Wednesday, January 26, 2011
I didn't have time to watch it last night, so I asked my students this morning to identify the land use issues in the President's speech. They mentioned two things: high-speed rail, and clean energy. From the Associated Press report, here's the key quote on HSR:
Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying - without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already under way.
Potentially faster than flying, and they won't touch your junk! And here are two early responses. First, from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's Fastlane blog, America has a Future to Win; DOT stands ready to help:
As the President said last night, American businesses and workers are now competing in a global economy. If we are to thrive in competitive markets, we must be able to move goods and people faster and more reliably than ever.
At DOT we have been working hard to help do just that. And the projects we are supporting to rebuild America's transportation infrastructure are creating good jobs for American workers.
But the Reason Foundation's Samuel Staley is not so sanguine. Noting that the President cited China's massive investments in HSR, Staley argues that historical, economic, and geographic factors will render a similar HSR program impractical in the U.S. From President Obama, China, High-Speed Rail and the Sputnik Moment:
A key factor in ensuring high-speed rail's success is the closeness of employment and population centers. The largest Chinese cities aren't nearly as spread out as U.S. cities in terms of distance and the high speed rail lines are connecting larger urban cities.
China has 120 cities with populations of one million or more, and its cities are expected to add the equivalent of another United States - 300 million people - by 2025. The high-speed rail line will connect to most cities with populations greater than 500,000. Given existing levels of very low mobility and income, rail would be a natural beneficiary of rising travel demand as the travel market matures.
It will be interesting to see where the debate over HSR goes from here, particularly in light of the new fiscal and political constraints. I'm also curious about how many people out there may not have thought very much about the HSR issue before the President gave it a mention in the State of the Union.
UPDATE: I was planning on posting this anyway, but then as I was preparing for my afternoon Property I class, I realized it's a great tie-in to the famous INS v. Associated Press case that was assigned for today: If INS can't report the news it learns from AP's public bulletin, how come it's OK for me to blog about information I got from the AP's website? Discuss! Fun stuff.
Friday, December 24, 2010
In an interesting variation on "coming to the nuisance," the Los Angeles Film School has moved next door to the Hollywood Farmers' Market and is now contesting renewal of the market's permit. Apparently, the market - which operates only on Sunday - blocks access to one of the school's parking lots. There's a Joni Mitchell song in there somewhere. Read about it in The New York Times.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, December 10, 2010
Marijuana dispensaries are growing like weeds. The recent ABA article, "Up in Smoke," chronicles some of the chronic problems plaguing states that have legalized medical marijuana. This Blog has already noted Kansler and Salkin's article on zoning law and regulation of "dispensaries."
The fact that municipalities have regulatory power through zoning is part of the problem. Of the fourteen or so states that have legalized medical marijuana, none have a comprehensive regulatory scheme. California, for example, passed a very generalized statute, but local counties and municipalities are left with no guidance on the particulars. Vanderbilt Law Professor, Robert Mikos, posits that "no one has any idea how many medical dispensaries are out there [in California]." To reign in dispensaries, Los Angeles recently cut the number of allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to seventy.
Now that Arizona voters have approved (this past November) medical marijuana, the problem of uniformity and new zoning regulations again arises. Perhaps Justice O'Connor's justification for federalism -- that states serve as laboratories -- rings true for Arizona. In other words, Arizona may have learned from California's mistakes. A model ordinance from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns at least gives some guidance to Arizona municipalities as they struggle to implement the state's newest law.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Mary Jean Dolan (John Marshall-Chicago) has posted P.S. Untold Stories and the Cross National Monument. We've mentioned the land use aspects of the Salazar decision before. Dolan's abstract:
This Article offers an interesting post script to the Supreme Court’s Salazar v. Buono Establishment Clause decision. It presents some surprising non-record facts and additional issues raised by Congress’s 2002 designation of the Mojave Cross as a “National Memorial.” This Act deserves more exploration, particularly because it appears wholly extraneous to the government policy approved by the Supreme Court plurality: ending the appearance of government endorsement of religion, while simultaneously “avoid[ing] the disturbing symbolism associated with the destruction of the historic monument.”
