President/Broker, Sunset Realty Group
B.A., Florida Atlantic University; J.D., University of Florida
Board of Trustees, Florida Democratic Party; member of Miami-Dade Hispanic Democratic Caucus, Young Democrats, Downtown Democrats; former finance chair of Miami-Dade County Democratic Executive Committee; former pro-bono attorney for ACLU and Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center
This candidate survey was added after publication.
Update: On Oct. 30, two women, one of them Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez, accused Rafael Velasquez of sexual impropriety. The Miami-Dade Democratic Party has pulled their support and said that if the allegations are true, Velasquez should quit the race.
1. Sea level rise is obviously on everyone’s mind. Do you think Miami Beach is on the right path? Is there more we could be doing?
It’s encouraging that Miami Beach has become a leader in terms of sea level rise awareness. The willingness to put the necessary resources into making sure our infrastructure is in front of the challenges brought by climate change is the right attitude, and a lot farther-thinking than many other cities.
However, in planning for infrastructure improvements, I believe there is still a ways to go to make sure they are understood and supported by the communities they affect. People should not be finding out after the fact that the street-raising on their block meant to prevent flooding will actually end up flooding their basement every time it rains. Additionally, the environmental side-effects of practices like pumping floodwater into Biscayne Bay need to be addressed.
Miami Beach also needs to provide the public with a timeline for implementation of any new measures, clearly explaining the necessity for them.
Miami Beach is a leader in dealing with climate change in South Florida, but we have to be that in order to survive. Now we have to think of not just surviving, but thriving. And thriving together as a city of healthy communities.
2. The costs of sea level rise are increasingly falling on property owners as well, as efforts like raising roads makes homes more vulnerable. What can the city do to help homeowners combat sea level rise? Help with the costs?
The city can do a lot. We need to make sure that homeowners’ insurance does not become an unaffordable luxury that drives people out of their community. The city, county, state and federal government all need to share in on the cost of making sure we survive as an economic engine for the region, which will lessen the burden on Miami Beach taxpayers.
I do support creating voluntary special taxing districts to finance the projects necessary to fend off sea level rise. Mainly, I am behind this idea as those districts should tax based on property values, a more progressive solution than using water and sewage fees.
A lot of what we can do is visualize the fight against the effects of climate change as a fight for a resilient community. The ultimate goal is to survive, bounce back from adversity and keep the beautiful lifestyle we know and love. With that in mind, there are always ways to find smarter and more cost-effective solutions. A multi-million dollar investment in a pump system is appropriate in some cases, but in other cases, buying the right-of-way to make sure floodwaters drain more naturally is a cheaper option.
3. There is a lot of tension in Miami Beach right now around the question of who the city should put at the center of its decision-making: the long-term, year-round residents, or the lucrative tourism industry. What is your stance on:
3a. Whether Airbnb and other short-term rentals should be allowed? If yes, how should they be handled?
I support necessary short-term rental restrictions in order to protect the residential character of our neighborhoods and keep rental prices affordable for long-term residents. However, I oppose punitive measures that deter occasional short-term rentals by owners who sublease their residences within the rules of their living communities.
Any homeowner or authorized tenant should be able to rent their property out when they leave on vacation, as long as this is only done occasionally, and not as a way to run a covert hotel. Policy should always be driven by a legal standard that respects both property rights and the public interest.
3b. The proposed change to Ocean Drive’s last call?
I am a father, a husband and a breadwinner who understands the value of everyone’s work. I don’t think it’s wise for politicians to interfere with our tourist economy – our engine of economic development. I also think it is wrong and immoral to take an action that will swiftly put many primary breadwinners out of a job.
Tourism is an industry that is directly and indirectly providing the largest part of revenue funding our city, county and state. If we attack tourism, we are attacking the very services that make Miami Beach an amazingly unique place to live. Without that money, we would have to reduce services or raise taxes. Not a great idea.
I am a Miami Beach resident, and believe that our interests come first. If we need to move police resources to help ensure the safety and peace of Ocean Drive, then let’s do that! However, we need to respect the character of our City and realize why we fell in love with it in the first place.
4. How do you plan to bring in a diverse range of voices in your decision making? Miami Beach has a large immigrant population that often goes unheard, plus a large working class population that helps to support the tourism industry. How will we make sure their needs are met?
An extended part of my campaign has been a listening tour to take into account the hopes, dreams, and fears of the very folks you are mentioning. Yes, there are many in our community that go unheard, and yes, a lot of them are sidelined because they are immigrants who are not readily accepted into the fold.
As a first-generation immigrant myself, an immigration attorney in an earlier part of my career and a lifelong advocate, I have always been there for people that just want to enjoy the opportunities America provides for them and their children. As a commissioner, my door will be wide open to them. Moreover, from the beginning I have run a campaign because I believe we can’t remain silent in this current era of rising hate, fear, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and bigotry! We need to stand up and fight for all of our people at every level of government.
As a strong progressive, the needs of all our people, regardless of how much they make, what they look like, where they were born, or who they love, are close to my heart.
5. What is one change you want to make that would improve YOUR life in Miami Beach?
My wife is looking forward for me to help solve the traffic issue on the causeways that delays so much we need to do in our daily lives. Handling traffic, more than any other issue, is one where the effects for all Miami Beach residents – myself included – will be immediate.