Friday, June 1, 2012

Widener's Constitutional Environmenal Rights Workshop

Yesterday, I spent a delightful jam-packed six hours at a constitutional environmental rights workshop at Widener Law School (Delaware not Pennsylvania) hosted by James May and Erin Daly. The workshop brought in scholars from many corners of the US and elsewhere to talk about how environmental rights are and should be embodied in national and subnational constitutions.

The participants indulgently listened to me ramble about a very new project I have examining the constitutionalization of the Public Trust Doctrine. While many others have written cogently and persuassively about the role of the public trust doctrine (Sax, Thompson, and Blumm jump quickly to ming) and powerhouses like Robin Kudis Craig (I love that she has a wikipedia page) have even helpfully catalogued public trust language in state constitutions, I am seeking to explore the "so what" part of the question. If a state chooses to constitutionalize their public trust doctrine, does that result in any on the ground changes? Are those state more likely to have healthier environments? Are those courts likely to be more protective of the environment? Will the state legislatures feel obligated empowered to pass legislative protecting natural resources? These are the questions I am seeking to explore. (Any advice on how to do so would be warmly welcomed).

Jessie Owley

June 1, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Craig on the Clean Water Act, Climate Change, and Energy Production

Robin Kundis Craig (Utah) has posted The Clean Water Act, Climate Change, and Energy Production: A Call for Principled Flexibility Regarding 'Existing Uses,' forthcoming in the George Washington Journal of Energy & Environmental Law.  The abstract:

Numerous provisions of the Clean Water Act affect electricity generation, from potential siting restrictions that arise as a result of Section 404’s restrictions on discharges of dredged or fill material to effluent limitations that require power plants to cool their spent cooling water before returning it to streams, rivers, and lakes. This article focuses on two aspects of the Clean Water Act that directly raise — and, in a climate change era — will increasingly force — confrontations between electricity production, on the one hand, and water quality and aquatic ecosystem protections, on the other: (1) water quality standards, including both the Act’s antidegradation policy and states’ implementation of their standards through Section 401’s requirement that states certify federally-controlled discharges within their borders; and (2) Section 316’s requirement for cooling water intake protections, which — together with thermal discharge requirements to comply with water quality standards — is becoming increasingly important for thermoelectric plants.

After reviewing the history and import of the Clean Water Act for electricity production, this article discusses how climate change impacts on both water quality and electricity demand and production are likely to sharpen the perceived conflicts between the Act’s water quality requirements and goals and future energy policy. Applying the paradigm of principled flexibility, this article concludes that a key component of future energy and water quality policy should be the recognition that stationarity is dead on both sides of the equation — that is, while energy demands and production capability will be changing in response to climate change, so will aquatic ecosystems and the relevance of existing water quality standards. As a result, different kinds of decisions may be warranted for electricity production in and near aquatic ecosystems that climate change is fairly clearly destroying than for electricity production in and near aquatic ecosystems where strict enforcement of the Clean Water Act’s “existing use” requirements is likely to enhance the ecosystem’s ability to adapt to — and survive — climate change.

Matt Festa

May 31, 2012 in Climate, Environmental Law, Federal Government, Scholarship, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

California's Dissolution of Its Redevelopment Agencies Lands Back in Court

On May 22, 2012, a coalition of California cities filed a writ of mandate against the State of California challenging the way the State has directed redevelopment agencies to wind up their operations. The Los Angeles Times has a nice story on the case here. The writ also provides a nice history of California's landmark decision to eliminate its redevelopment agencies as well as the cities' grievances with the winding up process. The writ is available at the court's online docketing system here, entering Case No. 2012-80001154.

All the fighting over money reminds me of the old Woodie Guthrie lyrics: "California is a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or see; / But believe it or not, you won't find it so hot / If you ain't got the do re mi."

Stephen R. Miller

May 30, 2012 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ely on Property Rights and the Supreme Court in the Gilded Age

James W. Ely, Jr. (Vanderbilt) has posted Property Rights and the Supreme Court in the Gilded Age, forthcoming in the Journal of Supreme Court History. The abstract:

This article challenges the conventional wisdom about the property-rights jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in the period 1870-1900. It asserts that the Court was animated to protect the rights of property owners as a means of upholding individual liberty against governmental overreaching. The justices saw private property as essential for the enjoyment of liberty. This commitment to individualistic values was reinforced by utilitarian considerations. The Court repeatedly stressed the vital role of property and contractual rights as the basis of economic growth. In upholding property right the justices drew upon the long-standing Anglo-American tradition of property-conscious constitutionalism. The essay concluded that there was a close affinity between the views of the framers of the Constitution concerning the sanctity of property rights and the jurisprudence of the Gilded Age.

