Opinion Article by Michael Myjak, Speak Up Titusville
Titusville seemed to be finally living up to its motto, “The Gateway to Nature and Space.” But city officials have tried to block the efforts of citizens to protect the natural environment – twice.
For decades, citizens have requested that Titusville officials pay more attention to the damage done to our waters, wildlife, and native trees and plants. Change seemed to be in the wind with our first green amendment.
Officials have historically turned a deaf ear to citizens and their efforts to preserve the clean environment of the community. Instead, they have altered our small-town feel with high-rise condos, favoring more rooftops at higher densities to offset their annual budget deficits. Sound familiar?
Alarmed by the death of 1,101 manatees in 2021 – nearly double the five-year average of deaths – a group of Titusville citizens started a petition drive for the Right to Clean Water Charter Amendment. The measure is meant to allow residents to sue governmental or business entities that pollute area waters.
On Nov. 8, 2022, 82.8% of city voters approved the amendment. Residents of other communities can do the same – but more on that later.
By state statute (and Section 7.5 of the city’s own municipal charter), Titusville officials were required to accept all of the election results. They did not. Instead, our officials filed suit against citizens who brought the amendment forward.
They effectively used taxpayer funds to sue taxpayers to deny their right to clean water. Couldn’t such funds have been put to better use, perhaps in preventing the next sewage spill?
Titusville claimed our right to clean water amendment was unconstitutionally vague, violated state preemption law and was “confusing.” Why are they afraid of clean water?
In a May 22 ruling, Senior Circuit Court Judge Charles Holcomb wrote that the Florida Supreme Court, in a 1980 decision, confirmed “that the citizens of Florida have been given the capacity to protect their rights to a clean environment, a right not previously furnished them directly” by the enactment of Florida Statues 403.412, sub-section 7.
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As a result, Holcomb wrote, “The laws now allow a private citizen to file suit to enforce environmental laws of the State.”
In response to charges that the amendment contained confusing references to the natural environment, Holcomb stated in his ruling that the “term ‘Natural Environment’ defines itself and isn’t likely to confuse or deceive anyone of voting age with all their faculties intact.”
Judge Holcomb ruled in our favor. And it doesn’t matter whether the city agrees with the petition. The law is very clear on this one — the vote of the people outweighs any council or commission.
Yet on June 5, the city filed a motion for a rehearing to spend more taxpayer money to question Holcomb’s verdict. Could the city manager and City Council have misunderstood the judge? Why have they turned a deaf ear to their own constituents?
One thing is clear: 82.8% of Titusville voters that approved the clean water amendment have their “faculties intact.” They want their right to clean water.
Ready to start your own green amendment? Consider using our rights-based approach.
Begin at the office of your county’s supervisor of elections and ask for a Political Action Committee handbook. From this starting point, you can start up your PAC, figure out what forms to file and so on.
You’ll need to determine where to insert the right to clean water amendment in your own jurisdiction’s code. Create a one-page petition per the requirements and you’re ready to begin collecting petitions (use ours for a model). You’ll need to collect the minimum required (usually 10% of the electors voting in the last election) by your supervisor of elections’ filing deadline (usually in June or July).
In addition, consider signing on as a clean water ambassador for the statewide petition for the Right to Clean and Healthy Waters. This amendment to the state constitution would provide for similar protections against Florida’s (pollution) permitting authorities, but at the higher state constitutional level – thus providing this right to all Floridians.
Have we granted ourselves a new fundamental right? Only a judge can say. For now, Titusville voters have granted ourselves the ability to challenge a governmental or corporate action in court when it pollutes the waters of Titusville.
And that may be enough, depending on the facts and circumstances of each case, to protect our watershed, our wetlands or our estuary.
Read more and engage in reclaiming Florida’s clean and healthy waters by going to https://www.floridarighttocleanwater.org/
Michael Myjak is chairman of Speak Up Titusville, the group behind the amendment.