Monday, June 1, 2009

Ticking Off My Neighbors

On Saturday I received a letter from the City of Houston stating that an application had been received to designate my subdivision as a "Prohibited Yard Parking Requirement Area". If the designation is awarded, anyone who parks a car in their yard will be subject to fines of $150 per day.

When the ordinance allowing such designations was being considered earlier this year, former Councilmember Rod Todd was quoted as saying:

When you, basically, don’t apply the ordinance formally across the city, it’s going to have the tendency to pit neighbor against neighbor.
At the time I wrote:

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.

I am one of those people. I have filed a protest regarding the designation. Below is a draft of the statement I will deliver at the hearing:

I have been a resident of Shenandoah for nearly twelve years. During that time I have added on to my house, modernized most of the interior, and spent thousands of dollars on landscaping. My yard is mowed weekly by a professional landscaping company. I mention these facts simply to establish that I am not an absentee landlord and in fact, am quite concerned with protecting and improving the value and appearance of my home.

Like those who filed this application, I abhor neighbors who do not seem to care about the appearance of their yard or park automobiles in their yard. It detracts from the appearance of my neighborhood, and cannot have a positive impact on property values. In other words, the actions of my neighbors may have a negative impact on me.

Despite this fact, I adamantly oppose designating Shenandoah as a Prohibited Yard Parking Requirement Area. My opposition is based on two interrelated reasons.

First, this is not a proper function of government. The proper purpose of government is to protect our rights, including our property rights. For the city to tell me, or my neighbors, what we can do with our property violates our property rights. This ordinance criminalizes actions that pose no physical threat to others and does not violate the rights of others. If disliking a particular action is justification for criminalizing that action, then a case could be made by someone to ban virtually everything.

In short, for the government to use force against the citizenry in this manner is immoral.

Second, Shenandoah has deed restrictions, which are voluntary, contractual limitations on how property owners may use their property. If the residents of the neighborhood wish to prohibit parking on the lawn, amending the deed restrictions provides a non-coercive, contractual method for doing so.

Some may claim that the end result would be the same. I completely disagree. Our deed restrictions are a contract between the property owners. That contract provides provisions for amending our agreement. The property owners have accepted the contract, including the provisions for amendment. It is a private and voluntary agreement between property owners, and as such, respects the rights of each individual involved.

The parking ordinance however, is an act of government. Government is an agent of force--its edicts are imposed by threat of fines, imprisonment, or both. There is nothing voluntary or contractual about this ordinance--it is an act of force. And as such, it violates the rights of each individual involved.

Those who see no distinction between deed restrictions and this ordinance do not see the difference between the voluntary and the coercive, between the contractual and the mandatory. They see no difference between private agreements and government mandates.

To be clear, if a proposal were raised to amend the deed restrictions to prohibit parking on lawns, I would be a vocal supporter. I do not like to see cars parked in yards, but the ends do not justify the means. There are private, non-coercive means to address things we do not like in our neighborhood. More importantly, nobody has a moral right to use government force against his neighbors simply because he dislikes their actions.

I am sure that the above will tick off my neighbors. I guess that is only fair, since they have managed to tick me off.


Anonymous said...

Excellent letter, Brian. I particularly like how you went a step further than simply noting that this is not a proper function of government by clearly describing a non-coercive remedy already built into the system. If there's a single rational person in the decision-making process, your argument will get through to them.

Brian Phillips said...

Thanks Jason.

I am pondering a "trick" that will really disarm my neighbors. Our civic association dues are purely voluntary. Before the hearing starts, I think I'm going to hand the representative for the association a check for my dues, along with a little more than they ask for. They won't know what to think of that.