April 21, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: John DeGrove

Founding director, FAU/FIU Joint Center for Environmental and Urban Problems; former secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs; died April 13, 2012, at age 88.

Cynthia Barnett | 7/30/2012

This excerpt is from a 2001 interview conducted for the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

» Every time we’ve done something in Florida to move toward what we’d now call smart growth, some kind of comprehensive effort or even a limited effort to manage our growth, it’s been in the face of a real or perceived crisis. Always.

John DeGrove
John DeGrove
[Photo: Heather Selwitz / Palm Beach Post]
» In Palm Valley (near what is now Ponte Vedra Beach), nobody thought having a still was illegal. I don’t care if there was some kind of law about it. It didn’t apply to us.

» It’s not too late to do a lot of good things for south Florida. We can undo a lot of the bad things.

» It gets back to a tax and revenue system that’s totally inadequate to support growth.

» They always said the grenade had weakened the structure of that lung. So when I got the viral pneumonia, which I should have been able to shake off, it evolved into tuberculosis. I was determined to die in Florida, as close to home as I could get. I went to the tuberculosis sanatorium (in central Florida). I was in the hospital for almost four years. I read everything in the world.

» My Lord, I had all sorts of people over the years urge me to run for political office. I ended up always exercising my influence in politics through people who were elected.

» You’ve got to have a system to manage growth and change that has some teeth, that is well-funded, but that is favorable to all the key stakeholders. I am absolutely convinced that a smart growth system, properly funded and properly implemented, is a great thing for developers and for corporations. It’s a win-win deal.

» My grandfather came to Palm Valley in the 1870s. At that time, Ponte Vedra was “Mineral City” because the National Lead Co. was mining trace elements out of the beach sand. That was one of the first environmental cases ever brought. They were found guilty of mining a public highway, the beach being a public highway.

» They said, ‘What do we do with this place?’ Well, the beach is nice. We’ll start some sort of development. Grandpa saw the beach as worthless. You can’t raise anything there.

» If we had kept the sales tax on services in place in the infrastructure trust fund where it was earmarked to go to local governments, it would have produced somewhere between $22 billion and $25 billion.

» Growth management, to me, is not just urban planning. It’s also public policy, political science and environmental management, the natural systems.

» We tried leaving everything to local governments. It didn’t work. That’s well-established.

» One day down in the Guana, this old water moccasin came cruising by — they are very aggressive rascals. I shot the water moccasin. Daddy was quite upset that I killed it. He said, ‘We don’t have enough money to waste shells on water moccasins. We have to use the shells to shoot the ducks and the coots.’

» We’d take them into what we call the colored section in Pablo and sell them three for a quarter. Didn’t matter whether it was ducks or coots or what mix it was. They were glad to get them, and we were glad to get the quarter. Of course, we also shot those to eat for ourselves.

» I argued (in 1971) that we have to get the bad guys and the good guys around a table together and see if we can convince each other that there are win-win solutions to managing our growth better. We ain’t going to stop growing, folks. The Sierra Club was famous for resurfacing that attitude.

» Gov. Askew made it clear that he would take the recommendations to the 1972 legislative session and fight for their adoption. This is the political context that made all this stuff happen. That’s why governors are so important everywhere and strong leaders in the Legislature are so important. It brings people to the table who wouldn’t come to the table otherwise, and once you get them to the table, sometimes you do find common ground.

» If it gets bad enough, we’re going to get a really good public transportation system in place, and that’s what we need anyway. Let it get congested.

» We’ve sprawled an awful lot, but not as much as we would have sprawled. We have managed to protect the edges of the Everglades. I need to remind myself of that, sometimes. We’re substantially better off for having done what we’ve done.

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