Florida Referendum for Land Use (2008)

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The Referendum for Land Use, commonly known as the Hometown Democracy Amendment, is proposed as an initiated constitutional amendment in Florida, supported by the Hometown Democracy PAC.

Florida Hometown Democracy originally hoped to qualify the measure for the November 2008 ballot in Florida but various circumstances have led to the measure instead heading for the 2010 ballot as the Florida Hometown Democracy Land Use Initiative (2010).

The petition failed to collect enough signatures by the February 1, 2008 deadline to qualify for the November 2008 ballot[1] This is due at least in part to a glitch in the state of Florida's electronic signature tally. As a result of that glitch, supporters of the HDA learned just two weeks before the late January 2008 deadline that they were 11,000 signatures short of the requirement, when they thought they had matters well in hand.

"...here we are, at the supposed 11th hour. We’re now a little more than two weeks away from the signature deadline, and yet, this all gets sprung on us," said Hometown Democracy’s John Hedrick.[2]

On June 11, 2008, supporters of the Hometown Democracy Amendment filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Miami challenging the irregularities in the petition-checking process that stemmed from the fact that the state's voter database is not current, and some from the fact that different counties use different standards for determining whether a signature is valid or not. The lawsuit attacks the practice of disqualifying inactive voters from signing initiative petitions, and also the practice of letting voters remove their signatures after the petition has been filed. The case is Florida Hometown Democracy v. Browning.[3]

Lesley Blackner, head of the Hometown Democracy effort, also said that Florida's February 1, 2008 deadline violates the U.S. Constitution. She said, "It deprives people of their right to associate politically. The state has got to stop this war against citizens’ right to amend their constitution."[4]

Goals of the initiative

The idea of the act is to establish that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice.[5]

Each county and city in Florida has what is called a comprehensive plan. A "comp plan" lays out the county or city's plans for the use of its land. Under current law, county and city governments may vote to change their comp plans. The Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment, if approved, would amend the Florida Constitution to require that when a county or city wants to change its comp plan, each such change must be placed on the ballot in the form of a referenda for the voters to choose.[6]

History of the Amendment

The original Hometown Democracy Amendment was proposed in Florida in 2003, and 50,000 signatures were gathered to place the amendment on the ballot.

On March 17, 2005, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that the first sentence in the ballot summary of the amendment was more akin to "editorial comment," than an "accurate and informative" synopsis of the amendment as required by law, and struck it down. The first sentence stated, "Public participation in local government comprehensive land use planning benefits Florida's natural resources, scenic beauty and citizens." In striking down the summary, the Court found that the first sentence did "nothing to explain the chief purpose of the proposed amendment."

In June 2006, the Florida Supreme Court approved a new voter petition for Hometown Democracy. The ballot summary for the revised amendment says, "Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the government body and notice."[7]

Support

The Florida Hometown Democracy political action committee (PAC), which calls itself "a grass-roots, nonpartisan group who recognize that putting the people in charge of the places where they live is key to a sustainable future of our state,"[8] is sponsoring the initiative. The group focuses on environmental issues and believes that the referendum will prevent large developers from desecrating Florida's wildlife.

The Sierra Club has posted the petition on its website.[9]

The Save the Manatee Club is also supporting the initiative.[10]

Supporters argue that the amendment will makes the current land use system more accountable by giving power over land use changes to the voters. They also say it will protect harm to Floridians’ quality of life by what they term as "endless construction" and believe the Amendment can be a solution to overcrowded schools, gridlocked roads, diminishing water supply, pollution, and rising property taxes.

Opposition

Leading the opposition is a group called Floridians for Smarter Growth, which is offering an initiative of its own (the Growth Management Initiative) as an alternative plan in an effort to derail Hometown Democracy. The group says this about the Hometown Democracy initiative:

Extreme special interests are promoting another irresponsible amendment to the Florida Constitution. Their so-called "Hometown Democracy" amendment--a statewide "Vote on Everything" initiative--would imperil Florida's prosperity. And they are trying to mislead Florida voters to gain support for an unworkable and dangerous idea.

Floridians know our unique quality-of-life is linked to a healthy environment. And we know we must plan and grow smarter than we have in the last decade. But the Vote on Everything amendment will require all Floridians to vote 200 to 300 times more each year, deciding even the tiniest planning change. This will lead to far less planning, increased urban sprawl, much more traffic, higher property taxes, and anemic municipal services.

In fact, the net effect of the Vote on Everything amendment--a dead stop for smarter growth in Florida--will destroy our state's strong economy.

Opponents argue that the Amendment would turn growth management planning, which involves input from professional planners, public hearings, and a review and appeals process would be turned on its head and replaced by "ballot box planning." They note that citizens will be bombarded throughout the year with information on an overwhelming number of comp plan issues, about which they cannot become sufficiently informed.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties, the Florida Association of School Boards are only a sampling of many other organizations[11] that have come out in opposition to the Hometown Democracy initiative. See also: List of Opponents for Florida's Referendum for Land Use

A legal firm, Greenberg Traurig, is against the measure saying:

"The net effect of the proposal on both local government and the development community could be disastrous, and could potentially have a crippling effect on local economies..."[12]

The Florida Coalition for Property Rights opposes the measure because the land use referendum will further restrict property owner's rights to redevelop their land.[13]

Electronic voting glitch

A glitch with Florida's new $23 million computer voter system is skewing the count of petition signatures.

The Department of State, when the error was discovered, asked county election supervisors to go back through four years of records and resubmit their tallies. They had until Jan. 11 to do so, with that number becoming the official figure from which counting pf signatures resumed.

"Given everything that's happened in Florida with elections and the lack of integrity in the voting process here, we have yet another example of where the state election system is incompetent," said Lesley Blackner, the lawyer running the Hometown Democracy campaign.[14]

See also

External links

References