Saturday, April 30, 2011

Salkin on the Regulation of Controversial Land Uses

Patty Salkin (Albany) has posted Regulating Controversial Land Uses, 39 Real Estate L. J. 526 (2011). Here's the abstract:

While the definition of what may constitute a controversial land use differs from community to community, the bottom line is that land use controls have been attempting to regulate these uses since the advent of zoning (and through nuisance law before that). When regulating many types of controversial land uses, constitutional issues may come into play and federal and state preemption issues may arise. However, local govenrments typically have wide discretion in designing standards and regulations for many types of controversial uses. This article explores four typically controversial uses - off-campus fraternity and sorority housing, tattoo parlors, medical marijuana and pawn shops - to demonstrate the types of regulations that may and may not be appropriate when it comes to planning and zoning laws.

Rather than prattle on along the where-she-does-find-the-time? theme, I will just note that this is the fourth piece she has posted in recent months. That count doesn't include the J. of Legal Ed. article that she and John Nolon published this Spring (see Jamie's post on the conference of the same name). In her down time, she also puts up a fine land use law blog of her own.

Jim K.

April 30, 2011 in NIMBY, Nuisance, Planning, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Mallach on CDCs and Shrinking Cities

Alan Mallach (Brookings) has published Where Do We Fit In? CDCs and the Emerging Shrinking City Movement in the Spring 2011 issue of Shelterforce. In this short piece, Alan looks at the efforts of community development corporations (CDCs) to contend with the problems faced by cities such as Cleveland, Youngstown and Detroit. He goes on to discuss the fundamental problem of how to craft a local development mission in a market that is clearly shrinking. Unlike Baltimore, a post-industrial city in a growing region, the cities Mallach highlights are located in parts of the country that continue to lose population. We here at Land Use Prof have blogged about the release of Detroit's 2010 census numbers and a recent NY Times discussion of the shrinking-cities quandary. With this Shelterforce article, Alan Mallach brings his formidable analysis and decades of community development experience to bear on this critical issue for American cities in the 21st century.

Jim K.

April 29, 2011 in Community Economic Development, Detroit, Redevelopment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

A Levittown Remake?

Levittown--that most famous of all post War tract housing projects--is, for many, the epitome of bad American land development.

Maybe that's why this Dutch firm is conceiving how the reputed Birthplace of Suburban Sprawl might be remade into a vibrant town center.

Check out the details here.  A very interesting idea, indeed.

Chad Emerson

April 29, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Beach Rolls to Fort Worth: Severance Panel at Texas Wesleyan

It's Severance-palooza today on the Land Use Prof Blog, with Hannah Wiseman's great summary of the oral arguments at the recent rehearing of the Open Beaches Act case in the Texas Supreme Court, and the contribution in my previous post from Timothy Mulvaney.  Scroll down to the next two posts for that background and analysis.

But wait, there's more!  Prof. Mulvaney, who has done a lot of research on takings, including a piece on last year's Stop the Beach Renourishment, has been following Severance v. Patterson for a long time.  Last month he hosted a lively panel discussion on the case at Texas Wesleyan School of Law (ably sponsored by their Federalist Society and Environmental Law Society).  The participants were David Breemer, the attorney for plaintiff Carol Severance; Ellis Pickett, former chair of the Texas Upper Coast Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation; and yours truly.

Prof. Mulvaney spoke first and gave a helpful introduction to the case and the background of the legal issues.  Mr. Breemer, a principal with the Pacific Legal Foundation, gave his client's view of the case and argued vigorously that the state's interpretation of beach-access easement law is an unconstitutional interference with his client's property rights. 

I spoke a little bit about the Texas Supreme Court's initial opinion from November 2010, and also about the issue I focused on in my amicus curiae brief, which was (my view) that an easement must be proven up for each property through common law doctrines of dedication, prescription, or custom before we can even get to the question of whether it rolls. 

Mr. Pickett, whose Surfrider Foundation also filed an amicus brief (with which a former student of mine assisted in drafting), spoke passionately about the environmental costs of restricting the public interest in the beach.  He had lots of compelling pictures and even passed around the room a giant piece of twisted metal to make his point.  This was followed by a great Q&A session with the well-informed crowd.

