Can government force you to give up fundamental rights for a building permit?


Author: Paul J. Beard II

We all know that government entities across the country are facing major budget deficits. We also know that governments often prefer to avoid the sort of belt-tightening that so many American families have been forced to do in recent years, and instead prefer to find clever ways of financing their operations . . . even if it means violating individuals' rights.

Case in point: The City of Santa Rosa, California, recently enacted a tax scheme to help solve its budget deficit and finance public services (police, fire, etc.). The City didn't cut costs or services. And it didn't implement a fair strategy for raising money. Instead of finding a way for all of its citizens to share in the burden of addressing the budget problem, the City targeted a small group of property owners, converting them into its cash cows.

Under a recently enacted ordinance, any applicant for a residential building permit–with property in a targeted area of the City–must agree to pay "special taxes" for the "privilege" of obtaining that permit. Recognizing the implications of this extortionate condition, the ordinance also requires the applicant to waive all rights pertaining to the imposition of those taxes–including the right freely to vote on them as required by the California Constitution. Not only does the condition require the permit applicant to forfeit his constitutional voting rights, it also violates his equal-protection rights: Individuals not seeking residential building permits, and individuals outside the targeted area, are not required to trade away their constitutional rights, even though they use and enjoy the same types and level of public services.

Home Builders Association of Northern California is a nonprofit organization, some of whose members are affected by the City's tax scheme.  Pacific Legal Foundation represents the Association in a lawsuit against the City that seeks to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.  Read more about the outrageous facts of this case and our legal strategy to get the law off the City's books.