April 18, 2012
Forefront: New Online Planning Magazine (and more on Redevelopment)
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.
April 05, 2012
What's Buried Under Dodger Stadium?
A front-page story in today's LA Times throws some cold water on the celebratory mood surrounding the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. The story recounts how the city of Los Angeles acquired the land to build the stadium by uprooting (through the use of eminent domain) more than 1,000 mostly Mexican-American families who lived in the area. The story concludes with a chilling quote from one of the uprooted: "There's an old Mexican custom that where you're born, the umbilical cord is buried. Mine's buried under third base....And I hate home runs, 'cause every time they step on third base, my stomach hurts." The story of Chavez Ravine has been well told before, including by my friend Matt Parlow in his article Unintended Consequences: Eminent Domain and Affordable Housing, 46 Santa Clara L. Rev. 841, 843–46 (2006).
April 04, 2012
Fennell Helps us Picture Takings
One of my (few) disappointments this semester was that I was out of town the day Lee Fennell (Chicago) came to ND Law to present a really interesting paper broadening legal theory's view of resource-allocation-relevant costs beyond the conventional focus on "transaction costs." I did have the consolation of hearing many terrific papers at the ALPS Conference at Georgetown on the day she presented here in South Bend. Hopefully, that paper, Resource Access Costs, will be finding its way to SSRN and this blog soon.
In the meantime, she has posted Picturing Takings, 88 Notre Dame L. Rev ___ (forthcoming 2012), an article that makes visual sense of a doctrine that has so successfully defied textual explanatory efforts. Here's the abstract:
Takings doctrine, we are constantly reminded, is unclear to the point of incoherence. The task of finding our way through it has become more difficult, and yet more interesting, with the Supreme Court’s recent, inconclusive foray into the arena of judicial takings in Stop the Beach Renourishment. Following guideposts in Kelo, Lingle, and earlier cases, this essay uses a series of simple diagrams to examine how elements of takings jurisprudence fit together with each other and with other limits on governmental action. Visualizing takings in this manner yields surprising lessons for judicial takings and for takings law more generally. [Note: a PowerPoint version of the diagrams is available on the author's faculty webpage or can be obtained by emailing the author].
I am very hopeful that this article will be helpful not only to my understanding of takings but also to my (first-time) teaching of Land Use Planning next spring. Here is a link to the PowerPoint presentation referred to at the end of the abstract.
March 15, 2012
Smith on Property as the Law of Things
Henry E. Smith (Harvard) has posted what looks to be a very important property theory piece, Property as the Law of Things, forthcoming in the Harvard Law Review. The abstract:
The New Private Law takes seriously the need for baselines in general and the traditional ones furnished by the law in particular. One such baseline is the “things” of property. The bundle of rights picture popularized by the Legal Realists downplayed things and promoted the expectation that features of property are detachable and tailorable without limit. The bundle picture captures too much to be a theory. By contrast, the information cost, or architectural, theory proposed here captures how the features of property work together to achieve property’s purposes. Drawing on Herbert Simon’s notions of nearly decomposable systems and modularity, the article shows how property employs a thing-based exclusion-governance architecture to manage complexity of the interactions between legal actors. Modular property first breaks this system of interactions into components, and this begins with defining the modular things of property. Property then specifies the interface between the modular components of property through governance strategies that make more direct reference to uses and purposes, as in the law of nuisance, covenants, and zoning. In contrast to the bundle of rights picture, the modular theory captures how a great number of features of property – ranging from in-rem-ness, the right to exclude, and the residual claim, through alienability, persistence, and compatibility, and beyond to deep aspects like recursiveness, scalability, and resilience – follow from the modular architecture. The Article then shows how the information cost theory helps explain some puzzling phenomena such as the pedis possessio in mining law, fencing in and fencing out, the unit rule in eminent domain, and the intersection of state action and the enforcement of covenants. The Article concludes with some implications of property as a law of modular things for the architecture of private law.
March 05, 2012
Somin on What if Kelo had Gone the Other Way?
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted What if Kelo v. City of New London had Gone the Other Way?, published at Indiana Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 21-39, 2011 (What If Counterfactuals in Constitutional History Symposium) . The abstract:
Kelo v. City of New London is one of the most controversial decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history. The Kelo Court held that the Public Use Clause of the Fifth Amendment allows government to condemn private property and transfer it to other private parties for purposes of “economic development.” This Article considers the question of what might have happened if the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London in favor of the property owners. Such counterfactual analysis may seem frivolous. But it is, in fact, useful in understanding constitutional history. Any assessment of the impact of a legal decision depends on at least an implicit judgment as to the likely consequences of a ruling the other way. Analysis can be improved by making these implicit counterfactual assumptions clear and systematically considering their implications.
