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December Commission Digest

January 17, 2019

The Miami Dade County Commission ended 2018 with a focus on roads, transportation, and infrastructure – including the painfully long lasting Flagler construction project (they passed three separate items aimed at addressing the dangerous roadway conditions posed by the construction, among other issues). Our countywide elected officials also raised parking fines for the first time in years, set intentions for workforce housing for teachers, and decided to address political campaign presence at early voting sites during our elections.

Roads, Traffic, and Transportation

Flagler Construction

The long running Flagler construction has had local businesses and residents frustrated for some time, but commissioners made moves to begin addressing that at the December 18th Commission meeting where three resolutions (all sponsored by District 5 Commissioner Eileen Higgins, who made the Herald in November when she toured the ongoing construction) were passed unanimously. One resolution affirms the commissions support of bills in the state legislature that would help businesses affected by the ongoing FDOT construction, the second asks state government to act and address the dangerous conditions on Flagler related to delayed construction projects, and the third instructs the county attorney to look into legal options regarding action on Flagler construction and its impact on traffic and pedestrians. (See Herald article on related City of Miami lawsuit).

Parking

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Commission voted on December 4th to increase parking fines starting July 1st (the current Commission Chair, District 13 Commissioner Bovo cast the lone no vote). This comes on the heels of a new increase in parking fees for non-residents in the City of Miami, which the city commission passed toward the end of last year. Increased parking fees will raise revenue for both Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, potentially increasing funds available for future county and city budgets.

Buses

The December 4th County Commission meeting also saw attention on getting newer buses out on the street; commissioners approved a resolution to start the months long process for purchasing new compressed natural gas buses to replace those vehicles in the fleet that have already reached their 12 year mark or 500,000 miles of service. District 5 Commissioner Higgins (who, along with District 2 Commissioner Monestime, voted no) brought up concerns about the procurement process, including reservations over how this would result in different types of buses from a variety of companies, which could cause issues with providing maintenance and service.

The commission voted 12-1 to renew an existing contract with Limousines of South Florida Inc (LSF) to run several bus routes which were privatized in 2017 to cut costs for the county.  District 8 Commissioner Levine Cava cast the only no vote. The contract includes a provision for LSF to place advertisements on buses and stipulates that the county will get 50% of the gross revenue. The bus routes operated by LSF include routes 29, 35/35a, 46, 51, 82, 115, 210, 217 and others (view full list here). The move to privatize these routes has been publicly criticized by the Transit Workers Union Local 291 president, who argued earlier last year that while privatizing may save the county money it does so by cutting strong, well paid bus driver jobs and replacing them with low-wage non-union ones. As these routes were privatized several also underwent service cuts, as detailed by the Transit Alliance. Residents have repeatedly come before the commission during public comment periods to detail the hardship caused by some of these route changes and service cuts (including an elderly woman who was been hospitalized 3 times after fainting because her walk to the bus stop lengthened after the cuts).

Citizen Oversight Board

Back in 2002, a half-penny sales surtax was approved to fund investment in transportation, and a 15-member body called the Citizens’ Independent Transportation Trust was created to oversee the execution of the transportation plan. The former CITT Chair, lawyer Paul Schwiep, is also representing environmental groups opposed to the 836 highway extension. A Miami-Dade rule bars any member of a county board from filing a lawsuit challenging county policy, so the County Attorney’s office declared that Schwiep could no longer serve on CITT. However, Schwiep argues that he filed an administrative complaint, not a lawsuit and should be reinstated, and that his removal is retribution. A resolution that could have allowed Paul Schwiep to continue serving on the CITT stalled on December 13th when no one on the Transportation and Public Works Committee of the Commission seconded a motion to move the item forward for consideration. It’s now tabled and can’t be brought back up for another 3 months.

Additional Items

Teacher Housing

Anyone recall the rumblings of talk about creating onsite teacher housing as a means to solve the housing affordability issues facing our local educators? The commission just took a small step forward in that direction on December 4th by asking the mayor to submit an application to HUD to develop the defunct Medvin housing site in Brickell.

Detention Facility Construction and Operation

The debate over public private partnerships and the health of our justice system continues as the county prepares to build a new pre-trial detention facility. Following a 12-1 vote, the mayor is now authorized to review and prepare recommendations on whether building a detention facility should be a public private partnership (known as P3) qualifying project. District 8 Commissioner Levine Cava cast the lone no vote after her amendments to the resolution stipulating that the maintenance and operations of the facility wouldn’t be privatized weren’t taken up, citing concern that the item as it stands would open up the possibility of privatizing staffing at the detention facility. Her concerns reflect the fact that private corporations are known to enhance their profit margins by reducing quality of services and employee wages, potentially causing harm to both inmates and those working at these facilities. Currently the detention center has major issues with mold, hygiene, and other dire maintenance concerns affecting those who work and are detained there. The Department of Justice has put the county on notice that this is unacceptable.

Elections

The Government Operations Committee voted on December 11th to study the conduct of political campaigns at early voting sites and provide recommendations on reigning in potentially intrusive methods used by campaigns such as bullhorns and speakers. The committee is concerned that this behavior is interfering with citizens’ ability to cast their vote without being unduly influenced, and aims to put a further damper on campaigning at these sites. Campaigns are already required to stay a specific distance away from early voting sites.

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