So out here on St Pete Beach, there's a bit of a war being fought. But first, some background:
All up and down the Gulf Coast of Pinellas County, government and real estate developers have been colluding to tear down the old motels and apartment complexes in order to make way for luxury high-rise condos. The government says its good because it increases tax revenues, and developers say its good because, well, because they are vultures and that's what they do.
But what they fail to note is that most of these condos are sold to wealthy retirees who shutter their condos three quarters of the year, and that the communities around them have a way of shriveling up and dying as a result. Take a walk up and down Gulf Boulevard in North Redington Beach - it's dead. There's no one there. Oh, sure, they've got lots of big houses that look nice, but that's it. I don't even know if there is public beach access anywhere in NRB. There are no people, no restaurants, no bars, no nothing.
The folks in St Pete Beach saw all of this happening without the consent of the people in those communities, so they took action. A group called Citizens for Responsible Growth organized to put charter amendments on the ballot, with the intent of making the government accountable to the citizens. It's sort of an offshoot of the Hometown Democracy movement that has been springing up all over Florida, where citizens are saying, Hey, fuck you, you can't go and redevelop MY HOME and MY COMMUNITY without MY SAY-SO. I mean, shit, you can't open the paper nowadays without hearing about some new development gone bust, or some old ladies forced out of their homes, or some mobile home park being sold out from underneath them. These amendments would force the city to hold a referendum every time they wanted to change the comprehensive development plan, and it would force them to only pass changes with a unanimous vote.
Sounds fairly simple, right?
Well, the city of SPB FLIPPED OUT. They sued to have the amendments taken off the ballot, which eventually dismissed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. (Thank God.) So now, for the past three or four months, the city of SPB, along with developers and business owners, have taken to flooding the community with disinformation. At least once a week, we have people knock on our doors to explain to us how voting for these amendments will destroy our community. (Never mind that investigators found out that the majority of these canvassers aren't from SPB.) All of our favorite bars and restaurants have signs out urging us to vote no. (Never mind that most of them are raking in the bucks as is right now, and that they only reason they want a no vote is so they can sell out to condo developers and get the hell out of Dodge.) Our mailbox is always jammed full of shiny high-priced circulars telling us why voting yes will ruin our community. Meanwhile, CRG, being the underdog here, sends around photocopied, tri-folded fliers. (When you've got truth on your side, you don't need a fancy PR firm to do your dirty work.) The local weekly newsletters publish editorials against the amendments, and they publish nothing but anti-CRG letters (from local business owners, of course). The city has even paid to plaster city vehicles with "vote no" stickers and magnets. In fact, all told the city of SPB has spent over half a million dollars trying to tell us how to vote.
The funniest part is that, while all of the businesses have these 'Vote No' signs out, all of the houses and residences have 'Vote Yes'. It is literally a civil war, albeit a very polite, well-funded civil war. It's a civil war, nonetheless, and it's a war that is being fought against all of the greedy developers who have swooped down on Florida and tried to take our state away from us. Unscrupulous real estate developers are destroying this state - wrecking the economy, the environment, and the community - and I'll be damned if they destroy my lovely beach community, the place I love to be more than any other place in the world.
So last night, when I filled out my absentee ballot, I made sure to vote for the judges who threw out the lawsuit. I made sure to vote for candidates who support CRG. And most of all, I made sure to vote YES on every single one of those fucking ballot amendments. It felt SO GOOD I nearly cried.
I hope they lose. I hope we win. I hope those amendments get on the charter, and that we become a model for engaged citizenry fighting back all over the state. Because fuck those assholes, with their "tax base" and their "economic growth". Economic growth for who? Those few who are wealthy enough to fork over seven hundred thousand dollars for a condo? FUCK THAT. This is war.