Included in the new information is evidence that National Memorial status is not as lofty or rare as it would seem, the cross does not appear to be the sole WWI memorial for the nation, and in the past, Congress has abolished National Memorial status upon transferring the land. The Article also looks at the intersection of historic preservation law and Congress’ requirement that the Secretary of the Interior fund and install a new replica cross on Sunrise Rock.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Chad has a great post below on the latest craze, food trucks. By coincidence, just yesterday I saw this SSRN paper by Ernesto Hernandez Lopez (Chapman): LA’s Taco Truck War: How Law Cooks Food Culture Contests. The abstract:
This paper examines the Los Angeles “Taco Truck War” (2008-9), when the city of Los Angeles and LA county used parking regulations to restrict “loncheros,” i.e. “taco trucks.” It describes the legal doctrine used by courts to invalidate these local restrictions. The California Vehicle code makes local food truck regulations illegal. Decades of court decisions affirm this. The paper sheds light, legal and cultural, on food truck debates, which will surely expand nationwide. It examines: the cultural and business arguments for food truck regulations; food’s role in migrant, community, and national identities; Mexican food’s influence in California culture; and recent trends in food trucks such as Koggi BBQ.
And from earlier this year, Alfonso Morales (Urban & Regional Planning, Wisconsin) and Gregg W. Kettles (Law, Mississippi College) posted Healthy Food Outside: Farmers' Markets, Taco Trucks, and Sidewalk Fruit Vendors, published in the Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy, Vol. 20 (2009). The abstract:
This paper explores the many dimensions of street vending and public markets, the multiple intersections vending and markets have with food regulation, and the historical connection markets have with other policy problems. We develop the article in four parts, following the introduction found in section one the article touches on three elements of law and public policy. The second section considers markets and merchants in public goods with their associated dilemmas. Our approach is to reconfigure the emphasis on public space as transportation by justifying the use of the street and sidewalk for street vending. The importance of public space for commerce and other creative activities bridges the second and third sections of the article. The third section chronicles the history of law and regulation around street and public markets. Here we emphasize how cities historically used public markets as public policy tools to address food security, employment, and to help those growing cities accommodate new immigrants. The fourth section focuses on public health by examining the law of outdoor food sold on the street. Through our analysis we set forth numerous suggestions for advocacy, policy, and legal reform.
Chad's right, food trucks are becoming a big deal. I was skeptical at first, but it looks like they have come a long way from the "roach coaches" I remember on Army posts. Check out the articles that he linked to, and for an even less highbrow alternative you can watch the Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race (you know that a trend has arrived when it gets a reality show). It's a serious question, though, how cities are going to choose to accommodate or regulate this phenomenon through their land use laws.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Lesley K. McAllister (San Diego) has posted Enforcing Cap and Trade: A Tale of Two Programs, from San Diego Journal of Climate & Energy Law, Vol. 2, 2010 The abstract:
The ease of enforcement is often identified as a benefit of cap and trade regulation. Almost all such assertions are made based on the experience of the Acid Rain Program, a cap and trade program implemented by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1995 to cap the sulfur dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. However, RECLAIM, a cap and trade program that began the year before in Los Angeles’s South Coast Air Quality Management District, tells a very different story about how difficult and resource-intensive the enforcement of a cap and trade program can be. This article describes and analyzes enforcement data from these two programs to show that even when enforcement provisions are designed in a similar way, the enforcement systems and enforcement outcomes that prevail may be very different. The article features an empirical analysis of RECLAIM enforcement cases from the beginning of the program through 2006, characterizing them in terms of number, type, case processing times, and penalty amounts.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
You might be surprised at how much land use and veterans' issues have been intertwined over the course of American history. From land grants and westward expansion, to the expansion of education, to the postwar expansion of suburbia, many federal, state, and local policies have tied land use and development to an appropriate public concern for veterans; the results have been mixed. I wrote a post on these issues last year; you can read it here.
This year, we have at least one new land use/veterans issue to add: the U.S. Supreme Court decided Salazar v. Buono, which dealt with a land swap by Congress to protect a monument to servicemembers killed in World War I, placed on public land by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that was in the shape of a cross. Read our post here, and SCOTUSblog's resource page, and check out Christoper Lund's Northwestern Colloquy article on the case.
