In a plea for cooperation instead of conflict, County Commissioner Raquel Regalado defused –at least temporarily– growing Key Biscayne dissatisfaction over Miami-Dade County’s plan to privatize the Rickenbacker Causeway. Meanwhile, the project is already facing demands for major changes from other communities, and the first bidder’s conference –scheduled for today– was abruptly rescheduled.
County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava set the privatization process in motion in July for one of Florida’s most iconic roadways, but even she has questioned some aspects of the project and the process.
As a specially-called meeting of the Village Council started Wednesday, several prominent speakers urged Key Biscayne to demand the County cancel the current process, which began without any involvement of the Village and is currently on course to stay shrouded in procurement secrecy rules.
Among those calling for the Village to demand the county scrap the current solicitation were former Council Member Gary Gross, prominent Miami attorney Eugene Stearns, and former Village lobbyist Fausto Gomez, a condominium leader. They maintained the current process is so flawed that it must start afresh, and that the County has already broken its promises.
But in a lengthy rebuttal that seemed defensive at times, Regalado persuaded the Council at Wednesday’s meeting to hold another session with County staff instead.
The goal: amend the project, don’t cancel it.
“I don’t think you should put on your war paint,” Regalado said. “I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
Council Member Frank Caplan, who as a former Key Biscayne mayor worked with Regalado to create the Village’s high school program at MAST Academy, said the Council owed her “enlightened deference” to work with the County for a better outcome. But he too had many questions, saying he was not convinced of the wisdom of privatizing the six-mile stretch. Joining him was Council Member Luis Lauredo, who said that privatization projects often drive up costs.
Council Member Brett Moss also said he was concerned about privatization, saying that higher toll revenues alone would be insufficient to fund the scope of work envisioned under the County’s solicitation, known as an RFP. That would mean other sources of funds, such as government grants, would be needed.
The current County process invites bidders to compete with a secret plan submitted by architect Bernard Zyscovich’s consortium, a cyclist-friendly project that Key Biscayne leaders say falls far short of traffic management and other goals, with no specification of how much tolls will increase. The competition process also imposes what village leaders call a “gag order” that prevents any bidder from discussing the project with Village officials, even though the plan is a County project, not a Village one.
Regalado, who has earned credibility with Council members –they all praised her work on other projects– agreed the secretive unsolicited proposal process was far from ideal. She said the current bidding specification can be amended by Mayor Levine Cava or the County Commission. Levine Cava has already said she is open to plan amendments and is not necessarily convinced that privatization is the only option for updating the causeway.
“I’m asking you guys to please give this a chance,” she said. “I will lobby the 12 other commissioners.”
But Regalado may be facing headwinds of her own downtown, where some commissioners already seemed to be hedging their support for the current process. At least one planned on making major changes.
Commissioner Sally Heyman, who represents Miami Beach, said she is determined to remove renovation of the Venetian Causeway from the project. She said she has already started drafting legislation to make the change at next month’s Commission meeting. “It’s unacceptable. If we are supposed to be inclusive and transparent, this was years of work in progress.”
Commission Vice Chair Oliver Gilbert said he has not yet formed any opinion on the RFP. “I’m still looking at it.”
Commissioner Eileen Higgins said she felt bound by the secrecy rules and could not comment about the RFP itself, stating detailed discussions of it were premature. “For me, I have to wait and see what comes back, which may be nothing, by the way. Sometimes you put these RFP’s out,” she said, “and they may change.”
The bidder’s conference was rescheduled for Sept. 9. The County also pushed back the bid deadline to Dec. 13 from the earlier Nov. 4. date. A spokesperson for Levine Cava said she did not know the reason for the sudden postponement.
One idea, however —that Key Biscayne mount its own bid to administer the renovation project and partner with bidders— did not seem to get any traction. After the Council agreed to participate in another meeting with Regalado, Council Member Ignacio Segurola moved that Key Biscayne ask the County to transfer the causeway project to the Village.
His motion died for lack of a second.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.