Part I briefly describes the Kelo case and its aftermath, focusing especially on the massive political backlash. That backlash led to numerous new reform laws. However, many of them turned out to be largely symbolic. Part II discusses the potential value of a counterfactual analysis of Kelo. It could help shed light on a longstanding debate over the effects of Supreme Court decisions on society. Some have argued that court decisions have little impact, mostly protecting only those rights that the political branches of government would protect of their own accord. Others contend that this pessimistic view underrates the potential effect of Supreme Court decisions.
Part III considers the possible legal effect of a ruling in favor of the property owners. Such a decision could have taken several potential forms. One possibility is that the Court could have adopted the view advocated by the four Kelo dissenters: that economic development condemnations are categorically forbidden by the Public Use Clause. This would have provided strong protection to property owners and significantly altered the legal landscape. On the other hand, the Court could easily have decided in favor of the property owners on one of two narrower grounds. Such a ruling would have led to much weaker protections for property owners.
Part IV weighs the potential political impact of a decision favoring the property owners. Such an outcome might have forestalled the massive political backlash that Kelo caused. Ironically, a narrow ruling in favor of the owners that did not significantly constrain future takings might have left the cause of property rights worse off than defeat did. On the other hand, a strong ruling categorically banning economic development takings would likely have done more for property rights than the backlash did, especially considering the uneven nature of the latter. Furthermore, political movements sometimes build on legal victories, as well as defeats, as happened in the case of the Civil Rights movement in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. It is possible that property rights advocates could have similarly exploited a victory in Kelo.
February 20, 2012
Federal Eminent Domain Reform?
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has a post on the Volokh Conspiracy called Another Chance at Federal Eminent Domain Reform:
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision, which allowed the condemnation of private property for economic development, some 44 states have passed eminent domain reform laws. Although many of those laws are likely to be ineffective, overall a good deal of progress has been made at the state level in curbing abusive condemnations, including by state courts enforcing the property rights provisions of their state constitutions.
Unfortunately, very little has been achieved at the federal level during that time. On the third anniversary of Kelo in 2008, I summed up federal reform efforts as follows:
[Insert sound of crickets chirping, grass growing, and paint drying].
Somin cites an op-ed by Christina Walsh of the Institute of Justice:
A bipartisan bill, H.R. 1433, making its way through the House would strip a city of federal economic development funding for two years if the city takes private property to give to someone else for their private use. Cities that want to keep their funding will have to be more circumspect in using eminent domain.
This bill undoubtedly will pass the House as it did in 2005, and likely will get stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, where it has gone to die in years past.
It'll be interesting to see if this goes anywhere, but I suspect there's probably too much political noise this year.
The Value of Habitat
If the government condemns land that is a habitat for an endangered or threatened species, should the land be valued differently than a developable piece of property in an active real estate market?
According to the Supreme Court, the default rule is that “just compensation” for condemned is the “fair market value” of the property. United States v. 50 Acres of Land, 469 U.S. 24, 25 (1984). With regard to habitat land, however, “fair market value” may be very difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain as habitat land, by definition, has been essentially taken off the market. Despite this diffuculty, there are valuation techniques available that can be used to value habitat land based on market principles. For example, as suggested by the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, one could (1) determine the theoretical best economic use of the habitat land; and (2) then determine how much land used for that purpose would go on the open market.
But it is hard to see how compensation based on a hypothetical use of the land truly constitutes “just compensation.’’ The purpose of using land for habitat conservation is not to make money, but to protect endangered or threatened species. If this purpose is taken into account, then it could be argued that the only “just compensation” is to replace the habitat. Under this replacement theory, if the government takes habitat land, the government would have to provide enough money to purchase replacement habitat property. This is similar to the statutory remedy provided by CERCLA or Superfund, which allows the government to recover natural resource damages including the cost of replacement. 42 U.S.C. § 9607(f)(1) (2006).
One can certainly imagine scenarios where replacement costs of habitat land could get very expensive. For example, the government condemns habitat land located in a desolate area Mohave Desert, market value $100,000, and the only available replacement habitat land is a commercially developable parcel land located adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip that is worth $5,000,000. Would paying for the replacement land in this instance be “just compensation” or merely a windfall for the property owner? And what if there is no other adequate replacement habitat land? Would the government be prohibited from taking the property at all?
