Despite the formal opposition of the Key Biscayne Village Council, Miami-Dade County Commissioners kept the Rickenbacker Causeway privatization plan alive on Tuesday, even as they deleted the Venetian Causeway from the proposal. The plan now has an extended bid deadline of March instead of December.
The Commissioners heard from speakers both for and against the current process, including four members of the Village Council.
“Plan Z is great,” said Council Member Brett Moss, himself an architect. “But the proposal is missing critical items,” he continued. “Be our champions. Support your residents over a private company.”
The process was set into motion when Mayor Daniella Levine Cava put forward an “unsolicited proposal” from architect Bernard Zyscovich this summer, kicking off a competition. Zyscovich, who has been promoting his concept for years, pleaded to let the process continue.
“We can really make something special happen, he said. “There’s actually a funding source that can enable this project to happen without property taxation that will have modest toll increases and will actually be able to deliver a visionary project all at once.”
That argument appealed to Commission Chair Jose “Pepe” Diaz, who repeated his concern that further changes would undermine the P3 law process the County enacted as a major policy goal years ago to encourage more private sector-led projects.
Levine Cava endorsed the delay, saying she could not make an evaluation until a fiscal analysis of various public and private financing options is complete. That analysis, known as a “value for money” study will be ready in a few weeks. She said it will be made public immediately when completed.
The outcome of that analysis may reveal that Tuesday’s vote may only be a temporary reprieve, however, since the Commission can still amend the project, make changes or reject it completely at a later date.
Indeed, Commissioner Joe Martinez said he was unlikely to ever support a private takeover of the roadway, especially concerning tolls. “Plan Z should be plan R-I-P,” he said.
Commissioner Raquel Regalado, who represents Key Biscayne, proposed more than just a delay. She moved to amend the proposal to make it less specific, deleting some features that would allow competitors to be less bound by the still-secret proposal from the Zyscovich group. But she withdrew those provisions after being assured that there would be future sunshine meetings allowing public participation, including bidders.
“I know my Board,” Regalado said after the vote. She said she was pleased that the Commission also directed the administration to allow bidders to speak with stakeholders — like the Village — at future public meetings. “If it’s in sunshine, we’re fine,” she said, noting that proposers can decide to participate or not.
“One step at a time,” said Fausto Gomez, a former lobbyist who also asked commissioners to scrap the process. He predicted the results of the financial analysis will dictate what happens to the RFP.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey, who attended the afternoon session along with four other members of the Village Council, said he continues to meet other Commissioners off the dais, and will work for a full reset. “I’m going to keep working those angles to get them to move in our direction.”
“Disappointed that more didn’t happen today,” added Council Member Allison McCormick. “This is in the early innings.”’
As for Zyscovich, he was seen after the vote engaging with residents who came to the meeting, saying he is eager to talk about his proposal, and was planning to hold talks with individual residents.
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.