An initiative born in the highly engaged activist community of Miami Beach scored a victory Wednesday when commissioners agreed to increase the city’s public outreach when public and private projects affect neighbors.
Billed as the “Residents’ Right to Know,” the ordinance was unanimously approved by commissioners. The city will be required to email resident associations and individuals who request to be notified when public or private projects might affect their quality of life. That could range from public infrastructure improvements to private real estate developments that require city approvals.
Mark Samuelian, former president of the citizen group Miami Beach United and a commission candidate this year, worked on the change with Mark Needle, the group’s director, and the city’s legal staff to bring the change to City Hall. He told commissioners that the resolution reflects an engaged citizenry that wants to know about what’s going on in their neighborhoods.
“These stakeholders are organized, professional, committed, and aware — the ultimate resource for city government and the optimal engine for change,” he said. “But to be effective participants, they must have information and timely opportunity to weigh in on projects that affect them.”
Samuelian said Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez played an important role as she sponsored the legislation and pushed it forward from day one.
“She was with it from the beginning,” he said. Commissioner Michael Grieco was the co-sponsor.
A parade of residents from several neighborhoods across the city spoke in support of the resolution before the vote. City officials already set up public meetings for certain high-impact construction projects, such as the installation of stormwater pumps to improve drainage.
“I visualize it as when there’s a transit project or a streetscape or something going with a park and some changes are going to be made in that park, I’m going to get a notice that informs me about that,” said Michael Barrineau, the citizens group’s current president.
The city has already rolled out a tool residents can use to stay on top of meeting agenda items that pertain to them. Through mbresidentconnect.com, anyone can set up alerts for keywords. The system scours meeting agendas for the keywords and emails participants a list of links about those items.
With Residents’ Right to Know, officials will further refine the city’s noticing process so that not only are residents messaged when items are placed on agendas, but also when real estate projects make changes that won’t be discussed at a public hearing but would still be of interest to neighbors. Administrative approvals that don’t rise to the level of public hearings would still be sent out to citizens.