Co-founder and owner, Fuacata Sports, LLC
This post is part of our voter guide for the Nov. 5 local elections. Head to the main landing page for a guide to some other key races.
District 2 runs north, mostly along the Biscayne Boulevard corridor, from just south of Southwest 40th Street to Northeast 54th Street.
This interview has been lightly edited. Russell’s opponents are Jim Fried, Javier Gonzalez and Rosy Palomino.
What would your top 3 priorities be as commissioner?
My top three priorities have been and will continue to be preserving our environment, tackling the affordable housing crisis, and increasing mobility options.
We’ve been able to lay the groundwork for all three of these priorities and I am asking for a second term to fully deliver on the implementation and help shape Miami into a true world-class city. The Miami Forever Bond, which I helped structure and campaigned for, provides the City of Miami with preliminary funding of $200 million for resiliency initiatives and $100 million for affordable housing. These funds are overseen by a community advisory board of which I added a social justice seat to ensure greater checks for equitable spending within lower-income and minority communities.
On mobility, I’ve expanded the free trolley service, brought in the Freebee e-golf carts in the Coconut Grove business district, and am currently overseeing the scooter pilot program. We rolled out the scooter pilot program having studied best practices across the country and I can report that there have been nearly 1 million rides over the course of six months and no major injuries. With that being said, there are some reforms we will be enacting that will include incentivized docking stations and greater controls for underage and reckless riders.
What does a resilient and sustainable city look like to you?
A more sustainable and resilient city starts with people first, then government. Facilitating pathways for residents to live more sustainably and supporting them in educational activities that they lead, such as coastal cleanups, is the best way to start. During my tenure, I waived permitting fees for households that switch or supplement traditional energy sources for solar energy. I also banned the use of styrofoam in city parks & marinas and the use of the toxic chemical compound Glyphosate, formerly used by city departments to maintain medians and sidewalks. Just one department in the city was using 5000 gallons a year, which posed a water quality threat for Biscayne Bay because of the possibility of runoff into our storm drains.
In contrast to sustainability, resilience is about bouncing back. A resilient city is one that is ready on all fronts, not just for extreme weather, but for the socio-economic disparity that preparation and relief efforts yield if not closely monitored. It is for this reason that I have added a social justice seat on the Miami Forever Bond committee and the Sea Level Rise Committee, for our city to look at these problems from a more holistic and equitable lens.
What will you do to increase transparency and accountability for public officials?
I am proud to already have taken steps on this front. In my first term, I introduced a digitized and searchable campaign finance database and a separate lobbyist tracker. For the first time in the city of Miami, campaign contributions need to be digitally searchable through our city clerk and together with the laboratory information management system [L.I.M.S] tracker, residents can connect the dots by seeing who’s lobbying who and who’s giving money to who.
I also campaigned for a charter amendment issued by an appointee of mine from the Charter Review Council that allows residents to sue the city if we’re violating our charter (citizen standing).
What steps should Miami take to combat homelessness?
Homelessness is an epidemic within our urban core and at this juncture, we need to go above and beyond the traditional relationship we’ve had with the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust. During the first half of my term, I expanded the homeless employment program into the Omni and Edgewater area of the district and have now taken it city-wide, where I hope my colleagues will see the value of this on-the-ground cleanup and beautification service and expand it in their districts as well. Continuing to increase funding bedding and rehabilitation programs such as those offered by Lotus House must also be considered.
A lack of extremely low-income (ELI) housing makes it hard for our city to more readily transition to a housing first model for homelessness rehabilitation which is why I was able to pass the first-of-its-kind (in Florida) inclusionary zoning ordinance, that mandates a percentage of units within new construction to be along the spectrum of affordability — from ELI to workforce housing.
How should Miami increase and support affordable housing development?
Legislatively, the inclusionary zoning ordinance that I passed is a significant first step to incentivize developers to provide new units of affordable housing to residents that need them. Financially, through the help of the Miami Forever Bond, we have $100 million committed to affordability, which can be leveraged for both the construction of new units but also the rehabilitation of our existing stock of affordable housing.
Through our city’s partnership with the FIU Metropolitan Center, we now have a path forward on how to best spend these funds. One of the most interesting recommendations is that preserving existing affordable units by assisting longer-term residents with larger maintenance costs is one of the best ways to not exacerbate this crisis we find ourselves in.
How should Miami address its income inequality issues?
Attracting better-paying jobs and raising wages when possible is where we should start. Under my chairmanship of the Miami Downtown Development Authority (DDA), we were able to attract the tech incubator, 500 Startups to our Downtown and in my second term, I intend on making job creation a greater priority to helping our community continue to diversify its job sectors. Early in my term, I also passed a $15 minimum wage requirement for all city of Miami contractors. If not preempted by our state government, I would go further as I believe that wages should have a greater correlation to the cost of living in the city in which one resides in.
Do you support the plans for Miami Freedom Park?
I would only support a deal that involves no net loss of green space, a $15 minimum [wage per] hour for every job on-site, and a fair return for the city.
What steps should the city take to reduce pollution in Biscayne Bay?
Banning styrofoam in city parks & marinas and the use of Glyphosate for maintenance services is an important first step. As a City, we need to more closely monitor the 390 stormwater outfalls we have that filter into Biscayne Bay, exploring best practices on the types of catch systems we can use for plastics and other synthetics discarded by motorists and pedestrians.
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