Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment would Worsen Economic Crisis

Don’t let the title fool you. It’s not about democracy.

Palm Coast, Florida  – April 10, 2009 – As Florida lawmakers tackle unprecedented budget challenges, Florida’s families are also coping with the effects of a deepening recession.  The pillars of Florida’s economy—tourism, agriculture and real estate—continue to buckle under the strain of a global economic downturn.  While the gravity of the present crisis is acknowledged by most, there are a handful of extremists still pushing radical policies that would make Florida’s current economic slump immeasurably worse.
The group calling itself Florida Hometown Democracy needs only 46,000 signatures to place its amendment on the 2010 ballot.  If adopted, this proposal will outsource hundreds of technical land use planning issues to the ballot box.  Under Hometown Democracy, every comprehensive plan change—no matter how small or technical—would appear on the ballot. 
Supporters of the amendment say it will give “power to the people.” And yet, a track record of shamefully anti-democratic litigation proves that Florida Hometown Democracy is not for democracy.  It is simply against growth—even when voters approve it. 
The cynical motives and catastrophic impacts of Hometown Democracy are more than theories for think tanks.  They are well-established facts for the residents of St. Pete Beach—the first community in Florida to adopt a local version of Hometown Democracy.   Since implementing the measure over two years ago, the residents of St. Pete Beach have suffered through an endless legal nightmare coupled with a sudden and lasting economic collapse. 
Once a thriving tourist town, St. Pete Beach was known as a haven for smart growth and small business.  Since then, Hometown Democracy has imposed new costs and unpredictable outcomes on businesses seeking to relocate or expand in St. Pete Beach.  The result: Too many jobs, new and old, have left town.  Despite Hometown’s promise of empowerment, St. Pete Beach citizens have watched helplessly as small town landmarks and large chains alike have closed their doors for the last time. 
The story of St. Pete Beach is proof that Hometown Democracy disciples are not interested in your hometown, or democracy.  Despite preaching “power to the people,” Hometown Democracy has systematically fought to silence any group, halt any decision, and overturn any election it opposes.
Due to Hometown Democracy, tough times hit St. Pete Beach two years before hitting the rest of Florida.  Hoping to revive their town’s failing economy, a group of business and community leaders fought back.  Abiding by Hometown Democracy-imposed regulations, they succeeded in placing four comprehensive land use plan changes on the ballot.   Despite the opposition of Hometown Democracy forces, St. Pete Beach voters overwhelmingly approved these four changes in July of 2008.
What happened next was shocking evidence of Florida Hometown Democracy’s true motives.
Within twenty-four hours of the vote, Hometown Democracy followers had filed a lawsuit to overturn the election.  Indeed, the very individuals who so stridently championed direct democracy have now filed nearly a dozen separate legal actions aimed at delaying, disrupting or outright denying the manifest will of the voters in St. Pete Beach.  Ironically, they are led by the same Tallahassee lawyer who is credited with writing the Hometown Democracy amendment.
St. Pete Beach is not an isolated example.  Despite its rhetoric, Florida Hometown Democracy has a long history of preferring the courtroom to the ballot box.  When they failed to make the statewide ballot last year, they asked a federal judge to overturn a voter-approved petition deadline.  When business groups proposed an alternative to their amendment, they challenged it in the Florida Supreme Court.  When the Supreme Court approved the business-backed alternative, they petitioned for a second hearing, which was promptly denied.  Evidently, Hometown Democracy is far more comfortable making their case to a judge, than to the people.
If you doubt the severity of a Hometown Democracy-imposed economic disaster, I recommend visiting the now-vacant storefronts of St. Pete Beach.  If you are not yet disturbed by evidence of Florida Hometown Democracy’s true motives, I recommend a visit to St. Pete Beach, where staggering legal bills are bleeding taxpayers dry.  If you doubt that this nightmare could quickly engulf every hometown in Florida, I recommend a visit to St. Pete Beach where “Hometown Democracy” is now the law of the land.
Ryan Houck is the executive director of Orlando-based Floridians for Smarter Growth.
4 replies
  1. Herb Whitaker
    Herb Whitaker says:

    Exactly correct

    Toby, you have hit the nail squarely on the head about this abhoral referendum. You mention that it would appear on all elections. Worse than that, my understanding is that special elections would have to be called specifically for these items if outside the normal time of the election cycle. Imagine that cost to us taxpayers, somewhere between $20,000 – $30,000 per election!!

  2. Jessie Manfredi
    Jessie Manfredi says:

    Are you Kidding Me?

    Since you make your living SELLING REAL ESTATE what in God’s name makes you think we should listen to you beat the drum for development and against FHD? How about if we listen instead to people who have no financial gain?

  3. Jerry
    Jerry says:

    What is responsible growth?

    We are surrounded by empty homes and uncompleted developments and told we are running out of water and that Florida’s growth model does not pay its way….so the building industry may be replaced by other new industries for providing jobs…this is the way capitalism works, right?

  4. Toby
    Toby says:

    Reply to Jessie

    You obviously do not understand the issue. It’s not about selling real estate. It’s about responsible growth. Do you really think that no growth is the answer? If so, there is nothing I can say to sway you. If you took the time to investigate the home town democracy movement, you would understand that it would lead to urban sprawl on a massive scale. That’s what current land development codes would allow. You obviously didn’t understand the implications of the St. Pete experience. Their agenda, and apparently yours, is counter change of any kind via a subversion of the voters’ will.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply