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Americans can do whatever they decide to do. Witness the politiscape littered with the careers of Democrats deposed by determined Americans who have had enough big-government socialism forced upon them. The next challenge for the tea party – and other organizations – is local and state governments that are systematically implementing freedom-robbing policies in the name of comprehensive planning, smart growth, sustainable development and environmental protection.
If the word “freedom” is to have any meaning at all, it must mean that people are free to live wherever they choose, and free to use their property as they choose. For nearly 150 years, no one questioned this fundamental freedom. Then, in 1916, the Equitable Life Insurance Company built a 38-story building at 120 Broadway in lower Manhattan. The controversy about the building’s effect on the neighborhood resulted in the first zoning laws. In 1924, the Department of Commerce issued the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, which many states adopted. Zoning simply allowed elected officials to establish areas within a city that were reserved for industrial, residential, municipal, or recreational use. People were still free to build what they wanted within these zones.
By the 1970s, however, zoning fell out of favor, and the new fad became planning. The American Planning Association emerged in 1978 to advance the “science” of planning. Planning gave the government the power to control the use of land. Control of the use of any asset is the first evidence of ownership – but this new “science” of planning allowed government to disavow ownership of the land, continue to force the owner to pay taxes on the land, and still dictate to the owner how the land might be used, or to prohibit all uses whatever.
The first purpose of government is to secure the unalienable rights of the people who created the government. Among these rights are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So says the Declaration of Independence and most state constitutions. The U.S. Constitution requires that just compensation be paid to any person whose property is taken for public use.
The new science of planning allows government to take from the owner the privilege of ownership – without compensation – while forcing the owner to bear all the responsibilities of ownership. State and local governments have lost their way, just as the federal government lost its way. The tea party – and other organizations – started last week on a path to put the federal government back on track to protect the unalienable rights of the people who created it. Now it is time for these same determined Americans to focus on state and local governments, and put them back on the right track to protect the rights of their citizens as well.
The first policy statement in a Missouri county’s comprehensive plan says: “The County shall work to prevent urban sprawl. …” Considering the first purpose of government, would it not be more appropriate for the first policy statement to be something like: “The County shall work to protect the private property rights of its citizens. …” The words “property rights” do not appear anywhere in the entire plan. Local and state governments, as well as the federal government, have forgotten the first purpose for which they were created. They must be reminded at each and every election, and on a regular basis between elections.
Every community has a comprehensive land-use plan, or has such a plan under development. These plans inevitably destroy private property rights and property values. Local citizens must hold their elected officials accountable by attending public meetings and asking why it is more important for the county to prevent urban sprawl than to protect the private property rights of its citizens.
Throughout Florida, tea-party organizations are beginning to accept the challenge of preventing local government from crushing their property rights under a comprehensive land-use plan. In Amarillo, Texas, a group of everyday citizens has formed to learn how to convince their elected officials to reject the plan that stifles property rights – and economic development. In city after city, and county after county, local citizens are discovering that they can change the direction of their government.
Tea parties will have a few months before the battles for the 2012 elections heat up. There’s no better training ground or more productive enterprise than to persuade local and state governments to abandon the socialist idea of controlling land use, and return to the practice of protecting the rights of the people who created the government – especially the rights inherent in private property ownership. If freedom is to be restored to the American people, it must be restored at home, as well as in Washington.