Saturday, October 15, 2011
Wednesday I drove into Atlanta to hear a talk by Rob Teilhet, the new executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters. Rob had some great things to say about finding common ground on environmental policy in this fractious political environment.
On the way home, though, I saw the new HOT (high-occupancy-toll) lanes in Gwinett and DeKalb counties. HOT lanes are Atlanta's new version of HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes. Previously one could only use HOV lanes with two or more passengers. HOT lanes can be used by vehicles with three or more passengers, or with two or fewer passengers who have a "Peach Pass" (an electronic window sticker that records tolls to be paid from an account the driver establishes with the State Road and Tollway Authority). The tolls depend on the distance traveled, and vary by time of day (a version of congestion pricing).
This week is the first week of operation for the HOT lanes, and so far everyone's confused and nobody's happy. Despite the fact that it was rush hour, I saw absolutely no vehicles in the HOT lane (not even cars or motorcycles, which still travel free). There were a couple of police cars in the median watching for violators, but otherwise the lane just seemed like an extra big shoulder. Drivers have been extremely critical, and the Governor's office is lowering tolls to attract drivers and alleviate congestion.
HOT lanes have been touted by conservative commentators a better alternative to HOV lanes. Philisophically I love the idea of carpooling, but in reality (and since there are no reasonable public transportation options between Athens and Atlanta) I'm often the only occupant of my vehicle, so I'm vaguely considering getting a Peach Pass. We'll see how things work once (or if) they get the kinks worked out.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Slate has an interesting article on racist places names, a follow up to the controversy about the name of Texas Gov. Rick Perry's family hunting camp (a name I don't feel comfortable repeating here). I found this interesting because recently in Hall County, Georgia my husband and I traveled on Jim Crow Road. And this is not something that county officials have simply overlooked, because they proudly advertise the road as the location of a park and regional tennis center on this website. Now, whether the road is named after a person named Jim Crow, or after the pervasive and violent Southern system of racial segregation, to have a place name like this extant in 2011 seems tone deaf at best. Perhaps my perception is colored by the fact that we represent an African-American neighborhood in Gainesville/Hall County that was established under racial segregation in the 1930s and is still suffering separate, and unequal, treatment to this day. (My previous posts on this work are available here.)
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, September 23, 2011
So the big news around here this week is the breakup of Athens-based rock band R.E.M. Sad news for music fans, but why is this Land Use Prof blogable? Well, first off, R.E.M. - through band manager and UGA law alum Bertis Downs - has given financial support to the UGA Land Use Clinic, including the money to buy our first real office furniture. Also, association with R.E.M. has made icons of several community features or locations. The most prominent of these features is the railroad trestle featured on the cover of their 1983 album "Mumur" - music fans have rallied multiple times to save the trestle, which is now onthe local Oconee Rivers Greenway. The other most commonly associated structure is the steeple of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, where the band played an early (possibly their first) show in 1980. The church is now gone, and the steeple molders in the parking lot of a local condominium association while the Athens-Clarke Heritage Assocation and local leaders try to figure out how to save it. The band itself has steered mostly clear of these battles, which are likely to continue. Athens won't be the same without R.E.M., but the town is permanently changed by the bands' legacy.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Student Author Nicholas Hoffman of the University of Missouri-Kansas City has published COMMENT: A DON QUIXOTE TALE OF MODERN RENEWABLE ENERGY: COUNTIES AND MUNICIPALITIES FIGHT TO BAN COMMERCIAL WIND POWER ACROSS THE UNITED STATES
From the introduction:
This comment explores the legal nature of claims brought by landowners against zoning ordinances or other entities attempting to limit the use of private wind rights. Part II provides a discussion of the legal issues surrounding commercial wind energy and formulating wind as a property right connected to a fee simple interest in one's land. Part III discusses and explores recent cases furthering, stretching, and defining the legal issues. Finally, Part IV looks to the future implications and the horizon for wind energy in terms of its impacts on the surrounding world and how those impacts might shape the legal policies governing and defining wind rights. If wind energy is going to continue to grow, the interplay of incentive programs, tax credits, local government and community support, technological feasibility, and general unity in the law will need to interact on similar bases.
