Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Cost of Freedom

For more than 60 years proponents of zoning have attempted to push their agenda on the citizens of Houston. In response, those who value their freedom and their property rights have been forced to spend their own money to defend what is rightfully theirs.

On the surface this may seem like it is just a part of the democratic process. However, like many issues revolving around zoning and land use restrictions, the truth is considerably different.

Consider, for example, that proposals to expand government power are invariably supported by government officials. Their support is not promulgated as private citizens, but as public officials. They spend their working hours and our tax dollars, promoting these plans.

This means that those who oppose a particular proposal, and those who are indifferent, are forced to provide monetary support for a particular cause. This means that an individual who opposes zoning is forced to spend his money to fight zoning, while simultaneously his money is being used to support his enemies.

It is bad enough that honest businessmen must defend their rights. It is a gross injustice when their own money is used against them.

This however, does not stop pro-zoners from attacking those businessmen. For example, after the 1993 referendum, zoning advocates made an issue of the money spend by their opponents. (Herman Lauhoff, in an OpEd article in The Houston Post in November 1994, wrote that anti-zoners outspent zoning proponents in the November 1993 referendum by 3-to-1.1 Similar claims had been made previously by zoning advocate Brandy Wolf, 2 in an editorial in The Houston Post, 3 by Post columnist Tom Kennedy,4 by Chronicle columnist Lori Rodriguez, 5 and others. 6)

The Houston Post reported at the time that anti-zoners spent $500,000. This pales in comparison to the millions spent by the City to develop a zoning plan and promote it. (The budget for the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1992 alone was over $6 million.) Zoning advocates refused to acknowledge that much of the money used to support their cause came from those who oppose it, while zoning opponents were required to raise all of their funds through voluntary contributions.

But this is not a surprise. Zoning advocates seek to use force to impose their ideas and values upon all Houstonians. And they act accordingly—they force their opponents to provide monetary support for their agenda. Those who seek freedom—the right to engage in voluntary exchanges—also act in accordance with their values. They raise their money voluntarily.

In short, pro-zoners sought to expand the power of government, and used government to do so. Their opponents relied on the voluntary choices of individuals, and they were attacked for doing so.

It may be cliché, but those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat. Pro-zoners will change their words, but they won’t change their tactics.

1. Herman Lauhoff, The Houston Post, "City can't stand harm that lack of comprehensive zoning causes," 6 November1994.
2. Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Zoning goes down for 3rd time," 3 November 1993,pA1.
3. "Twilight for Zoning," The Houston Post, November 3, 1993, p26A.
4. Tom Kennedy, The Houston Post, "You go for lies? I got some here," 7 November 1993.
5. Lori Rodriguez, Houston Chronicle, "Can we live with the zoning vote?," 6 November 1993, pA33.
6. Karen Weintraub, The Houston Post, "Zoning opponents outspend backers by 4-to-1," 26 October 1993, pA9.

© J. Brian Phillips 2008

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