A happy Veterans Day to all, with gratitude to those who have served in harm's way.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
From the Zillow Blog comes this entry: Top 10 Haunted Homes in U.S. Here's the list:
1. Winchester House, San Jose CA
2. Lizzie Borden House (you know, the girl with the axe who gave her parents 40/41 whacks), Fall River MA.
3. LaLaurie Mansion, New Orleans LA
4. The White House, Washington DC
5. Franklin Castle, Cleveland OH
6. Sprague Mansion, Cranston RI
7. Chambers Mansion, San Fransisco CA
8. Mytrles Plantation, St. Francisville LA
9. Stranahan House, Ft. Lauderdale FL
10. Whaley House, San Diego CA
Go and read the blog post for the interesting stories behind each haunted house. The post explains why it left the Amityville Horror house off the list, but that's not my beef, of course: where is the house from Stambovsky v. Ackley? That's the property law casebook staple, where after a real estate transaction, the buyer learned that the house was reputedly possessed by a poltergeist. The NY Appellate Division (1991) held that for purposes of rescinding the contract, the house was haunted as a matter of law. And it's beyond dispute that Property casebooks have terrified generations of law students!
Happy Halloween everyone, and watch out for the Dead Hand.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I've previously blogged about the National Building Museum's exhibition Designing Tomorrow: America's World Fairs of the 1930s. Now I've learned that the project has an official blog: the Designing Tomorrow Blog.
Looks like a great way to learn more about the exhibition . . . at least until you get to DC to see it (such as during ALPS in March!). So far there is a series of introductory posts to outline the exhibition, and an interview with Bob Rydell (Montana), which promises to be the first of a series of conversations. I look forward to learning more about this fascinating exhibition.
Stanford has created the Luke Cole Professorship in Environmental Law and Directorship of the Environmental Law Clinic. Deborah Sivas, who has been director of Stanford's environmental clinic since 1997, is the first Cole Professor.
From the story on Stanford's website:
In a Reunion Homecoming ceremony filled with emotion, friends and family dedicated a new Law School professorship to the late Luke Cole, a noted environmental activist who died in a car accident in Uganda this summer at age 46...
Being named the first holder of the Luke Cole chair is especially meaningful for me," said Sivas. "Luke was a contemporary and a colleague whose advocacy on behalf of underserved communities was truly pathbreaking and whose vision of environmental and social justice continues to be so inspiring to all of us who knew him."
"I think Luke would be pleased to know that a gift in his memory will help train and prepare a new generation of lawyers to carry the flame of environmental justice that he lit and kept burning for so many years," Sivas added.
While I never knew Luke Cole, I have read and admired his work since we started an environmental justice caseload three years ago. I also know Deb Sivas through meetings of the environmental clinicians, and I think she does tremendous work. It's nice to see her receive an endowed chair, and the stability this professorship brings should also be good for her clinic.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, October 17, 2010
This short Colloquy essay reflects on the Supreme Court's recent decision in Salazar v. Buono, 130 S. Ct. 1803 (2010). The case involved a constitutional challenge, brought under the Establishment Clause, to a cross put up by private parties on government land in the Mojave National Preserve. This piece reviews the issues presented by the case (only some of which were addressed by the Supreme Court), and considers the future of the Establishment Clause in that light.
The Salazar case has been known publicity as a Religion Clause case, but the dispute centers around the constitutionality of a federal government land swap that allowed the monument to go into private hands. The Supreme Court decision didn't quite reach the land question, but as with most religious monument/First Amendment cases, it is at bottom a controversy over land use.
Monday, October 4, 2010
William A. Fischel (Dartmouth, economics) has posted The Evolution of Zoning Since the 1980s: The Persistence of Localism. The abstract:
Zoning is the regulation of the use of land by local government. Although it is the most jealously guarded municipal power, zoning is not a static institution. I demonstrate this by reviewing several "top down" attempts to reform zoning in the last three decades. Examples are the affordable housing movement and regulatory takings litigation. I argue that these reforms have either failed or tended to make local zoning more restrictive. I then review new research on the origins of zoning in Los Angeles and find evidence that zoning has always been more of a bottom up institution than most of its critics have assumed. Local knowledge of neighborhood conditions and widespread ownership of property are the most important factors that keep zoning local. Reforms that do not take into account these factors are not likely to succeed.
