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Council candidate Lisa Matichak seeks to preserve city's character
Original post made
on May 13, 2014
After an introduction to Mountain View politics through her neighborhood's opposition to a housing project at 450 Whisman Road, and spending the last four years on the planning commission, Lisa Matichak is now seeking a seat on the City Council.
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posted Monday, May 12, 2014, 11:57 AM
Posted by MVResident67,
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 17, 2014 at 12:11 am
Zoning To Protect The Neighborhood Commons
(BRADLEY C. KARKKAINEN)
"This article contends that both supporters and critics of zoning have misconceived the nature of zoning. Zoning is only partially about protecting individual property owners against the effects of "spillovers" or negative externalities that adversely affect the market values of their property. Specifically, zoning protects a homeowner's consumer surplus in a home and in the surrounding neighborhood, that lies above the market value of that home. This consumer surplus has essentially been overlooked and is fundamental to an understanding of zoning.
Zoning in urban neighborhoods is not merely a system for protecting the market values of individual properties, but rather is a device to protect neighborhood residents' interests in their entirety, including consumer surplus in their homes, as well as their interests in what this article calls the neighborhood commons.
Although typically not addressed in the literature, which generally discusses only objectively measurable market values, the notion of consumer surplus in an individual parcel of property is quite straightforward. The concepts of "home" in general, and "home ownership" in particular, are areas where consumer surplus are particularly important. What distinguishes a mere "house" from a "home" is the consumer surplus we have in the latter. "Home" provides continuity, security, familiarity, and comfort for our most intimate and satisfying life experiences. The intimately bound ideas of home and family strike deep emotional chords in our culture. Since most people feel that these values cannot be reduced to dollars, people tend to be especially sensitive when the use and enjoyment of the home is threatened. In part, this reflects the importance of a homeowner's financial stake, which typically represents a substantial part of that homeowner's net worth. If the only concern were to protect financial investments, however, monetary compensation for any loss of market value would be acceptable. Part of zoning's appeal lies in the fact that it allows homeowners to protect all the value we place in a home, including the consumer surplus that lies above and beyond the market price of the home.
The failure of zoning's critics to account for the importance of "home" to the homeowner suggests that their critiques are based on an incomplete cost-accounting. But the notion of individuals' consumer surplus in their homes, by itself, is not sufficient to explain or justify zoning. An adequate account of zoning must also deal with the collective values zoning seeks to protect. Zoning is a device that protects a neighborhood from encroachments by land uses inconsistent with its character, regardless of the positive or negative effects of a proposed development on the market values of individual properties.
These features together make up the "character" of a neighborhood. They are what give the neighborhood its distinctive flavor. A purchaser of residential property in an urban neighborhood buys not only a particular parcel of real estate, but also a share in the neighborhood commons. Typically, differences in the neighborhood commons may be as crucial to a decision to purchase as differences in individual parcels.
For many people, a high level of consumer surplus may attach to particular features of a neighborhood commons. I may be particularly attached to my church, for example, or to a particular local club or political organization, or to a particular spot in a local park where I am accustomed to walk at sunset. These values are highly subjective and may not be widely shared by people who have never lived in the neighborhood, so they may add little or nothing to the market value of the property. Moreover, these resources are for the most part non-fungible and therefore irreplaceable. To me, enjoying the use of these resources is precisely what it means to live in my neigh borhood. In addition to protecting the market value of my home and my consumer surplus in that particular piece of real estate, I will naturally want to protect those collective resources of my neighborhood that I care about most, whether they are reflected in the market value of my property or are part of my consumer surplus. These values can be almost priceless, especially for long-term neighborhood residents. Like one's home, one's neighborhood may be centrally bound up in one's definition of self and sense of his or her place in the world.
