Thursday, March 20, 2008

San Tan Flat case goes national

The San Tan Flat case, in which the ruling politburo of Pinal County, Arizona, puts the screws to a popular bar and restaurant over dancing, draws national attention. Columnist George Will addresses the controversy in the pages of today's Washington Post.

The government of this fiefdom south of Phoenix claims that when it approved Dale Bell's blueprint for his Western-theme restaurant with an outdoor stage in an enclosed courtyard, it assumed the stage would be used for mimes or poetry readings. Mimes in Arizona scrubland? Poetry at the San Tan Flat Steakhouse and Saloon? The authorities were, they insist, shocked when country music broke out, and they are scandalized because some customers, not content to tap their feet to the Western beat while they eat, get up and dance.

Foot tapping is, so far, still legal in Pinal County. Outdoor dancing is not, at least at a dance hall, and Pinal says San Tan Flat morphs into one at certain points on certain evenings, when customers dance and Bell does not make them stop. He thinks the U.S. Constitution's protection of self-expression encompasses the right to (in the language of his brief to the county court) "sway, shuffle or even dance."

Pinal's harassment of Bell is a small provincial spat, but it illustrates two large themes of our national history. First, democracy requires judicial supervision to thwart the excesses of elected officials. Second, governments closest to the people are -- never mind what sentimentalists say -- often the worst. This is because elected tyrants can most easily become entrenched where rival factions are few.

Read the rest of Will's column here.

Check out some of my coverage of the case here.

And then share your sentiments about the issue with the obvious villains. Pinal County supervisors can be reached below:

Lionel D. Ruiz
Phone: 520-866-7830
Fax: 520-866-7838

Sandie Smith
Phone: 520-866-6104
Fax: 520-866-6107

David Snider
Phone: 520-866-7401
Fax: 520-836-3876

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Blogger,

I was in court on May 7th when Judge O'Neil made his ruling concerning the San Tan Flat violation of Pinal County Zoning Ordinances. Even though Judge O'Neil ruled in favor of Dale Bell, Judge O'Neil spent a significant amount of time speaking directly to Dale Bell about how the Judge understood the plight of the neighbors near Mr. Bell's establishment, and how Judge O'Neil would be appalled if the County ever allowed an establishment such as Mr. Bell operates, anywhere near the Judge's home in rural Pinal County. Judge O'Neil talked of individual property rights, and the exercise of those property rights as a ‘balancing act’, rubbing together his colliding fists together to help demonstrate his point.

It is this 'balancing act' of individual property rights that I would like to address in response to the various articles and editorials that have been published concerning this conflict over the past 2 years. The primary point I would like to discuss is the very important issue that Judge O'Neil pointed out in court, and that is the balancing act of property rights between property owners.

On one side we find Mr. Bell, operating an establishment that he claims he built following all of the required guidelines and procedures, claiming he has honored all of his commitments, making claims of how good his business is for the 'community', all with what he claims are within his rights as a property owner, and that the County is trying to ‘ban dancing’ in Pinal county.

On another side we find the surrounding property owners, who claim that every Friday and Saturday nights, holiday's nights, and many other nights in between, that Mr. Bell takes over our properties for his own use, blasting unbearable loud noise across our properties and into our homes, shines a glaring light across our properties into the windows of our homes, casts a blanket of smoke across our properties from the marshmallow roasting fires fouling the air our families and livestock breath, and then nightly discharges inebriated patrons onto our neighborhood streets, patrons whom routinely choose our neighborhood streets to avoid encounters with law enforcement with no consideration for the families they put at risk.
Unlike TV, radio, or the printed media where when you are offended, or tire of it, or find the timing inconvenient, then you can simply switch it off, set it aside, or not buy it in the first place; but here in our neighborhood, only Mr. Bell gets to choose what music and speech we will hear, blasting into our yards, our homes, our lives, night after night, like it or not, want it or not, only Dale Bell gets to choose when and what will be heard for all of the surrounding property owners.

Now the predominance of the reporting and editorial about this conflict has focus around some injustice being perpetrated against Mr. Bell, that his has spun in the media as an attack on everyone’s right to dance. We could care less about people dancing in Mr. Bell’s establishment. I don’t know a one among us who doesn’t like to dance. Mr. Bell, spun through his current proxies, the various media, would have us surrender our land, our homes, our dreams, our hopes, to the likes of the blatant recurring trespass from Mr. Bell, that we, Mr. Bell’s neighbors, somehow hold some odd notions of responsible property ownership and appropriate civil behavior, that we have been duped into some kind of flawed thinking about our plight in the face of a bully, that the idea that we might cry foul is wrong, and that it is somehow inappropriate to plead with our elected government to right the wrong, and restore the peace to our neighborhood.

