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)

Law and the Human Factor

I just received the Spring newsletter of the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. This issue has a thoughtful essay by Ajay Rastogi, an environmental educator from India.  An excerpt:

I work in the area of nature conservation, sustainable agriculture, community-based enterprises and fair-trade in India and neighboring Himalayan countries. Over twenty years ago when many of my friends and I finished our university degrees in environmental sciences, we joined different organizations to contribute our efforts to saving the environment. Most of us and our colleagues at work carried a strong conviction that conservation could be achieved by improving knowledge and awareness. We worked with considerable passion and commitment, across different sectors of society, to try and bridge the gaps in people's understanding, providing information about “why” and “how” to protect the environment and conserve nature.

The result was that more books and films were produced, and more travel and workshops were planned, as these were considered the means toward our ends.

Some of these efforts may have contributed to a success story here and there, but it appeared to me that conservation education remained in the same domain as cognitive learning, and that it often failed to transform people to translate into action. To an extent, environmental education turned out to be part of the same educational riddle that lies at the root of the sustainability question. How can environmental education help not only make people aware, but motivate them to take the actual steps in their personal and community life that reflect their commitment as the stewards of natural ecosystems?

I began to realize that we need a paradigm shift in our approach to environmental education. I also began to feel that at deeper levels, environmental concerns are in many ways akin to other important societal concerns such as violence, hunger, drugs and corruption. None of these can be addressed through scientific, technological and policy solutions alone or just by enhancing knowledge, awareness or income levels. To maintain ecosystems, conserve biodiversity and keep the earth elements healthy (soil, water, air), nothing less than a radical change in human behavior is required.

How does one bring about behavioral transformation? I began to search for approaches. I located a master’s course in Applied Ethics and left my job in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to study. The ethical and moral theories presented in the courses made strong arguments that appealed to the rational mind, but still could not penetrate through to the deeper layers of beliefs and thought processes that affect changes in behavior. Appeals to value systems have limitations in promoting the attitudinal changes that would result in more sustainable living. Ethical discourse is often just a piece of good conversation. Most people will only make adjustments in their lifestyle for things that they really care about!

Rastogi is not the only scholar considering how the human element plays a role in policy-making and problem solving.  I'm also reading David Brooks' new book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement.  Brooks' inspiration for the book was his insight that the human equation is being left out of policymaking.  Here's an excerpt from a piece on NPR:

In Washington, D.C., which Brooks calls "the most emotionally avoidant city on Earth," Brooks notes that decisions are made based on the assumption that people are cold, rationalistic individuals who respond to incentives. Those assumptions didn't quite match what the research in other fields began to illustrate, however.

"Scientists, philosophers and others were developing a more accurate view of human nature, which is that emotion is more important than reason, that we're not individuals — we're deeply interconnected," Brooks says. "And most importantly ... most of our thinking happens below the level of awareness."...

Instead of relying on rational decisions, Brooks says, people tend to be influenced by their underlying, unconscious emotional state, which is in turn influenced by the social relationships surrounding them. For example, Brooks has covered education reform for 20 years and writes that he has seen little improvement from multitudinous policy changes.

"The reality of education is that people learn from people they love. But if you mention the word love at a congressional hearing, they look at you like you're Oprah," he says.

I feel like people often look at me like I'm Oprah.  Each semester I try to teach  my students about emotional intelligence, underlying values, and even mindfulness - non-rational aspects of the human experience that have a profound impact on decision and policy making.  Even the students who are grateful to learn about this are, at the same time, skeptical and worried about surfacing all this squishy stuff in the "emotionally avoidant" world of the law school and lawyering.

It's something I'm thinking a lot about as I prepare for our panel discussion on teaching about values at the upcoming "Practically Grounded" conference - how do we engage in best practices of law teaching, which (to me) includes tackling the range of human emotions and experience, while helping our students feel safe and sane?

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 20, 2011 in Books, Environmentalism, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Road Wars?

Kudos to the Charleston County Council for rejecting the state's efforts to build a highway extension that relies on outdated, disproven methods for moving vehicles around.  Considering that it was an 8-0 vote, it's apparently unanimous that SCDOT's plan needs to significantly change.

