Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Michael C. Blum (Lewis & Clark) and Aurora Paulsen (Lewis & Clark) have posted The Public Trust in Wildlife, Utah Law Review (2013). The abstract:
The public trust doctrine, derived from ancient property principles, is thought to mostly apply to navigable waters and related land resources. The doctrine supplies a mediating force to claims of both private ownership and unfettered government discretion over these resources, vesting the state with trust responsibility to ensure that the use of these resources promotes long-term sustainability. A related doctrine — sovereign ownership of wildlife — is also an ancient public property doctrine inherited from England. State ownership of wildlife has long defeated private ownership claims and enabled states to enact and implement wildlife conservation regulations. This paper claims that these two doctrines should be merged, and that state sovereign ownership of wildlife means that wildlife — like navigable waters — is held in trust for the public and must be managed for long-term sustainable use by future generations. Merging the doctrines would mean that state ownership would not only give states with the authority to manage their wildlife populations but also the duty to do so and would equip members of the public with standing to enforce the states’ trust duties in court. This paper shows that the public trust in wildlife has already been employed in California and in several other states, and suggests that it deserves more widespread judicial recognition, particularly — as we demonstrate — in view of the fact that no fewer than forty-seven states use trust or trust-like language in describing state authority to manage wildlife. We include an appendix citing the sources of the wildlife trust in all forty-seven states for reference.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
I have been lucky enough to find myself in collaboration with Amy Morris of Aspen Environmental Group. We have been working on three papers about the renewable energy development, specifically the utility-scale solar projects in the California desert. As often seems to happen, our initial paper got too long and cumbersome and we ended up breaking it up. Two of the papers should be out this fall (depending on the pace of the student editors) and the first is available on SSRN in draft form.
This first piece, Green Siting for Green Energy, gives some broad strokes about solar energy siting and some of teh environmental tradeoffs. Particularly interested in the tradeoffs with agricultural lands, we'll have a whole separate paper on that topic some day soon. Hopefully this short piece (presented at George Washington last April) will whet your appetite.
One of the weirdest things about this article for me: we don't once use the phrase conservation easement. Although we do say conservation a lot and easement a few times. Just not together. We do talk about solar use easements though, which are nowhere near almost as exciting.
Amy Morris, Jessica Owley & Emily Capello, Green Siting for Green Energy, 4 J. Energy & Envt’l L. _ (forthcoming 2013).
energy development is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Solar energy projects can replace polluting fossil fuels, but because
they are land-intensive, solar projects also have environmental costs.
Large projects have the potential to provide hundreds of megawatts of
electricity, but could also disrupt huge expanses of undeveloped land.
Arrays of solar panels on commercial rooftops or capped landfills allow
beneficial reuse of developed sites, but these projects are typically
small-scale (less than 1 MW). This tension between renewable energy
development and protection of precious landscapes (particularly desert
landscapes) creates a conundrum for environmentalists.
This paper examines the tradeoffs involved in siting solar projects, with a particular focus on California. The unique ecosystems and biodiversity in the California desert have made the tradeoffs between environmental benefits and costs of solar projects especially apparent. We look at the current hurdles for “greener” siting of projects in disturbed and developed areas, including the obstacles to permitting distributed generation (DG) projects, smaller-scale projects that may be built on parking lots or rooftops. While both large and small scale renewables are necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, there are many opportunities for greener renewable energy siting. Greener siting must proceed on two fronts. First, as large utility-scale solar facilities will be an important component of a sustainable energy future, we need to improve the environmental review and sustainability of those facilities while being wiser about where we locate such projects. Marginal agricultural land and abandoned mine lands can provide untapped opportunities. Second, distributed generation with solar photovoltaics located across the state will be vital. The key to greener siting of DG is fostering the expansion of renewable projects in disturbed areas, particularly contaminated sites and rooftops and parking lots. A challenge of DG is the number of actors, permits, and environmental review process required. Facilitation and coordination of these processes will speed the journey to a solar energy future.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
This past weekend I was in Southern California for a family wedding, and we had the chance to go over to the Getty Museum. It is a spectacular place for many reasons including land use and architecture. Right now, and through July 21, the Getty is featuring an incredibly interesting exhibit called Overdrive: LA Constructs the Future, 1940-1990. It tells the story of how LA was the archetype for American land use and development in the postwar era through the end of the 20th Century.
