This pamphlet was written in the aftermath of the zoning debate that took place in Houston in the early 1990’s. The ideas remain relevant today. References are listed at the end of this post.
The Challenge to Zoning Advocates
Zoning proponents have presented zoning as the solution to many of the "problems" confronting Houston. At a time when the nation, and indeed much of the world, is rejecting government programs as the solution, zoning advocates endorse a massive government program as the solution to problems both real and imagined.
For nearly 75 years, zoning proponents have predicted that Houston would decay into various forms of depravity without zoning. Yet, all of these predictions have proven false. This has not stopped the most recent crop of zoning advocates-- they have renewed these predictions while simultaneously ignoring the evidence which damns zoning.
Zoning advocates have made many claims about the "benefits" of zoning. Yet, they can provide no examples which substantiate their claims. They cannot point to a single municipality which does not experience higher housing costs, higher taxes, higher business costs, corruption, or other negative effects as a result of zoning. All they can offer is the promise that these things won't happen in Houston.
The challenge to zoning advocates is to prove why Houston will not suffer these same detrimental consequences. It is easy to make claims, it is another thing to prove them. It is easy to say that Houston is different from other cities, it is another thing to explain and prove why.
We agree that Houston is different from other cities, but for a reason entirely different than what zoning advocates would have us believe. We believe that the citizens of Houston have a respect for property rights, for the right to pursue values which may not be generally accepted, but which do not violate the rights of others. We believe that Houstonians value their freedom.
There is a fundamental difference between zoning advocates and our organization, not just in terms of property rights and land use controls, but also in regard to the value placed on individual human beings.
Where zoning advocates believe that individuals should be compelled to sacrifice their values to those of the community, the neighborhood, or some other collective, we believe that individuals should be free to pursue their own values without interference from others.
The debate over zoning is a debate about the future of Houston. It is a debate which must be taken seriously. It is a debate which cannot be conducted via unsubstantiated claims of cost-free benefits and ad hominem attacks on the opponents. It is a debate which must be conducted on the principles which underlie zoning, and its alternatives. A "debate" conducted on anything less is not a debate, but a negotiation of the details of the implementation of commonly accepted principles. There are no common principles between zoning and freedom.
If city officials and the media are concerned about a principled debate over this issue, then let them open their forums to the principled opponents of zoning. Let them refrain from ad hominem smears and address the principles which underlie zoning.
The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should willingly sacrifice their property rights. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to explain why Houstonians should reject the principles of the United States Constitution. The challenge to the advocates of zoning is to justify the use of force to compel Houstonians to accept and live by their vision of proper land use.
The citizens of Houston await their response.
1. George F. Pierce Jr., Houston Chronicle, "Viewpoints," 22 January 1991, p11B.
2. Peter Brown, The Houston Post, "Billboards still a scourge on Houston," 9 October 1988, pE3.
3. David Ellison, The Houston Post, "Concerns sprout over landscape ordinance," 9 October 1990, pA19.
4. Julie Mason, Houston Chronicle, "Waiting periods urged for historic sites," 12 November 1994, pA29.
5. For an examination of these principles in regard to another City ordinance, see J. Brian Phillips,Houston Chronicle, "City can't eliminate gangs by behaving like one," 21 July 1994, pB19.
6. See the ordinance passed by City Council in 1993.
7. Gary Hull, The Intellectual Activist, "The Collapse of Building," 17 November 1989, p3.
8. Gary Hull, ibid, p5.
9. For example, see Jim Greenwood quoted in The Houston Post, "Zoning 101: A guide forVoters," 29 October 1993, pA39.
10. David Plesa, The Houston Post, "New zoning plan could take effect by mid-1992," 5 January1991, pA1.93, pA39.
11. For example, see Jim Greenwood quoted in The Houston Post, "Zoning 101: A guide forVoters," 29 October 1993, pA39.
12. For example, see Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Bar owners oppose some zoningrules," 6 January 1993, pA11. See also Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Zoning planalready has battle lines," 25 October 1993, pA35.
13. For an examination of the housing market in Houston during the 1970s and early 1980s, see"Houston's Laissez-Faire Housing Policy," by J. Brian Phillips in The Freeman, June 1987.
14. Edward Kopinitz, Houston Chronicle, "Defeat of city zoning ordinance solves nothing," 12November 1993, pA33. See also Lori Rodriguez, Houston Chronicle, "Can we live with thezoning vote?," 6 November 1993, pA33.
15. This was a popular slogan for Citizens for a Better Houston.
16. William Tucker, Reason, "Zoned Out," May 1990, pp31-2.
17. Ralph Bivins, Houston Chronicle, "Houston's bargain homes," 29 January 1995, pE1.
18. Gary Hull, ibid, p3.
19. Gary Hull, ibid, p3.
20. Herman Lauhoff, The Houston Post, "Majority of Houstonians not afraid of zoning laws", 3March 1990, pA33.
21. Herman Lauhoff, The Houston Post, "City can't stand harm that lack of comprehensivezoning causes," 6 November1994.
22. Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Zoning goes down for 3rd time," 3 November 1993,pA1.
23. "Twilight for Zoning," The Houston Post, November 3, 1993, p26A.
24. Tom Kennedy,The Houston Post, "You go for lies? I got some here," 7 November 1993.
25. Lori Rodriguez, Houston Chronicle, "Can we live with the zoning vote?," 6 November 1993,pA33.
26. Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Zoning opponents outspend backers by 4-to-1," 26October 1993, pA9.
27. For example, see Tom Kennedy, The Houston Post, "Zoning looks more palatable," 29 January 1990, pA15.
© J. Brian Phillips and Warren S. Ross 2008