What made it even more interesting is that when Prof. Mulvaney organized the panel, it was conceived as an after-action discussion of the November opinion.  It wasn't until just a couple of weeks beforehand that we all learned that the court had taken the unusual step of granting the rehearing.  By the way, you can read all of the briefs, including the amici, at the link from this post

It was a great event, and the other three participants have offered to give me a surfing lesson. The participants have all agreed to contribute to an upcoming issue of the Texas Wesleyan Law Review.

Here's the video!  [requires Real Player].  This video, plus Part 2, are also available at the Texas Weslayan web article on the event.

   

Matt Festa

April 28, 2011 in Beaches, Caselaw, Conferences, Environmentalism, Property Rights, Scholarship, Servitudes, State Government, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Mulvaney on the Severance Rehearing and Location vs. Purpose

Thanks to Hannah Wiseman for the great post summarizing the recent rehearing in Severance v. Patterson.  I meant to get to it last week, but I wouldn't have done half as good a job.  But I also encourage you to do as she suggests and listen to the oral argument yourself.

But she's not the only junior land use prof with Texas ties who has some great thoughts about the rehearing.  Professor Timothy Mulvaney at Texas Wesleyan also watched the oral argument, and composed some observations on the case, particularly the interesting question of the physical location vs. the purpose of these easements.

[T]he Texas Supreme Court conducted a re-hearing in the “rolling” beach access easement case of Severance v. Patterson.  In its original 6-2 decision, the Court distinguished between (1) an easement destroyed by an avulsive event—which the majority originally held in November does not “roll” upland—and (2) an easement destroyed by imperceptible erosion—which the majority originally held does “roll” upland.  But the Court today seemed focused not on the avulsion/erosion divide but rather on this question:

Is the geographic location of an easement physically static, such that the easement holder must re-establish that easement each time a natural event (storm, sinkhole, etc.) makes the geographic location of the original easement impassable?  Or, is it the purpose of that easement that is static, whereby no re-establishment would be necessary? 

The answer may depend on a multitude of factors (e.g., the method of creation, the use of the easement, the character of the property at stake, etc.).  There do seem to be several instances where only the easement’s purpose, not its physical location, should remain static.  At oral argument, the State pointed to the natural alteration of a river’s course, which does not require a re-establishment of the navigable servitude.  Another analogy might be that of oil and gas leases, which convey an easement by implication that is not limited to a fixed location but rather allows use of the surface as reasonably necessary to fulfill the lease’s purpose.  I would be interested to hear other analogies or perspectives off-blog (tmulvaney@law.txwes.edu), or even on-blog if you are so inclined.  Thank you for your time.

Feel free to share your thoughts with Prof. Mulvaney or even better, leave a comment here!

Matt Festa

April 28, 2011 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Oil & Gas, Property Rights, State Government, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

On Beaches and Expectations

In 2010, Professor Matt Festa posted on the Severance v. Patterson case, which addresses Texas's Open Beaches Act and the question of "rolling easements" under the Act.  In Severance, the Texas Supreme Court held that when the public has established an easement over private beachfront property and the ocean later covers the property, a new public easement must be proven; the easement does not "roll."  Specifically, the court determined that "when drastic changes expose new dry beach and the former dry beach that may have been encumbered by a public easement is now part of the wet beach or completely submerged under water, the State must prove a new easement on the area" and held that "Texas does not recognize a 'rolling' easement on Galveston’s West Beach."

In a rare action, the Texas Supreme Court later granted a rehearing of this decision, as described in another helpful post from Professor Festa, and on April 19, the court held oral argument. J. David Breemer represented Carol Severance, the landowner, and began by arguing that "easements created by public use along the shore do not pick themselves up and roll inland onto new areas of private land not subject to public use simply because the vegetation line has moved," and that the "key" to the decision was not avulsion or erosion law but "settled easement law." Justices Medina and Lehrmann--who dissented from the initial decision--actively questioned Mr. Breemer, asking, for example, whether Severance had an expectation of exclusive use when she bought her property following the enactment of Texas's Open Beaches Act and whether she might have expected that the vegetation line would frequently move.  Mr. Breemer responded that a landowner should not expect from any common law provision that because a vegetation line suddenly disappears, the public has obtained an easement.  Justice Lehrmann suggested that vegetation lines frequently move along the beach--that unlike with rivers, events "that cause the vegetation line [along the ocean beach] to move are recurring," therefore perhaps implying that landowners along ocean beaches should expect such changes.   Justice Lehrmann voiced additional concerns that if easements do not roll, the public may never be able to obtain easements to the beach. 

