What is “Local Control”?

In the 87th Texas Legislature, which opens today, we’re sure to hear a lot about “Local Control”. What does it mean and why is it important?

An explainer by Laura Bray, KCDP Chair
January 12, 2021

A cluster of houses being built in the foreground obscuring beautiful scenery in the background
“New Construction with Views” by Todd Petit is licensed under CC-BY-NC 2.0

“Local Control” means providing city councils and county commissioners courts the legal ability to control development in their jurisdictions. Per Texas state law, cities have some ability to control development through zoning. But counties have almost no authority at all under state law to control any kind of construction project. So areas of unincorporated Kendall County are subject to overly dense housing developments, water-chugging and polluting concrete batching plants, and other projects that adversely affect quality of life, with no ability for citizens to object and no ability for the county to restrict it. (Recently, Vulcan Materials announced plans for a concrete batching plant along Hwy 46 just east of Boerne, outside city limits. The only means for objection was to file a pollution complaint with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or TCEQ. But under 20 years of Republican control, TCEQ is a rubber-stamp approval agency for whatever developers request.)

At an October 2020 Commissioners Court meeting, Judge Lux urged citizens to contact District 73 State Representative Kyle Biedermann and District 25 State Senator Donna Campbell with suggestions and concerns about local control. “You need to call or e-mail and kindly ask our representatives to provide us with the tools we need to continue to make Kendall County a great place,” he said in an article in the 10/20/2020 issue of the Boerne Star.

Republicans railed for the entire eight years of the Obama administration against its “federal overreach.” They screamed that states should be able to take care of their own citizens without having the federal government applying excessive rules. At the same time, Republicans despise cities and counties having that same level of control over their localities (since cities tend to be more liberal than rural areas). When localities starting passing ordinances to prevent fracking, or restricting developers from cutting trees, or requiring local businesses to pay workers for sick leave, the Republican state legislature went into prompt action and prevented localities from enacting such ordinances. In fact, a top Texas Republican leader was caught on tape in 2020 stating, “we hate cities and counties.” (See Laura’s column “Working against local government” from November 2020.) More of the same is forthcoming during the 2022 Legislative session.

After all, hypocrisy is a core competency of Republicans, so their stance is not particularly surprising. “We support local control, just as long as we agree to what you’re trying to control.” Local control is one of those rare issues that can provide common ground between Democrats and Republicans. Nobody, regardless of party, wants a concrete batching plant next to their ranch. So we need to push the issue of giving counties more control over local development and work with the Commissioners Court as they “[work] with state legislators to enact changes that would return some control over development to the local level.” (Boerne Star, 10/20/2020)

Previous “Progressive Views” columns on local control:

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