As planning and zoning director for the city of Coral Gables, I would like to dispel the misinformation being disseminated in your letters page. In the latest case, a letter published Sept. 15, Coral Gables resident Vilma Banks writes that she is worried that the city plans to amend its zoning code to allow night clubs and late-night bars in downtown to “please the younger generation.”
This letter echoes the unfounded statements made by former mayor Don Slesnick in a letter published Aug. 25. It is well known among the writing profession that the truth seldom catches up with an untruth. Therefore it is important to respond once again.
We had hoped that the response from our development services director, Jane Tompkins, who oversees my office, would have set the record straight. As she so aptly put it, the former mayor’s “misrepresentations, along with the statement that the city would allow ‘flashing neon signs and 5 a.m. closing times,’ are akin to someone setting a fire and, then, pulling the alarm to save the day.” In her letter, Banks seems to be answering that false alarm.
As the city’s planning and zoning director, I can assure Banks that her concern that the city would forget “ ‘elderly’ citizens who [want] to keep the city safe from wild parties that may disrupt … our charming city” is unfounded. There is no plan to amend the zoning code to allow “wild parties” or disruptive uses.
In fact, the city remains strongly committed to our seniors. To meet the demands of this growing population, the City Commission has recently funded Coral Gables’ first full-service Senior Center, filling a need that had long been neglected.
Our goal is to keep the city’s downtown a beautiful place of world-class sophistication, preserving our city’s heritage while enhancing its beauty — creating a place of lasting value.
We can only hope these facts will catch up with the untruths being spread.
Ramon Trias, Planning & Zoning Director, City of Coral Gables
A tax by any other name
The city of Coral Gables, like several other municipalities, is resorting to games in order to claim that they are holding the line on taxes and budget. However, over the past few years residents have seen new and increasing “fees” that allow the City Commission and the City Manager to move tax receipts to areas of their interest. The latest is the increase in the fire fee from $50 to $70, which frees up $800,000 of tax revenues for other uses. This would be an interesting sleight of hand if done by a magician, but it doesn’t seem appropriate in the context of city financing.
For sure, some city services seem appropriate as fees. For example, building permits or trash-collection costs should be allocated to those residences using the services. But fire protection? Is this not a general-interest service that is provided, like police protection, across the community? Why should this be funded in part or in whole differently from any other basic city service. The answer is simple — "because we can!" And, by doing so, we get to claim holding the line on taxes, if anyone believes this story.
If it looks like a tax, and smells like a tax, then it is a tax. Come on, commissioners, let’s be honest with the residents and stop playing games.
Phil Rinaldi, Coral Gables
Gables pensions are too generous
Taxes will rise, service will fall in Coral Gables. The cause? Retirements. Our assistant city manager just retired at age 48 – with over $100,000 a year for life.
The fire department has a number in the same situation. I can only remember six fires now – kitchen fires – in the last 40 years. Rescue will cost you $500.
One known leader reportedly said Gables is rich, raise taxes.
Were it not for the arrival of Pat Salerno and Jim Cason the situation would be worse.
We are faced with big questions; how many cops – how many firefighters?
Do you want to pay for the garbage and trash pick-ups we enjoy?
Charles Girtman , Coral Gables
South Miami going in wrong direction
There are many complaints about the shabby appearance of the city of South Miami. One commissioner often speaks about our city’s bad reputation. There was a lawsuit relating to the municipal parking garage, where the citizens had to pay huge sums of money because legal mistakes? A Community Redevelopment Agency plan, to fight poverty, uses millions of dollars, yet in its 15 years of existence, has produced no demonstrable relief from poverty. One former commissioner’s excuse about the lost millions was “well, it’s gone, it’s just all gone.”
Another ugly lawsuit from a greedy developer just settled. The plaintiffs used South Miami’s alleged but unmeasured, need for affordable housing to bypass zoning laws. An obscure Florida statute and intimidation were applied to foist a concrete monstrosity on us. The citizens were left in the dark about the lawsuit but suddenly were told to approve the project or “we’ll have to pay huge legal fees.”
South Miami residents are most generous to our poor, yet, as the latest census shows, our poverty levels have increased, rather than gone down. Developers flock to the city with funding for affordable housing that is obtained through political gaming and methods that lack transparency.
Citizens have asked for years to get a proper accounting of the programs that gobble up millions of dollars, use high priced staff and consultants and never show any results. Yet, when a commissioner asked for a proper accounting of the funding she was snubbed by her colleagues on the dais. Honestly, if all that wasted money was put in a pot, we could probably buy a home and an education for all our poor and be done with it, and keep our zoning intact.
All these machinations keep our high-priced managerial and legal staff busy. And that is part of the reason why our parks , neighborhoods and downtown looks shabby and why our poverty keeps growing in unbridled ways, instead showing improvement. Poverty Inc. is on the move in South Miami and filling developers and landowner’s pockets while leaving the residents and hard working taxpayers frustrated and angry.
Yvonne Beckman, South Miami