Building Codes and Zoning Laws Strike Again: “Battle for the California Desert”
I’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over the years writing about national politics and sea changes in public policy. If it wasn’t for some great professors, I probably would’ve never taken an interest in urban development policy — at least not until I acquired some property of my own and attempted to do something with it (I’m not a homeowner).
I argued at The Dangerous Servant earlier this year that
This is a game of concentrated benefits with diffused costs, and it takes the form — in this case — of zoning laws, but it also includes building codes.
City planners use zoning laws to create geospatial distinctions in an urban jurisdiction by restricting the ways in which property owners can use their land or buildings. When regulations help crowd economic activity out of a residential area, home prices rise artificially because the zone becomes less noisy, less polluted, and less congested. As a result, existing homeowners wind up paying a higher amount of property taxes each year the zoning rules are in effect. Any new developments designed to attract new residents to a jurisdiction also take on a disproportionate share of property taxes.
Building codes are another way for urban planners to artificially raise the values of different [existing] properties, particularly when thinking about urban landscapes and creating a particular “feel” for a residential or commercial area. Sometimes you have to leave a certain amount of open space between the edge of a building and the road, or a neighboring property line. Other times, new home builders have to construct their house with four eaves. But the bottom line is that, no matter what the case, regulations force people to spend more money than they otherwise might spend, or regulations restrict people from doing what they want with what’s theirs to begin with — not to mention potentially wasting space on land they own because they aren’t allowed to build out to (or even toward) the street… The collectivist thinking that there is such a thing as the “sanctity of neighborhoods” is the root cause of all these economic distortions and moral transgressions. It’s sad to me to be at a point in my life during which I’m really beginning to think about buying property, with the complete knowledge that I’m up against this nonsense, and that nobody really wants to do anything about it. Why buy? Why have a construction industry?
Of course, I was focused pretty exclusively on the revenue side of the equation when I wrote that. And it’s true: urban planners use zoning laws to artificially inflate property values with open space laws (masked under the guise of environmentalism — just ask anyone living near a “greenway”) and other policy tools, thereby increasing their rake in property tax revenues, and padding their budgets.
But a new video from the folks at Reason TV helps demonstrate the spending side of the equation. It’s absolutely heartbreaking here to see poor people forced off their land because they can’t afford the costs of seemingly arbitrary regulatory compliance. And the goal of this is, of course, to artificially deflate property values, so government (or some well-connected businessmen with big plans for vast, open spaces) can snatch up the land at below-market rates. If we see a new highway, airport, or a hand-out to a big developer in Antelope Valley in the near future, everything we libertarians suspect about big government’s disdain for private property rights — even on a small scale — will become manifestly true:
It’s easy to get turned off of national politics, and the Republican/Democrat, liberal/conservative, left/right divide paradigm. But it’s important to be involved in local politics, where we can have the most impact to prevent nonsense like this from happening. This is the height of the tyranny of the majority, and it’s happening every day.