Earlier this week, The Miami Herald became the latest editorial page to recommend voting no on Amendment 4 — the ballot initiative that would require land-use changes approved by local governments to be approved by voters:
We have long fought against land-use decisions that simply encourage sprawl and make taxpayers pay for new roads and classrooms that construction demands but doesn’t finance. While Amendment 4 purports to be the solution to politicians’ bad land-use decisions, it isn’t really.
So what is the solution? Another South Florida editorial board weighed in earlier this month:
Instead, the solution is more control over growth-management decisions at both the regional and state levels — in particular, a bigger budget and greater regulatory authority for the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the state’s growth-management watchdog.
The problem, says Lesley Blackner — president of Florida Hometown Democracy, the group behind Amendment 4 — is that the political winds in Florida are blowing in exactly the opposite direction. Rather than strengthen the Department of Community Affairs, the legislature chose not to reauthorize it. One candidate for governor is suspicious of the department, and some legislators have floated the idea of folding it into the Department of State.
Whether Amendment 4 is an ideal fix for the state’s growth problems is another question. As Ryan Houck, executive director of the No on 4 campaign, put it during an online chat hosted by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation: “The status quo is imperfect, but it’s hard to imagine a ‘solution’ that would cause more costly consequences than Amendment 4.”
Houck offered a counter-proposal during the chat. He said cities should conduct “visioning projects,” which involve “obtaining the input of thousands of citizens through planning sessions and workshops and developing a cohesive strategy for a community over a period of decades.” That, he said, would lead to more responsible planning, without the negative side effects.
But when communities develop strategies to ensure that growth proceeds responsibly, Blackner says, it doesn’t always work out that way. The Hometown Democracy initiative stemmed from years of “frustration” at seeing people’s concerns about irresponsible growth “getting ignored and trivialized.”
Blackner and her supporters say the deck in the planning process is often stacked against their concerns — which is why they proposed a citizens’ ballot initiative that would give voters a form of veto power over their local governments.
“I don’t think the citizens have been heard,” she says. “This is our best shot at it.”