If you’ve turned on a radio or television lately, you know on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Florida will elect a new U.S. senator and governor, fill its 25 congressional seats, and vote on several potentially game-changing amendments, including Amendment 4. If passed, A4 would require voter approval of certain changes to city and county guidelines that say, basically, what can be built where. It may sound dry, but proponents and opponents of the amendment have spent millions to sway public opinion. Both sides agree on one thing: the fate of Amendment 4 will profoundly impact Florida.
With many Miamians hazy on the details, we asked the leading group on either side of the A4 debate to explain its position to Beached Miami readers. Here, Lesley Blackner, president of Florida Hometown Democracy, explains why a vote for Amendment 4 is a vote for the environment, conservation, and against corruption. (You can read an op-ed by Vote No on 4 executive director Ryan Houk HERE.)*
We all know that stupid, reckless overdevelopment has paved over too many of Florida’s unique places: her beaches, waterways, uplands, and wetlands. But what can we do about it?
The 2010 ballot gives us our first real option to change the future, to end the overdevelopment madness: Amendment 4.
At stake is our quality of life and natural resources. You know all too well in South Florida what happens when we allow rampant overbuilding: a glut of condo units in Miami and development into sensitive areas of the Everglades, threatening that unique ecological feature and decimating Florida Bay with runoff and pollution. How much more can South Florida take before it collapses, both environmentally and economically?
The Florida Panther, which used to roam the entire state, will soon be extinct. Why? Because over the past 10 years, so much of its remaining habitat has been paved over in Lee and Collier counties, one of the epicenters of the bust real estate bubble. Florida’s “dead cat walking” is a reminder that politicians and bureaucrats have shown time and time again they can’t be trusted to protect our homes, our communities, our beautiful state, and it’s irreplaceable wildlife.
But it’s not just wildlife that is threatened.
Got water? That seems to be the question in many parts of Florida. It’s hard to believe that this state is running low on clean, drinkable H2O. After all, once upon a time Florida was dotted with uncounted bubbling springs, crisscrossed with giant rivers, lakes, and impenetrable swamps. And Florida sits atop the Floridan Aquifer, once one of the planet’s greatest sources of clean water.
Insane as it seems, don’t expect the disappearance of drinking water to slow construction. It’s business as usual for the development machine, keeping Florida’s city and county commissioners busy rubber-stamping the next bumper crop of condos and subdivisions. For example, the South Florida Water Management District and the State told Miami-Dade County that there was no additional clean water to supply new construction in the past three years, but that didn’t stop the approval of thousands of high-rise condos and more suburbia into what used to be the Everglades. Indeed, having devoured its own water supply, South Florida is looking to take North Florida’s water.
It’s the same old story too for over-crowded schools, gridlocked roads, and the morphing of the last old orange grove into 5,000 homes. You might think reason would prevail and our elected officials would say, “Enough!” But too few of them seem capable of doing just that. Why? It’s crazy to loot our water supply and pave over the last square inch of Mother Nature. Crazy like a fox.
Florida’s land use system exemplifies what scholar Jared Diamond calls “rational bad behavior.” In his latest book, Collapse¸ Professor Diamond explains that when the interests of the decision-making elite clash with the interests of the general citizens, the elite “are likely to do things that profit themselves, regardless of whether those actions hurt everybody else.”
A self-absorbed elite insulated from the consequences of its actions is highly destructive to the well being of society. The elites wreck society and keep on doing it because, as Professor Diamond says, “they are typically concentrated (few in number) and highly motivated by the prospect of reaping big, certain, and immediate profits, while the losses are spread over large numbers of individuals.”
For younger voters who may not even own their first home, Florida’s current boom and bust cycle of real estate represents another problem: soaring housing prices followed by a precipitous drop. This means that as you get ready to buy that first house, you could dramatically overpay for it because of real estate speculation, only to see its value plummet when the “bust” comes again, leaving you “under water” in your house and susceptible to foreclosure.
To save the environment and provide stability for housing prices, younger voters must have a seat at the table.
Here is how Amendment 4 works if we approve it on Nov. 2: Your city or county commission will study and vote as usual on changes to the local comprehensive plan. But, after they vote, commissioners will have to submit that approved plan change to you – the voter – in a referendum on the next regularly scheduled election day. You will either veto it or approve it. It’s that simple. Amendment 4 doesn’t require special elections. It will end the boom-and-bust cycle that has plagued Florida’s economy for decades.
Amendment 4 applies only to changes to the comprehensive land use plan, not to the more frequently decided individual development approvals, re-zonings, or variances. According to state records, that is an average of only about four land-use amendments per year for the average Florida city or county government.
Don’t be swayed by desperate attempts by business special interests to sway this election with half-truths and scare tactics. Their campaign is financed by the same over-builders who got federal bail-out dollars. These special interests will say or do anything to maintain the status quo and their ability to influence elected officials. And it’s your right to vote that is at stake.
Amendment 4 is on the ballot as the result of a citizen-led grassroots effort to level the playing field in Florida and give voters a chance to be heard on development issues. Dozens of respected leaders and organizations across the political spectrum have endorsed Amendment 4. You can read more about who believes in this change and how Amendment 4 will work by going to our website, www.floridahometowndemocracy.com.
*Beached Miami does not endorse the views or claims of the contributor.