Teresa Sarnoff

Why are you running?

I love Miami. This is my home. We are on the precipice of being one of the most important cities in the Western Hemisphere. We are the gateway to North, South and Central America, as well as the Caribbean. We have vibrant culture, incredible food, exciting nightlife, gorgeous weather, beautiful architecture, amazing natural scenery and the list goes on. I am truly blessed to live in one of the greatest cities in the world. This is why I am running for Miami City Commissioner District 2. I know that I can represent our city in the way that it deserves. I am driven and determined to make Miami great. We must continue towards progress and address the problems that growth may bring. Over the past few months, I have walked District 2 twice. During this time I have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of residents and families who have shared with me their thoughts, concerns and wishes for our community. I am currently walking a third time in hopes of continuing the dialogue between the residents of District 2 and me.

Office hours and public forums are traditional ways to provide residents an opportunity to be heard. But let’s be honest, who really has the time? The only way for our city commissioners to best represent the residents is to understand their concerns and desires. That is what Miami deserves – a politician who is willing to take the time to walk door-to-door to listen, learn and address the issues. I have included my personal cell phone number on all of my campaign literature to demonstrate my commitment toward accessibility. I want to hear from people; I want to make this city what we all know and dream it could be. My personal number is (786) 295-3159. I look forward to hearing from the community.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Miami right now? And, what are some of the solutions you would propose?

I have actually combined the next two questions. It will not only be my responsibility to identify Miami’s biggest challenges but to also find solutions for these challenges. Below are a list of what I believe are some of Miami’s biggest challenges, as well as some solutions.

1. Crime and Public Safety: We need to reduce crime in our city. Miami is in the top 20 of major cities for crimes committed and in the bottom 20 for crimes solved. This must change! Miami deserves to be a top city for safety and crime solving. We need to prioritize increasing the size of our police force in an effort to combat our increasing crime statistics. Our police force is overworked. In the last ten years Miami’s urban core has doubled in size, yet the size of our police force has stayed the same. To put this in perspective, on a national scale, we have less than half the amount of police officers per thousand residents as other major metropolitan cities. New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta and even Miami Beach have more than 4.5 police officers per thousand residents. In the City of Miami, we have roughly 2 police officers per thousand residents. This figure does include our daytime population, which increases more than 160,000 people Monday through Friday. In summation, we fall far below the national standard, and this must change.

2. Transportation Options and Traffic: Here in South Florida, we all know what it’s like to spend a large amount of our day stuck in traffic. In fact, Miami is home to some of the worst traffic in the Western Hemisphere, and it is only getting worse. 50 percent of Miami’s population currently spends over 30 minutes commuting to and from work each day. Our population is getting larger; our commutes are getting longer; and the constant road construction is infuriating. Sitting in the car for hours at a time should not be our only option. Miami needs more effective modes of travel that will reduce the congestion of cars on our streets. There is an abundance of options among us: green alternatives like bicycle lanes and electric trolley cars; traditional yet modern alternatives like light rails and high speed rails; and innovative concepts like water taxis and gondolas. Roads are public. It is the responsibility of our Government to provide us with cost effective, efficient and eco friendly alternatives for transportation. I am tired of fighting traffic, instead I will fight for our right for a better way to travel.

3. Progressive Planning and Efficient Government Spending: The county continues to disappoint on numerous public works projects, but none more important than transportation. The County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) can only be described as an utter failure. The county has billions of dollars through the People’s Transportation Plan (PTP) tax, which was created to address the ongoing issue of traffic. BILLIONS have been spent, transportation is as bad as ever, and there is no end in sight. The City of Miami, which is not a recipient of the PTP, must now begin to act in a capacity, neither intended nor budgeted. We need to start planning for our future and stop waiting for the county to get its act together. We must support transportation set-aside funding through the use of building impact fees. We need to provide the city with the opportunity and leverage necessary to afford us a seat at the table with the agencies that are truly responsible for transportation. We can no longer wait or kowtow to the county on the issue of transportation. We need to form our own partnerships and create our own innovative ideas to solve our transportation problems.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Development: Florida is one of the deadliest states in the country for cyclists and pedestrians. What is most upsetting is that these deaths are for the most part, preventable. The main reason for these tragedies is the fact that most of our roads were not built for cyclists. Although illegal, drivers often speed, text and drive recklessly. Without dedicated lanes for our cyclists and pedestrians, everyone is at risk. We are all tired of seeing senseless injuries and tragedies. There is a solution to help our city, but we need to act immediately because there is opportunity all around. The Coconut Grove Main Highway County storm water project is a great example of how pedestrian friendly solutions are easily and seamlessly incorporated into much larger projects. The U.S. Department of Transportation has just implemented mandatory guidelines for protected bike lanes on projects receiving Federal dollars. Wherever and whenever, we must support bike riding and pedestrian dedicated lanes. Public right-of-ways are not only perfect avenues for residents to adopt healthy lifestyles with zero CO2 emissions but also protect our loved ones from harm.

Imagine we gave you a $100 budget. How would you spend those $100?

