FORUM WATCH EDITORIAL
By. Neil Williamson, President
On the national level, President Ronald Reagan famously said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it”.
One has to ask, Do the majority of our elected representative support or oppose this concept?
Just as the leaders of our community are being asked to think big regarding their comprehensive plan goals and objectives, they continue to consider government actions that would demonstrably add bureaucracy, and cost with limited public benefit.
Interestingly, the proponents for this type regulations work hard to use a lexicon that discourages opposition. Charlottesville, the “Human Rights Commission” sounds like something everyone should agree on. It was perhaps because they did not want to be seen as opposing “Human Rights” that a majority of City Council favored adding enforcement language to this politically appointed group. Aaron Richardson of The Daily Progress reports:
“The council on Monday night reached consensus to hold a public hearing on the ordinance that would establish a commission that could investigate, mediate and make judgments on claims of discrimination in small businesses and delegate claims from larger businesses to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. .
… Councilor Kathy Galvin told the council on Monday that she was skeptical of the effect a commission with full enforcement powers could have on local businesses. She added that discrimination is not the only thing keeping low-income residents and minorities out of work.”
The Free Enterprise Forum applauds Ms. Galvin’s persistence on this critical issue. Back in December of 2011, the Free Enterprise Forum asked if you could be in favor of Human Rights and Opposed to the Human Rights Commission.
We said, “the Free Enterprise Forum fears that moving forward with the politically appointed Human Rights Commission, based on its current construct and goals, will do more harm than good for City economic opportunities across all demographic cohorts”.
Couple this with Charlottesville’s tax rates, the newly enacted Stormwater fees, one has to wonder how much more regulatory burden can businesses withstand before looking at space outside the City.
Things are not significantly better in Albemarle County, where their Planning Commission is considering a number of new overlay zones that will increase complexity, reduce property rights and increase the scope and size of local government.
“Adopt a historic overlay district ordinance to recognize and protect historic, architectural, and cultural resources, including individual sites and districts at the local level.
Expand the authority of the Architectural Review Board (ARB) to include the review required under the recommended historic district overlay ordinance. Revise the make up of the ARB to include members with expertise in historic preservation and revise the name of the group accordingly”.
This is in addition to the Monticello “land grab” vista preservation overlay (note the verbiage change), the new proposed “Biodiversity” inventory and action plan. Clearly there is an undercurrent in government that more control is better government. The Free Enterprise Forum respectfully disagrees.
All of these regulatory hurdles have an impact on economic development and stability. This morning’s (4/22) Washington Post featured a Sarah Halzack article explaining DC bucking the trend of “Job Sprawl”. Citing Brookings Institute’s Elizabeth Kneebone’s study showing DC was the only one of 100 studied that had added jobs to its urban core. According to the article:
“Decentralization of jobs can have either a positive or negative effect on a metropolitan area. The implications of this shift can depend largely on a region’s land-use policies as well as the quality and reach of its transit system. [Emphasis added-nw]
“Particularly for low income residents, if jobs move further out, if there isn’t reliable transit and they don’t have a car, that could limit their opportunities,” Kneebone said.
This information coupled with the Charlottesville dearth of jobs in the so called “Orange Dot” Report proves economic realities must help shape local policies if we wish to attract and retain JOBS to live in our region. The concept of economic vitality has been woefully understated during the community discussions regarding poverty, employment issues and property rights.
While we appreciate Monticello’s contribution to the community, we believe they are a private property owner. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation takes great pains to mention that it receives no government support but now is asking Albemarle County to serve as a middle man between the mountaintop and their neighbors. Perhaps the Foundation might choose to use a part of their most recent $10 million dollar gift to directly reach out to their neighbors rather than mandating local government do so.
While we understand and appreciate the goals of biodiversity, we do not believe this chapter should be the longest in Albemarle’s Comprehensive Plan and we question the need for a Biodiversity Action Plan that virtually deputizes the Natural Resource Committee.
While we remain very concerned with human rights, we are equally concerned that unnecessary red tape will push more businesses out of not only Charlottesville but the entire region.
While we believe the importance of historic places, we find that property owners, not government, should determine what to do with their property.
If we as a community choose to ignore the significant negative implications of over regulation on business development and retention, the resultant community may not be one you wish to see preserved. Just as one can ask if the community vision is “Aspen or Austin”, if these proposals come to fruition a better question may be should Charlottesville be known for Making Products or Making Beds.
Today, we find ourselves at a tipping point, as the number of government overlays, rights commissions and review boards increase, the economic vitality of the region decreases by an inverse proportion.
Which way will the scale fall?
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. www.freeenterpriseforum.org