December 31, 2011
Welcome Stephen Miller
The New Year brings us to a new month to introduce a new guest blogger, Prof. Stephen Miller. Stephen is an Associate Professor and Director of the Economic Development Clinic at the University of Idaho College of Law. From his faculty bio:
Stephen R. Miller joined the faculty of the University of Idaho College of Law in 2011. Miller received his undergraduate degree from Brown University, and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2006, he graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, where he was senior articles editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly, and was a research assistant to Professor Joel Paul. Miller also worked for a land use and environmental law firm in San Francisco, California prior to joining the faculty. His research interests include economic development, sustainable development, land use, environmental law, and local government law.
Welcome aboard! Stephen gives us an auspicious start to 2012.
Happy New Land Use Year
Thanks everyone for reading in 2011. We are excited to bring the blog into 2012, with some excellent guest bloggers joining us, in addition to our regular lineup. We are in the middle of a number of important land use trends, and 2012 should be a big year for land use law. We're looking forward to continuing the conversation over the New Year!
Court to Redevelopment Agencies: Drop Dead! (Or, It's TKO for TIF in CA)
Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a great new year! I've been on blog hiatus (blogatus? blogcation?) but simply had to report this piece of news. Two days ago the California Supreme Court put a huge lump of coal in the Christmas stocking of California's very naughty redevelopment agencies, issuing an epochal (or perhaps apocalyptic) but not entirely surprising decision that puts an end to redevelopment in the state of California, probably the state where redevelopment has hitherto been most popular. As of 2008, there were 395 redevelopment agencies in California, holding $12.9 billion in assets in 759 redevelopment zones. Now, after the court's ruling, they are all history. The court upheld a state law abolishing all California redevelopment agencies, and struck down a compromise bill that would have permitted redevelopment agencies to stay in business if they shared some of their tax revenue with other local government agencies, mostly school districts. Forlorn city leaders are already predicting all sorts of doomsday scenarios for cash-strapped California cities. Critics of redevelopment such as the Institute for Justice, are, as you can imagine, more pleased with the result. They must take especial delight in knowing, as I explain below, that redevelopment agencies basically brought this plight on themselves. Critics will be less pleased to learn that redevelopment is almost certainly not really dead, and will likely be back in a form hardly less objectionable to its critics than the original. According to this great recap from California Planning & Development Report (an excellent resource, by the way), this lawsuit was never about the merits of redevelopment itself, but was just the beginning of a complex negotiation over who is going to control the prized redevelopment money.
Much more below...
Redevelopment in California
California redevelopment in a nutshell: a local government agency known as a "redevelopment agency," which is usally just the city council of a given city, declares a part of the city to be "blighted" and hence in need of redevelopment. The blight designation enables the agency to declare the area a redevelopment zone, which gives the agency two hugely significant powers: one, the power to condemn property in the zone by eminent domain; and two, the power to float tax-free bonds to finance the redevelopment, secured by the "incremental" property tax revenue that the redevelopment of the area is supposed to generate. This tax increment is earmarked to pay debt service on the bonds and otherwise to refurbish the redevelopment zone. Hence, "tax-increment financing" (TIF).
The "Blight that's Right"
As many of you know, redevelopment has had its critics. Eminent domain, and specifically the use of eminent domain to facilitate redevelopment, has probably faced the loudest and most successful criticism -- criticism that crystallized in the opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's widely reviled decision in Kelo v. New London. From a basic fairness standpoint, critics have asked whether government should be able to take your property and give it to someone else (usually, a wealthy real estate developer) simply because government thinks it can make a better use of the property than you can. This is an especially powerful argument because government agencies have so frequently failed to make good use of the properties they have condemned. Many high-profile redevelopment projects, including New London's, have been abyssmal failures even on their own terms -- failing to bring in the jobs and tax revenue they promise and often leading to further deterioration of the area. And even though landowners are compensated for the fair market value of condemned property, they are not compensated for the property's sentimental or "subjective" value. Then there is the impact of eminent domain on existing neighborhoods, many of which have been gashed or detroyed by redevelopment, and the fact that minorities and the poor have disproportionately faced displacement to make way for redevelopment projects.
The "blight" component of redevelopment law has also been criticized. The blight standards in California are vague and easily manipulated, and redevelopment agencies often seek "the blight that's right" -- an area that can plausibly be called "blighted" but is sufficiently economically healthy that it has reasonable prospects for revitalization and the increased tax revenue to pay off the bonds.
