Want to fight growth? Better have deep pockets as lawmakers stack deck against challenges

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Rick Scott/RonDeSantis, or Ron Scott/Rick DeSantis, what’s the difference?   The demise of the Department of Community Affairs/Senate Bill 7103   Is there a difference? Apparently not when it comes to stripping away from the citizens any type of protection or local input as to growth and development.

Just as Scott killed the protection provided by Community Affairs, DeSantis  has stolen from us the right to litigate.  Each of these actions was done in the early months after their elections.

More government, more restrictions, more greed/money-motivated corruption, and more self-serving legislators.

More environment-killing development.

Sad is the situation when citizens must sue their elected leaders to make them do their job;  sadder still when those elected leaders take that right from them.

Read the original article here in the Orlando Sentinel.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


Lauren Ritchie

By Lauren Ritchie

| Orlando Sentinel |
Jul 05, 2019 | 1:46 PM

Want to fight growth? Better have deep pockets as lawmakers stack deck against challenges | Commentary
A bill that would open rural parts of western Central Florida to new toll roads like State Road 408 in Orlando was signed recently by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda / Orlando Sentinel)

Developers win — the war is all but over.

Lovers of Florida who fight the wearying battles to keep development from overwhelming roads, schools and the springs thought they had been buried when former Gov. Rick Scott all but killed the state’s growth management and environmental agencies.

One tiny sliver of redress remained: Anyone who wanted to force a government to stick with its growth plan could sue.

And now, even that less-than-ideal solution has become impossible for all but the ultra-rich because of a last-minute amendment — passed on a voice vote without any analysis or public comment — that says the loser of any such suit must pay the government’s legal bills.

Thank you, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, for the amendment that strikes a death knell for reasonable growth management and could pave the way for new toll roads that would open big swaths of Florida that now are rural to development.

But what does the St. Petersburg Republican care?

His net worth in 2018 was just shy of $14 million, and he and his family live in a $1 million house in a prestigious gated community with canals to Tampa Bay.

Brandes can afford to sue anyone who might try to put, say, a homeless shelter next door to his half-acre. He lists his job as managing his family’s fortune, which came principally from his grandfather’s sale of a of string of lumber yards that became the Home Depot chain. The family still owns Cox Lumber in the Cayman Islands.

Isn’t that always the way things are? When rich guys get in office, they can’t resist pulling sleazy maneuvers in an effort to help themselves to even more money. Never mind the best interest of the state or the people who live here. Self-interest rules the day.

And the beauty for Brandes is that he’s just the puppet-master quietly writing the rules in the background. When the time comes to fight yet another cookie-cutter subdivision, it will be some money-hungry developer out front taking heat from riled-up neighbors.

This situation, however, is even more sinister. But first, a little background.

Every local government in Florida is required to write, approve and follow a growth plan. These plans serve as a lighthouse for residents on where they can expect to find a new 7-Eleven and where they can step onto the porch in the morning and sniff horse manure.

Well, theoretically, anyway.

Elected officials of governments are supposed to make decisions that abide by the plan. But the reality is that developers go outside the lines when deciding where they want to build, usually because property is cheaper in more rural areas. Then, they ask the county or a city to change the growth plan for them.

But then Scott declared that over-regulation was a “job killer” and stripped the Department of Community Affairs — the supposed growth watchdog — , of staff and power.

He did a terrific job of insuring that required growth plans were more like suggestions, not rules.

At the time, following the global economic bust, just about everyone was struggling to hold onto their house and feed their family so few were in a position to fight to make growth plans mandatory rather than optional.

Scott’s claims of over-regulation were smoke. The entire country was wallowing in financial woe, and nobody was building because nobody was buying. Growth rules had nothing to do with the recession.

Still, a citizen held onto one right: Court. Neighbors still could sue to force government to stick to the rules it created when the engine of growth was roaring. Afraid those subdivisions of quarter-acre McMansions will overcrowd the neighborhood elementary? Worried that one soulless subdivision will begat another and another? Sue.

That wasn’t a great option, but it was something.

With Brandes’ amendment, “Local governments won’t feel any legal pressure to heed the law,” said Paul Owens, president of the environmental advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Florida.

He is right. To sue, residents now must consider whether they’re willing to sign on to pay some unknown sum ­— an amount that likely will exceed the mortgage on their home — if they lose. What idiot is going to put a family’s stability at risk like that?

In addition, the Florida courts already have the ability to declare a lawsuit frivolous and award the winner legal fees to be paid by the loser.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law last week. So much for his claim to be a “Teddy Roosevelt” Republican.

Here is why Brandes’ amendment is so insidious. Add it up:

His colleague Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, made it his priority to get approval for new toll roads. The first would extend the Suncoast Parkway north to the Georgia state line, the second would build Florida’s Turnpike, likely from its Wildwood terminus, west to connect with the Parkway, and the third would add a toll road from Polk County to Collier County.

Galvano dropped that little baby, which literally would change the face of Florida, into the Legislature from out of the blue. And he got it passed. Then, Brandes casually inserted his “loser pay” amendment in another bill. Are these two events coincidence?

Hahaha! Not hardly. Us cynics who have watched the wild growth of Florida over 40 years will say they are inextricably linked. Building roads requires almost unending changes in growth plans. Brandes’ amendment will almost eliminate opposition to plan changes.

Keep that in mind as the toll road plans begin to unfold and changes start to appear on the horizon.

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