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Coral Gables to hold referendum on pickup trucks

It looks like Coral Gables voters will have the final word on whether the city should allow pickup trucks to be parked overnight in residential driveways.

City commissioners tentatively agreed Wednesday to place a referendum on the issue on the November ballot. Commissioners are scheduled to give final approval to the referendum language next month.

At issue is the Gables’ decades-old law prohibiting the overnight parking of pickup trucks on city streets, including private driveways. At the City Commission’s request, the Planning and Zoning Board studied the law earlier this year and recommended several changes — notably to allow noncommercial pickups to park overnight in private driveways provided that they are backed in and the bed is covered. Overnight parking on public streets or swales would still have been prohibited.

Commissioners rejected these changes 3-2, with Maria Anderson and Frank Quesada dissenting.

“I don’t think these vehicles were considered by the original ordinance,” Quesada said, noting that the law dates to 1960 and still treats all pickups as “commercial” vehicles to this day.

Anderson expressed disappointment after the vote. “I think we could have voted it up or down,” she said. “The changes proposed were reasonable and thoughtful. There was a lack of courage here and I’m highly disappointed.”

Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Jim Cason and Vice Mayor William Kerdyk voted to turn the item over to the voters to decide, but that proposal was voted down 3-2. But after the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation failed, Quesada brought a motion to reconsider the referendum and it passed 3-2, with Ralph Cabrera and Anderson dissenting.

“When it came down to it, for me, it was a matter of aesthetics and preserving the current ordinance,” Cabrera said. “We spend $250,000 defending it and I was one of the members of that commission. I feel bad for the folks who were here trying to get this changed. They have waited a long time and now we’re giving them another small sliver of hope with this consideration of a referendum, and I’m not sure that’s good. I felt we needed to make a decision today. The commission has been criticized for having a lack of a spine and I was here to make a decision. Whether you like me or not, you know where I stand.”

Cabrera was referring to a lawsuit challenging the validity of the pickup truck rules, which the city won, albeit at considerable expense.

The next planned hearing to vote on whether to accept a referendum is scheduled for July 24 but the commission agreed to meet before then to hash out the language. The questions have to be placed on the November ballot by the end of the business day on July 24.

The lawsuit Cabrera referred to began in 2003 when Lowell Kuvin sued the city after he was cited for parking his 1993 Ford F-150 truck on a residential street. In 2011, the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear Kuvin’s appeal, upholding the city’s law.

Kuvin vowed to fight the referendum language and to submit new questions for the ballot.

“Laws do not prohibit you from driving pickups during the day. Does Coral Gables want to send the message, ‘Keep going past the city if it’s past 7 p.m.’? I’ve yet to see any study showing that allowing pickup trucks have a negative value on property values,” he said.

Ani Victoriano, who has collected more than 2,000 signatures over the past year to get the ordinance changed, was upset with Cason, who pushed hard for a referendum and who voted against modifying the ordinance.

“I’m perplexed and confused,” she said. “For a whole year they shepherded us and counseled us and told us what we needed to do, and we did everything and he bailed on us. … It’s all political. It came down to fear, no courage.”

Cason, however, argued that the topic was serious enough to merit a polling of the public, something he said has never been done adequately on the subject.

“We need to look to our bosses, the voters,” he said. “Referendums are not overused. What’s wrong with consulting people? That’s the essence of democracy.”

According to the city’s survey there are approximately 550 registered pickup trucks out of 35,000 vehicles in the Gables, City Manager Pat Salerno said.

Residents on both sides of the issue urged the commission to vote without sending it to a referendum.

“This issue has been brought about ad nauseum. It’s time for a change. No referendum. It’s time for politicians to work. Do the job and get it done,” said resident Wayne Sessions, who supported the changes.

Jim Hartnett, who has lived in his Coral Gables home for 55 years, also did not want a referendum — but for the opposite reason.

“I’m always amused when people move into the City Beautiful because it has good police and fire response time and protective zoning except when it comes to them and they want to change to suit their personal needs,” Hartnett said. “We don’t have to do anything with this ordinance. Do not put this on the November ballot. It will get buried.”

Former Coral Gables mayor Dorothy Thompson, however, pronounced June 6, “D-Day in Coral Gables” and complained that the morning meeting, with other agenda items, was not suitable for such an important issue. “Take it to a referendum and let people speak. We spent a quarter million dollars, so let them speak.”

Under existing rules, pickups are prohibited from parking overnight on city streets or in residential driveways although they may be kept in an enclosed garage. Other large vehicles, such as SUVs, are allowed without restrictions. The city hasn’t enforced its ban since 2003 and had set a date of July 15 to once again begin enforcing the ordinance, but Salerno agreed to extend that date until the referendum item is decided during a second reading.

The July 24 date could be changed, City Attorney Craig Leen said.

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