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Election Primer: Amendment 4, “Hometown Democracy” and Sprawling Misinformation

| October 25, 2010

Basta. (Mark Strozier)

Amendment 4 is likely the most controversial and contested amendment on this year’s list of six proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. It’s also the amendment most prone to misinformation and exaggerations.

If approved, Amendment 4 would require that counties and cities put to a popular vote only amendments to local government’s so-called comprehensive plans. Voters would get to decide whether to approve large-scale developments or land-use changes.

That does not mean that every zoning and planning change would go on the ballot. It does not mean that small businesses looking to build a store or put in an addition would see any difference in how they go about doing so. It does not mean that taxes would go up anymore than they would go down: those are policy decisions. It does not mean that voters would be required to go to the polls every other week or every other month. They would not go to the polls anymore than they do now: at most, twice a year (for primary and general elections). They would merely see a few additional items (or none at all) related to changes in their local governments’ comprehensive plan.

Every local government has a comprehensive plan. Those are blueprints for long-term land use and development plans, essentially setting a vision for how a community wants to grow (or not grow). Comprehensive plans are not supposed to be changed very often, otherwise they’d be meaningless. State law gives local governments two windows a year to change their plans. But governments have taken advantage of those windows to stack them with changes, making comprehensive plans essentially meaningless. Developers go through the motions of putting their proposed changes through the required half-dozen public meetings and hearings, then, with few exceptions, get their way.

Rather than regulate the process, the Legislature has loosened it, helping to push Florida into a spree of massive overbuilding that made the state the nation’s poster child of overdevelopment and foreclosures, with Flagler County and Palm Coast at or near the top of the state’s  crash list.

The Legislature’s response to the crash: more deregulation. In 2009, the Legislature did away with many requirements that regulated development, including wetland protection, several concurrency requirements that made developers pay for the impact of development, and the involvement of water management district boards—as opposed to the management district’s executive director—in signing off on consumptive use permits for water permits and wetlands destruction permits. Development was already a one-sided affair in Florida. It became more so.

“In other words, legislators have pretty much given free rein to developers to continue building,” Ron Littlepage wrote in the Florida Times-Union, “quality of life and the state’s natural resources be damned, even though there are currently 300,000 homes in Florida sitting empty.” That was in mid-2009. The number of empty houses has grown since. “Normally,” he added, “I favor our representative form of government, but direct democracy on land use changes may be the only way to promote smart growth in Florida. One other thing is pushing me toward favoring Florida Hometown Democracy – the shameful tactics of the opponents, funded by the deep pockets of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and home builders.”

With little to no evidence and plenty of sensational claims, Amendment 4’s opponents claim the amendment would wreck representative democracy, end job creation and raise taxes in leaps and bounds, though many states, which have neither Florida’s permissive approach to development nor its lax regulations, have experienced no such consequences from imposing greater controls on development.

“In this tough economy, the last thing Florida needs is an irresponsible amendment that will cost jobs, raise taxes and make it more expensive to live in our state,” writes the National Federation of Independent Business. The Chamber of Commerce, the Home Builders Association, the real estate industry and the AFL-CIO, the labor union, are all opposed to the amendment. “Defeating Amendment 4 means protecting jobs,” Frank Ortis, president of the Florida State Council of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and a board member with the Florida AFL-CIO, said in July. “As Floridians attempt to recover from the worst recession in a generation, Amendment 4 threatens to drive the jobless rate higher, prolong the recession, and hurt our state’s working families.”

The amendment is also opposed by most local governments, whose commissions and councils are more pro-development than not because developers and chamber of commerce members bankroll many elected representatives’ campaigns, and because they see more development as the equivalent of larger tax bases. They’re right. But it’s also proven that development, especially the type of subdivision development planned in Flagler County, does not pay for itself: According to one report, “a typical Sarasota subdivision, where lot sizes average 75 by 125 feet, and prices range from $150,000 to $230,000, costs the county $1.53 for every $1 of revenue it generates.”

According to another, “Local government officials often believe that one solution to their government’s financial difficulties lies through development, by increasing the property tax base; however, a growing body of empirical evidence shows that while commercial and industrial development can indeed improve the financial well being of a local government, residential development worsens it. While residential development brings with it new tax (and fee) revenue, it also brings demand for local government services. The cost of providing these services exceeds the revenue generated by the new houses in every case studied (American Farmland Trust).”

While development carries on, the quality of services inevitably decreases as long as voters refuse to raise taxes to keep pace with demand for added services.

