Tuesday’s Miami-Dade Commission meeting will be a busy one with decisions to be made about acquiring land for a proposed megamall, bringing back fares on Metromover, an expansion for Jackson Health System, a whistleblower employee issue and whether to buy more Metrobuses. Here are the Editorial Board’s recommendations on three of these important agenda items:
Commissioners face an important decision on whether to approve a preliminary transfer of state land to the county to build a 200-acre, $4 billion megamall theme park in the northwest part of the county.
They should take the plunge — cautiously, making clear that they reserve the right to ask questions and demand answers as the project proceeds, and won’t hesitate to call a halt if this turns out not to be in the public interest.
At this point, the public is not being asked to contribute anything. The land is being sold to a private developer at market prices, according to the county. The promise of thousands of new jobs — precisely how many is in question — is nothing to be sneezed at. Anyone who scoffs that they’re only “low-paying jobs” has probably never been in the unfortunate position of being unemployed and desperate for a paycheck.
Still, there are a lot of blanks to fill in. About traffic, transportation and infrastructure. About zoning. About the environmental impact. About collateral costs that the public may have to bear. Who pays and who benefits?
There’s nothing wrong with healthy skepticism. But failing to take a necessary preliminary step on a project with so much economic promise is hard to justify. Let’s move forward. Cautiously.
In 2002, with a promise that Miami-Dade’s transit woes would end, voters were persuaded to pass a half-cent sales tax to boost funding for transit projects. The People’s Transportation Plan promised this perk: Free Metromover service throughout downtown Miami. Until then, the fare had been 25 cents.
But that was then, and this is now. The downtown Miami landscape served by the light-rail system has dramatically changed — literally. High-rises, an arena, museums, theaters and new restaurants dot the Biscayne Boulevard-to-Brickell area that Metromover serves. An estimated 220,000 people now live downtown.
Bravely on Tuesday, Miami-Dade Commissioners Sally Heyman, the main sponsor, and co-sponsor Barbara Jordan, plan to propose their colleagues approve what some consider heresy: Reinstating a fare to ride Metromover.
Proposed fees or rate increases to solve transit problems usually get a resounding No. In the public’s mind, PTP money should pay for it. But PTP money is all but gone. However, the $22 million annually drained from county transit funds to maintain the Miami-based Metromover system is still with us.
Commissioners Heyman and Jordan come from two different directions on why the no-fare for Metromover deal is no longer fair to anyone. Ms. Heyman says the world has changed, and we should not be saddled to a promise no longer viable. Ms. Jordan says the well-heeled are not paying their fair share, while residents of more moderate, or low, income pay full freight on buses and Metrorail. Both make good points.
If the measure fails on Tuesday — other commissioners have indicated they will not back it — the sponsors have a Plan B. They’ll take the issue to the voters in 2016. The commissioners are correct to pursue this new source of transit revenue. The transit system is in such disarray that no one deserves a free ride.
JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM
Jackson Health System wants to fulfill its pledge to broaden its reach in exchange for residents’ support for an $830-million bond issue a few years ago.
The officials who run the public-health complex propose to bring a children’s outpatient clinic, a free-standing emergency room and urgent-care center, physician clinics and other facilities to what they call a “hospital desert” in West Miami-Dade. This is an area of dense and rapid growth, and Jackson rightly wants to provide quick access to healthcare there, especially when minutes can make all the difference in an emergency.
Jackson would develop the project — with room to grow — at what is now a tract of warehouses at 7800 NW 29th St. in Doral. The $38.5 million purchase price would come from JHS’ capital reserves and bond funds. Officials negotiated to lease the property back to the owner for two years, for $250,000 each year. This is below market rate, which means the deal needs a thumbs-up from two-thirds of the commission. That’s just what commissioners should deliver, if not unanimous approval. Not too long ago, Jackson teetered on the brink of bankruptcy. Voters had the confidence to help turn Jackson around. Commissioners should make sure it continues its upward trajectory.