Any paper by Prof. Fischel is sure to be a must-read for land use and local government scholars, and this one looks to be very interesting.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The National Building Museum has announced a new exhibition: Designing Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s, from Oct. 2 (Saturday!) thru July 10, 2011. It sounds absolutely fascinating:
These world's fairs had a profound influence on American culture and ideals for land use. I've blogged about the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition before and its impact on the origins of land use planning. This group from the 1930s also had a profound impact on Americans' notions of modernism, suburbia, and even on the inspiration for Disney World (hey Chad!). Can't wait to see this next time I'm in DC. If you're going to ALPS in March, the National Building Museum is only a couple of blocks away from Georgetown Law, so definitely plan to check it out!
Between 1933 and 1940 tens of millions of Americans visited world's fairs in cities across the nation.Designing Tomorrow will explore the modernist spectacles of architecture and design they witnessed -- visions of a brighter future during the worst economic crisis the United States had known. The fairs popularized modern design for the American public and promoted the idea of science and consumerism as salvation from the Great Depression. . . .
A first-of-its-kind exhibition, Designing Tomorrow will feature nearly 200 never-before-assembled artifacts including building models, architectural remnants, drawings, paintings, prints, furniture, an original RCA TRK-12 television, Elektro the Moto-Man robot, and period film footage. The artifacts are drawn from the featured expositions: Chicago, IL—A Century of Progress International Exposition (1933–34); San Diego, CA—California Pacific International Exposition (1935-36); Dallas, TX—Texas Centennial Exposition (1936); Cleveland, OH—Great Lakes Exposition (1936-37); San Francisco, CA—Golden Gate International Exposition (1939-40); and New York, NY—New York World's Fair (1939-40).
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
According to a recent story on NPR's Morning Edition, California has recently declared one of the most ambitious targets for renewable energy in the world - 1/3rd of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. (Sadly, Georgia has no currently goal. No Southeastern state has, except North Carolina.) However, like Cape Wind, struggles continue over siting renewable energy projects - like this solar project proposed in Central California.
However, according to a recent story in The New York Times, there are places where the siting of solar projects is popular with pretty much everybody - on abandoned agricultural land.
Thousands of acres of farmland here in the San Joaquin Valley have been removed from agricultural production, largely because the once fertile land is contaminated by salt buildup from years of irrigation.
But large swaths of those dry fields could have a valuable new use in their future — making electricity.
Farmers and officials at Westlands Water District, a public agency that supplies water to farms in the valley, have agreed to provide land for what would be one of the world’s largest solar energy complexes, to be built on 30,000 acres. At peak output, the proposed Westlands Solar Park would generate as much electricity as several big nuclear power plants.
It's interesting that one environmental problem - saltwater intrusion from overpumping of the coastal aquafers - might contribute to another environmental solution - reduction of dependence on coal-fired power plants. Anyway, it's nice to see a non-controversial renewable energy project, for a change.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Monday, April 26, 2010
Our guest editor Ken Stahl wrote a really interesting post yesterday entitled "Are there 'controlled experiments' in land use? Does it matter?" I was so intrigued by his thought-provoking words that I felt compelled to blog my response, rather than just comment.
Of course land use, like all politics, is local. Ken makes a valid point that few people outside of California give much credence to the choices of California's local governments. Certainly, here in Georgia - a much different, more conservative milieu - California examples are widely disregarded.
However, here at the Land Use Clinic we make our living helping local governments and citizens create land use policy. We have to start somewhere, and usually that somewhere is a survey of what other localities have done on a particular issue. If you review the documents on the LUC webpage, you will find many case studies and model ordinances that pull together examples from multiple places both in and outside of Georgia.