Amendment 4 is known as the “Hometown Democracy” amendment because it originated with the group by the same name that led a petition campaign to land the proposal on the ballot.

Most newspapers in Florida oppose the amendment.

The St. Petersburg Times: “As a three-year experiment in St. Pete Beach shows, land planning via referendum is a messy, unpredictable business that leads to higher government costs due to litigation and a stalemate when it comes to development. Hometown Democracy backers argue that is preferable to the status quo, where developers too easily get their way with local officials. But replacing an imperfect model with one just as flawed — and just as likely to be exploited by well-financed developers — isn’t the answer.”

The Panama City News Herald: “Amendment 4 isn’t just bad policy that would be enshrined in the state constitution (and thus difficult to reverse). It would undermine our representative democracy. The public elects city and county commissioners to study land-use plans, working with professional staff to understand the pros and cons of proposals and make a decision. The public already has input on these discussions. If the elected officials ignore the public’s will on these matters, the solution is to vote them out of office and elect candidates who share the majority’s views on growth management. According to the St. Augustine Record, St. Johns County voters have done just that recently, electing candidates who lean toward less development.”

While institutions are opposed to the amendment, individuals voices, even within the same newspapers that oppose it, are not. Carl Hiaasen’s is among those stronger voices: “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. […] 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. […] [I]t’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. […] 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. […] 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.”

Amendment 4 Ballot Language:

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.


Financial Impact Statement:

The amendment’s impact on local government expenditures cannot be estimated precisely. Local governments will incur additional costs due to the requirement to conduct referenda in order to adopt comprehensive plans or amendments thereto. The amount of such costs depends upon the frequency, timing and method of the referenda, and includes the costs of ballot preparation, election administration, and associated expenses. The impact on state government expenditures will be insignificant.

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20 Responses for “Election Primer: Amendment 4, “Hometown Democracy” and Sprawling Misinformation”

  1. SAW says:

    Is the “NO” FOX, now in control of the Hen house , this could be the case, when one looks closely at the Palm Coast Tea Party ?

    It is my understanding that Mr.Tom Lawrence the man leading the P.C. Tea Party, is also the Vice Chair, of our local Chamber of Commerce,

    If this is in deed the case, something is very strange about such an relationship.

    After all the chamber which is largely comprised of developers, builders, realtors etc. has always been the spearhead, at the very front of the Florida growth machine. A machine, responsible for much of our states sprawl, and irresponsible growth, the same sprawl that took down your house values, and gave you higher taxes.

    On the other hand, the patriotic Tea Party, is very different animal, as it is made up mostly of well meaning concerned local residents, and has the base of it’s platform deeply rooted in less taxation for all of our citizens, and in fact was copied from the original, in Boston.

    Why then is the Tea Party, allowing the tail, the (CHAMBER ) to wag the dog, so to speak ?

    For example, recently a pre-election meeting was held per. Mr.Lawrence’s news letter, because
    “We’ve received numerous requests for (VOTING GUIDANCE) on the amendments “, at that meeting they would arrive at a decision, for a YES, or NO position, for each of the six amendments on the ballot.

    It was also decided at that time, by the same leadership to bring in just one single individual, whose name for some reason, failed to appear in that news letter.

    That individual, was then allowed to speak for each side of the six amendments, obviously, he or she, was an individual with great knowledge, and expertise, regarding these most important issues ?

    That action by the tea party leadership, now becomes somewhat questionable to say the least.

    Even more so, when Amendment # 4 the Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment, had both ready, and available, a number of very well qualified, capable and knowledgeable people, all of whom would of jumped at the chance to speak to that amendment.

    This carefully chosen “voting guidance”, came on the heals of the recent Creekside Festival, a chamber event, at which the chamber showed how much they stood shoulder to shoulder, against Amendment
    # 4, a place in which their (tax payer funded) vote NO signs, almost out numbered the trees.

    The tea party must be aware, that uncontrolled, and or, irresponsible growth have for decades, always resulted in placing much higher taxes on all Florida residents, something so contrary to the tea parties core beliefs.

    With sprawl, Higher Taxes are simply a must, to cover the essential services, schools, police, fire etc. required for that growth. If the most populated areas equate to lower taxes, what happened to NYC,Chicago, L.A. compare your taxes with theirs ?

    Therefore, my question for the Tea Party leadership, and Mr.Lawrence in particular is simply this, why did you not have the courtesy, or willingness, to present before your membership, informed speakers on each side of these amendments ?

