Property Rights, Provo Grocers, and Zoning Laws

We each have equal God-given (or natural) rights that end where the rights of others begin. All of our rights can arguably be derived from a few basic ones, which may be categorized as rights (1) over our bodies, (2) over the fruits of our labors, (3) over our children within reason as they mature, (4) to interact contractually via mutual voluntary informed consent, and (5) to defend ourselves against others’ aggression. Those last two rights justify us in chartering political systems, to which we contractually delegate limited authority to assist us in defending our rights from others’ aggression so that we may remain free.

It’s sad when our public officers reject their proper role as rights-defending servants to become rights-violating masters, instead, even to the point of behaving like Earthly monarchs to rule over us, dictating how we citizens will exercise our rights as if we exist merely to serve their interests. This is not only immoral but also impractical, as the grandiose central plans that a few mere mortals arrogantly devise to coerce upon the rest of us are generally inferior to the plans that many mere mortals (especially with divine guidance) freely work out amongst themselves through persuasion coupled with voluntary cooperation.

This is also true of zoning, which originated among European socialists. This municipal variety of central economic planning curtails development, reduces competition, promotes false “order” and/or aesthetics over genuine needs, reduces housing supply while raising housing costs, excludes “undesirables,” wastes people’s valuable time with needless paperwork, retards economic progress, and lowers standards-of-living. Every one of its alleged benefits is provided better within genuinely-free markets, which allow the most economical allocation of resources. Houston developed well with hardly any zoning laws and, as a result, enjoys exceptionally affordable housing, while California’s zoning laws (combined with other regulations) have rendered housing so unaffordable that prices are driving residents away.

People often migrate in the direction of greater freedom, which is one reason why many Californians are currently migrating to Utah County, although they are mostly bypassing Provo for now. Their reasons for avoiding Provo remain unclear to us at present in the absence of any professional survey results. However, it’s possible that Provo is repelling new move-ins with its own proliferating regulations, as Provo’s city code more-than-doubled from 2001 to 2021.

Provo’s regulation explosion is partly guided by Provo’s Vision 2030 (or Vision 2050), which is a grandiose central economic plan that mayor John Curtis instigated in 2011, and that Provo’s city councilors have since attempted to translate (as they’ve openly admitted) from abstract vision statement into concrete city code. These efforts have included city council discussions about enhancing Provo’s existing mostly-1970s-era zoning laws that regulate buildings’ function with additional laws that regulate their form. At one Vision 2030 discussion in 2016, Provo’s city councilors even discussed the possibility of requiring all Provo homeowners to landscape their yards in a manner dictated by municipal law. During this surreal discussion, one attendee remarked something about how, if Provo residents didn’t like their local aesthetics, then they could fire their mayor for a successor with better taste.

Such form-based code, like traditional zoning, originated among socialists and has been touted as a means to implement “Smart Growth” policies. These are an attempt to forcibly redirect municipal development away from a city’s outskirts toward its center in the guise of “saving the natural environment.” Such overt environmentalism arguably conceals socialism, as socialists have long understood that rural landowners tend to be more patriotic and conservative than urban dwellers—so, by forcibly confining a town’s growth so that its city center develops in an urbanesque manner, socialists can perhaps help their ideas to flourish more easily within it. Such “Smart Growth” policies are also blatantly part of Provo’s Vision 2030, along with its successor Vision 2050.

Even without such form-based enhancements, Provo’s existing zoning laws still violate our equal God-given (or natural) rights to both property and contract, which form the basis of genuine free markets. For example, Smith’s bought some land long ago in west Provo with the intent to construct a shopping center on that land someday, and Smith’s management has since been waiting for it to make financial sense to do so. But Provo’s city councilors recently decided to forcibly hasten this process by rezoning this land so that Smith’s could no longer use its property to construct what it intended, while hoping that this impediment to competition will encourage other grocers to build stores in that same area. And those city councilors have also been examining alternative locations in west Provo on which competitors might build. Their primary motivation is reportedly to prevent west Provo residents from leaving town to buy their groceries, as this reduces city tax revenue.

Whenever the state forcibly overrides the market, the results are invariably detrimental. Frederic Bastiat wrote expertly about the persistent difference between the overt intent of public policy and what those same policies unintentionally achieve through indirect effects upon a complex system. For those same reasons that he stated so eloquently, forcing a grocery store into existence where it does not (yet) make economic sense for it to exist causes economic inefficiencies that hurt every consumer generally. Rather than centrally control or manipulate markets, it’s better to allow free people to freely work out such things amongst themselves. And, more importantly, it’s also the right thing to respect everyone’s property rights.

The “bottom line” is that zoning must end, including in Provo. Zoning violates rights and it does more harm than good. But zoning won’t end without significant changes in the sort of municipal politicians that Provoans have been electing. And those politicians won’t change unless/until more liberty-lovin’ Provoans involve themselves in municipal politics. And involvement won’t increase unless residents like YOU choose to engage in precinct-level activism by engaging your neighbors, motivating them, educating them, informing them, organizing them, mobilizing them, et cetera. Please choose to do so. And you’re welcome to use this website if it help any.


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1 thought on “Property Rights, Provo Grocers, and Zoning Laws

  1. rpyne

    There is a little more to the story about Smith’s property in West
    Provo. Smith’s was prepared to build on that land immediately when they
    bought it, but Provo City would not approve their plan unless Smith’s
    would pay to upgrade Center Street road, curbs, and sidewalks from the
    freeway to Geneva Road. A big part of the pressure on the city came from
    Albertsons who owned the grocery store on Center and 500 W.

    Liked by 1 person

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