This is an exclusive Moms Clean Air Force interview with Mayor Jim Cason of Coral Gables, Florida:
What is unique about protecting the resources and environment of Coral Gables?
Coral Gables has a very unique history as one of the first planned cities in the United States. When George Merrick created his vision for Coral Gables, over 90 years ago, he highlighted many aspects of the environment including our tree canopy and our proximity to the water. Coral Gables has been designated as a Tree City USA for the past 32 years. Our tree canopy not only provides for picturesque roadways and neighborhoods but it brings immense value to the environment by providing shade and reducing the heat island effect in our community, providing a filter to help keep our air quality clean, and providing shelter and food for countless wildlife. Clean air is very important issue. Air pollution can have a profound impact on the elderly, young children and anyone that has any respiratory issues. As has been detailed above, Coral Gables places a very high importance on protecting and enhancing our tree canopy not only to enhance the beauty of our City but to also help keep our air quality clean.
Our City also has an extensive mangrove shoreline that helps protect against erosion, storm surge, support fisheries and filters runoff. The protection of this natural buffer is not only crucial in helping deal with the impacts of sea level rise and helping in preserving our coastal community but also in keeping our waterways and ocean healthy and increasing biodiversity amongst our marine life.
The City has also placed a big emphasis on expanding green space within the City by purchasing five properties ($3.6 million investment), as a part of the City’s Neighborhood Renaissance Program. The properties are going to to be used for passive parks in order to provide additional green spaces in City’s neighborhoods.
The City believes it is of the upmost importance to protect our environment and conserve our natural resources for not only the benefit of our current residents, businesses, and visitors but for future generations as well.
As a parent, are you worried about the effects of climate change on your children and the children of Coral Gables?
As a City, we are very concerned about the effects that climate change and sea level rise can have on our region now and into the future. Our City, which the majority lies only between 0 and 10 feet above sea level and has over 42 miles of coastline and waterway exposure puts the City, much like the entire region of South Florida, at a high risk to see the impacts of sea level rise. The City has already begun seeing traces of saltwater intrusion in our groundwater supply and is also seeing periodic sunny day flooding during king high tide events. In order to help minimize these effects, the City is taking a number of steps to try to reduce our operational impact on the environment. This includes the implementation of the city’s 10 year Sustainability Master Plan, which identifies 23 projects that aim at decreasing our energy, water, and fuel consumption, while increasing alternative modes of transportation, and raising awareness of environmental issues. It involves the City setting 20% reduction goals for energy and water usage along with a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The City is also an original member of the Clean Energy Green Corridor Program, an initiative that allows commercial and residential property owners to implement energy efficiency upgrades through Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing. In addition, the City passed a Green Building Ordinance in April 2016 that requires certain buildings in Coral Gables to be built according to the latest applicable version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification or equivalent. Encouraging the construction of more environmentally friendly buildings equates to cleaner and healthier buildings and improving both indoor and outdoor air quality.
Coral Gables is also committed to developing a transportation network that relies less on automobiles and more on bicycling, walking and the use of transit. The City has expanded alternative transportation services such as the free trolley (which has over 1 million riders per year) and bicycling by adding over 20 miles of bike lanes in the coming years. The more vehicles we can reduce off of the road the lower our emissions will be thus creating less outdoor air pollution.
In 2016, the city introduced its new Green Fleet, 20 gas-free electric Nissan Leaf vehicles and is planning on adding 15 more this fiscal year. The City now has one of the largest electric vehicle fleets and EV charging infrastructure for a city our size in the entire state of Florida.
Furthermore, the City is taking a very active role in planning for sea level rise. In August 2015, the City of Coral Gables signed on as a municipal partner of the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact.
Through these actions listed above and many more the City’s goal is preserving the unique quality of life and environment that our past and current residents, businesses and visitors have been accustomed to over the last 90 years while also preserving it for future generations to enjoy over the next 90 years and beyond.
Why is a bipartisan effort so important and how can these efforts be achieved in our politically polarizing culture?
Issues such as air pollution, climate change and sea level rise don’t see political boundaries. (Tweet this) The impacts are far reaching no matter what side of the political spectrum you are on. Therefore it is imperative that everyone work together to help come up with solutions to these very complicated and complex issues. It is why the City felt it was so important to join on with the efforts of groups like the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact. The Compact is a regional effort across Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe Counties. The Compact is the first of its kind throughout the country and represents “a new form of regional climate governance designed to allow local governments to set the agenda for adaptation while providing an efficient means for state and federal agencies to engage with technical assistance and support”.
Is there anything you’d like to share that is important for Moms Clean Air Force members to know?
We would like for Moms Clean Air Force members to know that the City of Coral Gables is committed environmental preservation and wants to be at the forefront in dealing with issues such as climate change and sea level rise to help preserve our environment for current and future generations.
Jim Cason was first elected Mayor of the City of Coral Gables on April 12, 2011. He was elected again in April 2013, and reelected for a third term in April 2015.
Mayor Cason is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer with more than 48 years of national and international public service, including extensive experience in Latin America as a leader of multi- agency Embassy communities. He is fluent in five languages.
A resident of Coral Gables with a family history in public service, Mayor Cason has been married for 43 years to his wife Carmen. The Casons have two grown sons; one is a Naval Aviator and the other is in international business. They also have six wonderful grandchildren.