In the end, how to best value condemned habitat land will vary dependingon the facts of the situation. One would hope, however, that the government and the courts do not overlook the unique qualities of habitat land when deciding what comprises “just compensation.”
February 01, 2012
Michelman on the Property Clause Question
Frank Michelman (Harvard) has posted "The Property Clause Question." In this essay, the preeminent property theorist of our time offers an engaging look at the constitutional protection of private property rights that a society seeking to establish a liberal social democracy should consider. Here's the abstract:
A “property clause” is a dedicated text in the written basic law of a constitutional-democratic state, addressing the question of the security of asset-holdings (and of their values to their owners) against impairment by action or allowance of the state. The clause provides a defensive guarantee against such impairments, in the form of a trumping right of every person to be protected – perhaps not absolutely and unconditionally, but not negligibly, either – against state-engineered losses in lawfully established asset-holdings or asset-values.
How should someone writing a constitution for an expectantly “social liberal” state regime think about the question of a property clause? Without suggesting that there can be any one-size-fits-all sort of answer to the question of including such a clause or not, this paper confines itself to doubting sharply one sort of a reason our constitution-writers might consider for including one – namely, that a liberal constitutional bill of rights ought to contain clauses covering all classes of interests of persons that qualify in liberalism as basic rights and freedoms and the interest distinctively protected by a property clause does so qualify – and suggesting some pros and cons regarding a quite different sort of reason for inclusion that the writers will also undoubtedly ponder – namely, that the clause will serve to keep lawmakers and constitutional adjudicators properly attuned to a national foundational commitment to a system of political economy in which markets play a key role.
This essay, prepared as an after-dinner talk for the Conference on Constitutional Revolutions and Counter-Revolutions held at the New School for Social Research, May 5-7, 2011, is a companion to my “Liberal Constitutionalism, Property Rights, and the Assault on Poverty,” Stellenbosch Law Review (2012) (forthcoming), which treats more expansively some points made summarily here. A version of this essay will appear in Constellations 12 (2012).
January 18, 2012
Nelson Symposium--Digging up some Dirt (Law)
Michael Allan Wolf sends along information about the 11th Robert Nelson Symposium at the University of Florida School of Law: “Digging Up Some Dirt (Law): How Recent Developments in Real Property Law Affect Landowners and Local Governments.” From the description:
“Digging Up Some Dirt (Law): How Recent Developments in Real Property Law Affect Landowners and Local Governments” will welcome national and state experts to explore the impact on landowners and local governments of recent and proposed changes in the law of adverse possession, eminent domain, easements and mortgages.
Here is a link to the brochure. You can register at the website. Looks like a timely and interesting event with an excellent lineup of speakers, including Carol Brown (UNC), Ann Marie Cavazos (FAMU), Alex Johnson (UVA), Jessica Owley (Buffalo), and Professor Wolf (UF).
January 05, 2012
City Journal's take on the California Redevlopment decision
I've been enjoying the outstanding posts on last week's landmark California Supreme Court ruling by Ken Stahl (here and here) and guest-blogger Stephen Miller (here and here) (I smell a great panel or symposium topic in the making). Just now I came a cross an early analysis by Stephen Greenhut at City Journal, the always-interesting center-right urban affairs journal. Greenhut has a strongly positive take on the decision in Crony Capitalism Rebuked California’s supreme court strikes a blow for property rights and fiscal sanity:
On December 29, the California Supreme Court handed down what the state’s urban redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and their supporters called a “worst of all worlds” ruling—first upholding a law that eliminates the agencies, then striking down a second law that would have allowed them to buy their way back into power. This was great news for critics who had spent years calling attention to the ways modern urban-renewal projects distorted city land-use decisions, abused eminent-domain policies, and diverted about 12 percent of the state budget from traditional public services to subsidies for developers, who would build tax-producing shopping centers and other projects sought by city bureaucrats. As of now, the agencies are history, though the redevelopment industry is working to craft new legislation that would resurrect them in some limited form.
