Thursday, January 15, 2009

If I Can't Park in My Yard, Can I Park in Yours?

Houston City Council is considering a new ordinance that would allow neighborhoods to ban parking on the lawn. (HT: Gus Van Horn) According to the Chronicle:

The proposed law would allow civic associations to apply for the prohibition, or for 60 percent of residents to apply by petition. City officials developed this “opt-in” process after efforts to enact a citywide ban failed in 2007.

“I don’t want a trashy house with cars sitting in the driveway, with ruts and oil spilling out on the grass,” said Phyllis Randolph Frye, a lawyer and civil engineer who is active in her Westbury neighborhood. “I know I don’t want to live next to that.”

I can empathize with Ms. Frye, though I'm not quite sure what's wrong with cars sitting in the driveway. I don't want to live next to someone who has ruts in his yard, or doesn't prune his hibiscus, or doesn't clean his gutters. Nor do I want to live next to someone who thinks she can pass laws to dictate what I do on my property. I don't want to live next door to someone with "trashy" ideas. In other words, I don't want to live next to Ms. Frye.

While the ordinance has gained considerable support from neighborhood activists, it does have some detractors.
Jim Birney, who lives in the Craig Woods subdivision of Spring Branch, said he liked the compromise ordinance but would have preferred a citywide ban.

“Our subdivision is very small, only 78 homes, and everybody knows everybody,” Birney said. “When you go apply for it then the neighbor you’re going after knows it’s the civic association that’s going after him.”

Mr. Birney lacks the courage to confront his neighbors, and would prefer to use the heavy hand of government to do the dirty work. And he's not content to impose his values on just his neighborhood, he wants to impose them on the entire city. Then he can claim innocence and blame others for acting as his proxy.

Former Councilmember Rod Todd also thinks the ban should be citywide:
When you, basically, don’t apply the ordinance formally across the city, it’s going to have the tendency to pit neighbor against neighbor.

I agree that this ordinance could create a lot of animosity in some neighborhoods. Some people do not appreciate having their property rights violated. Some people actually get upset when others try to dictate their actions. Some people take such things very personally, and would not be very kind to neighbors who want to create a mini-fiefdom. If Mr. Todd is truly concerned about such neighborhood battles, perhaps he should reconsider his premises.

The proposed ordinance, as it currently stands, would require neighborhood activists to engage in hand-to-hand combat, so to speak. Their neighbors would be able to identify the busybodies, and this could certainly be uncomfortable to the meddlers. To avoid this, they would rather engage in long-range warfare and just drop a bomb on the entire city. It is a lot less messy, at least personally, that way. They don't have to demonstrate the strength of their convictions; they can hide behind the skirt of Councilmembers.

There are several non-coercive methods for dealing with this. One is to move. If you do not like a particular neighborhood, move to another one. Nobody is holding a gun to your head to live in one particular neighborhood. These meddlers however, certainly want the city to hold a gun to their neighbor's head. If you think this is hyperbole, try violating the ordinance-- someone with a gun will eventually be at your door. Another method is deed restrictions. These voluntary, contractual agreements are used throughout Houston to address issues like this.

Instead of trying reason, these busybodies automatically resort to force. Instead of persuasion, they just march down to City Hall and demand a new law. If they don't like something, they try to get it banned. And they believe that if they can gather enough like-minded people then they are justified in dictating to their neighbors. They believe that might makes right, and they have the opinion of the majority of their neighbors to prove it.

City Attorney Arturo Michel inadvertently gets to the heart of the matter:

The trick is to find a balance between the person’s rights to their property and the rights of the neighborhood.

It will indeed be a nifty little trick if he can find such a balance, because one does not exist. There is no such entity as a neighborhood--a neighborhood consists of the individuals who comprise it. A neighborhood per se has no rights-- only individuals have rights, and those rights apply to all individuals equally.

A right is a sanction to act without interference from others. A right places boundaries on others--they may not interfere with your actions, just as you may not interfere with their actions. Collective "rights" destroy individual rights by granting to the group a sanction that no individual has--the "right" to initiate force against others.

The righteous arrogance of these neighborhood activists would be comical if the principles involved weren't so serious. Fueled with a large dose of altruism, they callously berate their neighbors for having different values. They want to live in a neighborhood where everyone marches to their orders. As much as I dislike broken-down cars in driveways and parking in the lawn, I would much rather have that in my neighborhood than a mob that thinks it can dictate how I should live my life.


Harold said...

I'm reminded of a line in Ridpath's debate with Bob Rae.

"But if you ask: What does socialism really boil down to?

It boils down to the view that individuals, left free from physical force, to pursue their own lives, will do corrupt and evil things...That individuals are bad; their view of human nature is not one of love and benevolence, it's one of the corruption of human nature, and the need, therefore, for those who are familiar with what the good lfe and the moral life is, to take upon themselves the power of government in order to force you into their world. That is what the evil of socialism is."

This is exactly what's happened with the sexually oriented businesses. Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary, especially regarding the propensity for modern Americans to avoid confrontation by codifying annoying behaviors into law. I think this is an epidemic in today’s society. People don’t want to talk to their neighbors, their children, their boss, etc. Governments are conflict-averse too, and the unfortunate outcome is always more violence and use of coercion to settle disputes.

Brian Phillips said...


It is happening with SOBs and a lot of other things too--attention-getting devices, "unclean" taco trucks, billboards, and building on the beach are a few. And it's getting worse.

Brian Phillips said...

Texas Conservative,

What is ironic about the aversion to confrontation is that the busybodies are advocating government coercion. They apparently think that their hands will be clean if they use the government as their proxy.