Don't get snookered by fears spread by Amendment 4 foes

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The lies are starting to work.

A multimillion-dollar campaign financed by developers, builders, land speculators and others who stand to make fortunes from over-development is starting to convince Floridians that Amendment 4 will bring on Armageddon.

What a shame if development interests are able to obscure the truth with their wild and monstrously inaccurate claims that the proposed amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot will collapse the economy and cost taxpayers their last pennies.

I bet it'll be the cause of world hunger, too. Not to mention the collapse of morality in the Western world.

Dear reader, it is easy to strip aside the nonsense being brought to you by the greedy people who helped create this lingering economic meltdown and who care about one thing and one only: their pocketbooks.

This is so, so simple — but voters have to engage themselves long enough to realize that they're being snookered.

That's hard when a sea of amendments will be floating before them on the ballot next month. But make no mistake — this is the single most important change to come before voters in decades.

If passed, Amendment 4 it would change the way business is done in Florida and maybe even "save" the state from utter ruin.

Lake already could double

The amendment is dramatically simple — voters would get to say yea or nay on big developments whose backers want to build them where they should not be.

Despite howling from developers, Amendment 4 would not have control over all development. Quite the reverse. Communities being built where development is supposed to go — typically near cities where utilities and services are offered — could merrily build without interference from Amendment 4.

In Lake County, for example, there are already enough parcels of land approved for development that the population here would double if they were all built at once.

The proposed new law would step in only when developers stray into places where they should not build, such as rural areas. But that's where builders want desperately to put up subdivisions because it is how they make unfathomable profits. Greedy developers buy the cheaper land for bigger rewards, and do not care a whit about creating sprawl, destroying the rural lifestyle and costing taxpayers a bundle to serve the community with police, fire, schools and new roads.

Consider this: Under Amendment 4, a builder who wants to dump a new city the size of Mount Dora on the fringes of Leesburg could do so tomorrow. If that same developer wants to create a city in rural, ecologically critical south Lake, for example, the developer would have to ask you, the voter.

Ignore the noise

This terrifies builders. Why? Do the math. It's so much easier to sway the votes of five county commissioners than trying to win an approval from nearly 200,000 voters across the county.

No longer would developers be able to contribute the $500 limit to the campaign of a county commissioner — and get each of their family members and employees to "contribute," too, — in exchange for the unspoken agreement that their poorly-planned projects will be approved.

Inexplicably, one of the most vocal arguments from opponents of Amendment 4 is that it would (horror of horrors) change the way representative democracy works. The power would shift from elected hands to voters. How awful! And our elected officials have done such a splendid job of controlling runaway growth! Florida's development is top drawer and built with the interests of the resident in mind!

Or not.

Ignore the noise. There is one question and one only at stake: Do you like the way Florida has developed?

If so, vote no on Amendment 4. If you think local elected officials are doing a great job of guiding growth, vote no on Amendment 4. If you think that elected officials are listening to residents and voting in your best interest, then vote no Amendment 4.

But please don't vote against it because you're confused by the ton of mud that developers have dropped onto this issue to trick you.

Don't do it because you think that you're somehow a traitor to democracy. It is democracy, after all, that allows voters to take this sliver of power back into their own hands.

Don't do it because you're afraid of dozens of expensive, confusing elections. That won't happen. Developers don't want to face you, the voter. They will be satisfied with building communities where they ought to be and making a little less money.

Don't do it because you're being told the economy will get even worse. That's a lie. Developers can build thousands of homes today. Right this minute. They just want the extra gravy on their mashed potatoes, and they want you to ladle it on.

Follow the money trail

Instead, give this a little thought.

Amendment 4 is no panacea. It won't fix all the ills of growth. Rather, it will give voters a small measure of control over the very worst of the abuses.

As always, follow the money trail. The Miami Herald reported last week that Lennar Homes, which has taken $251 million in taxpayer-funded relief, managed to sink $367,000 into the fund to fight Amendment 4. Pulte Homes got $800 million in bailout bucks — and sent $567,000 to the opponents of Amendment 4.

Do your interests align with those of big developers?

Mine don't.

I'm voting YES on Amendment 4.

Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com You may leave her a message at 352-742-5918. Her blog is online at http://www.orlandosentinel.com/laurenonlake.

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