Friday, June 28, 2013
Helen Kang, director of the environmental law and justice clinic at GGU has informed us about a temporary staff attorney position. See the details below, and act quickly if you're interested. The application period closes July 12, 2013; with tentative start date of August 15, 2013
BASIC FUNCTION AND SCOPE OF JOB:
The Environmental Law and Justice Clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco is seeking a staff attorney with significant litigation experience to serve full-time, from August 15, 2013 to December 31, 2013; and from January 1, 2014 to April 30, 2014, to job share with another staff attorney. This is a temporary position and will not be extended.
ABOUT THE CLINIC:
Established in 1994, the Clinic is part of the law school and is staffed by students, two graduate fellows, and two full-time professors. The Clinic trains students to become effective, ethical lawyers, while providing excellent service to low-income communities and communities of color bearing disproportionate environmental burdens. The Clinic has successfully reduced pollution from refineries, power and manufacturing plants, and military facilities. Its work has also contributed to landmark decisions ensuring that California relies on renewable energy, conservation, and efficiency to fight climate change. See http://digitalcommons.law.ggu.edu/eljc/18/.
The attorney will have primary responsibility in fast-paced California Public Utilities Commission proceedings and in cases against pollution sources and government agencies, co-teach the Environmental Law & Justice Clinic seminar, and closely supervise law students in all aspects of case work.
Member of the California State Bar in good standing
Extensive litigation experience, with aptitude and ability to take primary responsibility in Clinic cases, including those involving trials
Superb analytical, research (factual and legal), writing, and oral communication skills
High degree of professionalism in all aspects of lawyering, including in dealings with staff, colleagues, and opponents
Familiarity with energy and administrative law preferred
Strong interpersonal skills to be able to effectively supervise students, collaborate with colleagues, and job share
Strong work ethic
Ability to adhere to the school’s policies, including the ability to handle confidential and sensitive information, and to deal with a wide variety of student concerns
Apply by July 12, 2013, through http://www.ggu.edu/jobs. Applicants must apply online via the GGU job board and upload a cover letter highlighting your qualifications, resume, writing sample, and list of references.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Monday, June 10, 2013
Margaret F. Brinig (Notre Dame) and Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) have posted A Room of One's Own? Accessory Dwelling Unit Reforms and Local Parochialism, forthcoming in The Urban Lawyer (2013). The abstract:
Over the past decade, a number of state and local governments have amended land use regulations to permit the accessory dwelling units (“ADUs”) on single-family lots. Measured by raw numbers of reforms, the campaign to secure legal reforms permitting ADUs appears to be a tremendous success. The question remains, however, whether these reforms overcome the well-documented land-use parochialism that has, for decades, represented a primary obstacle to increasing the supply of affordable housing. In order to understand more about their actual effects, this Article examines ADU reforms in a context which ought to predict a minimal level of local parochialism. In 2002, California enacted state-wide legislation mandating that local governments either amend their zoning laws to permit ADUs in single-family zones or accept the imposition of a state-dictated regulatory regime. We carefully examined the zoning law of all California cities with populations over 50,000 people (150 total cities) to determine how local governments actually implemented ADU reforms “on the ground” after the state legislation was enacted. Our analysis suggests that the seeming success story masks hidden local regulatory barriers. Local governments have responded to local political pressures by delaying the enactment of ADU legislation (and, in a few cases, simply refusing to do so despite the state mandate), imposing burdensome procedural requirements that are contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the state-law requirement that ADUs be permitted “as of right,” requiring multiple off-street parking spaces, and imposing substantive and procedural design requirements. Taken together, these details likely dramatically suppress the value of ADUs as a means of increasing affordable housing.
This looks really interesting. Here in Houston we have a significant number of ADUs--so-called "granny flats" because--stop me if you've heard this before--Houston has no zoning to make it illegal, as this article shows it has been in single-family residentail neighborhoods around the country. These ADUs provide an important supply of affordable "inside-the-Loop" (i.e. central city area) housing.
June 10, 2013 in Affordable Housing, California, History, Housing, Houston, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
It's been a whirlwind of conferences for me this month. Two weeks ago I was at GW. Last week, we had a conference at Buffalo. Now, I am sitting in sunny but snowy Minnesota attending the 2013 Consortium Annual Conference, entitled "Legal & Policy Pathways for Energy Innovation."
My co-author Amy Morris (of Aspen Environmental) and I presented one of our current works-in-progress (yes we have three). This one we are currently calling Mitigating the Impacts of the Renewable Energy Gold Rush. In this paper, we take a close look at the mitigation being done in association with the large-scale solar projects in the California Desert. One of the challenges has been just to untangle all of the agencies and laws at play. We have been particularly concerned with the mitigation projects and methods. Projects are approved (and indeed construction often begins) before mitigation projects are finalized or land identified. And of course, the use of exacted conservation easements is prevalent throughout... something that always makes me nervous.
Most of the mitigation projects are about endangered species protection and our paper focuses on that aspect. Thus, we were not too surprised when we were placed on a panel about endangred species and renewable energy (with Kalyani Robbins and Jeff Thaler). It was one of the more contentious academic (they've got nothing on the land trust folks) panel presentations I have been a part of. It was a lively discussion about whether it makes sense to protect endangered species if the protection will in any way hamper development of renewable energy projects. Most folks agreed that climate change is likely to have bigger impacts on endangred species and ecosystem health than renewable energy development is. This raises big questions about tradeoffs with renewable energy projects and even introduced proposals to amend the Endangered Species Act!
And things are only getting started. Conference organizer extraordinare Hari Osofsky tells us that the recordings and videos of the conference will be available. You should contact her to learn more.
The Legal & Policy Pathways for Energy Innovation conference will bring together leading scholars, practitioners, policymakers, and business people to address current energy law and policy challenges, particularly at the intersection of environmental law and policy. The panels will focus on four primary topics: (1) clean energy infrastructure; (2) environmental and energy governance; (3) climate, energy, and environmental justice; (4) sustainable regions and communities.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Greetings from George Washington Law School where the 2013 J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Conference is wrapping up. Entitled Laying the Foundation for a Sustainable Energy Future: Legal and Policy Challenges, there has been an impressive array of panelists from industry, governements, NGOs, and academia.
My co-athour Amy Morris (of Aspen Environmental Group) and I presented some of our work on the land use tradeoffs involved in renewable energy projects. We have been looking at these issues through the lens of solar projects in California, but the issues come up in many contexts. To give you some broad strokes of the project: In California, we see development of main types of projects--utility scale and distrbuted generation. The large utility-scale solar facilities in the California desert have been under heavy scrutiny and criticized for their potential impacts on environmental and cultural values. In an effort to avoid pristine desert ecosystems, agencies and environmental groups have been championed the use of distrubed lands. Such lands are not completely controversy-free either. As a threshold question, we have to figure out what lands should qualify as "distrurbed." In some cases, it may be that we are too quick to label something as disturbed. Generally though the big categories are brownfields, former landfills and mines, hardscapes (parking lots and rooftops), and marginal agricultural lands. I won't get into here, but trust me each of those categories has a host of issues surrounding its use.
I've been feeling a little out of my league as the land use lawyer in the midst of the energy experts but have learned a lot and have been impressed with GW's organization of the conference. I also really enjoy attending conferences in Washington DC where the audience is always filled with a great mix of people from agencies and nonprofits.
- Jessie Owley
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
The University of San Diego School of Law will host the Fourth Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium on Friday, Nov. 9, 2012. This year's title is Law in a Distributed Energy Future. Here is the symposium overview:
The University of San Diego School of Law's fourth annual Climate and Energy Law Symposium will examine emerging law and policy approaches to encourage and accommodate distributed energy solutions. Historically, electricity has been generated by large power plants located far from consumers and delivered via long transmission lines. While that model remains largely intact, a gradual shift is occurring toward more localized energy production.
The symposium will bring together legal and policy experts from across the country to address a variety of key issues including the latest developments in the rules that govern the electricity grid change to incorporate distributed generation, possibilities for generating energy at the neighborhood and community levels, the legal and policy innovations at the federal, state and local levels that are most needed to usher in a distributed energy future.
Keynote addresses will be given by Commissioner Carla Peterman of the California Energy Commission, and Ken Alex, senior policy advisor to California Governor Jerry Brown and director of the Office of Planning and Research. The program and registration info are at the website.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
A major news item here in Orange County has been the rash of protests in the county's largest and most well-known city, Anaheim, sparked by a pair of police shootings of two suspected Latino gang members. Activists and the media have drawn a link between the shootings and Anaheim's system for electing city councilmembers. In Anaheim, as in most cities in California, all five members of the city council (technically four members plus the mayor, but the mayor is really just a fifth councilmember who gets to hold the gavel at meetings) are elected at-large, meaning the city as a whole is a single electoral district and candidates can reside anywhere in the city. It has been alleged by the ACLU that the at-large system dilutes Latino voting power because it diminishes the ability of geographically concentrated groups (which often include minority communities) to elect representatives from their own neighborhoods, and places a premium on the ability to gather a huge war-chest, which advantages candidates with support from the more affluent constituencies. In Anaheim, indeed, there is not a single Latino member of the city council despite Latinos representing more than 50% of the city's population, and four of the five councilmembers live in Anaheim's wealthy, largely white "Anaheim hills" area. Thus, the argument goes, it is because the city government is out of touch with the concerns of its major constituency that incidents like these police shootings are able to happen.
