One community has experimented with citizen approval of land-use changes. Now the forces allied against Amendment 4 want to make it the poster child for their campaign.
"I think people understand how corrupt our government is."
— Ross Burnaman
The city has spent $250,000 litigating the latest ground. Ryan Houck, executive director of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy, the business-funded group opposing Hometown Democracy, says St. Pete Beach proves Hometown Democracy "is not designed to give voters a voice. It's designed to stop growth regardless of what the voters say."
Ross Burnaman, co-author of Hometown Democracy, says St. Pete Beach isn't a true test case of his brainchild. Burnaman, who is active in the case against the developers there, says that the charter ploy the developers used wrongly skipped hearings and reviews required by growth management that would continue to be required under Hometown Democracy. "Under Hometown Democracy, you would not be able to do what they did," he says.
Plus, he adds, what the majority decides in a referendum under Hometown Democracy is not necessarily the final say. All the existing administrative and court remedies available now continue to exist if Amendment 4 passes, he says.
St. Pete Beach budgets $200,000 a year for the legal fighting — the equivalent of three police officers or firefighters. Bonfield says even if the economy allowed development, investors likely would stay away from St. Pete Beach because of the risk. The city, given the uncertainty in court, plans to issue any approvals with a proceed-at-your-own-risk warning.
In November, St. Pete Beach voters returned to the polls and decided, 58%-42%, to pare back the referendum law, restricting it to major issues such as changes affecting height, density, intensity and use.