Support Amendment 4

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My support for Amendment 4 to Florida’s Constitution known as the “Hometown Democracy Amendment” is very much related to my professional experiences over the last 60 years as a practicing architect, planner, participating citizen and educator. I have long observed myths related to continued population increase and economic growth in Florida.
One myth; growth does increase the local tax base and is thus beneficial. However, the cost of additional city and county public services, maintenance and other capital costs often exceed the new revenues. Over time public costs of delivering local services tend to stumble; thus, a net loss for the community.
Most of Florida’s cities and counties are today facing budget crises as an unintended consequence of the past decades’ real estate boom.
As to the pitch that development brings new jobs, this too is basically a myth. Rarely does the new growth provide for long range stability for local jobs. Subsidizing businesses, or as it is often said, “creating a good business climate” has unintended consequences. Driven by this mantra, loosely drawn comprehensive plans and weak land development regulations simply leads to depressed real estate investments, rundown vacant commercial properties, loss of residential value and deterioration of the quality of the community’s character, beauty and livability.
More points should be made regarding urban growth myths. Eben Fodor, a practicing planner offers “Twelve Big Myths of Growth”. Several are on point with regard to Amendment 4.
It is a myth that environmental protection hurts the economy. This cannot be supported by any studies that assess and compare the level of environmental protection and the quality of a local economy.
Myth: growth is inevitable. Communities with strong growth controls tend to have strong and sustained economic development. Community development should refer to the ongoing qualitative strength of its economy and the balance of the needs and aspirations of its population and preservation of its natural environment and heritage.
One more point on growth; vacant and agricultural lands provide a low source of local tax revenues, but in the alternative these properties require very low levels of public services and in effect contribute proportionally more to the local tax base than residential properties. Open space and agricultural lands designated in local comprehensive plans are too often proposed to be changed to higher density sprawl growth; growth that will demand higher levels of local services. If adopted, Amendment 4 provides that such land use changes would be subject to the local voter approval.
Finally, it is interesting to note the relationship of unemployment rates and population growth rates of several states. Florida, Nevada and California all three have had high growth rates in population over the last nine years. Florida with a population growth rate of 16 percent during the nine year period had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent in August. Nevada with a population growth rate of 32 percent has an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent. California with a population growth rate of 9 percent has an unemployment rate of 12.3 percent; all above the national average. Ten states with low population growth rates over the same period are well below the national average of 9.6 percent.
Florida voters have an opportunity to bring our intergovernmental planning system into a more open and democratic practice. The Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 with the support of Floridians will accomplish this.
Earl Starnes
Professor Emeritus of Urban and Regional Planning
University of Florida
Cedar Key