L. Cassius ille, quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat, identidem in causis quaerere solebat, cui bono fuisset?
–Cicero: Pro Roscio Amerin
(“Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to regard as a most honest and most wise judge, was in the habit of asking time and again in lawsuits: “to whom might it be for a benefit?“)
This blogsite cut its editorial teeth on that ancient question – Cui bono?
In my view, asking “who benefits?” in an age where explosive growth is rapidly overtaking our ability to absorb and accommodate the flash flood of new neighbors – and their vehicles, waste, and copious consumption – may sound like a rhetorical question, even naïve, but I have never been accused of being quick on the uptake or known for my political sophistication.
Like a dull boy with a Tinker Toy, to better understand complex questions, I must break the issues down into their smaller parts, study the ways they connect, look at them analytically, and determine how things “came to be.”
For a rube like me, it is necessary to look back to the genesis of the problem, beyond the hype and horseshit, to that place where powerful forces came together and created an environment where those we have elected and appointed to represent our best interests thought it wise to approve massive developments atop our aquifer recharge areas – the very source of our drinking water – churn our remaining wildlife habitat into a muddy moonscape, and inundate our wholly inadequate transportation infrastructure with near gridlocked traffic – all frustratingly bottlenecked at a two-lane pinch point that will take years (and tens-of-millions in public funds) to correct.
For the record, some of those same politicians and planners who have approved thousands of new homes and commercial developments in the piney woods west of I-95 and beyond are still sitting on the dais of power – or polishing a wingback chair with their sizeable backsides at a City Hall or county administrative complex near you – still rubberstamping land use changes, granting “planned unit developments” across the width and breadth of Volusia County, consistently telling set-upon residents that there is “…nuttin’ we can do about it – hands are tied – bidness is bidness, y’all.”
And, that might have worked.
At one time. . .
Then, Volusia County taxpayers learned the outright subterfuge surrounding a quashed 52-page/$50,000 “secret study” that, in 2016, recommended impact fees be raised some three time higher in certain categories – and a change to a county ordinance that “the consultants deemed overly generous to developers.”
We never looked at our elected officials the same again. . .
With Clay Ervin, who still serves our interests as Volusia County’s growth and resource management guru, yammering that the secret study “…was not final; it was still a draft … and we felt it was incorrect,” and sitting elected officials calling the debacle “troubling,” “upsetting,” and “frustrating” – it proved, conclusively, the worst fears of those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence – and cemented the “trust issue” our elected officials told us didn’t exist yet still skews the political landscape here on the Fun Coast.
According to a June 2018 article by former News-Journal reporter Dustin Wyatt entitled, “Secret study? Volusia County’s 2016 report calls for higher impact fees” we learned:
“But they (county officials) also didn’t mention it in February, when council members decided against reviewing impact fees (when His Eminence Councilman Fred Lowry voted to “let a sleeping dog lie” when it came to discussing impact fees). They didn’t bring it up in March, when the council reiterated that decision after a public outcry. The report didn’t come up in May, when, in the face of more public criticism, the council decided to postpone a vote on the half-cent sales tax until it could revise its impact fees. And it didn’t come up this month, when the council approved a contract with Duncan Associates to study the issue.”
Remember? I do.
At that time, our entrenched ‘powers that be’ had the abject temerity to attempt a half-cent money grab – a sales tax increase that would have placed the burden of improving our transportation infrastructure squarely on the back of every man, woman, and child in Volusia County – rather than demanding a reasonable fair share from their well-heeled “friends” in the development industry who created the burden in the first place. . .
Well, in August 2018, Wyatt (who is no longer digging the facts and writing for The Daytona Beach News-Journal) educated us on where an outsized portion of campaign contributions originate in Volusia County elections:
“Of the $423,729 reported to the supervisor of elections office through July 6 (2018), not including contributions made by the candidates themselves, $1 of every $5 has come from a developer or someone in the construction or building industry. . .”
On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s business editor Clayton Park presented a front-page exposé on Volusia’s growth outlook for the coming year – a scourge that shows no sign of slowing as speculative developers continue to make hay (and massive amounts of cash) while the sun shines.
Existing residents, and our new neighbors trapped to the west of the Tomoka River funnel, will be happy to hear that – according to a few of our well-connected real estate mavens – out-of-control growth is expected to ‘sizzle’ in 2022, with more new homes, stick-and-glue apartment complexes, and commercial space on the way as they continue to pursue this “shove ten-pounds of shit into a five-pound bag” planning and management strategy.
According to G. G. Galloway, a commercial Realtor who serves as a member of the Ormond Beach Planning Board (who last month was on the losing end of a 5-1 vote denying the controversial 143 home Tattersall project at Tymber Creek and Airport Road, which, in the view of many, threatened to bring even more traffic and flooding issues to the area) said:
“Florida’s going to continue to grow. We don’t have a state income tax and we have the sun and weather,” he said. “Sooner or later, rising (home) prices (and construction costs) will slow things down but not in 2022. There’s a lot of projects that will be coming out of the ground in the new year.”
In fact, so many new projects are “coming out of the ground” that malignant sprawl is metastasizing along the spine of Volusia County – with even toxic former golf courses being eyed as a suitable place to shoehorn a few more single-family cracker boxes.
Given the insatiable appetite of real estate developers, will cemeteries be next?
Now, at the advent of 2022, the taxpayers of Volusia County are still waiting on a slow-walked impact fee study that Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower has been begging for since he took office last January – while our wholly compromised elected officials countywide vow to commission more studies, and expend more hot air, on what “responsible development” means – and what the current growth at all cost strategy is doing to our quality of life – as the bulldozers continue to roar.
Cui bono, indeed.
As the 2022 election cycle heats up, it is important to look past the rhetoric and study the campaign finance reports of those who hold themselves out for high office – and review the voting record of those currently in office – as unchecked growth, and what to do about it, becomes the seminal issue of our time.