In response to the creeping “Californiazation of Texas,” Governor Abbott called for a “broad-based ban on regulations at the local level.” This week, the House Land & Resource Management Committee responded to that call by voting House Bill 3787 out of committee. The bill, as filed by Representative Cecil Bell, would prohibit cities and counties from enforcing land use regulations on properties if the regulations were not in effect when the owner acquired title to the property.

Respect for property rights has been the bedrock of liberty, financial independence, and economic opportunity in Texas. Unfortunately, our state’s commitment to this fundamental principle has eroded over time—leading to outcomes that are both unjust and unwise.

A case in point is the story of Kenyan immigrant Hinga Mbogo. Mbogo moved to Miami to complete his education, and then came to Dallas for a job interview. He didn’t get the job, but wandering around the city he saw “Help Wanted” posters in businesses all over town.

Like so many others, Mbogo moved to Texas to live out the American Dream.

In 1985, he opened up an auto repair shop along Ross Avenue in Dallas. For twenty years, he worked hard to grow his business, satisfy his customers, and provide a living for his family and employees.

But in 2005, the Dallas City Council decided that it didn’t want auto repair shops along Ross Avenue. It saw these blue-collar businesses as an unsightly blight out of step with its aesthetic standards, and so it re-zoned the area to ban automotive related businesses.

Most of the automotive businesses closed shop or relocated elsewhere. But a few fought for years for a reprieve to stay open. Mbogo’s auto repair shop was the last business standing. Last year, the Dallas City Council voted not to extend Mbogo’s latest reprieve. He is now trying to keep his business open through the courts. 

Mbogo’s story is not only a human tragedy—it’s an outrage that this could happen in Texas, of all places.

Government officials seem to think they know what’s best for the continued growth and dynamism of their cities: more Starbucks and Macaroni Grills and luxury apartments, less auto repair stores. But this is out of keeping with the historic model of incremental development, secured by property rights, that empowers folks to build for their future without having to kiss the ring of government bureaucrats every so often.

With its favorable vote on House Bill 3787, the Land & Resources Management Committee stood up for the principle that it is better for the state as a whole to leave property development to property owners, not government officials—with some allowance for stable, predictable, and reasonable regulations. This bill signals that the pendulum may be swinging back toward renewed respect for property rights, and should receive favorable consideration on the House floor.