Government, Politics

Pardo’s First 100 days, Part 2

The Spotlight’s Don Finefrock sat down last month with Miami Commissioner Damian Pardo to talk about his first 100 days on the job. During the interview, Pardo explained why he believes the impasse over the Virrick Park pool is deeper than it first appears, and why he encourages people to show up and speak out on big issues before the City Commission. This is the second installment of our Q&A with the new commissioner. The first installment was published on April 10. Questions and answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Editor’s note: The City of Miami convened a public meeting on March 5 in the West Grove to discuss the design of a new $8 million pool under construction in Virrick Park. The meeting did not go well. There were lots of angry voices, and a shared sense that the community was being short-changed. Residents who attended made it clear they wanted a deeper pool – deep enough for water polo at 6 feet 6 inches – not a pool with a “zero-entry” feature and a maximum depth of 5 feet 3 inches. The city presented three design solutions that would deliver more depth, at a substantial increase in cost, but the meeting ended with no consensus on how to move forward.  

SPOTLIGHT: Let’s talk about Virrick Park. How do you think that controversy should be resolved. What’s the path forward?

PARDO: When it started, it seemed like there was consensus around a zero-entry pool (with a shallow entry point) where folks that are older, disabled, young folks would be able to swim. But a couple of things happened. The Shenandoah pool was built (with a maximum depth of 7 feet 7 inches) and so now they (the community) got to see this pool that’s like their old pool, it’s deep (and) people got very offended because it’s like, “We want a deep pool. Make it like the old one.” And now if you ask, well, kids in the zero-entry pool can learn to swim, they are like, ‘Listen, give me a break. My dad threw me in the deep end and that’s how I learned to swim.’ I’ve heard that quite a bit.

SPOTLIGHT: You were at the March 5 meeting. It was frustrating to watch how absolutely no progress was made. 

PARDO: At the end of the meeting, I’m just curious, what was your takeaway, in terms of what people want? If you had to say, people in the Grove want this kind of pool, what would that be? I think what I heard was ‘we don’t want the five-foot pool.’ I think that was clear.

So, we are working with the architects, and what we told the architects is, how do we make this as close to that original pool. In our office we are trying to get to that original pool. It’s a lot of money and I know for staff, it’s heartburn. It’s painful, because it’s money we could have used for a lot of other things. But we also think that we have to get it right in this community. Because this community has a legacy of getting it wrong. So, it’s not just about the Virrick pool anymore. It’s about that legacy. And that’s what we are trying in inculcate, with the administration, so we can make the changes necessary to try to get it right.

SPOTLIGHT: Let’s stay on the West Grove for a second and talk about affordable housing. In the past you’ve suggested a land trust as one possible tool. How would that work, and has there been any progress on that front?

PARDO: Basically, what that does is you don’t get the appreciation of the land, but you do get appreciation of the building, within the family. So, it is a way to maintain prices that are very stabilized because the land value is not included. So, they (a family) can afford the house and it’s part of that land trust, which is owned by the city or another entity, a separate entity altogether.

SPOTLIGHT: So, you separate the value of the land from the house, build workforce or affordable housing, and then that housing appreciates…

PARDO: Yes, just not the way the land does. So, you get less in appreciation but you have a very affordable home.

SPOTLIGHT: To start that, you establish the land trust and then the land trust begins to acquire parcels of land…

PARDO: And work with developers. That’s where we’re not there yet. I think Palm Beach County is the only county that has a functioning land trust. So, we are still trying to work with that idea and see how we can build it out.

SPOTLIGHT: Are there other initiatives that you think are promising, that you are pursuing, to protect and preserve the culture and identity of Little Bahamas.

PARDO: Yes. One of the things that we feel strongly about and we have talked to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau… we want to see if we can bring the Big Bus Tours into Little Bahamas and highlight the culture. There is so much history in that area that we can (tap into) to encourage economic development. And it has been surprising for us, because we will do everything in our capacity. We will even do start-up funding for that concept but there hasn’t really been any takers. 

SPOTLIGHT: So, by takers you mean, the tour companies, the residents?

PARDO: I just mean people who are excited about it.

SPOTLIGHT: That has been a success in Little Havana, right? So, you see that as a model that could work with a few tweaks in Little Bahamas?

PARDO: There was a patron (in Little Havana). There was a funder, a patron and that was Bill Fuller (the owner of Ball & Chain). We are looking for that. What’s different too is that Little Bahamas, especially when we were campaigning, you really felt the downtrodden spirit. We want to change that.

SPOTLIGHT: Like, we are losing our neighborhood?

PARDO: Right. We are losing our identity, our neighborhood, our culture, our past. It’s hard sometimes when that’s the space you’re in, to believe, or invest in this stuff. So, we are trying to get people to believe and invest, because times have changed, and this is the time to do it. At the end of the day, we want to see a thriving, engaged community.

SPOTLIGHT: New topic. During the controversy over Centner Academy’s plans to build a $10 million recreational facility on public land, you were criticized for encouraging people to come to City Hall and speak out against the project.  

PARDO: Some folks were upset that I put out a video before the commission meeting stating my position and the facts behind it. When people question me about that, I’m like of course I would do that. Because otherwise people don’t know No. 1, that it’s being heard; No. 2, that if they care, they need to show up; and No. 3, that it can pass, and they would have had zero influence. 

The only thing that can contend with money and the undue influence of money and lobbyists are people, and I don’t think they fully appreciate their role in this democratic process.

SPOTLIGHT: Do you think you did anything wrong?

PARDO: Absolutely not. I would want my elected official to let me know what’s happening and why it’s important to them. There is nothing more frustrating than hearing about the outcome of something that was really important, and you weren’t there. You didn’t even know about it.


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