Tag Archives: Urban Planning

The Editorial leftist Folio Weekly Was Too Afraid to Publish

Corporate Welfare Queens Bankroll Opposition to Amendment 4
The opposition to Amendment 4 is using taxpayer money to try and stop you from having a voice in the future of where you live, work and play: our neighborhoods and towns. They are trying to silence your voice about the future of Florida’s growth and development. Home builders and their vassals are principally responsible for bankrolling millions of dollars in opposition to Amendment 4. The only argument they have is fear because no one (not even the home builders) has the political courage to defend the morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt growth management process in the State of Florida over the last 30+ years. And the home builders are trying to scare you using your own money.

Do you want to talk about the audacity of audacity? Let’s follow the money.
At the beginning of this year, the Democratic Congress passed and President Obama signed into law an extension of unemployment benefits compensation. So far, so good: right? But the special interests in Washington DC successfully lobbied to insert something more into the bill: a tax loophole for the home building industry. The national home builders were able to claim losses over the last 2 years against federal taxes on their corporate profits during the previous 5 years. Basically, this means the federal government is using deficit spending (by borrowing mainly from China, Japan and the United Kingdom) to refund corporate taxes on national home builders’ profits during the boom years to compensate for their losses during the Great Recession. Of course, it will be left to this generation and future generations of unborn Americans to pay this debt.

Let’s be clear. This is a “backdoor” government bailout: nothing more, nothing less.
But wait, there’s more. After receiving their bailout, the national home builders report the tax refund as profit to Wall Street, thereby maintaining the value of their shares. Most home builder shares lost more than 80% of their value during the financial crisis, broadly dropping from $35-45 a share to around $10 or less a share. Even with this backdoor government bailout, home builder share prices had only remained stable more or less near their historic lows. So, not only is the federal government propping up the obsolete business models of the home building industry that planted the seeds of this Great Recession in the first place (especially in Florida, California and Nevada) and not only is it also the means to artificially inflate home builder share value on stock market to create another “bubble” but it isn’t even working all that well. To any common sense American, this is a waste of money on an almost unimaginable scale.

Oh, and the unemployed? At the same time the home builders are receiving billions of dollars in backdoor government bailouts, the federal government taxes as income the unemployment compensation payments for the unemployed. This is the anti-Robin Hood economics of the perverse. Steal from the future earnings of the poor to bailout the rich today. It is a house of cards waiting to fall all over again. And, once again, it will be left to the taxpayers to cover the bills.

In the early 90s, Welfare Reform was a major legislative achievement of President Clinton and Newt Gingrich’s Republican Congress. It rolled back one of the worst abuses of Johnson’s Great Society programs by getting people off the welfare rolls and back into the workplace. At its core was the idea there is dignity in being able to work and stand on your own without government assistance. Now, we have the new phenomenon of the Corporate Welfare Queens. The banks, auto industry and, now, the home builders are just some who have been caught red-handed sucking at the teat of the federal government. How are these Corporate Welfare Queens any different from the welfare queens President Reagan used to describe as both an abuser and victim of the system? Well, for one thing, we are talking about corporations that are too stubborn, too beholden to their quarterly profit reports to Wall Street, who possess obsolete business models they are too cowardly or dense to change in order to address the new economic realities. They would rather stick their fingers in their ears and hum really loud (and insert their heads with the fingers plugging their ears into the sand, for good measure) rather than adapt their business models and methods. Corporations like this should be allowed to perish in a capitalist society. The innovators will survive and thrive. The dinosaurs will finally become extinct, as they should. Instead, the federal government is using corporate welfare to pervert the marketplace and these obsolete industries are as happy as pigs at the trough. Today, what we clearly need is Corporate Welfare Reform.

So what does this have to do with Amendment 4? The home building industry has bankrolled 40% of the funds raised to oppose Amendment 4. The rest of the funds raised to oppose Amendment 4 largely come from businesses/organizations providing support services – and receiving income – from the home builders. Amendment 4 is a ballot initiative designed to give voters a say on major changes to their community’s future land use map; specifically, how our neighborhoods and towns in Florida will grow in the future. They want to deny you a voice in your future.

