The citizen referendum is still a powerful tool. People get enough signatures on a ballot initiative, and things can be put to a vote. The law often gives you “people power” that you can use to “beat City Hall”.
That was the case in City of Boca Raton v. Siml, 96 So. 3rd 1140 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012), when 1000 residents signed a petition to stop the City from giving a real estate developer the right to buy the last undeveloped parcel of public beach, called Ocean Strand, for use with a new hotel a mile away. The citizens demanded a referendum on the forthcoming ballot. The City denied the requests. The residents went to court, and a Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge decided that a referendum was constitutional, and ordered the City to process the petition immediately.
Much the same thing happened to the City just a few days after that ruling. The City has been working with developers who want to build rental apartments downtown. The City needs tax revenue and is also in danger of being left behind by Delray Beach as a destination to live, work and play. One developer paid $21 million for 3 blocks on the main road downtown (about 3 football fields). In response to the developer’s plan to build three 9 story buildings, with 375 apartments and 25 townhomes, another 1000 strong petition was signed by local residents and presented to the City. Again the residents demanded that a referendum be held on whether the developer can use the real estate for apartments, before any construction begins. The City was so sure of itself that it sued in court, asking a Judge to determine that the referendum is unconstitutional. But that backfired, as the residents won again, before the same Judge, in fact, who ruled that the referendum is constitutional, and that a vote must first be held to decide whether the developer can build as planned. The City has filed for a rehearing.