In 2007, I served as a consultant to a group of citizens opposed to an attempt to bring zoning to Hobbs, New Mexico. During that time, I wrote a series of articles that were published in the local newspaper. This is one of those articles. In a referendum, zoning was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin.
The Maddox Foundation has offered a grant of $15 million to the City of Hobbs for a beautification project. While this offer is indeed generous, it comes with a significant and substantial requirement—the City of Hobbs must adopt a zoning ordinance that meets with the approval of the Foundation.
Considered out of context, the beautification project may be desirable. But we cannot consider goals out of context. We must also consider the cost of achieving that goal, whether the proposed means will accomplish the stated ends, and the propriety of those means.
Many claims have been, and will be, made about zoning. It is presented as a cure for problems, real and imaginary, in Hobbs. As we will see, zoning is not a benevolent tool for protecting neighborhoods or improving our quality of life. Instead, it is a weapon that is wielded by the politically powerful to destroy property rights. As is always the case when individual rights are violated, the cure is more destructive than the disease.
It is not necessary to enact a zoning ordinance to witness zoning’s destructive consequences. We can look to other cities to see both the economic and political results of zoning. We can identify and evaluate the principles that underlie zoning.
The argument against zoning is moral in nature. It rests on the principle that the initiation of force is immoral and evil. As a corollary, individuals should resolve disagreements through reason, rather than at the point of a gun.
In contrast, zoning rests on the principle that one group of citizens may compel others to act, or not act, in a particular manner. Zoning rests on the belief that initiating force to impose a particular set of values on the community is proper and just.
In practice, this principle encourages gang warfare, as competing groups vie to impose their values on others. That this occurs under the auspices of the government and in the name of the “public welfare” does not change its nature or grant it legitimacy.
Zoning advocates will prefer to avoid a discussion of these principles. They will speak of supposed benefits, while ignoring the costs of zoning. They will dismiss principled arguments as lies, misrepresentations, and scare tactics. But their claims will not changes the facts. By its very nature, zoning is a violation of individual rights and destructive to human welfare.