By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Miami-Dade County already has 31 cities, the majority of which have populations of less than 50,000. Experts on the county staff have estimated that, were the trend to continue, the county would end up with an additional 40 cities if all areas incorporated. For that reason they have urged commissioners to consider having existing cities annex territory rather than creating new municipalities. Sweetwater is heeding the advice, though it appears to have been lost on Alonso. "The people of the area are worried," she asserted at her Belén gathering. "They don't want to be annexed."
Shortly after the meeting began, Sweetwater Mayor Diaz and his commission colleagues forced their way into the crowded room, though other partisans from the city couldn't get inside. Diaz looked on incredulously as Alonso professed her love for Sweetwater and then proceeded to trash the place. "Quality of life is a problem in Sweetwater," she announced, warning the audience that this could be their fate if they were annexed.
When Diaz raised his hand to explain Sweetwater's position, Alonso refused to allow him to speak. "Tonight is the people's meeting," she proclaimed. "The officials of Sweetwater shouldn't create a confrontation."
Meanwhile Alonso's commission staff and the West Dade MAC's members gestured for the crowd to continue shouting, "No Sweetwater!"
"She wanted me to start yelling," Diaz marveled hours later in Sweetwater's city hall. Instead the mayor and commissioners decided it would be wiser simply to leave. But as they tried to squeeze through the crowd, with Alonso looking on, they were surrounded by angry residents. (Commissioner Joe Martinez, who earlier had been introduced by Alonso but not invited to speak, left at the same time.) Diaz claimed one commissioner was punched by what he characterized as "outside agitators" brought in by Alonso. "It was professionally done," he said. "They were hitting commissioners." As he spoke, some of the Sweetwater commissioners sat in a nearby office watching a videotape of the meeting filmed by a cameraman they'd hired. "Not to be allowed to speak!" Diaz continued in exasperation. "She lied to the people and then didn't give us the opportunity to defend ourselves. This is not Cuba, after all!"
Shortly after Diaz and his commissioners departed, Alonso decided to move her meeting downstairs to the Belén cafeteria, where there was ample room. (The cafeteria had always been available.) After repeating her warnings against annexation by Sweetwater for those who had not been inside the cramped auditorium, she opened the floor to questions. An area resident asked why they couldn't stay in unincorporated Miami-Dade instead of forming a city. Alonso responded by saying this was not the right time to discuss a new city. The issue was the proposed annexation by Sweetwater and Commissioner Souto's upcoming move to have county staff study that plan. (Mayor Diaz later scoffed at that claim. "This is all about her hysteria to create Miriamville disguised as West Dade," he said angrily. "We were used as a propaganda tool by her to rally people to establish her own city.")
Also present in the cafeteria were several residents of the Doral area, which has struggled for nearly a decade to create its own municipality. Among them was Juan Carlos Bermudez, a Doral resident who is president of a new community organization called One Doral. He complained that the proposed boundaries for West Dade took large bites out of Doral's original outline for a city, including very valuable commercial property. "It's turning into “Honey, I shrunk the boundaries,'" said Bermudez.
Among the multitude unable to enter the auditorium earlier in the evening stood Roger Lorenzo, president of the Fontainebleau Park Federation, a homeowners group. In a phone call the next day, Lorenzo fumed that Alonso has ignored hundreds of letters from residents of his community begging her to allow them to start their own incorporation process. Fontainebleau also wants some of the gun barrel desired by West Dade. "It's not fair that she would come and take away our survival," he said.
Alonso's campaign to create West Dade has only just begun. Under county guidelines, the West Dade group must hold at least two public meetings and go before both a standing Boundaries Commission and the Planning Advisory Board. Only then can the county commission grant permission to hold a referendum of area residents. "Stay tuned," advised Assistant County Manager Pedro Hernandez, who also attended the Belén meeting. "It is just getting interesting."