Tuesday, February 24, 2009

My Virtual Platform: City Assets

(This post is a part of my platform for my virtual campaign for the Mayor of Houston. You can read my announcement here and my statement of principles here.)

The city currently provides many services that are improper government functions. To provide these services, the city owns millions of dollars in assets. These assets can, and should be sold as a part of our privatization efforts. In addition, the city owns or is involved with other assets--such as sports facilities--that are used for functions that are improper for government involvement.

I hasten to add that such sales will occur in an orderly manner. We will not liquidate all city assets in a matter of months—it will be a gradual process, in which continuity of service will be a primary objective. Further, we will take all reasonable actions to insure that no Houstonian experiences a sudden and unexpected change. We will announce schedules and educate Houstonians during this process.

Our initial efforts will target neighborhood parks—parks that are one city block or smaller in size. While the details may vary slightly because of context, our general plan is to offer these parks for sale to the residents of the neighborhood in which the park is located. The residents can make the purchase through their home owner’s association, through a newly formed entity for the purpose of operating the park, or as individual shareholders.

We recognize that many individuals purchase a home specifically because of its proximity to a park. Therefore, we will attach deed restrictions to the land, which will require that the land remain a park for a period of approximately fifteen years. (These restrictions are voluntary and contractual--they are not an application of government mandated regulations.) This will insure that no home owner will be subjected to a sudden change in land use. At the time the deed restrictions lapse, the owners of the park will have the option to renew the deed restrictions according to whatever terms they choose. This will provide home owners protection against unwanted and unexpected development, but also allow the owners to change the land use at a future time.

We will take a similar approach with larger parks, though the method of sale will be modified. Larger parks, such as Bayland, attract visitors from a wider area, and are not situated within a specific neighborhood. At this time, we have not determined a precise method for selling larger parks.

We will not be selling icons such as Memorial Park or Herman Park as a part of our initial plan. The size and value of these parks will require careful consideration as to the most appropriate methods for privatization. Our immediate goal is to privatize those parks that can be done so easily, which will give citizens more control of their lives and allow us to reduce taxes.

We will develop similar plans for the city’s libraries, particularly the neighborhood libraries. We will sell health clinics, community centers, and similar assets as the city gets out of those businesses. In short, we will develop plans to sell all city assets that are not required for legitimate and proper government functions.

Some may argue that privatizing the city's libraries could result in an absence of such facilities. This may occur, but it does not change the fact that the provision of libraries is not a proper function of government. If citizens desire libraries (or community centers, health clinics, etc.), and are willing to pay for their use, entrepreneurs will seek to satisfy that demand, just as they provide other desired services. If the demand is insufficient to support libraries or other services, then the citizens will have demonstrated that they do not desire such services. In either case, the city will not force some individuals to pay for services used by others.

The sale of these assets will significantly reduce the city's budget. This will be reflected in a reduction in taxes. The sale of these assets will generate millions of dollars in revenue for the city, which will be used for further tax reductions and/ or rebates to the taxpayers. In the process, we will give you more control over your money and your life.

Wednesday: Taxes


Burgess Laughlin said...

Your proposal is thoughtful and clearly written. If you every decide, in the years ahead, to move from a virtual campaign to an actual one, you will be well positioned.

I hope that someone who supports you will, at the right moment (when you have completed your position papers), notify local media.

A "virtual campaign" could be a "human interest" story--as well as provide material to be debated in editorial pages and weblogs.

Brian Phillips said...

I am preparing a press release to send to the media next week.

Harold said...

"At this time, we have not determined a precise method for selling larger parks."

Can you imagine the average politician saying something like this? I really like how you've gone into specifics here in targeting certain parks. You seem to have anticipated the switch-to-free-market-chaos "argument" that would no doubt be used by detractors. Can't wait for the next installment.

Brian Phillips said...

Harold-- I am being honest, something that most politicians seem to be allergic to. There would be a huge uproar if we tried to sell the large parks. Those parks will be much more complex to sell, and since it won't happen soon, I see no reason to try to put together a plan. I would expect that we would learn some things in selling smaller parks that we could then apply to the larger parks. Also, as the public sees that privatization is truly beneficial, there will be less resistance to selling the larger parks (or other assets for that matter).

Burgess Laughlin said...

One option, of course, is not to sell to the highest bidder, but to sell to an organization whose charter meets specified reqirements ("Will maintain property X in such and such manner for so many years" or whatever.)

The sale could be for a dollar. The advantages are still great for proper government: no more expenses for that project, and getting the property into the rest of society where its owners can make decisions on their own. (And where the owners' own security officers can deal with the little problems that plague armed, highly trained police officers who need to focus on rape, robbery, and murder.

There are pitfalls, but rational people can guard against them and--if done serially--learn from early errors.

Brian Phillips said...

Burgess-- I would use deed restrictions for the purpose you suggest. Deed restrictions are contractual limits on the use of property--so a park could be required to stay a park for X years, after which time the owners could change the use.

I agree that selling for a dollar would still be beneficial, which could be a good approach for the smaller parks.