Follow the Money, People
These are all legitimate, perhaps compelling, criticisms of redevelopment in California. But don't be deceived: they had absolutely nothing to do with why the state sought to abolish redevelopment. Instead, the dispute was all about who controls the redevelopment money, and where that money goes. One of the more controversial aspects of TIF is that, because it earmarks the incremental tax revenue to be funnelled back into the TIF district, it thereby enables municipalities to make sure that property tax revenue does not go to other local governments that would ordinarily be entitled to a piece of that revenue, including counties and school districts. (Thus explaining why many county leaders are ecstatic about the court's ruling). For California cities, this is an especially important feature of TIF because of something called Proposition 13, which drastically limits the pool of property tax revenue available to local governments. As the court noted in the ruling, Proposition 13 led to an intensified zero-sum struggle between California municipalities for "their slices of a greatly shrunken pie." TIF gave cities a way of keeping this "shrunken pie" all to themselves, rather than having to share "slices" with other local governments. Needless to say, cities thus had a great incentive to use TIF specifically for this purpose, rather than to engage in actual redevelopment. And because the only limitation on the use of TIF is the "blight" finding which, as I said, is extraordinarily manipulable, cities went bonkers with TIF. Indeed, there have been instances in which cities have designated their entire downtown, even their entire city(!) as a redevelopment zone simply in order to protect their tax revenue against redistribution to other local governments.
The legislature did attempt to rein in this practice by requiring that a percentage of redevelopment money be funnelled to affordable housing, but an expose in the Los Angeles Times last year showed that cities routinely failed to fulfill this requirement. This was one of the precursors to the recent legislation killing off redevelopment agencies.
The other major precursor was, of course, the fiscal crisis that hit California in 2008. The state legislature obviously saw the treasure trove of redevelopment money as a way of dealing with its dire fiscal problems. Because redevelopment agencies are, like other local governments, state creatures, there was nothing to stop the legislature from simply taking redevelopment money to plug holes in its budget, and the state legislature made clear that's exactly what it intended to do.
Proposition 22: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
In response to the threats from the state, the League of California Cities qualified a measure for the ballot in November 2010 that would protect local redevelopment money from being forcibly redistributed by the state. The measure passed, but in an ironic twist, Prop 22 proved not to be redevelopment's savior, but its undoing.
In that same November 2010 election, a guy named Jerry Brown was elected governor. One of his first steps was to declare that if redevelopment agencies would not give up their money, then Brown would simply abolish the redevelopment agencies entirely. Although that would apparently go against the spirit of Prop 22, the measure did not explicitly say anything like: "Oh by the way, you can't abolish redevelopment to get our money either." The bill abolishing redevelopment agencies was passed, along with another, compromise bill that allowed redevelopment agencies to stay in existence if they gave up some of their money to other local governments.
The lawsuit that led to the recent decision challenged the constitutionality of both bills under Prop 22 -- the first because it would seem nonsensical for the Constitution to protect redevelopment money unless it implicitly protected redevelopment agencies from being abolished, and the second because it required forcible redistribution of redevelopment money in violation of the plain language of Prop 22. The outcome of the case was the nightmare scenario for redevelopment: the court held the first bill was consistent with Prop 22, and the second was not. As a result, redevelopment is dead!
What made Proposition 22 so stupid (I voted against it, for the record) was that despite all the real objections to redevelopment, there was no way in heckfire that the California governor or legislature would ever have done anything serious to curtail redevelopment as long as redevelopment moolah was flowing into the state's coffers. (and voters had already declined to enact a meaningful anti-Kelo measure at the ballot box, so the initiative was also off the table). Once cities severed the umbilical cord between redevelopment money and the state, redevelopment was no longer untouchable.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King! Wait, who's the king again? I'm the king. No, you're not. I'm the king!
The fact that the real debate here was over money, and not redevelopment, means that redevelopment is very likely not really dead. There is money to be made in redevelopment, especially by powerful lobbying interests like real estate developers and, of course, the cities. The state of California is in no position to be turning down an opportunity to make some money. In all likelihood, the legislature sees the court's ruling as a very big bargaining chip it can use to change the way redevelopment agencies do business so the state gets more money. It is noteworthy in this regard that the court's ruling was handed down a bit earlier than expected, giving the legislature time to mull its next move before the next legislative session begins at the start of the year.
It sure would be nice though, wouldn't it, if the state used this opportunity to seriously re-evaluate redevelopment on its merits? There is word that perhaps the state will tighten up the blight definition. How about actually enforcing the requirement that some redevelopment money go to affordable housing? How about some kind of audit into redevelopment's real costs and benefits? I suspect we won't get a real soul-searching evaluation of redevelopment, and redevelopment will be back in something like its original form. But we academics exist in order to dream -- which is why we may be the next thing on the chopping block. Happy Holidays!
ULI Report on What's Next in Urban Land Use
As we head into the New Year, The Urban Land Institute has also been looking ahead at the future of land use. ULI recently issued its report What's Next? Real Estate in the New Economy. From the press release:
A new economy is unfolding over the course of this decade, driven by an extraordinary convergence of demographic, financial, technological and environmental trends. Taken together, these trends will dramatically change urban planning, design and development through 2020, according to a new report from the Urban Land Institute (ULI).
What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy outlines how every aspect of living, working and connecting will change in major ways, driven in large part by the values, preferences and work ethic of Generation Y, the largest generation in American history. . . .