This story hits home to me because I wrote an article a few years ago that made a very similar argument, although it was more focused on land use: The at-large electoral system deployed in most California cities means that neighborhoods have little voice on land use matters, which tends to favor the interests of the pro-development "growth machine." I further argued that this system tended to dilute minority voices on land use issues (especially eminent domain, of blessed memory). In my article, however, I argued that neighborhood interests did not simply fade away but necessarily expressed themselves outside the political system, either in the form of the initiative process or in the form of urban riots. Indeed, the famous anti-tax initiative Proposition 13 has been referred to (although I could not definitively verify the original quote) as "the Watts riot of the middle class." In the paper, I called for the jettisonning of the at-large system and the implementation of district or ward systems, which is precisely what the activists in Anaheim are calling for.
It appears in Anaheim we may be seeing "the Proposition 13 of the disenfranchised." Stay tuned.
Hat tip to my colleague Ernesto Hernandez-Lopez for some of these links and for alerting me to some of the details of the story.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Anyone who has practiced or studied land use law in a state with a strong environmental review process knows how that environmental review process often comes to override the land use permitting process. In particular, urban projects have often suffered from an environmental review process that works better for reviewing greenfield projects, and also from more litigious groups of neighbors that use environmental review procedures either to oppose the project, or seek "mitigations" that benefit neighboring property owners. On the other hand, efforts to ease the environmental review burdens on infill projects often run into a roadblock of environmental groups that believe exemptions for infill projects will likely only lead to more exemptions and a gutting of the entire law itself (the "slippery slope" argument).
This fight has been ongoing in California, and other states, for decades. Several infill exemption provisions from the state's California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA", pronounced "SEE-kwa") look good on paper, but are essentially unworkable if there are litigious parties involved. Such unworkable exemptions are in the state's landmark SB375 legislation that seeks to link land use and transportation: the list of requirements for applicability of the exemption apply to, well, about absolutely nowhere. Another unworkable exemption is CEQA Guidlines section 15332, which is seldom used where litigation is possible.
With the passage of SB 226 in 2011, however, the state is once again taking a hard look at exemptions for urban infill projects. Under a mandate of SB 226, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, now headed by Ken Alex, a well-respected former senior assistant attorney general who ran the California Attorney General's environmental division, has drafted a proposed new CEQA Guideline for urban infill exemptions that was released on June 25, 2012 after epic public commenting. The proposed CEQA Guideline is now going through formal rulemaking processes at the state's Natural Resources Agency. A cheat sheet on the new proposed infill exemption is available here. If you want to keep up-to-date on the California infill exemption hearings, you can do so by adding your name at this link.
California's purpose for pursuing the infill exemption is now structured in terms of the climate change debate, but decades ago, the need for such legislation was structured in terms of "sprawl" or "smart growth." We all know that it is harder to build in urban areas than in greenfields, and there needs to be a way to level that playing field and encourage urban infill. Following this latest effort in California will be a chance to watch this debate unfold once more, and now in the framework of the climate change debate.
Stephen R. Miller
Friday, July 20, 2012
Lesley McAllister recently announced a symposium on Climate and Energy Law that might be of interest to our readers. Land use is so closley entwined with energy sprawl, electricity distribution, and facility siting, I am sure it will be discussed extensively in San Diego in November.
USD Climate & Energy Law Symposium, SAVE THE DATE - Nov. 9, 2012
The University of San Diego School of Law will host its Fourth Annual Climate & Energy Law Symposium on Friday, November 9. The 2012 symposium will bring together leading academics and practitioners to explore the theme of Law in a Distributed Energy Future with questions such as:
- How should the rules that govern the electricity grid change to incorporate distributed generation?
- What possibilities exist for generating energy at the neighborhood and community levels?