Many voters are old enough to remember the Watergate adage, “follow the money.” If you do, it’s easy to see they are using your money to tell you to shut up. But this is our Florida. They may have more money (even if a part of it was stolen from you) but there are more of us. Nothing can stop the power of The People when they decide to act (see the Revolutionary War against King George and the British Empire for a relevant example). Let your voices be heard loud and clear this November 2nd. Vote YES on Amendment 4.

Tea, anyone?

Mark Major, AICP is a certified planner of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former planner for a national home builder and former Chair of the First Coast Section, Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association from 2005-2008.

This editorial was originally written October 26, 2010 and submitted to Folio Weekly for their back page editorial. It was never published and Amendment 4 was defeated by 67% of the vote in the November 2010 election. The scare tactics employed by the home builders, government officials, and real estate and planning professionals to defeat Amendment 4 was instrumental in driving up vote turnout and electing the current unpopular Republican Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. Today, the Florida real estate market remains vastly overbuilt with inventory on life-support. You reap what you sow. Don’t believe the bizarre rants and maniacal claims of real estate agents about a “hot” real estate market. They are lying to you.

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Amendment 4 Commercial Script

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the final script for an online political ad in support of Florida Hometown Democracy (Amendment 4) during the November 2010 elections. I have no idea if the ad was ever finished or aired.

Amendment 4 Commercial Script
by Mark David Major, AICP

Hello! My name is Mark David Major. I’m a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and I’ve lived – and worked – in Florida for nearly a decade now. Over the last decade, as Senior Planner for Nassau County, a planner for one of the largest home builders in the state, and a small business owner, I have worked on both sides of the table on growth and development issues in Florida; ALWAYS based on the principle my primary ethical obligation is to the public good, and to speak clearly and honestly about growth issues to the public, my employers, and my clients.

I want to talk to you today about why I’m supporting Amendment 4, or “Florida Hometown Democracy”, and why I’m urging you to vote YES on Amendment this November 2nd. During my time in Florida, it has become abundantly clear to me how we manage growth and development in our state simply does not work. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Even those who opposed Amendment 4, openly admit it does not work. And you don’t have to take their word for it either.

Over the past 2 years, Floridians from all walks of life have experienced first-hand the catastrophic effects of our real estate market being Ground Zero for a Global Recession that has led to 1 out of every 5 Americans being out of work. Banks have foreclosed on homes at a rate not seen in this country since the Great Depression. There are record numbers of people filing for bankruptcy. The scale of personal debt defies description and the scale of government debt is beyond comprehension. The decline in the value of our homes has been massive. And it has all been a direct result of the way we’ve planned, grown, developed and built our communities, neighborhoods, and homes over the last 30 years. It is not an accident the areas of Florida hardest hit by home devaluation during this Great Recession has been those characterized by unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl neighborhoods. That’s because when the housing bubble burst, the bill for reckless growth finally came due.

So what’s the solution? Amendment 4 proposes to give voters a voice in how their neighborhoods, towns, and communities grow and develop. But even more importantly, approval of Amendment 4 will cause businesses and developers to make smarter decisions about what land they buy and develop long before the public becomes ever involved, leading to better and smarter projects. Instead of being driven but what is the cheapest land to develop, developers will have to decide what is the best land to develop. This will lead to smarter growth in Florida.