Justice Medina then returned to the question of expectations, asking how, if Severance "purchased the property subject to all the disclaimers," she could have standing to pursue her claim.  Justice Medina, in an inquiry similar to Justice Lehrmann's earlier question, also voiced concerns as to how the public would have adequate access to the beach following this decision.  Mr. Breemer responded, "It's supposed to be difficult to acquire easements on private property."   Justice Guzman also raised questions about the public's rights to the beach and how Severance could show that the right had been limited, asking, "Do you agree that the public has a right to use the beaches that predates any division or subdivision of those [beach home] lots?"  Mr. Breemer appeared to concede that the public's right to use the beach predated the purchase but argued that the public's right was very "limited" following the hurricane and the movement of the vegetation line.  Justice Guzman followed up, asking, "Does the public retain anything after the movements that caused the changes?"  Mr. Breemer responded that the public easement proven along Galveston is under water now, but because the public use has migrated uninterrupted over the years as the water line has gradually moved in, public use has continued, although it is limited.  It was not wholly clear from Mr. Breemer's response how the public has any continued use right, as its right is now underwater.  Mr. Breemer also reemphasized his argument that the public right extends only to the land "actually used" by the public.  Justice Guzman once again responded, "But if we assume the public had the right to access the beach from time immemorial, then that is the public's use.  They had used it." 

The argument then turned to the state.  Daniel L. Geyser, the attorney representing the state parties, began by arguing, "Plaintiff today continues to press for a property right that she never had, and in doing so she invites the court to eviscerate a fundamental public right reflecting an unbroken tradition of dry beach access extending to the days of the Republic."  He emphasized that easements under the common law are not static. Justice Green quickly began the questioning, asking Mr. Geyser why anyone would want to build a house on the beach if the court followed Texas's argument.  Mr. Geyser responded that the rule "always has been" that an easement might roll onto the property and that no compensation would be provided to the burdened landowner.  Indeed, he argued, we must not forget the expectations of those who purchase houses in third, fourth, and fifth row areas; these homeowners, he claimed, expect that they will have access to the beach.  He also focused on the expectations of the surrounding community--expectations that are largely grounded in tourism and rely on public access.  Justice Wainwright expanded Justice Green's initial line of questioning, asking Mr. Geyser whether homeowners along the beach had an expectation that the state would take their property.  Mr. Geyser responded that the homeowners bought with the expectation that they were to have "land that is in a dangerous area"; this is why, he argued, the Texas Legislature has clarified the common law rule, and people "invest against the backdrop of that common law rule."  Justice Wainwright countered that Mr. Geyser had provided "no authority for the proposition" that private owners did not have a property interest in the beach area that the state claimed was subject to a public easement, and Mr. Geyser vehemently disagreed, arguing that he had provided authority showing beach access since the days of Republic--including a commitment to access in the Texas Constitution.  Justice Hecht asked about the relevance of previous cases in an attempt to determine when the common law of access was established.  Mr. Geyser seemed to emphasize that we cannot rely on the date of case holdings to determine exactly when the common law arose because the common law relies on factors such as "fixed and settled expectations" and tradition--factors that exist long before case decisions emerge that recognize the common law.  In response to further questions from Justices Willett and Wainwright, Mr. Geyser argued that easements, like nuisance, are "background principles of common law." 

It is of course not clear whether the court will change its mind from its initial decision in favor of Mrs. Severance, the landowner, but don't rely on my rough summary above to reach your own opinion on the matter.  As indicated above, you can listen to the oral argument here

-Hannah Wiseman

April 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Glaeser, Ponzetto and Tobio on Skills and Metropolitan Growth

Edward Glaeser (Harvard-Economics), Giacomo Ponzetto (Pompeu Fabra) and Kristina Tobio (Harvard-Kennedy) have posted Cities, Skills, and Regional Change. Here's the abstract:

One approach to urban areas emphasizes the existence of certain immutable relationships, such as Zipf's or Gibrat's Law. An alternative view is that urban change reflects individual responses to changing tastes or technologies. This paper examines almost 200 years of regional change in the U.S. and finds that few, if any, growth relationships remain constant, including Gibrat's Law. Education does a reasonable job of explaining urban resilience in recent decades, but does not seem to predict county growth a century ago. After reviewing this evidence, we present and estimate a simple model of regional change, where education increases the level of entrepreneurship. Human capital spillovers occur at the city level because skilled workers produce more product varieties and thereby increase labor demand. We find that skills are associated with growth in productivity or entrepreneurship, not with growth in quality of life, at least outside of the West. We also find that skills seem to have depressed housing supply growth in the West, but not in other regions, which supports the view that educated residents in that region have fought for tougher land-use controls. We also present evidence that skills have had a disproportionately large impact on unemployment during the current recession.

