Back in December Doral residents, by a vote of almost 2-1, put Juan Carlos Bermudez back in city hall as the city's mayor. This is not a new experience for Bermudez. He was Doral's founding mayor (2003-2012). We spoke with him about some of the challenges he faces this second time around.
WLRN: Why did you want to come back to lead the city of Doral when you were already mayor?
Bermudez: I didn't necessarily want to come back. Having been the founding mayor for 9 1/2 years, I said in my last State of the City Address "I think I set a good base for the city." Unfortunately, over the last four years there was just a total deviation from the original vision and values of this city. Also, around January of last year, when I still hadn't decided to do it, I received probably a thousand different signatures from residents that wanted me to return.
I just felt that I was extremely disenchanted with the way residents were being treated at council meetings, with the lack of planning, the lack of openness and transparency and really truthfully, in the end, the lack of ethics and total deviation from what I felt were the values that represented the city when we left it in 2012.
What sort of changes would you like to make from the last administration?
I think the most important change that I would like to bring about, in particular this first year, is to get us back to what I call the city's original culture. When I say culture I'm not talking about being Hispanic or Anglo or anything like that. We had a culture that was focused on three things: No. 1, focusing on quality of life, making it the premier place to live, work, play and learn; No. 2, to have growth because we knew it was coming and it was going to happen but it had to be planned and controlled; and No. 3, focus on being open and transparent and giving as much access as possible to our residents.
Do you think the city grew too fast?
I think the city grew at the pace that South Florida was growing, in particular West Dade.
When I talk about growth, I mean focusing on trying to have a master plan that is consistent with the vision of all of us in the city. And we had an original master plan that called for this area to become a downtown area, but to make sure that as we went west the density protected the traditional neighborhoods.
We also had a master plan that focused on bringing more class-A office space and trying to get some of the logistics industry closer to the major thoroughfares like the 826 and the 836, so trucks don't go through our neighborhood. I mean, you know you don't control growth totally, no matter who’s mayor.
So obviously with growth you can expect some traffic problems. Miami, in general, is one of the worst in the country when it comes to traffic congestion. In Doral, where are the biggest traffic issues you've got to tackle?
The example that I always point out is this morning I went to get my Dunkin' Donuts coffee on 87th Avenue. I was looking across the street and I saw the Hotel Intercontinental that's been there for a while. Then I saw this new development with 400-plus units nearby, and then [I saw] 300,000 square feet of industrial logistics that have been approved close by too. It doesn't make sense to approve 300,000 square feet of logistics next to 400 condos or apartments, where people are going to be living.
For me, No. 1 is dealing with proper zoning, because if not it exacerbates traffic and other problems.
The second thing is you need to be able to communicate and work with the federal government, the state government, the county government to try to get the funds that impact traffic in your city.
Can you change or go back and fix any of those things?
I can't change those decisions that I disagreed with. And the reality is that what we have to do now on the traffic side is try to get us a permanent seat on the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which we're entitled since we’re over 50,000 residents already, and at least that will give us a seat at the table when we talk about transit in Miami-Dade County. I can work with our congressmen and women, our state senators and state representatives and more importantly even with our county mayor and county commissioners.
Is there anything you could have done to mitigate some of that growth and those traffic issues?
There might have been certain things, like maybe we could have been more insistent with the county on signalization, which was an issue and we never got a resolution to it.
I don't think we would have been able to do much with growth because growth was going to happen. I would say that one thing we could have done is maybe insisted more that the county and adjacent municipalities be brought into a more regional discussion on transit, which is finally starting to happen, by the way. We're finally starting to see that the county commission is saying, 'Hey, we're going to have light rail. It's going to go through the whole county. It's not going to be just downtown.' And that's a discussion that we should have had and maybe we could have been more insistent on it.
What is your approach to this second run as mayor compared to the first years as the founding mayor?
My approach is going to be one of focusing on traffic obviously as the first issue. We need to be creative about what we can do while on that seat on the MPO. I think you know we have to come back to a culture of efficiency and effectiveness in government transparency and openness to our residents. There are more issues that we need to deal with. But it's very doable and it begins by changing that culture we had as a city originally.
President Trump has made a lot of visits to South Florida but to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach County, and that has been an extra cost to the citizens of Palm Beach County. And every time he shows up there's a protest. During the campaign he did come to Doral quite often. Is Doral ready if the president comes, especially taking that extra cost of security?
Probably one of the first calls I got after being elected was from the president’s people here in Doral and precisely about that issue. And we're cognizant of the fact that none of the cities at this point are getting reimbursed for some of these added expenses.
The police chief has already been meeting with me and we are prepared because eventually President Trump will come to his property, simply because it is in Miami, it is in Doral, and it's by Southern Command, and we deal with this all the time. We periodically have protests. Sometimes we deal with it because of Sen. Marco Rubio and Congressman Mario Diaz Balart’s offices are right here on the corner.
So if there is a city that's pretty aware of having to deal with some of these issues, we are ready to work with Miami-Dade County and also with the Secret Service and the federal government to make sure that when the president does visit Doral and visits this property that we're prepared.