This November, residents of one of Miami-Dade’s newest cities will choose who will sit in two council seats and decide if the city will issue its first ever bond.
And they’ve been pressing the would-be candidates for their solutions to the city’s top problems — crippling gridlock traffic and “the bad smell.”
The lingering odor from the neighboring Medley landfill and the county’s Covanta Waste Energy Facility often waft through the west side of town, leading to a tripling in odor complaints since 2014.
“It smells like opening a trash can that’s been sitting there a few days,” said Pedro “Pete” Cabrera, the seat 2 incumbent defending his spot against three newcomers — Liliana Campa, Jose Lorenzo and Carlos Pereira.
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The odor is so overwhelming neighbors complain they’ve had to cancel barbecues and outdoor events, but because the plant is outside the city’s jurisdiction, options to quench the stench are limited.
Outdoor time and the quality of the city’s green spaces are top issues for the 15-year-old city with a population expected to crest 80,000 people by 2020.
On this ballot, residents will also decide whether to authorize the city to issue its first bond, a $150 million affair that would expand the city’s parks and amenities. A typical homeowner would pay an extra $139 a year in property taxes for the next 30 years. If the measure passes, construction on the projects would begin around 2022.
Doral Central Park, at 82 acres the city’s largest park, would take the lion’s share of the bond. That $128 million would buy a 70,000-square-foot indoor recreation center, swimming pools, an aquatic facility, a skate park, sand volleyball courts, a playground, a dog park, basketball courts, tennis courts and a kayak/canoe/paddleboard launch into the lake.
Cabrera, like most of the candidates, did not take a stance on the bond and said “it’s up to the voters to decide.”
If elected, this term would be Cabrera’s last for at least four years, as he’d run into the city’s term limits. He’s raised more money than any candidate in either race combined — almost $63,000, according to public records.
Cabrera, 60, said the city is working with the county on creative solutions to traffic problems, including possible reversible lanes and express lanes. Cabrera sees the main solution to the city’s traffic woes as more mixed-use land development, including in the city’s warehouse districts. He said traffic consultants have told the city mixed-use properties bring less traffic than office buildings, so he supports more development in the city.
“I know some people think it’s overdevelopment, but it isn’t,” he said.
One of his opponents, 44-year-old Uber driver Carlos Pereira, criticized Cabrera’s donations from developers and vowed that if he were elected, the city would not be “employed by special interests.”
Pereira, a Venezuelan activist known for his ventriloquist act with Gochirila the puppet, was one of the leaders of the protest of a Miami Turkish restaurant owned by famous chef Nusret Gökç (or “Salt Bae”) after the chef posted videos of himself serving a lavish steak dinner to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in his Istanbul restaurant.
Recently, Pereira posted videos on his campaign Facebook page accusing Sunshine Corp., a local fuel distributor, of discriminating against black, Hispanic or Democratic city council candidates because he wasn’t allowed to place his campaign sign on the property. The president of Sunshine told el Nuevo Herald Pereira’s claims were “ridiculous” and he would have been allowed to leave his sign there if he weren’t rude to the gas station attendant.
This is Pereira’s second run for a Doral council seat. He also ran for State House District 105 in 2014, which covers Doral. He lost to incumbent Rep. Carlos Trujillo.
If elected, Pereria wants to establish a set of “family first” policies to encourage more families to move to and stay in Doral, including more affordable housing.
“We are changing from a family city to a student, young people and non-permanent immigrant city. Why? Because three, four or five people rent the same apartment because one family can’t afford that,” he said. “If we don’t [ensure affordability], in the future we will be Miami Beach.”
Another contender for seat two is Liliana Campa, a former Miss Venezuela beauty pageant winner who runs the Delirio Fresh Co. restaurant chain with her husband, Carlos D’Alessandria.
D’Alessandria, her campaign treasurer, was found guilty of organized fraud for $50,000 or more in 2012 and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison, el Nuevo Herald reported. D’Alessandria told the paper he bought a condominium in Doral in 2005 for someone in Venezuela and signed the paperwork with his name. In 2009, the property lost value and the Venezuelan owner stopped paying the mortgage, he said, so the bank came after him. D’Alessandria said he served eight months in prison and paid the county $115,000 in restitution.
“He made mistakes as surely as most people have done. He made a bad decision and paid the consequences,” Campa told the paper.
Campa, 34, declined an in-person or telephone interview with the Miami Herald after the el Nuevo Herald story was published and answered questions via email.
She said city officials continue to “spin their wheels” on the traffic problem without coming up with any solutions. Her ideas include opening new roads and improving the city’s low-quality roads, rather than focusing on public transportation, which she said isn’t a feasible option for most residents.
The final candidate for seat two, 51-year-old Republican house flipper Jose Lorenzo, did not respond to multiple requests for comment or a photo.
Seat four, vacated when council member Ana Maria Rodriguez left to run for state House District 105, has three contenders — Alexis Acosta, Digna Cabral and Belinda Leon.
If elected, Acosta, a 42-year-old employee of Chase bank, wants to add an express lane for the city’s free trolley system and more covered trolley stops to encourage people to take public transportation. He would ask the waste facilities to stop burning on the weekends and on holidays so residents could enjoy time outdoors.
He wants to see lower costs for park activities and more city-funded programming for children with special needs.
“It will encourage families to stay here,” he said.
Digna Cabral, a 41-year-old research analyst for the University of Miami’s Department of Neurology, ran against Councilwoman Christi Fraga in 2016 and lost with only 25 percent of the vote. This time around, she has out-raised her opponents significantly. She has $25,000 in the bank, with the next most moneyed candidate, Belinda Leon, with $11,000.
Cabral was president of her homeowners association, a board member of the community development district of her housing community, president of her parent teacher association, a working member of the family/community engagement committee for Florida PTA and a Sunday school teacher.
Cabral wants more free trolleys during peak traffic hours and better synchronization of traffic lights.
Belinda Leon, a 48-year-old education consultant, also wants to see expanded use of the free trolley. She wants to change the timing of the trolley’s stops to better accommodate the population that rides it the most — high school students. Leon said she would implement more city-funded programming for teens and start offering internships with the city as well.
Leon would also like to see the trolley or another shuttle system used to truck office workers at major corporations in town, like Carnival Corp., to downtown Doral for lunch to reduce the cars on the road during the lunchtime crush.
She plans to tackle the traffic menace with “low hanging fruit” policies like implementing Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’ “smart” traffic signals, which sense the number of cars at each intersection and adjust the timing of the lights accordingly.
“We’re at the point in Doral where I think we need one on every block,” she said.