Green With Envy

Florida is near the top of the list of states lining up to follow California into economic chaos. The contest to lead the green parade has ignored the rights of people, the principles of freedom and, often, plain old common sense. Here is a typical letter received this week: “Building and Zoning has just charged me with failing to get building permits for a screen porch. I feel like my constitutional rights are being violated. They enforce building and zoning with denial of electric utilities until the owner meets their specs. I am in Florida, can you point me in the right direction or give me some good advice? - Joe V.”

Joe doesn’t realize that Florida, like California, has crossed the threshold from an American state, to a Third Sector state, enroute to becoming a full-fledged socialist state.

Until 1976, when the Florida legislature adopted its first statewide comprehensive planning act—despite the strong opposition of a coalition of county governments—county commissioners determined if, and when building permits were required. Local citizens could hold their elected commissioners accountable at the ballot box if local codes became too stringent. This is the only power that the people have over government.

Since 1976, the state has made county commissioners nearly irrelevant—county codes must conform to state requirements. And, if the state gets federal money, the state must conform to federal requirements. No longer does it matter very much who, or which party, holds the position of county commissioner in Florida, California and several other transitional states. Their hands are tied by state and federal laws and regulations.

Public policy, including local building and zoning codes, are no longer the prerogative of local elected officials. Non-government organizations, such as the American Planning Association, working in concert with local NGOs—such as 1000 Friends of Florida, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and dozens of others—formulate public policy through various “stakeholder” councils, which are then rubber-stamped by local, state and even federal legislators…and poor Joe has no idea why he has to have a permit to put a screen porch on his house.

It will get much worse, before it gets better. The APA’s model legislation for states offers such detailed requirements that property owners can use only state-approved plants for landscaping, state-approved colors—inside and out—for decorating, and only state-approved “green-label” materials for building.

Moreover, their model legislation includes the concept of “amortized compliance.” This is a scheme in which the owner’s right to occupy his home is extinguished over a specified period of time, if the owner’s property remains in non-compliance with the stringent regulations set forth in the APA’s model legislation.

Florida has also cluttered its constitution with extensive ballot-initiative amendments that impose constitutional expenditures—such as the $300 million per year that must be spent to acquire more and more private property for the state. This, of course, reduces the number of taxpayers…and increases the tax burden on the remaining land owners.

These initiatives at the state and county level are the result of Third Sector organizations that pour money into advertising and promotion of their objectives, which force elected officials to do their bidding.

California led the way. Florida and Oregon have been dutifully following California’s lead. California has driven away many individuals and businesses that can no longer afford the level of politically correct shades of green demanded by the Third Sector. The inevitable consequences of this political philosophy are the constantly rising budget demands, and the constantly diminishing ability of citizens to pay.

The chaotic spectacle now unfolding in California could well be a preview of future events in Florida, Oregon and many of the other states that have fallen victim to the demands of the Third Sector.

I was in Florida in 1976 when the Comprehensive Planning Act was passed. I immediately put my home up for sale, and quickly found another state where people still respect the principles of freedom and the U.S. Constitution.

My advice to Joe—and to all who write similar letters—is to join a local property-rights organization that is affiliated with a national organization so we can mount as much political pressure as may be necessary to counter the policies of the Third Sector. Politicians ignore individuals, but if enough individuals join together, sing the same song in a loud voice, and march proudly—and intelligently— to the ballot box at every election, we can restore the principles of freedom, and reclaim every state for America.