sunshine Meeting at 5 pm on the imminent Zoning Code changes which will forever change the character of Coral Gables. At that meeting, ask the commissioners why you weren’t informed of these changes and included in the discussions. It’s up to you to speak up!

    This is a MUST-READ for all Coral Gables residents! Please share on all your social media platforms and send to your email databases.

  17. It is great to see this publication becoming political. The Gables lost its conscience when the Gables Gazette closed years ago. There is no one watching the hen house now. These politicians have no one keeping an eye on them. No one is questioning their actions. Hopefully your publication will be sent to more Gables residents. Another publication that is doing a good job filling the void is Political Cortadito (google it) but it covers more than just Coral Gables.

    I worked hard to get rid of Valdez Fauli and the folly of a monument he was building to himself years ago. It was amazing to me that he was able to get re-elected. Luckily we will be rid of him again and a new young mayor will take his place. Vince Lago seems like he has the best interests of the citizens of Coral Gable at heart. Hopefully he will continue on the same path he has been following.

  18. I just received a letter from Bilzin Sumberg regarding a “Zoom” meeting they’re having regarding something called PONCE PARK RESIDENCES which supposedly affects the following properties;
    203 University Drive, 3000 Ponce de Leon Blvd., 216 and 224 Catalonia Avenue and 225 Malaga Avenue. I’ve no idea what this is all about.
    The meeting is being held on Tuesday the 24th at 6:00pm
    Any one else received such a letter?

  19. We are to blame! We voted those scoundrels into office because we don’t take the time to know who they really are. Maybe Gables Insider could help us residents understand who these people really are by posting relevant material for each candidate, record of accomplishments while in office, promises kept, etc. It is hard for a resident to do it on his own. GI would really help the process providing this information and recommending those candidates that will truly represent the community instead of the developers.

  20. Thank you for exposing all of this. It will certainly guide my vote next election. I appreciate your reporting. It is so true that these elected officials do not represent the people well at all.

  21. Excellent article! Unfortunately, not too surprising. Politicians in general nowadays are more focussed on pandering to lobbyists, (i.e. $s), than serving the communities they represent. It really is shameful.

    I’ve been a resident of Coral Gables for over 30 years now, and in that time have seen the congestion of the City get increasingly worse. I truly hope that what they are trying to do to Miracle Mile doesn’t happen.

  22. Good luck! My house just up for sale. Not my problem any more. Tired of supporting the experience whims of a few while the overwhelming majority gets laughed at

  23. We residents only have ourselves to blame. There have been strong anti-development candidates, yet they have lost to Valdes-Fauli, Mena, and Keon. Oh, and I can’t forget about Cason! If we really care about stopping overdevelopment, we need to vote for the appropriate candidates, rather than irrelevant issues, e.g. “he’s cute”, “my family knows his family”, “he was tough on Cuba 20 years ago”, etc. Let’s get real!

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