On the other hand, often the examples of jurisdictions in other states quickly become irrelevant due to differences in state law or powers granted by a particular state to local governments. For example, California has regional air quality districts hat help localities coordinate local air pollution regulation and give teeth to regional efforts to improve air quality. Georgia has no such structure, and probably never will. I also often warn my students away from Florida examples. One of my students just wrote a memo on school concurrency programs in Florida, and ultimately came to the conclusion that no such local policy is possible in Georgia without a change in state law. Given how distracted the Georgia legislature is right now by other matters, that change isn't likely to come soon.
So how do we, and our clients, reconcile these conflicts? Certainly no one can simply cut and paste together an ordinance from other jurisdictions, but learning how policy choices have played out in other places provides key information for us to create a unique, yet workable arrangement for each of our clients. We're helping folks make law, and even new law must be based on precedent, both legal and practical. It's a delicate operation, and sometimes it works better than others.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, April 23, 2010
Land use appears to resist easy generalizations. We are often told, for example, that although land use is a formal power of the state, it is a matter of inherently "local" concern, involving fine-grained determinations of how proposed land uses will affect the character of a particular locale. Perhaps for this reason, states universally delegate the land use power to local governments. It is also said that every parcel of land is unique. Thus, as I teach my Property students, courts tend to prefer specific performance as a remedy for breach of real estate contracts, although specific performance is generally disfavored as a remedy for breach of other contracts. Likewise, most states have declined to pass the Uniform Land Transactions Act, perhaps out of deference to the notion that all land is unique. Given the apparent place-specific nature of land use, it is not surprising that many scholars tend to write about their own place -- so Jamie frequently writes about land use conflicts in Georgia, Matt about Houston, and my last several posts, here, here and here, have been mostly about southern California.
When I present my research on southern California's growth politics, I am often faced with a question or comment the gist of which is: "I'm from [Place X.] Why should I care what happens in southern California?" If, as the previous paragraph suggests, generalizations about land use are extremely difficult, how can we even answer this question? I typically answer it by noting that 1) southern California has long been a template for land use trends (and other political and cultural trends) throughout the nation and, 2) it is a fascinating case study in its own right. But both answers have proven unsatisfying. "Southern California as a template" works to an extent, but I quickly find that there are aspects of southern California's urban development that are so idiosyncratic as to greatly limit the usefulness of cross-jurisdictional comparisons. In other words, I run right smack into the problem I identified at the start, that every land use issue is unique and resistant to generalizations. "Southern California as a fascinating case study" solves that problem, but then brings back the "Why should I care?" question.
A palliative, if not a solution, to this problem arrived in the form of a passage from The Deliberative Practitioner, a book by John Forester, a professor of Urban Planning at Cornell. Forester recounts a conversation with a colleague in which the colleague expressed concern about presenting his research on urban planning in Cleveland because he worried that his work would be seen as "too Cleveland," not sufficiently national in scope. Forester's response: "There are no controlled experiments" in land use planning. Every city, every land use dispute, every political environment is unique, and efforts to generalize from one experience are doomed to fail. Thus, Forester argues, we should focus on the particular, on the "stories" planners tell of their own domestic milieus, rather than impressing those stories into the service of some grand scheme.
Forester's insight certainly made me feel better about the "who cares?" question, but didn't exactly answer it. If it is impossible to generalize from the particular, does that mean land use scholarship has value only within whatever local environment it studies? Can we draw no useful general principles from particular case studies?
Perhaps we need to add a bit of the lawyer's skill set to the planner's. After all, we common-law lawyers are trained in the art of distilling general principles from specific cases, of making comparisons between cases by highlighting important factual similarities, as well as distinguishing cases by identifying significant factual differences. Maybe when writing case studies of land use issues, it's a simple matter of making sure to separate those aspects that we think are generalizable from those that are unique to the specific circumstances of the case. Furthermore, it may well be that what makes a particular situation unique is also precisely what makes it an interesting object of study. To apply these principles to my case: I try to articulate that southern California's growth politics are typical of the polarization between developers and NIMBYs that we see in other growth conflicts throughout the nation, but that its politics are also unique because of the historical role of land development in the region's economy, the strong sense of neighborhood identity, and the willingness to resort to the initiative process to resolve issues of public policy. But I also make the case that southern California's uniqueness makes it a particuarly useful case study, because the animosity between developers and NIMBYs there is so acute that we can see it suffusing local politics (especially in public relations campaigns over slow-growth initiatives), where such animosity would perhaps remain latent elsewhere.
