It’s been a whirlwind year for District 8 Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, who celebrated her first year in office on Nov.18th.
An active volunteer in her community since her childhood in the ‘60s and working in community service in South Florida since 1982, her victory in District 8—which includes Palmetto Bay, Cutler Bay, Homestead and unincorporated areas of South Dade including the Redlands, Falls, Princeton, Naranja, Leisure City and parts of West Kendall—marked the first time she ever ran for public office and just the third time anyone in Miami-Dade County history defeated an incumbent commissioner.
“There were many individuals over the years who had asked me to run for public office and I thought that it was a good opportunity to take my decades of service to a different level and give back in this deeper way,” she said. “We’re very happy with what we’ve accomplished this year.”
With an ambitious campaign focusing on issues such as job growth, increased environmental responsibility, improved transit, affordable housing, government accountability and responsiveness to community concerns, Commissioner Levine Cava knew she had to hit the ground running her first year.
She partnered with District 9 Commissioner Dennis Moss to host the inaugural South Dade Solutions Summit, where business, community and government leaders outlined success plans in the areas of transportation, the economy and quality of life and where more than 170 community stakeholders were in attendance.
Recommendations included the county buying local food and produce, promotion of “farm to table” dining, transit investments and greater marketing of the region’s unique assets. The plan drawn from the summit, she said, will be the guiding document framing District 8’s agenda over the next three years.
“We really are working with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Beacon Council and local mayors to come up with a shared marketing plan for South Dade,” she said.
Commissioner Levine Cava was instrumental in the purchase and implementation of 60-foot, super-capacity “bending” buses along the South Dade Busway, a crucial move to relieve commuters of congested roadways. She also secured county support for transit-oriented development in Palmetto Bay with funds recovered from stagnant projects.
“Even though we’ve got the new buses, we still have to make improvements to the busways and do more to turn our bike paths into real transportation options,” she said. “We currently have an item to move the city circulators onto the busway and coordinate them so it’ll also be an enhancement to transit.”
Joining forces with a coalition of engaged county residents, Commissioner Levine Cava helped restore funding for local parks, doubling her goal of 10 percent to 20 percent. On the climate change front, she and District 6 Commissioner Rebecca Sosa have united to combat sea level rise with sensible approaches that will continue to develop over the course of her term.
“In recent years, there have been cuts to all kinds of basic services and this was the first year that we were going to see an opportunity to restore some of those cuts,” she said. “We were determined to restore funding to the parks in a significant away and did so in coalition with hundreds—if not thousands—of residents who petitioned, sent letters and showed up at public meetings, so we’re really thrilled about these particular results.”
Great strides were also made in the agricultural region. She added a position to the Office of the Agricultural Manager, passed legislation that required the county to purchase locally for produce (a move which is now being applied to Metro Zoo and corrections), voted against proposals that would move the urban development boundaries into agricultural areas and held a meeting of stakeholders, the Agricultural Innovation Zone, to develop competitive grant funding for improvements in agriculture.
“Focusing on lifting up small businesses in the agricultural area is critical, but we’re also trying to bring new revenue and investors into the area,” she said. “We’re just developing the Agricultural Innovation Zone now, but that would be one way we would bring new investors to the area, new excitement and new momentum. There’s a lot of interest among the stakeholders that include Miami-Dade College, Florida International University, Farm Hero, local farmers and the like.”
Last month, the inaugural Small Business Academy concluded its first implementation with a panel discussion and expo that saw more than 30 local entrepreneurs meet with financial institutions to explore growth and partnership options. The brainchild of Commissioner Levine Cava and several economic development agencies, the program was designed to provide free workshops, training and tools to help local businesses overcome challenges. She also worked to expand access to libraries by soliciting additional funding and hours for several branches throughout District 8 and launched a program to bring technical assistance and training to nonprofits, as well as additional funding through impact grants.
“I come from a nonprofit background and feel that nonprofits are the backbones of our communities,” she said. “As a former nonprofit exec, I know how hard it is to gain funds that you can use to advocate for public policy and not just for the purpose of providing direct service. All of our grants were to nonprofits that had plans to lift up the voices of the people they were serving by becoming involved in advocacy and civil engagement.”
In commemoration of her first year in office, Commissioner Levine Cava revisited places and participated in activities she knew would attract diverse crowds of people from her district. She attended a rousing church service in Homestead, spoke at the Small Business Academy graduation and expo in Cutler Bay, recognized nonprofit grantees at a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting, spent her inaugural “Small Business Friday” at various small business including Motes Orchids and the Circle D Ranch in Homestead, watched NASCAR at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, spent time with seniors at East Ridge in Cutler Bay, went to a parade at The Falls, went on a Sunday bike ride with Palmetto Bay mayor Eugene Flinn, visited a fire station to meet firefighters and kicked off the 100th anniversary of national parks on Monday.
“That week was like a panoramic view of all the wonders of District 8 and really how joyful it is to be able to serve,” she said. “This was a way not only of celebrating, but reporting back to the community and hearing suggestions for year two. It was the voters of District 8 that had the confidence and hope that I could be a good steward for their wants, needs and public investments. I want to underscore that it goes back to them.”
For information, visit MiamiDade.gov/District8.