Monday, May 02, 2005

Ballot Box Zoning in Sandy and Cedar Hills

Still waiting on the Utah Supreme Court ruling on the attempt by some Sandy citizens to put on the ballot the change in the zoning ordinance to allow a Wal-Mart. Ballot box zoning is becoming a larger issue, and I think it will shape how we do planning in the future, depending on how the court rules.

The issue raised its head in another form last week in Cedar Hills. The Provo Herald published an excellent opinion piece on the topic last -- see it at In our view: Cedar Hills and democracy :: The Daily Herald, Provo Utah. (apparently this link will get you to The Herald website, but says it can't find the story. Click on the Archives in the top banner, and search for "Cedar Hills and Democracy", that will get you to it.) The Herald writes, "under the coalition's misguided democratic philosophy, Cedar Hills would need to convene a town meeting and get voter approval for every piece of business that comes before the city. It's an unwieldy, inefficient and unstable way to run a city.
"We elect representatives to do the business of government in our name. A mayor and city council are charged with formulating and directing economic development. ... The public has its chance for input at public hearings, and the council members listen informally to their constituents. But in the end it is the council's call and the council's vote. If you don't like it, you should aim for the next election cycle to throw the bums out. In this case, a few residents short-circuited the process and undermined civic order."

Lora Lucero, a land use attorney in Albuquerque, has written an article for Planning and Zoning Law Report on the topic, in which she explores the issue by telling the story of a couple of cases, one in South Dakota and the other the Sandy story.

Lora writes, "Ralph Nader considers the initiative and referendum the citizen activist's 'ace in the hole.' When citizen activists take to the streets collecting signatures for a referendum petition in a land use matter in their community, are they exercising their 'cherished' democratic rights of self-government or are they undermining the foundation of representative government and, perhaps, the constitutional rights of a few? It depends.
"So long as citizens had an opportunity to participate meaningfully in the preparation of the community's plan...and in the preparation of the land use regulations, their elected officials should be entrusted with making the administrative decisions to implement the plans and regulations. To hold otherwise invites chaos in the land use arena, and arbitrary decision-making at the ballot box."

There are, certainly, other opinions out there.

We'll see soon what the Supreme Court has to say about it.


At 8:09 AM, Blogger Planner Perplexed said...

I just don't think that ballot box planning is the way to go. Perhaps there are some land use issues such the adoption of general plans or zoning ordinances that should have a public viewing period/comment period and then a city-wide vote? Maybe the MP/GP/ZO should be readopted every 3-5 years with a general vote. At least that way some of the apathetic populace would be given an additional chance to get involved.

But to potentially put every application up for a vote is dangerous and unwise because it allows the common citizen exercise control over a portion of government but not all of it.

Would it be wise if budget, policies or actions by the city's attorney, police dept. or finance were up for a vote? Its a slippery slope in my mind

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