Jim K.

April 28, 2011 in Community Economic Development, Comprehensive Plans, Economic Development, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hirokawa on Property, the Environment, and Ecosystem Services

Keith Hirokawa (Albany) has yet another timely and interesting-looking article.  Three Stories About Nature: Property, the Environment, and Ecosystem Services, forthcoming in the Mercer Law Review.  The abstract:

The relationship between our understanding of nature and how we allocate rights to property is a necessary but indeterminate one. This article explores three different approaches to this understanding – Property, Environment, and Ecosystem Services – to illustrate different resolutions to an otherwise basic controversy over competing claims to property in natural things. Ultimately, this analysis reveals the conceptual commitments and legal consequences involved in ‘ecosystem services,’ and how the ecosystem services story attempts to converge economics and ecology in property. Ecosystem services casts the character of nature as ecosystem functionality, the value of nature as economic value in goods and services, and the use of nature’s goods and services as a benefit to human well-being.

By looking at the ways the ecosystem services approach diverges from other descriptions of nature, this article also explores how property may react and adapt to the values embodied in ecosystem services. The ecosystem services approach provides an articulation of property value’s dependence on ecosystem influences, and as a result, deflates the importance of property boundaries; challenges to ecosystem services will invariably arise where property value is contingent on ecosystems processes occurring on another’s property. This article argues that the ecosystem services approach results in property without boundaries, in which boundaries become less relevant not just for the process of identifying nature, but also for identifying property interests.

Another really helpful addition to the literature.  Keith has provided a number of very interesting articles this year!

Matt Festa

April 26, 2011 in Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

New oil pipeline proposed

According to the Wall Street Journal, two companies joined forces today and proposed to build a pipeline that would move oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to Houston, Texas.  The pipeline would be a small alternative to the more controversial TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada through Cushing to the Gulf Coast.  The Wall Street Journal reports that oil imports from the Canadian tar sands are building up in Cushing and that the new proposed pipeline will provide an outlet for this extra oil.

The proposed TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which is a much larger project, will require 1,711 miles of new pipeline according to the U.S. Department of State, and it will need a Presidential Permit from the Department of State because it will cross the United States-Canada border.  If is is approved, it will cross six U.S. states and has--as is typical of large eminent domain projects--encountered strong opposition from landowners and environmental groups

-Hannah Wiseman

April 26, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

"Passengers" Radio Documentary

Somewhat ironically I I was driving home, alone, from Atlanta on Sunday night when I heard an episode of Passengers. This is a short series of public radio documentaries about public transportation.  Apparently I heard part three; among other topics, it touts Google Transit. This is a handy service that allows one to plan public transit trips - only not in Athens, as neither "The Bus," nor UGA Campus Transit are participating agencies.  This is somewhat surprising, as the UGA bus system has one of the largest riderships in Georgia, second only to Atlanta's MARTA. (MARTA does participate in Google Transit - it seems to be the only agency in Georgia that does so.)

At any rate, Passengers seems to be a great series on the basic concepts and current debate about public transit and transportation planning in the US.  You might find it to be a helpful teaching tool.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 26, 2011 in Georgia, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Adler on Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Drought

Robert W. Adler (Utah) has posted Balancing Compassion and Risk in Climate Adaptation: U.S. Water, Drought and Agricultural Law, forthcoming in the Florida Law Review.  The abstract:

