Tuesday, March 31, 2009

If I Were Mayor: Defending Spec's Liquor Store

Spec's--Houston's largest liquor chain--recently opened a new store new Memorial Park. Now it finds itself caught between two government entities who can't seem to agree on whether the store is legal or not.

State law allows local governments to restrict alcohol sales within 1,000 feet of a school, and at the request of Houston Independent School District, the city has done so. Memorial Elementary is 665 feet away. Spec's received permission from the city to build the store, at a cost of $400,000. Now the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission wants to revoke the store's license. Last week, the Harris County Attorney's office filed suit to shut down the store.

The entire situation is unjust on several fronts. First, Spec's was required to obtain permission from both the city and the state to open the store. This alone is a violation of their rights--the freedom to act without interference from others. Second, the state now wants to revoke that permission, at great expense to the store owner.

County attorney Marc Hill told the Chronicle:
There’s strict liability laws, and you’d think Spec’s, as experienced as they are, would understand that. If they have no regard for the law, somebody has got to bring them to bear.

Apparently Hill has no regard for the truth, given that Spec's did in fact attempt to follow the law in seeking city permission. The store owner--John Rydman--double-checked with the city and was told that neither the city nor the school opposed the store. What else was Rydman supposed to do to demonstrate a "regard for the law"?

Rydman took reasonable steps to insure that he was honoring the law. He is a businessman, not a seer. The city erred in granting permission without a formal variance, and now Spec's is expected to bear the consequences of that mistake. Rydman is understandably upset, but he is failing to address the fundamental issue:
I had no idea they could come back after this and change their minds. I
wasn’t about to spend a whole lot of money for nothing.

You get everything from the city that you need and go ahead with your
plans and six months later they come in and try to take the permit away.

What Rydman doesn't understand is that this is the very nature of arbitrary laws. When an individual can act only be permission, and not by right, that permission can be withdrawn at any time. When one accepts the premise that government can regulate and control the actions of individuals, he can only complain about the details--in this case, the distance from a school.

If I were mayor, I would pursue a formal variance for Spec's. In fact, so long as any land-use restrictions remained on the books, I would pursue a variance for every property owner requesting one. I would issue a formal apology to Mr. Rydman and demand that the state compensate him for any expenses incurred as a result of its attempt to revoke his permit. I would defend the right of every property owner to use his land as he chooses, rather than grovel at the feet of city officials for permission.

In typical fashion, the rights of adults are being trampled in the name of "protecting the children". The city has numerous restrictions on the actions of adults in areas around schools, churches, and parks. All were enacted under the pretense of protecting children from unsavory activities. The fact is, the mind destroying Progressive education taught in schools and the mysticism taught in the churches are far more dangerous than the sale of a six-pack or a bottle of Thunderbird.


Troy said...

It seems that with things involving City Hall, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Wait a minute! Isn't that Biblical?

Brian Phillips said...

I'm not sure if it's Biblical, but it is certainly an illustration of what happens when the government starts meddling in the economy and lives of individuals.

Such meddling invariably results in contradictory interpretations of the law. When individuals must seek government approval before acting, they are left to the ever changing whims of those officials. What is legal today is often declared illegal tomorrow.