Now the opponents of Amendment 4 have a clear political strategy to try to defeat this ballot measure: to confuse the issue and try to scare you. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cause Florida to lose jobs but we’ve already lost tens of thousands of jobs. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cost Florida’s economy billions of dollars but our economy has already lost billions of the dollars. They say approval of Amendment 4 hand power over to special interest lawyers but our dysfunctional system is already dominated by special interest lawyers lobbying on behalf of landowners and developers. They say approval of Amendment 4 will mean higher property taxes but that’s only because our homes have lost so much of their value due to their reckless development practices.  The opponents of Amendment 4 want cheap land because they are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because they know how to exploit cheap land and leave you the bill for the next time the bubble bursts. It’s ironic, on one hand, the opponents of Amendment 4 are trying to confuse you into believing approval of Amendment will not really change anything and, on the other hand, they are trying to scare you into believing the solution to our current problems is more of the same. Do you really want more of the same?

Americans built this country by being explorers and pioneers; by dreaming of a better tomorrow and then daring to make it a reality. I urge you to do the same by voting YES on Amendment 4 this November 2nd and daring to dream today of a better Florida, a smarter Florida for you and your family tomorrow.

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For Florida Hometown Democracy

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a guest editorial in support of Florida Hometown Democracy originally published in October 2010 on the online magazine, Metro Jacksonville.

EDITORIAL: VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 4
by Mark David Major, AICP

Voting Yes for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a vote for a better, smarter Florida. Our real estate and development industry is a dinosaur; equally dull in its collective wisdom and just as extinct. Over the last 25+ years, our real estate development industry has been driven by one arrogant and fatal assumption: this is what makes us the most money, therefore, this is what the people really want. It’s akin to offering a man dying of thirst in the desert a shot of bourbon to forget his troubles (“oh, and here’s a Golden Calf to help you pray for help”). The dying man wants… needs water. But the profit margins on bourbon and golden calves meet the quarterly profit projections of Wall Street. Now Amendment 4 comes before the voters this November 2nd to offer water in the desert. Predictably, the entrenched, moneyed interests in Tallahassee and town halls across the state have risen in opposition to Amendment 4. In the wilderness of the desert, they proclaim, “Don’t drink the water! Water has a 100% mortality rate! Anybody who has ever tasted water has died!” But the voters know better. Amendment 4 proposes to make amendments to local comprehensive plans subject to voter approval. And this will lead to real change in how Florida develops and grows, for better and smarter development, in the future. Once the inevitable economic recovery appears, our real estate and development businesses will still make money (a lot of money, in fact). But the “this is the way we’ve always done it” business models they have relied for the last 25+ years will have to adapt when the voters approve Amendment 4 this November 2nd. Americans are optimists. We believe a vote can change our world. In 2006 and 2008, we voted to change direction after the Republican Party betrayed its core principles. Now, in 2010, we are once again preparing to vote for unprecedented change after the disappointment of the last 2 years. The media pundits and talking heads are pontificating about “the angry voter”, as represented by the enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement. But people don’t get angry and enthusiastically go out to vote unless they are optimists. The optimist votes because we still believe our vote matters and we can change things for the better. We stubbornly cling to our optimism despite being bombarded by the ‘conventional wisdom’ of cynics who prey on the fear we can never change a corrupt system dominated by moneyed interests, lobbyists and entitled self-serving incumbents (of both parties). I urge you to exercise your optimism by voting Yes on Amendment 4 this November 2nd for a better and smarter Florida.

Mark Major, AICP was the Chair of the First Coast Section, Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association from 2005-2008.

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For Amendment 4

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an opinion piece written in support of Amendment 4 and published in the September 10-16 issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The opposing opinion piece against Amendment 4 was written by The Honorable John Peyton, Mayor of the City of Jacksonville, Florida.

Why are you for Amendment 4?
by Mark David Major, AICP

The way we have planned and managed growth in Florida since the adoption of the 1985 Growth Management Act has failed. It has led to an unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl nightmare built on over-inflated property values. It has led to our real estate market being Ground Zero for a global recession. It has led to widespread unemployment, massive home devaluation, and record levels of foreclosures and bankruptcies. It has led to the worst economic downturn in our country since the Great Depression. Approval of Amendment 4 is an opportunity to change the dynamics of how we grow in Florida for the better and to make smarter decisions about growth in the future.

