Already considered the front-runner to fill the District 1 seat with the Miami City Commission this fall, former State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla is on a campaign to make sure his hometown district gets all the attention it deserves at city hall.
He also believes that District 1 is perhaps the most exciting place to be right now in Miami, because, in his words, “Even though we’re the city’s last frontier for major development and infrastructure enhancement, that just means there’s great opportunity here.”
And he wants to make sure it’s done right.
If you are heading west along the Dolphin Expressway from I-95 to NW 57th Avenue, you’re pretty much cruising through the heart of District 1. Spanning from NW Seventh Street on its southern boundary to NW 36th Street, District 1 is defined mostly by Allapattah, its biggest neighborhood.
With more than 70 percent Hispanics or Latinos of any race residing here, District 1 also includes Grapeland Heights, parts of Little Havana, Flagami, Blue Lagoon, and the area around Jackson Memorial Hospital.
All across the district Diaz de la Portilla points to plenty of spots that are ripe and ready for development, areas that hold great promise for residents and businesses.
Take 36th Street for example. It is the only surface street in Miami that goes from Biscayne Boulevard all the way to Doral. Yet the section that runs through District 1 remains the only part of the entire thoroughfare that is still undeveloped.
“Sidewalks here are in disrepair, as are some of the cross streets, and there is not a lot of places to go out to eat at night,” he said. “The area looks like it’s got some abandonment issues — so obviously that has to change.”
In fact, it’s not until you get to Miami Casino (former Miami Jai Alai Fronton) that there’s a bright and inviting light at the end of the tunnel.
But not so fast, said Diaz de la Portilla, because even here there are disappointing examples of how the city’s planning and zoning team continually struggles to get things right. Backing right up to this major casino and entertainment venue, with plans for further expansion on the drawing board, is an newly built senior-housing complex. Regrettably, one of these things is not like the other.
On the flip side, much farther to the east, the old Fruit & Vegetable District in Santa Clara is set to undergo a rebirth, in the form of a well-planned mixed-use development offering condos, office space, retail, restaurants, and a night-life component that will bring much-needed vitality to the community.
According to Diaz de la Portilla, this major project will have an educational component with 54,000 square feet of learning space. All tolled, the development is expected to create 5,500 construction jobs and 1,700-plus long-term jobs.
“Projects like this underscore the importance of having a city commission in place that understands how to achieve responsible growth and development — someone who fully understands the political process and the needs of the community,” he said, pointing out that his political office of 20 years and his father’s business of more than 42 years are both located here in the very same community.
Diaz de la Portilla sees affordable senior and workforce housing as a key part of the formula for smart growth and prosperity, perhaps even the main ingredient.
“We’ve had the benefit of witnessing how other areas of the city have been re-developed over the years. In other words, I do not believe we want to be a Wynwood Part 2. We need to be careful of any displacement issues affecting the longtime residents here who are the very heart of this community,” he said.
Diaz de la Portilla strongly believes that when developers consider coming into the community to invest in new projects and amenities, they need to know everyone has to pay their fair share.
“Miami has become a tale of two cities,” he added. “One for investors and tourists, and one for the rest of us. We must use our growing tax base to fully fund an Affordable Housing Authority, an independent authority that works directly with HUD, Florida’s Housing Finance Corporation, and Miami-Dade County to address both affordable AND workforce housing.
This is our most urgent need and my top priority.”
Asserting that District 1 needs someone with “requisite experience” to be a city commissioner, he said, “At such a crucial time in our history, we cannot afford to run a city with so many pressing needs, with inexperienced people on the dais, driven by pie-in-the-sky thinking. We need people, who know what they are doing from Day One —and I am that candidate.”
Born and raised in Little Havana, Alex Diaz de la Portilla is one of the four children of Cuban exiles Miguel Ángel Diaz-Pardo and Fabiola Pura de la Portilla-García. His paternal great-grandfather served in the Cuban Senate, while two of his sons served simultaneously in the Cuban House of Representatives. His maternal great-grandfather served as Cuban Minister of Justice.
He attended the University of Miami, and quickly followed in his family footprints by entering the world of politics. Between 1994 and 2000, Diaz de la Portilla served in the Florida House of Representatives, before being elected to the Florida State Senate. Here, he was reelected three times, serving as president pro tempore between 2002 and 2004, and as majority leader from 2008 to 2010.”
“It’s not easy to be a city commissioner, because Miami has such major challenges such as an affordable-housing crisis, sea-level rise, major transportation problems. There are so many important issues before us, all requiring a great sense of understanding to find the right solutions — not just with slogans and political gimmicks, but with facts and experience.”
The City of Miami is holding general elections for the District 1, 2, and 4 seats on the city commission on Nov. 5, with a runoff election scheduled for Nov. 19.
For details on Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s proposed ideas for District 1 or for information about his campaign, call 786-792-8254.