Among the report’s findings:
- Technology will reshape work places. Office tenants will decrease space per employee, and new office environments will need to promote interaction and dialogue. Offices will be transforming into meeting places more than work places, with an emphasis on conference rooms, break areas and open configurations. Developers will craft attractive environments to attract young, talented workers.
- Major companies will value space that enables innovation. They will continue to pay more for space in a global gateway served by a major international airport, or in 24-hour urban centers. Hard-to-reach suburban work places will be less in demand.
- The influx of Generation Y, now in their teens through early thirties, will change housing demand. They are comfortable with smaller homes and will happily trade living space for an easier commute and better lifestyle. They will drive up the number of single households and prompt a surge in demand for rentals, causing rents to escalate.
- For most people, finances will still be constrained, leading to more shared housing and multi-generational households. Immigration will support that trend, as many immigrants come from places where it is common for extended families to share housing. This may be the one group that continues to drive demand for large, suburban homes.
- The senior population will grow fastest, but financial constraints could limit demand for adult housing developments. Many will age in place or move in with relatives to conserve money. Developers may want to recast retirement communities into amenity-laden “age friendly” residences. Homes near hospitals and medical offices will be popular, especially if integrated into mixed-use neighborhoods with shops, restaurants and services.
- Energy and infrastructure take on greater importance. Businesses cannot afford to have their network connections down, and more will consider self-generated power or onsite generator capacity. Developers, owners and investors are realizing that the slightly higher costs of energy- and water-saving technologies can pay for themselves quickly, creating more marketable and valuable assets. Ignoring sustainability issues speeds property obsolescence.
You can download the full report here.
December 31, 2011 in Architecture, Clean Energy, Density, Development, Downtown, Environmentalism, Finance, Green Building, Housing, Planning, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Suburbs, Sustainability, Transportation, Urbanism, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 30, 2011
Wolf on the Supreme Court and the Environment
Michael Allan Wolf (Florida) has a new book out called The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press, 2012). Here's the Amazon blurb:
Silent Spring (1962) can arguable be cited as one of the most influential books of the modern era. This book, along with 1960's rampant activism reacting to high-profile ecological calamities, helped create the modern environmental movement. The Supreme Court and the Environment, written by Michael Wolf, discusses one of this movement's most important legacies, namely the body of federal statutory law amassed to fight pollution and conserve natural resources that began with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Instead of taking the more traditional route of listing court decisions, The Supreme Court and the Environment puts the actual cases in a subsidiary position, as part of a larger set of documents paired with incisive introductions that illustrate the fascinating and sometimes surprising give-and-take with Congress, federal administrative agencies, state and local governments, environmental organizations and private companies and industry trade groups that have helped define modern environmental policy.
And for a preview, Prof. Wolf has posted the introduction on SSRN. The abstract:
This document contains the Introduction and Contents for The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press/Sage 2012). When one views the body of modern environmental law — the decisions and the other key documents — the picture that emerges is not one of Supreme Court dominance. In this legal drama, the justices have most often played supporting roles. While we can find the occasional, memorable soliloquy in a Supreme Court majority, concurring, or dissenting opinion, the leading men and women are more likely found in Congress, administrative agencies, state and local legislatures, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and state and lower federal courts.
What one learns from studying the Supreme Court’s environmental law output is that the justices for the most part seem more concerned about more general issues of deference to administrative agencies, the rules of statutory interpretation, the role of legislative history, the requisites for standing, and the nature of the Takings Clause than the narrow issues of entitlement to a clean environment, the notion of an environmental ethic that underlies written statutes and regulations, and concerns about ecological diversity and other environmental values. When we widen the lens, however, and focus on the other documents that make up essential parts of the story of the Supreme Court and the environment — complaints by litigants, briefs by parties and by friends of the court, oral argument transcripts, the occasional stirring dissent, lower court decisions, presidential signing statements and press conference transcripts, media reports and editorials, and legislative responses to high court decisions — we discover what is often missing in the body of Supreme Court decisions.
Looks fascinating, and is a very original take that situates the cases themselves within a broader context of Supreme Court jurisprudence and goes beyond to the larger networks of actors that shape law.
December 30, 2011 in Books, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
Arezki, Deininger, & Selod on What Drives the Global Land Rush
Rabah Arezki (IMF), Klaus Deininger (World Bank), and Harris Selod (World Bank) have posted What Drives the Global Land Rush? The abstract:
This paper studies the determinants of foreign land acquisition for large-scale agriculture. To do so, gravity models are estimated using data on bilateral investment relationships, together with newly constructed indicators of agro-ecological suitability in areas with low population density as well as land rights security. Results confirm the central role of agro-ecological potential as a pull factor. In contrast to the literature on foreign investment in general, the quality of the business climate is insignificant whereas weak land governance and tenure security for current users make countries more attractive for investors. Implications for policy are discussed.
December 30, 2011 in Agriculture, Comparative Land Use, Contracts, Density, Economic Development, Finance, Globalism, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack