This Thing Called Amendment 4

Carl Hiaasen wrote hilarious books with an undertone that begged for Florida preservation. Is Amendment 4 really going to do that?

What's it's gonna be baby: Yes or No?

Up front, I would like to claim that I am a newbie (4 years) to the Florida community and thread cautiously where it comes to local, regional or statewide politics, emotions and traditions. No matter the fact that I spend countless hours studying and researching the various pros and cons of any proposition or legal amendment, I can not claim to be able to have the time to study everything that comes along in politics, enough to make me understand the processes that created the results.

I have however seen too many sneaky ways politicians make sure they get their pet projects loaded up into quintessential legislation without people ever really knowing the details of why they all at once pay more taxes or lost grandfather rights or now have to take their kids another 15 minutes farther to school. As far as I am concerned, politics is dirty and entirely self serving these days.

I am currently trying to figure out why FEMA put the floodzones “higher-up-the-hill”, resulting in different (mostly higher) premiums for people as of coming January 1st, not even talking about consequences for elevated construction needs.
This survey I owe you hopefully sometime next week, but here is already a heads-up.

So returning to Amendment 4, I see South Fletcher garden signs that ferociously state VOTE NO to 4. Frankly on most parts of the island the NO signs dominate; but then there is N. Fletcher and all at once on a bike ride I see several Vote YES signs with that dangerously seductive word combination “HOMETOWN DEMOCRACY”, that sends shivers down my spine!

From the very superficial information that I have gathered I suspect that Amendment 4 means more red tape at first and concentrated power positions as the process goes on. The first part is a natural, as the more people you need to consult with, the longer it takes to make decisions. The second part is a natural as well. The longer things take, the less the general population stays interested and the more they are delegating the process to the powerful few.

So…now that elections a creeping closer I think it’s time to find out what people actually know and think about this 7 year old initiative.
Via a friend whom I cherish in knowledge, intelligence and wisdom, who makes his living in the confinements of what Amendment 4 is all about, I received an endorsed opinion from another friend who undisputedly has more insight in the matter than I do.

So I am going to make the SearchAmelia platform available for anyone out there who has a solid opinion to share on the matter, starting out with the following email:

Have you done a story on Amendment 4 yet? If not here is a good one that I just cut & pasted from an e-mail – many thanks to Ryan!

Amendment 4 will kill the economy – by: Ryan Schmitt

Amendment 4 started in 2003 as an initiative called Hometown Democracy (Sounds great, huh?  They want you to feel warm and fuzzy).  It took the founders of this group two election cycles to collect enough signatures to get this on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.  (yes, it’s true, if you have enough money to pay people to collect signatures in front of a shopping center, you can get your personal agenda on the ballot as a constitutional amendment and change the lives of Floridians forever).  I have been following and fighting this issue personally since I heard about it in 2004.

Amendment 4, if passed would require voter approval of all changes to local land use plans.  Currently, county and city commissioners make comprehensive plan change revisions.  Amendment 4 would force voters, not our elected representatives, to decide hundreds of minor, technical comprehensive plan changes each general election.  So for each land use change required for a new subdivision, a new school, a hospital, a new road or easement, would take a majority vote by the general public to make it happen.  For example, when the Davis family donated the land for the Mayo Clinic, under Amendment 4 it would have required a vote by the general public and passed.  As you can imagine, Mayo Clinic would not likely have started in Jacksonville if that was the case.  Do you think the Davis family would have donated the land AND paid for an advertising campaign to get the public to vote in favor of approving the land use change?  Not likely.

Whether you agree that our elected officials are doing a good job doing this already is NOT the question here.  If you feel that land use changes are not being done to your satisfaction, you have a right to appeal the current process and if bad enough, politicians can be voted out of office.  Regardless how you feel about the current process, Amendment 4 is NOT the way to fix it. Amendment 4 would cripple our economy, cost jobs and raise taxes.

Proponents of Amendment 4 want to tap into the public’s frustration with politicians.  They want you to say “the people should have a choice”.  My question is, “how can the public properly decipher the technical issues on a land use change as written in 75 words or less on a ballot that could have hundreds of land use changes?”.  Our supervisor of Elections said that in 2009, if all of the land use changes were on the general election ballot, the ballot would be 10 pages long!  What voter would take the time to research the details of 10 pages of land use changes in order to cast an informative vote on each one?  The “people should have a choice” concept is nice, but in REALITY the general public does not have the time or technical knowledge to make those decisions.  HOWEVER, if we are talking about reality here, there would not likely be 10 pages of land use changes if Amendment 4 was enacted.  The reason why is because business are not likely to invest their time and money in a process left up to the vote of a general election.  Here’s where the huge hit to our economy comes.  Business would not invest or expand in our state and our economy would suffer.

No other state in our country has enacted a process like this!  And, in fact, a “mini” version of Amendment 4 was enacted in St. Pete Beach and failed miserably.

