Heavily contested Coral Gables Election Day begins tomorrow

Downtown Coral Gables Photo credit: Averette, CC BY 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

While most odd-year elections are seen as not important, this year local elections will impact how Coral Gables citizens will be impacted in their day-to-day lives. On April 11, residents of the city of Coral Gables will cast their votes for either Alex Bucelo or Ariel Fernandez.

Both Fernandez and Bucelo are active members of the Coral Gables community. Fernandez has been a Coral Gables resident since 2010 and started digital publication, Gables Insider, in 2019 with a goal of informing residents of news around the city of Coral Gables.

“I’ve been covering a lot of the things that are taking place in the city, not just, you know, new restaurants and things that are going on in the community but also what’s going on at City Hall,” said Fernandez, who has previously served on the Coral Gables property advisory board and chaired the Coral Gables school community relations committee for four years.

Bucelo was born and raised in Coral Gables and has been part of several boards and committees in Coral Gables for the past several years.

“I’m blessed to have never lived in another city other than this one,” Bucelo said. “What started as a code enforcement board, I now serve in the Coral Gables Museum, Coral Gables Youth Center board.. I was serving on the planning and zoning board until I had to step away from to run for office.”

During their campaigns, Bucelo and Fernandez visited hundreds of the homes in the Gables community. According to Bucelo and Fernandez, the number one concern of residents is the over-development of the city. Both claim to be opposed this over-development.

“It is by far the biggest issue in resident’s minds.” Bucelo, who promotes the idea of smart development and that the answer to stop the rise of large-scale development in the city is to start abiding by the zoning code set in place in Coral Gables, said. “I’ve actually voted against large scale development…whereas my opponent promises to do something and hasn’t had the opportunity to vote against it.”

Fernandez claims the lack of representation of residents and the influence of developers in City Hall results in the concern of over-development

“I think overdevelopment is by far the largest concern the residents have, but I would also say that it is just not being the priority and that’s something that I want to bring back.” Fernandez said. “I am the only candidate in this race that is not taking a penny from a developer, from a public interest group or from lobbyists.”

Bucelo and Fernandez are running on several different issues, aside from over-development, that include public safety, quality of life and green spaces in the Gables community.

“We’re losing a lot of police officers to other municipalities, it’s a benefits issue, it’s a morale issue. One of the biggest complaints you hear from people is we don’t see enough police on our streets and that’ll come with maybe adding in that extra zone or changing some of the way that we’re doing things,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez’s stance on police officers stems from speaking to residents around Coral Gables about their concerns of safety in the city and not having their voices heard.

“Safety to me is the most important thing when it comes to quality of life… I mean make sure we have sufficient staffing as police officers and just continue to work side by side with the men in blue to make sure that our residents have the upmost safety,” Bucelo said.

Both candidates are running on the issue to improve the quality of life for residents for the Gables but differ on what qualities need to be fixed.

“I believe the number they gave at the commission was 4.5 miles of sidewalks that need to be repaired and the city can’t seem to find the budget to fix. So, sidewalks. That’s a concern that I have. We have a 191-million-dollar budget and we can’t find the 4.5 million to repair sidewalks…these are the things that we can do as a city to really improve the quality of life of residents.” Fernandez said.

In 2022, the current commissioners claim to have planted 60 new trees, prohibited smoking in all city parks, opened two new pocket parks and added two off-leash dog parks.

“I think we need to continue to buy parks… I’ve seen that especially after COVID families using these pocket parks,” Bucelo said “They’re packed with kids… I think it gives the community feel of going back to the charm of Coral Gables.”

With resident interest being against developing in the Gables and emphasis on more green spaces, both candidates have their own plans on how to make Coral Gables greener.

“What we’re seeing right now is the developer says, oh, I’ll give you money to renovate a park. And all of a sudden, okay, we’ll give you another 30 feet. But what we’re doing is we’re creating problems with the residents,” Fernandez said.