Wednesday, May 01, 2002

I try and stay away from my local paper, the Orange County Register because its news coverage is generally pathetic, often ignoring the various criminal misdeeds of the Newport Beach crowd (aside from Denis Rodman's antics), and its editorial page makes the WSJ's look like a monument to fairness and sanity. But, I thought I'd poke in and see what latest liberal outrage had them in a huff today. Today it is the erosion of property rights in the context of the recent Supreme Court decision to not consider all temporary delays on development a "taking" which would require compensation.

It's the usual screed in favor of personal freedom and against big government and crazy environmentalists, so don't bother reading it, unless you like that sort of thing.

In any case I sympathize with concerns about the erosion of property rights, though I agree with the Supreme Court's decision. On the other hand, in this neck of the woods the greatest infringements on private property rights for most people, meaning people other than large-scale developers, are the large scale-developers themselves and so-called "Shadow Governments" or homeowner's associations. The proliferation of these quasi-governments, established by the developers, which enact draconian restrictions on land use that often go way beyond land use restrictions enacted by any local authority, is a disturbing trend. For those of us who aren't likely to buy a wetland and put up condos, it is these very undemocratic pseudo-governments that tell us what we can and can't do with our land.

Of course, any libertarianoid type will happily tell me that such restrictions are fine because those who purchase into these neighborhoods have voluntarily entered into a contractual arrangement. So, absent coercion, everything is peaches and cream in Randroid land. On the other hand, such neighborhoods are increasingly the only choice in certain locations, such as Southern California. In addition, I can make the same argument about the zoning restrictions of local governments - don't like them? move elsewhere. Vote with your feet and all that.

What is different about these pseudo-governments is that those living under them are not in anyway given any constitutional protections. So, nothing about them - their lack of one-person (or one household) one-vote in some cases, for example - cannot be challenged.

One can make the same argument about, say, tightly run condo boards in NYC apartment buildings. However, they usually do at least cover only one building, and not an entire block or neighborhood. Scope and scale matter. Once a "condo board" is essentially governing a small town, it is behaving as a government does, performing many of the same functions as local governments do, without any of the legal requirements. But, I say, if it walks like a duck..