Hopefully, that department will do just that rather than engage in legal wrangling.

From the story:

After the 8-0 vote to dump the S.C. Department of Transportation's chosen plan for the highway, a majority on the council went a step further. They voted to negotiate a "no build" decision with the state -- meaning no plan for the highway would move forward -- unless the state considers "enhancements to existing transportation infrastructure to accomplish the project goals."

That means the county wants to use the state funding earmarked for I-526 for other transportation work.

SCDOT has repeatedly taken the position that the project goals can be accomplished only by extending I-526 from West Ashley to Johns and James islands, linking the existing highway to the James Island connector.

The agency also has rejected the idea of considering new alternatives to the Mark Clark plan selected by the state, the unpopular "alternative G" that the council rejected.

That $489 million plan would complete the Mark Clark as a moderate-speed, ground-level parkway with a bike path, connecting the islands and West Ashley with new bridges.

Together, the council's actions would appear to have killed any plan for the Mark Clark. But some council members said that's not the case, and county Attorney Joe Dawson said the county's contract with the state does not allow it to unilaterally quit the project.

Chad Emerson

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

High Oil Prices and Land Use

In the April 18 edition of The New Yorker James Surowiecki has a piece about the economic - and psychological - impact of the recent rise in gas prices.

High oil prices are generally bad for the U.S.—oil spending goes largely to foreign producers, leaving less money for American goods and services—but if you look just at the dollars involved the terror they inspire is somewhat mysterious. Gas is a relatively small percentage of most household budgets, and prices are now about eighty-five cents a gallon higher than they were twelve months ago, which translates into a few hundred dollars more a year. That’s not trivial, particularly for lower-income Americans, but it’s not devastating. In fact, it’s less than the increase in income that most Americans will get this year as a result of the new payroll-tax cut...

And Carol Graham and Soumya Chattopadhyay, of the Brookings Institution, have shown that rising gas prices can have a significant impact on Americans’ level of happiness. In part, this is because most people, at least in the short run, have no choice but to fill their tanks. Gas prices are also literally the most visible prices we have; you can’t take a drive without seeing huge signs reminding you how much gas costs. Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke, has even argued that the way we buy gasoline—standing at the pump and watching the dollars pile up—is inherently disheartening.

What Surowiecki doesn't mention, suprisingly, is why people feel they have little choice but to fill their tanks.  You can all say it together with me, "It's because of sprawl!"  Autocentric land use patterns are hard on the pocket-book and the psyche.  I improved my personal happiness by riding my bike to work today.

Jamie Baker Roskie

April 18, 2011 in Community Design, Development, Sprawl | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Energy and Land

Tragic events in Japan have recently reminded us that there are no easy answers in energy.  The world is consuming energy at a growing pace, and the negative effects of this trend are increasingly apparent. Beyond damaging human health and the environment, energy production has substantial effects on land.  A 2009 Nature Conservancy study attempted to quantify these impacts, estimating that biodiesel from soy is the worst culprit (with a land use impact of approximately 894 square kilometers of land impacted per terawatt-hour of electricity produced in 2030), followed by ethanol, wind, hydropower, petroleum, solar photovoltaic, natural gas, solar thermal, coal, geothermal, and nuclear power (in order of most to least land intensity).  The study estimated that nuclear power would require only 2.4 square kilometers of land per terawatt-hour produced in 2030, whereas natural gas would require 18.6 square kilometers, solar photovoltaic (which produces electricity directly from the sun) would require 36.9 square kilometers, petroleum would require 44.7, and wind would require 72.1. 

