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Hometown Democracy Stalled by 60 Percent Requirement?

Leadership Florida released its fourth annual Sunshine Survey yesterday, and already supporters of Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 are crying foul.

The survey, conducted by Nielsen ratings, suggested that the constitutional Amendment 4 that supporters have fought to get on the ballot in November 2010 may not muster the 60 percent support needed to pass. The survey found 51 percent of the 1,282 Floridians surveyed were in favor of the amendment, but that just ain't enough.

The amendment essentially puts land-use and zoning changes back into the hands of voters. And that, says local organizer Bett Willett, is because city commissions can't be trusted to make the kinds of land-use decisions most residents can live with.

Willett, a retired schoolteacher from New Jersey who now lives in Deer Creek, got her feet wet in Florida activism when she moved to Deerfield Beach in 2000 and found city commissioners playing games with height restrictions, setbacks, and variances that seemed to be rigged in favor of developers instead of citizens. She joined Save Our Beach and collected thousands of signatures to reinstate land-use codes into the city charter, preventing politicians from mucking around with them.

It was good practice for her work now with Amendment 4, which deals with the same issues on a larger scale. Willett says Leadership Florida's Sunshine Survey numbers can't be trusted for several reasons.

"They didn't publish the figures for how many voters were undecided, how many voters were against" the amendment, Willett says. "And that can make a huge difference. Surveys on past amendments have also shown they didn't have the support necessary to pass. But come Election Day, they did."
Second, Leadership Florida is "a creation of the Chamber of Commerce," says Lesley Blackner, a Palm Beach lawyer who is the brains behind Hometown Democracy and Amendment 4. "The chamber has put together a poll they can hype," Blackner said in an email.

Blackner says she debated Ryan Houck two weeks ago. Hometown Democracy's
biggest critic admitted that Amendment 4 "would win if the election were
held today," she says.

Houck is director of Floridians for Smarter Growth and executive director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, the organizations that have mounted the most adamant campaigns against Amendment 4. 

Willett has her own unofficial way of conducting surveys, and she says it looks to her like the amendment is going to pass by a landslide. "I go out every weekend and hand out fliers. Every single person I talked to last week at the Dania Fleamarket said they would vote in favor. I even had a guy who said, 'I'm a developer, and I'm still in favor of it.' And I spoke to a group of 200 people last night in Tamarac who are fighting a golf course conversion. They were saying, OK, what can we do to pass this amendment? Think of all the communities all over Florida who are dealing with these kinds of development issues. I am totally convinced this is going to happen."

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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