Government Regulations vs. Property Rights
Some years ago, my family spent a Thanksgiving at Bodega Bay, made famous from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. There really isn’t a whole lot to keep you occupied at Bodega Bay. There is a golf course, whose houses are dangerously close to the fairway.
The breaking of plate glass windows along the fairway is so routine there was a sign at the clubhouse detailing the procedures – who to call – should you hook or slice at the tee.
Knowing my errant drives (and golf game in general) I chose to chip my way up the fairways.
So there’s golf.
Not much else.
Reading, and walking.
One thing that seems to be constant at Bodega Bay is the wind.
So, one afternoon I took a walk and came to an empty hill. I learned later that day that there were 2 adjacent lots on that hill. Both had the same view of the ocean. One was priced at $450,000 and the other was $50,000.
I have enjoyed posing this question to people over the years to both Californians and non-Californians. Most have no idea as to the answer of why the price discrepancy.
In fact, I have never heard anyone come up with the answer, but there is one of course.
And the pricing was no accident, perfectly logical in a market.
So why the difference?
The lots were the same, one next to the other.
I’ll wait for a moment.
One had permission from our California Coastal Commission to build, while the other did not. The $50,000 lot owner might have it for 20 years, paying annual taxes, before he might get permission.
An acquaintance of mine had with his family 1,000 acres of prime coastal land. It was an inheritance from his grandfather. Due to the Coastal Commission regulations, he was prohibited from building any structures without permission.
What he did do for many years was allow people to put trailers near the coast and have them as a vacation home. No permanent improvements were done – no paved roads – just trailers on the bare land with, I am assuming, septic tanks.
I spent a day up there sitting on the redwood deck of some friends with a nice beer, conversations, the sea breeze and sound of the surf. It was a memorable day.
The CCC made him stop that. This was an entity approved by voters by referendum back in the 70s.
He chose to sell his share to his family and move out of state.
As far as I know, the trailers are gone and the cows are back.
A few weeks ago, I drove up California Highway 1 from San Simeon to Carmel.
It’s one of the world’s most beautiful drives and the surprising thing was, other than the new sections of road built from landslides in the winter (which are pretty common), nothing had changed from the time I remember driving it nearly 50 years ago. The buildings seemed the same, no new ones at all were to be seen. It was (and is) mostly scenes of desolate and rocky cliffs and beaches. It is a beautiful drive, and people come from all over the world to drive this stretch.
On my drive up the coast, I thought how nice it was to not see a coast now lined with condos on the cliffs.
It’s this same law that one will read about occasional spats with movie stars at Malibu.
I have a good friend with a home along the Sacramento River. She once told me that she wanted to remodel her swimming pool, but had to get permission from 3 government entities before she could do so.
“Why don’t you just do it?“, I asked.
“Because they use satellites to photograph your home“, she answered.
Government regulations have even affected my modest tract home. I have this large camphor tree in my front yard. The builder chose it in 1972 because they were cheap and they grow fast. I have come to view them as giant weeds.
Sacramento refers to itself as the “City of Trees”. And there are a lot of them, which helps in our brutal Central Valley summers. With all the trees along the streets, some have called it the “Paris of the West Coast”, but I doubt if Parisians refer to Paris as the “Sacramento of Europe”.
Anyway, I wanted to simply cut it down. After all, it is on my property.
A bidder told me that “I should call the city first to see if it is a “heritage tree”. After paying someone $50 for the privilege of coming out and determining whether I could cut a tree down on my own property, they determined that, low and behold, the trunk circumference was big enough to “qualify”.
Last year it broke my sewer line.
I later suggested to a neighbor that I regretted not simply cutting the thing down before contacting the city. He replied that if a “concerned neighbor” reported me to the city it could have been a $25,000 fine. I am not sure if that is in reality the right amount; just repeating what I was told.
At what point to regulations for the benefit of all overly interfere with the property rights of individuals?
I don’t have a ready answer.
Part 2 is here