Thursday, April 11, 2002,

Governor's nose keeps growing with local control

Apparently, we're trapped in a masquerade ball.

When talking theory, Gov. Jeb Bush is Tinker Bell, sprinkling magic fairy dust on local governments, saying that's where most decision-making should be done.

In practice, however, he goes over to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader.

Last week, he whacked city and county governments in the face by signing legislation that will make it almost impossible for them to regulate the size and placement of billboards.

Then, he became Pinocchio while explaining what he had done.

"Thursday afternoon I signed House Bill 715, which provides a mechanism for the removal of billboards in Florida's cities and counties," Bush wrote in a newsletter sent to subscribers last Friday. "I believe in the basic principles of this bill -- returning control over the issue to local governments and affirming the rights of property owners."

Please. Don't blow smoke in our faces and tell us it's perfume.

Before Bush signed the bill, local governments had been able to regulate billboards to reduce visual pollution by relying on amortization to compensate billboard owners.

Under that process, billboard companies were given a period of time, usually five to seven years, to earn a return on their investments before the billboards had to be removed.

Now, thanks to Bush and the Legislature, local governments will have to pay cash on the barrelhead if they want billboards taken down. And with billboard companies saying their signs are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each, local governments won't be able to foot the bill.

Local governments favored amortization, which courts have ruled is an acceptable form of compensation.

Bush said no way, guys, Big Daddy in Tallahassee knows best.

But Darth Vader wasn't finished.

Two years ago, voters in Duval County overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment that established minimum tree protection standards for all types of development, including road building.

Continuing the attack on local government, Bush's Department of Transportation sued Jacksonville last week, arguing that the city's trees shouldn't get protection when they are in the way of state bulldozers on state road projects.

Not only that, the DOT said the city's noise pollution regulations, which restrict most kinds of construction between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., should be thrown out the window as well when it's state pile drivers on state road projects banging away during the wee hours of the morning.

The citizens of Jacksonville and their elected officials have spoken loudly that they want trees protected and neighborhoods saved from sleep-wrecking noise.

Darth Vader says no. Where the heck is Tinker Bell?

One longtime activist in the fight over billboard regulations and tree protection suggests that the next time Bush visits a school while he's masquerading as the education governor, he should have to go to the blackboard and write from Article II, Section 7, of the constitution of the state of Florida:

"It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources."

One hundred times ought to do it, governor.

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