Local activists call for county to provide better maintenance

Budget cuts resulting in fewer mowing and maintenance cycles along SW 104th Street medians and swale has three West Kendall activists pushing for better county services on the main east-west thoroughfare between S. Dixie Highway (US1) and The Hammocks.

Expressing concerns for overgrown grass and insufficient landscaping care, the three local women have kept pressure on county officials by telephone calls and emails for nearly two months.

The trio includes Martha Backer, Jane Walker and Janis Martone, all of whom live in neighborhoods on the east side of The Hammocks, and have protested the reduction of routine service, or what is known as “cycles,” since March.

A “cycle” is defined as cutting grass, litter removal, weed control, pruning, and safety tree trimming assigned to private contractors operating through Miami- Dade Department of Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces. Such work formerly was administered by the Department of Public Works for maintenance within parks and road rights of way.

As explained by David Cardenas, chief of the Right-of-Way Aesthetic and Assets Management Division, the Parks Department currently is providing 10 cycles per year for arterial and collector roads and medians; five cycles yearly for roadside swale and right-of-ways, and nine to 12 cycles yearly for parks. A new service level reduction was initiated effective in March due to readjustments of county spending, cutting back cycles from 15 to 10 per year.

“We fully understand that reducing the number of times that a park, median or roadside is serviced is not visually appealing to residents,” said Kevin Kirwin, assistant director of Operations Management for county parks.

“However, we have a finite amount of funding to work with and the reduction of contracted maintenance cycles is one way to equitably manage the impacts — doing the best we can with what we have.”

Maintenance service from 2004 to 2007 provided 24 cycles per month until dropping to 15 from 2008 through 2011 and then to 12 per year as severe cutbacks impacted county services. During fiscal 2013-14, cycles dropped to 10 per year.

“The budget is severely limited,” confirmed Ingrid Gonzalez, aide to Miami- Dade District 11 Commissioner Juan C. Zapata. “Cycles did decrease from 24 maintenance days to 10 per year.”

“That’s unacceptable,” said Martone, who with fellow-residents Backer and Walker is attempting to get better attention for improved roadway maintenance.

“Neighbors are getting upset since the budget cut took place in March,” Backer said, adding that “cutting every 12 weeks or less is just wrong. “We’re not just talking about our part of SW 104th Street, we’re talking about all the county-maintained roads out this way.”

“Those half-dead looking palm trees on the median are not watered except when newly planted, get fertilized once a year,” Walker noted. “All those fronds dropping in the middle of SW 104th Street will sit there much longer as the county reduces its maintenance cycling schedules.”

Working together, the three women in recent years joined to lead a series of protest movements to protect SW 104th Street from what they felt was unnecessary development, while advocating better county service on roads.

Backer, first to object to a $6 million plan to widen SW 104th Street five years ago, was then joined by Walker and Martone in a successful effort that saw the county drop a six-laning project that would have resulted in extensive tree and plant removals.
The trio was among the leaders who protested and won a 2013 battle against Florida’s Turnpike Authority to rebuild a turnpike overpass to
provide speed lane access and exits on SW 104th Street.

Backer also mounted a drive to have community walls reflect single color wherever feasible that resulted in the first project of its kind in Commissioner Zapata’s district when several blocks of graffiticovered walls on Coral Way were repainted with a single neutral color tone.

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