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So-Called ‘Hometown Democracy’ Amendment is Still an Awful Idea

The vote on Amendment 4, which has been called “Hometown Democracy” but which will appear on the ballot as “Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plans,” will be held in November. This amendment, if passed, would achieve its aim… to slow development in the state of Florida to a crawl.

In this time of economic uncertainty, that’s a really bad idea.

By now, unless you’ve really not been paying attention, you know that the passage of Amendment 4 would mean that every change to a city’s comprehensive plan, no matter how small, would be subject to a referendum and would have to be directly approved by voters. So any business that wants to build a new facility which would require a change in a city’s comprehensive plan would have to wait for an election, with no guarantee that the voters would actually allow that to happen. Frankly, the voters might not take the time to become familiar with the positive and negative aspects of that land use change.

Why would any business want to take that risk? Florida is already at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting some businesses. The lengthy process of obtaining permits and the amount of red tape that has to be dealt with to build a manufacturing facility in Florida has caused more than one company to look to states which seem to be more welcoming to those types of businesses. If they are faced with the additional wait for ballot language to be written, and a special election to be called (if there is no election scheduled), and then the wildcard of potentially being told by voters that they’re not welcome, Florida will be at a real competitive disadvantage for attracting new businesses and jobs at a time when our changing economy needs it most.

Meanwhile, cities will bear the cost of making all of these special elections happen. The state office of Economic Development and Research says that “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.” The EDR also states that “Presenting additional issues to the voters entails increased costs. Those costs exist regardless of the method by which local governments choose to conduct the vote – special or general election, whether by mail ballot or at the polls. Given the large volume of amendments adopted between 2001 and 2005 (an average of 7,878 amendments and 1,062 packages per year) and the number of new incorporations (nine new incorporations since April, 2000), it is highly improbable that special elections can be avoided.”

It’s expensive to hold an election, and if these land use change referenda are done piecemeal, which they would almost certainly have to be if there were to be any chance of anything resembling expediency, the local government will be required to hold and pay for those elections. And whether one person votes or turnout is 100 percent, the cost is the same. Again, from the EDR: “The amendment requires that the plan or plan amendment “shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government.” Therefore, every amendment to a county’s comprehensive plan would be submitted to all registered voters in the county. If held as a special election, the costs for a medium-sized county would likely range from $56,000 to $288,000 per referendum, with the largest county topping out at $2 million.”

Special elections for referenda, even if people understand them, will likely draw yawns from all but the activists and the supervoters. “Hometown Democracy” will become anything but.

Recent polling suggests that more people currently favor Amendment 4 than oppose it. However, the percentage of those saying they favor the amendment does not reach the threshold necessary for passage -- which is 60%. The real fight over this issue has not yet begun, and the television commercials for and against are certainly being conceived and produced now in preparation for the push to November. As Florida's economy is forced to shift from one based on building houses and attracting tourists to one that will rely more heavily on businesses that are not yet here, Floridians are still very concerned about their jobs and the economy.

Now is not the time to throw a big “do not enter” sign up at the state line.

10 Responses »

  1. If special elections are requested they can be accomodated at the expense of the applicant, otherwise, these changes can be placed on the ballot at the next scheduled election.
    If we can pay to place elections for who will be the next treasurer in a community development district, I think we can afford to vote on issues that impact our property values, property taxes and quality of life.
    I think your comment that changes would be met by yawns is an insult to every citizen who has ever shown up at a commision meeting to speak when a land use change has been applied for and they are within the range of property owners notified, which is a limited distance from the property requesting the change. I think most citizens are capable of deciding whether they want a 200-acre parcel designated rural turned into another mall or subdivision.
    And as to the jobs issue, in a recent issue of Mortgage News Daily: Jay Brinkmann, Mortgage Brokers Aassociation's chief economist said:
    "Ultimately the housing story, whether it is delinquencies, homes sales or housing starts, is an employment story," Brinkmann said. "Only when we see a consistent increase in employment will we see an increase in sales and starts, and a sustained improvement in the delinquency numbers. Until we see the increase in the number of households that comes with an increase in the number of paychecks, all measures of the health of the housing industry will continue to be weak."
    By jobs they don't mean construction jobs to build more unnecessary subdivisions.

    • Jill's denials that Hometown Democracy will cause special election problems is more than a little misleading. First of all, Amendment 4 can force special elections, and St. Pete Beach is a perfect example. In St. Pete Beach we adopted similar rules that require a vote on comp plan changes. But in St. Pete Beach, the last TWO regularly scheduled elections had NO CONTESTED CANDIDATE RACES (i.e. each district had only one person running, so they took office unopposed). So if a city has comp plan change that need to be made, and if there are no contested candidate races in the next regularly scheduled election (as happened in St. Pete Beach twice in a row) you'd have to either hold an election where the only thing on the ballot is the comp plan change (i.e. hold a special election), or you'd have to wait another year till the next scheduled election, and hope that there is a contested race the next time.