    Why was an individual person hand picked by you, and placed in the drivers seat at that most important meeting ?

    P.C. residents, please pay attention, your “Tea Party” appears to have been compromised, and therefore your membership, may not have given a fair opportunity, to hear the WHOLE truth on Amendment # 4, before having to make their important decision on November 2nd.

    You still have a small window of opportunity, in which to turn your party around, and to VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT # 4.

    Don’t allow any FOXES in your midst fool you.

  2. KC says:

    “It’s the reason so many Florida cities look like they were planned by chimpanzees on LSD. ”

    Excellent analogy Mr. Tristam. I’m voting YES

  3. A parent says:

    Very smart and informative comments, SAW. Thank you. I had no idea what Amendment #4 was when I happened upon this article. I am clear on which way to vote. Thank you both (FlaglerLive and SAW) for this information.

  4. Orion says:

    Mr. “SAW” makes many good points. But did he actually attend the Tea Party meeting, where a speaker presented the constitutional amendment information? I did, and the speaker presented information from both sides of the item. He did not tell, nor did Mr. Lawrence, how the attendees should vote. He did explain, what a “YES” or a “NO” vote meant. ..I have made it a point, in my information gathering process, to “visit the oppositions camp” prior to a final decision, and to see and hear for my own, just what is being said. I find it hard to make decisions today, as most spaekers consider themselves an “expert” or a “consultant”. and seeing them in person, along with their mannerisms, tells me alot, in addtion to their spoken words. I find, that many experts don’t listen well, to the other sides comments. Just like some FOX folks, they try to speak over them, instead of listening. My 2 cents worth. But I like your style, Mr. Saw, you have reviewed the data well..

  5. SAW says:

    Our ONLY hope for a YES vote, lies with YOU the residents, so please spread the word.

    Remember that our local newspaper the News Journal Journal, the Chamber, Enterpise Flagler, Board of Realtors, etc,etc, all eat from the same TROUGH, and are part of this out of control growth machine, a machine largely funded, by your tax dollars.

    I believe their huge war chest may well total thirty million or more, as both money and support, is also coming in from out of state.

    Florida Hometown Democracy has maybe 2.5 million last I heard, in tens, and twenties, collected from concerned residents.

    It is clear we can not compete in the $$ dollar$$ arena, the very reason our airways, and roadways, are currently saturated with their less than truthful spin.

    Therefore, it falls on us the average homeowner / resident, to get out the word, in order to protect OUR state from their continuing abuse, PLEASE VOTE YES ON # 4.

    Pierre, Once again a great article at least we have somebody, that is willing to step up and give us the facts, “NO BULL, NO FLUFF”, we owe you much thanks.

  6. Kip Durocher says:

    I feel I must add my 2 cents again.

    2010 Census – 28% of Flagler County residential homes vacant – ’nuff said.

    What we really need is a moratorium on building any new homes for a year or so.

    Various builder’s associations were main players with the banking industry in creation
    of the mess we have now. Can’t leave out the chamber of commerce lobby and all
    the real estate lobbys.
    Plus all their hand out cronies in every level of government.

    You really wanna see the plan that all the above folks have for Palm Coast and Flagler County, just take a 2 night road trip and check out Cape Coral and Lee County, then Naples and Collier County. Swing across the now less than 40 miles wide Everglades and enjoy the grid lock in Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Melbourne and Brevard County are catching up fast.

    I lived in the fastest growing county in the nation in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and now here in the new century.

    These grow for grow money people will not police their own voracious appetites ~ it must be externally imposed upon them.
    For our own good and theirs.

    Yes to 4.

  7. dlf says:

    Anything the unions are for I will be against, anything they are against I will be for. Why, look at General Motors, look at the many stated that are going broke because of big union retirement programs, look at France and Greece, need more proof?

  8. NortonSmitty says:

    DLF, I’m starting to worry about your health. You keep jerking your knee like that every time somebody says “Union” your gonna’ need a replacement soon. I hate to see my tax dollars spent on your Medicare used so unnecessarily.

  9. Tea party attendee says:

    I attended a tea party meeting at FPCHS and found them to talk out of both sides of their mouth. One one hand they talk less government and fewer regulations. Their slogan is; citizens should “Take Back America” . Out of the same mouth, regarding Amendment 4, they procede to tell themselves that elected officials are the ones to make growth decisions in your community, not the citizens who live in the area. All of a sudden the citizens who they say must take back America are to dumb to have a voice in land use decisions in their own area.
    Wake up Tea Party , vote Yes on 4 and let citizens have a voice.