- What legal and policy innovations at the federal, state and local levels are most needed to usher in a distributed energy future?
Confirmed speakers include: Carla Peterman, Commissioner, California Energy Commission (Keynote) Scott J. Anders, Director, Energy Policy Initiatives Center, University of San Diego School of Law Sara C. Bronin, Associate Professor of Law & Program Director, Center for Energy & Environmental Law, University of Connecticut School of Law Timothy Duane, Associate Professor of Law, Vermont Law School Joel B. Eisen, Professor of Law, University of Richmond School of Law Michael B. Gerrard, Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia Law School Lesley K. McAllister, Stanley Legro Professor in Environmental Law, University of San Diego School of Law J.B. Ruhl, Matthews & Hawkins Professor of Property, Vanderbilt Law School Katherine Trisolini, Associate Professor of Law, Loyola Law School Hannah Wiseman, Assistant Professor, Florida State University College of Law
Saturday, June 23, 2012
The sea level off most of California is expected to rise about one meter over the next century, an amount slightly higher than projected for global sea levels, and will likely increase damage to the state's coast from storm surges and high waves, says a new report from the National Research Council. Sea levels off Washington, Oregon, and northern California will likely rise less, about 60 centimeters over the same period of time. However, an earthquake magnitude 8 or larger in this region could cause sea level to rise suddenly by an additional meter or more.
Global sea level rose during the 20th century, and projections suggest it will rise at a higher rate during the 21st century. A warming climate causes sea level to rise primarily by warming the oceans -- which causes the water to expand -- and melting land ice, which transfers water to the ocean. However, sea-level rise is uneven and varies from place to place. Along the U.S. west coast it depends on the global mean sea-level rise and regional factors, such as ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns, melting of modern and ancient ice sheets, and tectonic plate movements.
. . .
The committee that wrote the report projected that global sea level will rise 8 to 23 centimeters by 2030, relative to the 2000 level, 18 to 48 centimeters by 2050, and 50 to 140 centimeters by 2100. The 2100 estimate is substantially higher than the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's projection made in 2007 of 18 to 59 centimeters with a possible additional 17 centimeters if rapid changes in ice flow are included.
For the California coast south of Cape Mendocino, the committee projected that sea level will rise 4 to 30 centimeters by 2030, 12 to 61 centimeters by 2050, and 42 to 167 centimeters by 2100. For the Washington, Oregon, and California coast north of Cape Mendocino, sea level is projected to change between falling 4 centimeters to rising 23 centimeters by 2030, falling 3 centimeters to rising 48 centimeters by 2050, and rising between 10 to 143 centimeters by 2100. The committee noted that as the projection period lengthens, uncertainties, and thus ranges, increase.
The committee's projections for the California coast south of Cape Mendocino are slightly higher than its global projections because much of the coastline is subsiding. The lower sea levels projected for northern California, Washington, and Oregon coasts are because the land is rising largely due to plate tectonics. In this region, the ocean plate is descending below the continental plate at the Cascadia Subduction Zone, pushing up the coast.
Extreme events could raise sea level much faster than the rates projected by the committee. For example, an earthquake magnitude 8 or greater north of Cape Mendocino, which occurs in this area every several hundred to 1,000 years with the most recent in 1700, could cause parts of the coast to subside immediately and the relative sea level to rise suddenly by a meter or more.
"As the average sea level rises, the number and duration of extreme storm surges and high waves are expected to escalate, and this increases the risk of flooding, coastal erosion, and wetland loss," said Robert Dalrymple, committee chair and Willard and Lillian Hackerman Professor of Civil Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Most of the damage along the west coast is caused by storms, particularly the confluence of large waves, storm surges, and high tides during El Niño events. Significant development along the coast -- such as airports, naval air stations, freeways, sports stadiums, and housing developments -- has been built only a few feet above the highest tides. For example, the San Francisco International Airport could flood with as little as 40 centimeters of sea-level rise, a value that could be reached in several decades. The committee also ran a simulation that suggested sea-level rise could cause the incidence of extreme water heights in the San Francisco Bay area to increase from about 9 hours per decade, to hundreds of hours per decade by 2050, and to several thousand hours per decade by 2100.
