Friday, February 23, 2007
How can a property owner prove that government has discriminated on unlawful grounds when exercising eminent domain? In Wayne, N.J., the township is trying to take land on which a group of Albanian Muslims wants to build a mosque and cultural center. The township concluded that the hilltop site is too rocky and that construction would be too disruptive. The Muslim group has filed a claim in federal court, alleging that that the denial of the building application was based on unlawful religious discrimination.
Proving discriminatory intent is one of the thorniest issues in law. Absent "a "smoking gun" of an incriminating memo or public statement, how does one prove discrimination in something such as eminent domain? Would proof of discriminatory intent by the planning board be enough? By one member of the legislative council? By a majority of those who opposed the property owner? What if motivations are mixed, as they are likely to be with any big project planned by a religious minority group? Answering these questions, and how a claimant is expected to prove them, is exacerbated by the less formal procedures of local government land use decisionmaking.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
In a nation committed both to suburban living and to wildlife protection, clashes are inevitable. From Texas comes a story about a sharp increase in suburbanites’ encounters with wild animals such as coyotes, deer, and even feral pigs.
One land use solution that is often favored by suburbanites is to have government try to remove the “problem,” such as by capturing pesky coyotes and trapping the razorbacks. Under this attitude, the suburbs are viewed as sanctuaries both from the bustle of the city and from the dangers of the natural world.
On the other side, ecologists argue that the world belongs to wild animals as well as people. Healthy ecosystems can’t depend solely on a handful of reserved areas such as parks and government-protected forests. Humans outside of cities should learn how to live with animals, just as any good Texan knew how to do in the 19th century.
What can suburbanites do? They can act in a way that is mindful of the natural world around them. Domestic dogs can be kept on a leash; if the house cat is let outside, one simply accepts the risk that it might become a coyote’s (or bobcat’s) dinner. Children can be told to avoid approaching raccoons. Wire and netting can be used to try to keep deer out of flower beds; if this doesn’t work, the flower beds may simply have to be given up. Bending one’s life to live side by side with nature is a prescription for a modern, more nuanced attitude towards life in the suburbs.
Is this just an environmentalist’s dewy-eyed vision of the world? Not necessarily, especially if one adds a potentially sensible step of having a locked shotgun at the ready, if a citizen has special concerns about dangers to small children. This is Texas, after all, and this is a world of wide open spaces and diversity of life.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Here’s a Mardi Gras story: St. Bernard County, downstream from New Orleans, has begun issuing fines to property owners who aren’t maintaining their property, including things such as not mowing their grass or otherwise neglecting the land. The proposal is aimed largely at absentee owners who aren’t attending to a clean-up, and the fines can be forgiven if work is done. But is still seems like an awfully broad mandate.
Meanwhile, the stories from New Orleans include tales of people who are fed up with the slowness of promised government funds, the inefficient government, and frayed relations with neighbors. All in all, the level of hope seems to be significantly lower than it was at last year’s Mardi Gras.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Does metropolitan government hold the promise of better land use planning and the avoidance of costly competition among neighboring jurisdictions? Or is it just another layer of bureaucracy that is ineffective at offering solutions that city and state governments don’t already offer?
From the Southwest this week are two stories that appear to point in different directions concerning metropolitan government. First is the story of wealthy Troon, Arizona, north of Phoenix, which has taken advantage of school choice laws that (at least temporarily) allow children to attend school in neighboring jurisdictions while allowing Troon to avoid imposing any school taxes because there are no schools in the contrived “school district” set up for the purpose of avoiding such taxes. This kind of corrosive game-playing among suburbs is a powerful argument in favor of regional organization.
On the other side of the story is an exposé in the LA Weekly about the Southern California Association of Governments. Established 30 years ago to develop a centralized vision for land use planning and development in the great Los Angeles area, SCAG is criticized for its myopia towards the future, its impracticable plans (often fixated on rail), and the fact that the massive Los Angeles region, with its myriad of parochial local interests, is perhaps too big to plan effectively at the regional level.
Could we have a regional government that is both effective and efficient? A prize from heaven waits.