Professor Ely's article makes a really important connection between constitutional property theory in the founding era and a century later in the gilded age. These two eras have been largely treated as completely separate in the scholarship about the development of property as a constitutional concept--and these stories in turn have influenced the understanding of property rights through the twentieth century to today. The analysis contributes to a historical understanding of property rights as a central component of individual liberty in the Constitution.

Matt Festa

May 30, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Lawsuit Challenges San Francisco Billboard Settlement

Most land use profs are familiar with Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego, 453 U.S. 490 (1981), a U.S. Supreme Court case that helped to clarify the extent to which billboards could be regulated under the First Amendment.  In the years following Metromedia, several cities have adopted billboard restrictions based on the case's holding, which generally allows for greater restrictions on offsite and commercial signage.  Still, despite decades of case law on the subject, billboard regulation remains a relatively risky and controversial endeavor.  A new lawsuit against the City of San Francisco is the latest example of cities' ongoing difficulty in restricting billboards.

In 2002, San Francisco voters passed Proposition G--a ballot measure later codified as City Planning Code Section 611 that severely restricts offsite commercial billboards within city limits.  Earlier this month, the citizen group "San Francisco Beautiful" filed a complaint alleging that a settlement agreement between an outdoor advertising company and the City of San Francisco violated the provisions of Proposition G.  According to local newpaper articles posted here and here, the settlement required Metro Fuel LLC, a billboard company, to remove several large billboards and pay $1.75 million in fines. However, the settlement also effectively forgave more than $5 million in other fines and allowed Metro Fuel to replace its decommissioned billboards with an even greater number of smaller signs. 

In a new complaint filed in a California Superior Court, San Francisco Beautiful is alleging that the City's settlement violated Proposition G by allowing an overall increase in billboards.    Assuming that Metro Fuel's aggregate square footage of signage is reduced under the settlement, should it matter that the company's actual number of signs is allowed to increase?  This may be a worthwhile case for land use profs to follow in the coming months, particularly since most of us will be covering Metromedia in our courses again next year.

Troy Rule

May 29, 2012 in Aesthetic Regulation, California, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Local Government, Planning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

The biking bug

Coming this July, New York City will launch a bike share program with 10,000 bikes at 600 stations across lower Manhattan (below 59th Street) and the hipster enclaves of west Brooklyn.

David Byrne, former-Talking Heads front man turned biking proselytizer (maybe you've read his Bicycle Diaries about biking in cities around the world), has a great piece about biking in the Big Apple in last Sunday's New York Times. In the article, he focuses on the practical aspects of the bicycle program for daily activities, like getting some groceries or going across town to a meeting.

Byrne notes that some 200 cities around the world have bike-share programs. I've never used a bike-share program, but not for want of trying. When we were in London last summer, my wife and I were trying to find a rack in that city's bike-share program with two bikes for the both of us, and in London's Soho, we had no such luck. The good news is that the program was obviously immensely popular in London, and I have no doubt it will be in New York. (In particular, I predict Ess-a-Bagel on 1st Avenue will see an even longer line as its bagels become just a short bike-ride away for that many more people).

As a matter of policy, however, I wonder whether the best use of bikes is really the freedom it offers for complete trips, or whether biking's long-term value for large cities isn't the ability for people to use bikes to access other forms of public transportation, such as trains. For several years in San Francisco, I rode my bike, rain or shine, from Potrero Hill to the 24th Street BART station, and then took the train in to work. There were a lot of others doing the same. That requires a different biking infrastructure than bike share programs. Instead of the rental bike stands, it requires secure places to park bikes at train stations and safe pathways through more distant parts of the city. The value, of course, is making public transportation options, such as trains, more readily available to more people. Imagine such a program in the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens linking to the city's established subway system.

Biking programs can take a long time to develop. For instance, San Francisco's bike plan went through litigation and was required to conduct an extensive environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act. As such, thinking through the variety of ways that bikes can assist getting around a city, should be conducted and evaluated up front. Bike shares and bike-to-transit, I'd suggest, are both important parts of the project.

For those cities contemplating such bike-friendly options, I have two free ideas I'm offering to you. First, a bike commuter greenbelt. This is not new, by any means, but this year I've discovered the joys of bike commuting along Boise's Greenbelt, and it is such a remarkable daily experience down by the cool river. For any city that has the option of making this a reality, just do it. Second, parking squids. That's right, parking squids. Parking squids are being deployed by Seattle as a means of creating bike parking within existing parking spaces. The parking squids each park eight bikes and fit within a traditional car parking space. The squids provide utility and whimsy in the same fixture. Could there be anything better in ending a work commute than locking a bike up to a squid before heading to office?

Stephen R. Miller

May 29, 2012 in Books, California, New York, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Lind on Housing Code Compliance in the Mortgage Crisis

Kermit Lind, a long-time clinician at Cleveland Marshall School of Law, has posted Collateral Matters: Housing Code Compliance in the Mortgage Crisis. Cleveland has been ground zero for foreclosure crisis response, especially as it concerns the impact of subprime lending practices on vacant and abandoned properties. Here's the abstract:

This article first describes the paradigm shift in mortgage loan servicing over the past two decades. Securitization of mortgages as commodities and exotic financing products changed the position and role of mortgage loan collateral. As new and unregulated mortgage servicing and debt collection practices were increasingly insulated from mortgage ownership, collateral as a securing factor became remote and overlooked by mortgagees. Meanwhile, the collateral matters greatly to those proximately affected by the neglect of its condition. Mortgagees, but not servicers, are listed in public records as the party holding the legal interest in the property while the mortgage industry deems the servicers to have complete control over the real property abandoned by owners. This change renders conventional housing code compliance procedures obsolete in the face of massive loan failures. The article then suggests that new strategic thinking is needed to redesign and retool code compliance processes. It offers some examples of changes that are needed. There is still imminent disaster for many homeowners, neighborhoods and communities from serious blight. Upgrading local code enforcement and being strategic in its application is essential in order to limit the damage resulting from the mortgage crisis.

Jim K.

May 29, 2012 in Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Nuisance | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Superheroes and Zoning

Yesterday I took my kids to see The Avengers, the ensemble superhero movie featuring Ironman, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk.  But before all the world-saving action started up, I caught a throwaway line from the Gwyneth Paltrow character who plays Robert Downey Jr.'s assistant/girlfriend-- referring to their "Stark Tower" skyscraper in midtown Manhattan (powered by some futuristic sustainable energy source, natch) and their plans to build several more, she notes that she was planning to spend the next day "working on the zoning" for the other towers.  I made a mental note that this could be a humorous, quick blog post reaffirming my theory that there is a land use angle to everything, and then proceeded to watch the superheroes smash it out with the bad guys to my son's delight.

But just now, the majesty of the Internet has shown me how badly I've been beaten to the punch.  Via our Network colleagues at the Administrative Law Prof Blog, I found a link to a blog called Law and the Multiverse: Superheroes, Supervillans, and the Law, which has a blog post--nay, a 1,500+ word essay!--on this very subject called The Avengers: Arc Reactors and NYC Zoning Laws.  This is unbelievable--from the same offhand script line that set off my land-use radar, the author delves deep into the New York City zoning code, citing chapter and verse of the regulations; identifies where Stark Tower is on the maps (all with copious linkage); and then explains the legal options available to our developer/hero:

I. Stark Tower’s Zoning District

As it happens, we know exactly where Stark Tower is meant to be located within New York: it’s built on the site of the MetLife building at 200 Park Ave.

(Update: Early on some sources indicated that it was built on the site of the MetLife building and now others indicate that Stark built the tower on top of the preexisting building. This doesn’t change the analysis. Whatever the zoning status of the MetLife building, the construction of Stark Tower was likely a “structural alteration” of the building that would disallow a grandfathered nonconforming use. It certainly exceeded the kind of “repair or incidental alteration” that would preserve the nonconforming use.)

Here’s a zoning map of the area. As you can see, it’s in a C5-3 commercial district in the Special Midtown District, which means Stark Tower has a maximum Floor Area Ratio of 18 (3 of that comes from the special district). Basically this means that if the building takes up its entire lot then it can only have 18 full-size floors (or the equivalent). There are various ways to increase the FAR, such as having a public plaza on the lot. The sloped, tapering structure of Stark Tower means that it can have more floors without exceeding its FAR because the upper floors are much smaller than the lower ones. Given the size of the 200 Park Ave lot, it’s believable that Stark Tower could be that tall, given its shape and the various means of increasing the FAR.

Stark mentions that the top ten floors (excluding his personal penthouse, presumably) are “all R&D.” Is that allowed in a C5-3?

Apart from residential uses, the permitted commercial uses in a C5 are use groups 5 (hotels), 6, 9 and 10 (retail shops and business services) and 11 (custom manufacturing). Unfortunately, research and development is not allowed as a permitted or conditional use in this district. In fact, scientific research and development is specifically allowed in a C6 as a conditional use, which requires a special permit and approval from the City Planning Commission.

So Stark needs some kind of special dispensation. How can he get it? There are many possible ways.