This article compares risk spreading and risk reduction approaches to climate adaptation. Because of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere from past practices, the world is "committed" to a significant amount of global average warming. This is likely to lead to significant increases in the frequency, severity and geographic extent of drought. Adaptation to these and other problems caused by climate disruption will be essential even if steps are taken now to mitigate that disruption. Water and drought policy provide an example of the significant policy tension between compassion and risk reduction in climate adaptation, and how those tensions affect broader national economic policies. Because water is essential to lives and livelihoods, the compassionate response to drought is to provide financial and other forms of relief. Guaranteed, unconditional drought relief, however, can encourage unsustainable water uses and practices that increase vulnerability to drought in the long-term. Moreover, the agricultural sector is the largest consumptive user of water in drought-prone regions, but longstanding U.S. agricultural policy encourages excess production and water use. Effective adaptation to climate disruption will have to strike a balance between providing essential short-term relief from hardship and promoting longer-term measures to reduce vulnerability through more sustainable water use and other practices. It will also require fundamental reconsideration of laws and policies that drive key economic sectors that will be affected by climate disruption. Although water, drought and agricultural law provide one good example of this tension, the same lessons are likely to apply to other sectors of the economy vulnerable to climate disruption, such as real estate development and energy production.

A significant paper on drought and the increasingly alarming state of U.S. water resource law.

Matt Festa

April 25, 2011 in Agriculture, Climate, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Property, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Doremus (and many more) on Adaptive Management

Holly Doremus (Cal-Berkeley) collaborated with nine other scholars and two staff members from the Center for Progressive Reform to produce Making Use of Adaptive Management. Here's the abstract:

Over the last two decades, natural resource scientists, managers, and policymakers have increasingly endorsed “adaptive management” of land and natural resources. Indeed, this approach, based on adaptive implementation of resource management and pollution control laws, is now mandated in a variety of contexts at the federal and state level. Yet confusion remains over the meaning of adaptive management, and disagreement persists over its usefulness or feasibility in specific contexts.

This white paper is intended to help legislators, agency personnel, and the public better understand and use adaptive management. Adaptive management is not a panacea for the problems that plague natural resource management woes. It is appropriate in some contexts, but not in others. Drawing on key literature as well as case studies, we offer an explanation of adaptive management, including a discussion of its benefits and challenges; a roadmap for deciding whether or not to use it in a particular context; and best practices for obtaining its benefits while avoiding its potential pitfalls. Following these recommendations should simultaneously improve the ability of resource managers to achieve management goals determined by society and the ability of citizens to hold managers accountable to those goals.

The nine other scholars listed as co-authors (Andreen, Camacho, Farber, Glicksman, Goble, Karkkainen, Rohlf, Tarlock and Zellmer) make this white paper an all-star production. As an environmental 'greenhorn', I found the explanation of the concept of adaptive management straightforward and compelling. The case studies illustrate not only best practices but cautionary tales belying elevation of adaptive management as a panacea for the protection of all complex ecosystems.

Jim K.

April 25, 2011 in Coastal Regulation, Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Sustainability, Water, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Kornfeld on Natural Resources Damages and BP Deepwater Horizon

Itzchak E. Kornfeld (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) has posted Of Dead Pelicans, Turtles, and Marshes: Natural Resources Damages in the Wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill, Environmental Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 2.  The abstract:

This Article posits that in its role as the lead agency among the United States’ natural resources trustees, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s piecemeal assessment of natural resources damages, i.e., valuing one dead bird at a time or the death of just a tract of marsh, fails to consider the inherent worth or the value of the entire ecosystem. Valuing the destruction of the entire ecosystem as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon well blowout is the best way to assess the damage in the Gulf Coast, particularly in south Louisiana. That crude oil spill re-sulted in an estimated 53,000 barrels per day, and a total volume of 4.9 million barrels that despoiled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the surrounding shorelines. As a consequence of the spill, thousands of birds, turtles, fish, and marshlands were left to die.

Matt Festa

April 24, 2011 in Beaches, Coastal Regulation, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Oil & Gas, Scholarship, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Reiss on Fannie, Freddie, and the Future of Federal Housing Finance Policy

David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Future of Federal Housing Finance Policy: A Study of Regulatory Privilege, published in the Alabama Law Review, vol. 61 (2010).  The abstract:

The federal government recently placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-chartered, privately owned mortgage finance companies, in conservatorship. These two massive companies are profit-driven, but as government-sponsored enterprises they also have a government-mandated mission to provide liquidity and stability to the United States mortgage market and to achieve certain affordable housing goals. How the two companies should exit their conservatorship has implications that reach throughout the global financial markets and are of key importance to the future of American housing finance policy.

