City Hall: Election Changes, a New Roundabout, and More

At its last meeting in June, the City Commission:

Listened to a presentation by Raimundo Rodulfo, head of the city’s Innovation and Technology Department, on three prestigious “smart city” awards received over the previous six months: The 2023 Smart 50 Award (one of three overall global award winners from 50 awarded projects); the 2023 Smart 21 Communities of the Year (one of 21 communities worldwide); and the 2022 IEEE Smart Cities Jury Award (for its technologies and innovation, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

Discussed ways to limit the removal and proliferation of shopping carts, in particular around Whole Foods (on Red Road) and Target (on Ponce). Whole Foods reportedly lost 67 out of 100 new shopping carts purchased last year. Both are advised to implement the wheel-locking technology used by Publix. (Sponsored by Mayor Vince Lago)

City Hall June

Voted 5-0 to amend the city ordinance prohibiting abandoned or junk motor vehicles on public or private properties. Cars can be parked on the right of way approach to a driveway (but not on swales) so long as they have a form-fitted cover. (Sponsored by Mayor Lago and Commissioner Fernandez)

Voted 5-0 to consider hiring urban design firm Dover Cole to create a plan to create public parks in and around Coral Gables High School. The public school has been undergoing a $46 million renovation and expansion, but no funds were set aside for landscaping. (Sponsored by Commissioner Menendez)

Voted 5-0 to eliminate the use of gas leaf blowers in the city, beginning with a six-month warning period that starts Oct. 1, 2024. After April 1, 2025, homeowners can be fined. The Commission must still decide on the amount of the fine, which could begin at $250, or could begin at $50, the fee to climb another $50 for each violation (i.e. $50, $100, $150). This item will return in September for a final vote. (Sponsored by Commissioner Fernandez, Vice Mayor Anderson and Commissioner Castro)

Discussed potential amendments to the Mediterranean Bonus, which allows buildings extra height if they are deemed within the Mediterranean Revival style of Coral Gables architecture. The potential amendments would clarify what architectural elements would make buildings “Mediterranean,” in response to criticisms that the bonus has been abused by developers. (Sponsored by Vice Mayor Anderson)

Voted 5-0 to approve a “special certificate of appropriateness” for the county to install a roundabout at the intersection of Coral Way, Anderson Road, and South Greenway Drive, at the Southwest corner of Granada Golf Course. The intersection has been the site of numerous car crashes — 34 crashes in the three years of 2015 to 2017, according to one study — and has no pedestrian crossings. “Trying to cross there is like playing dodgeball,” commented Vice Mayor Anderson. Citizens concerned with preserving historic monuments at the intersection were assured that these would be protected.

Listened to a presentation by the City Attorney and City Clerk’s Office regarding a potential change of date for the city’s biennial election. Currently, the election is held on the second Tuesday in April of odd years and, with a run-off, costs $250,000 in total. “[It] has been the trend in recent years, locally and nationally, to move to concurrent elections with general elections,” said Assistant City Attorney Stephanie Throckmorton.

Several options were presented, but the most popular was moving the election to November of even years (concurrent with the nationwide election) with the run-off a month later. This option would save the city over $100,000, increase voter turnout threefold, and would allow for a two-week early voting period. (Sponsored by Commissioner Fernandez and Vice Mayor Anderson)

Discussed allowing the primary sponsor of specific Commission discussion items to determine whether public comment will be allowed on it. Mayor Lago dissented on the basis that there is already a public comment period allowed at the beginning of each Commission meeting and that discussion items are meant only for the Commission, with no actual action taken until they become resolutions or ordinances. The mayor cited similar processes in other cities within Miami-Dade County and the county itself, which offer much less time for public comment.

Mayor Lago decided to eliminate the Mayor’s Comments section of Commission meetings, which allows him to solicit resident input on his own discussion items and instead include those items in the regular Commission agenda to be fair to his colleagues. No vote was taken; the item is expected to appear again during the next Commission meeting. (Sponsored by Commissioners Castro and Fernandez)

Voted 5-0 to accept a $750,000 grant from the State of Florida for the restoration and reconstruction of the historic Gondola Building on the grounds of the Biltmore Hotel. The building collapsed in late 2021 and will now be relocated for better use. The new location has not been determined, although it will have to remain within the Biltmore’s golf course.

Voted 5-0 to publicly reaffirm the city’s support for the rights, freedoms, and equal treatment and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals within Coral Gables, and to encourage cities and states around the country to do the same.