I find this article particulary interesting because the UGA Land Use Clinic recently worked with the Georgia Wind Working Group and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to create a guidebook and model wind ordinance for local governments wishing to faciliate, rather than ban, small scale wind facilities. Perhaps it's a matter of scope and scale - large scale wind facilities aren't particularly feasible in Georgia, and so we haven't had as much controversy over wind as other states.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Monday, September 5, 2011
Happy Labor Day! This morning I was perusing the Athens paper and happened upon this article about local parkour enthusiasts. The folks at parkour.com define it as "‘Efficient movement from A to B’ (i.e. anything you would do if you were running for your life)," and it involves jumping on and over buildings, stairwells, trees, and anything that comes in your way. I'm always looking for ways to get my students out of the office and seeing how land use really happens out in the world. Maybe I should encourage them to get into parkour, for an up-close-and-personal perspective.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
An interesting article on the New Urbanist Network about how the Postal Service plans to close 3,600 rural post offices.
For many communities, the closings may reduce activity in town or village centers. Even with diminishing mail volume, there are still many people who cross paths at the post office. The drawing power of post offices was recognized early by new urbanist developers such as Robert Davis in Seaside, Florida, and Buff Chace and Douglas Storrs in Mashpee, Massachusetts.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, July 10, 2011
From The New York Times, an article about the struggles local governments face in keeping their public pools open:
There are few things in life more doleful than a child looking at a closed pool on a steamy summer day, and yet that sad scene has become as common as sunburns and mosquito bites as struggling local governments make the painful choice to shut their pools to save the budget. The list of locales where public pools have been in jeopardy in recent years includes some of the sweatiest spots in the nation, including Central Florida (90s and humid on the Fourth), Atlanta (90), and Houston (97)...
The question of where pools are closed often raises issues of class and race. In the case of Houston, one of the pools closed in June was in Independence Heights, a historically black neighborhood where the median household income in 2009 was about $27,000, according to city statistics.
The city councilman for the area, Ed Gonzalez, said the loss of a pool there would sting worse than in more well-to-do neighborhoods. “There are no other true community assets out there,” he said. “Your neighborhood park and your pools are the only real amenities that some of these communities have.”
Mr. Gonzalez, a former police officer, said it was not just a matter of letting people beat the heat. The lack of a local pool, he said, could have an impact on public safety. “If kids do not have a productive thing to do, like swimming or community centers to go to,” he said, “it’s more idle time they have on their hands.”
Here in Athens the Leisure Services department seems to be doing a good job keeping the pools open, but we went without a public fireworks show this year due to lack of sponsorship. While these types of amenities are hard for local governments to support in tough economic times, they are also key to a community's quality of life. It will be interesting to see how deep communities will dig to maintain the rituals of summer in these difficult days.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Saturday, July 9, 2011
I've blogged previously here and here about efforts to rebuild Athens' historic Georgia Theater after a devastating fire in 2009. It's been a long, tough road for the building's owner, and I'm sure he felt there were times when the reopening just wasn't meant to be. So, in grand Athens fashion, there will be a big, weeks long party to celebrate, starting August 1. They have a fantastic lineup of local and national favorites such as The Glands, Kenosha Kid, and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.
The UGA student paper The Red & Black has a nice article about the rebuilding and refitting of the interior. The Theater is beloved by music and architecture fans alike. It's wonderful to see it taking on a new life.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, July 8, 2011
I've only blogged a very little bit about the on-going water conflict between Alabama, Georgia and Florida, but it's a very big deal around here. A recent 11th Circuit decision is worth noting. From an Atlanta Journal Constitution story:
The court threw out a 2009 ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, who had found it was illegal for the Corps of Engineers to draw water from Lake Lanier to meet the needs of 3 million metro residents. In its decision Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that one of the purposes of the man-made reservoir about 45 miles upstream of Atlanta was to supply water to the metro region.
Alabama will appeal the ruling to the full Circuit Court.
Magnuson had also set a doomsday clock ticking for Georgia, Alabama and Florida to arrive at a water-sharing agreement. If the states could not reach a settlement by July 2012, Magnuson said, metro Atlanta would only be allowed to take the same amount of water it received in the mid-1970s -- when the population was less than one-third its current size.
That deadline is no longer in effect.
Instead, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a new deadline. It gave the corps one year to make a final determination over water allocation from Lake Lanier. And the court reminded the corps that the water litigation has already been going on for more than two decades...
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said Magnuson's order posed a serious threat to metro Atlanta's water supply and noted the judge himself said his ruling could lead to a "draconian" result if the July 2012 deadline were not met.
"Had his ruling gone into effect in July 2012, the water supplies that millions of people depend on would have been cut off," Leithead said. "As a result of today’s action by the 11th Circuit, now that won’t happen."
Demming Bass, chief operating officer of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling takes uncertainty off the table in terms of recruiting businesses to locate to metro Atlanta.
"The good news is that because of Judge Magnuson's decision, it forced Georgia and Atlanta to come together and look at worst-case scenarios," Bass said. "It made us pass some great legislation that's going to help us conserve water and get plans in place to look at additional reservoirs, which is something we're going to need anyway."
If you're interested in reading the judge's 95 page ruling, it's available here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
If you haven't already used up your June allotment of free articles on The New York Times website, you might find this article interesting. It's entitled "For New Life, Blacks in City Head South." An excerpt:
Life has gone full circle,” said Ms. Wilkins, whose grandmother was born amid the cotton fields of North Carolina and moved to Queens in the 1950s.
“My grandmother’s generation left the South and came to the North to escape segregation and racism,” she said. “Now, I am going back because New York has become like the old South in its racial attitudes.”
Many black New Yorkers who are already in the South say they have little desire to return to the city, even though they get wistful at the mention of the subways or Harlem nights.
Danitta Ross, 39, a real estate broker who used to live in Queens, said she moved to Atlanta four years ago after her company, responding to the surge in black New Yorkers moving south, began offering relocation seminars. She helped organize them, and became intrigued.
Ms. Ross said she had grown up hearing stories at the dinner table about segregation. She said the Atlanta she discovered was a cosmopolitan place of classical music concerts, interracial marriage and opulent houses owned by black people.
A single mother, she said that for $150,000, she was buying a seven-room house, with a three-car garage, on a nice plot of land.
Ms. Ross said she had experienced some culture shock in the South, and had been surprised to find that blacks tended to self-segregate, even in affluent neighborhoods.
She said that the South — not New York — was now home.
“People in Georgia have a different mind-set and life is more relaxed and comfortable here,” she said. “There is just a lot more opportunity.”
I'm a bit suprised by this trend, given that unemployment in Georgia, particuarly among blacks, remains very high. But, cost of living and pace of life do account for a great deal. Still, it's a interesting reversal of a very long trend of northern migration.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
In my on-going quest to post items that marry my interests in land use and immigration law, I present an NPR story that aired yesterday about efforts by a group in Pima County, Arizona to break away over Arizona's draconian (and possibly federally preempted) effort to regulate illegal immigration.
(In the interest of full disclosure, I also note that Georgia's legislature has passed a similar bill.)
It doesn't sound much like the effort to create Baja Arizona will come to fruition, but it's an interesting piece of political protest. We'll see what comes next.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Somewhat ironically I I was driving home, alone, from Atlanta on Sunday night when I heard an episode of Passengers. This is a short series of public radio documentaries about public transportation. Apparently I heard part three; among other topics, it touts Google Transit. This is a handy service that allows one to plan public transit trips - only not in Athens, as neither "The Bus," nor UGA Campus Transit are participating agencies. This is somewhat surprising, as the UGA bus system has one of the largest riderships in Georgia, second only to Atlanta's MARTA. (MARTA does participate in Google Transit - it seems to be the only agency in Georgia that does so.)
At any rate, Passengers seems to be a great series on the basic concepts and current debate about public transit and transportation planning in the US. You might find it to be a helpful teaching tool.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I've previously blogged about litigation in Georgia against new coal-fired power plants. Today I received news from my friends at GreenLaw, the Atlanta-based public interest law firm handling this cases. Their media release:
Court Rules Against LS Power's Longleaf Coal-fired Power Plant
The Earth received a present, just in time for Earth Day. A Georgia administrative law court handed a victory to opponents of a proposed 1200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Blakely, Georgia. According to the ruling issued on April 19, the state permit did not sufficiently limit harmful air pollution that will be emitted by the plant.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) must now reconsider its permit after the court found flaws in provisions for measuring toxic air pollutants.
EPD’s permit was to allow New Jersey-based LS Power to build the largest coal plant in the nation to be classified as a “minor” source of pollution--a strategy that would circumvent the stricter pollution controls required for a “major” source of pollution under the law.
The court found that the permit’s monitoring and reporting scheme could “miss” many tons of toxic air emissions each year, including emissions of known carcinogens like formaldehyde. The court also found that the permit did not account for toxic air emissions from the entire facility.
GreenLaw represented two citizen groups, Friends of the Chattahoochee (FOC) and the Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, in their challenge to the EPD decision to approve construction of the largest new coal-fired power plant in Georgia in over 25 years.
“We are pleased that we were able to make progress on this complex case, which arbitrarily classifies a massive plant as a minor rather than major source of air pollution,” stated GreenLaw Executive Director Justine Thompson.”
Longleaf is designed to be a 1200 megawatt (MW) plant that would emit millions of tons of pollutants each year in Early County along the Chattahoochee River. LS Power can sell the power to buyers anywhere in the U.S. without being subject to any regulation by Georgia’s Public Service Commission.
Recently, plans to construct coal plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Louisiana have all been canceled. Other states are showing rising concern about the financial risks, high water consumption, and air pollution caused by coal plants. Georgia already has 10 coal-fired power plants, leading to public health costs of over six billion dollars each year from health problems such as respiratory illness and premature deaths attributed to the pollution emitted by these coal plants.
Congratulations to GreenLaw attorneys Kurt Ebersbach and George Hays, who labored valiently to win this case. A copy of the court's decision can be found here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
My friends at the Madison-Morgan [Georgia] Conservancy have just published and posted the Farmeander Map. This is a cool driving tour tool for visiting agritourism sites (including organic farms, berry and flower farms, and natural meat operations) in Morgan County, along with fun places to stay and a schedule of festivals throughout the year.
For many smaller agriculture operations in Georgia, agritourism is critical for economic viability. It also helps we city-dwellers create and maintain relationships with the folks who produce our food. While "Fameander" is a new (and trademarked) term, there are many agritourism programs around the country, including "Farmer for a Day." So, wherever you are, consider "farmeandering" around to find out what's what with your local food supply.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, March 10, 2011
As someone who lives just a couple hours from Atlanta and frequently visits the city, I pay close attention to many of its signature projects, including Atlantic Station.
Recently, the massive former brownfield site was sold and the new owners are looking to give the fascinating project a more local feel:
AIG Global Real Estate Investment Corp., which backed Jacoby Development’s creation, hit hard times in the financial crises and had to sell its holdings in the project. CB Richard Ellis late last year bought AIG’s interests — the retail portion, an office tower and the remaining vacant land — for about $173 million, according to DataBank Atlanta, as well as the two distressed apartment buildings.
As the fixer, Toro has arrived at a crucial time. The retail portion of the project opened to much hoopla in 2005, but only had a couple of years of economic fair weather before the recession set in.
Toro plans to fine-tune the tenants by adding locally owned shops and restaurants, as well as fix major issues faced by residents and workers. With CBRE involved, Toro says he can spend the millions of dollars it could take to reinvent Atlantic Station.
Read the entire article, here.
This trend is likely to continue as high gas prices and the inability to sell houses (and thus relocate jobs) "re-localizes" our cities even more.
Monday, February 28, 2011
It's not getting much play in the media, but there is legislation moving through the Georgia legislature that would make local comprehensive planning and solid waste planning optional. Currently both are mandated by state law. Well, actually, comprehensive planning isn't mandated, exactly, but local governments must have comprehensive plans to quality for various kinds of funding, including state-administered community development block grants. (See the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website for more information about comprehensive planning requirements.) The Association [of] County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association both support the bill. Interesting, the Gwinnett Council for Quality Growth has expressed concern. The Council, which started out as a developers' organization, is apparently now largely populated by consultants and professional planners who make their living writing comprehensive plans (among other things). It will be interesting to see how this plays out, particularly given the precarious financial position of local governments.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Vice President Biden made an announcement Tuesday that's grabbing headlines - $53 billion in the Administration's proposed budget for high speed rail. From an article on CNN.com:
The proposed new investment -- including $8 billion in the upcoming fiscal year -- would accompany a streamlined application process for cities, states, and private companies seeking federal grants and loans to develop railway capacity.
"There are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation -- one of which is infrastructure," Biden said in a written statement. There is a pressing need "to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced."
It might be, though, that none of that money ends up in Georgia. Georgia has a history of being hostile or apathetic to proposals for high speed rail, something that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made a point of when he visited the state last year.
I think it's a shame Georgia's leadership isn't more progressive about rail. I loved the ease and convenience of riding the train to Philly when I lived in DC (much better than being grounded on a plane by thunderstorms in the summer, or driving the insanity that is I-95 in the Northeast corridor). Rail between Athens and Atlanta, and Atlanta and Chattanooga, make a ton of sense. But then, nobody's really asking me...
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, February 4, 2011
Today I am in my hometown of Albany NY, trudging through waist-high ramparts of plowed snow. Much of the US has suffered tremendous snowfalls/blizzards in the past week. Back in my current home of Houston, TX, my family and students are having a "snow day" because they anticipate maybe getting some white stuff. Since the typical transplanted-yankee reaction is to scoff at the inability of southern cities to deal with snowy weather, I think it's worth editing and reprising this post from last year, where I defend the local government choice to take the occasional shutdown over the necessary land use investment for snow removal:
Snow Day in Texas
Hard to believe, but it might snow today in Houston. Such weather is pretty rare in Houston. My law school has closed for the day in mere anticipation of snow.
I grew up in upstate New York [where I am today, in Albany], where the average January temperature is 22 F (compared to Houston's 55 F); average winter snowfall was 64" (compared to Houston's < 0.05"). Tennessee, where I lived for about eight years as an adult, is just far enough north to get some decent snowstorms each winter, but overall it has a much warmer, and shorter, winter. Yet it seemed that in Tennessee the authorities were constantly cancelling school and shutting the city down. Often the schools had to extend their year to make up for all of the snow days. In New York we hardly ever lost a day of school due to snow; perhaps 0-2 per year. Even a 12-inch snowfall was not a problem, while in Tennessee they would preemptively close for a forecast of snow.
Fellow northern transplants and I would snicker at all this. You call this a snowstorm? I chalked up the different approaches to the hardiness of our yankee constitutions. But eventually I think I figured out what might be the biggest factor in the different regional reactions, and it's a land use & local government issue. Albany County's snow removal budget for supplies alone (salt, fuel) is $1,217,500. This doesn't include the operating costs for personnel, nor the capital outlays for the equipment; a new snow plow can cost a city around $200,000. Chicago's total snow removal budget is $17 million.
So while these types of expenditures are necessary in northern cities, it wouldn't make sense in warmer climes to purchase and maintain the equipment, supplies, and personnel necessary for snow removal capability. In Houston a freak storm like today's doesn't happen often enough to remotely justify the expense. It becomes a more difficult question for places in the latitudinal middle, like Tennessee and Kentucky. One could measure the economic impact of lost school and work days and business in the area, and compare it to the costs of snow removal. But even that would still need to make some predictive assumptions based on variance from year to year. (Besides, why invest in a snow plow when Georgia will soon be underwater due to global warming?)
Assuming rational actors, one would think we could draw lines between the places where it is more efficient as a matter of municipal policy to do snow removal, and those where it is more efficient to simply ride out the storms as they come. Obviously there are a lot of other factors for planners in making this decision, including geography, the urban/suburban/rural character of the place, and other unique factors. Plus there are the politics of snow removal (a blizzard is said to have altered the outcome of Chicago's mayoral primary in 1979).
But obviously it would never make sense on the Gulf Coast, so we'll just hunker down as we watch the freak snowfall today (my three-year-old [now four, and still talking about last year's snow] has no idea what this stuff is). But don't feel bad for me-- it will be back up to 74 F by Tuesday.
So take that, yankees. As Jessica points out, in Buffalo they make the social land use adjustments that are necessary, but they take a rational approach in Houston too. I might reconsider this stance tonight after I freeze off my fourth point of contact.
UPDATE: No snow in Houston, but everything's frozen. Contrast the icy fountain in front of my Houston apartment with the snowdrifts piled high in front of my childhood home in NY. Yet the local government responses are as different as the respective amounts of frozen H2O.
Monday, January 31, 2011
From time to time on this blog we've written about local agriculture, including a post I wrote about a controversy in Fall 2009 where the Georgia agriculture department seized a large shipment of raw millk from a local purveyor.
Today's Athens Banner-Herald has an article about a local farm producing small batches of low temperature pastuerized milk. To me this is a nice compromise - locally produced milk that is pathogen free and tasty. Unfortunately, in my experience it doesn't seem to last as long as milk that's been pastuerized at high or ultra high temperatures, so the hubby and I sometimes have difficulty finishing a half gallon (the smallest size available) before it goes bad. (Obviously we don't drink much milk - we use it more for tea and cereal) However, it's super popular locally and it often sells out at our daily co-op.
Another interesting aspect of the article is the farmer discussing how much agriculture officials struggled to understand that his process is perfectly legal. It seems like there's an initial reaction against milk processing that isn't being done in the predictable way, by large dairies. I guess it's another version of small businesses being tripped up by red tape. It's great the farmer was able to get this worked out, because my guess is that local ag is a small but growing part of Georgia's very significant agricultural economy. (And with home building at a stand still, we need all the economic growth we can get!)
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Antonia Layard recently posted about new planning restrictions in the UK limiting the number of unrelated people occupying a house. These restrictions are not uncommon in the US, particularly in college towns. For example, Northwestern University students are in an uproar because the town of Evanston has decided to start enforcing an old ordinance, quaintly called the "brothel rule," forbidding more than three unrelated people living together.
Athens has an even stricter requirement that no more than two unrelated people can live together. However, in my experience this rule is rarely enforced. I have no issue with most of the student households in our neighborhood, but occasionally we get a group of three (usually very young) folks living in the house next door and engaging in loud partying and/or having incessantly barking dogs. I've had much more luck working directly with the tenants and the landlord, though, than I have getting Code Enforcement to come out and investigate.
Another current area of conflict in Athens is the placement of a fraternity in a historic neighborhood of Athens that is already home to several fraternities and sororities, but also to many families and working adults. This is one of the many, tricky balancing questions in land use law. How do we accomodate young folks who are still forming as individuals and learning what it means to be part of a community, without burdening the neighbors who need their beauty sleep and grow tired of noise and garbage?
Jamie Baker Roskie
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