This morning was the Mayor’s “State of the City” address, which took place at 10:30am at the New World Symphony (I never understood why anyone would schedule a community speech in the morning when everyone is at work!) amidst a “Who’s Who” of Miami Beach politicos.
Here’s who was mingling in the lobby. Lobbyists. Check. Elected officials. Check. Fundraisers. Check. Campaign consultants. Check. Every candidate for County Mayor (Alex Penelas, Steve Bovo, Daniella Levine Cava). Check. Check. Check.
Residents? Not too many. Just a smattering of political activists and community leaders.
The New World Symphony is an impressive venue with impeccable acoustics and lighting, so it was a treat to sit in this lovely auditorium and hear the Miami Beach Police Department Brass Ensemble play, followed by a blessing from Rabbi Gayle Pommerantz of Temple Beth Shalom, and an emotional introduction by City Manager Jimmy Morales.
Morales and Gelber have a “bromance”. Both attended Beach High. Both went to college in Boston. Both are now running the city. By the time Morales was ready to introduce Mayor Gelber, he was teary-eyed and referred to Mayor Gelber as his “brother from another mother.”
At that moment, I felt uncomfortable. We all know there is a Good Ole’ Boys network, but our current Miami Beach government has literally become an exclusive FRATERNITY (and we know how frat boys act when they get together).
Mayor Gelber came onstage, said he was speechless and touched by his “bros” introduction, patted his frat brother on the back and expressed his mutual love.
Mayor Dan then dove into the issues.
He discussed the City’s finances, the $16 million surplus, repeated the fact that millage rates are the lowest ever (but doesn’t explain that property values are the highest ever so millage should be much lower), and how the City is in great shape fiscally. He spoke about the 32 general obligation bond projects, new parks, Miami Beach as a cultural arts hub, and how the Commission is dedicated to enriching all public schools on Miami Beach.
On all these points, I agreed. More parks and green space. Love it! Any funding or enhancement of public education. Fabulous! Finishing the Beachwalk by 2022. Stupendous! Continued investment in the arts. Bring it on! Plant 5,000 trees.Plant them now!
This is pretty much where I stopped agreeing with Mayor Gelber.
On transit, Mayor Gelber said we should build more city centers. Make it walkable. Develop. Build. Take the trolley because 500,000 other people do. Then, confusingly, instead of offering a solution or talking about improving trolleys or making the County more accountable for transit, he paused and changed the subject.
“The casino people want to build a train to Miami Beach. No casinos! No gambling.” and the audience burst into applause. That was transit.
On sea level rise, Mayor Gelber says we are the model. We are forging ahead. We must raise streets, and he pointed to the Sunset Harbour success story.
The policy of raising the streets higher than our homes does not work. One must only look to Sunset Harbour, Palm, and Hibiscus Islands. Sunset Harbor a success? Sunset Harbour requires reengineering! And Palm and Hibiscus Island stand failed as the City scrambles to find a solution. Residents who live next to pumps continue to complain about black sludge polluting Biscayne Bay.
Mayor Gelber didn’t mention any of this, but insisted we will forge ahead with the best science and engineering. Do we really have that? The best science and engineering techniques? Not really. Have we done any risk-based economic analysis? No. Is the community in agreement about the best mitigation practices? No! Do we have more research to do? Absolutely! On this subject, it seemed more like issue spotting rather than offering any real leadership or solution.
Mayor Gelber failed to mention one of our biggest problems—the homeless. He failed to explain why the Director of Tourism and the Economic Development Director both resigned this month. He failed to address the pollution in Biscayne Bay. He failed to discuss the sargassum seaweed. He failed to discuss overdevelopment, and brazenly called the 9 acres of West Lots in North Beach an “eyesore” that he plans to issue development ideas for this coming month.
The chutzpah! Does Mayor Gelber plan to develop every inch of Miami Beach? Was there any public outreach about this? Do we have another battle on our hands? The West Lots require a citywide referendum vote to be developed, but Mayor Dan is smarter than that, and he knows that he only has to lease them out “9” years to “dance” around our current zoning laws.
Mayor Gelber is a very astute politician, and his speech was moving and inspiring for those who are in the fraternity. The rest of us, those who didn’t “rush” Gelber’s frat house, well, we were just left shaking our heads, wanting more than just a dance.