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Pima County has super-sized plan for starving private property rights

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Pima County has super-sized plan for starving private property rights

Uncle Sam wants to replace the fast food in your diet with government pork. Arizona's Pima County is one of 44 municipalities receiving federal stimulus money to address obesity within its borders.

Pima County will use its $15.8 million to implement a comprehensive scheme of programs and restrictions on restaurants, workplaces and schools all aimed at shrinking the waistlines of county residents. The County has already made plans to restrict what foods will be available in county vending machines and has used taxpayer money to add 155 employees to the local bureaucracy.

Perhaps the most egregious of the plan's goals is so-called "obesity zoning" which would limit the number of fast food restaurants within a given area. These zoning changes could result in the shutdown of locally-owned businesses and a considerable decline in the value of property zoned for business uses.

Beyond trying to micro-manage what we eat, by imposing stricter zoning on fast food restaurants, Pima County exposes itself to potential legal trouble. In 2006, Arizonans passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act, also known as Prop 207, which requires the government to compensate property owners when a land use law reduces the value of their property. So, if Pima County enacts obesity zoning, it may have a long list of property owners it has to compensate for restricting their property rights.

Although Prop 207 exempts land regulations that protect public health and safety, that really means addressing issues like sanitation and traffic control, not broad, general ideas about what the government thinks we should eat. The government will have a tough time proving this overreach falls within the designated exceptions.

Pima County's obesity action plan restricts consumer choice and reduces property values. Given voters' overwhelming support for Prop 207, Pima County should abandon these proposed zoning rules that would leave a bad taste in every taxpayer's mouth.

Christina Kohn is a staff attorney with the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.

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