I understand if you’re less than thrilled about another amendment to our already-lengthy Florida constitution. Our state constitution- the fifth one we’ve had, by the way- has 27 amendments, one of which deals with the legalities of tethering pregnant pigs. I support pigs’ rights as much as the next person, but I don’t know that it’s the sort of thing that belongs in a constitution. Our national Constitution has amendments abolishing slavery and lowering the voting age to 18, but here in Florida? Well, we’re busy legislating the rights of pigs (again, not that pigs don’t have rights, too). No wonder other states just roll their eyes at us.
Pregnant pigs’ constitutional rights aside, many of those amendments belong in our constitution. Amendments passed with the intention of protecting the Everglades or keeping navigable waters in the hands of the state rather than individuals, for example, carry that weight.
I’m fairly certain Amendment Four does, too. If you’re not sure you understand the amendment- and how could you, with the stilted ballot language we use to punish those responsible enough to vote- you’re not alone. There’s a lot of – I think the technical term is crap- out there about the amendment. For example, if you’ve heard that your city won’t be able to create so much as a four-way stop without a countywide referendum, you’ve heard some of the crap.
Here’s all you need to know to understand Amendment Four: It says that before a local government can change its comprehensive land use plan or create a new one, the voters must agree to the change. So if a plan that says that beachfront property can only have single-family homes on it, the city can’t let Wal-Mart build there unless the majority of the voters agree to it. Currently, it only takes a majority vote of the city commission or town council.
Of course, opponents of Amendment Four say that voting for that sort of environmental nightmare would be political suicide, but take a look around the state: we’re a study in career politicians selling the state out from under us. Florida’s lack of an environmental conscience is legendary.
Consider this: our beaches are so built up that we spend billions of dollars “renourishing” them so that the hotels and a few select homeowners can have a wide expanse of sandy beach. Public dollars spent for the good of private industry whilst employing environmentally questionable practices? Welcome to the Sunshine State.
Drive the Tamiami Trail through the Everglades in March. You’ll see the north side rich and verdant and watery and the south side dying and dry. Why? Well, because we need the water for sugar cane and cattle ranching. Yeah, whatever, “the only one in the world” and all that, but what do panthers and a national treasure matter when we need to divert water to big business?
All that aside, the amendment’s detractors say voters simply don’t care enough to vote on every little change, that it will be too costly to maintain, and that it allows for developers to manipulate every vote. But what they fear is a loss of control, some because they think voters aren’t smart enough to make good decisions and others because, well, they don’t want to give up the control.
Now, no disrespect to the politicians who haven’t buried their consciences in their ass (they’re like unicorns; they do exist, but you really have to believe), but I think that it scares the hell out of Tallahassee to allow the common man a choice in whether or not we continue to sell the state to developers one natural treasure at a time.
If you still aren’t sure, look at where you see those “Vote No” signs. Every hotel along the beach has at least one. So does undeveloped acreage for sale. These are people who don’t want to have to get voter approval before they ask local governments to bend or break the rules for them.
The reality of Florida is this: politicians have bought and sold this state without batting an eye for almost 200 years, bulldozing beyond what infrastructure supports and creating every environmental problem we have along the way. The things that made this state worth calling home and visiting – the beaches, the water, and the wildlife – are threatened by our “sold to the highest bidder” mentality.
So when I hear that someone thinks Amendment Four is too drastic, I get that. But I also get that it’s no more drastic than the dredge and fill operations that destroyed Boca Ciega Bay in the 20th century. No more drastic than the sugar cane and ranching practices that reduced the Everglades from a sweeping swamp of biodiversity spanning from Orlando to Biscayne Bay to the comparative puddle that remains.
I love Florida, especially what’s left of it. I love the gritty fish camps in the state’s interior and the barrier islands that dot our coast. I love knowing there’s a saurian killer waiting for me in every river. I can’t bear to lose any more of the state to people who don’t care that they’re selling our legacy out from under us. They had their chance. They failed. It’s our turn now.
And that is why, despite the costs and inconveniences, I want to see Amendment Four pass. I think it belongs in our constitution just as much as those pregnant pigs.
Maybe even more.
Contact Cathy Salustri at cathy@theGabber.com.