Last week's ruling by Maricopa Superior Court Judge Robert H. Oberbillig in favor of Tom and Elizabeth Preston goes beyond rectifying their thwarted efforts to open a tattoo studio in Tempe. It vindicates every Arizonan who ever has been subjected to an arbitrary decision by a government official.
Tattoos evoke widely divergent reactions. Some people view them as edgy and counter-culture; others see them as artistic expression. Regardless, there is no question that the industry has gone decidedly mainstream. These days, you're as likely to see your suburban, middle-class, college-age daughter or grand-daughter going into a tattoo studio as you are to see a member of Hell's Angels. The Preston's have inked soldiers, police officers, teachers, and even missionaries.
The Preston's are honest, hard-working people who have operated a successful tattoo studio in Mesa without a single complaint for over 15 years. When they applied to open a studio in a vacant storefront in a Tempe strip mall, city staff and a hearing examiner agreed the studio met the applicable standards and issued a use permit. The Preston's then signed a five-year lease, invested thousands of dollars in improvements, and prepared to open for business.
None of that mattered to Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman or the City Council. Ignoring its own policies, the Council revoked the permit, based not on any evidence that the studio would harm the neighborhood but on the "perception" that it would.
The trial court ruled that the Preston's had a valid permit that only can be revoked for "good cause or public necessity"--a standard the City cannot meet. On a broader scale, the ruling tells cities that they must obey their own rules. The Council now will have a second chance to do the right thing. Here's hoping that this time, the City welcomes a legitimate business to the still-vacant storefront, rather than treating honest entrepreneurs as outcasts.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
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