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Making Kelo Defunct
Posted by: Dale Franks on Thursday, April 06, 2006

Some cities rejoiced at the Supreme Court's Kelo decision. In one fell swoop, it seemed like the Supreme Court had given them a practically free hand to ignore those inconvenient property rights. Other cities, however, like the city of Anaheim, California, chose a different path.
Anaheim's old downtown was obliterated in the 1970s through past uses of eminent domain and urban renewal. Now, the city (population: 328,000) wants to build a new downtown, and the target location is called the Platinum Triangle, an area of one-story warehouses near Angel Stadium. In the typical world of redevelopment, officials would choose a plan and a developer, offer subsidies and exclusive development rights, and exert pressure on existing property owners to leave the area. Instead, Anaheim created a land-value premium by creating an overlay zone that allowed almost any imaginable use of property. Because current owners could now sell to a wider range of buyers, the Platinum Triangle is booming, with billions in private investment, millions of square feet of office, restaurant and retail space, and more than a dozen new high-rises in the works.

The area is developing quickly, without controversy and without a single piece of property taken by eminent domain. Early signs point to an enormous success. "Too often, I hear my colleagues in local government . . . say that Kelo-type eminent domain and redevelopment policies are their only tools to revitalize cities," [Republican Mayor Kurt] Pringle recently said. "I have a simple message . . . Visit the Platinum Triangle."

The previous planning commission and city council were harsh on small businesses seeking variances; the new council (which took office in December 2002) began overturning one commission decision after another, with the goal of giving local residents and businesses as much leeway as possible.

The council waived fees for homeowners undertaking renovations, on the grounds that the city would gain in the long run by the increase in property taxes. Anaheim also waived fees for business start-ups for three months; some 2,000 new businesses formed in 2005, an increase of one-third from the previous year. It also passed a tax amnesty and eliminated business taxes altogether for home-based businesses. Most cities don't like to allow churches to build new worship centers, because tax-exempt churches typically locate in commercial and industrial areas, taking properties off the tax rolls. Anaheim has eliminated most hurdles for approving new churches. Its housing plan also avoids "inclusionary zoning"—an increasingly popular approach to mandate that builders set aside certain amounts of "affordable" housing...

[Pringle] found a surprising ally in Councilman Richard Chavez, a liberal Democrat who agreed that the old rule-bound system was holding back opportunities for the city's emerging Latino community.

Mr. Chavez said he didn't know what to expect from Messrs. Pringle and Tait, but that both helped him early on in protecting the interests of some local businesses that were facing unfair treatment from the city. "Curt created a sense of trust," he says. That trust led to "incredible growth, incredible energy for the city and a success at providing housing at every level . . . . I get very little negativity, even from those on the left side of the aisle." Hermetic partisan politics drop away, evidently, in the face of verifiable success.
Anaheim is also getting a lot of notice in other cities for the success of the Platinum Triangle project.
Mayor Pringle says his ideas are being employed in the mayoral race up north in San Jose. He was most proud, he said, when Mayor Doug Davert, of nearby Tustin, recently vowed to "Pringle-ize" his community.
Many localities have passed ordinances restricting the exercise of eminent domain, which is a good thing. And even better thing, however, is to move decisively away from the idea of centralized, command and control planning, and to allow the free market to work in developing communities. Not only will businesses and individuals respond to positive incentives, but one of the most malign of incentives, the urge to get local politicians to conspire with businesses to infringe on property rights, will be substantially reduced.

It's a wonderful thing, the free market. More cities should look into it.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

As someone once said, if you think we live in a democracy you’ve never been in front of a zoning board. There is a real need for construction codes, and perhaps even for some very simple kinds of zoning, but in just about every city I’ve seen zoning has become an absolutely out-of-control beast with a life of its own. It’s contrary not only to the ideals of a free market, but to those of democracy itself as a select few arbitrarily impose their aesthetics and other vague notions on everyone. Government should simply not have that much influence over who builds what where.
Written By: Platypus
You should check out my city, Houston. It’s the largest city in the US with no zoning laws.
Written By: Chris
URL: http://
Planning and Zoning (PnZ) is many things...It TENDS to be one thing, because that’s the Conventional Wisdom of what PnZ IS, R1, R4, I4, C3, "conditional use permits" and the like. All PnZ is, is a plan. Not a bad idea for a locality to have, functionally "Where will we run the water lines, sewers, and roads?" In traditional PnZ it can become a bureaucratic nightmare, but it needn’t be. I think programs like Anaheim’s need to be widely publicized and discussed. My state has a very Free-Form set of PnZ statutes, leaving it almost ENTIRELY to localities to adoprt the rules and regulations it desires...This sort of development, a la Anaheim could occur pretty much anywhere, IF people see that PnZ doesn’t HAVE to be what we "think" it is.
Written By: Joe
URL: http://

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