Coral Gables

Coral Gables to review charter items including elections, commission terms and duties

The Coral Gables City commission met 9 a.m. Tuesday. During the meeting, city leaders discussed city charter revisions, unsafe properties in the community and solar power.

The main item

CITY CHARTER: Former Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, chairman of the newly formed Coral Gables Charter Review Committee, told commissioners he plans to look over the charter in the coming weeks. Topics included election cycles, commission terms, the role of the city manager, and duties of the vice mayor.

Vice Mayor Frank Quesada asked Valdés-Fauli to consider raising the residency requirement for candidates.

“It’s currently one year,” Quesada said, adding that he would also like him to look into holding elections on Saturdays instead of a Tuesday.

“I’ve always had the opinion that you would have more voter turnout on a Saturday, But I have no data support that; it’s a theory.”

Mayor Jim Cason asked Valdés-Fauli to revise the charter’s section regarding filling elected official vacancies.

“What happens if somebody dies?” Cason said.

Valdés-Fauli was mayor of Coral Gables from 1993 to 2001. Before that he was the vice mayor and city commissioner. In his new role, Valdés-Fauli is charged with reviewing the city charter — the constitutional document for the city that establishes the underlying structure of Coral Gables’ government.

PASSED ORDINANCES

▪ ABANDONED PROPERTIES: Commissioners unanimously passed an emergency ordinance creating an Unsafe Structures Board. The new board would have the authority to shut down and demolish abandoned properties without having to go through Miami-Dade County’s respective board. And since the county’s board doesn’t meet in the summer, the city wanted to speed the process along.

As of Tuesday, almost a dozen foreclosed properties in the Gables (all non-historic sites) are on the city’s radar for not keeping the being up to code. It’s an issue Coral Gables has struggled with since 2008 when foreclosure crises escalated.

Since then, the city has had trouble getting major banks to keep foreclosed properties in their care up to code.

The new ordinance gives the city “the authority to declare the structure unsafe and to take action to correct emergency conditions or to set the matter before the city’s Construction Regulation Board,” according to a memorandum. “Specifically, the City would be able to require the owner or allow the interested party to repair or demolish the structure, depending on whether the costs of repair exceed half of the value of the property. The City would also have a lien against the property and the owner for its administrative fees and demolition costs.”

▪ SOLAR POWER: The commission unanimously approved an ordinance that would make it easier for residents to use solar power. The new ordinance facilitates the process for city residents to have the options to use the form of energy.

Residents will now have a “menu of options” on the type of energy they wish to use.

“Florida is like No. 1 in the sun category, but we’re behind in using solar power which is cheap and free,” Commissioner Jeannett Slesnick told the Miami Herald. “Coral Gables makes it so hard for people to use it. Now, this will make it easier for residents in going through the permitting process.”

DISCUSSIONS

▪ ZONING BOARD: Commissioners discussed whether or not Planning and Zoning board members should be required to live in the city. Slesnick was adamant about not allowing those who live outside of city limits.

“We have plenty of capable people with experience who live in the city who can take on the position,” Slesnick said.

Commissioner Vince Lago disagreed.

“We don’t want to penalize volunteers for helping us,” Lago said. “It’s a slippery slope.”

Quesada was in between: “It has to come to a balance. You want someone that can move our projects forward. You can’t compromise.”

▪ WEST LAB: City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark discussed possible next steps the city will take regarding West Lab, a public magnet elementary school at 5300 Carillo St.

Because West Lab is a magnet school, it accepts students from all over the county, making it difficult for Coral Gables students to get into a school in their own backyard. About 16 percent of students at West Lab are Coral Gables residents. About half of the more than 500 students on a waiting list for the school are Gables residents.

Swanson-Rivenbark discussed the city possibly entering into preliminary funding and said she has been in talks with Miami-Dade Public Schools, the University of Miami and nonprofits, for the possible expansion and reconfiguration of the school (including the establishment of a Pre-K through 8th grade campus, provided Coral Gables residents receive certain priority considerations).

In October, Coral Gables discussed buying seats to give residents a better shot at being enrolled. The city considered paying the school district a one-time fee of $23,000 per student to establish a separate lottery program for residents who want their children to attend West Lab. As it stood, the proposal is to buy between 22 and 44 seats per grade level.

The next meeting

▪ When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25.

▪ Where: 405 Biltmore Way.

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