Consultant to developers predicts Hometown Democracy will pass listen09/03/09 Seán Kinane
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A Tallahassee consultant for developers and planners predicts that the Florida Hometown Democracy amendment will pass next year. Patrick Slevin, CEO of The Slevin Group, says that there is a “legitimate threat” that Amendment 4 will get the sixty percent of votes it needs to pass in next year’s election.
The Hometown Democracy amendment to the Florida Constitution would, according to the website of its supporters, “give voters oversight control over how their area will grow and evolve” by holding a referendum on any “comprehensive plan amendments approved” by local governments. Slevin warns that Hometown Democracy will pass because of the influence of what he calls a “vocal minority” on the “silent majority,”
“Given everything that I’ve seen up to this point, Hometown Democracy is going to pass. That’s my professional opinion. That doesn’t mean we don’t have hope to find something. I think Hometown Democracy has provided a legitimate discussion. The question is, what kind of constructive alternatives can we give the voters of Florida?”
Slevin spoke Thursday afternoon to a gathering of the Urban Land Institute of Tampa Bay. Environmental activist Mariella Smith thinks that Slevin’s prediction is just a scare tactic to motivate the amendment’s opponents.
“This has all been one big marketing plug for his company. He’s carved out a niche for his own [public relations] company of teaching developers these, sort of, used-car-salesman tactics as opposed to real dialog and working within the community. And so, yes, I think he’s using the scare of Hometown Democracy to foment fear and generate customers for his own business. But I do think he’s right, that Hometown Democracy resonates with a majority of people across the state.”
The former Mayor of Safety Harbor, Patrick Slevin was honorary chair of Young Americans for Dole during the Bob Dole campaign for president in 1996. He calls himself “a NIMBY expert.”
“We’ve transitioned from a ‘NIMBY Nation:’ ‘Not-In-My-Back-Yard,’ to a ‘BANANA Republic.’ BANANA means ‘Build-Absolutely-Nothing-Anywhere-Near-Anyone.’ We’re a BANANA Republic because Americans feel that the process is out of control and that developers have an edge. And that it’s about the developer at the expense of the community.”
That perception, Slevin says, is based on polling data from a group called Saint Consulting.
“Nearly 9 out of 10 Americans weigh their vote, their decision, on a candidate’s or incumbent’s position on development and growth. Three out of four Americans are opposed to development, which is essentially all new development. And three out of four Americans believe that the system favors the developer at the expense of the community. So you have this ‘X-factor,’ as I call it, of public frustration that affects the ‘silent majority:’ they’re reading it in the papers, they’re hearing about it, they’re hearing about it on this newscast that we have here. And they’re having conclusions that we need to take back City Hall and we need to support ballot-box type of direct democracy and that’s how we’re going to be able to have a harmony between growth and progress.”
But activist Mariella Smith uses those same figures to dispute Slevin’s claim that people opposed to some development projects are a minority.
“That’s one of his tactics: there’s to marginalize the citizen-activists by name calling; to demonize them. He constantly, in his speech talked about NIMBYs as being a ‘vocal minority,’ usually just a handful of angry citizens, as he said.”
The term ‘NIMBY’ is used as a derogatory epithet, Slevin admits. Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder - who paid for the $25 dollar luncheon/speech from his Council budget - took exception to Slevin’s use of the term to describe citizens. “Some might call them NIMBYs, I call them constituents.”
During his presentation, Slevin suggested that in order for developers to build political capital for their proposed projects, they should reach out to upper-middle class ‘opinion leaders.’ Dingfelder thinks that developers should instead reach out to a larger group.