By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
From Miami-Dade's far western reaches to the downtown corridors of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, people are talking about a peculiar municipal incorporation proposal wending its way through the county's bureaucracy. The oddly configured boundaries for the proposed new city form the shape of a pistol. Its handle runs along Krome Avenue in the west. The barrel reaches eastward all the way to NW 69th Avenue. That eastern swath happens to contain one of the most valuable concentrations of commercial real estate in unincorporated Miami-Dade County and includes the Dolphin Mall, the International Mall, an industrial park, a free trade zone, and acres of commercial warehouses. It is land coveted for either incorporation or annexation by the neighborhoods of Doral, Fontainebleau Park, and the City of Sweetwater.
Some wags at county hall have dubbed the gun-shaped, imagined city Miriamville. Others prefer Alonsoland. Its official name is West Dade.
The jokes refer to District 12 Commissioner Miriam Alonso, who lives within West Dade's proposed boundaries and represents the area. Alonso officially launched the incorporation process for West Dade this past July, just around the time rumors began to circulate (later confirmed) that she was under investigation by the public-corruption unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department. Those who oppose the incorporation believe it is nothing less than an effort by Alonso to provide a political future for herself, or a proxy, should she be forced from her commission seat by prosecutors. (Phone calls as well as faxed and e-mailed questions requesting comment went unanswered by Commissioner Alonso.) "This is it for her. She's facing possible corruption charges, and if she loses this, she loses everything," declared Sweetwater Mayor José Diaz. "This woman is trying to take away all of our futures for her own greed."
Diaz was speaking from Sweetwater City Hall on November 27, just after 10:00 p.m. Less than three hours earlier, the mayor and all seven of Sweetwater's commissioners were verbally attacked and physically jostled at a public meeting organized by Alonso, who claimed to have called the gathering on behalf of concerned residents to discuss a county commission resolution being sponsored by Commissioner Javier Souto. The resolution would instruct county staff to conduct two simultaneous studies: Examine Sweetwater's long-held desire to annex the Dolphin Mall area, and review the proposed City of West Dade's claim to the same property.
The Alonso gathering took place at Belén Jesuit Preparatory School, which sits in District 11, not Alonso's District 12. Joe Martinez is the county commissioner for District 11, and though he was not invited to the meeting, he attended anyway. Reached by telephone the next day, he characterized the evening as "an embarrassment." Said Martinez: "I apologize to the people of Miami-Dade County for what happened."
Martinez only learned of Alonso's meeting because a confused constituent contacted him about a flyer she had received. It was printed on Commissioner Alonso's official stationery. Written in English and Spanish, the leaflet warned of Souto's effort to "annex vital areas of our neighborhood to the City of Sweetwater."
The day before the meeting, Martinez wrote Alonso a note indicating he would attend. "I will be present and available to answer any questions pertaining to my district," he offered diplomatically.
Nearly a half-hour before Alonso's 7:30 p.m. meeting began, the second-floor Belén auditorium was already three-quarters full of anti-annexation protesters bearing Day-Glo poster board placards. By the appointed hour the room was packed with several hundred people. At least a hundred more spilled into the hallway. The mood was ugly -- and no wonder. For nearly two hours the audience was subjected to repeated efforts by Alonso to scare them: If Sweetwater succeeded in annexing their neighborhoods, taxes would go up and property values would go down.
"We don't want Sweetwater!" chanted Yvonne Gibbings, goading the incensed crowd from the stage, where she clutched a bright orange sign featuring an anti-annexation message. Gibbings is among the people Alonso has tapped to fill the West Dade Municipal Advisory Committee (West Dade MAC), created by the county commission at Alonso's behest to begin the process of studying incorporation. Also present and inciting the crowd were Alonso's husband, Leonel; her chief of staff Elba Morales; and Luis Rodriguez, another member of the West Dade MAC.
Municipal advisory committees have become an integral part of an emerging county policy that eventually will likely result in Miami-Dade's complete incorporation into municipalities. The push toward incorporation began with Key Biscayne in 1991. Through fits and starts, including a one-year moratorium in 1996 and several lawsuits by residents who wanted to incorporate, commissioners, under the guidance of former County Manager Merrett Stierheim, fashioned a makeshift policy on how municipalities should be created. Under the plan new cities must remain within the county's fire-rescue district and its public library and solid-waste-collection systems, and must continue to receive law-enforcement services from the Miami-Dade Police Department. They also need to prove they are revenue-neutral and thus won't financially penalize areas left unincorporated. Otherwise they must pay a "mitigation fee" to a county trust fund.
Following Key Biscayne's successful incorporation, the neighborhoods of Doral, Country Club Lakes, Palmetto Bay, Miami Lakes, Aventura, Pinecrest, Sunny Isles Beach, Destiny, East and West Kendall, the Redland, and Westchester expressed a desire to become autonomous cities. Of those areas Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, Pinecrest, and most recently Miami Lakes have actually incorporated. (Last month the county commission allowed Palmetto Bay in South Miami-Dade to proceed with a vote by residents to see if they want to incorporate.) In 1999 the county created the Miami Lakes Municipal Advisory Committee, the first MAC under the new model, composed of area residents and appointed by the commissioner in whose district the incorporation would take place. MACs currently exist for West Dade, West Kendall, Doral, Redland, and Country Club Lakes.