Category Archives: Coral Gables

Coral Gables / FPL Update

It seems FPL cleaned up the downed power lines yesterday, but has revised its estimate to turn on all the power in the area to Tuesday.  We’ll see if Coral Gables goes through with its threat to impose fines.

I was out for a brief drive to the library today (Comcast still hasn’t fixed the internet, and the library has wifi) and saw a lot of electricity trucks working in the area. Hard to know, but maybe that letter from the Commission had an effect; or maybe it’s just our turn.

Posted in Coral Gables, Weather With a Name | 2 Comments

Coral Gables Commission Orders FPL to Restore Power by Sunday 11:45pm Or Else

In this resolution the City of Coral Gables purports to order Florida Power & Light to restore our electricity by Sunday night on pain of … wait for it … $500/day fines if it doesn’t (plus the some dubious threat of additional higher fines under state law).

Does a city have the power to order a state-regulated utility to restore power by a set date after a hurricane? Given the relationship between cities and the State of Florida, I’d be a little surprised if the answer were yes, at least in the absence of clearly dilatory or unreasonable behavior, although I am certainly not an expert in local government law. The resolution cites two authorities: § 2-203 of the Coral Gables code and Florida Statutes § 162.09. The Coral Gables code section is about cease and desist letters:

Sec. 2-203. – Penalty for failure to obey cease and desist letter.

(a) The city attorney is authorized to issue cease and desist letters for violation of the City Code, Zoning Code and any other applicable law where such violation causes harm to the city, its residents or its businesses.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person or entity to disobey the demand made by the city attorney or his/her designee, on behalf of the City of Coral Gables, in a cease and desist letter.And And

(c) Failure to obey the demand made in a cease and desist letter shall result in the issuance of a code enforcement citation, punishable by a fine of $500.00 per day.

(d) A violator who has been issued a citation for failure to comply with the demand in the cease and desist letter, must elect to either comply with the demand in the letter and pay the fine or request an administrative hearing before a special master, as set forth in chapter 101, article VI, division 3 of the City Code.

(e) As a cumulative remedy, the city attorney is authorized to file a civil action to enforce the cease and desist letter, the city is entitled to an injunction and the violator is responsible for attorney’s fees and costs incurred. Such proceedings shall be expedited by the court.

(f) The city, as well as its elected and appointed officials, employees and agents are immunized from civil or criminal liability for actions taken in accordance with this section.

(g) Subsection (a) of this Code section shall be incorporated into section 2-201 of the City Code as subsection (13).

As for the state statute, I see authority for “$15,000 per violation if the code enforcement board or special magistrate finds the violation to be irreparable or irreversible in nature.” But is failure to repair quickly enough really a zoning violation? Maybe at some point yes, but a week after a hurricane? Surely there is some implicit (and in the case of the state law, fairly explicit) reasonableness limit operative here?

As to the Coral Gables ordinance, I sort of wonder how it applies–does FPL have a legal duty to the city under zoning law that is enforceable in this manner? (I honestly don’t know.) Does it make sense to talk of ‘cease and destining” from failure to deal with a public emergency? (It might.) More to the point, though, even if the legal answer is yes, can you really make FP&L do anything in these post-hurricane conditions? (Not as far as I can see.)

Perhaps prudently, therefore, the Commission’s resolution only demands that the power be back by Sunday at 11:45pm (although it demands downed power lines blocking streets be cleared today). As FP&L has publicly said it will have all the power back on the east coast of Florida by Sunday unless your house is destroyed or it would be dangerous to turn it on, at least as to the power restoration this may be more sound than fury.

Then again, I suppose there could be litigation: this is the same Coral Gables Commission that recently sued Facebook and Instagram to find out the identity of a public (and until the lawsuit, very obscure) critic. The legal theory in that case — trademark and irreparable harm to the city — was maybe tenable enough not to be risible (but I’d say on balance not even that). More to the point the suit looked to me like a SLAPP suit, and seemed very very unwise, in terrible taste, and probably outright unconstitutional.

So who knows, maybe my tax money will be spent on a suit about this too.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for FP&L, even if they did get my lights back on a couple of days ago. Having had no power for five weeks after Andrew, and having everything in my fridge just spoil, I understand how awful it can be to be without it — and that it is even worse for people who depend on medical equipment.

I’m all for getting tough with FP&L on solar power, on burying power lines (on which, let the record show, Coral Gables wimped out long ago), and even on harrying them to fix the power. But is this the right way to go about it? I am not convinced. FP&L may not do a great job of pre-hurricane hardening, but large-scale post-hurricane restoration is something they seem fairly good at, if only because they have practice and get massive help from out of state.