I can go on and on about this issue, but you can get a much more professional explanation at


  1. Jill Yelverton

    A more professional explaination? Ha – you mean more biased. That website is paid for by Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, the political action committee formed to defeat Amendment 4. Most of their contributions come from the same developers and homebuilders who crashed our economy with a housing glut and foreclosure crisis. They came out of the disaster unscathed with a multi-billion dollar federal tax bailout.
    We’re stuck picking up the tab. If we have to pay for development, we should have the right to vote on it.

  2. BillB

    Your contractor friend’s article, “This Thing Called Amendment 4” is chock full of scary ssumptions, misstatements and presumptions–prepared pap from his associate’s $8 million campaign designed for folks they don’t think are very smart, so they’ll vote against their best interests. On the otherhand I and our poor little pro Amendment 4 grass roots campaign (which most people still support) know people are plenty smart, especially when it comes to their homes and neighborhoods, and are told the truth about Amendment 4.

    The truth is people need a seat at the table when it comes to decisions about their homes and neighborhoods. And by now they all know they can’t depend on local politicians to look out for the interests of regular folks over the politician’s developer friends. This is a sad truth that shines through all the dust and noise from the NO crowd, no matter how much money the spend and lies they tell.

    But don’t take my word for it. Here are a couple of very heavyweight urban planners who are also very smart. They’re independent enough not to need any developer money… They both know Amendment 4 is a good and necessary idea for the people of Florida, and that it will engender high quality jobs, not hurt business. Briefly, here’s what they say…

    Dr. Earl Starnes served as Director of the Division of Mass Transportation in the Florida Department of Transportation and Director of State Planning in the Florida Department of State Planning during the 70’s.

    He says quite a bit about Hometown Democracy which anyone can Google, but briefly, “Hometown Democracy will give voters a voice, and planners some help to create a Florida that can get away from the boom and bust mess we have now. Amendment 4 can help us become a state which values high paying jobs in stable industries and not just quick profits from massive overdevelopment.”

    And then there’s Mark Major, AICP. He served as chair of the American planning Association’s First Coast Section (7 counties in your NE neighborhood) from 2005-8. He worked in high end private consulting, local government, and as a Fortune 500 homebuilder.

    Google him to read more, but briefly re A4, “Conventional wisdom is that Amendment 4 is bad for planners. What’s amazing about conventional wisdom is how often it’s wrong. The demand for planners should increase from top to bottom throughout the real estate industry (including our public planning agencies), changing from regulatory processing to physical planning and design. Amendment 4 will increase use of planned Unit Developments as developers seek to tailor zoning and design requirements to maximize profit margins on entitled urban land.”

    Elsewhere he says, “I could go into greater detail… but my support of Amendment 4 comes down to one fundamental truth. What we have done in post WW II America hasn’t worked. It’s led to an unsustainable suburban sprawl nightmare, a devastated residential and commercial real estate market, massive deflation of property values, rampant foreclosures and unemployment, and a seemingly bottomless pool of unimaginable public and personal debt. How’s that worked out for you, Florida?

    “Florida needs to chart a new path, full of exciting opportunities and challenges, to creatively innovate our business models, our developments, our industry and our profession. I urge you to vote YES on Amendment 4. It will be a vote for the future, rather than the past.”

  3. BillB

    One other thing… Ryan Schmitt ends with this, “No other state in our country has enacted a process like this! And, in fact, a “mini” version of Amendment 4 was enacted in St. Pete Beach and failed miserably.” More baloney… Here’s how much they hate it in St. Pete Beach: the Mayor, Mike Finnerty, just endorsed Florida Hometown Democracy!

  4. Eric

    My name is Eric Childers and I am a Fernandina Beach City Commissioner. I would like to take a moment to address this issue from my seat. Before I was elected I saw the title “Home Town Democracy” and like most citizens thought, “Huh, what’s that about”? Then I did a little research and thought. “Huh, that sounds pretty good, after all I didn’t want Crane Island developed either”. After a little more research and having agreed that this is a Nation that places “property owner rights” very high on the priority list I agreed with the proposition that the property owner had a “right” to develop the property and to request a variance or land use change. The County Commission’s decision, to grant the request, was challenged in a court of “Law” and the Commissioners’ were found within their authority (appeal may be pending) to grant the land use change, effectively increasing the number of homes that would be allowed on Crane Island. It was not an issue of whether to develop or not, but how many units could be built per acre.
    So”Amendment 4” appeals to those that do not value the rights of “individual property owners”.
    Next, if all comprehensive plan, land use changes are put to a public vote, like most change, it will be met with skepticism. Then it becomes like any other issue; he or she with the most cash to push his or her agenda wins. That is a sad truth. Here’s the rub, if bad decisions are made, the city or county will have to defend the action in court at tax payers’ expense and there is no one to hold accountable. Currently if your elected officials do not met with your expectations, you can express that disapproval at the ballot box, which has recently been demonstrated.
    So “Amendment 4” appeals to those who have not been able to influence public policy through the democratic, representative form of government most of us cherish.
    As a City Commissioner, it takes several hours of research before I am comfortable making ANY decision. State law limits “Ballot Language” to 75 words or less. Ballot language can only address the topic to be addressed and not any consequential side issue. For example; 2 years ago a group of citizens requested annexation into the city of Fernandina Beach sighting a number of reasons ranging from trash pick up to law enforcement. In reality their goal was to remove the cars from the beach near Peters Point. Had these citizens succeeded in getting this issue placed on the ballot by “Law” the car issue could not be addressed in the ballot language. Again in a situation like this the person with the most money to exploit their view, wins. These things appear unrelated on the surface, but when combined provide for a very dangerous reality.
    Land use changes are very complicated and research is tedious. The impact of a land use change cannot be reduced to 75 words and effectively communicate the intent of the change and if the goal is something other than “the issue” as defined by “Law” that language is PROHIBITED from appearing on the ballot.
    In conclusion, is a State dependant on growth for generated revenues a good business model, absolutely not, is growth in some areas out of control, absolutely. Is Amendment 4 the answer? Not in my opinion.
    I can say without hesitation or reservation “Vote NO on Amendment 4”.
    Warmest Regards,