In 2010, Professor Sara Bronin published an article called "Curbing Energy Sprawl with Microgrids," which described Americans' growing thirst for energy and the land use impacts of energy production that had been estimated in the Nature Conservancy's report.  As a solution to habitat fragmentation and other problems associated with land-intensive energy production, Professor Bronin suggested that  the law should enable "microgrids" of distributed generation in urban neighborhoods.  Indeed, many small, distributed sources of energy, such as fuel cells, solar panels, and wind turbines, can be installed on existing infrastructure with minimal impacts on land.  Professor Uma Outka, in turn, has proposed that we more carefully and comprehensively investigate the land use impacts of energy and plan for energy production in a manner that minimizes these impacts.  In a forthcoming Stanford Environmental Law Review article, "The Renewable Energy Footprint," she suggests that  developers should locate large-scale renewable plants, wherever possible, on brownfields and other disturbed lands; in other words, where we can't avoid building more infrastructure through, for example, energy conservation or more efficient use of transmission lines, we should "reuse land." 

As Professor Outka describes in her article, some efforts at land reuse for renewable energy have begun.  The Bureau of Land Management, for example, has identified forty-two brownfield sites in Arizona that might be ideal areas for renewable development.  And at least one commercial wind farm--Steel Winds--is already operating on a brownfield site near Lake Erie. The Nature Conservancy, following its  "Energy Sprawl" report, also has produced a more optimistic follow-up report that suggests how the land impacts of energy--particularly those of renewable energy--can be reduced, similarly proposing that developers prioritize the use of brownfields and other lands that already have been disturbed.  The Nature Conservancy also has an interactive map that shows the average number of homes that could be powered annually by wind in each of the wind-intensive states and the species that could be protected if developers followed the Conservancy's suggested "smart siting" policies. Clicking on each state brings up a fun picture of the greater sage-grouse in addition to the data described above.  Speaking of interactive maps and energy, don't miss the new "FracFocus" website, where you can click on each state and identify the chemicals used in many hydraulically fractured oil and natural gas wells in that state; twenty-four industry members are now voluntarily disclosing the chemicals that they use. 

As concerns associated with energy risks rise, we must expand renewable energy production.  But all forms of energy production have some negative effects, and recent reports, maps, and articles remind us that we should address these effects in our quest toward cleaner, safer energy.

Hannah Wiseman

April 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Transit Expansion in Metro Atlanta?

The AJC recently ran a very surprising story about transportation funding requests from Metro Atlanta jurisdictions.  "Surprising" because more than half of the local government funding requests (which would be paid out of a proposed regional sales tax) seek money for transit rather than road projects.

Indeed, some area communities that have consistently resisted the expansion of transit into their jurisdiction (like Cobb County) have now changed their tune.

Could it be that rising congestion and energy costs are making transit-oriented development more desirable?  

Probably so.

More than half of the $22.8 billion in formal applications, $13.5 billion, were mass transit projects, compared with $8.5 billion in road projects, according to ARC. An additional list of projects with fuzzier cost estimates adds billions more of both roads and transit. All dollar values in the list still need cleaning up, and in the following weeks ARC officials say they are likely to weed out more overlap between projects, which could bring the figures down significantly.

As things stand, the region could not build the entire list of mass transit requests under this referendum. Currently the transit requests are nearly double the amount of money expected to come from the tax. Furthermore, the region has already set a general guideline to spend a lot of the tax on roads and other projects. And the simple fact is that the vast majority of metro Atlantans — the voters who will make the final decision — choose to travel primarily by car.

However, green-lighting even one of the train lines into a suburban county could change the regional landscape as we know it, showing that suburban demographics and culture have changed, too. Efforts to expand MARTA rail into Cobb, Gwinnett and Clayton met stony resistance in past decades. Now, floods of newcomers in those counties, including many from cities with rail systems, have shifted attitudes.

On a related note:  this past Saturday, I took my Smart Growth Law seminar course on a "site visit" trip to Atlanta.  We met at the Atlanta airport and walked to the MARTA station inside the airport.  From there, I divided the students into groups of 3 and sent them out onto MARTA with an all-day ticket and a straightforward assignment:

Imagine you live in Atlanta and do not have a car.  Identify which MARTA stops you could live at and meet your daily needs within walking distance of the station which you live near or another station that you could reach via MARTA.  After you've found these options, analyze their zoning and other regulations (federal, state, local) that result in this situation.

Chad Emerson

April 18, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)