Friday, December 9, 2011

Hirokawa & Rosenbloom on Town, Gown, and Place-Based Sustainability

Our friends Keith Hirokawa (Albany) and erstwhile guest-blogger Jonathan Rosenbloom (Drake) have posted Town, Gown and Place-Based Sustainability: Collaborating in the Shared Space.  The abstract:

The locational and spatial circumstances of town and gown present opportunities to advance sustainability. This essay examines these areas of opportunity by proposing collaborative frameworks between town and gown. In what we describe as “place-based collaborations,” we identify three areas for productive collaboration by two mutually compatible institutions. Part I of this essay introduces the impacts of the sustainable curriculum and other projects that implement the educational mission of the institution, including the more progressive notion that pedagogical strategies for engaged learning, combined with the introduction of sustainability in the curriculum, may serve as drivers for nested sustainable practices. Part II considers the special relationship that towns may foster in their nested universities by recognizing shared space. Part III illustrates interaction and collaboration possibilities that build on the intellectual capital occurring in educational institutions.

Matt Festa

December 9, 2011 in Local Government, Planning, Property, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Slate on the Death of High Speed Rail

Will Oremus writes in Slate on a Requiem for a Train: High Speed Rail is Dead in America; Should we Mourn it?  From the article:

Well, you can stop imagining it now. High-speed rail isn’t happening in America. Not anytime soon. Probably not ever. The questions now are (1) what killed it, and (2) should we mourn its passing? . . .

Though Republicans’ outright rejection of high-speed rail is short-sighted, so were many of the plans themselves. Rather than focus on the few corridors that need high-speed rail lines the most, the Obama administration doled out half a billion here and half a billion there, a strategy better-suited to currying political support than to addressing real infrastructure problems. Spread across 10 corridors, each between 100 and 600 miles long, Obama’s rail system would have been, at best, a disjointed patchwork. The nation’s most gridlocked corridor, along the East Coast between Washington, D.C. and Boston, was left out of the plans entirely. Worse, much of the money was allocated to projects that weren’t high-speed rail at all.

Lots of mistakes were made in the roll-out of the HSR plan, but one of the main problems was that it was fantasized in a lot of places where it isn't really necessary, and ignored in the places where it could be great. 

Matt Festa

December 8, 2011 in Budgeting, Federal Government, Politics, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Senik on Direct Dysfunctionality (initiative & recall)

Last month I posted a rant on Election Day and State Constitutions based on the referendum for new Texas constitutional amendments; Ken Stahl posted a thoughtful response with a qualified defense of direct democracy in ballot-box zoning, which set forth some thoughts that he more fully elaborates in his excellent article The Artifice of Local Growth Politics: At-Large Elections, Ballot-Box Zoning, and Judicial Review

My complaints--prompted by my frustration with a slate of ten poorly-articulated and confusing process amendments for which the State Legislature required a nominal thumbs-up from the people-- were more focused on (1) statewide (more than with local) lawmaking through referenda; and (2) the over-constitutionalization of public policy in fundamental state law.  Troy Senik has written an article for City Journal that articulates some of the points of this (hardly original) critique: Direct Dysfunctionality: California celebrates 100 years of the initiative, referendum, and recall

Golden State voters can approve or reject public-policy changes at the ballot box through the use of the initiative and referendum. They can also remove unpopular elected officials with the less frequently employed recall, made famous when it chased out Governor Gray Davis in 2003. While nearly half of U.S. states have an initiative process of some kind, nowhere is it as central to the political process as in California, where, in 2010 alone, 14 issues appeared on the ballot. As a result, voters constitute a de facto fourth branch of government. . . .

These measures were introduced in the salad days of the early Progressive movement, when California Governor Hiram Johnson (who would eventually serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s running mate on the Bull Moose presidential ticket of 1912) pressed for their implementation as a firewall against political domination by special interests—particularly those of the well-heeled railroads. . . .

But statewide direct constitution-making has its problems:

Expediting policy shifts, however, is a relatively modest benefit in exchange for the dramatic cost of the initiative process: inducing widespread public-sector sclerosis. Rather than simply providing an outlet for popular grievances, direct democracy actually annexes huge swaths of policymaking from the legislature. When voters mandate a policy directive from the ballot box, the legislature has no way to override the decision, even by supermajority. As a result, any issue that voters weigh in on directly becomes their exclusive purview in perpetuity—amendable or repealable only by another popular vote. This also has the ironic effect of slowing down the democratic process that the initiative system is supposed to make more responsive, ensuring that policy shifts can only come on election days spread years apart. And many of the ballot measures take the form of constitutional amendments, a trend that has given California the unenviable distinction of having the third-longest constitution in the world, after India and (believe it or not) Alabama. Because altering the state’s foundational political charter only requires a simple majority, California ends up inhabiting a bizarro world where it’s relatively easy to amend the constitution but can be nearly impossible to alter basic public policy.

So as with any political process tool, it's a mixed bag with some good things that can be contorted into bad results; my tentative thesis is that direct democracy is less effective the broader the polity (i.e. state vs. local) that engages in it.  I know, James Madison and others had something to say about this too. 

Soon I'll blog about an interesting local-government direct democracy land use requirement that is a little different from the ones that Ken has written about. 

Matt Festa

December 8, 2011 in California, Constitutional Law, History, Local Government, Politics, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Renuart on the Ibañez Time Bomb

Elizabeth Renuart (Albany) has posted Property Title Trouble in Non-Judicial Foreclosure States: The Ibanez Time Bomb? It's the first piece that I've come across to explore the title law ramifications of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court's Ibañez decision that I alluded to in a post earlier this year.  Hat tip to my colleague, Judy Fox, for sharing it with me. Here's the abstract:

The economic crisis gripping the United States began when large numbers of homeowners defaulted on poorly underwritten subprime mortgage loans. Demand from Wall Street seduced mortgage lenders, brokers, and other players to churn out mortgage loans in extraordinary numbers. Securitization, the process of utilizing mortgage loans to back investment instruments, not only fanned the fire; the parties to these deals often handled and transferred the legally important documents that secure the resulting investments — the loan notes and mortgages — in a careless manner. 
The consequences of this behavior are now becoming evident. All over the country, courts are scrutinizing whether the parties initiating foreclosures against homeowners legally possess the authority to repossess those homes. When the authority is absent, foreclosure sales may be reversed. The concern about authority to foreclose is most acute in the majority of states where foreclosures occur with little or no judicial oversight before the sale, such as Massachusetts. Due to the decision in U.S. Bank N.A. v. Ibanez, in which the Supreme Judicial Court voided two foreclosure sales where the foreclosing parties did not hold the mortgage, Massachusetts is the focal jurisdiction where an important conflict is unfolding. 
This article explores the extent to which the Ibanez ruling may have traction in other nonjudicial foreclosure states and the likelihood that clear title to foreclosed properties is jeopardized by shoddy handling of notes and mortgages. I focused on Arizona, California, Georgia, and Nevada because they permit nonjudicial foreclosures and they are experiencing high seriously delinquent foreclosure rates. After comparing the law in these states to that of Massachusetts, I conclude that Ibanez should be persuasive authority in the four nonjudicial foreclosure states highlighted herein. However, property title trouble resulting from defective foreclosures may be more limited in Arizona and Nevada. The article also provides a roadmap for others to assess the extent to which title to properties purchased at foreclosure sales or from lenders’ REO inventories might be defective in other states. Finally, the article addresses the potential consequences of reversing foreclosure sales and responds to the securitization industry’s worry about homeowners getting free houses. 

Jim K.

December 8, 2011 in Finance, Financial Crisis, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Real Estate Transactions, Remedies, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reiss on Glaeser on the City

David Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted a review of Harvard economist and urban theorist Edward Glaeser's new book. Book Review: Edward L. Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (The Penguin Press 2011), forthcoming in Environment and Planning (2012).  The abstract:

It is always a bit unnerving to read someone else’s love letters, but even more so, when you have the same object of desire. Edward Glaeser’s TRIUMPH OF THE CITY is a love letter to cities and to New York City in particular. Glaeser provides a theoertical framework of the city, arguing that “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness.”

Glaeser prescribes three simple rules to protect the vitality of the urban environment: First, cities should replace the current lengthy and uncertain permitting process with a simple system of fees. Second, historic preservation should be limited and well defined. Finally, individual neighborhoods should have some clearly delineated power to protect their special character.

While Glaeser does not fully justify his set of rules, he does provide a thought-provoking discussion of the consequences of not following them. If you were to take nothing else from TRIUMPH OF THE CITY, you should attend to its cri de coeur: “the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” But, notwithstanding its limitations, the book offers much, much more than that. It challenges broadly held beliefs and presents a theory of the city that helps to evaluate urban policy proposals with a clear eye.

Matt Festa

December 6, 2011 in Density, Historic Preservation, History, Housing, Local Government, New York, Planning, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Upcoming Oral Argument in PPL Montana, Inc. v. Montana

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of the only cases that touches on property rights scheduled for this Term, PPL Montana, Inc., v. Montana.  Professor Thomas Merrill has posted an excellent preview of the case on SCOTUS blog:

On December 7, the Court will hear argument in PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana. The case is one for history buffs. The question is whether the state of Montana holds title to portions of three riverbeds in the state. The parties agree that the relevant legal test is historical: were the river segments in question part of a waterway that was “navigable in fact” when Montana became a state in 1889? Prominent among the many bits of historical evidence cited are the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who explored the rivers in 1805 on their famous expedition.

