Government

No More City of Westchester! Long Live the Unincorporated Miami-Dade!

The effort to turn Westchester into a city has been abandoned — for now.
The effort to turn Westchester into a city has been abandoned — for now. Photos via Save Westchester — No New Taxes!, Miami-Dade County
Call your abuelos at Palacio de los Jugos and tell them it's over: The monthlong fight over whether to turn the unincorporated West Miami-Dade County neighborhood of Westchester into its own city has been abandoned.

For now, at least.

On Monday evening, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto issued a memo to the county attorney requesting a repeal of the ordinance that created the Municipal Advisory Committee (MAC) to study the feasibility of incorporating Westchester. Yes. This is coming from the same man who proposed the creation of this same MAC that was approved by the commission last November despite a county law that requires "no less than 20 percent of electors" in the area to sign a petition supporting incorporation.

Some residents who felt Souto ignored their concerns took to the Save Westchester — No New Taxes! Facebook group, and after a relentless outcry, Souto seems to have changed his tune.

"Although my perception of the long-term problems in our area remains the same as I described in my recent letter to my constituents, the situation for the families in my District has changed considerably in the last couple of months," Souto wrote in the March 7 memo. "I have spoken to many persons in our community on both sides of the issue, and have decided to request that the County Commission repeal the Westchester Municipal Advisory Committee."

Yes. This is coming from the same man who told his constituents at a public meeting on February 10 that he does "not give a shit about what people here might think," and "Calladito te ves más bonito," a common expression often used to scold children or patronize women that translates to "you look prettier when you're quiet."

Neither Souto nor his office responded to requests for comment from New Times via email and phone call on Monday and Tuesday regarding his about-face.

click to enlarge A memo from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto requesting a repeal of his ordinance that created a Municipal Advisory Committee to study the incorporation of Westchester into a city. - SCREENSHOT VIA SAVE WESTCHESTER —  NO NEW TAXES!
A memo from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Javier Souto requesting a repeal of his ordinance that created a Municipal Advisory Committee to study the incorporation of Westchester into a city.
Westchester is considered the area east of the Turnpike, west of the Palmetto Expressway, south of the Tamiami Trail, and north of Bird Road. But Souto's proposed borders for the City of Westchester had the boundaries stretching further south to SW 56th Street, enveloping portions of unincorporated Olympia Heights.

On the Save Westchester — No New Taxes! group, residents had expressed their concerns about Souto's outburst, circumventing the petition process in the MAC's formation, and the creation of new taxes for municipal services if Westchester was indeed incorporated.

According to public records obtained by members of the Facebook group, Souto had already chosen a handful of appointees to the MAC on February 9, the day before he met with constituents at the public meeting on February 10.

However, some appointees declined and others pulled out of the process later on.

David Arbetter, owner of longtime favorite Arbetter's Hot Dogs in Westchester, was appointed to the MAC by Souto on February 17 after another appointee, Paul Camacho, pulled out. On March 1, Arbetter stepped down from the MAC because the issue was too controversial.

"I never like to get any kind of political. All I care about is the restaurant," Arbetter tells New Times. "I love our area, I've lived here my whole life, and I'm glad we're getting back to normal. The incorporation process wasn't done right."

Now that Souto has asked to repeal the MAC at the April 5 county commission meeting, those opposed to the incorporation are celebrating — albeit with a heaping helping of skepticism.

"It looks like [Souto] finally listened to the people and he saw the obvious: People here in Westchester don't want new taxes," Westchester resident Jose Sanchez-Gronlier tells New Times. "It feels like a victory, but a cautious victory."

Sanchez-Gronlier says residents are still concerned that Friends of Tropical Park, the pro-incorporation political action committee that raised over $40,000 with a majority of donations coming from developers and real estate companies, will simply try again and obtain the necessary petition signatures to restart the MAC.

It's a possibility that Friends of Tropical Park chairman Jose Toledo didn't refute to New Times — even if Monday night's memo came as an unpleasant surprise.

"Truthfully, we’re disappointed because we really wanted to see what the MAC came back with. We still feel we should control our destiny," Toledo says. "I'm gonna see if there's a possibility to figure that out and maybe raise funds in the future, but it will be an uphill battle to gather all those signatures."
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos