Zoning Out Free Speech

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

If, as I do, you live in an urban area, and enjoy an occasional walk through your neighborhood, you may have stumbled upon a "Little Free Library". They look a little bit like small bird houses, but they are about eye-level and hold books that are free for passers-by to borrow. Whatever one might think of the books on offer or of the charity that seems to sponsor many of these, I must say that, if there's a perfectly harmless (and even neighborly) way to use one's own property, this would certainly be one.

But then, I am neither a zoning supporter, nor a power-hungry government bureaucrat, nor a meddlesome neighbor willing to abuse improper laws (HT: Snedcat):

In Los Angeles, Peter Cook, who acts under the name Peter Mackenzie, and his wife, writer Lili Flanders, were told by a city investigator that their curbside library was an obstruction. They were given a week to remove it, or else face fines from the city. This came after an anonymous note from "a neighbor who hates you and your kids" was left on their library, ordering them to "Take it down or the city will."

The couple is declining to remove or relocate the library, with Cook telling the Times that he'll refuse to obey "the blinded Cyclops of L.A. city -- wildly swinging its cudgel to destroy something that has made the city and this neighborhood a better place."
Zoning is a blatant violation of property rights, but these rights don't exist in a vacuum, as we see here. The Cooks -- and others mentioned in the story in other cities across the country -- are seeing their freedom of speech being violated by these same laws.

Barring the conceivable case of one of these libraries actually causing a nuisance or posing an objective hazard to individuals off the property, or of a local authority stepping in to enforce a deed restriction, there is no legitimate reason for the government to force their owners to remove these libraries.

That laws like this are on the books is bad enough. It is worse that, apparently, the kind of people who support such laws are feeling emboldened, and are beginning to actively seek to realize their full potential for abuse.

-- CAV

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