Two issues demand our attention at national and local levels - at the same time. Surely that's no coincidence. Health care reform is linked to public concern for the well-being of neighbors least able to fend for themselves. Florida's Growth Management Act of 1985 addresses the community's need for balanced development.
From years of anything went, overnight Florida became the trend setter, first in the nation with state-mandated top-to-bottom comprehensive planning. Comp plans would be master visualizations for all development here, a "Plan for Paradise" according to USF's professor Chapin in Growth Management in Florida. Ugly strip malls, defamed pristine wilderness, inexorably advancing sprawl -all would be things of the past.
But it didn't work out like that. We next took off en-masse in hot pursuit of the dollar, insurance companies joined their pharmaceutical counterparts in putting bottom-line ahead of service, Florida developers retook the upper hand at city hall. And implementation of the Growth Management Act was allowed to falter at the oversight level, the state's Department of Community Affairs never having got the funds it needed.
Today real health care reform is at hand. So too is substantive citizen input to growth management in Florida. When passed next November, Amendment 4 to the state constitution will give citizens real muscle in strengthening neighborhood comp plans. Following established review at both city hall and Tallahassee, proposed comp plan amendments will have to be seconded by direct voter referendum.
It's here that what's been going on in Washington looks most like what's just getting started in Florida, as Big Money resorts to familiar fact- manipulation and fear-stoking. Commenting in a recent article on the protestors this past September 12th in DC, Michael Tomasky notes "all that matters is that the conservative base be kept in an excitable state, (creating) a world in which their consumers are presented a reality completely at odds with the reality the rest of us live in." (p 6, New York Review of Books, October 22, 2009). That could just as easily be said about opposition to Amendment 4.
They call themselves Floridians For Smarter Growth. They say they stand for a different solution, and by the sound of that tag you might well suppose they had something in mind. They even gathered signatures towards a 2010 constitutional amendment of their own. But it's a good bet we'll never see anything of the sort on the ballot next November. Because, just as with the missing alternative to health care reform, Florida's industry-sponsored opposition to growth management reform has in fact nothing real to propose. Instead, this Chamber of Commerce/developer-backed interest group concentrates its millions on opposing Amendment 4 - period. That says it all.
Throughout the country as in Florida, the people's voice is at last being heard. In the halls of Congress and in the White House, in signature drive and public polling, reform is at last within reach.