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Voting For Amendment 4

The President's Hoot by
Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
October 2010

Are you as confused as I am about how to vote for Amendments and Judges?  I usually do not know anything about Judges except to stay away from them locally.  But when amendments are strongly supported for or against by developers and politicians, I take notice.

Opportunity knocks.  Amendment 4, also known as the “Florida Hometown Democracy” Amendment has been on the PIAS radar screen for some time.  It simply states on the ballot “Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice. Provides definitions.”

Amendment 4 only applies to changes to the comprehensive land use plan (the overall growth management blueprint) and not to the more frequently decided individual development approvals, re-zonings, or variances. This means that before any change can occur in the current land use of our county and city lands, the voters will have a chance to approve or deny that change. 

The Fl. League of Cities, the Fl. Association of Counties and the Fl. Chamber of Commerce are opposed. According to the New York Times, the opposition has raised $12 million to defeat the amendment.  KB Homes and Pulte Homes gave more than $1 million.  However, there are over 100 organizations supporting it including many Audubon chapters, Sierra Club of Florida, Save The Manatee Club, and Native Plant chapters, Friends of and taxpayer groups, and many other environmental organizations.

Amendment 4 vote: Should the people have a say in determining whether their government’s comprehensive land use plan could be changed with a simple majority vote of commissioners or city councils?  If you think not, like most developers and politicians, then vote against Amendment 4.  If you think you want more of a say in crafting our county and city land use changes, then vote Yes to Amendment 4. If Amendment 4 is enacted, we could have more careful planning from staff and politicians if they know that all voters will be reviewing and approving major changes in our comprehensive land use plans, not just developers.

Contrary to some who think our county’s comprehensive land use plan includes other things than land use, Amendment 4 is very clear, that only if the land use part of the comprehensive plan is changed will it require a referendum vote.  Why should changes be made to the comprehensive land use plan without voter approval?  This is our community!

Critics of Amendment 4 say it will just be another layer needed for approval and that it will be costly to get the voters’ view.  I say, based on experience, we do need another layer of approval and the cost will be less than all the poorly funded and unfunded inadequate infrastructure and impacts (crowded schools, roads, police, libraries, and now even the lifeguards) of our out of control development.  Indian River County’s over development with “backdoor subdivisions” have drained these community services.  Our “busted subdivisions” with their empty houses, huge inventories, vacant lots, bankruptcies and foreclosed homes, have not paid for it.  If an emergency change is needed, I am sure the community voters will approve it.  In the last six years, Indian River County has had only 22 future land use amendments:  Averaging less than 4 per year.

Growth management in Florida is not working.  Our natural areas are being ruined and our waters polluted.  Even though Amendment 4 is not perfect, it could start the process of change that is needed in the way we do business in Florida especially as the teeth have been taken out of the Department of Community Affairs (the state watchdog for development) through budgets cut to the bone, and the State Legislature may even eliminate it next year (like our commissioners recently disbanded many citizen advisory committees).  The DCA has done the most to keep Florida’s growth under control, and the Florida Legislature wants to reduce its effectiveness.  In addition, the Supreme Court has allowed our big corporations to pour money to candidates for elected office and thus our out of state developers will be even stronger in their influence with our local and state politicians. 

We need to work together as a community…politicians, developers, environmentalists, educators, service providers, and citizens to balance population growth with sustainable resources. We need a common vision of what we want for quality of life where developers can help make our community ideal for us all, so we all benefit. A strong vote of support on Amendment 4 will at the very least send a clear message to county and state officials that we citizens are deeply concerned about balancing population growth with sustainable resources.

Conclusion:  Who do you want to control our growth – you or the developers?

Please vote FOR Amendment 4.

Running scared over Amendment 4
By Carl Hiaasen
chiaasen@MiamiHerald.com
Posted on Sat, Oct. 09, 2010

Major home builders are uncorking a bombastic media blitz to scare Floridians away from voting yes to Amendment 4.

The same people who helped ignite the housing crash and mortgage meltdown are absolutely terrified of giving citizens actual control over growth in their own communities.

