Speaking Against Zoning in Hobbs, NM

by Brian Phillips

In mid-2005 the Maddox Foundation of Hobbs, New Mexico, proposed to give the city a $15 million grant to “beautify” the city. The grant contract included a stipulation that the city adopt land use controls that met with the approval of the Foundation.

Several months later, I was contacted by a businessman from Hobbs. He had read articles I had co-authored on the internet Capitalism Magazine on the zoning issue in Houston. I was subsequently hired to consult him on the zoning issue in Hobbs.

I wrote a series of articles that were printed in the local newspaper (as paid ads). The City Commissioners (City Council) ultimately passed a zoning ordinance. A petition was circulated to force a referendum, which will be held on May 22.

On April 25, I went to Hobbs to meet with local businessmen and others to address zoning.

On Thursday morning, I met with 7 local businessmen. Included in this group were 1 City Commissioner, 1 member of the City’s Planning Department, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s chief fund raiser (Cope). All of the members of this group are opposed to zoning. I spoke about zoning being a violation of property rights, a power grab to allow some Hobbsans to impose their values upon the entire city, and the underlying moral principles of zoning. They were very receptive to my message. Indeed, the City Commissioner and Cope wanted a written copy of my comments. My comments on property rights appeared to be a new insight for them. Cope had previously told me that he wasn’t opposed to zoning as much as this particular ordinance. He was the most receptive to my comments on property rights.

At noon I spoke to the Rotary Club to a group of about 70 people. I essentially repeated the comments I had made to the businessmen. A member of the group that had written the zoning ordinance also spoke, and then we answered questions for about 10 minutes. I had been told that the largely Republican audience was leaning towards zoning, but it did seem receptive to my message. Several of them later told me my comments were “interesting.”

Later in the afternoon, I met with the publisher and editor of the local paper. We spoke for about an hour. The publisher said that the paper has not decided its position on the issue. The editor seemed convinced by my arguments—stating at one point that he found them appealing. I was led to believe that an article/interview will be published soon.

Thursday evening I attended a meeting of the local chapter of the NAACP. In her opening remarks, the president said that the meeting was intended to inform voters of the “benefits of zoning.” The City’s Mayor was given 10 minutes to make an opening statement; I was given 5 minutes. The floor was then opened to questions. The first question was directed at me and focused on the number of “sex shops” and gated communities in Houston. I was not given another opportunity to talk during the next 90 minutes. The remainder of the meeting consisted of arguments over inspections of mobile homes, the wording of the zoning ordinance, non-enforcement of existing ordinances, etc. It was a complete farce.

Friday’s paper had a front page article on the Rotary meeting. My photo was on the front page along with a number of quotes. Overall it was a reasonably good article, and it certainly got my message to a lot more voters.

Friday morning I was interviewed for a local radio program. The interviewer (who had been the moderator at the Rotary Club) asked good questions, and visually seemed favorable to my comments. He asked “hard” questions and gave me ample time to respond. The program will air in about 2 weeks.

I will also be recording several radio ads and writing additional articles in the next few weeks.

The trip was quite successful. I was able to get my message out to voters through numerous methods, and my voice will continue to be heard during the weeks leading up to the election. My host believes that, while the election will be close, sentiment is running against zoning.

As is often the case, I later thought of points I could have made in response to questions or a better way to phrase an answer. But overall, I was very pleased with my performance. I certainly delivered a message that wasn’t being heard, and I know I provided additional intellectual ammunition for the opponents of zoning. Given the audiences I had and my access to the media, I am very confident that I made a difference.

A few of the points I was able to make, aside from what I have previously mentioned:

  • Zoning has been ruled constitutional. At one time slavery was constitutional. That didn’t make slavery right, and it doesn’t make zoning right.
  • The smallest minority is the individual. (This was in response to questions about how zoning would impact minorities.) Zoning is an attack on individual rights.
  • Economic power is derived from the voluntary consent of consumers. Political power is coercive. Businessmen are the true agents of the public, not politicians.

It was very interesting being immersed in small town politics for 2 days. I imagine that it is little different from large city politics, other than the number of players. Compromise seems to be the rule, as individuals who disagree on many things unite to promote or fight one particular issue. Other than my host, I heard virtually no mention of the principles underlying zoning by a single Hobbsan.


June Update: The following is an email exchange between Brian and Hobbsan Rodger regarding the outcome of the voting:


The election results are in–largest turnout ever in a city election. 3264 votes with 1170 for and 2094 against. The proponents “can’t understand the vote.” The mayor says the commission needs to address the “problems” of the city piecemeal no, one item at a time. He also slipped and said there were examples of Texas towns that enforce restrictions. The Hubris is amazing. We, the unwashed citizens, simply don’t know what is good for us and they must enact legislation to save us from ourselves.

Your help and advise was invaluable, also tell your wife she was a star on the local radio stations with her spots.




Thank you for the very welcome news. I had checked the paper very early this morning before I left, but today’s edition wasn’t online yet. I’m glad the radio spots went over well.

My fear at this point is that we won this battle, but may eventually lose the war. As Monty indicated, they will simply try a piecemeal approach. That’s what has occurred in Houston.

I would suggest going on the offensive. Try to get the landscaping ordinance repealed. That would put the zoners in a difficult position.

Thanks for allowing me to be a part of this. It is very rewarding. I’m glad I could be of some help. Let me know if I can be of any assistance in the future.


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