Why do you think the arguments that opponents have to the Amendment regarding unintended consequences are false?

Florida Hometown Democracy was never going to achieve what its supporters originally intended; namely, to stop growth. However, the arguments that opponents of Amendment 4 make about unintended consequences are disingenuous because what they really mean is they will have change the way they do business. But it is ‘business as usual’ that is the problem. Approval of Amendment 4 will lead to businesses making better and smarter decisions about what land is best to develop rather than what is the cheapest land to purchase. The most crucial calculations about a development are made long before it enters the regulatory process and approval of Amendment 4 will alter those calculations.

How do you think growth will evolve after the amendment?

Approval of Amendment 4 will promote the potential of already-entitled urban land, in-fill development, and reclamation of brownfield properties. It will also benefit traditional urban cores like Downtown Jacksonville. It will place greater demand on the design skills of planners, architects, and urban designers because property owners and developers will want to maximize profit in the horizontal and vertical dimension of their projects. Over time, this will lead to development patterns that make public transit alternatives (such a trolleys and rail) more economically viable for cities like Jacksonville.

What would its failure mean?

Failure to approve Amendment 4 will mean more of the same. Our real estate market, our properties, and our homes will remain trapped in a cycle of ‘boom and bust’. More importantly, the solution opponents of Amendment 4 are offering is ‘more of the same’. They are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because that is “how we’ve always done it”. But ‘more of the same’ is not a solution. Voting YES for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a step in the right direction for a better Florida.

Mark David Major, AICP is the immediate past chair of the First Coast Section of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association.

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Florida Hometown Democracy | Why I’m Supporting Amendment 4

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the extended version of an article that originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Florida Planning, the quarterly newsletter of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association, the March-April 2010 issue of First Coast Planner, the bi-monthly newsletter of the First Coast Chapter of APA Florida, and the May 25-31 Backpage Editorial of Folio Weekly in Jacksonville, Florida.

Florida Hometown Democracy | Why I’m Supporting Amendment 4
by Mark David Major, AICP

I will be supporting Amendment 4 this November. I have arrived at this decision after much contemplation about what it might mean for this state and my profession, after hearing from and reading what others have to say, and after debating and discussing with friends and colleagues what it might mean for them and their families, their neighborhoods and cities, their businesses and employers, and their careers. Literally, this decision was years in the making. I have decided to support Amendment 4 despite my reservations. What are they? First, I am a strong believer in the republican principles of government established by our Founding Fathers; that is, republican with a small ‘r’. Popular referenda are tools of popular democracy, what Thomas Jefferson considered little better than mob rule. And as John Adams said, “Mobs will never do to govern states or command armies.” Second, spending mandates approved by popular referenda in the State of California have clearly been a disaster, bringing that state to the brink of bankruptcy. Increased use of popular referenda in Florida carries the same risk. So, it is my position popular referenda should not be used to establish public policy. By definition, this should lead me to be against Amendment 4 on principle alone. But I will be supporting Amendment 4 this November.

Why? When it comes to politics and public policy, I am a firm believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

1. Florida Hometown Democracy will impose “de facto” Urban Growth Boundaries

Approval of Amendment 4 will essentially ‘freeze’ the Future Land Use Map in our local comprehensive plans (absent the periodic evaluation, appraisal and review process). Only landowners/developers will very deep pockets will pursue a voter-approved FLUM Amendment process, and they will only do so for large projects where the benefits are self-evident even to the most fickle of voters. This will impose “de facto” urban growth boundaries on our settlements. Since I moved to Florida in 2002, I have advocated the adoption of urban growth boundaries as a powerful tool to better manage growth in the state. The typical response from elected officials and public sector planners has been a raised eyebrow. Once, an elected official even reacted of my advocacy of urban growth boundaries as “communistic”, which is ironic since I was once accused of being a “fascist” planner in Europe during the 1990s. Urban growth boundaries can be used to direct growth away from typical post-WII suburban sprawl, greenfield developments to instead promote: brownfield development, historic rehabilitation, urban redevelopment, adaptive re-use of building stock and traditional neighborhood development; increased densities to support mixed-use communities and consolidate vehicular trips; the viability of alternative modes of transport (walking, biking, street cars, bus, rail, etc.); and, the preservation of rural lands. Voting YES on Amendment 4 with serendipitously thrust one of the most powerful tools for growth management into the laps of our public planning agencies (thank you very much). The fact is most of our elected leaders do not have the political courage to adopt this tool. Consequently, many of our public planners fail to advocate when it counts the benefits of urban growth boundaries as a growth management tool. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will make urban growth boundaries a fact.

