You cannot see the real Florida from the freeway. You cannot see it from the road, or on foot. You can see it only from the seat of a small plane flying no more than 5,000 feet. I have done this - up and down both coasts and across the middle of our state. The experience is ugly. Florida from the air - the developed Florida - is a nasty gray-white mold spreading its spores onto an otherwise fine blue and green surface. The shadows thrown by the high white clouds are not quite deep enough to shade out the random settlement spread below.
I can name the places that can be seen only from the air. Golden Gateway just outside Naples. Cape Coral. Charlotte Harbor. Pinellas and Pasco counties. The vast urban strip from Tampa to Daytona Beach.
The whole southeast coast from the Keys north to Palm Beach and beyond.
Until we win the fight to manage the growth of settlement on our state's remaining lands, wetlands and water, Florida is still up for grabs. I recently saw a computer-generated map at the University of Florida that shows how much undeveloped land remained three years ago;
there was still quite a bit. If we could set up a "war room" somewhere that tracked the weekly changes in land use, we would find that uncommitted lands are diminishing each week. And we might begin to understand the size of the growth management job. Theoretically, this is the kind of job aState Planning Commission could do - along with other specific statewide land use, infrastructure, security and
societal distribution tasks.
There is no plateau in the growth management job, no status quo.
Population pours in. Budgets are cut. Infrastructure ages and falls apart. Crime, drugs, homelessness and the high cost of health care continue to rise.
These problems must be faced and ultimately solved. Facing the facts about our communities' problems and doing something about them is growth management. The soundest growth management process is also the hardest because it requires facing all the problems at the same time, evaluating their magnitude, figuring costs, and establishing action priorities. This is comprehensive planning in its fullest sense.
Florida's Growth Management Act seems to intend just this.
Unfortunately, our form of government is designed with so many levels that a "comprehensive" procedure is elusive.
If I were to have my druthers, and could take care of state government to help make it really work, there are a number of immediate steps I would take. But putting aside restructuring the current Cabinet system and the top structure of the executive branch, and putting aside elimination of the homestead exemption and other silly but powerful remnants of the past, I would first and foremost rearrange the hierarchy of governmental planning responsibilities.
A new system
While I recognize that most of these suggestions are politically difficult, I believe they would make growth management a logical system of government management in Florida. So, as a romantic rationalist, I suggest the following: State Planning. A State Planning Commission would be placed in the office of the governor, serving in an advisory role to the governor and his Cabinet (I mean a Cabinet of entirely the governor's choice with nominations approved by the Senate.) The State Planning Commission would not just administer the approved legislative State Comprehensive Plan, but also would have a staff of expert planners to work on state-scale land use, population, transportation, water, pollution, conservation and other imperative statewide issues. All
state departmental plans and water management district plans would be reviewed by this staff and required to conform with the office's findings.
Water Management Districts would have responsibility for monitoring natural water quality and quantity in their regions and, with approval of the State Planning Commission, would be able to acquire the land and water essential to the effectiveness of a statewide water plan.
Water quality control includes land use control of all lands that drain into managed waters. This means land use planning with attendant regulatory controls. If water management districts enter as they must into land use planning, then their plans will overlap and may conflict with the plans of regional planning agencies, so: The 11 Regional Planning Agencies would become the official staff of each water management district. While the planning agencies still would be made up of locally appointed public officials, they would report to the water management districts. This would strengthen the regional planning function, since the water districts possess taxing powers and special powers of eminent domain. Regional plans would be automatically reviewed for their conformity with state plans.
Growth Management Review. Considering the difficulty the Department of Community Affairs is having keeping up with the volume of material in the initial reviews, can it continue to monitor the mandatory local growth management comprehensive plans as to their effect over the years? And is it advisable to have any state agency continually monitoring a substantial amount of county and municipal governmental activity?
A number of regional planning agencies currently are serving as consultants to small towns that need assistance in preparing comprehensive plans. This is a useful function but I think the role of the regional planning agencies should be expanded so they, not DCA, do the main reviews of local plans. Obviously, DCA would continue in its primary role of reviewing regional plans. And it would be necessary for local governments to find consultants other than the regional planning agencies to help formulate their plans. But this system would greatly strengthen the regional planning function, both in its
relationship to the water management districts and as the official
intermediary between city and county government and the state.
This system also could help prevent the straitjacketing of local land use planning design by rule. It always should be local plans locally arrived at. Only in this way will our communities develop their own character and identifiable personalities.
The current State Comprehensive Plan is not sacrosanct. Only testing in the field by numerous cities and counties will reveal its positive and negative parts. We should never be afraid to make valid corrections, but we also must be wary of potentially destructive changes. The act is a living document; it will grow and change in a healthy way over time if treated with the respect it deserves.
The columnist is board member emeritus of 1000 Friends of Florida.
This column is from Foresight, the 1000 Friends of Florida newsletter.