      Jill's suggestion that "applicants" can be forced to bear the cost of a special election is also misleading because (1) there's no legal basis to support the position that a private citizen or entity can be forced to bear those costs (especially since it is a constitutional requirement), and (2) it misleadingly suggests that only developers would be causing cities to consider comp plan changes. Most Florida voters have no idea that Florida state law often imposes mandatory comp plan changes on Florida's cities, and those mandatory changes would also have to go to a vote.

    • >Jill says:
      August 30, 2010 at 8:04 pm
      If special elections are requested they can be accomodated at the expense of the applicant, otherwise, these changes can be placed on the ballot at the next scheduled election.

      This sounds an awful lot like "If someone can afford to buy an election, why shouldn't he?" to me.

  2. Amendment 4 is a classic over the top reaction to a real problem. There is no denying that we need better controls on how we manage growth, but this approach offers no assurance of that. All this guarantees is that NOBODY will EVER propose a project in Florida again that will require a change to any city's comprehensive plan. If this is passed it won't slow down growth in Florida, it will KILL it.

    Forget all the debate about cost, time, etc, etc. The bottom line is that no one is going to want to deal with it, especially when you have other States that are trying to make it EASIER for new development.

  3. St. Pete Beach is NOT an example of Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4, even though those who oppose citizens having the right to vote on land use changes to their comprehensive plans keep insisting that it is.
    Please note that Kevin uses the term similar to compare St. Pete Beach and Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4. That's like saying that a zebra and a horse are similar because they both have four legs. In St. Pete Beach, residents got to vote but that is about the only similarity between their flawed, developer-initiated scheme to force increased building heights on an unwilling city commission and Amendment 4.

  4. Back in 2007, the proponents of Amendment 4 heralded St. Pete Beach as an example of their proposal. Now, that the true disatrous impacts of St. Pete Beach have come to light, they are trying to distance themselves.

    They argued, unsuccessfully before the courts, that the process in St. Pete Beach was flawed. BUT, even though the courts and DCA have decided that process (required by ch. 163) was followed, they continue to make this false claim. Of course, is this surprising when their poster child is a failure?

  5. An interesting concept, but doesn’t this also effect school boards, fire departments, police departments, roads, etc. They will also need plan amendments and it won’t take but a few neighbors to shut their plans down. The wealthy can afford big marketing plans and will consider it a cost of doing business; local government is not allowed to spend tax dollars to promote a project. There will be big winners and big losers. Follow the money. Maybe even ask yourself what land use attorney Leslie Blackburn will gain by its passage. Saint Pete Beach may not be the same law, but the attorneys are the only ones making any money there…

  6. No, Jill. Saying that the St. Pete experience and Hometown Democracy are similar is like saying that a zebra and a horse are similar because they are both equine animals and can mate and produce offspring. Those pushing the passage of Amendment 4 are simply looking for another opportunity to prevail after a thorough airing of issues has resulted in a vote by duly elected officials that is contrary to their wishes.

  7. Blech. In a state where so many houses have been abandoned and businesses have closed, it is unbelievable to think that we need MORE development. If the corporate community could be trusted to reign themselves in, we wouldn't even be in this predicament.

    Politicans rubber stamp developers' plans and this amendment threatens to change all that.

    Run scared, overbuilders. We are taking the power back.

  8. Jill, Ed:

    You take a overly simple-minded interpretation of what I'm saying. I'm not saying (and never have) that St. Pete Beach and Amendment 4 are identical. What I'm saying is that they are the same because they both give folks a vote on comp plans/comp plan amendments (even Jill admits that).

    I'm then saying that the consequences of putting comp plans on the ballot (as we did in St. Pete Beach) also threaten all Floridians if Amendment 4 passes.

    For example, if Florida passes A4 and puts comp plans on the ballot, all Florida cities will be open and vulnerable to the exact same election law lawsuits (i.e. ballot language challenges)
    like the cripplingly expensive ones we suffered in St. Pete Beach after we put our comp plan on the ballot.

    In St Pete Beach we've had two regular elections with no contested candidate races, so under Amendment 4 we would have had to hold special elections if comp plans were the only thing on the ballot.

    And Amendment 4 folks like Jill want Floridians to think that the only comp plan changes ever put before a city commission are requested by developers, but that's not true. Amendment 4 will force elections on the many state-mandated comp plan changes the Florida law requires...and cities bear the cost of the resulting elections under Amendment 4.

    Folks like Jill and Ed and whomever else is frustrated with developers can vote for Amendment 4 if they want to despite these costs and consequences, and that's fine. But don't try to tell Florida's voters that there are NO similarities between St. Pete Beach and the consequences of passing Amendment 4. And don't tell Floridians that there won't be consequences when its clear that there will be.

    Let Floridians make a fully informed choice