Thursday, October 4, 2007
Who should make decisions as to water supply -– state or local governments? Whose responsibility is it to try to deliver enough water for a growing region? And whose decision is it that land use growth needs to be slowed on account of an insufficient supply of water?
These questions are currently at issue in southern Florida and in many other places where the local supplies of fresh water are no longer adequate to fulfill the needs of a thirsty and burgeoning community. In Broward County, the regional water management district (which issues permits) has in effect halted some new developments until local governments acquire new sources of clean water. The water management district must try to balance many competing demands –- ecological demands to keep more fresh water flowing to the Everglades, local citizens who want more water to keep prices low (and Florida’s water prices are among the nation’s highest), and developers that point out the inevitable rise in demand in popular locations. South Florida currently gets most of its water from the limited supplies in underground aquifers, thirstily eyes the larger water supplies of north Florida, and debates whether to spend millions on the expensive and risky but potentially problem-solving solution of desalination.
Considering these competing demands, it makes sense to me that slow but steady increases in water prices would help spur conservation (especially among large users such as farms and industry) and help ameliorate both the ecological and consumption dilemmas. More troublesome, however, is the likelihood that advocates of “slow growth” policies (which is some circumstances can be characterized as drawbridge protectionism and NIMBY) will use water dilemmas in order to keep out prospective newcomers. Small water supply problems shouldn’t be a mask for decisions on broader policy issues of land use development.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The wake of Oregon’s Measure 37 in 2004, which enabled many property owners to challenge the state’s famously restrictive land use laws, was bound to include calls to stop new suburban sprawl in certain areas. Interestingly, the group that is leading a push for an amendment this year is winegrowers. Here’s an official state document concerning proposed Measure 49. Among other things in the long and complicated ballot measure is a restriction that subdivisions would not be permitted on “high-value farmland” (which has its own long and complicated definition). Regardless of whether one supported or opposed Measure 37, the proposed new law would, in my view, impose an unwelcome favoritism for one certain type of land use –- wine-growing –- over others.
The Oregonian newspaper opined this week in favor of the proposed restriction to help vineyards. Without more controls, it argued, development would “jeopardize thousands of acres of potential vineyard land [that wine growers] need for expansion.” Understand this: Law would be imposing restrictions on land use because of an expectation that one kind of business –- wine-growing –- might want to buy the land in the future. Is this the proper rule of government?
A prominent argument in favor of the measure is that the wine business is of growing economic importance to Oregon. But do we trust government, as opposed to the forces of the free market, to make decisions as what kinds of land use are the most economically valuable? Some growers argue that wine tourism will suffer if developments simply are allowed nearby. Is this what government is for –- to foster wine tourism (which tends to be engaged in by wealthier people, of course) over factories and stores that give jobs to lower-income people? Why wine-growers and not turnip farmers? Which group is more likely to be able to run a well-funded ballot campaign?
Monday, October 1, 2007
In this newspaper opinion article, the treasurer of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, appears to pin the blame for a rise in violent crime in the Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland on lax mortgage lending –- which led to many risky mortgages, which led to a lot of foreclosures, which in turn led to a lot of abandoned houses, which in turn to criminals taking advantage of the vacant houses.
Perhaps a more direct way of stopping this sort of crime would be laws that encouraged both lenders and borrowers to keep homes occupied before and after foreclosures. This seems far more direct than blaming crime on loose lending practices …