Archive for the 'Everglades' Category

Politics in Miami-Dade

In what could only be judged as an effort to stymie opposition on the most contested land use issue in the region, the Miami-Dade Planning and Zoning department has scheduled a public hearing for November 3, regarding an application to amend the County’s Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP).  The hearing, of course, entails the expansion of the Urban Development Boundary for the development of a “new mixed-use community” on 961.15 acres, also known as the Parkland Development.  The likely horizontally mixed-use development (sprawl) would incorporate residential (cookie cutter houses), commercial (strip shopping centers), institutional (schools deemed necessary by county code requirements), and civic uses (streets?).

Besides the obvious detrimental ecological concerns posed by opening up further land outside the urban development boundary, I am troubled by the timing of this public hearing – only one day before the most hotly contested presidential race to date.  The timing is uncanny for such a hot buttoned issue within Miami-Dade’s local politics.  Moreover, amid the deepest economic recession in recent history, the precipitous decline of the local housing industry, and the tumultuous wake of the sub-prime lending mortgage crisis i must wonder why anyone would push for a public hearing.  Looks like its politics as usual in Miami-Dade…

Small victories…

Amid all the talk about the County Commission’s massive transit failure, comes a little bit of happy news. Last week the Commission approved the purchase of approximately 100 acres of land beyond the UDB to be placed under the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program. While 100 acres is not a lot, every little bit contributes to a green belt around the County that will perpetually hold development and buffer the Everglades from existing developed areas.

To date, the County in partnership with the South Florida Water Management District, the State of Florida, & other funding partners have aquired approximately 18,190 Acres of land throughout Dade County since the inception of the Environmentally Endangered Lands Program.

The Foresight Dilemma – We Have None

Apparently we were having an HTML error due to the recent wordpress software upgrade.  We apologize for the inconvenience and incomplete emails that were sent out this morning.

Let me see if I am reading this sequence of events correctly:

  1. Miami-Dade County commissioners allowed development to occur adjacent to Kendall-Tamiami Airport.
  2. Thousands of cookie cutter homes were built, some in locations far too close to the airport boundary (you all remember how certain developers took certain commissioners on fishing trips to Mexico  because they are so kind in exchange for a reduction in the airport buffer zone…)
  3. Knowing of the airport’s existence, families still moved into these houses.
  4. Residents are now complaining of the noise caused by the airport and want restrictions placed on flights.

I don’t know about you, but I’m left scratching my head on this one.  How stupid are we?  One of the proposed “solutions” is to move more of the training flights out to the Dade-collier transition facility in the middle of the everglades. In case you aren’t aware, in the late 1960’s some of our legislative geniuses laid the foundation to create the world’s largest airport (Everglades Jetport) in the middle of the Florida Everglades.  Luckily, only one of the airports proposed 6 runways (a 10,500 ft behemoth nonetheless) was actually constructed before environmentalists (rather the cancellation of the SST aircraft, the main reason why the airport was conceived from the beginning) convinced the government that the airport would cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem.

I digressed as usual, but am I the only one in complete disbelief?  This reminds me of the other geniuses in Kendall who never realized that existing rail rights-of-way like the CSX or FEC corridor could actually once again be used for regular rail service…

But residents are worried about the dangers associated with testing equipment in such a highly populated area.

It has even led homeowners to question whether it’s time for the Federal Aviation Administration to revisit airport guidelines now that the landscape around the airport has significantly changed from mostly empty fields to hundreds of homes.

Once again, this chain of events is the result of developers controlling our land-use regulations.  Land-use planning is pro-active, why is it that in Miami-Dade County we’re always left cleaning up other people’s messes?

The swath of land centered in the image below was a former airfield in Pinecrest, forced to close due to encroaching development, could Kendall-Tamiami experience this fate one day?  How about Homestead General Aviation Airport or even Dade-Collier?

More Bad News…

The Herald is reporting that the county commission overturned Mayor Alvarez’s veto in favor of moving the Urban Development Boundary for a Lowe’s at 8th St and 137th Ave and a retail center at Kendall Drive and (gulp), 167th Avenue (i.e. the Everglades). More sprawl, more self-interests, more incompetence. We’ll have lots more on this later.

