The Regulatory Pendulum Swings

The Trump Administration has cancelled hundreds of regulations which cost companies and people money according to the Budget Director. Fortunately in Houston companies and areas in Texas there was no or very limited costs. Unfortunately for people of Texas the costs in money and heartbreak are astronomical. After all Houston is and has been the largest city without zoning/land use regulations. What does that mean for any city?

Zoning doesn’t only separate uses based on compatibility. Although it does accomplish that it also requires building setbacks, spacing, landscaping, limits how much land can be built upon and paved. Many zoning and land use ordinances go further and establish the minimum size for a building site, public access such as streets, sidewalks, public water and sewer connections and the minimum elevation for the ground floor of a building based on flood zones. Keep in mind flooding was the main problem in Houston indirectly caused by Hurricane Harvey. There are many other controls, perhaps more than we need, but eliminating the regulations can’t be the answer.

Shifting to Florida the damage was different, wind and storm surge. This means different regulations are needed to minimize property damage and loss of life. Elevated buildings seem to have fared better where storm surge could flow through the first level of a structure. Wind damage necessitates building codes that require construction which strengthens building specifications to help sustain them against hurricane force winds. Florida strengthened it’s building code after the devastation caused by Hurricane Andrew.

Mexico City saw buildings collapse due to an earthquake. The reports emphasized that the buildings which collapsed were older buildings that don’t meet updated codes in Mexico City.

Now we see Puerto Rico, an island, struggling desperately to help its citizens after the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. It appears that many structures were not built in a way to withstand such a hit from a hurricane. Going a step further part of the problem in Puerto Rico was infrastructure. Roadways washed out, bridges collapsed, the electric grid was toppled over literally. This was due to a lack of investment in maintenance and upkeep of the facilities. Where public sector investment is necessary oftentimes this is the first area cut from public budgets.

The cries to get government out, don’t let the public sector regulate, spend money or even raise money are only part of the problem. We elect people who claim to be fiscal conservatives who won’t raise taxes or waste money or over regulate our businesses and lives. Calling for fiscal restraint requires the responsibility to ensure adequate funding is provided for the needed services. Just as the annual maintenance and care of my home costs money, so do the public sector services. Sometimes regulation is necessary just as maintenance by the public sector is essential. The option apparently to ignore or minimize government action is failing.

Why regulate? Proper and necessary regulation minimizes the upfront costs to society. If we fail to regulate then the result is greater costs which still requires the people to pay, but the costs become astronomical. How many billions in disaster relief have been allocated by the federal government in the past sixty days. Proper regulation is essential. Failing to require regulation or simply repealing existing regulations is never good.

Government can at times be a problem but it is not The Problem. Good government requires good elected leaders. The system is neutral but the people in the system make it or break it. The time is now to use our heads and common sense to develop good regulations and procedures to protect our lives, our homes, our businesses and our communities. The pendulum needs to stop swinging and find the middle ground where lives are saved and costs are manageable.


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