It’s one of Thomas Jefferson’s most quoted words about religious freedom: “It does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” It’s a lovely line, because it’s not just about tolerance, but acceptance. It’s a mystery to me why Palm Coast, which at least pretends to be a tolerant city, doesn’t apply the same principle to the commercial truck in one’s neighbor’s driveway.
I don’t see it any differently. Just as it does me no injury if my neighbor is white, Black, Zuni, Trumpy, Lutheran or luddite, it does me no injury if my neighbor has a work van or a car with psychedelic lettering in the driveway. It does me even less injury if the van replaces one of those SUVs or ungodly show-off cars that people insist on parking outside. In fact, I prefer the work van: it’s aesthetically more pleasing, because it’s less pretentious, more Leaves of Grass than Bonfire of the Vanities.
Would one work van affect my property values? Of course not. Our own property appraiser is on record saying so. “I don’t have anything saying that if someone parks Fred’s Electric in the driveway, it’ll crush the property value next door, or even measure it,” Property Appraiser Jay Gardner told me.
That would apply to any type of similar-size commercial vehicle with a ladder on top or some crazy wild lettering on the side, even if it were the lettering of a business with the mentality of a caveman. Anyone who claims it affects values is fabricating assumptions out of the same playbook that tells us that since Palm Coast has had its prohibition of such vehicles in place for 20 years, it should have it in place for the next 200, or that people moving in now should know the rules that have prevailed for those 20 years.
But any city, any county, any country changes as people change. Every time a government changes a zoning rule, a noise ordinance or an overlay district, it’s adapting to new residents, new realities. A city, at least a city that doesn’t rot, is an organic creation that renews itself with every new arrival. Palm Coast’s population has tripled since incorporation. But in many ways the city still pretends to be a Tuscan village, when in fact it continues to be little more than any old suburban sprawl as interchangeable with a thousand dogmatic home-owner associations like it across the country. It has a chance to be better than that. It’s choosing to be comatose instead.
Palm Coast is more unique from its policing prohibitions than it is from its vibrant allowances that recognize the changing landscape of work. I remember in 2012 when the city council had a chance to relax its rules controlling businesses in residential zones and allow home-based bakeries. It killed the idea on bogus pretexts. It missed a chance to save the city from a lethargic, outdated interpretation of the geography of work. The same lethargy is oppressing us now. Despite the lessons of Covid, which are revolutionizing the meaning of “workplace” and finally recognizing–and respecting–the autonomy of workers, Palm Coast is again refusing to adapt, as if work conditions and the economy in 2021 were identical to work conditions in 1999.
For those who don’t work, maybe they are. Lucky them. Half the people in this city don’t work. But if retirement is an entitlement, it’s not a truncheon to discipline all those who still work, especially those who are fixing the air conditioning and plumbing and cable and roach infestation in the homes of those who don’t, or painting the walls closing in on those who’ve decided to end their days playing golf, wait for their next medical appointment and bitch about the workers making their life easier.
The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday is voting on whether to keep the current regulation in place or allow for some relaxation. The council’s vote seems foretold against a change. That would be a shame, especially on a council where every member claims to be pro-business, for more jobs, more diversity and more tolerance.
Three council members, including Mayor David Alfin–a Realtor–and Eddie Branquinho–married to a Realtor–are opposed to changing the current rule, even though Palm Coast, as the Observer found in a survey of 10 cities of similar size, is a relative outlier when it comes to this kind of draconian prohibition. I hope one of the three opposing council members changes their mind. If there’s one thing we need in this town, it’s not more old, fusty, self-indulgent people like me (and most of the people in local office), but young, energetic, hard-working people who think nothing of answering work calls at all hours of the day. That’s the new economy, especially in this town, where half the population is dependent on the services of the rest.
It’s not as if today’s driveways are a gift to good taste. Most of them are heaped with shiny assembly-line vulgarities with no more style than a metal mule–“technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit,” as Robert Pirsig put it in that old irritable classic. Palm Coast would be on stronger legal ground by prohibiting all vehicles from driveways. What are those garages for, anyway? Since it’s not so inclined, it shouldn’t be playing taste police with wheels, or privilege a cop to take a patrol car home and spend that extra half hour a day with spouse and children, while forcing the electrician or the painter to waste that time parking the van elsewhere. That’s not just anti-blue collar. It’s anti-family.
No one is asking for the transformation of driveways into parking lots worthier of Sodom and Gomorrah than they already are. The exaggerations and fear-mongering of pseudo-ascetics aside, the only change would be to allow for a single commercial vehicle of very modest size–nothing bigger than a van or a pick-up–to be parked up front without the wrath of Palm Coast’s code enforcement brigades descending on the offender. Boats, RV’s, dump trucks, buses and other mastodons of the road would not be allowed.
The change would hardly be noticeable to most, and would make a huge difference to some. This isn’t a majority rule issue anymore than it would be if the majority of Palm Coast’s white residents decided against allowing Latinos to barbecue in their backyards, Blacks to have a beer in their driveway or single mothers to have swing sets on the grass. Obviously that would never carry. I don’t see how discriminating against trades workers is any less offensive. Let’s not put workers’ rights to a vote. Let’s champion them.