Thursday, May 01, 2008

Institute for Justice wins San Tan Flat outdoor dance ban case

Yesterday, Arizona Superior Court Judge William O'Neill struck down a Pinal County Court ruling that Dale Bell's San Tan Flat steakhouse is a "dance hall," freeing Bell from a ban against customers dancing outside his establishment. Pinal County's attempt to ban dancing and extract fines from Bell had been hanging over his business since he opened in 2005.


Eamon Knight said...

I have to ask: how on earth did this silly case get started? Did the neighbours complain about noise? Some petty control freak at City Hall decided to check every old law on the books? Someone had a grudge on the owner?

Jim Lippard said...

There were noise complaints from the neighbors, which Pinal County tried to address by appeal to a 1962 ordinance banning dance halls which makes no reference to noise.

The judge's ruling said the neighbors "have every right to be disappointed" that the county approved the restaurant in the first place.

Bell's lawsuit against the county was for $1 and overturning the County Board of Supervisors' attempt to use the ordinance against him, for which they were threatening to fine him $700/day for noncompliance.

So there's still a dispute about noise that may require some resolution, but now they can't just shut him down by claiming he's running a dance hall, when he's not.

BobDotson said...

I was in court on May 7th when Judge O'Neil made his ruling concerning the San Tan Flat violation of Pinal County Zoning Ordinances. Even though Judge O'Neil ruled in favor of Dale Bell, Judge O'Neil spent a significant amount of time speaking directly to Dale Bell about how the Judge understood the plight of the neighbors near Mr. Bell's establishment, and how Judge O'Neil would be appalled if the County ever allowed an establishment such as Mr. Bell operates, anywhere near the Judge's home in rural Pinal County. Judge O'Neil talked of individual property rights, and the exercise of those property rights as a ‘balancing act’, rubbing together his colliding fists to help demonstrate his point.

It is this 'balancing act' of individual property rights that I would like to address in response to the various articles and editorials that have been published concerning this conflict over the past 2 years. The primary point I would like to discuss is the very important issue that Judge O'Neil pointed out in court, and that is the balancing act of property rights between property owners.

On one side we find Mr. Bell, operating an establishment that he claims he built following all of the required guidelines and procedures, claiming he has honored all of his commitments, making claims of how good his business is for the 'community', all with what he claims are within his rights as a property owner, and that the County is trying to ‘ban dancing’ in Pinal county.

On another side we find the surrounding property owners, who claim that every Friday and Saturday nights, holiday's nights, and many other nights in between, that Mr. Bell takes over our properties for his own use, blasting unbearable loud noise across our properties and into our homes, shines glaring commercial signage across our properties into the windows of our homes, casts a blanket of smoke across our properties from the marshmallow roasting fires fouling the air our families and livestock breath, and then nightly discharges inebriated patrons onto our neighborhood streets, patrons whom routinely choose our neighborhood streets to avoid encounters with law enforcement with no consideration for the families they put at risk.
Unlike TV, radio, or the printed media where when you are offended, or tire of it, or find the timing inconvenient, then you can simply switch it off, set it aside, or not buy it in the first place; but here in our neighborhood, only Mr. Bell gets to choose what music and speech we will hear, blasting into our yards, our homes, our lives, night after night, like it or not, want it or not, only Dale Bell gets to choose when and what will be heard for all of the surrounding property owners.

Now the predominance of the reporting and editorial about this conflict has focused around some injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Bell, which he has spun in the media as an attack on everyone’s right to dance. The candid truth is, we could care less about people dancing in Mr. Bell’s establishment. I don’t know a one among us who doesn’t like to dance. Mr. Bell, spun through his current proxies - the various media, would have us surrender our land, our homes, our dreams, our hopes, to the likes of the blatant recurring trespass from Mr. Bell, that we, Mr. Bell’s neighbors, somehow hold some odd notions of responsible property ownership and appropriate civil behavior, that we have been duped into some kind of flawed thinking about our plight in the face of a bully, that the idea that we might cry foul is somehow wrong, and that it is somehow inappropriate to plead with our elected government to right the wrong, and restore the peace to our neighborhood.

If you remember, we all watched on television as a group of PSYOP soldiers played deafening rock music, 24 hours a day, over loudspeakers that ringed the Vatican Embassy compound where General Noriega had taken refuge. The siege continued until General Manuel Noriega couldn't take the 'constant bombardment of the music' anymore and surrendered. In Iraq, in Fallujah's darkened, empty streets, U.S. troops blast AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" and other rock music full volume from a huge speaker, hoping to grate on the nerves of this Sunni Muslim city's gunmen and give a laugh to Marines along the front line. That is Psychological Warfare Operations.

Granted San Tan Ranches is not a war zone (although some of your readers would like to make it one), and Mr. Bell is not by any stretch of the imagination, a hoard of terrorists bent on killing us all. However, much of the editorial opinion and reporting so far would have us all believe that when our nation’s founding fathers were crafting the Declaration of Independence, that when Thomas Jefferson carefully scribed the concept "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.", that we all must have missed the footnote lay hidden until Mr. Bell came along, that holds an exception - that Mr. Bell somehow enjoys greater privilege over everyone else. Putting the pun aside, it was this very concept of privilege that our founding fathers found to be so objectionable, so much so, that they were willing to risk everything to protect against it. With the 9th amendment of the US Constitution, the premise of Mr. Bell's extraordinary privilege that some of the editorials would try to convince us all of, is clearly dashed by "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Mr. Bell's rights clearly end where exercising his rights deny the rights of his neighbors, and that is exactly what Mr. Bell has been doing, continues to do, and is doing so with the support of the media, and particularly unfortunate for our Republic, ‘the press’ - the very place our founding fathers created extraordinary constitutional protections in order to make sure the exchange of ideas would be forever assured.

The elected and appointed government officials in Pinal County, and the State of Arizona, as agents 'of the people, by the people, for the people' have an absolute obligation to protect the rights of 'all of its citizens', setting aside prejudice, special interests, and all other distractions that might interfere with protection of freedom and the fair application of justice, not just for Mr. Bell, but for all of its citizens. Mr. Bell has rights, and so far, the scale for the rights proposition has leaned heavily in Mr. Bell's favor, entirely at the expense of the rights of his neighbors. Mr. Bell is not entitled to the unencumbered use of our neighborhood properties, to use as he currently chooses to, constructively seizing them from us for his own enjoyment and enrichment, and the County through its actions or inaction, cannot surrender our properties to Mr. Bell or allow to continue, Mr. Bell's nightly trespass. That would effectively constitute an unlawful application of eminent domain, the taking of our properties, and handing them over to Mr. Bell, having denied our neighborhood property owners their due legal recourse, compensation and treatment under the law. The County is obliged to restore the "balance" Judge O'Neil referred to in court.

As for the editorial staffs of the press, I say to you: It's time for you and your readers to face up to your own prejudices and misconceptions instead of relying on the propaganda fed to you by Mr. Bell, and recognize the real injustice that is occurring, the real tragedy in our community, the damage Mr. Bell has inflicted on the trust in the press that our founding fathers recognized as so crucial to the survival of our Republic. Mr. Bell has used your publications for his own selfish propaganda. Regardless how Mr. Bell has portrayed our neighbors in the San Tan Foothills, there are good, hardworking and honorable people here, caring people, and mostly people trying their best to help our community. It would sure be refreshing to see the media, and especially the editorial staffs of the press recognize the real injustice, and finally come to the aid of the neighborhood under siege in the San Tan Foothills.


Bob Dotson