  5. SDH

    The real issue with Amendment #4: How could it be implemented? Let’s say there is a piece of land on A1A that has a land use designation of Commercial. A company likes the property to build a small manufacturing plant. The County Staff and ultimately the five elected County Commissioners would likely approve a land use designation of Industrial. After all, we are talking NEW JOBS! If amendment #4 were passed, the land use designation change would have to be passed by a majority of the voters. Sounds good, but how and when? It could piggyback on the general election in 2012! It is likely there would be hundreds of such amendments. Taxpayers will absorb the extra cost of getting these amendments on the ballot. Or, the owners of this piece of land could foot the bill for a special local election. Who would vote (only 29% turned-out for the August election)? The reality is the buyers would not purchase this land only to wait years for an uncertain outcome. Just a few miles North, there is a State that welcomes new business and is not overburdened with ill-advised laws. Amendment 4 will: kill jobs, cost the taxpayers, shift decisions from elected leaders to an uninformed, apathetic public, devalue land and increase the cost of building. With today’s severe real estate problems why would we pass any laws that devalue land and stifle growth?

  6. Mike

    Most of the people that are backing Amendment #4 are the ones that are living on sections of property that had land use changes on them. If this had not happened they would still be living where they where before now or living in another state. So if it passes Florida’s economy will go in the tank even worse than what it is. For example why do you thinks Mitsubishi Turbine plant move to Georgia instead of staying in FLorida. Wake up people.

  7. Rweintraub

    There has been much published that dismantles the scare tactics that Amendment 4 opposition keeps putting out. Those opposed to Amendment 4 are the large developers and land speculators who earn millions from getting as much as they can from our community and moving elsewhere leaving devastation in their wake (See Follow the Money in the 10-13 News Leader). And those in power don’t want to see their power eroded. Everything Childers says about Amendment 4 is wrong! Everything Steve Reick (Nassau economic development) says about Amendment 4 is wrong. Our representative form of government has been corrupted as our elected representatives represent, not the public, but the developers and land speculators who got most of them elected. Read my artile about Jefferson on Amendment 4 in the 10-15 News Leader. If you would like to see more about amendment 4, write to me at and I’ll put you in the loop.

  8. SDH

    What a pile of manure Wientraub. Our elected officials are not corrupt. They are charged with managing our growth, not prohibiting it. You come to the public hearing and drone about your NIMBY (not in my back yard) issues. You have your opportunity to present your case. To say they are corrupt because they don’t agree with argument is absurd. If you don’t like the job they are doing, vote them out of office. I guess it is easier to hijack our State’s grown with amendment entitled “hometown democracy” than to work with the democratic process.

  9. SDH

    1 BILLION DOLLARS for Amendment 4!!!! According to Florida Tax Watch Amendment 4 will cost the taxpayers 1 BILLION DOLLARS! This alone is reason enough not to vote for amendment 4. Plus the loss of 260,000 jobs PER YEAR .

  10. mattb4rd

    Any amendment that comes along that effectively reduces the size of government and/or reduces the power of government not only gets a yes from me, it gets a hell yes.

    Read the words of those opposed. They’re smart. You are dumb. They know what’s best for you. You couldn’t possibly make a well-informed decision.

    They throw around anecdotes as if they were delivered on stone tablets by Moses himself and threaten you with hell, fire and brimstone in the forms of higher taxes and slowed growth should you dare to even think about crashing their closed-door cocktail party.

    I’ll take my chances with the guy that prays that his pickup starts in the morning so that he can make it to work another day and provide for his family, but thanks for asking.

    Yes on 4. Yes on voting anti-incumbent across the board. Yes to less government.

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