Thursday, November 9, 2006
If citizens had their way –- as opposed to politicians who are influenced by protectionist forces –- would they prefer more free-market solutions to land use questions? In an interesting development, Massachusetts voters defeated on Tuesday a ballot question that would have permitted grocery stores to sell wine. Under current state law, only licensed liquor stores may do so.
I’ve often been amazed and frustrated by what I’ve viewed as antiquated liquor sale laws. How much better, I’ve thought, to live in a state such as California, where one can buy bottles of bourbon, chardonnay, and beer at the same time that one buys fish, dill, and lettuce! Restrictions on liquor sales appeared to be either examples of unworthy protectionist land use laws or relics of prohibition.
But the voters of Massachusetts appeared to disagree. From reader comments on boston.com, significant factors included the desire to protect small liquor store owners, as well as a desire to avoid a “Wal-Mart-ization” of wine sales. Haven’t the Bay State voters read their Smith, Friedman, and Posner?
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Here’s a second day of stories from California that exemplify changing attitudes towards public land use and private wealth. The Athletics baseball franchise plans to move from its current home in Oakland to a new stadium in Fremont, in the South Bay area, close to the affluence of San Jose and Silicon Valley. (The history of the franchise’s movement mirrors the changes in the central land uses in America –- from old downtown Philadelphia in 1901, to a residential neighborhood of Kansas City in 1955, to the western city of Oakland in 1968, to an exurban Fremont plot today.) The reports are that the local governments will pay little for either the purchase of land or the construction of a new Athletics’ stadium. Similarly, the National Football League has been unsuccessful in getting some public funding for a new franchise in the Los Angeles area, which has been without a team since public money from St. Louis helped lure away the Rams in 1995.
It makes sense that governments in California are reluctant either to use public funds or to secure public land for sports stadia. The questionable arguments for public support –- that it helps pump the local economy and provides favorable publicity for the city –- might possibly make sense for smaller cities such as Memphis or Salt Lake City. They make no sense for the famous, colossal, and diversified metropolises of California.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Privatization of works that government won’t or can’t do, or can’t do as well, is part of the modern world. While at one time associated with conservative politics, which touts the benefits of private competition, informal privatization now includes the spending of money that government simply doesn’t want to spend, but that public-spirited private benefactors ARE willing to spend.
The latest example of privatization is in historic preservation. American Express is providing $1 million in preservation funds for historic buildings in the San Francisco Bay area, according to the Oakland Tribune. In good Bay style, the buildings are being selected with the help of a recent online vote. The top vote-getter was Berkeley’s 1910 First Church of Christ, Scientist (see top photo); third place was the Pigeon Point lighthouse on the Pacific (see bottom photo).
Okay, historic preservation advocates –- Let’s not have everyone e-mailing the Google billionaires all at once …
Monday, November 6, 2006
It's a sign of the times that a rare appearance of zoning law in the Associated Press concerns a celebrity. If you follow such things, you've probably already learned that the city of Palm Beach, Fla., has informed Donald Trump that an 80-foot-high flagpole recently erected on his coastal estate is too high, violating the local zoning ordinance. Trump is quoted as saying that his display of an American flag, which sits atop the pole, must be protected by law. A city landmarks official then harmed the government's case by comparing the display of the enormous banner to the look a car dealer in the far-less-chic city of West Palm Beach.
It will be mildly interesting to see whether the combination of Trump's clout and his draping himself with the flag (how about completely wrapping himself in the colossal banner?) will enable the flagpole to withstand what should be an open-and-shut matter of government regulation of the display and manner of speech. This is, after all, a state in which one of two substantive things that a homeowner's association CANNOT impose upon residents, under state law, is an association rule banning a display of the American flag.