When you first hear about Amendment 4, the Hometown Democracy ballot proposal that would require public votes on changes to local growth plans, your gut tells you, “Yeah, I can see the point of voting for that.”
Ours did. Until we looked into it and quickly came to appreciate what a disaster Hometown Democracy would be for Florida.
If Hometown Democracy passes, taxpayers likely would get stuck with the cost of adding several land-use amendments to their ballots each election. An analysis from the nonpartisan Florida TaxWatch puts that cost at $45 million to $83 million annually. And that’s before you figure in all the litigation that adding land-use amendments to local ballots would spawn.
Florida TaxWatch cites the example of St. Pete Beach, which after adopting an Amendment 4 approach to checking growth, found four of six land-use amendments challenged in court. Florida TaxWatch estimates that if Hometown Democracy passes, Floridians could expect to incur added litigation costs “in the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars annually.”
And to what end? So voters could make educated decisions on every development that comes knocking? Good luck with that. Each election they’d have to wade through several pedantically written land-use changes. They could be so voluminous that absentee voters might, elections officials say, need to triple what they pay for postage.
Amendment 4’s backers say it’s worth all that and more if voters would routinely vote down projects with the potential to harm a neighborhood’s quality of life. But deep-pocketed developers, almost always financially better off than grass-roots groups that oppose their projects, would likely spend substantially more to influence election outcomes. And, consequently, convince the public to vote down far fewer of their proposals than Hometown Democracy backers contend.
Fewer proposals also are now making their way to local officials than when backers hatched their ballot drive, thanks to the housing-market collapse and the weakening jobs market. When the economy eventually rebounds, analysts say growth will return, but at only half the pace as before.
That new reality for Florida – and the hundreds of thousands of vacant houses, condos and apartments sitting vacant from Miami to Pensacola – has made it harder for locally elected officials to rubber-stamp proposed developments. Normally development-ditzy Orange County this year rejected three proposed developments that would have added more than 15,000 homes to its already bloated inventory. Several commissioners questioned the need.
A state law that requires developers to demonstrate a need for projects that don’t comport with local growth plans – but which officials have skirted – also is gaining strength. Citing the needs test, the governor and Cabinet blocked a development with a 45-year supply of homes local officials approved for Marion County, whose population is falling.
Floridians shouldn’t fall for costly, unwieldy, unneeded Hometown Democracy. Vote no on Amendment4.