2. Growth will not be stopped. It will only evolve… for the better

The anti-growth, leftist origins of Florida Hometown Democracy as NIMBYism writ large cannot be doubted. The initiative emerged out of Sierra Club radical environmentalism and a leftist billionaire bankrolled its ballot petition drive. Florida Hometown Democracy is a creature of the left. This drives an almost irrational fear in this state, which historically has leaned to the political center-right (especially in central/north Florida). But I am not afraid. Much like Dr. Frankenstein, this creature will not do what its creators hope. It will not stop growth. The drawn-out, half-decade process to get the initiative on the ballot and begin electioneering (with an additional year after approval before implementation, pending legal challenges) provided ample time to redress flaws in local comprehensive plans. Given these circumstances, voting YES on Amendment 4 will only serve to redirect growth away from greenfields (requiring a FLUM Amendment) to lands already entitled under the comprehensive plan. This will promote the more sustainable models of development previously mentioned. If a local municipality has not adequately prepared their comprehensive plan, then they might expect a negative impact on economic development sooner rather than later (absent going back to the voters) but they will have only themselves to blame. There was ample warning. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will promote Smart Growth planning principles since it will redirect development (with higher densities to maximize profits) to areas where utilities/public services are already available. The end result will be more cost- and energy-efficient settlement forms, and reallocation of resources from ever-outward expansion of utilities/services to instead maintenance/upgrading of established systems. Over the long-term, in real terms, it should lead to lower utility and property tax bills in the State of Florida.

3. The Real Estate Industry will adapt… or perish

After the Great Recession, few seem aware of the delicious irony surrounding the debate over Amendment 4. Its proponents are trying to stop growth already stopped while its opponents want to protect growth already dead (and, for which many of them are culpable). However, growth will return. The question is: what kind of growth will it be? Evidence is abundant the necessary lessons of the Great Recession have not been learnt, namely “big risk, over leveraged, easy money” business models are fatally flawed. Even more troubling, our business and political leaders (and those in Washington and on Wall Street) seemed poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again (see Einstein’s definition of insanity). However, Florida can no longer sustain the personal or public cost of energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl developments so characteristic of post-WWII America (and especially here). The business and planning models of our real estate industry are dinosaurs and need to evolve lest they become extinct. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will force the real estate industry to think outside of the “easy money, lazy thinking” box it has been trapped for the last 30 years. Americans are incredibly clever and creative innovators when they decide to be (especially when it comes to business and profit). Voting YES on Amendment 4 will firmly set the brightest minds of our business and political leadership to the task of innovating the real estate industry for a more sustainable future. Personally, I find this to be a very exciting challenge. The alternative is founded on fear of the unknown and the conceit we are forever trapped in the bubble cycle of ‘boom and bust’. I don’t believe it.

