Author Archives: Michael Froomkin

Save the Dates: Next We Robot April 1-2, 2016

We Robot 2016 Small sizeIt seems to get better every year.

But we’ll have a tough act to follow after the success of the 2015 edition!

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Me and My Friend at We Robot 2015

R2D2

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Sandra Murado’s Confusing Candidacy

Before my talk with her I had no idea at all what to make of Coral Gables Commission Group V Candidate Sandra Murado. Murado has been a lawyer for 22 years. She has worked at the state attorney’s office, then as a divorce lawyer, and now has an immigration law practice.

She’s seemed, and to some degree remains, the most confusing candidate in the Group V race. On the one hand – no wait, we’re going to need a lot of hands here, let’s try that again.

Item: I put some serious stock in word of mouth. Murado is getting some good word of mouth. I’ve had more people spontaneously tell me that they were impressed by her than any other candidate. OK, that makes her score about four, but that’s still two more than anyone else.

Item: I like some of her friends. Daisy Baez is one of the people who came told me how great Murado is. Murado also has an endorsement from SAVE, which is a big plus.

Item: I do NOT like some of her friends. Reportedly she was recruited to run by Mayor Jim Cason, and shares his campaign consultant. As I’ve said before, I think Cason’s support of (or if you go with some stories, domination by) the old City Manager was a big problem. And continuing to support Salerno after he was caught misleading the Commission is just totally unacceptable to me. Ms. Murado was noncommittal when I put this point to her, refusing to take one side or the other. That really worries me.

Item: She’s been a strong advocate for a good cause, fighting the proposal for Somerset, the mega-charter school proposed for the University Baptist Church site.

Item: She’s a poster person (see page 18) for the James Madison Institute – a really really far right political group that thinks it is a think tank. The James Madison Institute lauded her for helping to “rein in excessive growth in government spending” by fighting to limit pensions as a way to limit the City’s unfunded liabilities – an issue that will likely endear her to many voters.

Item: Local gadfly George Volsky is talking her up – a very bad sign on its own, and further evidence of the Cason connection since Volsky is totally in the tank for Cason. Murado reprints a cranky Volsky column prominently on her campaign web site, one trashing Ariel Fernandez and Jeannett Slesnick.

Item: Murado is very articulate, seems smart. I like that.

Item: Murado’s lawyerlyness trips her up sometime. More than once in the two candidates’ events she’s given legally correct but politically tone-deaf answers to questions.

I put my standard list of questions to Murado a couple of days ago.
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We Robot!

cropped-werobot-webheaderI’m at We Robot 2015, aka the 4th Annual Conference on Robotics, Law & Policy at the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle, WA.

There’s a tremendous list of papers, and tonight we have a special presentation from Tony Dyson — the man who built R2-D2 for “Star Wars,” oversaw special effects for “The Empire Strikes Back” and builds robots for the world’s largest electronics companies.

It’s going to be great.

Plus, mark your calendar for next year: We Robot 2016 will be back at the University of Miami on April 1 & 2, 2016.

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PJ Mitchell — Sincere and (Too?) Frugal

I had a chance to talk to PJ Mitchell last week about his candidacy for the Coral Gables Commission. He’s a good, soft-spoken, advocate for himself.

I asked Mitchell the same questions I’ve been asking everyone, starting with development. Having served on the economic development board, Mitchell had seen some of the proposals in some depth, and he wanted to distinguish between those that sought variances from the code (possible) and those which sought to have the code changed to their benefit (like Agave), a process that was quicker for them, but not in his view better for the city. Each project should be judged on its merits, he said, and the problem with Agave’s initial proposal is that it created a ‘city within a city’. Coral Gables needs to have the project connected with downtown, so pedestrians go from Agave to Miracle Mile and back. Mitchell said more than once that seeing the animated version of what the project would be like had shown him just how big it was – too big.

On green space, like everyone else he was for it in principle. On the sea level rise question, Mitchell said he thought that the state and federal governments needed to take the lead, and create a master plan in which Coral Gables could then participate.

