[A shorter letter to the editor (by me) was published in the Boulder Daily Camera
I have discussed a couple of times in the past
the ridiculous ruling by the People's Republic of Boulder that house concerts, where guests were asked for voluntary donations to help offset the host's cost of hiring the bands, represented commercial activity.
Today there is a hearing during which Boulder County government will be discussing rules proposed by the boneheaded bureaucrat who made the first outrageous ruling.
If you're interested in learning more about the issue, here are some resources:
The Land Use Department's running history of the code about house concerts
A draft of the discussion material for the January 16th County Commissioners meeting
And, the final draft of the proposed rules for the Commissioners to think about
Here is the letter I sent to the County Commissioners in response to this sadly-typical nanny state trampling of property rights, equal protection, and common sense:
To: Boulder County Planning Commission
Re: “House Concerts” agenda item for 1/16/08 meeting
Date: January 15, 2008
Your upcoming discussion on regulations for “house concerts” is informed by suggestions which are rife with problems, inconsistency, and attacks on property rights. While I am not surprised that someone as devoid of common sense or appreciation for the rule of law as Mr. Billingsley would come up with such a bad regulation, the Commission should recognize the advice and proposal for what it is: An attempt by a man who expresses outright derision for property rights (at least for anyone who can afford a house bigger than a postage stamp) to paper over his bone-headed and widely unpopular decision to classify house concerts as commercial activity in the first place. Mr. Billingsley is currently a source of humor and embarrassment for me, as a Boulder County resident. Indeed, I frequently use him as an example of Boulder’s living up to its reputation as a socialist haven free, temporarily, from reality. But the fact remains that neither he nor this proposed regulation is harmless and that neither respects our constitution.
As for the specific items in the proposal, there are many problems:
First, the 60-person limitation is not a smart way to deal with what is really primarily a parking and road-use issue. It is also an unjustifiable attempt to limit what people can do, especially temporarily, in or at their own homes. If you believe you have the authority to impose any limits, they should be based on the number of vehicles, not on the number of people, and therefore I would suggest 50 vehicles rather than 60 people. For the record, I could definitely get 60 cars on to my property if I wanted to…and they wouldn’t be visible from the road. That said, the roads are public and there should be no restriction on how many people can park in legal parking areas for occasional events.
Second, the restriction on frequency of events is far too restrictive. Some people are members of organizations, including charitable organizations, which might have reasons of their own to meet more frequently than once every other month. Interfering with peoples’ constitutional right peaceably to assemble is something that even the People’s Republic of Boulder should not do.
Third, I have addressed the parking issue before, but I note that staff “prefers a ratio approach” of attendees to cars. What this means is “we want to micromanage everything and make sure we can cause you trouble one way or another.” The “ratio approach” should be abandoned entirely. The issue is one of parking and to a lesser degree of road use. You have no business enforcing any rules about people congregating temporarily on private property.
Fourth, the restriction to outdoor use is also outrageous. I have 40 acres of land which has clearings in the center and is forested around 80% or more of the boundary. I could have a huge outdoor party or a concert and there would be less noise transmission to neighbors than they might get from vehicles driving down Magnolia Road. And again, I own that land, not just the house in the middle of the land, and I object to your attempts to limit whom I can invite to share it with me for some hours.
Fifth, your restriction on the duration of events, i.e. not before 9 AM, not after 11 PM, and not for more than 6 hours, also represents the worst nanny-state tendencies of Boulder Government. Just because Mr. Billingsley doesn’t have many friends or many people who’d want to attend an event of his for more than 6 hours doesn’t give him the right or legitimate reason to interfere with the private lives of the rest of us. If you must have restrictions on hours of operation, it should be more like 6 AM to start and 2 AM to end, but any such time restrictions are simply micro-management rules whose primary use will be tools for busy-bodies who want to harass their neighbors who happen to have friends. Indeed, that’s exactly what caused this mess to begin with: Two neighbors of Greg Ching who opposed his “house concerts” even though there was no effect on them and with one of the complainers actually having attended more than one concert. When an area has so many “I’m gonna tell mommy” residents…and when “mommy” is government, the government should go out of its way to limit the ability of those people to make such complaints and to allow those complaints to interfere in the lives of normal people.
Sixth, although a smaller point, the suggestion to prohibit outdoor storage of items for an event is outrageous. What if I rent chairs and tables for an event and the rental company only has a delivery date available three days before the event? I can keep the items covered in my driveway so they don’t take up room in my house, and those piles wouldn’t inconvenience (or even be visible to) anybody else. This suggestion represents the worst sort of micro-management. Unfortunately it is exactly the sort of muddled thinking I would expect from a man who believes that government has ultimate jurisdiction over our property rights.
I suspect that you will use the “indoor” provision of the proposed rules to exempt other types of larger get-togethers, such as equestrian events. Our constitution and a basic sense of justice demand equal protection under the law. It is both unreasonable and unconstitutional to create substantially different rules for substantially similar events. What’s the difference between my wanting to use my horse fields (of which I have three, but no horses) for an outdoor volleyball tournament instead of a polo tournament? Or a fund-raising-for-charity event where I put on three separate (not very loud) concerts in each field, so that people could walk between them and enjoy varied entertainment?
In summary, your proposed regulations are far too restrictive and sadly representative of Graham Billingsley’s antipathy toward property rights…typical of the “we know best” attitude of Boulder government. Whether government likes it or not, we have property rights which must be respected. The default position of regulation must be to protect those rights. Where property rights conflict with a hyper-sensitive nanny-stater being “offended”, government must always support property rights. There is no right never to be slightly inconvenienced or offended, especially if you’re the sort of person who makes hundreds of complaints to Denver International Airport about noise while living in the Front Range mountains. A person like that was the primary source of this conflict to begin with. By attacking the property rights and enjoyment of life of normal people doing normal things, Billingsley sided with a neurotic busybody. And while that may be because Billingsley feels that he has a lot in common with a neurotic busybody, making rules based on such people (or proposed by such people) is destructive of our most fundamental rights and puts the government in a very tenuous legal position, in my view likely to lose court challenges to such rules, thus wasting as much taxpayer money fighting to protect these outrageous rules as you’ve wasted in drafting and proposing them.
I urge the planning commission to simply define house concerts as non-commercial and leave it at that. To the extent that you want to ensure the non-commercial nature, offer only sane limitations. To get sane limitations, you will probably need to get most of your input from normal citizens rather than from nanny-state-brained career bureaucrats and their socialist friends who believe that if they don’t have nice houses or many friends, then nobody should be able to have them.