4. Greater demand for physical planning and design expertise

The conventional wisdom is approval of Amendment 4 will devastate the planning profession (especially public planning agencies). In my experience, the most predictable thing about conventional wisdom is how often it is wrong. I believe approval of Amendment 4 will lead to increased demand for planning expertise from top-to-bottom throughout the real estate industry (including our public planning agencies). The nature of this demand will change from regulatory planning of the “meet the minimum requirements” variety to expertise on physical planning and design in order to maximize profit in the horizontal and vertical dimension of developments. Approval of Amendment 4 will increase use of Planned Unit Developments as developers seek to tailor zoning/design requirements to maximize profit margins on entitled urban land. The focus of public planning agencies will shift away from processing paper to physical planning, especially since land development regulations/review will have to be more robust, flexible and nuanced. This will expedite the shift over the last 30 years in the planning profession from a social science focus to its proper place as the art and science of physical design. Few landowners will pursue a comprehensive plan amendment process that is subject to voter approval. When they rarely do, they will be forced to go BIG (think Development of Regional Impact on steroids) so the multitude of benefits is an obvious ‘slam-dunk’ for the voters. The normal EAR process will be invigorated as land owners/developers invest more in planning services to justify expansion of the de facto ‘growth boundary’ established by Florida Hometown Democracy. The political and professional debate over future growth of communities will be similarly invigorated. The Rural Land Stewardship program will have to be revisited, innovated and expanded. Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) will become a more effective means to short-term profit for landowners of large, greenfield lands to realize the value of their property. And, most importantly, draconian environmental protection requirements that perversely promote suburban sprawl in Florida will have to be revisited, refined and relaxed by our political leadership to become more nuanced. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will be a boom to the planning profession. Instead of fearing Florida Hometown Democracy, planners should embrace the tremendous opportunities for innovation and creativity it will unleash in our profession.

5. Property values will rise for the greatest number of people

There are several studies demonstrating urban growth boundaries lead to increases in urban property values. Most recently, I am aware of such a study with similar findings produced by Florida State University. With Florida Hometown Democracy operating as a “de facto” urban growth boundary, a sustainable climb in urban property values will result. For rural, greenfield lands not entitled under local comprehensive plans, the land value should remain stable. The collapse of the residential/commercial real estate market in Florida during the Great Recession has already deflated land values so they have – more or less – bottomed out. This does mean property taxes on rural lands will remain low for their owners. And since Florida has a history of large, rural land ownership under the auspices of a single family or entity, any discernable deflation in rural land values will affect only a few rather than the many. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will be a boost for urban property owners, who represent the overwhelming majority of people in the state. Higher property values will also lead to increased tax revenues (without mileage hikes) for our local governments; stabilize and reignite the existing residential housing market in the state; and, reinvigorate access to credit as people’s home value rises.

Conclusion

There are even more reasons to support Amendment 4 than I can articulate in this brief article. And I could easily go into greater detail about the reasons I have cited in this article to support Amendment 4. Also, I freely admit, I’m very fond of playing the role of the rebel in my profession and going against the grain to support Amendment 4 fulfills that inclination. But, ultimately, my decision to support Amendment 4 comes down to one fundamental truth. What we have done in post-WWII America has not worked and it will not work in the future. It has led us into an unsustainable suburban sprawl nightmare. It has led to a devastated residential and commercial real estate market. It has led to massive deflation of property values. It has led to rampant foreclosures and unemployment. It has led us into a seemingly bottomless pool of unimaginable debt. And it will lead us there again. The Great Recession has demonstrated beyond doubt our urban, more traditional neighborhoods are better suited to withstand market fluctuations in land values. The Great Recession has demonstrated beyond doubt how really worthless are the expanses of devalued suburban sprawl properties across this state. It’s time to chart a new course. Voting YES on Amendment 4 will set Florida down a new path, full of exciting opportunities and challenges, to creatively innovate our business models, our developments, our industry and our profession. I urge you to vote YES on Amendment 4. It will be a vote for the future rather than the past.

Mark David Major is Immediate Past Chair of the First Coast APA, serving as Chair from 2005-2008. During this time, he also served on the APA Florida Executive Committee. He participated in adopting the Chapter’s position against Florida Hometown Democracy and support of Floridians for Smarter Growth; a coalition of public and private organizations advocating defeat of Amendment 4. Mark has lived in Florida for 8 years and worked as an urban planner in private consulting, local government and a Fortune 500 homebuilder.

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