Please share a few words about how you would tackle the some of the following challenges:

Poverty and the low median wage: The people of South Florida suffered a devastating blow during the last Great Recession. Throughout this time we all felt helpless, overwhelmed, and blindsided. Although the national recession is long over, we as Miamians are still reeling from its effects. We are still struggling with immense poverty, homelessness, and one of the lowest median incomes in the country.

My work with the Camillus House opened my eyes to the hunger and poverty that surrounds us here in South Florida. I have listened to the haunting stories and have seen the struggles first hand of how the economic collapse continues to devastate our community. We need to focus on building a strong and stable economy to improve the lives of all South Floridians.

Our government can be a useful and powerful tool for job creation and economic stabilization. We should require our city contracts and agreements where city resources are used, to require living and prevailing wages for all laborers. We must focus and support our core strengths of tourism, real estate, and retail. In addition, we must encourage and foster new and innovate industries. This will serve to diversify Miami’s commercial profile while injecting key investments not only into new economic ventures, but more importantly, the South Florida economy. Our government can provide the foundation necessary for our city to flourish and I look forward to playing a crucial role in laying the groundwork.

The high cost of rent/real estate: We need smart growth. We cannot expand outwards any more without compromising Florida’s environment and natural beauty. In order to increase our supply of affordable housing we must encourage vertical growth. Increasing our amount of available housing will reduce our dependence on cars for transportation and will encourage centralized growth that fosters a live, work, play attitude.

I support inclusionary zoning, as it fosters a symbiotic relationship between developers and residents. Developers are given a meaningful choice and incentive to provide affordable housing. Inclusionary Zoning provides developers with benefits like height and density allowances in return for guaranteed affordable housing. A defined number of apartments are made available for residents that earn 60 to 80% of the Average Median Income (AMI). This results in set aside units for those who qualify.

Congestion and transit options: We cannot “car” our way out of congestion; we must improve congestion through creative and innovate transit solutions. The savings from the cost of operating, use and ownership of a car is approximately $9,000/annually. Getting out of the “car mindset” would improve traffic congestion and our own personal economic situation. There is low hanging fruit for accomplishing this:

1) INTERACTIVE TRAFFIC SIGNALS: The city must encourage the County to create interactive traffic signals. These lights should respond to real time traffic trends based on usage.

2) FLEX HOURS: We need to make reducing the amount of cars on our roads during Miami’s rush hour traffic (7AM-9AM and 4PM-6PM) a priority. The city should create incentives for employers to implement flex hour commuting programs to allow employees to commute over varied time frames

3) INCREASE MASS TRANSIT: We need to increase our available mass transit options. TriRail should have a Central Station downtown and East-West connectors. We need to increase the City’s trolley service and reach, from Brickell to the Grove, and link to the Coral Gables trolley.

4) RIDE SHARING AND CARPOOLING: We must encourage the use of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. The County for far too long has alienated these organizations in favor of special interests. We must create opportunities for these types of industries to flourish.

5) VERTICAL URBANIZATION: The vertical urbanization of Miami will improve traffic flow as those who live in Miami’s core, work in Miami’s core, play in Miami’s core and can learn in Miami’s core, alleviating the mass commute from the suburbs. By use of the free Trolley’s circulators in the City of Miami we can allow many to leave their cars at home and make use of the service for many facets of work, play and learn.

Climate change and environmental damage: First and foremost, the city of Miami needs to officially recognize that “global warming” and “climate change” is the result of human conduct and the burning of fossil fuels. This can be accomplished through a proclamation or resolution. We must embrace the terms and we need to all get on the same page. This is happening and we need to work together. Until this realization is made, all this is just talk. It is our duty to think globally and act locally.

Moving forward we must immediately reduce our CO2 emissions. The city should encourage FPL to reduce its CO2 emitting production facilities. The city should also encourage ride sharing and the use of electric cars (which I drive). We also must prepare pump stations along the coastal areas with high volume homes and points throughout the city with high propensities for flooding.

The city needs to change all of its policies, codes and projects to reflect the reality of global warming and sea level rise. We should start with Miami 21. We need to re-design our criteria for both homes located in the Federal Flood Plan and homes located near the Flood Plan. Years ago homes built near the water were built with a first level that could incur a salt-water intrusion. Just like the Miami Dockmaster building in Coconut Grove.

Transparency in government and access to open data: Lastly, access to open data promotes an effective government and engages the community. Moving forward, the city should make best efforts to digitize all open data. This will centralize information and make general queries more encompassing. This will also improve government efficiency and resident knowledge while also reducing waste, promoting an eco-friendly green government.

Currently, high-profile individuals like city commissioners and mayors bear the burden and brunt of ethical scrutiny. However, we need to do a better job fostering a culture of ethical behavior from top to bottom. We need to cultivate a culture where everyone understands his or her own personal ethical obligations as a city employee. Dedicated ethics classes and training (which is not currently required) should be compulsory at all levels to ensure more prepared and informed employees. A system where everyone is equally accountable for their actions creates checks and balances from the top to bottom.