I spoke with Ralph Cabrera two weeks ago about his campaign for Mayor of Coral Gables. Election day is April 14. Cabrera seems very well informed, as you would expect from someone who served multiple terms on the Commission and also ran for Mayor two years ago.
We began by talking about the development issue. Cabrera took me through the statistics – three million square feet of coming development – and pointed out that six of the projects are seeking variances beyond the “Mediterranean bonus” they are entitled to for incorporating various architectural details into their plans. These include requests to provide lessened parking on the theory that mixed use development means the same spots get used by different kinds of people at different times of day, requiring less parking overall. He noted the effects of the proposed projects on roads, sewerage and water.
The bottom line, Cabrera was clear, is that while he’s for development there is a need to carefully consider and minimize side effects.
As regards the current Master Plan, Cabrera had a number of ideas for improvements – frankly, he was much better informed about this than I am. For example, Cabrera said he would favor setting new parameters for landscape tops and swales (some proposals want parking on swales to count as part of their parking quota). The rules need to give staff clearer guidance on what the city wants and will accept. The city should get its own traffic studies rather than relying on developers to provide them. He would not, however, support changing the CBD’s coverage area without an analysis of the consequences, and especially the effect on traffic flows.
I thought Cabrera was at his best when he discussed infrastructure issues, in which he included traffic, water, sewerage, buildings police and fire. The new development we’ve had recently, not to mention what is coming, increases the demand on all of these. Of these, Cabrera rated public safety as the top priority: while we have fewer fire rescue staff than we used to, some of the new places in town such as the Palace (retirement center), and the Riviera Health Resort (rehabilitation center) produce as many as five calls per day. Furthermore, the new construction on the drawing board is for taller buildings. These impose additional demands on both police and fire. For example if police or EMTs are on the 15th floor, they can’t respond as quickly to something in another part of town. Greater numbers and greater density thus both create needs for more police and fire/emergency staff. As for the buildings, Cabrera waxed indignant about the poor conditions of our fire stations – one has asbestos, the other has a water problem.