Friday, March 09, 2007

The Register Likes "Property Rights", But Not Freedom

Remember when I told you about Brea's plan to set limits on how much development can occur at Carbon Canyon? Well, the Brea City Council now looks to be agreeing upon a compromise measure that will make it more "flexible". However, The Register's editorial page is still not happy about it:

The city of Brea continues to set the stage for a massive theft of property, a "taking," but is trying to craft its action in such a way that the city won't have to pay for what it takes. The City Council agreed Tuesday to postpone a decision on changing the zoning in a hillside portion of the city, as staff develops more "flexibility" for owners. But a very troubling process is moving forward.

The city attorney, council members and members of a no-growth group closely allied with city officials are all touting their commitment these days to "compromise." But don't think that after five years of depriving owners of their lawful right to develop their land that officials have suddenly gained any newfound understanding of the concept of individual freedom.

OK, so setting some reasonable standards to prevent tragedies like the Laguna Landslides of 2005 from happening in Brea means that the City of Brea does not understand the "concept of individual freedom"? What, the freedom to put yourselves and your neighbors at risk of losing the entire neighborhood? But wait, it gets better!

We can see it now. Owners would lose their valuable property rights, then be allowed to petition the city for a few additional units. They would have to spend money developing new plans. There would be no guarantees that the flexibility would mean anything more than further delays and runarounds by officials dedicated to stopping growth on privately owned hillsides. This is the opposite of freedom. It would be approval by government whim.

Some supporters of the city have said to us words to this effect: "All property is subject to government regulations and zoning, so why is it any big deal if the city decides to change the zoning on this acreage?"

The price of property is determined by the bundle of rights and entitlements that comes with it.

True. The price of property is determined by such entitlements as being able to build alongside a lovely, bucolic canyon. However, what would happen if that canyon weren't so lovely and bucolic anymore? And oh yes, what would happen if all those new homes built were to fall in that canyon? Would these developers still be beating their chests about "property rights" when their precious property slides down into ruin?

But I guess that does not matter to The Register's editorial page, so long as Brea "takes away people's land" to "create de facto park land". How dare they!

Other supporters of the city argue that the land is too hilly to build 1,600 units. That might be true, but it should be up to the builder, his engineers and the insurers to determine the right number of units that can be built. It seems clear the city is using the safety issue as an excuse to create de facto park land. [...]

Brea officials are acting at the behest of many residents who do not want additional houses near them. But to take away some people's land to satisfy others is a form of rank majoritarianism. What would you say if a government voted to eliminate your free-speech rights simply because the majority didn't like what you had to say? It's a similar concept to what Brea is doing.

Yes, why not just leave it up to the developers? I mean, what motivation do they have besides the very noble urge to "exercise their property rights"? Perhaps, do they also have a motivation to maximize their profits off the land? Now, I'm not saying that all development is evil, or that developers do not have a right to profit off their own land. However, what may be best to maximize the developer's profit may not be best for the community's well-being.

This is where government steps in. Local government should be expected to set reasonable standards and limits in order to provide enough of an opportunity for developers to profit off their land, but at a reasonable level that also respects the wishes of the greater community. And oh yes, isn't government also supposed to respect the will of the people? I mean, isn't that what representative democracy is all about? The Register might call Brea's new development standards "rank majoritarianism", but I'll call it a reasonable set of standards that tries to respect the right of the developer to develop as well as the community's right to safe and pleasant surroundings.

Too bad that The Orange County Register's editorial page's love for "freedom" does not extend to respecting the wishes of the greater community.

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

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