That's enough to get me excited (seriously).  Go read the rest of Prof. Merrill's informative analysis.  (h/t to our friends at Property Prof Blog for the link).

And don't forget that we had our own pre-preview here at the Land Use Prof Blog, back on the day after the Court granted cert. From guest-blogger Tim Mulvaney's take on SCOTUS cert grant for PPL Montana v. Montana:

In finding that all three rivers at issue met this “navigability for title” test when Montana entered statehood in 1889, the Montana Supreme Court cited to a litany of historical evidence, including the centuries-old journals of Lewis and Clark.  As today’s brief AP story notes, PPL Montana disagreed, pointing “to accounts of the [Lewis and Clark] expedition’s arduous portages of canoes and supplies around waterfalls to argue that the contested stretches of water were not navigable.”  The Montana Supreme Court’s opinion also drew PPL Montana’s ire by considering what the company alleges are flawed contemporary studies, as well as recent recreational uses of certain stretches of the rivers, to support the finding that the rivers are held in total by the state in trust for present and future generations.

One of the foremost experts in natural resources and water law, Professor Rick Frank, notes on Legal Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed navigability in the context of state public trust claims for several decades.  How the Supreme Court interprets its time-honored test and identifies what evidence is relevant in its application could have major ramifications for thousands of miles of inland lakes and waterways nationwide.

Should be very interesting.  Stay tuned.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, History, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Transportation, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Morgan Stanley says US moving toward "Rentership Society"

I came across a link to this Bloomberg report in reading for my previous post on the Leinberger-Kotkin debate.  The article is a few months old, but I still think it's highly relevant: U.S. Moves Toward Home 'Rentership Society,' Morgan Stanley Says, discussing a report on housing.

The U.S. homeownership rate has fallen below 60 percent when delinquent borrowers are excluded, a sign of the country’s move toward a “rentership society,”Morgan Stanley said in a report today. . . .

The homeownership rate reached an all-time high of 69.2 percent in 2004 as relaxed lending standards fueled home sales and President George W. Bush promoted an “ownership society.” Mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures and tighter credit for housing loans are reducing property buying, [Morgan Stanley analysi Oliver] Chang said.

“Taken together they are forcibly moving the country away from being an ownership society,” Chang, based in San Francisco, said in an e-mail. “This change is only beginning, and is moving the country towards becoming a rentership society.”

A real estate professional demurs, but look at the reason why:

Most Americans still aspire to own their houses and don’t want to be renters forever, said Rick Davidson, president and chief executive officer of Century 21 Real Estate LLC in Parsippany, New Jersey.

“It isn’t about the financial aspects, but about building a family and having a part of the American dream,” Davidson, whose company is a unit of Realogy Corp., said today during an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in New York. “What really drives purchases at the end of the day is emotional and has to do with lifestyle.”

We're still conditioned to think of homeownership as the sine qua non of the American Dream--but it's not necessarily in our financial or economic interest; it's emotional and about lifestyle.  But is there an adequate range of opportunities presented for Americans to choose (emotionally?) between different forms of lifestyle?  I believe that at their base, issues of housing, community, and urban form are primarily cultural.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Financial Crisis, History, Housing, Landlord-Tenant, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Kotkin: report of suburbs' death was an exaggeration

Last week we posted on Christopher Leinberger's recent New York Times piece on The Death of the Fringe Suburb.  Joel Kotkin at Forbes counters with Is Suburbia Doomed? Not so Fast.  Some excerpts:

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation’s mainstream media — and the planning community — more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

Nor are Americans abandoning their basic attraction for single-family dwellings or automobile commuting. Over the past decade, single-family houses grew far more than either multifamily or attached homes, accounting for nearly 80% of all the new households in the 51 largest cities. And — contrary to the image of suburban desolation — detached housing retains a significantly lower vacancy rate than the multi-unit sector, which has also suffered a higher growth in vacancies even the crash. . . .

It turns out that while urban land owners, planners and pundits love density, people for the most part continue to prefer space, if they can afford it. No amount of spinmeistering can change that basic fact, at least according to trends of past decade.

But what about the future? Some more reasoned new urbanists, like Leinberger, hope that the market will change the dynamic and spur the long-awaited shift into dense, more urban cores.

Kotkin provides further statistics derived from his Census analysis.  This debate is central to the future of housing policy and urban planning in America.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Density, Development, Downtown, Exurbs, Housing, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Suburbs, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)