Monday, September 21, 2009

Peter Brown: Then and Now

On Sunday a comment called me on my assertion that Peter Brown supported zoning in the 1990s. Apparently Brown recently claimed that he did not support zoning. I was asked if I have any evidence to support my claim. In my response I cited an article from the defunct Houston Post from April 1988 in which Brown wrote: “Perhaps one of the reasons some politicians and developers in Houston have traditionally opposed city planning is its very democratic nature—it redistributes some of the power and decision-making authority and invites public debate on important issues.” Brown's words at the time, and in the years since, have made it clear that he supports "public debate on important issues".

It is possible that Brown never publicly said, "I support zoning." However, one can imply support for a position by a person's actions and a person's words. And that is certainly the case with Peter Brown and zoning.

Kay Crooker, Brown's co-author of the article cited above, was an outspoken advocate of zoning. If Brown did not support zoning, why did he co-author an article with an advocate of zoning that spoke favorably of zoning? If Brown did not support zoning, then he was doing a very poor job of conveying that fact.

Brown might claim that he supported (and still supports) "planning" rather than zoning. But as I wrote in 1990 in The Freeman and last year in this post, "planning" is just a euphemism for zoning. For a plan to have any useful purpose, the city will require enforcement powers, which means, the city's plan will be implemented through land-use regulations. Whether Brown wishes to call this zoning or "planning" or dancing in the park, such regulations are the equivalent of zoning--they will violate property rights.

During the zoning debate in the 1990s pro-zoners frequently pointed to master-planned communities and declared that Houstonians clearly wanted planning. In other words, at the time, leading zoning advocates made no distinction between planning and zoning. (Nor did they make a distinction between voluntary private planning and coercive public planning.) Indeed, the city department that drafted the zoning ordinance was called the Planning and Zoning Commission, and it was renamed after Councilman Jim Greenwood proposed that the city adopt zoning. The city itself made no distinction between planning and zoning, regarding the latter as the means of implementing the former.

I do not know why Peter Brown denies his support for zoning. Perhaps he forgot, in which case, I would suggest that his senility is evidence that he isn't fit to serve as the city's mayor. Perhaps he thinks that we forgot, in which case, I would suggest that his arrogance is evidence that he isn't fit to serve as the city's mayor. Perhaps he truly believes that in writing an article with a known zoning advocate, he would not be perceived as supporting zoning. In which case, I would suggest that his naivety is evidence that he isn't fit to serve as the city's mayor. Perhaps he is trying to distance himself from a past political failure, in which case I would suggest that his intellectual dishonesty is evidence that he isn't fit to serve as the city's mayor. I could go on, but I think that you get the point.

As if I need to present more evidence of the connection between planning and zoning, consider what the Chronicle said in 1990 when Al Haines, the city of Houston finance director, unveiled a reorganization of city departments:

"I think the most significant change... will be in planning,"Haines said. "It's a major change that should help Houston get ready for the future"... The Planning Department now has a $1.6 million annual budget and 56 employees who plan for the city's growth. But under Haines'proposal, Knudson [Planning Department head Pat Knudson] would get more than 300 employees from other departments....

Knudson, confirmed last month as planning director, said the changes would help her department generate stronger land-use controls. She and the city Planning Commission are studying the possibility of zoning as one of those controls.

"There is growing emphasis on planning that's almost exponential," Knudson said. "People are talking about better land use. This reorganization will help us focus and concentrate on that direction."
Peter Brown can claim anything he wants. He can claim that "planning" and zoning are essentially different, but his claims do not change the facts. He can claim that he did not support zoning, but his claims do not change the facts. If a man suggests that a city needs "planning" in the midst of a debate over planning and zoning, he cannot claim that he supported the former but not the latter. In 1990 planning and zoning were inseparably linked. Peter Brown may forget what he said twenty years ago. I don't.

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