Q. Hey, will you explain to me what just happened in St. Pete Beach?
A. How about a nice, soothing discussion of the Middle East instead?
Q. Please be serious.
A. All right. There was a big court ruling the other day in St. Pete Beach's long, bitter war about what kind of new stuff can be built there.
Q. Who won?
A. The anti-stuff guys won this round.
Q. So this is a fight between pro-growth and anti-growth Floridians?
A. Don't use those terms! Everybody claims they're for the "right kind" of growth.
But between you and me — yeah, close enough.
Q. Okay, I get the theme. Tell me what happened.
A. The two sides keep trading rounds in a boxing match.
Round 1 was a few years ago when the city said, "Our old mom-and-pop hotels and our beachfront are dying out. We need to allow more stuff, more height, more density."
Q. And this kicked off the citizen revolt?
A. Yep, that's Round 2. A citizen group got up a petition and got on the ballot in 2006. They repealed those new growth rules — and instead passed a rule requiring an election for future changes!
Q. That sounds just like Hometown Democracy.
Q. What side were you on?
A. I said that the petitioners were entitled to their election.
Next came Round 3. In 2008, the hotel guys got their own petitions on the ballot. They got voters to re-pass the rules that allowed growth.
Q. Which side were you on that time?
A. I said that those petitioners were entitled to their election, too.
Q. So the hotel guys out-petitioned the citizen-revolters. What happened then?
A. The citizen-revolters sued. They said that the stuff put on the 2008 ballot by the hotel guys was misleading.
Q. And this led to the big court ruling the other day?
A. Right. A judge agreed that the 2008 stuff on the ballot was misleading. The wording didn't tell voters that they were, in fact, voting for more height, density and so on.
Q. Do you agree?
A. I see how the judge arrived at it, although I am a little hinky (that means "wary") about throwing out elections. Why not sue and second-guess every election then, on the grounds the Other Side fooled the voters?
Q. Have the anti-growth guys won for good, then?
A. You mean the "responsible growth" guys. No, the city and the hotel guys are going for Round 4. They might try to get voters to repeal the whole danged thing, even the 2006 changes, and start all over.
Q. Do you agree this proves that the Hometown Democracy idea "doesn't work"?
A. Absolutely not. The irony is that voting on growth changes has worked perfectly fine in St. Pete Beach — there have been seven or eight such elections so far, and they all have been routinely approved.
No, the real issue in St. Pete Beach (besides a bunch of bitter enemies) has been the petition process. At the least, I think we need a new process — like we have at the state level — to approve ballot items before the election, instead of tying up everybody in court for years afterward.
Q. That isn't a very satisfying conclusion. Can't you just say, "Greedy hotel guys want to ruin St. Pete Beach"? Or, "St. Pete Beach's future is being strangled by a minority of wacky naysayers"?