1000 Friends of Florida
Final Statement on Amendment 4
"Florida Hometown Democracy"
September 13, 2010
The citizens of Florida will have the opportunity to vote on Amendment 4 this November. This proposed constitutional amendment would require that local voters approve any amendments to their local comprehensive plans. Since the amendment was first announced, the Board of Directors of 1000 Friends of Florida has been on record as not supporting it for a host of reasons. However, given the unwillingness of some local governments and the Florida Legislature to address serious flaws with Florida's existing growth management system, the Board has reevaluated its previous discussion and now is taking a neutral position on Amendment 4. Should Amendment 4 pass, 1000 Friends will work with state and local leaders and citizens to help establish a fair and equitable new process. Should Amendment 4 fail, 1000 Friends resolves to work with the same parties toward meaningful reform to Florida's growth management process. The Board hopes the following analysis provides guidance as Florida's voters evaluate the pro's and con's of Amendment 4 and reach their individual decisions on this critical issue.
Full Statement on Amendment 4
Florida is at a critical juncture in its history. For decades, the state had relied on the engines of growth to fuel its economy. With the recent economic downturn, the problems with this approach have proven increasingly apparent. Many are justifiably frustrated with "business as usual" in Florida, and want to see new solutions to the state's longstanding problems.
One attempt to address this problem is the proposed Constitutional Amendment 4, known as Florida Hometown Democracy. This amendment, which will be on the ballot in November 2010, must receive a supermajority of 60 percent or more to pass. If successful, Amendment 4 would require that any amendment to a community's local comprehensive plan be approved by a majority of that community's voters. Florida Hometown Democracy is intended to address failures of local government to adopt and implement reasonable growth management decisions, failures by the Legislature to fund, improve and strengthen growth management controls, and the loss of public access and voice in the comprehensive planning process.
Since Amendment 4 was first proposed, the Board of Directors of 1000 Friends of Florida has been on record as not supporting it for a host of reasons. The Board believes that the amendment could result in local concerns overwhelming larger societal ones, dilute the accountability of local elected officials for development decisions, result in piecemeal planning, engender media campaigns in which those with greater funding would have inordinate influence on the outcome, result in planning gridlock due to the unclear language of the amendment, and result in retaliation by the Legislature.
At the same time, the Board of Directors has been very mindful that the on-the-ground results of the state's current growth management system are not as intended. Our state still faces sprawling, inappropriately sited development, degraded natural areas, overcrowded classrooms, and congested roads. In addition, over the last two years the state's land planning agency, the Florida Department of Community Affairs, has approved approximately 90 percent of the plan amendments it has reviewed. This has impacted hundreds of thousands of acres, and authorized an additional 600,000 dwelling units and more than 1 billion square feet of non-residential office and institutional space, all of which remains unbuilt. Current estimates are that Florida's built vacant housing inventory continues to hover between 300,000 and 400,000 dwelling units, and Florida is now leading the nation in outright numbers of foreclosures. Additionally, DCA is now reviewing numerous plan amendments that have been submitted with the intent of being approved before possible passage of Amendment 4 in November.
Before the 2010 Session, 1000 Friends outlined four steps the Florida Legislature should take to address fundamental flaws with the state's growth management system. The first was adoption of 1000 Friends proposed "Citizen Bill of Rights" which included requirements for a supermajority vote of the elected body for all plan amendment changes; a mandatory citizen participation plan and workshops conducted by any developer seeking a land use change; a "cooling off" period preventing last minute changes to plans before public meetings to allow the public, staff and elected officials time for informed deliberation; preservation of citizen standing status throughout any appeal process; and citizen protection from SLAPP suits associated with any participation in the comprehensive planning process.
The second step was full funding for the state's land acquisition program, Florida Forever, and the Sadowski Affordable Housing Program. The third was adoption of a meaningful state plan(s) that guides/requires that all state capital funds be spent to make existing communities more livable, rather than promote expansion and sprawl. The fourth was adequate funding to administer all growth management programs, including reviews of comprehensive plan amendments and Developments of Regional Impact (DRIs).
The results of the 2010 session were disappointing at best. No action was taken on the proposed Citizen Bill of Rights. While Florida Forever received $15 million in funding (a far cry short of the typical $300 million authorized annually for the program even though it was endorsed by all conservation groups and the Florida Chamber, among others), the effort to remove the cap on the Sadowski Affordable Housing Program fell victim to last minute political maneuvers, and that program received minimal funding of $37.5 million. No action was taken on the adoption of a meaningful state plan. And while the Florida Department of Community Affairs received continuation funding, the legislature did not affirmatively reauthorize the agency, leaving it in a vulnerable "legislative limbo" for the coming year.
Based on the inaction of the Florida legislature in 2010 and earlier years to affirmatively address major shortcomings in the state's growth management system, the Board of Directors of 1000 Friends of Florida felt it was necessary to reevaluate its position on Amendment 4. A number of the Board Members still believe that Amendment 4 represents a flawed approach that will not resolve problems with Florida's growth management system and may, in fact, make things worse. However, Board Members also feel that the existing system is seriously flawed and change is needed, even if that change is less than perfect.
The Board of Directors further recognizes that both opponents and supporters of Amendment 4 have numerous valid reasons sustaining their positions. In large part, the differing positions on Amendment 4 appear to reflect individual Board Members and citizens' experiences with their particular local governments. For some, Amendment 4 appears to be the only logical choice. For others, the many pitfalls Amendment 4 brings are reason enough not to support it. The opportunity for choice then appears to be the most reasonable alternative. 1000 Friends therefore is taking a neutral position on Amendment 4 and urges the voters of Florida to carefully evaluate this analysis, other information, and their local and state growth management experiences when voting on this important constitutional amendment.
Should Amendment 4 pass, we recognize that its language leaves many issues open to different interpretation and possible litigation. However, 1000 Friends of Florida commits to work with state and local leaders and citizens to the extent possible to establish a fair and equitable new process that adheres to the spirit of Amendment 4. We also will view this as a call to the Legislature to bring about additional positive change to Florida's growth management process that supplements the intent of Amendment 4.
Should Amendment 4 fail, 1000 Friends will not view this as an endorsement of the status quo. We fully recognize that Florida's growth management system is in need of serious and major reform. We will use all avenues possible to bring about this reform in a manner that increases and enhances citizen involvement in the local planning process, strengthens local government accountability for planning and development decisions, and brings meaningful improvement to state law and implementation.
Whatever the outcome in November, Florida cannot return to "business as usual." The recent economic crisis has proven all too clearly that a growth- and development-driven economy is costly, shortsighted, and untenable over the long haul.