This is all well and good, but still leaves some lingering questions. Why must scholarship be "useful" anyway, rather than merely interesting or informative? Do we really need to justify our use of case studies by explaining their broader relevance? Is it sufficient to contribute something of value to the world's store of knowledge?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
In my previous posts, here and here, I discussed the nature of local growth politics in southern California and elsewhere. The central dynamic of local growth politics nationwide is the conflict between developers and homeowners about whether, where, and what form new development should take. This dynamic presupposes that growth is something perpetual and that the critical issue is how to "manage" growth in the same way we would use dams and levees to manage a raging river. The history of Los Angeles and other sunbelt cities certainly gives us much reason to believe that growth is indeed inexorable unless some force of nature (such as extremely arid or mountainous terrain), some accident of history (such as the huge landholdings of the Irvine company), or some political movement (such as the environmental and slow-growth movements of the 1970s and 80s), applies the brakes. And according to the "growth machine" school, even these latter forces can only re-direct or temporarily slow growth.
The events of the last few years, however, have cast doubt on whether growth is in fact perpetual and inexorable, as we are now seeing ghost-town residential subdivisions appearing on the fringes of many once booming cities and established neighborhoods becoming gap-tooted with boarded up, foreclosed homes. It was no force of nature, political movement, or accident of history that caused this downturn, however, but rather the very idea that growth was going to continue perpetually. As property values were increasing up to 30% a year, interest rates were low and mortgages were easy to get even for the worst credit risks, real estate began to be seen as a fool-proof and inflation-proof investment, with no thought that there would eventually be a market correction. Unbounded optimism about growth drove real estate values higher until the now-infamous "bubble" burst. Today we look back on this bygone era as some sort of extended Ponzi scheme, and those who peddled the benefits of growth as glorified scam-artists. Many are calling for more stringent regulation of the mortgage-backed securities market, prosecution of predatory lenders, or the deconstruction of the long-cherished ideal of homeownership.
As part of the postmortem on the real estate crisis, we should question what the future of growth politics holds. Will NIMBY homeowners become more favorably disposed to development as growth-driven revenue slows to a trickle? With property values collapsing, will homeowners begin to challenge the suite of public policies (highway subsidies, mortgage interest deductions, Euclidean zoning, etc.) that have long reified the idea of homeownership? Will developers see the need to build high-density transit-oriented development rather than undertaking speculative homebuilding in the exurbs? Will they work with community groups to avoid costly delays as their profit margins get thinner?
We can only speculate as to the answer to these questions, but my research leads to the preliminary conclusion that no, the dynamics of growth politics have not substantially changed. To the contrary, anecdotal evidence suggests that the real estate slowdown may deepen the existing animosity between developers and homeowners. On one hand, the real estate downturn has resulted in increased cynicism about the traditionally pro-growth policies of local governments. In Florida, a grassroots movement called “Hometown Democracy” is pushing a ballot measure for November 2010 that would require voter referenda on all amendments to a general plan. In its campaign literature, Hometown Democracy argues that land use control needs to be taken out of the hands of local officials, whose habit of “rubberstamping speculative plan changes” caused Florida’s “destructive boom-bust cycle.” On the other hand, influential students of urban development like the New Urbanist scholar Andres Duany have pinned the blame for the real estate crisis squarely on NIMBY homeowners, who supposedly perpetuated sprawl to safeguard their own lifestyle. In short, the anecdotal evidence indicates that the polarized discourse of growth politics is unlikely to subside any time soon.
I invite you to share your own thoughts about how, if at all, the real estate crisis may alter the dynamics of local growth politics or other aspects of land use law or policy.
