In San Diego, in May, a pastor and his wife found out how tyrannical a simple thing like a zoning law can be.
They hold Bible studies in their home. Being Americans, they expected the freedom to associate and practice their religion.
But a county employee grilled Pastor David Jones and his wife about what they were up to with their Bible studies — did they pray? did they say “amen”? Then they were told that the study group, averaging 15 people per meeting, violated county regulations.
“Unlawful use of land,” you see. It had nothing to do with suppressing religion, everything to do with how many cars appeared Tuesday nights. County officials said the ominous grilling about religion was done simply to find out which land-use regulation to use in filing the complaint.
And there was a complaint. Too often, these days, instead of neighbor taking up the matter with neighbor, the government gets called in. So, before these students of the Bible could even consider carpooling, to respect the Joneses’ neighbors’ parking concerns, government employees told them to cease and desist — or else apply for a major use permit. Which could take a lot more money than found in your average Sunday passing of the offering plate.
This story is almost a parable — of why zoning laws don’t make good neighbors. Zoning is a blunt instrument, indeed. There are alternatives.
But the alternatives require a bit of common sense.
I’m Paul Jacob.