Coral Gable Chamber Candidates’ Forum (Part II): Group IV

The Coral Gables Commission Group IV candidates’ non-debate (“forum”) at the Chamber of Commerce yesterday was only about half an hour long. There are only two candidates, Enrique Lopez and incumbent Frank Quesada. Most people I’ve talked to think Quesada will win because Lopez is a late entrant, and hasn’t raised much money.

Lopez’s best issues are: (1) that Quesada approves of too much development and that Agave/Mediterranean Village is too big and short 600 parking spaces; (2) that Quesada participated in the Cason-Solerno (ex city Manager) scheme of budgeting money for police and then not hiring them to firm up the city’s finances (Lopez noted that response time for EMT’s is up, and said that “at my age I can tell you that 30 seconds can mean the difference between life and death”), that (3) the Commission borrowed heavily for the “neighborhood renaissance” plan four years ago but as now has only commenced six of the 72 projects in the plan and (4) that like the other sitting Commissioners Quesada allowed the city’s Green Task Force to die on the vine by not appointing any members to it (as a result it currently has none). Lopez noted that he was a member of the original Green Task Force, which was sidelined by Solerno.

As this list shows, Lopez has some issues to beef about, but in yesterday’s event he never found a consistent way to make his key points without risking sounding either angry or weird (the phrase “overdevelopment frenzy” didn’t always come out sounding good). It didn’t help that for all but a few questions at the end Lopez always had to speak first, and Quesada always got to respond, which was unfair.

For his part, Quesada can rightly claim some credit for being a part of the team that help improve the city’s books. I could do without his mailers that claim to have “cut” taxes every year when in fact the City has just reduced the millage rate by a small amount in order to claim bragging rights – while in fact taxes have gone up due to the rebound in property prices. Note that I’m not against the taxes, I’m against the misleading claims about them.

Quesada certainly didn’t look threatened yesterday. Quesada responded directly to two of Lopez’s charges: On (1) Agave, Quesada agreed that the traffic issues need to be watched carefully and said the Commission had hired a consultant to help it do this; on (2) the staffing of police below budgeted levels, Quesada responded first that the Commission also protects the city’s quality of life by making sure finances are in order [and in fact there’s no real sign that crime is up currently in any meaningful way; I don’t like the way Lopez goes on about it, although I understand the issue polls well and probably reflects what he’s hearing on doorsteps].

Quesada basically didn’t bother to refute some of Lopez’s other claims: on (3) Quesada talked up some of the things that are happening but was silent about where the other 66 projects were. On (4), the Green Task Force being empty, Quesada said nothing; the response was to talk about other green initiatives such as a “sustainablity master plan,” a loan plans for people who want to do energy-efficient alteration on their homes, and a pilot project to test LED lights in street lamps. Lopez came back with a zinger: the city paid $4.587 million dollars for consultants – why not get (free) assistance from willing people here in town, many of whom have relevant expertise. That was the purpose of the Green Task Force, why sideline it? (Lopez also objected to LED lights being preferred over the historic lights in the neighborhood renaissance plan – “I do not wish to have a Disney look in Coral Gables.” Quesada’s response was that citizens say they want more lighting to make their streets safer.) As for the consultants, Quesada said that the Commission can’t be expert in everything so it needs expert advice.

Incidentally, Quesada said one thing in the debate that I really agree with and one that I don’t agree with at all. The good thing was that he considers trying to get FPL to bury the giant power lines it plans for US 1 to be an important priority. The thing I didn’t like is that he wants to lower the city speed limit to 25 MPH everywhere. I think that’s a rotten idea. We have lots of 30MPH streets – the medium-sized ones – that IMHO are perfectly safe at that speed.

Lopez is your anti-“overdevelopment frenzy” vote. Quesada is your steady-as-she-goes vote. Both candidates seem good with numbers. I voted for Quesada in the last election, and I like his lawyerly manner better than Lopez’s manner which on stage at least is mixture of seriousness and bombast. I do wish Quesada were less pro-mega-development, and less beloved by the developers.

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