Friday, March 26, 2010
In my previous post, I briefly sketched the thesis of my recent paper on local growth politics. Here, I want to provide some important background for the project. Those of us who study land use and local government tend to believe that local politics are dominated by homeowners, who disproportionately participate in local politics, either by vote or otherwise (such as appearing at a hearing to oppose a rezoning request), and whose participation is motivated solely by their own self-interest as homeowners. That is, homeowners will advocate whatever local policies will boost property values, lower property taxation, ensure quality schools for their children, and protect neighborhood quality of life. Usually, this means that homeowners support growth controls, exclusionary zoning policies that enable communities to screen for wealth, and opposition to almost any new development. The thesis that "homevoters" control local government was most recently articulated in William Fischel's influential book, The Homevoter Hypothesis, but it is also amply supported by other important scholarship and caselaw.
As Fischel points out in his book, the homevoter hypothesis really only works in relatively small suburban communities where homeowners can be assured of dominance. It works less well in large, more diverse cities. But Fischel assures us that this fact does not diminish the importance of his thesis because, after all, only 25% of the nation's population live in cities larger than 100,000 residents. We are, in other words, a suburban nation full of homevoters. Again, land use caselaw seems to support Fischel here, as so many of the important land use cases deal with small suburban communities attempting to use their zoning powers to maintain their suburban character. Scholarship on land use and local government, likewise, frequently bemoans the exclusionary practices of small suburbs and the increasing fragmentation of metropolitan regions brought on by the proliferation of such small suburbs.
Having been steeped in this literature, I could not have been more surprised when I started reading a book by Robert Lang and Jennifer LeFurgy entitled Boomburbs: The Rise of America's Accidental Cities (2007). According to the authors, Fischel's depiction of small suburban communities dominated by homevoters completely ignores what was (at the time) the fastest-growing, highly populated, and most politically influential region of the country, the Sunbelt. Most communities in this region are neither small suburbs nor conventional big cities but "boomburbs," large, incorporated cities of over 100,000 that are "suburban" in density and attitude but "urban" in size and diversity (ethnic, architectural, and otherwise). The authors argue that these boomburbs are far too large and diverse for homevoters to dominate; instead, boomburb politics are driven by the "growth machine," a matrix of interests that profits from development, including politicians, developers, construction companies, unions and the media. It is not only size and diversity that weaken the influence of the homevoter; boomburbs virtually all use at-large voting systems that tend to dilute the influence of neighborhood homeowners' groups and maximize the influence of deep-pocketed developers.
Lang and LeFurgy's book was a revelation, but something about their argument struck me as far too simplistic. A significant plurality of the boomburbs the author identify are right here in southern California. Indeed, southern California has often been considered an archetype of the "growth machine" thesis. However, southern California has also been labeled the birthplace of the NIMBYs ("Not in My Backyard,") a somewhat more pejorative name for Fischel's homevoters, and writers like Mike Davis have chronicled the bitter growth wars southern California has endured over the past several decades as developers have done battle with affluent homeowners. It occurred to me that Lang and LeFurgy were ignoring something crucial: In the sunbelt, and in southern California specifically, "homevoters" who are dissatisfied with the "growth machine" and the at-large system can use the initiative process to put the brakes on growth. In fact, homeowners in southern California have passed scores of slow-growth initiatives after the passage of the epochal (or apocalyptic) Proposition 13, which itself was partially the result of strong anti-growth sentiment. So there seems to be an uneasy equilibrium between development interests and homevoters in places like southern California, brought about, at least in part, by the co-existence of at-large voting and the initiative process. Making matters even more interesting, I discovered that both at-large voting and the initiative process were enacted as part of the Progressive movement's effort to reform local politics. This signaled that despite the opposition between pro-growth and anti-growth interests built into the political structures of boomburbs, there might be some underlying continuity as well. Indeed, that continuity became my thesis, as you can see from my previous post. You can also download the paper here.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Many thanks to Matt and the rest of the editors at the Land Use Prof Blog for inviting me to "guest blog" here about my paper on local growth politics. You can find the abstract and a link to the paper here or here. Let me start out by saying that the folks here at the Land Use Prof Blog have been doing a great job. The site is continuously updated with important and interesting developments in land use law. For me, the site is a must-read every day (especially now that I'm posting!)
