Sunday, February 16

Is Regulation The Problem With Jacksonville?

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I got into an interesting conversation with a gentleman about why Jacksonville has not yet attained the stature that it should have as a metropolis of one million residents. We kind of went back and forth for a time, both of us mentioning what might be wrong, when he came up with government regulation. He claimed government regulation was the number one worst thing with living here, even though I often look around and wonder whether there's any regulation at all in the city. 
I suppose it was my fault for bringing up government. He’d asked why I thought some people who move to Jacksonville become disillusioned and leave. One of my arguments was the overt corruption in local government: the Browns, the JEA sale debacle, and the weekly revelations of people in power taking advantage of their positions. The obvious old boys' club, political machines, and general consensus that the rest of us have no power all add to the mentality (for me) that many people in Jacksonville seem to be stuck in some kind of political time warp, maybe from the 1920s.

But my rider didn't think most of that was really the problem in Jacksonville. He thought that too much government regulation drove people from town. He agreed that being minor league and having a boring downtown kind of hurt, too, but a strong arm government that made it nearly impossible to add a new kitchen to his home is what really got his goat. Technically, he lived in Neptune Beach or Atlantic Beach, but maybe Duval County handles all the building permits the same way. I am sure that building inspector cause headaches for some people in Jax, but I was slightly hard-pressed to agree with the guy that it was a major problem.

My view of cautious support for regulation was reinforced by one of the man's own arguments. He said he had a friend in another state who wanted to build a private airport on his land. Since he lived in the low-regulation county, the officials just asked him if he owned the land. When he said yes, his request was approved. I wonder if his neighbor then went to the same government entity with a request to install anti-aircraft guns on his own property. Really, my rider thought it was a good example of how our local government ought to act to say that people who want to build their own backyard airports should be free to do so. Maybe the example friend should add a hazardous waste dump, a rooster farm, a casino, and a gentlemen's club for good measure. Zoning and building codes exist for a reason, and that reason is exactly the example used in an argument against those codes. Most of us aren't very good at determining what will drive our neighbors completely insane or drive property values way down, so we rely on local government to figure it out.

So my rider probably didn't want to have to upgrade his shoddy electrical circuitry. I understand. It's expensive. But when you live 30 feet from someone whose wiring could catch fire at any moment, you kind of hope the government might suggest an upgrade if the owner wants to add a new kitchen that will probably tax the electrical output even more.

In the end, responsible government regulation is probably one of the most important functions of a local government. We want to live in a civilized society, which means regulation is as important as policing and firefighting. How many of your neighbors would have three pickup trucks in the front lawn if it was allowed? The answer in Jacksonville is, “all of them.” One pickup is obviously cool, but you have to draw the line somewhere. How many landlords would allow unlivable conditions? Same answer, and you know it. I don’t claim to know where the line is, and I’m sure those members of the old boys’ club have their own versions of the rules, but the hope is that all of us benefit from some kind of standards in regulation. I reserve the right to change my mind if I get in trouble with local building codes while replacing my AC or windows late this year, but until then, I certainly can’t say that Jacksonville has too many regulations.

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