  10. Gerry says:

    Kip said it perfectly! These developers will not be satisfied until every inch of land is paved over, then they will move on and ruin another state. I was raised in So. Florida, and saw what happened down there, that is why i am up here now, They will ruin our area next, i have seen it happen. That is why i voted yes on amendment 4.

  11. Acey says:

    Vote YES on Amendment #4 – it’s the only way to stop uncontrolled growth. Developers have bought and paid for our elected representatives and the politicians no longer represent us. Time to take some of the developer’s control away.

  12. PC MAN says:

    The Palm Coast Observer which ran a butt kissing to Rick Scott last week has endorsed voting NO ON 4.

  13. Robert says:

    PC Man,

    The PC Observer is an obvious shill for Rick Scott.
    Did the so called news paper also send Rick Scott a bill for the advertisement?

    Dissecting the slant of their articles provides entertainment not information.

  14. David, Tampa says:

    The very idea of a working person supporting Scott is mind boggling. Do you really believe that pizza parlor after he saved up a little money from the Navy story. Holy cow this man is a un prosacuted criminial. He too 300 million from a public corporation. And you guys are OK with that. WOW. FloriDUH. the land of corruption.

  15. Toby Tobin says:

    An argument based upon a false premise is a weak argument. Your article states, “Amendment 4 would require that counties and cities put to a popular vote only major amendments to local government’s so-called comprehensive plans.” In fact, Amendment 4 would require a popular vote on ALL changes to the comprehensive plan. Beyond that glaring misstatement, the article fails in several other ways.
    The St Pete Beach example shows that litigation costs skyrocket. Taxes will increase accordingly. Special elections are costly.
    Small businesses will be affected. Sometimes what seems like a minor change (e.g. expanding a parking lot) requires a change.
    Voters too can be influenced by “big developer” pressure. When Minturn, CO was approached by Bobby Ginn to annex land for a planned ski and golf community, Ginn promised the town millions. The voters overwhelmingly supported the annexation. The promises remain unfulfilled. The voters made a mistake.

    • Flaglerlive says:

      You’re right Toby: the qualifier “major” in there was flat wrong. Any amendments would be taken to voters is accurate. The thinking is that, stylistic or technical changes aside (which get no one’s ire in a wad), comprehensive plan changes are inherently major, given the nature and purpose of a comprehensive plan. Anyway, the word has been removed, but the larger argument stands, even when expanding parking lots are involved: knowing Disney lot acreage, it’s understandable. Incidentally, voters make mistakes all the time: do Reagan and the Bushes, and the coming Scott, ring a bell? What’s amazing is how you guys, alleged supporters of democracy, have suddenly turned contemptuous of voters and patronizing of their judgment on this one, as if there’s a class of voters we can trust and a class we can’t. These days believe me, developers are the Joe Isuzu of the equation. And there’s something to be said for democracy as Oliver Wendell Holmes saw it: “I quite agree that a law should be called good if it reflects the will of the dominant force of the community even if it will take us to hell.” Should this one take us to hell, it’ll be more like purgatorial relief from the hell developers and real estate speculators on speed have put us into. That incineration hasn’t yet stopped.

  16. David says:

    Quite honestly, I never understood why we the voters cannot make every decision, or at least every decision that can wait a week or two. If Canadians can vote and have the votes tabulated in a matter of minutes, why can’t we? It’s time we get out of the dark ages, throw out the electoral college (put in place to correct “the errors of the ignorant masses”), and start allowing US to decide what WE want to do…not some creepy politician with his palm open, not some clown who wants to put me in jail for not buying lousy health care, and not some rich a$$hole who can bribe his way through life.

  17. Toby Tobin says:

    Don’t misunderstand my argument. I’m not defending the present system. It needs changing. But there are only two options available; the present system which is bad and Amendment 4 which is much worse. Given only those two choices, I choose the status quo. Amendment 4 does require voters to decide even the “stylistic or technical changes (which get no one’s ire in a wad).” Do you think the fact that voters approved a comp plan change will affect the state level reviews? How about requiring a petition for a voter approval election? That way, there would not be an inordinate number of meaningless (but expensive none the less) elections.

  18. popo3984 says:

    hahahahha all you pro 4 fools lost now i dont have to worry about loseing my job oh thats right all you pro 4 nuts are also anti police

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