Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Dog and Pony Show

In June I mentioned that my neighborhood had applied for the designation of "Prohibited Yard Parking Requirement Area". The designation will prohibit parking vehicles in one's yard, and violators will be subject to a fine of $150 per offense. I protested the application, and the protest hearing was held last week. It was a farce, albeit an educational farce. So I suppose that I gained some value from the escapade.

The hearing was opened with a declaration that if the requirements established in the enabling ordinance had been met, then the application would be approved. The requirements include proper notification to property owners, a neighborhood of at least five contiguous blocks, and a few other items. I immediately realized that my protest on moral grounds would have no impact.
The president of the civic association spoke first. He made a number of claims, including the negative environmental impact of parking in the yard. Since we had previously been told that we couldn't react to any speaker's comments, I contained my laughter.

I was called next and stated my opposition to the entire ordinance. I was allowed only three minutes to speak, which required me to modify my comments--I had prepared to speak for five minutes. However, I could have spoken for five hours and it wouldn't have mattered. The hearing officer was there for the sole purpose of determining if the requirements had been met. Regardless, the officer, her smug minions, and the audience got to hear an abbreviated defense of property rights.

After I spoke, two members of the audience thanked me for my comments and asked for contact information. So, at a minimum I provided them with some intellectual ammunition.

Two other property owners spoke after me, both in opposition to the designation. They asserted that the civic association had not met the requirements and provided documentation to support their claim. I hold some hope that their testimony might carry the day.

I stayed for a while to listen to the testimony regarding another neighborhood. The president of the Westbury civic association declared that only 17 residents out of 5,000 had protested the application for their neighborhood. She concluded that the residents were clearly in favor of the designation.

I do not know the president, but it is clear that logic is not her strong suit. One cannot validly determine the position of those who did not protest. They may be apathetic on the issue. Or, they may be opposed, but did not file a protest. The only valid conclusion one can reach regarding their silence is that they remained silent. And that certainly does not imply support for the designation.

But that was not the most interesting part of the hearing. One resident claimed that the civic association had failed to meet the requirements--their signs had been up only two days rather than the specified time frame (they were to remain up until the hearing). The hearing officer replied that the department was aware that opponents of the ordinance might remove the signs to create a challengable offense. The department head had "the discretion to change the rules, or create new rules" as she determined appropriate. Since replacing the signs would be expensive, the department waived that requirement.

There was no evidence presented or implied that opponents had removed the signs. But the mere fact that opponents could do so was deemed sufficient to simply waive the law. What in the hell is the purpose of the law then, if the department head can arbitrarily waive it? What is the purpose of any law if the person charged with its enforcement can change it at her sole discretion? This is not the rule of law--it is the rule of whim.

Numerous members of the Westbury civic association were in attendance to voice their support, and their testimony revealed the power lusting, busybody attitude underlying this ordinance. One of the members testified that their civic association had pushed city council to pass the ordinance. I do not know how many other civic clubs did the same, but the stories in the Chronicle at the time indicated the number was relatively small

What this means is that a small number of people successfully lobbied for an ordinance that enabled them and their ilk to become tyrants within their neighborhood. In passing the ordinance, city council granted them the power to impose their values upon their neighbors with the force of government at their back.

One Westbury resident captured their spirit perfectly. She proclaimed that she could not imagine anyone not realizing that parking in their yard is simply wrong, but obviously some people are devoid of that elementary knowledge. The designation is needed, she implied, to put these uncouth delinquents in their place.

As I noted in my testimony, I abhor neighbors parking in their yard. There are many other activities that I also abhor, like not maintaining one's property or poor taste in landscaping. But such activities do not violate my rights, nor does parking in one's own yard. Those who wish to use government force to ban that practice--or anything else that does not violate anyone's rights--are guilty of a far worse sin than those who park in the yard.

The entire hearing was a meaningless exercise. Short of some technical violation of the ordinance's requirements, acceptance of the application was a foregone conclusion and another law that violates our rights will be jammed down our throats. City officials can correctly claim that they sought public input, even though they had little interest in considering anything we had to say. They followed the prescribed process.

This is democracy in action. A noisy mob lobbied city council for the power to force their views and values on others. Proclaiming themselves spokesmen for the "public interest", they sought and received, government approval to use brute force against their neighbors. They wouldn't think of marching up to their neighbor and making demands at the point of a gun, but if government acts as their proxy they are filled with pride at their "success". But the fact that government is doing their dirty work doesn't change the nature or the immorality of their thuggery.


Anonymous said...

As a participant in the Public Hearing you cite in this post, I agree with your point of view regarding Opposition. At the same time I am very troubled how so few can so easily impact the lives of so many. Perhaps it Is a truth that, "we deserve the government we get". This representationally lopsided section of the City's Code of Ordinances would not stand a legal challenge in my opinion.
In my case as your, the Ordinance allows a Civic Club to lay claim to the "representational voice" of the community by mere virtue of its existence, and proclamation of it's intent of community good will, regardless of the number of members on club's membership role in relation to number of individual property owners as a whole.

For an individual or informal group of individuals to pull this off requires verified property owner support of at least 60% of the property owners in the area proposed to be designated in an expansion of the City's Parking in Yard Program. Your defense of Reason during this hearing and also in your post on June 1, 2009_"Ticking of my Neighbors" should be required reading for all people in this City concerned with the absence of Reason and citizen participation in our local, state, and federal governments.

westbury sd
houston, 77096

Brian Phillips said...

This is what happens when government is allowed to violate individual rights. Unfortunately, it is occurring with greater frequency.