You can view a video produced by the Council below.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
George Lefcoe (USC) has posted CRA v. Matosantos: The Demise of Redevelopment in California and a Proposal for a Fresh Start. The abstract:
This paper describes how redevelopment in California came to an end with the California Supreme Court’s decision in California Redevelopment Association v. Matosantos and how redevelopment could be resuscitated. The first part of the paper highlights the precipitating events leading up to the case: California’s unique property tax history, the successes and drawbacks of redevelopment, how redevelopment is financed, and the text and politics of Proposition 22, the state constitutional predicate for the Court’s opinion. The second section describes the arguments and outcome of the case in which the Court upheld a statute dissolving redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and simultaneously struck down a companion bill — a “pay-to-stay” law — that would have enabled cities and counties to preserve their RDAs by pledging local funds to the state. A concluding section proposes that California legislators consider a new redevelopment enabling law, modeled along the lines of Texas’s tax increment reinvestment zones (TIRZs). Such a statute would conform to the guidelines for constitutionality from the concluding paragraph of the Court’s opinion in Matosantos, and it would be fiscally responsible because it limits the use of tax increment financing.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
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.
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
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Paul Boudreaux (Stetson)--the original Founding Editor of the Land Use Prof Blog-- has published a book that addresses one of the most critical issues in American land use in the 21st century: The Housing Bias--Rethinking Land Use Laws for a Diverse New America (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). Here's the SSRN abstract:
As more than 300 million Americans squeeze into our country, and as single-person households now outnumber families of parents and children, it's time to rethink our land use laws that favor the single-family house. Our zoning laws were created in an age that assumed that nearly everyone outside of central cities preferred to live a house separated from neighbors; this assumption is no longer valid and no longer sustainable for a crowded nation. The Housing Bias explores the legal discrimination against apartment buildings and other forms of low-cost residences and how these laws make housing more expensive for modest-income Americans – a key factor in the development of subprime loans and other risky practices that eventually sparked our current economic crisis. Why do our laws prohibit the construction of low-cost housing? It is largely because existing homeowners prefer to exclude them – an astonishing example of law’s granting a legal privilege to wealthier citizens, a privilege that our nation can no longer afford.
This provocative book explores real-world 21st-century controversies of the housing bias. It visits the recent effort of Virginia suburbs to enforce “overcrowding” laws against mostly Latino families who migrated to the area to build new subdivisions, and then moves to New York, where eminent domain is used through a dubious interpretation of law to seize condominiums of middle-class families to build a new pro basketball arena. The book reports on the story of how laws requiring large house lots prevented the construction of a mobile-home community in a growing rural county in southern Michigan, and then examines the failed effort to legalize the widespread phenomenon of small “granny flats” in the backyards of the middle-class homes in the packed city of Los Angeles.
The Housing Bias concludes by exploring how we could update our laws to accommodate the housing needs of a diverse new America, in which half of all households now consist of only one or two persons. The prescriptions range from the complex, such as using state laws to override the power of local homeowners to zone out low-cost housing in certain zones, to the simple, such as facilitating the construction of apartments above suburban malls. It is useful for libraries and for college courses on society or law or for any intelligent reader. Written in an entertaining and jargon-free style, The Housing Bias is essential reading for understanding the flaws and the future of the American community.
One of the great things about land use is that it is fundamentally about places and their stories, and in this book Paul uses these examples to make a larger point about a critical issue of law and policy. The Housing Bias is definitely worth reading and thinking about.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Next American City, a planning website with a primarily "New Urbanist" bent, recently launched a new online magazine called "Forefront," which will publish long-form articles on planning issues. The first edition of Forefront features an interesting piece by Josh Stephens, editor of California Planning & Development Report, on the end of redevelopment in California. For those interested, this very blog also devoted some attention to the demise of redevelopment in posts here, here, here and here.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
My last post discussed some of the backlash against Southern California's new regional plan, which emphasizes high-density transit-oriented development. California Planning & Development Report now provides some of the details of the plan, including:
- a total cost of $524 billion over 20 years
- $6.7 billion in funding for biking and walking
- $246 billion on public transportation
- 80 plus percent of all jobs and housing within a half mile of rail stations or bus stops by 2035
- 68% of all new development would be apartment or condos.
Monday, April 9, 2012
In this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, transportation planner Wendell Cox claims that state and regional planners are driving people out of the state of California with their plans for high-density, transit-oriented development, which he calls a "war" on the single-family home. According to Cox, requiring a change from a primarily single-family suburban to a multi-family urban settlement pattern will make "the state's famously unaffordable housing .. even more unaffordable."