Mid Week News

  • Tri-Rail carried more passengers in 2007 than in 2006. The overall system ridership is up 31% since march 2006…
  • City of Miami is working on identifying vacant lots to be used for park space…
  • The County Commission is trying to get the state and federal government to kick in hundreds of millions of dollars for metrorail expansion, everglades restoration, river dredging, pedestrian overpasses, and a regional homeland security hub among other projects… We’ll cover this in more depth later today…
  • Office vacancy rates continue to decline
  • Bike Blog presents a comprehensive wish list for 2008 Bike facilities…

Mayor Alvarez Holds the Line

We some how bypassed this article last week, but, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez vetoed commission recommendations to approve a number of projects outside of the UDB. The veto will likely stand given that the commission lacks the 2/3 majority to override the mayor, presuming that none of the commissioners switch sides…


“If Miami-Dade moves outside the UDB, it will affect our delivery of services and strain already taxed resources,” Alvarez wrote. “Police and fire rescue services would be spread over a greater area, resulting in longer response times due to greater distances and road congestion.”

Meanwhile, on the losing end of the veto, Lowes’ attorney Juan Mayol laments about not having short drives to buy plywood:


“We are hopeful that the county commissioners will continue to recognize that these hard-working families are tired of overcrowded schools and long drives to buy such simple things as plywood or a garden hose.”

How often are people in Kendall buying plywood or garden hoses? Are these necessary commodities in suburbia? Does anyone else appreciate how he combined critical issues (traffic and education) with such an asinine comment? In any case, I’m glad to see the line will be held till 2009 at the earliest, expanding the UDB, contrary to Mayol’s belief, will further strain our transit infrastructure, water resources, and economy to impermissible levels.

Friday News

Energy and oil is the dominant theme this week, however the articles about the Everglades and affordable housing in Miami are very troubling.

  • NY Times: Efforts to save the everglades are faltering
  • Newsday: Gas prices affecting community, car use
  • NY Times: Rising demand for oil provokes new energy crisis
  • KITV Honolulu: Gas prices have reached $5 per gallon in parts of Cali
  • Miami Herald: Housing crunch (lack of affordable housing) hitting low-income residents hard
  • NY Times: High gas prices and long commutes having an impact on the sprawl market

News Briefs

Local News:
  • Palm Beach County is looking to expand water Taxi service throughout the county to create multiple water transit hubs at key coastal communities. I can’t really foresee a water taxi service solving any traffic problems in any of the three counties until considerable advances are created on land-borne transit services first. As it is the existing service serves mainly as a sight-seeing tour, accomplishing little for our daily traffic woes…
  • The Everglades Restoration plan is behind schedule and quickly rising in cost, now estimated at nearly $20 Billion. Meanwhile, development continues to encroach as we keep decimating our novel ecosystem…
  • Merrett Stierheim has the right idea, Miami-Dade severely needs a reputable higher-learning research institution. Problem is, who is going to show the initiative to get such a monumental project moving?
  • One word: Recentralization. It’s happening and it is severely needed. Forget the suburban office digs in Doral, Blue Lagoon, or BFE (Ryder.) The time to create an urban, vibrant, and useful CBD is now…
  • Bids will be accepted soon to find a contractor to build the US Southern Command’s 700,000 square foot expansion in Doral. We’re working on finding a rendering of the new facility, designed by the local office of Leo Daly Architects.
  • New seats coming soon to the Gusman…
Blog News:
  • SOTP addresses the lame ordinance which bars limo companies and private car services from picking up passengers within an hour of their initial request…
  • Miami-Forum shows some “love” for the imbecilic public works department of Miami Springs…
  • Riptide 2.0 discusses the integration of Bikes with Miami 21…
National News:
  • How do you stop Sprawl? You Sue the cities which don’t comply with smart growth patterns, that’s how…
  • MARTA Plans a system wide review and possibly overhaul to make daily transit operations run smoother…

Environmental News

Herald: Suburban sprawl threatens Lake Okeechobee.

Legacy of Incompetence and Self-Interest Continues to Plague Miami

An article in the Herald today brings to light a very serious issue that has significant consequences for Miami-Dade’s future. According to insiders and the Herald, it is looking like the recommendations from the South Miami-Dade Watershed Study and Plan, which include holding the Urban Development Boundary and encouraging most development along the US-1 corridor to stop further sprawl, may be ignored by officials who either think they are experts or who just don’t care about anyone but themselves.

