In the simplest sense, Hometown Democracy is a ballot proposal -- something you may get to vote on next year. It would take the power to approve many major developments away from elected officials and place it directly in the hands of the people. You and your neighbors would get to decide whether Super Wal-Mart moves in or a neighboring subdivision can be built.
But in a grander sense, Hometown Democracy is a story of how Florida politics works -- how politicians refuse to deal with problems until we make them.
Here's how this story is unfolding:
For years, growth in Florida has been a relatively simple affair. If you wanted to build something, all you had to do is convince a majority of the members of a county commission or city council.
Such a thing has never been tough in Florida , where you never have to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to get a good deal on an elected official. A few campaign donations here. A steak dinner here. Bingo! You've got yourself the permits to build whatever you want, regardless of what neighbors think.
Obviously, this system hasn't worked as well for us average Joes as it does for the development execs. The same growth that means boosted profits for special interests can mean crowded schools, clogged roads, water woes and pollution for everyone else.
Residents have tried to fight back. They've voiced complaints -- and sometimes even elected politicians who promised that they, too, wanted to slow things down.
But then, even with those "smart growth" pols in office, residents must endure a school such as Timber Creek High in east Orange County , where 4,300 students spend each day in a campus meant for 2,700. Or they find themselves stuck on roads such as University Boulevard or Alafaya Trail, that were once a straight shot, but, now lined with development, are anything but.
And they start to realize that some of these politicians make the National Enquirer seem reliable.
So residents finally take matters into their own hands by amending the constitution. They did the same thing with a class-size amendment when the politicians refused to get serious about education.
This is what scares the politicians. Because now you've threatened to interrupt their gravy train, expose them as part of the problem and infringe upon their power.
This is the part of our story where the politicians suddenly become your new best friends. Suddenly they empathize and understand. Suddenly, they want a solution too . . . just not this solution.
We saw such an argument a few weeks ago when Tom Pelham, secretary of the state's community affairs department, wrote a piece for the Sentinel that called Hometown Democracy "an extreme solution to a real problem."
Pelham said there are "more measured and practical solutions than the meat ax wielded by Hometown Democracy."
He then suggested several reasonable-sounding ones, including legislative action that would reduce the number of loopholes and exceptions that allow development to spread too fast and so wide.
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