The so-called Hometown Democracy Amendment would require local voters to approve any significant changes to a county or city ``comprehensive land-use plan,'' the map by which municipalities evolve.

If the measure passes -- and it needs the support of 60 percent of voters -- no massive housing subdivision or commercial development could be built without the project first appearing on a ballot.

It's not exactly a radical concept, but the opposing special interests will do just about anything to kill it.

They're scared because they know Floridians are fed up with lousy planning and overbuilding, and the high taxes that always result.

They're scared because they know Floridians are sick of watching elected officials cave in again and again to developers, making a farce of land-use regulations.

But mostly they're scared because, if passed, Amendment 4 has the potential to disrupt the influence-peddling and outright corruption that's made it so easy to subvert the will of the public.

As things stand now, development interests can thwart opposition to projects by simply buying off the politicians whose votes are needed to make it happen.

Typically that's achieved by hiring connected lobbyists, who then approach a receptive county commissioner or city council member. In many cases, the lobbyist has raised money for the officeholder's election campaign, so a favor is perceived to be owed.

And a threat implied, too: If you don't line up behind the project, don't expect any donations for your next campaign.

Occasionally, if the elected official is exceptionally greedy and dim-witted, a cash bribe or some other illicit benefit is arranged.

Public hearings are often a formality, a minor road bump. Plenty of earnest folks show up to question the impact of a proposed subdivision or shopping mall upon their neighborhoods and lives, and the politicians pretend to listen.

By that point, though, the deal is already sealed, the necessary majority of votes secured.

This cynical charade has been going on since the beginning of statehood. It's the reason so many Florida cities look like they were planned by chimpanzees on LSD.

It's also the reason we now have an estimated 300,000 homes and condos sitting vacant statewide, while leading the nation in foreclosures as well as mortgage fraud. The term ``growth management'' is a joke.

Amendment 4 isn't a perfect solution. Much will depend on how the language is interpreted -- for instance, determining how large a project must be before it goes to a vote.

Many thoughtful people, including some professional planners, fear the amendment would generate an endless spate of elections in fast-growing counties. They're also worried that deep-pocketed developers will be able to sway the outcomes with slick advertising campaigns.

Another issue is the wisdom of holding a countywide or citywide referendum on a building project that might affect only one neighborhood. At the very least, the amendment is bound to spawn lawsuits until the courts clarify its reach.

Despite such concerns, it's hard to imagine a system for managing growth that could possibly be more dishonest, or deaf to the public interest, than what we have now.

Nobody with half a brain believes that development pays for itself. Study after study shows that residents are the ones who pay big-time for sprawl, which is why taxes are so brutal in Florida's most densely populated counties.

So is the cost of living. Clogged highways, overcrowded schools and jails, water shortages -- we pay for all of it.

Opponents claim that Amendment 4 will actually raise taxes, one of many straight-faced lies that will saturate the airwaves between now and election day. This is well-financed desperation.

While the amendment's supporters have raised only about $2.4 million, the opposition had a war chest of $12 million by mid-summer.

The biggest donor is the Florida Association of Realtors -- what a shocker -- followed by some of the biggest home builders on Wall Street.

Here's the killer: Many of the companies bankrolling the ad campaign against Amendment 4 are recipients of a congressional bailout, in the form of humongous tax refunds earlier this year.

According to an industry magazine (Headline: ``Builders Cash in on Tax Refunds''), Lennar Homes has already taken $251 million in taxpayer-funded relief.

Yet somehow the firm scrounged up $367,000 to fight the Florida Hometown Democracy movement.

Pulte Homes accepted $800 million in federal bailout refunds while kicking in $567,000 to a political action committee opposed to Amendment 4.

So, when you see all those dire-sounding, fright-filled TV commercials, remember whose paying for them. You are.

These guys are using your money to keep your voice, and your vote, out of the neighborhood planning process. Think about that when you're standing in the voting booth on Nov 2.

Do the thing they dread the most: Read Amendment 4 and decide for yourself.

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