Local Control R.I.P.

Ken Gorrellby Ken Gorrell,
Weirs Times Contributing Writer

It’s been nearly two years since Thomas Sowell wrote:
Only ideologues could devote themselves to crusading against people’s efforts to live and associate with other people who share their values and habits…Undaunted by a long history of disasters when third parties try to mix and match people, or prescribe what kind of housing is best, they act as if this time it has to work.
To those with the crusading mentality, failure only means that they should try, try again — at other people’s expense, including not only the taxpayers but also those who lives have been disrupted, or even made miserable and dangerous, by previous bright ideas of third parties who pay no price for being wrong.

His topic was the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule forcing local communities to bring their zoning laws into compliance with the federal bureaucracy’s idea of suburban Utopia.
Those with the crusading mentality have been busy during the intervening months. In July they revealed their latest assault on our constitutional republic of federal enumerated powers: the final draft of their proposed “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” land-use regulations. For those who value their local communities and the quaint notion of local control, this could be the most damaging 377 pages ever added to the Federal Register.
Apparently, in living our lives according to our individual desires, we have created an intolerable number of “racist” havens that lack that most valued of modern characteristics, “inclusiveness.” It would be easy to say that this is what happens when we elect a community organizer as president, but this has been coming for a long time. Too many of our fellow Americans are content to disregard our founding documents in their quest to substitute their will for our rights, under the guise of “fairness.”
Under the new rules, HUD would be able to shred local zoning laws. In their place, the feds would impose their own set of regulations designed to reshape offending communities into models of “balance” — racial, socio-economic, and ethnic parameters all aligned to “nationally uniform data.” The targeted communities would number 1,200 initially, but we all know what happens when government finds a new way to exercise power. The kicker is that the inconvenience of having to prove discrimination would no longer be a barrier; merely existing outside the government’s dataset is enough for a guilty verdict.
The federal government and its acolytes are relying on an American version of “taking the King’s shilling,” an 18th and 19th century practice used to press British men into the military. A man forced by a press gang into the Army or Navy was given the King’s shilling. He was then offered a chance to “volunteer” to become eligible for an advance of wages and more favorable treatment. In our version, local communities are pressed into service using the lure of HUD’s Community Development Block Grants and other subsidies.
Taking HUD’s shilling is tantamount to pressing your entire community into the service of our federal bureaucracy. That’s the carrot. The stick, of course, is the race card and the threat of being hauled into the kangaroo court of data-driven guilt. When we allow our laws and our actions to be trumped by statistics and the “It’s good to be king” mentality permeating our Executive Branch, we abandon the rule of law and any legal defense. Just ask the officials in Westchester County, NY.
This wealthy county fought a losing, decade’s-long battle against a federal re-write of its zoning codes. By substituting “race” for “wealth” or other socio-economic parameter beyond any county’s control, the federal government found Westchester guilty of racial bias through zoning. The forced re-engineering of the county was inevitable. Of course, just as inevitable is the selective targeting of federal power. America’s wealthiest county, Loudoun, in the DC-metro area, is only 7.3% black, but seems to have escaped federal notice. Or, perhaps, this is an example of Big Brother’s NIMBY mentality.
We’ve had our own experience with eroding zoning codes. Back in 2008 I wrote about HB 1472, a fundamentally flawed NH bill ostensibly designed to address a perceived shortage of “workforce” housing:
This bill continues the erroneous logic that drove a Strafford County judge to decide against the town of Ossipee in a 2005 workforce housing case. Using a regional requirement to define need rather than a town-based requirement, the judge forced Ossipee to permit building lower-value per square foot residential property to accommodate lower-wage workers moving to Ossipee but employed in surrounding towns such as North Conway.
The Strafford judge cited New Jersey law to support his judicial excess. Whether it’s the federal government applying national statistics to local communities or judges reaching beyond state borders to justify opinions, our right to determine the direction of our communities is under assault by those who assume the role of our “betters.” That’s a foreign concept much beloved of people who just don’t like or trust the American experiment.
Unless we want to be pressed into service against our interests and our better selves, we have to turn down the King’s shilling and have the courage of our convictions. It’s time to tell those self-appointed “betters,” those “third parties who pay no price for being wrong,” where they can shove their data.

Ken Gorrell can be reached at kengorrell@gmail.com.