By Dana Robin Goldman, Mayor
I am honored to present the 2022 State of the City to our Sunny Isles Beach community. When I was elected Mayor last year, I promised to work collaboratively with residents and staff to bring about the change in Sunny Isles Beach that you wish to see. It is my privilege and pleasure to be your mayor and play a part in that change. I look forward to great accomplishments and progress.
2021 was another challenging year as the COVID-19 pandemic was still persistent in our community. But Sunny Isles Beach is resilient, and we doubled down our efforts to keep the community safe. With the vaccine and booster rollout, we were able to forge ahead and return to some of our more regular day-to-day activities. Commission meetings, programs, and services eventually transitioned from virtual to in-person, and we returned to a more usual schedule of special events. The New Year also brought a new wave of COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant spread throughout the country. We continue to spearhead and offer testing and vaccinations at the Government Center while promoting important safety measures to slow the spread. If everyone does their part, we will keep our community safe.
Administrative & Legislative Changes
Last year also brought administrative changes to our City. As you all know, former Mayor George “Bud” Scholl resigned in September, which resulted in a Special Mayoral Election in November. Former Chief of Police Dwight Snyder retired in August and Captain Michael Grandinetti has been serving as Interim Police Chief. In December, the City Commission appointed Stan Morris as City Manager. Stan was with the City as Deputy City Manager for eight years and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this important role leading staff into a new era in Sunny Isles Beach. I appointed Commissioner Jeniffer Viscarra to be Vice Mayor, a role in which I am confident she will excel. Two new commissioners, Johana Rabinovich and Fabiola Stuvyesant, were appointed in December until the special election that will be held on January 25, 2022.
In 2021, the Commission passed important legislation for Sunny Isles Beach. In June we adopted a Sustainable Procurement Policy and in March we banned the use of polystyrene food service articles on City property. In December the Commission voted to include June 19, otherwise known as Juneteenth, as an observed City holiday.
On the financial front, Sunny Isles Beach remained fiscally strong as our assessed value increased by $720 million – to $12.6 billion – from the previous fiscal year. Our millage rate reduced to 2.1 mils per $1,000 of assessed value. It was the ninth year in a row the City lowered the tax rate and the fifth year we proposed a tax rate below the roll back rate. Like last year, we experienced capital fund shortfalls of approximately $4 million due to the pandemic, which may lead to delays in some City projects. These shortfalls are offset by federal funding. We received $1.9 million in CARES Act funding distributed by Miami-Dade County, and nearly $40,000 from FEMA in relation to the pandemic. We also received $5.4 million in ARPA funds in 2021 and are expected to receive another $5.4 million later this year.
In a concentrated effort to protect our community, the Police Department ramped up several safety initiatives, including Multi-Agency Traffic Education and Enforcement blitzes at various locations around the City and zero-tolerance enforcement procedures. As a result of the increase in police presence, we also saw an increase in citations issued. In 2021, PD issued 6,456 total citations, nearly 45% more than those issued in 2019. The most common citations issued last year include speeding, 887 citations – close to 40% more citations issued than in 2019, and running a red light, 520 citations – 188% more citations issued than in 2019. PD also hosted Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety nights and established frequent Road Reports detailing their continued safety measures and actions. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) installed pedestrian crossing signage at the intersection of Collins Avenue and 172, 174, and 183 streets. A signalized pedestrian crosswalk at 189 Street and Collins Avenue is in progress. PD also purchased six solar-powered, FDOT-approved radar speed signs, which are strategically placed around the City. As part of a citywide Autism and Neurodiverse Inclusion Program and an effort to provide inclusive service to all, the Police Department underwent training in coordination with the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities.
Our longstanding Collins Avenue Utility Undergrounding and Streetlighting projects progressed. Phase two is substantially complete and we are jumping to phase four in order to complete the north end of the City in time to proceed with the Golden Shores Undergrounding project and energize the Golden Shores area. One hundred and fifty of the 161 streetlights are installed along Collins Avenue, and the final 11 streetlights are anticipated to be installed soon. You will notice these new streetlights throughout the city.
