Fabian Basabe, Joe Saunders battle over Session’s impact on Miami Beach historic preservation
Image via Florida House.

Fabian Basabe Florida House
Opponent Joe Sanders said the incumbent is 'robbing voters' of a say while pretending to back 'the little guys.'

Rep. Fabián Basabe closed the Legislative Session attacking the Mayor of his district’s largest city and boasting about preemption.

The Miami Beach Republican sent out a letter to constituents claiming Republican supermajorities did them a favor by restricting local land development decisions. That boast came despite Basabe backing legislation widely seen as a giveaway to developers, but the lawmaker cast it differently.

“MIAMI BEACH HAS BEEN SAVED,” Basabe wrote in all caps to kick off a letter to constituents.

He goes on to paint local politics in dire terms.

“For years the people of Miami Beach have allowed the local political machine to control their market,” Basabe wrote. “If one follows the money, everything is about a land-grab, a PAC and personal ambition, all at the expense of historic preservation, community integrity and the very land we call home.”

He goes on to brag that he exposed Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former Mayor Philip Levine for using the City Manager and City Commission for “leveraging brokers without a license to rob our citizens of their inheritance.”

But Joe Saunders, a former Representative challenging Basabe for the House District 106 seat, countered that assessment immediately.

“(Basabe) says he’s here to ‘defend the little guys’ and to ‘preserve (Miami Beach’s) unique identity’ just days after he votes for a developer-backed bill that nullifies Miami Beach requirement for voters to have a say on dev projects,” Saunders tweeted, sharing Basabe’s letter.

So what’s the bill in question? Importantly, Basabe and Saunders refer to different bills. Basabe points to one that did not pass, but which would set back historic preservation efforts.

He references HB 1317, which would prohibit local governments from restricting or preventing the demolition of structures deemed historic by local governments. That bill died after the House refused to take up language as passed by the Senate.

That measure was seen as a way to let developers fast-track demolition of coastal buildings. Rep. Spencer Roach, the bill’s sponsor, notably pushed back on characterizations it could hurt local communities using Miami Beach as an example.

“The intent of this bill is not to allow a skyscraper in (the) Miami Beach Art Deco District or in St. Augustine or Palm Beach,” he said. “The intent of this bill is to ensure that structures that are damaged and destroyed by storms like Hurricane Ian can be rebuilt in a way that makes them insurable.”

Basabe in his letter to constituents called the bill “unfortunately imperfect this time around,” but vowed to work with sponsors prior to the 2024 Legislative Session “to ensure we come up with a long-term solution that prioritizes public safety and contemplates the character of prized neighborhoods such as Miami Beach’s historic Art Deco District.”

But since that did not pass, is it even what Basabe refers to when he claims the community was “saved?”

Saunders suggests another bill that will have a more immediate effect. That bill (SB 718) would prohibit any local initiatives and referendums that regulate land development. That passed the House on May 2 on a 91-26 vote, with Basabe’s support.

“SB 718 bans the City of Miami Beach and its charter from requiring voter referenda on developer-backed land use changes — provisions in the Charter championed by (the Miami Design Preservation League), Miami Beach United, and historic preservationists,” Saunders tweeted.

“Don’t be fooled. Whether it’s LGBTQ families, women, immigrants, or the historic preservation movement, Fabian Basabe votes against you in the Capitol and then lies and panders to you back home.”

Basabe paints his letter as a support of property rights, but frames that as a win for the wider community. He suggested Democratic community leaders like Levine and Gelber “continued to move fast forward, pushing for referendums and otherwise attempting to bypass our citizens’ wishes.” He blames a “corporate elite” for using the referendum process, while touting a family history supporting creation of the Art Deco District and Ocean Drive.

“But now I have a bird’s eye view to confirm precisely what I knew all along,” he wrote. “Collectively this group has no intention of serving our needs and I’m here to defend the little guys — the residents and business owners who were here first and those who have fought to preserve our city’s unique identity which powers the economic engine of the state.”

The seeming contradictions came after a Session of bad publicity for Basabe, who narrowly won election as a moderate. Despite representing the most heavily LGBTQ district in Florida, he supported a bill restricting instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity through eighth grade and another banning gender-affirming care for minors.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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