While the American taxpayer will be required to fund a bailout of the two companies that will be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars, the current state of affairs presents an opportunity to reform the two companies and the manner in which the residential mortgage market is structured. Few scholars, however, have provided a framework in which to conceptualize the possibilities for reform.

This Article employs regulatory theory to construct such a framework. A critical insight of this body of literature is that regulatory privilege should be presumed to be inconsistent with a competitive market, unless proven otherwise. The federal government's special treatment of Fannie and Freddie is an extraordinary regulatory privilege in terms of its absolute value, its impact on its competitors and its cost to the federal government. Regulatory theory thereby clarifies how Fannie and Freddie have relied upon their hybrid public/private structure to obtain and protect economic rents at the expense of taxpayers as well as Fannie and Freddie's competitors.

Once analyzed in the context of regulatory theory, Fannie and Freddie's future seems clear. They should be privatized so that they can compete on an even playing field with other financial institutions and their public functions should be assumed by pure government actors. While this is a radical solution and one that would have been considered politically naive until the recent credit crisis, it is now a serious option that should garner additional attention once its rationale is set forth.

An important and innovative analysis; we're fortunate to have a number of sophisticated takes on the transactional finance system coming out right now.

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Development, Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, Globalism, History, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Boyack on the Role and Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Andrea J. Boyack (George Washington) has posted Laudable Goals and Unintended Consequences: The Role and Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, forthcoming in the American University Law Review.  The abstract:

The United States is struggling to emerge from an era of loose mortgage underwriting standards – lapses in credit analysis that led to origination and securitization of toxic loans. The fallout has been crippling, costing borrowers their homes, investors their money, and the government its taxes.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act) passed last summer was the first comprehensive effort to address the problems in the system that led – in sequence – to the subprime crisis, the housing crisis, and the financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Act, which contains over 2,300 pages of legislation, is very broad as well as very detailed – even though hundreds of rulemakings have yet to completely define its parameters. But this extensive legislation deliberately did not deal with the biggest elephant (or perhaps elephants) in the room: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), behemoths of the secondary mortgage market, are currently in conservatorship and have (so far) cost taxpayers over $130 billion. Yet our current residential mortgage market is utterly dependent upon them for credit and liquidity. With political pressures to stop taxpayer bailouts and the reality of a frozen mortgage market should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cease to exist, when it comes to the GSEs, the administration feels damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

For decades, the U.S. mortgage finance system was the envy of the world – the only industrialized nation to have a significant segment of housing costs covered by private capital through a securitization investment system. The United States is the only country to routinely offer homebuyers 30-year fixed-rate pre-payable mortgage loans. Better capital accessibility has made more homeownership opportunities more available to more Americans. The GSEs have performed a vital role in financing the production of rental housing as well. Our real estate capital markets set the gold standard worldwide for what is possible in freeing trapped asset values and increasing the wealth of borrowers and investors alike.

Over the past decade, this system undoubtedly became unhinged – and it is critical to reform its failings. But a complete wind-down of the government sponsored enterprises that are the linchpin of our housing finance system goes too far. Subtracting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the finance equation may very well be market suicide, and the repercussions for borrowers, communities and investors would be dire indeed. Furthermore, this extreme step is unnecessary: the system’s failures can be adequately (and better) addressed within the GSE framework.

Undoubtedly there is still ample dirty “bathwater” to throw out as we reform the mortgage finance market system. But it would be an excruciating mistake to bow to political pressures and throw out the “baby” too. Current and future mortgage borrowers will only be adequately “protected” if they are empowered through access to capital, appropriately constrained by valid underwriting criteria. A well functioning market – rather than political scapegoating – is the best way to emerge from the recession and protect future buyers and investors alike.

This article first discusses the history and purposes of the GSEs and what went wrong with the system that led to the 2008 conservatorship and bailout. With reference to the Obama Administration’s February 2011 Report to Congress, “Reforming America’s Housing Finance Market,” Part II analyzes proposals to reform and wind down the GSEs in light of their likely legal and market impact. Part III offers some general suggestions on better approaches to crafting America’s future mortgage market and advocates for solutions more precisely tailored to remedy apparent systemic problems while achieving the identified policy goals.

One of several interesting articles coming out this year that will add to our knowledge about Fannie, Freddie, and the mortgage crisis.  An interesting take on reforming the system from within--check it out.