The Golden Shores Streetlighting project was completed on October 15, 2021, with 130 new lights illuminating the neighborhood. The undergrounding project was awarded to The Stout Group and will begin early this year. We anticipate the project to take 15-18 months, with completion in the third quarter of 2023. Part of this project includes creating an urban walkway from 186 to 191 Street along Atlantic Boulevard. The purpose of this project is to provide a safer, more pleasant path adjacent to Collins Avenue and away from traffic. We expect to begin construction on the urban walkway in the second quarter of 2022. This is part of our pedestrian safety initiative.
Improvements to our infrastructure took place around the City as preemptive, routine, and new projects continued. FDOT conducted repairs and preventative maintenance on the William Lehman Causeway in fall 2021 and made improvements along Collins Avenue intersections. The Sunny Isles Boulevard/163 Street Bridge Rehabilitation and Roadway Project began in August 2021 and is expected to conclude in spring 2023. Some of the work involves repairing structural, mechanical and electrical bridge components, replacing the bridge’s deck to improve the riding surface and reduce noise, repaving and restriping the roadway and ramps, and enhancing pedestrian ramps and bicyclist railing.
We are working on significant improvements to the stormwater drainage in the Central Island area. This project is in the design phase and is anticipated to include the installation of two new pump stations, one each at 178 Drive and North Bay Road and 181 Drive and North Bay Road. The existing drainage pipes along North Bay Road will be replaced with larger pipes to provide adequate flow for the new stormwater drainage system. The pump stations, which will discharge to the bay, are designed to eliminate the street flooding that we have been experiencing along North Bay Road. This is a much-anticipated project that will benefit a large portion of our community. This project is scheduled to go out to bid in the second quarter of 2022.
Parks & Recreation
Our parks are integral to the landscape of Sunny Isles Beach. We take great pride in maintaining all 11 parks for residents to enjoy. The splash pad at Heritage Park was recently resurfaced to provide for a safer experience for children while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the park. At Pelican Community Park the baseball field fence was repaired, the lobby was upgraded, and the building received some much-needed structural repairs. A beautification enhancement coming to the Newport Fishing Pier is a new pavilion shade structure. This will provide much needed solace from the sun beating down on those fishing or strolling down the Pier.
By now, I hope you have visited Gateway Center, our newest recreation facility and the crown jewel of our parks system. Gateway Center opened in July 2021 and is now home to our adult and senior recreation programming, and monthly services. The Center is a dynamic multi-use facility, consisting of several classrooms, a full-service catering kitchen, a fitness room, and a 3,600 square foot ballroom. Using the most innovative and accessible technology, Gateway Center is like no other municipal facility in South Florida.
As we reopened this year, the Cultural and Community Services department began expanding programming and activity offerings and brought back your favorite events, including Booogie by the Beach and Winter Fest. Monthly teen events resumed offering creative and fun activities for our vibrant teen population. This year, we plan on establishing a Youth Advisory Committee, made up of teens and adults to provide recommendations and expand our teen programming.
We also debuted a new brand for Sunny Isles Beach, which included a logo, tagline, mission and vision statements, and values. This brand will drive the work that we are doing for years to come and provide a guide for our City’s priorities and culture.
Continuing with our commitment to protecting the environment while providing high quality service, the Code Compliance division began accepting online renewals for Local Business Tax Receipts and Certificates of Use. The Building Department reopened for walk-ups, while still maintaining the online appointment process. The Building Department also conducted a permit fee study, which resulted in lowering the cost of some permits as a more economical option for residents planning small projects. Residents completing a $5,000 project can now expect a 78% reduced permit fee.
Like so many in our community, I was devastated to learn about the tragedy in Surfside last year. As a proactive and preventative measure to put safety first, the Building Department initiated a special inspection process for some buildings of concern that were 40 years and older. There is still work to do at the State and County level and we can expect several changes to the current policies at all levels for existing buildings that will guide the city in its implementation of updated inspection and certification protocols, and greater accessibility of information pertaining to our city’s high-rise structures. These changes will help assure that buildings will be maintained and repaired so that they remain safe and habitable. We remain committed to your safety throughout the city.
