Braces For Tough Fight Over Her Amendment 4 Proposition
Initiator of Amendment 4 says development out of control.
Article Courtesy of Sarasota Herald-Tribune
By Dale White
Published October 4, 2010
49-year-old work-at-home mother of two boys - a lawyer with a passion for
what she considers underdog causes - is the driving force behind proposed
state constitutional Amendment 4, among the most divisive issues to come
before Floridians in years.
approved by 60 percent of the electorate Nov. 2, Amendment 4 will give
voters - not elected councils and commissions - the final say on
developments that require changes to local growth plans.
high-rises, shopping centers, subdivisions - anything not allowed in those
plans - would be put to voters for a yes-or-no decision.
4 is precedent-setting, not just for Florida, but nationally: No other
state has such a measure.
helped initiate it by forming the group Hometown Democracy, which spent
years collecting the more than 600,000 petition signatures to get it on
the ballot. She is passionate about seeing it succeed.
have government of the developer, by the developer and for the
developer," Blackner said.
added that "people in the community have rights, too - not just
people in the development community."
4 has the support of environmental groups, civic associations and others
who share the view that growth management in Florida is a misnomer.
Lobeck, president of the Sarasota County group Control Growth Now, is
among those who think voters should decide if, how and where their
communities can accommodate more development.
can trust the people," Lobeck said. "We can trust us."
Blackner's cause has gained as many enemies as it has fans, if not more.
interests, especially, say Blackner and her supporters are misguided. They
attack Amendment 4 as an impractical measure that will prolong the
recession and overwhelm local electorates with minutiae, putting even
minor decisions to costly votes.
and counties also have been lining up to denounce it.
of mid-September, Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy
(including its predecessor, Floridians for Smarter Growth) had raised
about $11 million to defeat Amendment 4. It is bankrolled by builders and
other business interests, such as the Florida Association of Realtors and
Florida Chamber of Commerce.
contrast, Hometown Democracy collected nearly $2.3 million in monetary and
in-kind donations, nearly $800,000 of which came from Blackner.
predict that, if passed, Amendment 4 will worsen the economy and confuse
voters with endless referendums. And, they say, Florida's economy cannot
tolerate any signal that may discourage potential employers from wanting
to open shop here.
Houck, executive director of the Citizens group, describes Amendment 4 in
seven words: "Fix the problem by making it worse."
political climate will become so poisonous most businesses would prefer to
steer clear of Florida," Houck said.
predicts they will get the message: "Come to Florida. We won't break
ground for years."
County Commissioner Jon Thaxton describes Amendment 4 as
"draconian" and "a forced feeding of democracy."
thinks its opposition may have an uphill battle swaying public opinion
because of semantics.
"All the quick and easy sound bites are on the other side," Thaxton said, noting that "Hometown Democracy" sounds as if it "evokes some Americana spirit."
University of Florida law school graduate joined the Florida Bar in May
1987, specializing in environmental and public interest law.
spent several years as an appellate court clerk.
1996, Blackner and her husband, Richard Stone, a law professor at Florida
State University, moved into a 1920s-era home in Palm Beach a block from
started offering her legal services for free on environmental cases.
"I was inundated in the late 1990s with cries for help,"
said she became horrified by what was happening to the Florida she
remembered from her childhood. Mandarin, for example, used to be a rural
area far from Jacksonville's city life. Where Blackner grew up is now
typical suburbia, from which the commute into the city and its jobs takes
longer as more cars are added to its thoroughfares. She saw the same
patterns in Palm Beach County.
county commission meetings there, Blackner says she was stunned by how
easily land use changes were approved by politicians who accepted campaign
donations from developers.
her, elected officials were failing to perform their main responsibility:
"protect the public interest."
they "promote economic development," which, to Blackner, is
"code word for letting developers build wherever they want."
has happened in Blackner's back yard in recent years has only reinforced
her contention that "our current system doesn't work for the
people." Since 2006, three Palm Beach County commissioners and two
West Palm Beach city commissioners have gone to prison on federal
years ago, Blackner met Tallahassee attorney Ross Burnaman, a former
lawyer for the Florida Department of Community Affairs, at a seminar.
they came up with the idea of Amendment 4.
Blackner is braced for media campaigns that she says her organization does not have the money to counter. "It's going to be very nasty," she predicted. But having invested seven years in her cause and with just weeks to go, Blackner - unsurprisingly - has no plans to give up.