Climate change ‘the biggest challenge the city of Miami will ever face,’ mayor says

With two decades in public office coming to a close, the Republican mayor of Miami looked to the future Friday and saw a coastal city threatened by rising seas.

Referring to climate change as “the biggest challenge the city of Miami will ever face,” Tomás Regalado reserved a rare forward-thinking moment during a reflective 2017 State of the City address to warn of sea-level rise.

The two-term mayor, who will step down in November at the age of 70 due to term limits, wants to use property tax dollars to fund $100 million in projects protecting the city from sea-level rise — a problem he acknowledges Miami has been slow to address. He hopes to give voters a chance to approve a bond referendum as they head to the polls to name his successor.

“Mind you, this bond issue will not increase property taxes,” said Regalado, noting that Miami plans to negate any tax increases by taking on new debt only as old debt expires. “It will ensure that our grandchildren will still be able to call Miami a home.”

[Climate change is] the biggest challenge the city of Miami will ever face Mayor Tomás Regalado

Regalado, first elected 20 years ago to the City Commission, spent about an hour at Miami City Hall reflecting on his tenure and touting his accomplishments. In a speech that steered clear of any controversies, he spoke about expanding Miami’s trolley system, inflating the city’s tax base to record highs, and building a city government capable of fighting everything from Zika to Florida Power & Light.

Ever mindful of messaging, the populist politician and former journalist seemed eager to define himself as “The Peoples’ Mayor.”

“I’m proud to say that for 22 years I’ve done what is best for the citizens of Miami, whether it was popular or not, with total disregard for what is best politically,” he said, although critics will surely disagree. “That is what my legacy is.”

He proudly told the audience that architectural work is under way at the historic Miami Marine Stadium, a long-stalled pet project where a different bond initiative will fund $37 million in renovations in the near future. But Regalado placed an emphasis on investing in flood prevention, an effort that has already stalled once.

Last year, commissioners shot down his administration’s proposal to place a $275 million bond referendum on the presidential ballot, calling the idea half-baked. They said the list of projects was slapped together without much thought or public input — a problem that some are still concerned about.

“So far they’re not doing enough,” said Commissioner Ken Russell, who wants Regalado’s administration to conduct a host of neighborhood meetings before coming up with a final wish list.

Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the city plans to begin neighborhood meetings next month and expects to bring a comprehensive package to commissioners by July. The city, which recently hired resiliency officer Jane Gilbert and signed the Mayors’ Climate Action Pledge Friday, is also updating an outdated stormwater master plan that left unaccounted future projections for sea level rise.

Alfonso has about four months until a deadline to get commission approval to put a referendum on the ballot. Regalado, who won’t be around City Hall to oversee the projects should they be approved, said he wants to see it happen as a private citizen.

“I have lived all my life in the city of Miami. I will remain a resident for the rest of my life,” he said. “We live in the best city of the world. Let’s keep it that way.”