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8 posts from February 19, 2014

February 19, 2014

Amid ethnic tensions, Miami International Airport project survives


A stalled development at Miami International Airport survived a vote Wednesday at Miami-Dade County Hall that exposed ethnic tensions between a pair of commissioners.

Final negotiations can continue with contractor Odebrecht USA to build Airport City, a hotel and commercial project on about nine acres of county-owned airport land.

Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo tried to delay the agreement, which has been in the works since 2008, by asking Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration to examine potential alternatives for the prime site. Odebrecht USA has been in Bovo’s crosshairs since he learned a few years ago that an affiliate of its Brazilian parent company works in Cuba.

Bovo’s proposal died with a tied vote after a blow-up that followed Commissioner Javier Souto’s suggestion that the board should steer clear of inflaming Cuban-American sentiment, given the Cuban exile community’s role in the county.

“The Latins here pay more taxes per capita than anybody else,” Souto said. “And out of the Latin people, the prevalent community is the Cuban community. If you don’t know that, you don’t know where you’re living.”

Miami is where it is today, he added, “because of the Cubans who came here.”

More here.

Miami to name new city manager


Daniel Alfonso, Miami’s chief financial officer, will replace outgoing City Manager Johnny Martinez.

In an interview Wednesday, Alfonso said he is eager to take on his new role.

“I'm a local kid. It's humbling in a sense. I told the mayor I'm very happy for this opportunity,” Alfonso said.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado will announce the appointment at City Hall Thursday morning.

The appointment of Alfonso will be set for approval by the city commission on Feb. 27. He would start his new post the first week of March.

Current City Manager Martinez announced that he would resign earlier this month after suffering a stroke and discovering he had heart problems. Martinez did not address his health issues when he announced his resignation.

While Martinez recovered from his stroke, Alfonso served as acting city manager.

More here.

Galvano's bill aims to remove a few remaining barriers for developers

Deadwood, S.D., is hardly anyone's idea of a densely populated area.

Yet Florida lawmakers may eliminate state oversight of major projects in areas only slightly more congested than the legendary ghost town. Most alarming for smart growth advocates and environmentalists is that the bill eliminates a requirement that development be steered into areas with existing roads, schools and utilities.

Under SB 372, sponsored by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, large projects would no longer be reviewed by state officials if proposed for counties with a population of more than 300,000. The exemption is already in place for eight counties with populations of 900,000 or more — including Miami-Dade, Hillsborough and Pinellas. The bill would add seven more, including Pasco, Sarasota and Galvano's home county of Manatee.

The bill renders a crucial concept in growth management — density — meaningless. Under the bill, exempt areas would have to hold only 400 people per square mile. Currently, density in Florida is defined as 1,000 people per square mile.

By comparison, Manhattan has 170,000 people per square mile, Tampa has 2,960, Gainesville 1,993, and Deadwood, a town known largely for tumbleweeds, 332.

"It's absurd to refer to that as 'dense,' " said David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club Florida. "That comes to about one house per three square acres. How can anyone possibly call that dense?"

Read story here.

Miami-Dade to make small fixes to voting precincts, instead of drawing new ones


Miami-Dade County, whose unbalanced precincts contributed to long lines at the polls during the last presidential election, will only redraw a handful of them for midterm elections this fall.

Florida’s elections chief and the American Civil Liberties Union urged the county to redraw all of its precincts, which Miami-Dade had planned to do by 2012.

But county commissioners sided with Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, who instead proposed a small number of fixes targeting the most crowded ones this year. The remaining precincts would be redrawn next year.

Full “re-precincting” before the August primary would be “operationally impossible,” Townsley said. Commissioners agreed.

“It’s going to basically create a lot of chaos and confusion in the community,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said. “And we’re going to get blamed for that.”

Under Townsley’s compromise, about 69,000 of the county’s 1.3 million registered voters would be assigned a new precinct before this fall’s midterm elections. That’s about 5 percent of voters, compared to the 55 percent that would be affected by drawing new precincts across the county.

“We are confident that this more moderate approach addresses the challenges that we experienced in the November 2012 election,” she said.

More here.

Has the immigrant tuition bill found a powerful Senate ally?

A bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at Florida universities overcame its first hurdle Wednesday, winning the support of the House Higher Education and Workforce Subcommittee.

But the proposal may have also overcome a more significant obstacle: finding a powerful Senate sponsor.

On Wednesday, Sen. Jack Latvala told the Herald/Times he was “considering assisting" House Speaker Will Weatherford in his efforts to pass an in-state tuition bill.

“I think's the right thing to do,” Latvala said.

He would not provide any additional details on a potential proposal. 

Lawmakers in Florida have debated extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented college students for nearly a decade.

