Wednesday, March 24, 2010
On the role of citizens in the future of the US economy ... by gimleteye
From time to time, national blogs pick up our posts and we get thousands of additional daily readers. The posts that are appealing are ones that get into the depth and depravity of the housing boom and crash, like early this week: "A Florida Sprawl Development's Road to Foreclosure".
The indepth report of a sprawl foreclosure-- one of Miami-Dade's housing boom skeletons-- triggered a noteworthy comment from"Brickell Avenue". My responses could fill a book. Brickell Avenue writes: "EOM what's your point? People make bad business decisions all the time, and here no home-owners are getting screwed. More importantly, you say "No new laws or regulations have been proposed to prevent these excesses from happening again." But holding the line doesn't prevent them either. Holding the line is a system set up for an annual fight for windfall comp plan changes. Why don't you become part of the solution instead of the undifferentiated mass that can't think of a better system?"
Here is a short form response:
Yes, people make bad business decisions all the time. But the bad development patterns of Florida (and other formerly fast growing regions of the nation) are so ubiquitous that they literally became a status quo. If everyone is doing it, it must be good. Finally, these development patterns could only survive through greater and greater injections of fraudulent debt, liar loans, and banker gimmicks. You don't get out of a hole, by digging deeper, but that is exactly what Brickell Avenue law firms and the lobbyists got paid so well to do. Today the remorse is creeping through. The downtown class is not getting paid well now for the work of builder association members, except related to new business managing vulture investors or condo laws or foreclosures and distress sales. You haven't read this story in The Miami Herald, by the way.
"Brickell Avenue" writes, "here no homeowners are getting screwed". Technically that may be true: in the one ghost subdivision, the development / land speculation collapse caught the owners by the short hairs. But in the larger scheme of things, millions of home owners were screwed by the shuck and jive of local bankers entwined with local elected officials in far flung suburbs like our own Idiotvilles and Homesteads; farmers and builder associations and their mutual fluffers who never saw a subdivision, a CDD, or a charter school or a boundary like the UDB that wasn't worth millions in crossing, breaching, and subdividing.
In the earlier post I wrote, "No new laws or regulations have been proposed to prevent these excesses from happening again." Our Brickell Avenue reader responds, "But holding the line doesn't prevent them either. Holding the line is a system set up for an annual fight for windfall comp plan changes." I've got two points to make here. First of all, the excesses of leap frog development can only be cured by matching at the federal and state level financial regulations of mortgage pools and subsequent securitization to good development policies. I've written about this before. What I am observing, however, is that the banking and insurance industries are fighting tooth and nail in DC to prevent ANY regulation of financial derivatives. Locally, the county commission-- the steadfast bulwark of the Growth Machine-- absolutely refuses to do the hard work of laying out specific planning, even where millions of dollars have been spent (ie. the South Dade Watershed Study) and tens of thousands of man hours committed to doing so.
Lastly "Brickell Avenue" writes, "Why don't you become part of the solution instead of the undifferentiated mass that can't think of a better system?" This is not a serious question. It is part of the repetitive shuck and jive. The Brickell Avenue crowd knows perfectly well that the only solution to land use planning is going to be one that they control. That's what they get the $500 per hour, for. Let me put it another way: level the playing field, Brickell Avenue, and I'll be part of a solution.
Anyone who has participated in public processes, including mind numbing hearings and the regurgitation of venom, garbage, and idiocy from the unreformable majority of the county commission, knows what predetermined outcomes look like. In fact, we have the Florida that perfectly reflects what the Growth Machine wanted.
Consider this outcome in the context of just one event: the Miami Dade Charter Review Commission where one appointee, Miguel De Grandy representing production homebuilders, sabotaged the slate of "solutions". The Charter Review process in 2008-- that did not exactly involve rabble rousers among the esteemed panel-- was an utter waste of time because, among other vanities, the Growth Machine was still convinced that the economic downturn was an ordinary course of the economic cycle and not an implosion of historic, even unprecedented dimensions that their national associations (NAHB, NAR, US Chamber of Commerce) and lobbyists substantially caused.
Even today, being "part of the solution" absorbs a raft of non-profit organizations and a few paid staffers who struggle under terms that are dictated by the Growth Machine. Some of them depend on contributions from corporate law firms and polluters and even some developers who skirt and push at the edge of the law (convinced, naturally, that they are doing right because, after all, they have the money to prove it). For civic groups and environmental organizations, being "part of the solution" also involves raising funds for litigation, in Miami-Dade and elsewhere, to oppose land use planning changes that local elected officials have supported-- like the assaults on the UDB. For citizen activists, "Being part of the solution" entails chasing well funded, at least formerly 'well funded' development entities, down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderlands while other, big and more global issues go unattended. Being "part of the solution" is part of the Hee-Haw Junction Tallahassee game played by Wade Hopping's crew, where really big money-- like money from Big Sugar-- gets mixed in with whatever local developers are agitating for, in terms of lowered standards, streamlined land use zoning and permitting, and on and on. Those conservative values of the "free market". For "Brickell Avenue" to suggest that that there is a place to be "part of the solution" or that this ordering doesn't govern Florida is not credible.
And that is why Florida Hometown Democracy Amendment 4 is a ray of hope for change. It is not a silver bullet, but the measure-- that will require local vote of comprehensive land use changes-- will reorder a dysfunctional, ethically bankrupt status quo. Some worry-worts are concerned that developers will still get their way, by paying for election campaigns that will instill fear amongst voters (Jobs, jobs, jobs!), but the status quo knows that Florida Hometown Democracy's Amendment 4 will level the playing field for the very first time in Florida. From that level playing field, there are lots of smart people who would like to be "part of the solution".
Until the playing field for future development rules and regulations is leveled to provide for orderly, rational economic growth, the ordinary taxpayer and citizen is just a chump.