Hometown Democracy-or Not?
By Vicki Jackson
Residents will soon vote on Amendment 4, commonly called the Hometown Democracy Amendment. Despite several opportunities provided in recent months, for the most part the general public has yet to get a handle on what they're being asked to decide. The ballot summary for the proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution:
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 be the governing body and notice. Provides definitions.It's complicated, to be sure. To assist in clarification of the issues, the Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition, (CNC) a self-described "valuable resource to aid in the resolution of issues that impact the quality of life in our community," hosted an informative presentation on September 13th, at the Salvation Army Center in Clearwater. Several City representatives were in attendance, including Council members, John Doran and Bill Jonson, as well as Police Chief Tony Holloway, but a stormy night kept a crowd from filling most of the seats available. Those who came were able to participate in vigorous commentary and discussion with both guest speakers. None denied that our state has some serious problems, but whether or not voter veto power is good for Florida was the question.
Dunedin attorney, Chris Giuliana, speaking in support of the amendment, asserted, "We need to bring some order out of chaos." According to him, even by the mid-90's all governments had developed land use plans, which the law requires to be routinely updated. Furthermore, all across this land local government has allocated a lot of land for more development, and most have plans for several decades hence. But, "the process needs some adult supervision."
As an example, he cited the recent reclassification of acres of "preservation" land, for the benefit of Clearwater Christian College. The Clearwater City Council unanimously approved the highly controversial plan, which allows the college to proceed with plans toward paving of, and future construction on, land that was previously immune from construction. Giuliana declared, "Five people made the decision, which cannot be changed. If '4' was in effect, all registered voters could pass judgment on the change."
According to the attorney, the ballot language could be simply stated, in that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that a referendum need not be a verbatim text of the proposed amendment. Furthermore, voters must acquaint themselves with the pros and cons of an issue, as that is not the function of a ballot. Such information is commonly available through websites or forums, at libraries and in media presentations.
Giuliana explained how passage of Hometown Democracy would allow voters the opportunity to approve or disapprove amendments to the comprehensive land use plan. A referendum would be required only after a request for a change, outside the land use plan, had been processed and approved through normal government channels. Conceivably, this might be accommodated in the next regular election, or by mail or in a special election. It has been suggested that the initiating interest, such as a developer, could fund the latter if they were in a hurry and didn't want to wait.
"Florida hasn't grown smart," admitted Kathleen Peters, referring in particular to the destruction of wetlands, the everglades, and wildlife habitat. The mayor of the city of South Pasadena, and Vice President Public Affairs at Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, said, "We need a solution-but not a broad language solution. This amendment is not gonna stop the sprawl." Opposing the amendment, she said she doesn't want to change the state's constitution, "just because we have to have something."
Peters referred to the Hometown Democracy repercussions in St. Pete Beach, and claimed that the lawsuits which followed were mostly because of procedures and ballot language. Of the language, she admonished, "It's not workable."
Circulating a copy of the City of Clearwater Comprehensive Plan, she suggested that people would have to familiarize themselves with it. Upon examination, approximately twenty percent of the 1 ˝" volume was a section labeled "Land Use Plan." She insisted that adoption of '4' would require voter approval for land use change even in situations involving sewer lines and road construction, as in the recent issue at Gulf-to-Bay and Belcher-where the City didn't own enough land to construct a right-turn lane at the site. She forecast that adding that one step (voter approval) to change the comprehensive land use plan would result in extensive election costs.
A handout, paid for by the Tampa Bay Regional Coalition, predicted a weaker economy, loss of jobs, additional project expenses, and costly elections resulting in higher taxes. Peters presented an economic study outlining dire predictions following the potential passage of the amendment, including: the loss of fiscal revenue of greater than $4 Billion a year, the loss of 267,000 Florida jobs, and a decrease of $34 Billion in the state economic output each year.
Mike Riordon, former candidate for the Clearwater City Council, disputed the accuracy of the study and refuted the report, claiming it was funded by people who are against Amendment 4.
An unidentified man asked, "Do we trust the people we elect? It (4) is not about land use…uninformed people making decisions, I don't think it's good." But another man, a self-described former city commissioner of W. Palm Beach, warned about the potential for developer dollars and their lawyers to educate (influence) city council members.
Referring to a situation where her community of 3,500 citizens spent $140,000 to fight the City on two issues, with the City using their tax dollars, attorney Cynthia Remley of Sand Key said Amendment 4 would have eliminated that. She urged, "You have a historical opportunity here. Seize it!"
Enthusiastic dialogue continued until the CNC moderator, Doug Williams, had to call time-but not before perhaps the most revealing response of the evening. Anne Garris, local activist and long-time Clearwater Beach resident, said, "I'm tired of waiting (for a solution). Do you 'No on 4' people have an answer?" Kathleen Peters confessed, "I don't know if they have a plan."
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