Vice-Chairman Dennis Moss was quoted, “It’s not an easy situation and folks are not going to give in in terms of their philosophies”.

Here’s a philosophy: We’re all screwed if the recommendations from the watershed study are ignored. Why? According to the study:

  • The South Miami-Dade Watershed region is expected to nearly double in population by 2050, going from 791,000 in 2000 to approximately 1, 500,000 in 2050.
  • The Watershed cannot continue to grow as expected without substantial consequences to its water and natural resources, quality of life, and community characteristics
  • The Watershed Plan calls for a Smart Growth (which we’ve preached for over a year ad nauseam) approach to accommodating future population growth; however, if the the alternative (sprawl or current) approach continues the watershed area will negatively and irreversibly be changed
  • The waters of Biscayne Bay will be subject to substantial increases in water pollution
  • 3/4 of our agricultural areas will be lost to sprawling, low-density residential subdivisions
  • Traffic congestion will increase significantly
  • The effectiveness of the $8 billion Everglades restoration program will be greatly reduced
  • It is estimated that the “sprawl scenario” will cost nearly $8 billion more for infrastructure than the recommended Watershed Plan between now and 2050, which does not even include substantial environmental costs (who’s going to be funding most of this unnecessary, unsustainable infrastructure? Mostly taxpayers.)
As you can see, the alternative to the Watershed Plan is wholly unsustainable. How could any politician unequivocally dismiss such an obvious and significant plan to accommodate future growth? Look no further than our County Commission and the Governmental Operations and Environment Committee (GOEC), chaired by none other than sprawl-champion Natacha Seijas.

Seijas, easily the worst of all the county commissioners (and that is really saying something), who is lucky to even have a job after threatening a fellow commissioner’s life during session in the County Chambers, is leading the charge to foil implementation of the watershed study. It shouldn’t be of much surprise to citizens, given that she is profoundly connected to developers and pro-sprawl interests as evidenced by her consistent voting record to move the UDB line and quotes like “I don’t see why we need to be creating an environment for them (Manatees) to continue”.

Her opposition is significant because she is the chairwoman for the GOEC, which oversees urban growth policies and monitors the utilization of our natural resources. What’s she saying?

“I don’t think this study should be used to do anything (involving major land-use decisions)”.

OK, so nearly $4 million, six years of research, and perhaps the future of our region may be down the drain if she gets her way. Some Commissioners are talking about potentially adopting some aspects of the Plan but ignoring the land-use aspects. Duh. It doesn’t work like that. ALL OF THESE ASPECTS ARE INTERCONNECTED.

This is the type of business that makes my blood pressure boil because the incompetence and special interest pandering is so blatantly obvious, shameless, and completely detrimental to the area’s future. This is the same type of incompetence and slipshod politics that has sadly become standard practice for many of our elected officials. It has become obvious that expert opinion, research, and administrative work are almost entirely irrelevant in this county, because our elected officials instead use their own pet theories, intuition, and self-interest to make decisions that will negatively affect the area for many generations to come. Frankly, it is not only unprofessional, but completely embarrassing.

Paving over the Redlands, One Farm at a Time

I went to Knaus Berry Farm recently in the Redlands to savor Miami’s best milkshake and to buy some fresh, locally grown produce. Although the drive is long, the tastes and sweets are well worth the effort. I’m no longer as phased as I used to be about the amount of new development I encounter along the way. Our land use is absurd and we’re swallowing precious farm land (and the whole Miami-Dade farming industry) at an alarming rate. Part of becoming a sustainable city includes retaining enough farmland so that a considerable amount of our produce can be grown locally. As it pertains to agriculture, sustainable describes farming systems that are “capable of maintaining their productivity and usefulness to society indefinitely (Definition via National Agricultural Library.) The costs (and tastes) of locally grown produce are far superior to that of any import and the energy wasted in transportation is much less than conventional methods, making the whole process greener for our local economy. I’ve digressed…
So, we’re managing to pave over our precious farm land at an astonishing rate. Cut-rate houses are rising on lots far too small for the house size and whole neighborhoods are springing up around a road network better designed to handle cattle and tractors rather than soccer moms and minivans. The whole thing is quite a mess really and it’s rather disappointing to experience. The lack of infrastructure is incredible and the fact that so much development has already occurred or has been approved is quite disturbing. It’s only a matter of time before strip shopping centers prevalent in America as Suburban eyesores begin to dot the landscape, bringing with them total chaotic growth and congestion.