The Town Center North public engagement process continued and the final report was adopted in February 2021. The report summarized the public engagement process and offered recommendations for use of the Town Center North Overlay. The moratorium and zoning in progress ordinances for the Town Center North Overlay were extended until March 2022, continuing the suspension of the consideration of any new projects in that area. Also, every seven years we are required to evaluate and appraise the City’s Comprehensive Plan. 2022 brings us this opportunity. We will be engaging with the community and listening to your concerns and ideas as we make updates based on state and local requirements, and propose amendments to our Comprehensive Plan. This process motivates us to work collaboratively toward the best future of our City.
Public Works has been busy working around the City on upgrades and improvements to our services. They repaired damaged SIBshuttle bus shelters and added solar powered lights to each providing a safer and more comfortable atmosphere for passengers traveling at night.
Ensuring a sustainable future for Sunny Isles Beach is a top priority for the City and myself. Upon adoption of the Sustainable Procurement Policy in July 2021, the Finance Department provided direction and the tools to integrate the policy into day-to-day operations. The policy is intended to minimize the negative effect of production and consumption on the environment, enhance economic development, and account for societal considerations by adopting practices, implementing programs, and following procurement processes that demonstrate the City’s commitment to sustainability and resilience. In addition, we prohibited carrying single-use polystyrene food service products onto City property, including all facilities and the beach, and also received Tree City USA’s designation for the second year in a row.
A beach renourishment project that added 269,000 cubic yards of new sand to the entire length of our beach was completed in September 2021. The project took only five months and will provide coastal storm risk management, including beach erosion control and hurricane surge protection, while protecting infrastructure, preserving wildlife, supporting the economy, and building coastal resiliency. We are also evaluating various measures we can take to promote and enhance our beach integrity.
A Flood Adaptation Assessment is in progress to determine our City’s resilience against flooding. The assessment will identify flood vulnerabilities and what adaptive measures will be most effective. The studies were delayed due to COVID-19 and we are expecting an update in the first quarter of 2022.
One of the City’s goals is to expand the opportunities available for resident engagement and involvement in decision-making processes. In December 2021 the Commission voted to establish two new committees: the Mobility & Pedestrian Safety Advisory Committee and the Environment Sustainability Advisory Committee. These committees are opportunities for concerned citizens to engage with the City and provide ideas and solutions for two major issues our City faces – pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular mobility and sustainability. This year, we will open applications for the Charter Revision Commission, a committee of residents who work alongside the Commission to suggest changes to the City Charter. This committee is formed every 10 years and plays an important role while we revisit our Charter and make updates as our City evolves. We are introducing a Residents’ Academy for residents and business owners to learn about the inner workings of our local government operations and governance this year. Registration will open soon. My hope is that through thoughtful and respectful discussion and education, we can enact significant change in Sunny Isles Beach.
As we enter a new year, we are celebrating a significant milestone in our City’s history. 2022 marks the 25th anniversary of Sunny Isles Beach and we have much to commemorate. Twenty-five years of growth and prosperity. Two and a half decades of modernization and innovation. A quarter of a century of successes and accomplishments. To those residents who have been here since incorporation in 1997, you know how rudimentary the City was 25 years ago and you’ve witnessed Sunny Isles Beach’s spectacular transformation from run-down motels and crime to a metropolitan, family-friendly and inclusive community. This year, we commemorate how far Sunny Isles Beach has come and look forward to 25 more years of progress.
I want to thank the City Commission – Vice Mayor Jeniffer Viscarra and Commissioners Alex Lama, Johana Rabinovich, and Fabiola Stuvyesant – for their hard work and patience. I also want to thank the City Manager and City staff for their dedication to providing the highest quality of service to our residents. We are poised for a prosperous year in Sunny Isles Beach. As we work together, know that I am committed to continue serving the community and putting your quality of life first.