The view from ground zero in the credit crisis: Where did all the good times go?

(Published at Counterpunch.com)  “Were the good times a mirage?” is the front page, above the fold headline in today’s New York Times. The article summarizes the point of view we buff to a shine in our blog (eyeonmiami.blogspot.com): that overdevelopment in Florida was grounded in greed and fraud stretching all the way from local zoning councils to the state legislature and Wall Street.

I have taken a strong position–partly in response–supporting the citizen’s ballot referendum initiative that is struggling to gain enough qualified signatures to make the fall 2008 state-wide ballot: Florida Hometown Democracy.

Requiring public votes on changes to long-term development plans by cities and counties in Florida will require the Growth Machine to defend unsustainable development, and that will cost the Growth Machine a lot of money.

But Florida Hometown Democracy is being sabotaged in the final days of qualifying petitions by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries and land speculators, who have invested in a variety of counter-tactics including flooding elections offices around the state with Trojan Horse petitions of their own, to gum up the verification process so that the February 1st deadline–disputed though it may be–will elapse and push the measure to the 2010 election.

Yesterday, through their own radical counter-movement, the Growth Machine announced it has enlisted three Miami-Dade lobbyists for builders, developers and land speculators: Stanley Price, Simon Ferro, and Neisen Kasdin. All of them have worked to move the Urban Development Boundary in Miami-Dade– the kind of work that generates huge fees (some, on contingency) and is threatened by the Florida Hometown Democracy measure.

Kasdin is the Latin Builders Association lobbyist, and the LBA is the home-grown Miami political machine that depends on chewing up farmland for platted subdivisions edging to the Everglades. I have argued that the excesses of the Florida real estate bubble, grounded in Miami’s political machinery, is ground zero for the world-wide credit crisis.

As to the question, were the good times a mirage? the best answer is the slow death of the Everglades: a mirror to the decay, decline, and disintegration of billions of dollars of securitized debt instruments that the clients of Price, Ferro, Kasdin depended on for political majorities.

Florida voters will wake up from the deep slumber induced by the good times mirage. And that makes the opponents of Florida Hometown Democracy nervous indeed, but not yet as nervous as the politician said to have chased after an angry Parisian mob during the French revolution, crying, “The people are leading, I must follow them!”

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