Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Amendment 4, Florida Hometown Democracy: Where do you stand?

[A version of this letter has been sent out to elected officials and candidates of City and County elections around Florida.]

Dear Elected Official,

By now you've heard about Amendment 4, Florida Hometown Democracy. Your email inbox has likely been visited by corporate PR firms hired by Builders Associations telling you which way to vote and how to inform your constituents on the matter. I'm writing to find out where you stand.

Florida Hometown Democracy has now become a measuring stick by which the public can gauge the integrity and intelligence of their elected officials. Politics driven by the Chambers of Commerce have had a disproportionate influence in our State for too long. The quality of air, water and life in general cannot afford it any longer.

We already know that the developer lobby and short-sighted business interests from all across the country will be spending millions of dollars to bombard us with reasons to oppose a public vote on Comprehensive Land Use Changes. They will yet again accuse us community activists and environmentalists of threatening the fragile economy, as they always do.

Well which environmental group or neighborhood organization is behind the condition of today's economy?

Obviously, none of them. It's corporate greed and political corruption that has pushed this unprecedented financial crisis. Some of the same banks and real estate interests that scammed the public and profited off pillaging $700 billion in a corporate welfare bailout from the federal government are now telling us how we should construct our future economy.

If you are not concerned with poisoned air and water, nor the extinction of threatened and endangered species, then perhaps you will let Amendment 4 be a test of your fiscal conservatism: multiple studies around Florida show that new developments reach into the pockets of established residents to finance infrastructure. For example, Jacksonville's Cedar Swamp Study showed residential development costs taxpayers $2.45 for every $1 it generates in new taxes.

By controlling development, there will be less need for more taxes.

We've been told by the developer's planners that 'New Urbanism' will save us. While the principles behind that concept may be good, it has lost its integrity and we are now watching the green-washed version of developer-driven new urbansim fail miserably. Take the foreclosure of Abacoa Town Center is a prime example: http://southflorida.bizjournals.com/southflorida/stories/2010/05/10/daily48.html

Reckless development doesn't protect people's livelihoods or the economy--it does the exact opposite. Even decent elected officials have become too weak to stand up to developers. They need help from the public. Amendment 4 like is a remedy to politicians who can't say no.

So why should you listen to me?

While the real estate development industry may make up the majority of political campaign contributions, they are a world away from representing the people surrounding you. The people in your neighborhood, at your city hall meeting, at the gym, in your office, church, park, etc.. I am one of them.

For 10 years I have sat through public meetings, conferences, workshops, charrettes (or 'charades'), quasi-judicial hearings and court proceedings regarding development and land use--including the Stakeholder Advisory Committee, the current appropriate public process for assessing Comp Plan changes, through an Evaluation and Appraisal Report (EAR), in the City where I live. None of it can match the power of paid-off politicians.

In the past 3 years, 3 County Commissioners have been sent to federal prison in the County where I live for voting in their own financial interests, despite public health and environmental concerns: despite cancer clusters, droughts, floods; despite multi-billion dollar ecosystem restoration plans; despite mass foreclosures and financial crises. Politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists across Florida have been penalized for their greed and corruption. And the investigations continue...

While the Chambers of Commerce tell us that Hometown Democracy denies voters our right to be represented by an elected official under a republic form of government, I send you this email as an opportunity to show that you actually intend to represent us.

So from here 'till November's election, the #1 question for politicians and candidates in the Cities and Counties of Florida will be whether they endorse Amendment 4. Do you support Hometown Democracy?

Do you side with the Builders and the Chambers, or do you stand with the rest of us?

To endorse, click here:

Please know that your silence will not protect you. By not supporting Amendment 4, we will assume your allegiance to greed and self-interest. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Panagioti Tsolkas
Co-Chair, Palm Beach County Environmental Coalition

P.S. If you are with us, please forward this to your local political candidates and re-post this to all relevant lists and websites.

Vote Yes 4 Florida Hometown Democracy this November, Give yourself a vote on growth!

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