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The Saturday TAMPA TRIBUNE came out with a strong, well-written objection to Amendment 4.

Suggest you forward this to every Florida voter you know — and SOON!

And come to FGCAR HQ to pick up some yard signs, bumper stickers, and postcard-sized flyers to distribute.

A power you should not want

The Tampa Tribune

Published: October 2, 2010

Approval of Amendment 4 would give voters new power to reject local land-use plans at the ballot box. The motive of supporters of this ill-conceived change to the constitution is to make growth decisions more democratic.

Having to vote on every land-use change would slow down economic growth without guaranteeing neighborhoods any real protection from the encroachments they fear most.

The amendment is supported by a group called Hometown Democracy, whose name is itself a false promise. Your home community would have only a minority voice in countywide and citywide land-use decisions.

Under the existing system, community groups have a big impact when they show up in force at public hearings to lobby for their interests. If Amendment 4 is passed, concerned citizens would be faced with organizing a countywide campaign to sway a majority of voters.

If the issue were, for example, where to put a tent city for the homeless, most people wouldn’t care as long as it wasn’t near them. Some of the hottest growth disputes involve rezonings and compatibility issues that wouldn’t be affected by passing Amendment 4, but many more complicated decisions would go on the ballot.

The biggest flaw in requiring everyone to vote on a bewildering list of land-use issues is the difficulty of educating the public. The loudest voices you would hear explaining things would not always be trustworthy.

The assumption that we the people are always smarter than our elected representatives isn’t true on issues requiring lots of homework, such as the proper level of service for rural areas, the right size for setbacks, where to put a new school, and the proper density for a transit-oriented development.

It is hard to imagine how a 20-page, highly technical land-use issue could be reduced to 75 words or less on the ballot. It is even harder to imagine a majority of voters wading in deep enough to understand it and get it right.

We don’t think passage of Amendment 4 would solve any of the legitimate complaints of its supporters.

The Legislature each session comes up with bills designed to weaken growth rules. Passing Amendment 4 would only inspire lawmakers to find more loopholes.

Some local elected officials are influenced by contributions from wealthy land owners and developers. In some jurisdictions growth plans are changed so frequently they lose their backbone. But voters should remember that Amendment 4 only gives veto power, not the power to make growth rules stronger.

Taxpayers in many areas have seen the costs of rampant growth shifted to them and away from those profiting from it. They have seen their roads become congested and their water supplies run low. But Amendment 4 promises no quick fix.

Developers might move their projects to remote areas where no one objects, and thus cause more sprawl and higher public costs.

Those in the stop-growth camp should understand that Amendment 4, while opposed strongly by business groups and city and county organizations, would not be a reliable roadblock to growth. Florida has some 300,000 empty houses and apartments, and many more projects have already won approval.

Amendment 4 seems more likely to discourage desirable new development than to stop the kinds of projects neighborhoods find objectionable. Companies are unlikely to pursue job-creating projects if they are faced with such a costly political hurdle.

In Hillsborough and its three cities, about 30 or 40 land-use changes are proposed each year. The process is time-consuming and deliberate. To add a public vote to each change would slow things down to the point that many developers would just give up and move to another state.

In any case, the unpredictability and expense of running everything past voters would be a significant barrier to progress.

It’s human nature to accept an offer of more power. But once every land-use change appears on the ballot, voters eventually will realize their mistake and repeal it. The best solution is to vote no on Amendment 4 before it brings the state costs and confusion we cannot afford.