The San Francisco Planning Commission issued a renovation permit to a developer, who then decided to completely tear down the home that was deemed historic. Now that developer is being subjected to the commission’s power to enforce the rule — and to make an example of him.

Earlier this week, the planning commissioners voted 5-0 to order Johnston to build the exact replica. They also want him to put up a sidewalk plaque that would let people know the original Neutra house was demolished.

Commissioner Dennis Richards says a lot of house flippers are trying to dupe the city.

“Demolishing a $1.2 million house and replacing it with a $5 million house only makes the affordability that much worse in the city,” he said. “We’re finding there’s an epidemic of these kinds of things happening.”

He hopes this ruling will send a strong message, “if a developer has even a thought of demolishing a house illegally, I’d like them to go up to 49 Hopkins and take a look at the plaque, because this is what’s going to happen in the future.”

Even though I don’t like how this commission used its power, the rules are the rules. The developer should have either (1) appealed for a tear-down permit, (2) figured a way to renovate as approved and then sell, or (3) walked away from the deal.

Government rules should be imposed with great care and as a last resort. Folks might be surprised to learn the extent of the power that can be used by commissions and boards — folks who are unelected and are not directly accountable to voters and taxpayers. For more than half a dozen years now, North Carolina policymakers have shown a commitment to a broad array of regulatory/rules reform. They understand that fewer barriers unleashes growth and the opportunity that follows. Still, there is much left to do, and the John Locke Foundation is the leading voice for regulatory reform.


  • A 2015 study by economists at Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University estimated that state regulations cost North Carolina’s economy as much as $25.5 billion that year. That’s just for one year. But the regulatory slowdown goes on, year after year, like a car loaded down with bricks.
  • In 2013, the General Assembly enacted a significant reform for administrative rules: sunset provisions with periodic review. By January 2018, the process was over halfway complete, with over 13,000 total rules having been reviewed.
  • Over 1,600 rules have been repealed so far. That’s about one out of every eight rules reviewed. Over 3,500 are to undergo the scrutiny of the rules review process to be readopted. Over 61 percent were re-upped without further review.
  • Implementing a “rules throttle” approach for rules that would require review of rules that impose a significant cost on the state’s private sector, whether directly or indirectly. A rule that meets a statutory threshold for significant regulatory cost would need ratification in the legislature, the lawmaking body accountable to the public, for it to come into full effect. The process adopted by Florida in 2010 has yielded strongly positive results and increased cooperation between the legislature and state agencies in rulemaking.
  • North Carolina is one of only six states without small-business regulatory flexibility. This reform lets agencies make common-sense adjustments to small businesses’ regulatory burdens, such as compliance and reporting requirements. Those things are more expensive for small businesses, which make up 99.6 percent of North Carolina’s employers.