Politifact doesn’t reach down to small municipal elections, so here in South Miami, I find myself in the awkward position of doing my own fact-checking. Here’s my fact-check on the piece by citizen Marie Valenti last week in response to my candidate’s statement published in this paper a few weeks ago.
Valenti answers in the negative each of the questions I posed: First, Are we safer? Valenti says “If you look at all of the crime statistics and isolate those that seriously protect us: no.” However, I don’t know which statistics she is referring to. FDLE data show that citizens in South Miami are significantly safer today than six years ago: Total crime is down 32%, robberies down 100%. That’s not to say crime does not happen here – it does, just less of it. Our Community Policing program is making a difference, and our cops keep getting better at catching the bad guys. Recently they caught the guys who have been breaking into cars.
In answer to my question, “Is the city a good place to live and work?”, Ms. Valenti writes, “The small hometown aura has been under siege by developers getting approval to split lots, build more than is in character with the surrounding area, and in the process, razing lots, annihilating our trees and landscape.” She is partially right here: the recession ended, and people are building again in South Miami. Some of the new projects did split lots and take out old trees, offending our sensibilities, particularly the development at Miller Road and 65th Avenue. The Commission responded by tightening our tree-protection ordinance and developing new rules for lot-splitting. However Ms Valenti is mistaken in asserting that the City is allowing specimen trees to be cut. Our tree ordinance is now being finalized to align with the language of the county ordinance, and in many aspects is more stringent.
She complains that “The wealthier developers get gifted with a parking bonus….”
Maybe she means the senior affordable apartment building going up across from City Hall, which had less parking required than other residential apartments. Studies show that low-income seniors own fewer cars than younger families and more affluent retirees. It’s a reasonable “gift” to low income seniors not to make them pay for parking spaces they won’t use. Speaking of affordable housing, most South Miamians value the diversity of our city and want to make it possible for young families to live here without a trust fund, even as real estate prices rise. The Commission hopes to finally build Madison Square to allow families of modest means to get started in South Miami and enrich our community.
Ms Valenti disparages “The relentless pursuit of this administration to purchase land owned by the FECI for dubious purposes, and the possible commitment of the city taxpayer’s money is unacceptable.” This “dubious purpose” is the creation of the Ludlam Trail, an amazing opportunity to improve the quality of life for thousands of our residents. One of the most common requests I hear when I walk the city is that we build the Ludlam Trail ASAP.
“The sweetheart deals with FPL continue, along with using FPL to install lighting for a privileged few.” This on is Pants-on-fire absurd. FPL has never gotten a sweetheart deal from me, and they did not send me a birthday card this year either. Streetlights are not for the “privileged few” but are available for any street where the residents get together and ask for them.
In answer to my question, “Are we getting a good deal for our taxes?”, she picks at the Murray Park pool and the City’s legal expenses. Here are the facts: by popular demand the pool is now open 6 months of the year rather than the 10 weeks originally budgeted, so the kids get to enjoy it 3 times longer. The cost is proportional. On legal expenses: yes, the City incurred significant legal expenses resolving the SEC and IRS violations committed by a former mayor’s administration. That work is done now. Recently, the City hired outside council with special expertise in land use to help reform antiquated parts of the land development code, such as sections to regulate the flood of requests for lot splits and tree removals. We want to be sure that new development is managed so that it improves our quality of life, and does not erode it.
Finally she quibbles that the City is rebuilding reserve funds rather than ‘giving the budget surplus back to the residents.’ Where do I begin…? First, the fact that we have a surplus even as the tax rate was slightly reduced this year is a sign that our City Manager is doing an excellent job. Second, The Government Finance Officers Association recommended the City increase its reserves, which had been depleted by previous administrations. We don’t know what the future will bring, but the City is and must be well-prepared.
In summary, I am proud of the good work that our Commission and City Staff have done over the last 6 years and I look forward to the opportunity to serve as South Miami’s mayor for the next two.