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Activists Hoping to Increase Their Clout: Concerned That Miami Beach Government Leaders Are Ignoring Residents on Key Issues, Some Activists Have Started New Groups to Increase Their Clout

June 28, 2007

By Tania Valdemoro, The Miami Herald

Jun. 28–Miami Beach residents recently started four coalitions to make sure their concerns are addressed at City Hall.

Though each group has a different set of issues and goals, they are united in the desire to play a larger role in influencing city policies on development, traffic, spending and other quality-of-life issues — before this fall’s elections.

The groups are:

–An unnamed citywide coalition of neighborhood associations which wants to share information so residents from different parts of Miami Beach can learn how proposed developments could affect surrounding neighborhoods.

–The Middle Beach Homeowners Association Coalition which wants city planners to inform them about the zoning and development rights of the Miami Heart Institute, which Mount Sinai Medical Center is considering selling.

–The Beach 500 which wants voters to elect candidates who support controlled growth and have not accepted money from developers.

–The Miami Beach Citizens Alliance which wants to create a venue for residents to discuss current issues like impending budget cuts. It also wants candidates to answer questions from voters.

Representatives from all four coalitions say they were motivated to act now because voters will elect a new mayor and three city commissioners in November. The makeup of the new City Commission will determine if residents can persuade city leaders to meet their needs and desires in the future.

“There are enough people in Miami Beach who realize that in order to effect change, you need a number of people who will support that change,” said Rosemary Hansford.

She founded the Middle Beach Homeowners Association Coalition with Paul Kress, president of the Nautilus Area Homeowners Association to gauge the views of their neighbors on the possible sale and rezoning of the Miami Heart Institute and other Mid Beach issues.

At a June 20 meeting, the coalition decided to meet with city officials, not Mount Sinai, to get more information about the Miami Heart site and its development capabilities, said Michele Burger, president of the Lakeview Homeowners Association.

On June 21, two Mid Beach neighborhood leaders brought together residents from at least 22 homeowner groups at the Miami Beach Regional Library to debate whether to start a citywide coalition of neighborhood associations.

“What John and I envisioned was a communication and information network where ideas can be vetted,” said Gabrielle Redfern, past president of the Orchard Park Neighborhood Association, referring to John Corey, president of the Bayshore Homeowners Association, who organized the meeting.

Participants agreed to share information with each other and form a steering committee to devise an action plan and rules for resolving conflicts.

At the meeting, Henry Lowenstein, a member of the Orchard Park Neighborhood Association, invited neighborhood activists to join The Beach 500, a political action committee he formed in April with former Planning Board chairman Victor Diaz.

“We want to get 500 to 1,000 people who will pledge to vote for candidates who oppose unsustainable development. We’d like to have a whole commission of Matti Bowers. What happens in this election determines what the beach looks like in the next 50 years,” Lowenstein said.

Shiela Jaffe and Jeff Gibbs head the other PAC, known as the Miami Beach Citizens Alliance. It offers a forum for residents to talk about issues of the day, Jaffe said. The alliance will send out questionnaires to candidates and host a series of candidate forums.

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