If you remember, we all watched on television as a group of PSYOP soldiers played deafening rock music, 24 hours a day, over loudspeakers that ringed the Vatican Embassy compound where General Noriega had taken refuge. The siege continued until General Manuel Noriega couldn't take the 'constant bombardment of the music' anymore and surrendered. In Iraq, in Fallujah's darkened, empty streets, U.S. troops blast AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" and other rock music full volume from a huge speaker, hoping to grate on the nerves of this Sunni Muslim city's gunmen and give a laugh to Marines along the front line. That is Psychological Warfare Operations.

Granted San Tan Ranches is not a war zone (although some of your readers would like to make it one), and Mr. Bell is not by any stretch of the imagination, a hoard of terrorists bent on killing us all. However, much of the editorial opinion and reporting so far would have us all believe that when our nation’s founding fathers were crafting the Declaration of Independence, that when Thomas Jefferson carefully scribed the concept "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.", that we all must have missed the footnote lay hidden until Mr. Bell came along, that holds an exception - that Mr. Bell somehow enjoys greater privilege over everyone else. Putting the pun aside, it was this very concept of privilege that our founding fathers found to be so objectionable, so much so, that they were willing to risk everything to protect against it. With the 9th amendment of the US Constitution, the premise of Mr. Bell's extraordinary privilege that some of the editorials would try to convince us all of, is clearly dashed by "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Mr. Bell's rights clearly end where exercising his rights deny the rights of his neighbors, and that is exactly what Mr. Bell has been doing, continues to do, and is doing so with the support of the media, and particularly unfortunate for our Republic, ‘the press’ - the very place our founding fathers created extraordinary constitutional protections in order to make sure the exchange of ideas would be forever assured.

The elected and appointed government officials in Pinal County, and the State of Arizona, as agents 'of the people, by the people, for the people' have an 'absolute obligation to protect the rights of 'all of its citizens', setting aside prejudice, special interests, and all other distractions that might interfere with protection of freedom and the fair application of justice, not just for Mr. Bell, but for all of its citizens. Mr. Bell has rights, and so far, the scale for the rights proposition has leaned heavily in Mr. Bell's favor, entirely at the expense of the rights of his neighbors. Mr. Bell is not entitled to the unencumbered use of our neighborhood properties, to use as he currently chooses to, constructively seizing them from us for his own enjoyment and enrichment, and the county through its actions or inaction, cannot surrender our properties to Mr. Bell or allow to continue, Mr. Bell's nightly trespass. That would effectively constitute an unlawful application of eminent domain, the taking of our properties, and handing them over to Mr. Bell, having denied our neighborhood property owners their due legal recourse, compensation and treatment under the law. The county is obliged to restore the "balance" Judge O'Neil referred to in court.

As for the editorial staffs of the press, I say to you: It's time for you and your readers to face up to your own prejudices and misconceptions instead of relying on the propaganda fed to you by Mr. Bell, and recognize the real injustice that is occurring, the real tragedy in our community, the damage Mr. Bell has inflicted on the trust in the press that our founding fathers recognized as so crucial to the survival of our Republic. Mr. Bell has used your publications for his own selfish purposes. Regardless how Mr. Bell has portrayed our neighbors in the San Tan Foothills, there are good, hardworking and honorable people here, caring people, and mostly people trying their best to help our community. It would sure be refreshing to see the media, and especially the editorial staffs of the press recognize the real injustice, and finally come to the aid of the neighborhood under siege in the San Tan Foothills.

I submit this letter respectfully, asking only that it be published unmodified and in its entirety.

Bob Dotson

May 10, 2008 2:21 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...


You can talk all you want about what bad folks you think the Bells are and how they supposedly violated your property right, but the fact is that they received every permit, jumped through every legal hoop and dotted every "i" needed to open the doors of San Tan Flat.

Pinal County has an expensive, bureaucratic and detailed process for granting permission to operate establishments like San Tan Flat. That process is what is supposed to protect your rights and prevent the opening of allegedly inappropriate businesses. The Bells did what was required of them and received official blessing to do business.

After the permits were issued, some of the San Tan Flat's neighbors, with better political clout than timing, leaned on county officials to undo what had been done. Under pressure, the county dispatched deputies to measure noise levels. The noise level never exceeded 60 decibels at night or 65 decibels during the day -- the level of normal conversation.

If you find that noise level "unbearable," I commend you on your especially acute hearing.

Unsuccessful with the noise measurements and with a few regulatory maneuvers, the county dusted off an antique ordinance against outdoor dancehalls. This is where the Bells won their ultimate victory in court, since it was obvious to the judge as well as observers that the county was attempting to illegitimately rescind a right that had already been established.

If you're ticked off, your ire should be directed at county officials for dropping the ball -- and then trying to change the rules after the fact.

Or maybe you're just one of those folks who thinks that the purchase of a parcel of land comes with the right to preserve the neighborhood in aspic for all time.

May 10, 2008 8:33 PM  
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^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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March 19, 2009 12:11 AM  

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