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Land use subject to mob rule

I commend The Union for its recent editorial concerning the Nevada City Planning Commission and its equivocation in the matter of the Miners Foundry window. The Union correctly chides the commission members for holding up this project based on individual opinions about what is appropriate, and exhorts the commission to act more responsibly.

What The Union does not understand is that the present state of land-use planning is a direct result of our collective failure to reject in principle certain notions which underlie the process.



Current policy evolved originally from the concept of zoning – the idea that certain types of land use would be in designated areas so as to preserve property values, i.e. we would not countenance a rendering plant adjacent to a residence. The notion was to group compatible uses together: industrial, commercial, residential, etc. The purpose was ostensibly to protect individual property owners and their interests. Moreover, the zoning process had rules that were logical, objective, and easy to apply. Failure to apply the rules fairly was subject to judicial review.




Comes now the current situation where all that is required to kill a project is a sufficient number of votes, sufficient outcry from the citizenry. There are no objective standards, and none seems to be required. The majority vote of appointed or elected planning officials is the basis for all planning.

I submit that there was some intermediate stage here, between the old zoning concept and the current planning concept, where the focus was changed, and no challenge was made to this sea change. The focus changed from protection of the individual towards planning “for the common good.” As soon as you acknowledge the latter as your governing principle, you are wedded to subjective opinions, for no two people can agree on the “common good.” We need to affirm the notion that central planning for a community is no sounder than central economic planning, and for basically the same reasons.

How can one uphold such a concept as “property rights” when the uses to which your property can be put are essentially subject to mob rule?

Robert Chrisman

Nevada City


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