I was most in shock to see the size of the houses rising beneath the massive NBC radio guyed mast tower. These houses make the houses built in the 1970’s in cocaine alley look like shacks (no, I’m not implying that these houses too are funded by illegal activities.) The fact that anyone would spend the kind of money to construct these multiple thousand square feet houses miles from nowhere was shocking. I took a few pictures which failed to capture the magnitude of these houses, but luckily I found an ebay listing for the lots next door, selling for over $800k and touting the absurd immense houses rising in full view of the property. Here are some pictures and quotes from the listing:

BUILD YOU DREAM MANSION OR TWO ON THIS 5 ACRE PARCEL OFFERED AT $819,000.00, LOCATED IN MIAMI (REDLAND), FLORIDA. INVESTOR’S DREAM! OWNER FINANCING AVAILABLE

MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR MANSIONS ON EVERY CORNER! THIS VACANT AND FLAT 5 ACRE LOT IS ZONED AGRICULTURE AND YEARLY TAXES ARE $244.00. INCOME FROM PROPERTY CAN EARN $250,000/YEARLY IF USED AS A NURSERY, ACCORDING TO NEIGHBORING NURSERY OWNERS. THE LOT ALSO ALLOWS ZONING FOR TWO HOMESITES TO BE BUILT, AS SEEN IN NEIGHBORING PROPERTIES. PROPERTY IS LOCATED MINUTES FROM EXECUTIVE AIRPORT, PRIVATE GOLF&COUNTRY CLUB, MIAMI-HOMESTEAD MOTORSPORTS SPEEDWAY & THE FLORIDA KEYS.
The first of several hideous houses which initially caught my eye, I believe the architecture style is more commonly referred to as gaudy Miami or just plain ugly. This house rests just yards away from the base of the guyed mast and seemingly straddled between two of the anchoring cables. These people will be in shock the day they decide to sell this house and realize it isn’t worth anything near what they expected…
This was just the entrance to the house across the street. King Louis the XIV can be found somewhere in the chateaus (yes plural) in the background… Some of the surroundings, just waiting to be bulldozed and have some more McMansions or “affordable housing” built upon them…Another house, designed in the gaudy Miami style, still under construction…McMansions piled upon each other despite the amount of land available nearby… The ebay listing was far too childish and poorly written to be taken seriously, “Oh, Mansions!” but the construction occurring in this part of the county is undeniably genuine. The area will continue to explode if growth continues to be unchecked, bringing it with it more of the same suburban sprawl that plagues most of our city. The county will have to fund massive overhauls in the area to deal with the influx of residents while damage to the everglades ecosystem nearby and the disappearance of Miami’s farming will continue at an alarming rate unless we pro actively take measures to heed the advancement of greedy development…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Close Encounters with the Turtle Kind

Drought Could Cripple Everglades’Life… You don’t say… As the drought continues (yes, despite today’s downpour and hail storm there is still a drought) our ecosystem will continue to feel the pressure of our encroachment and insatiable thirst for more land. It’s easy to surmise that as water levels continue to recede (partly due to our absurd water use) typical everglades’ natives will begin to explore their once former habitat (your backyard) in search of water, food, and other necessities.

It’s funny how things happen. After reading this article by the Herald this morning, I went for a drive to run a couple of errands. Along a two lane street nearby, I encountered a few cars, stopped in the middle of the road for no particular reason. No particular reason happened to be a fairly large Florida Cooter (Turtle) trying to cross the street. So, being the animal lover that I am, I pulled over and darted across the road to move the little guy along (I have a couple of turtles of my own, so that helped.) Standing on the grass looking around, once the traffic flow had resumed, I noticed his retention pond home had dried out and he was crawling along in another direction in search of some new watering hole, which I knew didn’t exist. So, I did the next best thing and put the dry turtle in a box and drove to a nearby lake where I released him, back into some relative safety…

Animal encounters such as these are going to become more common place. Alligators will soon flock to the rock quarries many South Florida sprawl-land houses are built around in search of better conditions and more space. Meanwhile, people will likely wonder what these critters are doing in their backyards. They will be seen as nuisances, yet few people seem to understand that we encroached on their land and not vice versa…

The water restrictions in place are long overdue and are finally becoming even more stringent. Our region has had an insatiable, virtually unrestricted use of our water resources for far too long. We should not be squandering one of our most precious resources on lawn watering (30 MGM, for a Golf Course, are you kidding me?) or other similar petty activities. Sprawl can be partially attributed to this careless use of our resources, with its larger concrete footprint; water runoff doesn’t circulate into the aquifer like it should. Many home owners in sprawl-land, in search of that delusional “American Dream” feel the need to keep their lawn green. Water restrictions aren’t new; it’s just a blatant signal that we need to recreate a truly sustainable community…

Transit Tuesday

Alright, It’s about time we got back on Track with some Transit News:
  • Transit Miami is now regularly featured as part of the Planetizen Radar. To access the radar, there is a link in the blog technology section of the sidebar on the lower right hand side.
  • It some how slipped passed me, but our sly commissioners approved a plan to build 940 homes west of Florida City. The project aims to encroach on the Everglades further, induce further sprawl, and build useless homes which are completely nonfunctional to the working class of Miami. The project claims it will be building “work force housing” priced from $160,000 to $220,000 yet it will be situated far from business centers, public transit, public health and education infrastructure, and other necessary functions typically found near true affordable housing development. So far the only people this project has been affordable for are the developers, which likely purchased the land at reduced costs…Good luck with the daily traffic…
  • Jeffrey Bradley, a Transit Miami reader and supporter and member of the Alliance for Reliable Transport has started a new blog: Bus Stop. Bus Stop will cover “All things Transit on the Beach and Beyond.”
  • Next time your looking to take a cruise, skip out on the Royal Caribbean or Carnival and hop aboard a freighter. Yes you read correctly, apparently its a growing trend to ride along with Maersk and Sea Land Containers in near isolation…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Climate Change and South Florida

Photo Source: Miami Herald via Green Peace, AP File 2006

Our global warming crisis continues to become more foreboding. Today the Herald reported findings from a recent study that predicts serious local climate change in South Florida’s future. According to the study, which is one of the first to predict local climate change stemming from global warming, by 2100 South Florida will likely have a novel climate that is warmer, drier, and unlike any other on Earth. Among the findings:

  • Mean temperatures in South Florida could rise by 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer/wet season (+ 3 ½ degrees in the winter/dry season)
  • High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90’s can be expected during the summer/wet season
  • Much drier conditions: 3 ½ fewer inches of rainfall during the wet season (Note: Drier does not mean less humid)
  • Even if worldwide action reduces greenhouse gas emissions, 4-20 percent of the world’s land could experience novel climates
These findings have grave implications for South Florida. As I noted above, a “drier” climate does not mean a less humid climate. High temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s coupled with high humidity would make it feel like 110-120 degrees based on heat indexes. Also to consider, the 5-7 degree rise is in mean temperature, which is the average temperature over a 24-hour period. For the last 30 years, Miami’s mean temperature has averaged about 83 degrees during the peak of the summer/wet season. If the predictions are true, then our average daily temperatures could be as high as 90 degrees! Imagine stifling days with highs of 95 and lows of 85. Factor in humidity, and even our nights would feel as warm as 100 degrees!

All of this does not even consider the potentially catastrophic effects of rising sea levels, increased frequency of major hurricanes, drought, and the decimation of the Everglades. It is now critical that we begin making major changes in the way we live and the way our cities function. Given the implications of climate change in South Florida, you would think that our region would be on the leading edge of sustainable urban planning. Sadly, as we all know, this is not currently the case. Yes, Mayor Diaz should be complemented for his green building proposal, Miami 21, and the Miami Streetcar initiative, but this barely scratches the surface of sustainability. We need a progressive, regional effort to significantly reduce our dependence on the automobile, boost alternative transportation modes, and design sustainable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. We cannot wait any longer to act.

Miami Environmental Policy, Striving for Last Place

I came across the Earth Day Network’s Urban Environment Report which took the time to score and rank 72 major urban areas in the United States based on environmental policy and sustainability principles. Needless to say, Miami came in a spot better than I anticipated; 71st place.

View City results

About Earth Day Network…