January 5, 2012 in California, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
December 31, 2011
Court to Redevelopment Agencies: Drop Dead! (Or, It's TKO for TIF in CA)
Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a great new year! I've been on blog hiatus (blogatus? blogcation?) but simply had to report this piece of news. Two days ago the California Supreme Court put a huge lump of coal in the Christmas stocking of California's very naughty redevelopment agencies, issuing an epochal (or perhaps apocalyptic) but not entirely surprising decision that puts an end to redevelopment in the state of California, probably the state where redevelopment has hitherto been most popular. As of 2008, there were 395 redevelopment agencies in California, holding $12.9 billion in assets in 759 redevelopment zones. Now, after the court's ruling, they are all history. The court upheld a state law abolishing all California redevelopment agencies, and struck down a compromise bill that would have permitted redevelopment agencies to stay in business if they shared some of their tax revenue with other local government agencies, mostly school districts. Forlorn city leaders are already predicting all sorts of doomsday scenarios for cash-strapped California cities. Critics of redevelopment such as the Institute for Justice, are, as you can imagine, more pleased with the result. They must take especial delight in knowing, as I explain below, that redevelopment agencies basically brought this plight on themselves. Critics will be less pleased to learn that redevelopment is almost certainly not really dead, and will likely be back in a form hardly less objectionable to its critics than the original. According to this great recap from California Planning & Development Report (an excellent resource, by the way), this lawsuit was never about the merits of redevelopment itself, but was just the beginning of a complex negotiation over who is going to control the prized redevelopment money.
Much more below...
Redevelopment in California
California redevelopment in a nutshell: a local government agency known as a "redevelopment agency," which is usally just the city council of a given city, declares a part of the city to be "blighted" and hence in need of redevelopment. The blight designation enables the agency to declare the area a redevelopment zone, which gives the agency two hugely significant powers: one, the power to condemn property in the zone by eminent domain; and two, the power to float tax-free bonds to finance the redevelopment, secured by the "incremental" property tax revenue that the redevelopment of the area is supposed to generate. This tax increment is earmarked to pay debt service on the bonds and otherwise to refurbish the redevelopment zone. Hence, "tax-increment financing" (TIF).
The "Blight that's Right"
As many of you know, redevelopment has had its critics. Eminent domain, and specifically the use of eminent domain to facilitate redevelopment, has probably faced the loudest and most successful criticism -- criticism that crystallized in the opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court's widely reviled decision in Kelo v. New London. From a basic fairness standpoint, critics have asked whether government should be able to take your property and give it to someone else (usually, a wealthy real estate developer) simply because government thinks it can make a better use of the property than you can. This is an especially powerful argument because government agencies have so frequently failed to make good use of the properties they have condemned. Many high-profile redevelopment projects, including New London's, have been abyssmal failures even on their own terms -- failing to bring in the jobs and tax revenue they promise and often leading to further deterioration of the area. And even though landowners are compensated for the fair market value of condemned property, they are not compensated for the property's sentimental or "subjective" value. Then there is the impact of eminent domain on existing neighborhoods, many of which have been gashed or detroyed by redevelopment, and the fact that minorities and the poor have disproportionately faced displacement to make way for redevelopment projects.
The "blight" component of redevelopment law has also been criticized. The blight standards in California are vague and easily manipulated, and redevelopment agencies often seek "the blight that's right" -- an area that can plausibly be called "blighted" but is sufficiently economically healthy that it has reasonable prospects for revitalization and the increased tax revenue to pay off the bonds.
Follow the Money, People
These are all legitimate, perhaps compelling, criticisms of redevelopment in California. But don't be deceived: they had absolutely nothing to do with why the state sought to abolish redevelopment. Instead, the dispute was all about who controls the redevelopment money, and where that money goes. One of the more controversial aspects of TIF is that, because it earmarks the incremental tax revenue to be funnelled back into the TIF district, it thereby enables municipalities to make sure that property tax revenue does not go to other local governments that would ordinarily be entitled to a piece of that revenue, including counties and school districts. (Thus explaining why many county leaders are ecstatic about the court's ruling). For California cities, this is an especially important feature of TIF because of something called Proposition 13, which drastically limits the pool of property tax revenue available to local governments. As the court noted in the ruling, Proposition 13 led to an intensified zero-sum struggle between California municipalities for "their slices of a greatly shrunken pie." TIF gave cities a way of keeping this "shrunken pie" all to themselves, rather than having to share "slices" with other local governments. Needless to say, cities thus had a great incentive to use TIF specifically for this purpose, rather than to engage in actual redevelopment. And because the only limitation on the use of TIF is the "blight" finding which, as I said, is extraordinarily manipulable, cities went bonkers with TIF. Indeed, there have been instances in which cities have designated their entire downtown, even their entire city(!) as a redevelopment zone simply in order to protect their tax revenue against redistribution to other local governments.
The legislature did attempt to rein in this practice by requiring that a percentage of redevelopment money be funnelled to affordable housing, but an expose in the Los Angeles Times last year showed that cities routinely failed to fulfill this requirement. This was one of the precursors to the recent legislation killing off redevelopment agencies.
The other major precursor was, of course, the fiscal crisis that hit California in 2008. The state legislature obviously saw the treasure trove of redevelopment money as a way of dealing with its dire fiscal problems. Because redevelopment agencies are, like other local governments, state creatures, there was nothing to stop the legislature from simply taking redevelopment money to plug holes in its budget, and the state legislature made clear that's exactly what it intended to do.
Proposition 22: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
In response to the threats from the state, the League of California Cities qualified a measure for the ballot in November 2010 that would protect local redevelopment money from being forcibly redistributed by the state. The measure passed, but in an ironic twist, Prop 22 proved not to be redevelopment's savior, but its undoing.
In that same November 2010 election, a guy named Jerry Brown was elected governor. One of his first steps was to declare that if redevelopment agencies would not give up their money, then Brown would simply abolish the redevelopment agencies entirely. Although that would apparently go against the spirit of Prop 22, the measure did not explicitly say anything like: "Oh by the way, you can't abolish redevelopment to get our money either." The bill abolishing redevelopment agencies was passed, along with another, compromise bill that allowed redevelopment agencies to stay in existence if they gave up some of their money to other local governments.
The lawsuit that led to the recent decision challenged the constitutionality of both bills under Prop 22 -- the first because it would seem nonsensical for the Constitution to protect redevelopment money unless it implicitly protected redevelopment agencies from being abolished, and the second because it required forcible redistribution of redevelopment money in violation of the plain language of Prop 22. The outcome of the case was the nightmare scenario for redevelopment: the court held the first bill was consistent with Prop 22, and the second was not. As a result, redevelopment is dead!
What made Proposition 22 so stupid (I voted against it, for the record) was that despite all the real objections to redevelopment, there was no way in heckfire that the California governor or legislature would ever have done anything serious to curtail redevelopment as long as redevelopment moolah was flowing into the state's coffers. (and voters had already declined to enact a meaningful anti-Kelo measure at the ballot box, so the initiative was also off the table). Once cities severed the umbilical cord between redevelopment money and the state, redevelopment was no longer untouchable.
The King is Dead, Long Live the King! Wait, who's the king again? I'm the king. No, you're not. I'm the king!
The fact that the real debate here was over money, and not redevelopment, means that redevelopment is very likely not really dead. There is money to be made in redevelopment, especially by powerful lobbying interests like real estate developers and, of course, the cities. The state of California is in no position to be turning down an opportunity to make some money. In all likelihood, the legislature sees the court's ruling as a very big bargaining chip it can use to change the way redevelopment agencies do business so the state gets more money. It is noteworthy in this regard that the court's ruling was handed down a bit earlier than expected, giving the legislature time to mull its next move before the next legislative session begins at the start of the year.
It sure would be nice though, wouldn't it, if the state used this opportunity to seriously re-evaluate redevelopment on its merits? There is word that perhaps the state will tighten up the blight definition. How about actually enforcing the requirement that some redevelopment money go to affordable housing? How about some kind of audit into redevelopment's real costs and benefits? I suspect we won't get a real soul-searching evaluation of redevelopment, and redevelopment will be back in something like its original form. But we academics exist in order to dream -- which is why we may be the next thing on the chopping block. Happy Holidays!
November 10, 2011
Somin on Eminent Domain and Mississippi Measure 31
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has an op-ed in Daily Caller about the passage of Mississippi Measure 31, a post-Kelo eminent domain reform measure: Referendum Initiatives Prevent Eminent Domain Abuse. The intro:
The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London generated a record political backlash. Kelo upheld the condemnation of private property for transfer to other private owners in order to promote “economic development.” The case inspired widespread outrage. Polls show that over 80% of the public opposes economic development takings. As a result, 44 states have enacted eminent domain reform laws that restrict the condemnation of property for the benefit of private interests.
The most recent state to react to Kelo is Mississippi. On Tuesday, Mississippi voters adopted Measure 31 by a decisive 73% to 27% margin. The new law will make taking property for economic development unprofitable by forbidding most transfers of condemned land to a private party for 10 years after condemnation. The measure is a major victory for both property owners and the state’s economy.
Somin has also blogged on the measure at the Volokh Conspiracy here and here. And from the former post, here's a nugget that's relevant to the discussion Ken and I have been having on direct democracy in land use:
As I explain in this article, referendum initiatives like Measure 31 tend to be stronger than reforms adopted by state legislatures because many of them are drafted by activists rather than by politicians. Measure 31 was submitted drafted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (small farmers are often victims of eminent domain in the state). The vast majority of post–Kelo referenda adopted by voters impose tough restrictions on takings.
More on that to come soon!
November 08, 2011
Election Day 2011 and State Constitutions
Even though the media is obsessed with the 2012 elections, it is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and as land use folks well know, a lot of important law is made at the state and local level during off-year elections. Today in Texas there are ten state constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval, generated by the 2011 legislative session (Texas' legislature still meets only bienially--one of four remaining states to do so, and the only major state).
I'm generally not a fan of constant new constitutional amendments, for two reasons, one structural and one democratic. First, many state constitutions--like Texas'--are already bloated. I printed it out once--all 80,806 words of it (sorry environmental profs)--and I make the point in class by comparing the massive document to a pocket U.S. Constitution. In general, I don't think that most mundane policy issues should be entrenched in fundamental law. On the other hand, this structural critique can be countered somewhat by the argument that while the federal constitution enables the Congress to do a certain range of things, state legislatures already have plenary power, so state constitutions largely exist to limit the legislature--and then they need to be amended often to adjust those limits. But still . . . 80,806 words?
My second beef with the practice of placing a slew of state constitutional amendments is has more to do with the theory of state and local elections, and I don't like it for the same reason I'm skeptical of the overuse of initiative and referendum. What could be more democratic than letting the people vote, you ask? The problem is informational. I usually ask my upper-level state & local government students--a sample of pretty well educated and informed voters--which way they voted on certain amendments or referenda from prior years. Almost universally I get two responses; either (a) no recollection whatsoever; or, occasionally, (b) they voted with their gut based on a cursory reading of the ballot text in the voting booth. And if they remember which way they voted, it was usually "yes" because the text sounded like "good things," or "no" because the text sounded like "spending more money."
There in turn at least two reasons why even smart voters end up voting with their gut on these important measures. First, the ballot language is usually vague and fuzzy, and often is quite different from the actual text of the law that will go on the books. I don't think this is usually done to confuse the voters, I think it's the opposite intent--but regardless, the ballot language in my experience is usually so general that it fails to communicate what the proposal is really about. Another major reason, of course, is that with a few exceptions, these items don't get very much media exposure. So most Texans probably know a lot more about, e.g., the latest in sexual harrassment allegations against national candidates, than they do about the 10 items they are probably going to add to the state constitution today. The info is out there, but it's up to the individual voter to burn some calories and go find and read information such as the analysis by the Texas Legislative Council.
Now in class, we talk about whatever amendments and referenda are on the ballot, and it's a lot of fun. Students do class presentations, we have guest speakers, and so on. And it often turns out that a lot of these state constitutional amendments (and local referenda) are substantively about land use--from eminent domain to land sales, zoning, conservation, and more (which was going to be the original point of this post, before I got off on my rant). So I do my part to create a group of 40 or 50 educated voters.
But if that's what it takes, is democracy really served by putting all this stuff on the ballot, and in such a vague manner? I find more and more that people in general really do care about land use in their communities and their region. A lot. Yet in the cases where they actually have a say in the matter, it gets translated so poorly that most votes actually cast are probably not informed ones. So it's the people behind the scenes in and around legislative bodies that end up making all the rules.
October 17, 2011
Serkin on Binding Local Governments
Christopher Serkin (Brooklyn) has posted Public Entrenchment Through Private Law: Binding Local Governments, 78 University of Chicago Law Review 879 (2011). The abstract:
Anti-entrenchment rules prevent governments from passing unrepealable legislation and ensure that subsequent governments are free to revisit the policy choices of the past. However, governments — and local governments in particular — have become increasingly adept at using private law mechanisms like contracts and property conveyances to make binding precommitments into the future. Simultaneously, courts and state legislatures in recent years have reduced the availability of core de-entrenching tools, like eminent domain, that have traditionally allowed governments to recapture policymaking authority from the past. These changes threaten to shift democratic power intertemporally. This Article develops a typology of mechanisms for public entrenchment through private law and private rights, as well as core anti-entrenchment protections embedded in the law. It then develops a framework for evaluating entrenchment concerns, comparing the costs of decreased flexibility against the benefits of increased reliance. Viewed through this framework, some recent changes in the law appear particularly problematic, from restrictions on eminent domain, to the rise of development rights, and creative forms of municipal finance like selling assets instead of incurring debt.
October 03, 2011
Somin on Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted Let there be Blight: Blight Condemnations in New York after Goldstein and Kaur, part of a February 2011 symposium “Taking New York: The Opportunities, Challenges, and Dangers posed by the Use of Eminent Domain in New York”, and published at 38 Fordham Urban Law Journal 1193 (2011). The abstract:
The New York Court of Appeals’ two recent blight condemnation decisions are the most widely publicized and controversial property rights rulings since the Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London. In Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corp., and Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corp., the Court of Appeals set new lows in allowing extremely dubious “blight” condemnations. This Article argues that the New York Court of Appeals erred badly, by allowing highly abusive blight condemnations and defining pretextual takings so narrowly as to essentially read the concept out of existence.
Part I briefly describes the background of the two cases. Goldstein arose as a result of an effort by influential developer Bruce Ratner to acquire land in Brooklyn for his Atlantic Yards development project, which includes a stadium for the New Jersey Nets basketball franchise and mostly market rate and high-income housing. Kaur resulted from Columbia University’s attempts to expand into the Manhattanville neighborhood of West Harlem. When some of the landowners refused to sell, Ratner and the University successfully lobbied the government to declare the land they sought to be blighted and use eminent domain to transfer it to them.
Part II addresses the issue of blight condemnation. Goldstein and Kaur both applied an extraordinarily broad definition of “blight” that included any area where there is “economic underdevelopment” or “stagnation.” In addition, the court opened the door for future abuses in three other, more novel, respects. First, it chose to uphold the condemnations despite evidence suggesting that the studies the government relied on to prove the presence of “blight” were deliberately rigged to produce a predetermined result. Second, it dismissed as unimportant the fact that the firm which conducted the blight studies had previously been on the payroll of the private parties that stood to benefit from the blight condemnations. Finally, the court refused to give any weight to extensive evidence indicating that Ratner and Columbia had themselves created or allowed to develop most of the “blight” used to justify the condemnations. The court’s approach opens the door to future abusive condemnations and violates the text and original meaning of the New York State Constitution.
Part III discusses Goldstein and Kaur’s treatment of the federal constitutional standard for “pretextual” takings. In Kelo and earlier decisions, federal courts made clear that “pretextual” takings remain unconstitutional despite the Supreme Court’s otherwise highly deferential posture on “public use.” Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has been extremely unclear as to what constitutes a pretextual taking. As a result, courts have taken widely differing approaches to the issue. Nevertheless, Kaur and Goldstein are outliers in this area, deferring to the government more than almost any other court that has addressed the question since Kelo. They virtually read the concept of pretext out of existence.
Looks like another insightful piece on this still-controversial subject.
October 3, 2011 in Caselaw, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, New York, Property Rights, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 16, 2011
Brooke Shields as Susette Kelo
Coming to the small screen. From the Hartford Courant: Brooke Shields To Star In Movie Based On New London Eminent Domain Case; Author Jeff Benedict Announces Deal On His Blog
"Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage," a book written in 2009 by Jeff Benedict about the Fort Trumbull eminent domain decision in New London, is being made into a Lifetime TV movie starring Brooke Shields as the decision's most prominent opponent, Susette Kelo, according to an announcement made Friday on the author's blog, http://www.jeffbenedict.com.
Rick Woolf, Benedict's editor at Grand Central Publishing, confirmed the report. "We're thrilled that this is going to be a movie on Lifetime," Woolf said. "Susette is a folk hero and Jeff has done a tremendous job telling the story."
Wonder if they'll get John Cougar Mellencamp's permission to use "Pink Houses" for the soundtrack. Thanks to Jason Kercheval for the pointer.
September 01, 2011
New Eminent Domain Rules take effect in Texas
Since Justice Stevens told the states in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) that they were free to provide additional eminent domain restrictions through state law, policy groups and lawmakers in Texas have been trying to take him up. There were a few small measures to come through the past three (biennial) legislative sessions, but nothing too meaty. Governor Rick Perry even vetoed an eminent domain reform bill in 2007. But this spring after an "emergency" session, Gov. Perry signed Senate Bill 18--"An act relating to the use of eminent domain authority." And today, eminent domain reform became law in Texas.
September 1, 2001 is the day that dozens of laws passed in the spring 2011 legislative session take effect. The eminent domain reform--which is now codified in the Property Code, the Local Government Code, and various other statutes--basically makes it harder for entities to exercise eminent domain, and gives landowners more procedural protections:
- It requires that eminent domain can only be exercised for "public use," and replaces all statutory references (apparently there were many!) to "public purpose." "Public use" is still undefined, so while the legislature's intent is to restrict economic development and other types of takings, this one will probably end up in the courts.
- It adds public hearing and notice requirements and voting mandates to any use of eminent domain authority; it also adds certain requirements for bona fide written offers to purchase.
- It requires all public or private entities who think they have eminent domain power to submit a letter to the state comptroller for review by the legislature.
- It gives landowners additional statutory rights to repurchase property not actually used for the "public use."
We'll have to see if this law has substantive effects on the use of eminent domain, but at minimum it seems to provide some procedural protections. Yesterday at my daughter's soccer practice--i.e., the last day before the new law took effect--one of the other parents told me that his firm filed hundreds of lawsuits that day, related to ongoing projects. So at least there will be a lot of work for the lawyers!
August 30, 2011
Alavi on Kelo Six Years Later
Boston College Third World Law Journal Notes Editor Asher Alavi has written KELO SIX YEARS LATER: STATE RESPONSES, RAMIFICATIONS, AND SOLUTIONS FOR THE FUTURE. Here's the abstract:
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of eminent domain takings that benefit private developers in Kelo v. City of New London. The case led to public outcry on both the right and the left and the revision of many state eminent domain laws to curtail such takings. However, most of the new laws have been ineffective. In many states, the burden of the takings falls largely onto poor, minority communities while, in others, revitalization projects by private developers are prohibited entirely. This Note examines the negative implications of current approaches to takings on inner-city, minority communities and concludes that states should adopt an approach that allows revitalization of blighted areas by private developers but also provides effective limits such as a narrow definition of blight, enhanced compensation for the displaced, and procedural provisions such as Community Benefits Agreements.
Jamie Baker Roskie
August 30, 2011 in Community Economic Development, Development, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Property Rights, Race, Redevelopment, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 12, 2011
2011 Conference on Litigating Regulatory Takings
John Echeverria (Vermont) sends along the announcement for the 14th annual Conference on Litigating Regulatory Takings Claims:
August 12, 2011 in Climate, Coastal Regulation, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Judicial Review, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 11, 2011
Somin on Federalism and Property Rights
Ilya Somin (George Mason) has posted Federalism and Property Rights, University of Chicago Legal Forum (2010 Symposium on Governance and Power), p. 1, 2011. The abstract:
Both the Supreme Court and leading legal scholars have often cited federalism as a reason to severely limit federal judicial enforcement of constitutional property rights. Defenders of the federalism rationale for judicial deference on property rights issues make two key arguments. One holds that abuses of property rights by state or local governments will be curbed by interjurisdictional competition, rendering judicial intervention unnecessary. The second is the superior knowledge and expertise of state and local governments relative to federal judges.
This article criticizes both claims. Part I explains why competitive federalism is unlikely to provide effective protection for property rights in land because property is an immobile asset. People who “vote with their feet” by leaving a jurisdiction cannot take their land with them. For this crucial reason, interjurisdictional competition will often fail to effectively protect property rights in land, though it may be more useful in the case of rights to mobile property.
Part II takes up the issue of diversity and expertise. While state and local governments may indeed have greater expertise than federal courts in assessing local conditions, federal judicial protection of property rights ultimately empowers not judges but property owners. It is the latter who will actually get to decide the uses of the land in question in cases where federal courts prevent state or local governments from condemning their property or restricting its use. Owners generally have greater knowledge of their land than local government officials do. Moreover, the local expertise rationale for judicial deference on property rights would, if applied consistently, justify judicial deference to state and local governments with respect to numerous other constitutional rights, including those protected by the First and Fourth Amendments.
Questions about federalism with respect to property and land use have been getting a lot of attention recently. This article looks like it will really contribute to those discussions. While other land use scholars are focusing on questions of federal vs. state vs. local regulation of property and land (i.e., legislative and administrative acts), Somin's article focuses on asking which level of government is appropriate to exercise judicial review of those acts. It will be interesting to compare.
August 11, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Federal Government, Judicial Review, Local Government, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack