Five of the seven candidates for Miami-Dade County mayor discussed many issues important to Miami Lakes residents during a forum held in town.
The event, at Ana G. Mendez University on July 17, was livestreamed on the town’s social media sites.
Town resident Ambrosio Hernandez, anchor of Univision’s Noticias 23, was moderator; he asked his own questions, others from the public and from co-sponsor, the Miami Lakes Economic Development Committee.
The panel drew another resident, former Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas; incumbent County Commissioners Esteban Bovo, Jr., Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez and Carlos De Armas, an entrepreneur.
Absent were candidates Monique Barley, a businesswoman and Ludmilla Domond, a Realtor.
The next mayor will oversee a $8.9 billion budget and 28,400 employees.
Hernandez asked candidates what they’d do for property owners with damage from limestone mining at area quarries; whether to open the bridges at Northwest 154th Street and Northwest 170th Street; how to manage traffic; controlling the coronavirus outbreak and whether to send kids back to school.
“We just built a brand-new home right here in Loch Lomond and we’re already seeing cracks,” Penelas, an attorney, said about the effects of vibrations from mining, which prompted his family to move from Country Club of Miami.
He pledged to not take contributions from the mining industry.
Bovo said he has worked with residents and state legislators to try and regulate the level of blasts.
Levine Cava said the state issues mining permits and residents should attend her zoning workshop to learn how to file complaints.
“I don’t think that cars should rule, people should rule,” Levine Cava said. “The solution is good transit, the solution is good planning, not to overrun neighborhoods because traffic has gotten out of hand.”
The other candidates agreed that the Northwest 170th Street bridge should be opened.
“Pressure will mount as time goes by for 154 to open up,” Bovo said. “It would be irresponsible by anybody here now saying those bridges should remain closed when we know it facilitates a need and opens economic opportunities on both sides of the bridges.”
Penelas said opening the southern bridge “is not going to solve the problem. You’re just going to bring that mess east and create another problem at the Palmetto [Expressway].”
Suarez suggested using road impact fees from the not yet built American Dream Miami mega mall planned for the west side of Interstate 75 to fund an elevated road from the Okeechobee Metrorail station in Hialeah to the Miami Lakes area.
De Armas said that without an “articulated transportation plan,” “any efforts will be throwing money in the garbage.”
He also said he was against building roads to charge tolls.
The candidates argued about how half-penny tax revenues have been spent.
Voters approved the transportation funding program in 2002 when Penelas was then county mayor.
Bovo said he didn’t vote for the tax, said it was “augmented by false promises” and that a “ransom note was paid to unions that would operate it.”
Levine Cava said the county’s “Smart Plan” for six rapid transit corridors was “moving at a snail’s pace” and said she didn’t vote for rapid transit buses in southern Miami-Dade County, but that they would alleviate traffic.
Penelas said he would swap new buses for rail.
“We need a real, global transportation system,” he said.
De Armas also said that was necessary and compared South Florida’s lack of mass transit to what’s available in New York.
Suarez said he sued to stop misspending of the tax, that litigation is ongoing, but that a benefit of it was cities are using some tax dollars to fund trollies.
He said it was “embarrassing” that South Florida didn’t have a plan to apply to Congress for federal funding, and Bovo agreed.
On July 30, the cumulative tally of coronavirus cases in Miami Lakes reached 640, with 118,462 in Miami-Dade County.
The test positivity rate in the county was 14.9%; the World Health Organization says 5% maintained for two weeks is considered safe for reopening society.
In early July, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered restaurants to halt indoor dining, though gyms could stay open and diners could be served outdoors if masks were used.
There is also an order for masks to be worn in public spaces.
All the candidates faulted a delayed response to the outbreak, uncoordinated messages between Gimenez and other mayors in the county and inadequate testing, contact tracing and isolation of the sick.
Levine Cava said it was a big mistake for the county to set rules for businesses that owners funded and followed without also having a public health system in place.
“Our medical workforce is totally overwhelmed,” Levine Cava said “Overtime, [they are] psychologically terrified and very unsure of the future because we have not had the leadership to get it done.”
Said De Armas, “If the right decisions were made at the beginning, everything would be different.”
The candidates agreed that commerce will not fully resume without children in school.
But they didn’t agree on whether it was safe to do so.
Suraez said a successful return might happen with half-empty classrooms.
Bovo said charter schools should also be included in any plans and that split shifts, having some kids learn over the internet and others in classrooms were tools for the school board to use.
Having safe spaces for students and teachers and using masks was needed to keep kids on pace with their schooling and for parents to return to work, Levine Cava said.
De Armas said it was “dangerous” to send kids back to class while the disease, which he said was not yet fully understood, continues to spread.
Penelas said he’s “very” concerned about sending his daughter back to elementary school.
“Under current conditions I don’t think we can,” he said.
Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid, Vice Mayor Nelson Rodriguez and Councilman Carlos Alvarez have endorsed Bovo.
Councilmembers Jeffrey Rodriguez, Marilyn Ruano and Joshua Dieguez are supporting Penelas.