I am at a loss to understand how multi-family housing is going to be more expensive than single-family housing. Cox's claim rests on economic data drawn from William Fischel and others showing that land use regulations in California, such as urban growth boundaries, development moratoria, and so on, generally drive up the cost of housing. This is true, but only because most of these regulations either restrict the overall supply of housing (development moratoria) or force developers to internalize the costs of new growth (exactions). Urban growth boundaries, by contrast, will not necessarily increase housing prices as long as growth is permitted at sufficient densities within the UGB to offset the loss of housing outside the UGB. Yet, Cox places the blame squarely on increasing density!
Furthermore, it is ironic that Cox sees salvation in reverting to the single-family lifestyle, when of course all of the cost-increasing restrictions he now decries, such as moratoria and exactions, have been called into service in order to subsidize single-family homeowners and exclude affordable, multi-family housing.
Friday, April 6, 2012
The food truck wars continue. In this piece on Slate, Matt Yglesias talks about several cities' and states' efforts to ban or regulate food trucks in a way that prevents them from competing with existing restaurants. He cites what he considers a particularly egregious example: a San Francisco ordinance that permits any existing business to comment on an application for a new vending license and directs the city to "consider" whether the new vendor will operate within 300 feet of an existing vendor in deciding whether to grant the license. Yglesias concludes: "a basic rule of thumb seems to suggest itself: The fact that business owners would prefer not to face competition is not a valid regulatory purpose."
This proposition would surely come as a surprise to most land use folks, who generally accept as a matter of course that land use regulations are, at their core, anti-competitive. From large-lot single-family residential zoning that inflates the cost of housing for the benefit of existing homeowners to anti-big-box store laws that are designed to protect quaint mom-and-pop businesses, zoning represents pure economic protectionism. Indeed, the San Francisco ordinance Yglesias mentions is pretty familiar: many zoning laws give neighbors the right to file a protest to a proposed land use change in their neighborhood, which can result in requiring the city to enact the zoning change by a supermajority vote or possibly even block the zoning change (I address the legality of these neighborhood zoning provisions in my article Neighborhood Empowerment and the Future of the City.)
Zoning laws are generally allowed to be anti-competitive because they are thought to be means of combatting free-rider problems. Economists like William Fischel and Bruce Hamilton have argued, for example, that a preponderance of expensive homes on large lots tends to correlate with higher-quality schools. But in the absence of large-lot zoning, people would have strategic incentives to build smaller, less expensive homes in the area just to have access to the better schools. Of course, if too many folks did the same, the very thing that attracted people to the area (the good schools) will be lost as the area becomes congested with smaller homes and more schoolchildren.
Food trucks, it would seem, present an even stronger free-rider problem. Foot traffic is drawn to an area because of the existing shops, restaurants, etc, and the foot traffic in turn generates a demand for more shops, restaurants, etc. Rents and property values go up, as do property taxes, and many high-traffic areas use special assessments or business improvement districts to provide collective sanitation or security services for the area (again overcoming a free-rider problem, as I explain in my Neighborhood Empowerment piece). When a food truck swoops into a high-traffic area, it pays no rent, no property taxes, and no assessments for that privilege, and its lower operating costs enable it to siphon some of that foot-traffic away from existing fixed eateries, thus free-riding on the efforts of those eateries to bring in the foot traffic in the first place. Think of it this way: if the food trucks are sufficiently successful to bankrupt the existing fixed eateries, leaving lots of vacant storefronts in their wake, people will stop coming to the area altogether, and the food trucks will move elsewhere. In other words, the food trucks depend on the existence of fixed eateries to fuel their business. But while fixed eateries pay taxes and fees for the ability to do business in a particular place, food trucks do not. So it should not be a surprise that existing businesses are unhappy.
The solution that suggests itself to me is fairly obvious: since business improvement districts are mechanisms for overcoming free-rider problems, than food trucks should be forced to pay assessments to the business improvement district or special assessment district in those areas where they operate. Legally and conceptually, though, this is difficult to accomplish because special assessments are, as a matter of hornbook law, supposed to be keyed to the benefits that accrue to real property. Because food trucks are not real property, it is difficult to apply the special assessment to them. But wouldn't it be possible for municipalities to use their home rule powers to impose some sort of free-rider fee on food trucks? I would hope that cities and states will consider this alternative rather than simply banning food trucks altogether.
For more on food trucks, see my colleague Ernesto Hernandez-Lopez's piece, LA’s Taco Truck War: How Law Cooks Food Culture Contests.