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More crime, traffic jams? Bring'em on!

February 4, 1996

Weird but true: In Jacksonville, an extravaganza called "Millionth Mania" was recently held to "celebrate" the area's one millionth new resident.

As if this were a good thing, something to be desired.

South Floridians can only shake their heads in puzzlement. We stopped celebrating about three million newcomers ago. Today, ascending population in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are curtly noted and often received with quiet dismay.

In Jacksonville, they shot off fireworks on the river, while Barbara Eden and Frankie Valli entertained. But not everyone was jumping for joy.

Mike Webster, a native Miamian, fled to North Florida in 1980. Now 39, the Jacksonville yacht broker is a founding member of a small but feisty cell of objectors called the Florida League Against "Progress."

FLAP has no dues, no officers, no membership rolls and no meetings. What it does have is a blunt and plainly articulated position:

That growth for growth's sake is reckless, and that all Floridians are paying the price in a declining quality of life: crime, traffic gridlock, overcrowded schools, more taxes.

Years ago, FLAP gained modest attention by distributing delightfully seditious bumper stickers that said: LEAVING FLORIDA? TAKE A FRIEND!

Understandably, Webster was chagrined when his adopted hometown began to boast about swelling to one million residents. It was the same greed-head mentality that had turned South Florida into a parking lot.

So fervid was Jacksonville's yearning to reach its "magnificent milestone" that the city fudged the numbers. Duval County, which defines metropolitan Jacksonville, has only about 700,000 people. Therefore, promoters of "Millionth Mania" were compelled to include in their arithmetic the combined censuses of Duval, Baker, Nassau, Clay and St. Johns counties.

Technically, it was "northeastern Florida" that two weeks ago welcomed its one millionth resident. Mike Webster says he was no less alarmed.

He banged out an irreverent press release that was pretty much ignored by the region's mainstream media. That's too bad, because in it he enunciated what many frustrated Floridians are feeling.

"For places like Jacksonville," Webster wrote, "the question of growth is not one of right or wrong, but rather of addiction. We have worshipped the lord of growth. We have multiplied, now we must become fruitful."

Webster is no New Age granola-head. A self-described conservative Democrat, he was until recently a loyal member of the NRA. He doesn't worry about endangered panthers so much as farmers, river men and others whose futures are jeopardized by overdevelopment.

"Much of what passes for progress isn't," Webster says. He includes himself among the threatened: "If our marine resources collapse, the bottom falls out of the boat business."

And while FLAP stops shy of advocating a cap on growth, Webster has dryly suggested that Florida ought to start "depromoting" itself to slow the influx of new arrivals.

Which got me thinking: What better way for a city to spook prospective residents than to publicize (with fireworks!) its own overcrowding.

Is it possible, I wondered, that FLAP infiltrated Jacksonville's chamber of commerce? Was Webster himself secretly responsible for the big "celebration"?

Though he denies involvement, the phrase "Millionth Mania" certainly has the sly ring of parody. Perhaps it wasn't the hokey, misguided boosterism I first thought. Perhaps it was a pranka perversely brilliant prankmeant to scare people away from Duval County.

And it'll probably work.

Overcrowding solution: Pay folks to leave September 5, 1994 | Kick Ass: Selected Columns of Carl Hiaasen | Courts message to home buyers: Trust no one April 18, 1996