Regarding the potential new tax revenue, Mitchell’s first response was that “cities will spend any of amount of money that comes in” – an anti-spending attitude to delight an penny-pincher’s heart. He allowed, however, that there were infrastructure needs. When I pressed him for his top three priorities, Mitchell listed the fire stations as number one, noting that some new police officers are already in the budget and that we might also need to replace one or two missing fire fighters. I had to nudge him to list any others, but then he said eliminating the city’s $75 million debt, and then attacking the unfunded pension liabilities would be his next priorities.
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Tony Newell is Not a Libertarian

Tony Newell, Coral Gables Commission Group V candidate, wants me to to tell you that despite some suggestions in this space in the past, he’s not a libertarian. We spoke on March 17, between the two major candidate events, and thus before his spectacular, seemingly unprovoked, public attack on three of his fellow candidates (see Coral Gable Chamber Candidates’ Forum (Part I): Group V (Updated)).

I wanted to ask Newell about my list of issues, but I have to admit, the libertarian thing was my first question to him in light of his endorsement by a libertarian publication in the previous election. Newell replied, “No. I am a big believer in market principles. I resist the false choice of ‘all market’ or ‘everything regulated’.” Yes, Coral Gables “does attract people due to – I wouldn’t call them Draconian – rules. We place a high premium on zoning … The Gables brand was based mostly on aesthetics. The conservative part of me says, that’s the tradition, don’t abandon it … on zoning, new development I’m a big believer on strict regulations.” On the other hand, “When it comes to business impacts, we should let the market do it. I don’t think it is our job to protect businesses. By creating an environment in which business can thrive the city has done its job.” In other words, the City should not be “picking the ratio of restaurants to boutiques.”

This led to us to the Master Plan question. Newell said he wants to create a “real master plan” not a “nominal” one like we have now. In his view the current plan lacks “cohesive vision”. Newell, however, disclaimed a right to decide what that vision should be, as “it’s up to the people” but he suggested we might start with “low hanging fruit” such as how far outside the CBD we would allow certain projects, or whether we keep existing boundaries. That debate is one for a large committee staffed with local residents, like a bigger version of the committee shepherding Streetscape. And we could use the Metroquest platform to stimulate public engagement online.

What Newell says he wants is clearer rules that would give developers a clear sense of what we would and wouldn’t allow; what he opposes is the current system where the Commission can demand things like trees or trolleys in exchange for allowing deviations from the zoning rules. The Commission shouldn’t be doing that, he tells me: that’s imposing their views rather than having consistent rules. “I don’t have very specific designs for the city. I don’t want to be … a taste Czar.”
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Jeannett Slesnick: the Big Name in the Race

Whatever the outcome of the Coral Gables Commission Group V election, I think we’ll all owe Jeannett Slesnick thanks for setting the agenda. Under her leadership the Gables Good Government Committee (GGG) has done more to publicize the surprising amount of development coming to Coral Gables than anyone else. Former City Manger Pat Salerno and incumbent Mayor Jim Cason certainly made no effort to tell us. That job fell to the GGG which put out a newsletter in November 2014 saying Here Come the Cranes! and then did a full print magazine in February 2015 describing the coming development in much more detail (see pages 22-46, it’s pretty amazing). The magazine is also viewable online at GablesCentral.com.

Those publications, more than anything, set out an account of what will be built around us in the next year or two – and it’s a lot. But that alone doesn’t mean Slesnick is the best choice for Commissioner.

Jeannett Slesnick also has the longest Gables c.v., having served on – or run – a ton of entities both public and private. And, of course, she’s also the wife of an ex-Mayor, Don Slesnick, although he hasn’t been visible in her campaign, and when I interviewed her about my issues in their Gables home on April 1, he was nowhere to be seen and she made of point of saying that she decided to run on her own, while her husband was out of town and surprised him with the news by phone.
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