Independent Experts to Review City's Resiliency Efforts


Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Independent Experts to Review City's Resiliency Efforts:

late march target date for "red team" assessment

Miami Beach has been a leader in the battle against rising tides, but after an election in which the two new Commissioners and Mayor heard concerns about the City’s efforts to date, the Commission agreed to set up a “red team” of independent experts to test the resiliency initiatives.
Last week, the Commission’s Sustainability and Resiliency Committee discussed the red team approach and direction.
Mark Samuelian, one of the new Commissioners, acknowledged the City’s “firm commitment to resiliency” and “some important successes” along the way. Now, he said, is the time for an assessment of the strategy.
“This is a very complex area, and in programs like this, it’s quite natural that along the way you’ll be learning as you’re going,” he said. “I believe we’re at a critical juncture where I think now is an important time for us to take a look at what we’ve done, to take a look at what has worked for us, to take a look at some lessons learned including advances in technologies, what others have done.”
He wants the red team to look at two broad questions. The first, how can the City improve its approach, including an assessment of the engineering solutions being used, street elevation and concerns that have been raised about how what is done on public property may impact private property, water quality, environmental issues, and aesthetics.
The second question: How to educate, engage, and build confidence within the community. “We’ve moved aggressively and we need to make sure we’re bringing the community along,” Samuelian said. “They want to be brought along. They want to join but they need some more engagement.” He wants to ensure questions from the neighborhoods are “fully vetted”.
Commissioner John Alemán said the City administration is constantly learning and adapting. “They’re not executing the same playbook that was written in 2013. It’s been updated continuously ever since then.”
That said, Alemán added, “What they don’t do is change the policy direction that they’ve been given by the Commission … So even while they are a learning organization applying the best external and internal information to what they’re doing, there are still these policy constraints that they’re trying to honor and adhere to. And I think we need to analyze those, in addition.”
For example she said, Commission set 2030 sea levels as the “marker” for the City’s efforts. “Do we feel good about that? Is that still the marker?”
Another policy directive, she said, was to combine projects to touch each neighborhood only once. “Because of the disruptive, painful, dirty, long nature of these projects, two years of construction in a residential neighborhood, one of the policy guideposts was we only want to go into a neighborhood once … So when we go, we’re going to get stormwater done. We’re gonna get the sewer done. We’re gonna get the water main done. And then we won’t have to come back for anything else. That touched the neighborhood once which is why everything is in there including the road elevation and everything else.”
In addition to technical assistance, Alemán said she would like City Staff to identify policy guideposts that have been set and evaluate them. “Do we still feel those are the right policy guideposts?” she asked. “To me, it’s not just about the engineering it’s about those policy components.”
Assistant City Manager and Chief Resiliency Officer, Susy Torriente, said the 100 Resilient Cities initiative, which Miami Beach is part of, has offered to pay for the Urban Land Institute to convene a technical assistance panel for three days in late March. The panel will “look at approach, effectiveness, the benefits, street raising, harmonization, aethestics, water quality.”
Professionals from different disciplines will come to Miami Beach and conduct interviews, site visits, hold a public hearing then analyze the results. At the end of the analysis, their findings will be shared with the City in a final report. Typically, Torriente said, an effort of this scale would cost approximately $200,000.
Shawn Bryant, a Board member of the West Avenue Neighborhood Association (WAvNA), told the Committee, he’s looking forward to the red team review. Speaking of the West Avenue road and stormwater project, he said, “I’m not in favor of stopping the project but I am in favor of a pause … We want to make sure that we’re using the best methodology on this to go forward,” Bryant said.
He also discussed concerns about the community working with the City and providing recommendations that were not used. “We had put committees together. We would spend many, many hours making recommendations,” he explained. “We would sit with City Staff and we thought we had a good design on a plan only to find out later that a completely different plan was delivered to us with no communication.”
“The way we’re looking at it, too, is that we’re going to live with this street for a generation if not longer so we just want to take a pause and make sure everything is done correctly,” he told the Committee. He said there had been some very positive outreach from Public Works Director Eric Carpenter and he’s optimistic that Carpenter will address the neighborhood’s concerns. “But we have some issues in Phase 1 that aren’t done right that need to be addressed," he said. "We’re determined that we’re not going to have the same mistakes that we had in Phase 1 without more input from the neighborhood and without actually being heard and issues addressed.”
“We’re the first purely residential or high residential neighborhood to have this. I don’t want the City to look back and say to another neighborhood, ‘We won’t do to you what we did to the West Avenue neighborhood,’” Bryant continued. “We learned from that. So we just want to take a pause. We want more involvement. We want to work with the process to make sure when we have an understanding of what the design is that one person doesn’t deliver a completely different design with no explanation, with no input.”
“I would encourage anyone that thinks that maybe a pause isn’t necessary to walk to the 10th street pumping station off West Avenue,” Bryant implored. “Take a look at that and say ‘Is this the best that Miami Beach can do?’ Because it is horrible but you won’t understand that unless you see it.”
10th Street Pump Station, West Avenue

Alemán said she had heard about the aesthetic issues and, while acknowledging “It’s an issue,” she said that it is “different from what’s underground. I want to make sure that when we’re talking about pushing pause buttons, we’re pushing pause buttons on the right things.”
She added, “If it hasn’t been officially said, then let’s say it now. There was a miss on the West Avenue streetscape with the committee and their recommendations and then where we were subsequently and it is the intention of the city to rectify that for West Avenue.”
While the West Avenue project (along with others) are on hold, Carpenter told the Committee, “There are some things we can be doing in this interim period so that we’re not at a dead stop … One of the big challenges that we have on West Avenue are the utility conflicts. We’re going to continue to move forward with the design component of what utilities need to be relocated so we can fit what we need to fit underground. So that is something we can be working on in this pause period.”
Chair Micky Steinberg told Bryant, “Because you are a highly dense area, it will affect a large population. We do want to get it right and you make a good point because we want to make sure everything we do in every part of our city is the model not the ‘Oh what we have to learn from.’”
After disclosure later in the week of the Indian Creek seawall not meeting environmental regulations, Alemán told RE:MiamiBeach, “We have a failure of project management and communication that points to a lack of checks and balances in the way that we’re managing the projects. I’ve communicated that to the administration and I expect them to resolve it immediately.”
“Particularly with West Avenue,” she said, “the project got to a point where we were leaving residents behind and that is something we promised we would not do.”

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