EDITORIAL: Controlling the growth-control crowd

Las Vegas Review Journal


Las Vegas, Nevada - Bills amending zoning initiative process would stifle grass-roots activism

Activists trying to use the voter initiative process to limit population growth and "sprawl" are battling more than potential new home-dwellers: They're fighting the Legislature as well.

Similar bills before the Assembly and the Senate would impose significant impediments on residents who sponsor initiatives that would limit the number of houses, apartments or condominiums within a city or county, possibly making the cost of mounting those ballot drives prohibitive.

The measures -- Assembly Bill 428 and Senate Bill 279 -- championed by various homebuilder and realtor groups, would require any city or county initiative that imposes growth controls to be accompanied by "findings" that justify the limitations. Such findings would force initiative sponsors to issue a blizzard of paperwork and commission pricey studies from consultants -- spelling out, for example, the cost to a community of restricting new housing development. The measures would also require city councils or county commissions to hold public meetings to discuss the findings.

If passed, the bills could place unacceptable financial burdens on the sponsors of a particular type of ballot initiative. Critics say the public meetings required by the law would also allow city and county policy-makers to potentially interfere with the initiative process.

To be sure, growth controls of this variety are often problematic. Any attempt to limit housing construction or residential development on private land can easily run afoul of the property rights guaranteed by the U.S. and Nevada constitutions. Zoning regulations, local ordinances and even ballot initiatives that deny land owners the use of their property without providing just compensation are ripe for challenge on constitutional grounds. A majority of voters supporting a specific ballot drive do not have the legitimate authority to override fundamental individual rights.

But it's the role of the courts to determine the legality of such matters. If these bills pass -- and they survive an inevitable legal challenge -- they would set a troubling precedent, opening the door to all sorts of mischief by future legislatures. Concentrated special-interest groups could prevail on lawmakers to impose burdens on the sponsors of other types of ballot measures, short-circuiting the initiative process and its ability to directly restrain elected officials and bureaucrats.

The Legislature should reject both bills.


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