Monday, March 27, 2006
As governments use land use laws in new and more sophisticated ways, they sometimes raise disturbing questions over whether zoning should be used to further majoritarian social policy. For example, many local governments now prohibit convicted sex offenders, once out of prison, from ever living anywhere near schools or day care centers, with the result that in cities such as Dubuque, Iowa, sex offenders are in effect limited to a few seedy locales. Because few politicians are willing to object to such restrictions, laws are sometimes enacted with inaccurate assumptions, such as the assumption that such offenders are always “predators” of children, when in fact many sex offenders have no such history. Such land use laws also show the worst side of land use “competition” among jurisdictions; when one town squeezes out its sex offenders, the neighboring town is pushed into passing similar measures. This is a disquieting example of the economic prisoner’s dilemma ruthlessly at work in land use law.