Annexation Blues

Political Theater in the Round

September 2019

Coral Gables has for years been moving toward the annexation of two pockets of unincorporated areas cutting into its borders, Little Gables on the north side and High Pines/ Ponce Davis on the west. Surveys show that many, if not most, of the residents in these pockets welcome the idea of becoming part of the city.

In July, however, the Miami-Dade County committee with the power to let these citizens vote on the issue decided not to allow the vote to take place. The members of the Miami Dade Health Care and Opera- tions Committee were apparently swayed by a room full of residents wearing anti annexation T-shirts, especially a contingent from a trailer park in Little Gables that feared eviction.

The county decision – and what to do about it – was discussed at a special “Sunshine” meeting of the Coral Gables city government, held last month in the Adult Community Activity Room on Andalusia. A long table was set up in the middle of the room. At one end sat Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli, Vice Mayor Vince Lago and Commissioner Pat Keon, all of whom support annexation; at the other end sat Commissioners Jorge Fors and Michael Mena, both of whom are against annexation. Between them on either side sat various city officials, including the city manager, the chief of police, the fire department chief, and the city attorney. A crowd of more than 100 seated citizens surrounded them.

City Manager Peter Iglesias began by reporting on the infamous July 17 meeting; he noted the unprofessional treatment received by Gables’ officials who attended, making them wait three hours to speak.

Mayor Valdés-Fauli speculated that the crowd who opposed annexation at the county meeting had actually been bussed in by the owner of the Executive Motel on 8th Street in Little Gables, an establishment that rents rooms by the hour. That practice would be shut down if annexation took place. “I think that person bussed the people in [and] paid for the T-shirts,” said the Mayor.

Vice Mayor Lago, who had called the meeting, said he had wanted to get to the facts of the matter, and to dispel false information about annexation. He then called on staff to report.

Police Chief Hudak described in detail how annexation would make his job easier, shortening the city’s borders, making the city safer – and how his force could accommodate the transition. Henry Iler, an urban planner who works for the city, pointed out that the trailer park issue was a false one, that the city had offered to find alternative housing. City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos reported that the county had shut down 24 other trailer parks since 2004.

Commissioner Mena questioned whether the city should continue to pursue annexation after the latest county rejection.

Commissioner Fors said Coral Gables should be concerned first and foremost about how its residents felt. “I personally came off the campaign trail having knocked on over 5,000 doors, as you know, and the majority of folks told me they didn’t want annexation, for various reasons. One is they believe it might strain their resources…” He said annexation would entirely bog down the city, and that the chief of police merely “wants to be in charge of more area.”

Mayor Valdés-Fauli lit into Fors, saying his speculations were “totally” out of order. The mayor was also upset with Fors for telling the County Commission in July that the city of Coral Gables was against annexation, even though the City Commission had voted 3-2 in favor. “I met… your political campaign director when you were just starting. And I asked him, ‘Why are you against annexation before you start?’ And he said, ‘Because the people are against it.’ If that’s where you [Fors] got your information, your political campaign director is also a lobbyist for the Executive Motel.” The crowd roared with laughter and clapped their approval. Commissioner Mena called the mayor’s comment “really out of order.”

Keon and Fors then agreed the best thing would be a statistically significant survey of Gables residents. “If a majority of them are in favor of annexing Little Gables or High Pines/Ponce,” Fors said, “I would be singing a completely different tune.”

The commission voted the following week in a special follow up session to go back to the county, through County Commissioner Suarez, to apply again for permission to let the citizens of High Pines/Ponce Davis vote about annexation. The annexation of Little Gables however, is for now a dead issue.