The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

This was originally posted on Live Oaks on August 17, 2010. Comments have not been migrated.

Ramona Davis, executive director of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, tells us that opponents of the proposed preservation ordinance are using a “a barrage of misinformation, disinformation and scare tactics” in Sunday’s Chronicle:

It is not clear whether the leaders of this campaign are woefully misinformed or willfully misleading the public, but it is obvious that they either have not read Houston’s preservation ordinance and the proposed amendments or that they are intentionally distorting the issue. The Greater Houston Preservation Alliance is determined to clear up these misrepresentations.

What is particularly interesting about the article is that Davis resorts to the same tactics she accuses others of using. Consider, for example, that Davis does not document the source of her information. She cites information from a web site, but provides neither the name of the organization operating the web site nor a URL. Apparently we are to take her word on this as a matter of faith. But this is minor compared to a later claim.

Resorting to a tactic used by pro-zoners in the 1990s, Davis writes:

Draconian measures are already in place in many of Houston’s older neighborhoods, but they have nothing to do with the preservation ordinance. They are the restrictions enforced in the townhouse and condominium developments being built in and around our historic districts. Approved paint schemes, acceptable types and placement of plants, and bans on additions, alterations and even basketball goals are justified as necessary for protecting a homeowner’s investment. Yet opponents of the ordinance revisions warn that instituting much less stringent protections for historic properties in the same neighborhood would have disastrous results.

Davis is unable to distinguish between the voluntary, contractual agreements that are deed restrictions and the mandatory, coercive mandates that make up the preservation ordinance. She sees a similarity–restrictions on the use of property–and ignores the fact that deed restrictions and the preservation ordinance are fundamentally different.

To call this misinformation would be too kind. To equate a private, voluntary agreement with a coercive government mandate is not an innocent mistake. It requires a willful evasion. And the evasions do not stop there. Throughout her article Davis addresses concrete details of the ordinance, repeatedly telling us what the proposed ordinance does not do–for now.

When the first preservation ordinance was being considered in the 1990s I told city council that it would only be a matter of time before preservationists demanded more stringent controls on “historic” properties. And that is precisely what is happening.

Once it becomes acceptable for government to establish some controls and restrictions on the use of property, it becomes acceptable–as a matter of principle–for government to completely control the use of property. The only issue up for debate is the extent of those controls. In time, those who want more and more controls will push the envelope, as preservationists are doing today.And that is precisely what is happening today.

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