St. Petersburg's idea to thwart Hometown Democracy

This is clever, I do admit.

The city of St. Petersburg has a plan to dodge Amendment 4, even if the voters approve it in November.

Amendment 4 is the "Hometown Democracy" idea. It is supposed to put voters in charge of local growth decisions in Florida.

To be more precise, Amendment 4 would require local voter approval to change a city or county's "comprehensive land-use plan."

So, what is St. Petersburg's idea?

To create a decoy.

St. Petersburg proposes to create a ringer, a dummy, a substitute land use plan. …

And then claim that is the only thing covered by Hometown Democracy.

Meanwhile, the city's real, traditional comprehensive plan, the one that is required by Chapter 163 of the Florida Statutes, the one that is zillions of pages long and full of technicalities, the one that gets amended to let developers build what they want to build, would stay beyond the control of the voters.

To use the city's words, the decoy would become the "referendum-level" map. The City Council's control over the true plan would "remain in place."

Can the city do this? Can it wave a magic wand, create a new "plan" and declare that's the only one covered by Amendment 4?

Who knows?

If Amendment 4 passes and the City Council adopts this, we'll probably need a lawsuit to figure it out.

To repeat, Amendment 4 says that an election is required to change a city or county's "comprehensive land-use plan."

So the City Hall folks have cleverly designated their new map as the city's "comprehensive land use plan."

This new map color-codes St. Petersburg into only five vague categories called "neighborhoods," "centers," "corridors," "preservation" and "recreation/open space."

When a developer needs an amendment to the real plan, the developer and the city could say it doesn't affect the color-coded, "referendum-level" map — so no election.

The city will say that this isn't really much of a change. But I bet you that the nanosecond it passes, the city will start claiming that almost no amendment to the real plan requires an election.

Make no mistake: This isn't a "sneaky" idea. The city is being entirely forthright. The stated purpose of this is to thwart Amendment 4.

A city memo credits its origin to City Council member Karl Nurse, who in March asked the city staff to come up with "one or more strategies to mitigate the potential impacts of Amendment 4." (I left a message for Nurse Monday but did not reach him.)

This reminds me of the Legislature's attempt to wipe out Amendments 5 and 6, the "fair districts" amendments also put on this fall's ballot by citizen petition. Fortunately, a judge stopped that one.

Maybe Amendment 4 is a terrible idea. Maybe it should be defeated.

A lot of people think so. We ought to have a full, vigorous debate about it between now and November.

But if 60 percent of the voters want it in the Constitution, are we saying it's okay for the government to scheme to get around it anyway?

The first reading and first public hearing for the city's proposed comprehensive land use plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Petersburg City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N. A second hearing is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 2.

St. Petersburg's idea to thwart Hometown Democracy 07/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, July 19, 2010 7:47pm]

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