Testimony to Dade Delegation

At a recent meeting of the Dade Delegation at Miami City Hall, Barbara Falsey, President of UEL, submitted the following testimony.  It is important that all of us take every opportunity we can to let them know what we care about and that funding for open space and the environment really matters.

Good Morning Members of the Dade Delegation – thank you for providing us with this opportunity 

My name is Barbara Falsey and I am speaking as president of the Urban Environment League.  We are a non-profit, non-partisan organization that promotes public open space and parks, environmental protection and sound planning. 

There are several different issues I will briefly address but they all share one over-riding principal –  that even in tough times, and we know these are very hard economic times for everyone, it is crucial to keep an eye on the long term – on the legacy that we as citizens and policy makers leave behind us.  In fact, it is probably most important to do this when times are tough.  Specifically, I want to mention funding for open space and parks, support for everglades restoration, opposition to off-shore or near-shore oil drilling and our concerns about the recent changes in the growth management process. 

In terms of funding for parks and open space, I urge you to restore funding to Florida Forever.   This is a program that all Floridians should be very proud of.  Over time, this program and its predecessor helped to preserve over 2.4 million acres of land ranging from sea-turtle nesting sites, to mangrove hammocks to trails and waterways.  Florida Forever has been a critical partner to the efforts ofMiamiDadeCounty’s Environmentally Endangered Lands Program and others like it throughout the state. 

 

It was of great concern last year when funding was first cut to zero after what was expected to be a temporary reduction from $300 to $15 million,  then restored to up to $305 million to come from sales of surplus land,  a compromise of sorts,  and then vetoed by the Governor.  That veto of funds that were not even coming out of taxes or the general fund sent a terrible message.  Florida’s fragile beauty, the richness of our environment, our fishing, our hiking and recreational trails, are part of what we cherish as residents and what visitors expect to find when they visit or relocate to our state.   We know that land values are depressed – well there is always opportunity in troubled times.  In this case, there is no better time to be acquiring land for preservation and recreation that in the long run pay off in jobs, tourism and quality of life.  I urge you to make funding for Florida Forever a top priority in your next session.  

 I also urge you to restore funding in DEP for the Florida Recreational Development Assistance Program (lovingly known as FRDAP), and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  Both are competitive grants that allow local jurisdictions to supplement their own funds for acquisition and development of land for public outdoor recreation.  About parks, two things are indisputable: one:  parks have a positive impact on real estate values.  In Chicagothat came to be known as the Millennium Effect after the amazing spurt of economic activity thatMillenniumParkcreated.; and two, that when families have less money for trips for vacations or movies and the like, park usage goes up.  In the current climate, park improvements are simply really good investments.  Capital projects in parks create jobs, parks create real-estate value and are the kinds of places that our families cherish for their “stay-cations”.   Funding these programs is a wise investment in both our present and our future.

 I also urge you to fight for more funding for Everglades Restoration.  The variety of CERP projects and acquisitions are an opportunity to right what we now know were the wrongs of earlier efforts to tame the “river of grass.”  The critical role that the Everglades plays in preserving potable water, in the health of Florida Bay and all of its commercial and recreational fishing, is well known. Floridais the one place in the world that has this unique resource.  If we continue to cut and cut the funding we make available, our commitment to that resource looks pretty weak.  The plans are in place, and for many projects there is a work force is ready to go.  This is not the time to stall or delay work to restore this globally imperiled ecosystem.

 These projects have been victims of short-term thinking in the face of falling revenues.  In these times, it is also tempting to look to new sources of revenue.  One of the temptations that come around now and then is the promise of revenue from off-shore or near-shore drilling.  Again, it is understandable that legislators would look for new revenue – who can blame you.   And that oil companies would look for new sources of oil.  But just a little over a year after we were all holding our breath over whether the loop current would bring oil to the shores of the Monroe and Miami Dade Counties.  We need to remember that sometimes the risk of an action really outweighs the benefit.   So – if it comes up – just remember what the gulf went through – and what we were gearing up for:  closed beaches, impaired fisheries, loss of tourism, cleanups that we still don’t know the dimensions of.  Remember – it is not worth it.

 Finally, I want to express a concern about the changes in the growth management process.  At this point, we do not know exactly what CDMP amendments will be coming up and how things will proceed – but we have reasons to be worried.  Changing land use has traditionally been and should be a deliberative process – it is a big deal.  Land use defines in a very long term what can and can not occur on property.  The shortened time frames for review and the fact that applications may now be filed at any time – rather than in a predictable cycle, are worrying.  Will agencies – especially in times of short staffing – have enough time to really evaluate applications? Will the public have enough time to become aware of them – much less informed about them?  Will the fact that park and open space, transportation and school concurrency are now optional elements mean that Florida goes way back to the days of selling lots in subdivisions with no way to get to them – and only the tax payer to pay for improvements?   I understand that many are already looking at tweaks to the law. I urge you, especially in the context of a county with 35 cities, each with their own CDMP, to look at the implications of these very radical changes to the law.   We will be trying to catch up on the new process but I fear that this was really a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.   Good planning takes time, environmental reviews are serious stuff and public input in the process is crucial. I am worried that the rush to streamline a process may have long-term serious unintended consequences.

 Thank you for your time – and thank you for your dedication to public service – you do not have an easy job, but you do have the opportunity to make a difference in the future of Florida. 

 

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