The essay goes on to analyze the options for rezoning, variances, and the related issues of electrical power generation permits and FAA approval, again chock full o' links to the statutes, regs, and caselaw.  The author, James Daily, concludes that "while Pepper Potts may indeed have to do some work to get the next few buildings approved, it’s not far-fetched from a legal perspective."  Read the whole thing, it's wild, and quite sophisticated too. 

But I will draw this even more compelling conclusion: Even the world's greatest Superheroes are no match for the awesome power of the Zoning Code and the Planning Commission.

Matt Festa

May 28, 2012 in Architecture, Clean Energy, Density, Development, Green Building, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Planning, Redevelopment, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Houston National CemeteryToday was Memorial Day in the US.  There are lots of land use issues that we can associate with Memorial Day, which, stripped to its essence, is designed as a day to remember the military members who died in service to the nation.  There is the obvious land use issue of cemeteries, and the related legal and cultural norms governing how we memorialize the dead (check out any of the interesting blog posts or scholarship by Al Brophy and Tanya Marsh on cemeteries).  It gets even more relevant when we start talking about government-owned national or veterans' cemeteries, and the attendant controversies about First Amendment and other issues.  [The photo is from last year's Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery, which my daughter attended to honor fallen Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Sauer Medlicott.]  Of course, there are always land use and local government issues involved with things like parades and public ceremonies, and in many communities there are specific rules that govern the "summer season" informally commenced on Memorial Day weekend.

For this post, though, I'll go back to the origins of the holiday.  Interestingly, it started as a private or quasi-public endeavor (perhaps like most civic affairs in the nineteenth century).  In the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War--and for much of the rest of the lives of the generations that fought it--Americans on both sides focused a great deal of attention on preserving its history and creating/controlling its public memory.  In 1868 General John Logan, head of the Union veterans' organization the Grand Army of the Republic (a private society with a great deal of government involvement), issued General Order No. 11, creating what became known as Decoration Day:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

Even though this Decoration Day was only adopted in Union states until after World War I (when it was renamed Memorial Day and formally associated with all American wars), the former Confederate states had their own versions to remember the war dead at cemeteries and public venues.  And according to eminent Yale historian David Blight, the first Memorial Day celebration was performed in Charleston, SC, by newly-liberated blacks:

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course" . . . . Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople.

Anyone interested in the contested history of these issues--with full attention to the negative aspects as well--should read the magnificent book by Prof. Blight (with a name like that, it's a shame he didn't go into land use!), Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.  And a related part of this history, along with the Decoration/Memorial Day commemorations, was the incipient historic preservation movement.  This confluence of impulses, as well as the also-new movement for environmental conservation, led to the novel idea of having the federal government acquire and administer large tracts of land for the purpose of preserving Civil War history.  As noted in the fascinating monograph by the late National Park Service Historian Ronald F. Lee, The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea, this was a new and not-uncontroversial exercise of government power over land use:

The idea of the Nation acquiring an entire battlefield and preserving it for historical purposes was new in 1890. It is therefore not surprising that it soon engendered a serious controversy, which arose, fittingly enough, at Gettysburg. The controversy involved two questions of fundamental importance to the future of historic preservation by the Federal Government. Is preserving and marking the site of an historic battlefield a public purpose and use? If so, is it a purpose for which Congress may authorize acquisition of the necessary land by power of eminent domain? The circumstances of this dispute, which had to be settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, are of unusual interest and provide an appropriate introduction to our story.

Lee describes the case, United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896), in the on-line version of the book provided by the NPS.  The case was brought by a railway which objected to the federal government's use of eminent domain to condemn their right of way for construction of a railway to take tourists to the significant "Devil's Den" area of the battlefield, "claiming that establishment of Gettysburg National Park was not a public purpose within the meaning of earlier legislation and that 'preserving lines of battle' and 'properly marking with tablets the positions occupied' were not public uses which permitted the condemnation of private property by the United States."  [What a long way from Kelo that was!]  Justice Rufus Peckham wrote for the unanimous majority in upholding the taking for preservation purposes (and not simply because members of the public could visit the park):

Such a use seems necessarily not only a public use, but one so closely connected with the welfare of the republic itself as to be within the powers granted Congress by the constitution for the purpose of protecting and preserving the whole country.

The Court thus established the constitutionality of taking land by the federal government for national parks, and struck an important legal blow for historic preservation generally.

So from cemeteries to public memory to national parks and historic preservation and much more, Memorial Day is tied to land use law in many ways.  I hope that our US readers have had a good one, and with remembrance for those whom the holiday commends.

Matt Festa

May 28, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmentalism, Federal Government, First Amendment, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Politics, Property Rights, Race, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)