With Weatherford's support, the House is likely to sign off on the measure this year.

HB 851 won unanimous support on the higher education panel.

“We need to not relegate our students to the sidelines of education,” said Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “We need to engage our best and brightest, and we need to afford them the opportunity to further their educational careers.”

The bill has only one committee stop left in the House: the Education Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Miami Republican Erik Fresen.

Moving the proposal through the Senate, however, will be a challenge.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, has expressed reservations about the measure.

Senate Education Chairman John Legg has, too.

“There are a lot of details that would need to be vetted,” said Legg, a Trinity Republican. “We would need to ensure that existing students are not deprived access to education dollars.”

So far, only Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, has filed a Senate bill on the subject. It has not been scheduled for a hearing.

A proposal from an influential Republican like Latvala is far more likely to appear on an agenda. 

Legg did not rule out the possibility of a tuition bill coming before his committee.

"I would have to read it," he said.

Latvala is already sponsoring a measure that would provide partial tuition waivers to veterans.

Poll shows strong Miami-Dade support, especially w/Hispanics, for Vegas-style casinos


About 56 percent of likely Miami-Dade County voters want Las Vegas-style “destination resorts” casinos, according to a new poll that shows solid support across party lines.

Hispanics back the concept the most: 60 percent said they would favor a proposed state constitutional amendment to allow up to three of the proposed casino resorts in South Florida.

The survey was paid for by unnamed gaming interests. The industry has released similar polls with similar results in prior years, only to see their efforts to expand gambling go bust in the Florida Legislature.

This year, however, might be different now that state House Republicans — once a bastion of opposition to expanded gambling — have shown more of a willingness to talk about the issue.

“The story here is that there's a strong level of enthusiasm among Hispanics, among Cuban Americans and even among Republicans in Miami-Dade for high-end resorts like this,” said Tom Eldon, who conducted the survey of 400 of the county’s likely voters. The survey has an error margin of 4.9 percentage points.

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Florida's chief elections official to Miami-Dade County: Draw new voting precincts now


Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state's chief elections official, paid a visit to Miami-Dade County Hall on Wednesday morning to urge the county not to wait on drawing new voting precincts.

Detzner came from Tallahassee not on anyone's invitation, he said, but to weigh in during a County Commission discussion on the subject. Mayor Carlos Gimenez and his appointed elections supervisor, Penelope Townsley, have planned to delay the new precincts for another year.

Counties are supposed to evenly distribute voters once every 10 years. Miami-Dade has not "re-precincted" since 2002.

"It's not a question of if re-precincting should be done in Miami-Dade County, but when," Detzner said. "When is not later, but I recommend now."

New precincts would shift 55 percent of the county's 1.3 million voters. Some commissioners say they fear that would cause widespread confusion.

To that, Detzner said: "Let's not underestimate the voters of Miami-Dade County."

Townsley unveiled a modified plan Wednesday that would move around far fewer voters -- around 5 percent -- this year.

Secret schedule keeps Lopez-Cantera well-hidden

How do you say "invisible" in Spanish? (In-vi-SEE-blay).

After a 10-month search for his new lieutenant governor, Gov. Rick Scott announced the selection of Carlos Lopez-Cantera with much fanfare last month.But since taking office Feb. 3, Lopez-Cantera has been largely out of sight, and Scott's office appears to want it that way.

Lopez-Cantera is the first LG in memory whose daily schedule is being kept private. After waiting nearly two-and-a-half weeks, The Times/Herald asked Tuesday that starting Wednesday, Feb. 19, his schedule be made public. It wasn't.

Communications director Frank Collins and deputy Monica Russell gave no reason why his schedule remains a state secret.

"He'll do a great job," Scott told reporters on Feb. 3. Really? How will we know?

Lopez-Cantera apparently has so little to do that his schedule isn't worth circulating or Scott's people want his activities kept from public knowledge. The lieutenant governor did appear at a Wednesday breakfast with Palm Beach County Republicans and a luncheon with Miami GOP women Tuesday -- events that were publicized by the Republican Party of Florida.

Scott's office routinely provided the schedule of Lopez-Cantera's predecessor, Jennifer Carroll. For comparison, here's her schedule from one year ago today:

8:00am-1:00pm          STAFF AND CALL TIME
Location:         The Florida State Capitol Building
                                    Address:          400 South Monroe Street
                                                            Tallahassee, FL
Location:         The Florida State Capitol Building
1:30pm-2:00pm         STAFF AND CALL TIME
Location:         The Florida State Capitol Building
Location:         The Florida State Capitol Building
2:15pm-5:15pm         STAFF AND CALL TIME
Location:         The Florida State Capitol Building
Location:         The Florida Governor’s Mansion
                                    Address:          700 North Adams Street
                                                            Tallahassee, FL 32301