According to yesterday’s article in the Democrat & Chronicle on our local Big Box battle, Town Supervisor Wes Kennison “doesn’t believe it is local government’s job to restrain trade.” To which I say, “then whose job is it?”
All planning and zoning restrain trade; that is their very purpose. Just as the criminal law restrains trade in drugs and violence and other people’s property and international law restrains trade in weapons, local planning and zoning laws restrain the ways property owners may use their property.
Calling such laws a restraint of trade makes them sound somehow wrong or un-American. They aren’t, of course. Without planning and zoning, any piece of property could host any use the property owner chose to accommodate, be it a junk yard, a big box, a strip club, or a skyscraper.
What all law does, imperfectly, of course, is to protect the broad public interest against the narrow private interest. Zoning laws do that by striking a balance between the right of a property owner to the use of his or her land and the health, safety, and welfare of the public. That balance requires regulating – “restraining” – the ways in which private property may be used.
What the Supervisor’s position does is to favor private interests over the public good. While this position might be understandable from the perspective of the private property owner, it is directly contrary to what we expect from public servants. Unfortunately, we seem to be afflicted these days, at all levels of government, by those who do not believe in the core functions of government. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina comes to mind first.
Without planning and zoning, community breaks down. The powerful, the reckless, and those most indifferent to their neighbors exercise undue influence. Their actions come to impose costs – declining property values, declining quality of life, increasing traffic, and increasing costs to restore some sort of order – on everyone else.
While I don’t really believe the Supervisor endorses the position he expresses – a position usually associated only with the right wing of the Republican Party – his recent actions suggest my evaluation may be too generous. After all, this is the guy who gutted the zoning in the Gateway, abolished the master plan committee, and repeatedly ridiculed and opposed the planning and zoning efforts of others.
Though the coming election season is already presenting us with a variety of candidates, I recommend we choose the ones who place the public interest above private interests. That appears to narrow the field.