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, History, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Census Data Tool...

Since land development is closely tied to population growth and placement, the most recent census data provides all types of new information for retail, residential, and other land development studies. 

This interactive tool provides a good starting point related to population issues.  Here in Montgomery, we've started to realize the benefit of updated census data in the form of a new housing demand study the city has commissioned.   The comprehensive nature of census data will allow us to have the most updated and accurate idea of housing demand in the city's different sectors.

It also provides a nice empirical resource for law review articles and/or student research projects.

Chad Emerson

April 23, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Blumm & Guthrie on Internationalizing the Public Trust Doctrine

Michael C. Blumm (Lewis & Clark) and R.D. Guthrie (Lewis & Clark) have posted Internationalizing the Public Trust Doctrine: Natural Law and Constitutional and Statutory Approaches to Fulifilling the Saxion Vision, forthcoming in University of California Davis Law Review, Vol. 44, (2012).  The abstract:

The public trust doctrine, an ancient doctrine emanating from Roman law and inherited from England by the American states, has been extended in recent years beyond its traditional role in protecting public uses of navigable waters to include new resources like groundwater and for new purposes like preserving ecological function. But those state-law developments, coming slowly and haphazardly, have failed to fulfill the vision that Professor Joseph Sax sketched in his landmark article of forty years ago. However, in the last two decades, several countries in South Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere have discovered that the public trust doctrine is fundamental to their jurisprudence, due to natural law or to constitutional or statutory interpretation. In these dozen countries, the doctrine is likely to supply environmental protection for all natural resources, not just public access to navigable waters. This international public trust case law also incorporates principles of precaution, sustainable development, and intergenerational equity; accords plaintiffs liberalized public standing; and reflects a judicial willingness to oversee complex remedies. These developments make the non-U.S. public trust case law a much better reflection than U.S. case law of Professor Sax’s vision of the doctrine.

A timely article considering the recent upsurge in caselaw and commentary on the public trust doctrine.

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Beaches, Caselaw, Comparative Land Use, Environmentalism, History, Property, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hills & Schleicher on Balancing the "Zoning Budget"

Roderick M. Hills (NYU) and David Schleicher (George Mason) have posted Balancing the "Zoning Budget," forthcoming in the Case Western Law Review.  The abstract:

The politics of urban land use frustrate even the best intentions. A number of cities have made strong political commitments to increasing their local housing supply in the face of a crisis of affordability and availability in urban housing. However, their decisions to engage in “up-zoning,” or increases in the areas in which new housing can be built, are often offset by even more “down-zoning” or laws that decrease the ability of residents in a designated area to build new housing as-of-right. The result is that housing availability does not increase by anywhere near the promises of elected officials.

In this essay, we argue that the difficulty cities face in increasing local housing supply is a result of the seriatim nature of local land use decisions. Because each down-zoning decision has only a small effect on the housing supply, citywide forces spend little political capital fighting them, leaving the field to neighborhood groups who care deeply. Further, because down-zoning decisions are made in advance of any proposed new development, the most active interest group in favor of new housing – developers – takes a pass on lobbying. The result is an uneven playing field in favor of down-zoning.

Drawing on examples of “extra-congressional procedure” like federal base closing commissions and the Reciprocal Trade Act of 1933, we argue that local governments can solve this problem by changing the procedure by which they consider zoning decisions. Specifically, they should pass laws that require the city to create a local “zoning budget” each year. All deviations downward from planned growth in housing supply expressed in the budget should have to be offset by corresponding increases elsewhere in buildable as-of-right land. This would reduce the degree to which universal logrolling coalitions can form among anti-development neighborhood groups and would create incentives for pro-development forces to lobby against down-zonings in which they currently have little interest. The result should be housing policy that more closely tracks local preferences on housing development.

Looks really fascinating.  I plan to read it just as soon as I finish drafting this final exam!

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Development, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Victory in Longleaf Coal-Fired Power Plant Case

I've previously blogged about litigation in Georgia against new coal-fired power plants.  Today I received news from my friends at GreenLaw, the Atlanta-based public interest law firm handling this cases. Their media release:

Court Rules Against LS Power's Longleaf Coal-fired Power Plant

The Earth received a present, just in time for Earth Day.  A Georgia administrative law court handed a victory to opponents of a proposed 1200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Blakely, Georgia. According to the ruling issued on April 19, the state permit did not sufficiently limit harmful air pollution that will be emitted by the plant.
 
