One of the fiercest battles to be waged this election year will be over Amendment 4, a citizens initiative aimed at putting decisions about growth in Florida back into the hands of voters. On November 2, we'll go to the polls, and essentially send our government a message about whether we trust our political leaders to make decisions about what gets built where.
Supporters of the amendment have had their case made for them by the economy. Voters on the fence about the amendment just have to look around at the empty condo towers, vacant lots, and untenanted shopping plazas to see that somebody (our city and county commissioners?) has badly miscalculated. On its face, this initiative looks to be about a battle between the little guy -- you and me, who just want a piece of grass to run our dog, or a patch of water to paddle our canoe -- and a Goliath,
a giant stitched together with the funding dollars of mega-developers, chambers of commerce, and associations of realtors and roofers. The two main backers on either side are Florida Hometown Democracy, which supports the Amendment and in fact collected the signatures to put it on the ballot, and Florida Smarter Growth, which is practically apoplectic over the prospect of turning growth decisions over to the vox populi.
Indeed, a quick glance at supporters and detractors of the Amendment paints a pretty clear picture of the interested parties. Organization supporting the amendment are a Green wet dream: Audubon of Martin County, Citizens Council for Creeks and Wetlands, Clean Water Network of Florida, Conservation Alliance of St. Lucie County, Environmental and Land Use Law Center, Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, Florida Native Plant Society, Florida Panther Society, Florida Wildlife Federation, The Green Party of Florida, National Humane Society, Save Our Florida, Save Our Wetlands Coalition, Save the Manatee Club.
And lined up against these warm and fuzzies? The Alarm Association of Florida. Associated Builders and Contractors. Associated Gen. Contractors of Greater Florida. Association of Florida Community Developers. Business Forum Of Palm Beach County. The Broward League of Cities. The Economic Council of Palm Beach. Florida Apartment Association. The Florida Association of District School Superintendents. The Electrical Contractors. The Plumbing and Heating Contractors.. The Automobile Dealers Association. The bankers. The engineers. The fire sprinkler makers. The surveying and mapping people. The turfgrass manufacturers. And just about every City Council (Pompano Beach is just the latest) and Chamber of Commerce in Florida.
Still, as Slate's Jacob Weisberg pointed out in his Saturday essay, give US citizens a little bit of decision-making power, and they are as likely to make a mud pie as a soufflé. Or maybe more likely. The strongest argument in favor of Amendment 4 is the creeping corruption in city and county governments, a web of dubious connections encouraging elected officials to cut deals with developers (see Bob Norman's synopsis of what happened in Southwest Ranches in this week's New Times). The strongest argument against Amendment 4 is California, where tax averse citizens have almost bankrupted the state economy, and which has, Weisberg points out, "a referendum system that allows the people to be even more irresponsible than their elected representatives."
Dumb, meet Dumber.