Feb 24, 2021
When (If Ever) Should States Preempt Cities?
Play • 35 min

Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn has said that one change every city should make is to allow the next increment of development intensity by-right—i.e., single-family zoning would now permit duplexes, and so on. But if every city should make that change, does that mean states should come in and make that decision for cities—as Oregon recently did for cities with House Bill 2001? Not necessarily.

This week’s episode of the Upzoned podcast is inspired by a recent article in Governing magazine called “States Preempt Cities Almost to the Point of Irrelevance.” In that piece, senior staff writer Alan Greenblatt describes how, over the past decade and across many issues, state governments have preempted local decision-making. For example, Texas, Arizona, Indiana and Louisiana are considering legislation that would prevent cities from reducing police or public safety budgets. Texas governor Greg Abbot went as far as to tweet: “We will defund cities that tried to defund police”. Yet as Greenblatt says, “If states are going to stop cities and counties from adopting their own spending priorities—no matter how misguided they may be—that raises the question of whether localities will be masters of their own fates or merely subservient branch offices of the state.”

In this episode, Upzoned host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and cohost Chuck Marohn talk about the trend of states preempting cities: When (if ever) should states step in to preempt local governments...and when does it become micromanaging?

Using examples from California and Missouri, among other states, Chuck and Abby discuss where decisions should be made, the principle of subsidiarity, the consequences of “removing dynamism from the system,” and the rude awakening may experience when a tool (state preemption) used to push through a policy they like is later used to force a policy change they don’t. They also talk about those times when state preemption might make sense—and how they can be kept under control.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about a book he at least gave a shot. And Abby describes a recent homeowner’s scare involving frozen water pipes, a subsequent water leak, and an electrical box.

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