Some neighborhood differences are simply inconsistent. For example, I might prefer a quiet, neighborly, low-density neighborhood of single-family homes, with access to parks and good neighborhood schools; you might prefer the faster pace, excitement and anonymity of a high-rise condominium in a high-density neighborhood featuring interesting restaurants, bistros, music venues, and trendy boutiques. Yet my house and your condo may have identical market values because some people are willing to pay the same price for my house as others are willing to pay for your condominium. In this example, the individual properties are themselves not interchangeable, but additional subjective value attaches to the features of the neighborhood that we each find desirable.
However, some of the same neighborhood features that add value to your property in your neighborhood might detract value from my property in my neighborhood. A hot new jazz club, for example, might be a welcome addition in your lively, trendy neighborhood, but would be a nuisance in my quiet neighborhood. To some extent, the spillover effects on your individual property are different; noise, traffic congestion, and heavy pedestrian traffic are presumably of less concern to you.
This example illustrates that some land uses are incompatible with the neighborhood commons that current property owners have come to rely on. It further illustrates that negative externalities are contextual. A land use that would have severe negative externalities in my neighborhood may be an amenity in your neighborhood.
It is not always the case, however, that inconsistent uses will lower market values. Suppose my quiet single-family neighborhood is located within a few blocks of some successful high-rise developments. Absent some system of land-use control, a developer might acquire the previously single-family parcels adjacent to mine, and proceed to put up more high-rises. The value of my house may go down because of spillover effects from the new high-rise, but the value of my land may increase, as my property becomes attractive as a potential site for additional high-rise developments. Under a market value based system, I would be entitled to no relief since my property is worth exactly what it was before. Yet under these circumstances many homeowners would feel aggrieved by this devel opment. In part this is because the direct spillovers (e.g., noise and aesthetics) would interfere with the use and enjoyment of my home. To recoup that loss by selling my home would subject me to the additional cost and inconvenience of moving. More importantly, however, my loss of consumer surplus in this particular home would go uncompensated.
Additionally, my neighbors and I may be equally concerned about the effect of the new high-rise development on the neighborhood. The coming of the first high-rise means, at least initially, more intensive uses of the neighborhood commons (e.g., streets, side walks, on-street parking, public transportation facilities, etc.) which means that more people are competing for diminishing shares of fixed resources (e.g., on-street parking). Again, since land prices may rise, the result may be that I suffer no net financial loss. But what I suffer now (in addition to my uncompensated loss of consumer surplus in my own home) is a loss of consumer surplus in my interest in the neighborhood commons. In short, the neighborhood is taking the first step toward becoming something other than the neighborhood where I chose to live. Although difficult to place in quantitative terms, the loss is great.
What's wrong with this? Well, nothing, I suppose, unless you were that homeowner who had been quite happy with your home and neighborhood but now find them to be no longer what they were. Of course you can move, but it may not be easy (and in some crucial respects is impossible) to replicate those features of your old home and neighborhood that made your life what it was.
Zoning is aimed at preventing, or at least limiting, precisely these kinds of changes in the use of property that are disruptive of a neighborhood's character because they are inconsistent with current uses of the neighborhood commons. These include changes in density, as well as shifts from residential to commercial or industrial uses.
This article has argued that, by limiting their analyses of zoning costs and benefits to monetizable values, both defenders and critics of zoning have substantially missed the mark. While zoning does have significant effects on the market values of individual parcels, and larger-scale economic consequences as well, a complete cost accounting must also consider zoning's role in protecting crucial, non-monetizable values. These include each homeowner's surplus in his or her home, as well as neighborhood residents' interest in preserving the unique set of common neighborhood resourcesthe neighborhood commonsupon which they rely. Far from being trivial, or mere ancillary values, "home" and "neighborhood" are central components of our identities. Precisely because these values are notoriously insusceptible to objective valuation, we afford them property rule protection in the form of zoning laws.
Thus conceived as a means of protecting the legitimate interests of current neighborhood residents, zoning regulations should be flexible to change over time, sensitive to unique neighborhood concerns and contexts, and based upon a participatory process. Citizen participation both gives voice to the interests of current neighborhood residents and provides the most effective safeguard against corruption of the zoning process.
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