In this post, I'll just say a few words about the paper's thesis, then outline where I hope to go in the next few posts. Evidence abounds that local politics are riven by conflict between developers, who push municipalities to pursue growth, and homeowners' groups, aka NIMBYs, who resist growth in or near their neighborhoods. There is substantial disagreement, however, about who "really" runs things in local politics, with developers arguing that they are unable to accomplish anything over the incessant objections of pampered homeowners, and neighborhood groups complaining that their concerns are totally ignored by developer-friendly bureaucrats. The conflict between developers and homeowners -- and confusion about who has the upper hand between them -- is especially acute in regions like southern California, which serves as a case study in my paper. I argue that politics in southern California have been structured in a way that heightens, rather than alleviates, the inherent tension between developers and homeowners. On one hand, most southern California cities use at-large voting systems, which maximize the influence of developers and dilute the influence of neighborhood groups. On the other hand, all California cities retain the right of local initiative, which slow-growth groups have used with increasing effectiveness in recent decades to counteract the pro-growth tendencies of the at-large system.
The juxtaposition of at-large voting and the local initiative thus enhances conflict between developer and homeowners. However, my research reveals that beneath this conflict there is a fundamental continuity between at-large voting and the local initiative (both of which, incidentally, were originally introduced into local politics during the Progressive age as complementary facets of the Progressive movement's efforts to reform local politics.) The structuring of local politics in southern California fosters an artificial dichotomy between pro-growth and anti-growth positions that subverts the possibility of compromise, truncates the municipal political agenda to a narrow conflict between competing middle class elites about whether to privilege the use or exchange value of property, and suppresses a wide range of views about growth and other issues, thus effectively silencing large portions of the metropolitan population whose views are inadequately captured by the pro-growth/no-growth binary. I further argue that the reason courts have rejected most challenges to this distorted political system is because they have placed far too much faith in the vigorous application of judicial review to compensate for the flaws in the political process. I conclude that a superior approach would be for courts to focus on correcting these process defects so as to enable a more robust conversation about growth and other local political issues
In future posts, I plan to address the impetus of the project, its contribution to existing scholarship, the impact of the recent real estate crisis on my thesis, southern California's suitability as a case study of national trends in growth politics, and the strengths and weaknesses of my proposed reforms.
Kenneth Stahl (Chapman) has posted The Artifice of Local Growth Politics: At-Large Elections, Ballot-Box Zoning and Judicial Review. The abstract:
Municipalities throughout the nation are plagued by a seemingly unresolvable conflict between development interests and homeowners’ groups who oppose growth near their neighborhoods. This paper uses southern California as a case study to examine the problem of local growth politics and the judicial response to it. As I argue, local politics in southern California are structured in such a way that fosters an artificial dichotomy between pro-growth and anti-growth positions, subverting the possibility of compromise and suppressing a wide range of views about growth and other issues. On one hand, the prevalence of at-large voting systems in southern California municipalities favors growth interests by facilitating citywide growth while muting neighborhood opposition. On the other hand, neighborhood groups liberally rely on the initiative and referendum to halt unwanted growth. Ironically, the apparent conflict between pro-growth and anti-growth agendas generated by this political structure conceals a fundamental continuity. Both at-large voting and the initiative process function to dilute the influence of minorities and other geographically concentrated groups, entrench the political power of the professional middle classes, prevent disparate interest groups from negotiating toward terms in the contested terrain of municipal politics, and cloak this ideologically loaded process in the rhetoric of a unitary public interest set against parochial selfishness.
This distorted political system has been the subject of many judicial challenges, most of which have focused on the local initiative process. The courts, however, have taken pains to uphold the right of the people to enact land use laws by initiative or referendum. Rejecting arguments that ballot-box zoning entails an excess of politics without necessary apolitical counterweights, the courts have expressed confidence in the judiciary’s own ability to temper the evils of unchecked politics through judicial review. I assert, however, that this faith in judicial review is misplaced, as the judiciary has proven incapable of balancing the complex array of competing interests involved in land use regulation. Thus, I argue that the judiciary should instead focus on correcting defects in the political process so that the balancing of competing interests can occur, as it should, in the legislative arena.
Stay tuned, because we'll be hearing more from Ken very soon!