We Built This City

Turns out the best possible way to rescue Miami-Dade's remaining rural farmland is to incorporate as a ... city. Huh?

But incorporation activists don't want these neighbors included in a new Redland. The enclave, they say, will soon have a population of 30,000, far more than the 17,000 people who live in the 68 square miles that make up their proposed city. Trying to form a city government with these suburban dwellers could easily sink the Redland's dreams of remaining development-free.

"What is the possibility that they will be good stewards of agriculture?" asks Geoffrey Knights, a RAMAC member. "You have set up this conflict and contradiction, which is what we have tried to avoid."

There are problems with other neighbors as well. Officials from Florida City and Homestead have sent letters to county planners objecting to the proposed boundaries for the Redland, because both of those cities would like to expand into the territory the incorporationists are claiming. The activists point out that the land in question already is outside the line and designated for agriculture, not development. They also fear that if the land mass shrinks too much, important economies of scale required by agriculture could be harmed.

Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation
Steve Satterwhite
Commissioner Katy Sorenson says the community supports Redland incorporation
The Redland Area Municipal Advisory Committee sorts through incorporation
Steve Satterwhite
The Redland Area Municipal Advisory Committee sorts through incorporation

Redland incorporationists also will have a tough sell convincing commissioners to support their cause. Many of the commissioners are terrified that forming a city in the Redland could contribute to a tidal wave of communities demanding to become municipalities. Other commissioners appear to be easily influenced by development interests that oppose incorporation. Such behavior was apparent when the commission met this past February 13 to decide whether it was time for the proposal to advance to the planning boards.

In the audience that day were some members of RAMAC who expected the commission would easily approve this next step. RAMAC members maintain a good relationship with the commission in general and South Miami-Dade commissioners Katy Sorenson and Dennis Moss in particular. When Moss was unable to cosponsor the resolution with Sorenson, Commissioner Pedro Reboredo stepped in.

Much to everyone's surprise, it quickly became clear that the District 6 commissioner was largely ignorant of the contents of the resolution he had signed on to support. Still, lack of preparation didn't hinder Reboredo from trying to sabotage the onset of the incorporation process.

"I have a couple of questions," began the 57-year-old commissioner, who happened to be under the scrutiny of a state criminal grand jury at the time. (See "The Reboredo Files," March 29, 2001. Reboredo has subsequently resigned his commission seat and pleaded no contest to a one count misdemeanor.) "What has been presented to us? What has been analyzed? What does this resolution represent?"

Reboredo related that he had received phone calls and letters from people in the Redland, an area he does not represent. The commissioner failed to mention that among those who contacted him was prominent Homestead banker and Redland resident Bill Losner, a regular contributor to political campaigns. Sorenson had appointed Losner to RAMAC, which he quit in disgust after opposing many of the plans of his fellow members.

In a letter he sent to all commissioners, Losner, who did not attend the February 13 meeting, asked them to vote against the measure. The Redland activists had proposed a budget of limited services that might not be acceptable, he charged. "We simply do not know if that ďbare-bones' approach will meet the needs of the citizens," Losner wrote.

County staff tried to explain to Reboredo that the planning advisory board and the commissioners themselves would eventually have plenty of opportunity to review the proposed budget.

Reboredo then asked if land owners had been consulted and if their approval was needed. A county staffer at the podium tried to give a discrete primer to Reboredo on some basic American democratic principles. "Sir, in federal law, voting rights are for residents and citizens, not for property owners," budget coordinator Alex Rey Panama explained.

Commissioner Sorenson had heard enough. She had sponsored the advisory council as well as this resolution. "The overwhelming number of people really approve of the Redland incorporating," Sorenson said. "I know there are a few people who don't, but at some point they will have the opportunity to vote."

Sorenson, who often has opposed incorporation for other communities, including some in her own district, explained why she approved of the Redland proposal. As multiple communities have tried to break away from county government, the commissioner's greatest fear has been that when richer communities secede, they will leave poorer areas behind. In the end all that will remain are checkerboards of impoverished enclaves with some of the highest taxes in Miami-Dade.

Sorenson did not anticipate this problem with the Redland because county officials believe it to be revenue neutral. The taxes the area pays are commensurate with the cost of the services it receives. Thus if the Redland becomes a municipality, it wouldn't drain the county treasury. With further assurances to Reboredo that the commission would not vote on the actual incorporation until September, the motion passed.

A few weeks before the February commission vote, residents of the Redland came together on a Monday evening at Redland Middle School for a public meeting on incorporation. About 450 people filled the small auditorium. Denim dominated as the clothing of choice.

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