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must now reconsider its permit after the court found flaws in provisions for measuring toxic air pollutants.
 
EPD’s permit was to allow New Jersey-based LS Power to build the largest coal plant in the nation to be classified as a “minor” source of pollution--a strategy that would circumvent the stricter pollution controls required for a “major” source of pollution under the law.
 
The court found that the permit’s monitoring and reporting scheme could “miss” many tons of toxic air emissions each year, including emissions of known carcinogens like formaldehyde. The court also found that the permit did not account for toxic air emissions from the entire facility.
 
GreenLaw represented two citizen groups, Friends of the Chattahoochee (FOC) and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, in their challenge to the EPD decision to approve construction of the largest new coal-fired power plant in Georgia in over 25 years.
 
“We are pleased that we were able to make progress on this complex case, which arbitrarily classifies a massive plant as a minor rather than major source of air pollution,” stated GreenLaw Executive Director Justine Thompson.”
 
Longleaf is designed to be a 1200 megawatt (MW) plant that would emit millions of tons of pollutants each year in Early County along the Chattahoochee River. LS Power can sell the power to buyers anywhere in the U.S. without being subject to any regulation by Georgia’s Public Service Commission.
 
Recently, plans to construct coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana have all been canceled. Other states are showing rising concern about the financial risks, high water consumption, and air pollution caused by coal plants. Georgia already has 10 coal-fired power plants, leading to public health costs of over six billion dollars each year from health problems such as respiratory illness and premature deaths attributed to the pollution emitted by these coal plants.

Congratulations to GreenLaw attorneys Kurt Ebersbach and George Hays, who labored valiently to win this case. A copy of the court's decision can be found here.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 21, 2011 in Clean Energy, Environmental Law, Georgia | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Move to Water?

In my last post, I described some of the recent literature that analyzes the land intensity of various forms of energy production.  Renewable energy sources often are criticized as land-intensive, and several studies have attempted to quantify this claim.  One study not mentioned in my last post seems to suggest, for example, that all of the earth's "land area" would be consumed by soy if we used soy diesel to meet one-hundred percent of 2010 energy demand.  (Note that this data purportedly comes from a study by Professor Clinton J. Andrews et al., but Andrews does not list the study under his publications--nor does the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, which hosted a conference at which cnet claims Andrews presented an early version of the study.  Even if the study does not in fact suggest that the earth would be covered in soy if we relied on soy biodiesel for all of our energy, it's an interesting scenario to imagine.)  The Nature Conservancy also has estimated that renewable technologies like wind and solar photovoltaics are more land intensive than some traditional fuels, such as coal and natural gas. 

If energy infrastructure takes up valuable land that could be put to better use, such as housing people or businesses or providing valuable habitat for endangered species, why not place it on top of existing infrastructure--a trend that is becoming more common--or put it on the water?  Should we begin to think of water as the next frontier for energy, in other words?  According to the New York Times, perhaps yes.  The Times reported yesterday that start-up companies have successfully built solar pontoons that produce energy from the sun while floating on top of water.  Planned offshore wind and transmission projects, too, are growing--in part because they do not compete with existing land uses.  (Stronger wind resources also often blow over water, and much of the electricity-hungry human population lives close to water.)  In March 2011, Canada concluded its environmental assessment of a large proposed offshore wind project off the coast of British Columbia, and the company anticipates that it will begin construction "within two years of receiving an energy purchase agreement."  Other offshore wind projects in progress in North America include, among others, the Mid-Atlantic Wind Park near Delaware; Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound (for which the Department of the Interior approved a Construction and Operations Plan yesterday); and Garden State Offshore Energy.  For a useful list of offshore wind projects in various stages of planning and development, see offshorewind.net

With all this talk of wind on the water, let's not forget about solar--as the New York Times has reminded us.  Technological advances in offshore drilling rigs suggest that floating solar power plants are not a mere pipe dream.  Perhaps competition over the ocean's surface will eventually inspire the heated disputes that arise from today's scarce land resources.  The Macondo blowout--which occurred one year ago today--might suggest that ocean use disputes, if not battles for ocean space--already loom large. 

-Hannah Wiseman

April 20, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)