The Department of Community Affairs is scheduled to complete its "sunset review" this year, and the citizens of Florida could not be better served than by having the Legislature renew the agency and its mission. Here's why.
DCA is the state's land planning agency, charged with guiding growth and development into the best suited locations and denying proposals inconsistent with this concept. While local governments are on the front line of such considerations, DCA is a crucial check and balance that has protected citizens, the environment and the economy from projects not fully considered, especially when 1,000 people a day were coming to Florida.
No one expects to see that kind of growth any time soon, but now is not the time to reduce oversight when there are so many examples showing what happens without it. The system has not been perfect, but I shudder to think what might have happened without such an oversight provision.
Interestingly, even in the current economic downturn, DCA has been called upon to review and consider more amendments to local comprehensive plans than ever. Most agree this is one of the unintended consequences of the coming Florida Hometown Democracy ballot proposal, which would require citizen referendums for approval of such amendments. The "fear" that future amendments would be even harder to secure has led to a flood of amendments that DCA, with a staff that has been cut to the bone, is forced to process.
Contrary to what the development community suggests about DCA, approvals authorized in the last few years have added several hundred thousand more homes and several hundred million square feet of commercial and institutional space. All that is needed for these projects to break ground are the building permits and bank financing.
That's why it would be ludicrous to not renew the very agency that provides the only comprehensive statewide review of what more than 475 local governments might chose to submit as changes to their comprehensive plans. No other agency has the broad perspective to review plan amendments.
No logical person believes that an economic recovery would happen if growth controls were loosened, especially at the state level. If anything, it seems clear that the public wants even tighter controls to prevent the kind of mistakes that have occurred before DCA had the authority to reject bad development projects. Most people forget that DCA did not have that authority for the first 10 years of growth management, and the results on the ground confirmed the need to have a watchful eye, backed by reasonable statutes and controls, to rein in what had been runaway growth.
The Senate intends to "re-enact intact," which means DCA's budget and programs would be reinstated without change. Apparently the House does not care to address the issue this year. Is it just ducking out on Florida's future, or trying to string DCA along for drastic action next year?
Unless this is some sort of backhanded support for the Hometown Democracy constitutional amendment, the House needs to signal now that it will follow the Senate's lead before the wrong message gets sent.
Charles G. Pattison is president of 1000 Friends of Florida.