The Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Florida’s land-planning agency, is frequently blamed for the state’s economic woes.
For example, during the recent election season, Gov. Rick Scott accused DCA of “killing jobs all over the state.” Numerous Republican legislative candidates blamed DCA for “onerous” growth-management regulations and called for the abolishment or dismantling of the agency. Based on the campaign rhetoric, one would think DCA is responsible for the state, national and global economic collapse.
With all due respect to the critics, these accusations are contrary to the facts, do a disservice to DCA and mislead the public.
The “job killer” indictment is contrary to all evidence. The same basic growth-management system that is under attack now was in place during one of Florida’s longest and biggest economic boom periods. DCA and the growth-management system did not prevent the real-estate bubble, they did not cause the bubble to burst and they will not prevent recovery.
Far from killing jobs, DCA has been facilitating future development and job creation.
During the past four years, DCA has approved local plan amendments covering 950,000 acres of land. These amendments created new unused development capacity of 600,000 residential units and nonresidential capacity of 1.5 billion square feet. These increases have occurred in all areas of the state and allow a wide range of development types such as inland ports, industrial parks, commercial centers, mixed-use projects, office parks, large and small residential developments and new towns.
The new development capacity was added to local plans that already had large allocations of unused capacity.
Very little of this development capacity is currently being used because of the collapse of the real-estate market. When the market recovers, however, there will be more approved development capacity than Florida will consume for many years.
Blaming DCA for growth-management regulations is equally misguided. DCA only applies and enforces regulations enacted by the Legislature.
In 2005, 2008 and 2009, the Legislature enacted new growth-management legislation that imposed on local governments substantial new regulatory mandates regarding water, school and transportation concurrency, urban sprawl, greenhouse gas reduction, energy efficiency and planning for and funding alternative modes of transportation. Correspondingly, this legislation expanded DCA’s authority and duty to reject local plans for failure to meet state requirements.
Whatever their substantive merit, these complex and costly regulations were poorly drafted and hastily adopted without broad support from stakeholders and with little or no new funding or resources to support their implementation. Trying to decipher and implement this confusing array of new regulations has been extremely burdensome for both local governments and the DCA. It is not surprising that local governments are challenging some of these unfunded mandates in court.
This avalanche of new growth-management regulations was enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Some of the most vocal Republican legislative critics of DCA voted for all of this legislation.
Significantly, DCA did not request any of this legislation. It is disingenuous for legislators to criticize DCA for enforcing regulations adopted by the Legislature. Instead of killing the DCA messenger, it would be more productive to improve the growth-management laws.
Florida’s growth-management system is not perfect. The system could use a comprehensive, deliberative and informed evaluation and updating to reflect the state’s current circumstances.
However, any such review should be based on facts and sound public policy and not on campaign rhetoric, misinformation and DCA “bashing.”