I’d much rather see Coral Gables get tough with FP&L about pre-hurricane preparedness, like burying power lines, than this post-hurricane spasm — whether it is sincere or a publicity stunt. (I should emphasize that it could be either for all I know. Normally I would call up and try to interview some Commissioners about this, which I think is the right thing to do when writing about people. But I expect that they have better things to do immediately post-Irma than talk to me and I’m not about to bother them.)

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2016 Ballot Recommendations — Coral Gables Charter Amendments

Only one of these amendments, number five, is really significant; otherwise I don’t think a lot rides on these–although I am going to vote against a couple of them in an excess of caution. The Charter Amendment process is really more a lost opportunity to do interesting things than anything else.

Amendment One YES It abolishes a Trial Board of Appeal that hasn’t done anything for a very long time.

Amendment Two NO Creates a method for removing Commissioners in case of incapacity. I am not aware that this has been an actual problem in the recent past, and it does create a theoretical avenue for abuse, so why look for trouble.

Amendment Three YES  The Mayor currently appoints the Vice Mayor, this puts that in the Charter. OK, whatever.

Amendment Four NO (?) Same issue as with Amendment Two; but this is actually a closer call than #2 because it aligns Coral Gables with state law procedures. So I can see why some people might think this was wise, or even necessary. Currently under the Charter it takes a 4/5 vote to censure or remove a Commissioner. This might make it easier to remove a Commissioner, but arguably the state rules control anyway.

Amendment Five YES! This will create a runoff procedure. That’s a good thing. I proposed to the Charter Revision Committee that they go for STV, also known as ‘instant runoff voting’ because they are fairer and cheaper, but they demurred on the grounds that it was ‘too complicated’ and ‘too hard to explain’ to voters. I think that was a great pity, but some runoff is better than none, given that currently Commissioners are getting elected with much less than 50% of the vote.

Posted in 2016 Election, Coral Gables | Leave a comment

Zika Ground Zero is About 7.5 Miles NE of Here

Wynwood to Coral Gables as the crow, er Aedes aegypti mosquito, flies.

(Corrected headline: NE not NW. Not that the mosquitoes care.)

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Coral Gables Cops Offer Their Lobby as Transactional “Safe Space”

Coral Gables Central reports that the Coral Gables Police are offering their main lobby as a “safe haven” for people to meet to consummate internet-negotiated transactions. Think Craigslist deals.

The goal is to reduce the likelihood of a criminal act being committed. The Coral Gables Police Department is located at 2801 Salzedo St., Coral Gables, 33134

The department will not be involved in setting the meetings, but the lobby can be used for this transaction any day of the week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.

This is a good thing, and the Police should be congratulated for doing it. But note that the cops say they only welcome legal transactions, so unsurprisingly this may not be the place for drug deals, escorting meets, and, they warn, nothing lasting more than 15 minutes. And I’m betting it’s not just watched by a bored desk Sargent, but all taped on camera.

Posted in Coral Gables, Internet | Leave a comment

Why Coral Gable Should Use STV for Commission Elections

Because Coral Gables does not have run-off elections, there is always a risk in multi-candidate Commission elections that a person might elected with less than a majority vote.  Indeed, this has happened more than once in recent memory, with the most recent case being now-Commissioner Slesnick who was elected with 32% of the vote in a six-candidate race.

A run-off, however, would be expensive, and also risks declining voter participation. Voter participation is already low enough in the April off-year election. One solution would be to move the election to the ordinary primary date in August, and have any necessary run-off in November. I have detected very little appetite for this among Commissioners and other movers and shakers in the Gables. The reasons vary. Some people think that too many people are on vacation in August. Others think that too people who don’t care much about local government would vote (the polite term for this is ‘fear of low-information voters’). Still others think that the non-partisan character of the race would be overrun with the partisan fervor of the regular election. And yet others fear that come November UM students would have too much sway. I don’t agree with most of these views, but they’re out there.

Fortunately, there a solution to the problem of running a fair multi-candidate election that produces a majority winner without having to change the election date or having a second, runoff, election. The solution is to switch from the current first-past-the-post voting system to Single Transferable Vote (STV), also known as Instant Runoff Voting.

With the very able help of my research assistant,  Steven Strickland, I’ve written a memo which outlines some of the advantages of using STV and sent it to each of the five members of the Coral Gables Commission. I hope that Coral Gables will consider changing to STV for future elections to ensure that our elected officials have the support of the majority of the electorate, and are seen to have that support.

The text of our memo, reformatted to make it more web-friendly, is below.
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