Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tyranny of City Planning and Zoning

At the Pitchfork and Musket Junta, we tend to concentrate on State and Federal tyranny, because we generally believe that local tyranny will be taken care of by citizens voting with their feet. That tyranny still exists, though, and we should expose it when we come upon it. I recently have come across three examples of tyrannical local laws destroying opportunities for local citizens.

The first from San Francisco, where the Planning Commission refused to allow American Apparel to open a store in the Mission District. According to Caille Millner:
It is too easy to make fun of the people who packed Room 400 in San Francisco's City Hall to stop American Apparel from opening a store on Valencia Street in the Mission District last week.

They are not serious people. They live in a world where facts like 27 vacant storefronts on Valencia Street and 9.3 percent unemployment statewide and nearly 600,000 jobs lost nationally last month do not matter. The few who read books know no authors beyond Naomi Klein. They do not believe that the world has changed since the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. This accounts for both the static nature of their vocabulary - "no formula retail!" is their death chant, though anyone who has picked up a newspaper in the last five months could tell you that there isn't a single retail establishment with a formula today - and the juvenile nature of their worldview. They do not want to see businesses be successful. They do not want the Mission District to be welcoming to different types of people.

What they want is magic.

The word "magic" kept recurring during the hours of public comment at the Planning Commission meeting where the American Apparel store's permit was up for a vote. "Valencia Street is a magical place," one speaker said. Another claimed that "Our neighborhood is a dream, a delicate flower." Others spoke of American Apparel as a "parasite" on their "ecosystem." Several local business owners testified that it was their "dream" to operate in such a "magical" place, and noted, with horror, that they might have to make alterations to their business plans if a new store opened in the area.

Next, in Chicago, Walmart proposed building 5 new stores. Chicago has only allowed one Walmart to be built inside the city so far. It employs 400 workers at an average of $11.25/hour, roughly average for unskilled workers. You would think that, during a recession (depression?), Chicago would welcome 2000-2500 new decent jobs, and a retailer that consistently lowers prices to serve poor citizens. Chicago's planning board refused to rule and punted to city council. Chicago alderman are fighting it tooth and nail, because of objections by big labor.

Finally, in Beaumont, they've banned mobile food stands. According to Junta member Shane, who was at the council meeting and heard testimony to get the moratorium overturned, the objectors were all full service restaurant owners. These taco stands and barbecue stands provide cheap, quick lunches, and are frequented by the poorest workers in the city, many of them immigrants.

These three examples are all vastly different, but they have one thing in common. By abusing the zoning privileges of a city, they all will reduce choice for their citizens and will lower the standard of living for the poorest of their citizens.

No comments: