Monday, March 5, 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.

Matt Festa

March 5, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, History, Judicial Review, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Salkin on Callies on Regulation in Hawai'i

Patricia Salkin (Albany) has posted a review essay called David L. Callies, Regulating Paradise: Land Use Controls in Hawai’i (2d Ed. 2010) (Book Review), published in The Urban Lawyer, Vol. 43, No. 4, p. 1107, 2011. The abstract:

In 1984, Professor David Callies wrote Regulating Paradise to describe the regulatory scheme in Hawai’i. In 2010, he followed up that book with Regulating Paradise: Land Use Controls in Hawai’i to reexamine the issues as they have developed over the last 25-plus years: housing affordability, the subjects of development agreements, condemnation, defining open space and agricultural lands, takings, cultural sensitivity, environmental assessment, the prevalence of covenanted communities, and redevelopment.

This essay is a review of Professor Callies work which is a must read for anyone involved in land use in Hawaii. What emerges from his work are lingering questions about whether the regulatory scheme has over protected paradise.

Matt Festa

February 29, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Agriculture, Beaches, Coastal Regulation, Environmental Law, History, Homeowners Associations, Property, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Happy Leap Day

Hey everyone, it's February 29th, and that doesn't happen every year.  So Happy Leap Day! 

Some of you who follow the blog might recall that we like to do a holiday post now and then about the land use angles of the tradition-- like on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Columbus Day, St. Patrick's Day, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Day, and even Groundhog Day.  Today is the first chance I've had since relaunching the blog in 2009 to consider Leap Day, so it's time to add Feb. 29 to the list.  I must admit, however, that coming up with a land use angle for Feb. 29 looked like a bit of a challenge.  But I take pride in my skill at the game my students call "What Can't Festa Turn into a Land Use Story," so here goes:

First, it's an Irish tradition (supposedly), going back to the times of St. Patrick and St. Bridget, that on the quadrennial occurrence of Leap Day, the women get to make marriage proposals to the men (the legend is probably the progenitor of Sadie Hawkins Day).  In a traditional feudal society with a land-based economy and social structure, with primogeniture and entailments controlling the land, this social inversion could have a significant effect on how feudal power and family wealth get organized.  If it ever actually happened, that is . . . I'm skeptical, but the legend seems to have enough purchase to back the 2010 Amy Adams movie Leap Year

A second land use tie-in is related to the appellation "Leap" Day/Year.  LEAP is also an acronym that stands for "Land-use Effects on Amphibian Populations."  It's a multi-regional collaboration sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  Academic research programs were established at Missouri, Maine, and South Carolina.  And lest you think that I'm stretching here, many organizations today are using the occasion of Leap Day to celebrate Amphibians.  Amphibian Ark has rolled out an international campaign for Leap Day:

To coincide with Leap Day (February 29th) 2012, Amphibian Ark is launching a new international event, Leaping Ahead of Extinction: A celebration of good news for amphibians in 2012.

The event’s been timed to coincide with Leap Day (29th February) 2012, and will promote the great successes in the conservation of amphibians in captivity and in the wild. The focus will be on institutions that are managing amphibian rescue or supplementation programs, recommended either during an AArk conservation needs assessment, or by national governments or field experts.

Many zoos, wildlife and conservation organizations, and even Disney are also getting into the spirit with Leap Day events for amphibians.  Hopefully they won't get too jumpy in Calaveras County.

Once again, a special day with a land use angle!  Kind wishes to our amphibian friends, especially if a princess proposes to one.

Matt Festa

UPDATE: The "Leap Day" observance is broader than I had thought, and implicitly with the amphibian connection too-- I'm getting emails imploring me to take advantage of the Leap Day discounts from the excellent LeapFrog brand of learning toys that my son enjoys.  You know you've arrived as an American holiday when businessess try to commemorate it by selling stuff.  Like the old "life, liberty, and no money down!" type of sales promotions. 

UPDATE 2: For yet another land use angle, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood tells us that we should "Leap Into Safety" today by investigating our states' pipeline profiles. 

February 29, 2012 in Environmentalism, History, Humorous, Property, Sustainability, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Supreme Court opinion on PPL Montana

The U.S. Supreme Court published its decision in PPL Montana, LLC, v. Montana.  The opinion is here

A unanimous Court (Kennedy, J.) reversed the Montana Supreme Court's holding that the State of Montana owns and may charge for the use of the riverbeds at issue. 

Prof. Tim Mulvaney had an insightful analysis of the cert grant for us in a guest-post last year.  We previewed the oral argument here.  SCOTUSblog has, as always, a great roundup of early analysis and links. 

I look forward to hearing more discussion of this important land use case in the near future.

Matt Festa

February 23, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, History, Property Rights, Supreme Court, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Walter Russell Mead on the Crisis of the American Dream

Walter Russell Mead (Bard College) has posted a fascinating essay at The American Interest called Beyond Blue Part One: The Crisis of the American Dream.  An excerpt:

I’ve written in earlier posts about the shift from the first American Dream to the second: from the family farm to the suburban “homestead.” It was a profound change in American life and culture that has not yet been fully explored.  The family farm integrated production and consumption, work and leisure, family and business.  The family wasn’t just a union of sentiment: it was an element of production.  Mom and Dad worked as a team to feed, house and clothe the family, and as the kids grew up they took on greater and greater responsibilities in the common effort.  Their lives at home prepared them for the new lives they would lead on their own: the kids would grow up, marry, and start farms.

The 20th century suburban homestead was a very different place. 

This is almost exactly the theme of an article I am writing, so naturally I find it interesting!  Mead's essay ranges well beyond land use, but his grounding of the "American Dream" in patterns of living and social organization speaks to how incredibly relevant land use models are to the compelling issues facing American society in the 21st Century.

Matt Festa

January 30, 2012 in Agriculture, History, Mortgage Crisis, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Charles M. Haar, RIP

HaarFrom Michael Allan Wolf comes the sad news that Charles M. Haar has passed away.  Haar, the Louis D. Brandeis Professor Emeritus at Harvard Law School, was one of the true giants of legal scholarship and teaching in the fields of land use and local government.  From the Harvard tribute:

Professor Emeritus Charles M. Haar ‘48, a pioneer in land-use law whose scholarship focused on laws and institutions of city planning, urban development and environmental issues, died on January 10, 2012. He was 91.

During his more than five-decade career, Haar influenced urban policy and planning throughout the country, drafted key legislation for inner city revitalization, developed influential legal theories to support equality of services for urban dwellers and access to suburbs, helped pioneer the modern environmental movement, and mentored a generation of scholars and activists.

“Charles Haar was a genuine pioneer who created new ways of making scholarship relevant to the improvement of the human condition through the improvement of the environment,” observed Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. “He was a visionary leader in the field of land use law and urban planning with a focus on improving the lives of all Americans, regardless of race or economic status. His legacy includes major tenets of the modern-day environmental movement and the way we teach and study environmental law. It also includes the generations of students to whom he was a mentor and friend, and the contributions they made after learning from him. He will be deeply missed.”

Please read the whole thing for a full appreciation of Professor Haar's amazing contributions to teaching, scholarship, and service.  He served the legal profession and the nation in numerous ways, from his WWII military service, to extensive participation in professional organizations, to service to presidential administrations and legislation-drafting.  His scholarship has been incredibly influential.  I am currently in the middle of reading his 1990 book Zoning and the American Dream: Promises Still to Keep (with Jerold S. Kayden) which is just one of his many important books, casebooks, and treatises.  Testimony from his students and colleagues, such as Prof. Wolf, speaks to his deep humanity and profound influence as a teacher and mentor.

We are all in a great debt to Charles M. Haar as one of the pioneers of land use law in scholarship and practice.  Professor Haar was instrumental in creating the field that we now know as land use law.  "Land Use" has strong doctrinal and practical ties to property law, state & local government law, environmental law, and other fields; but it has only been because of the work of Professor Haar and his colleagues and students that Land Use Law has been recognized as its own separate field of study and practice in law, and as an important part of our society.  May we all be inspired to serve by the example of Charles M. Haar.

Matt Festa

January 17, 2012 in History, Planning, Politics, Property, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Martin Luther King, Civil Rights, and Housing

Hope everyone had a good Martin Luther King Day yesterday.  An important part of Dr. King's legacy is his involement in advocating against de facto residential segregation and for fair and affordable housing as part of a broader conception of civil rights.  On this issue, King did more than make speeches-- he actually moved his family's home.  From the Chicago Encyclopedia:

King relied on his lieutenant James Bevel to energize the first phases of the campaign, but in January 1966 he captured national headlines when he moved his family into a dingy apartment in the West Side ghetto. It was not until June that King and his advisors, under pressure to produce results, settled on a focus for the Chicago movement. King himself participated in two dramatic marches into all-white neighborhoods during a two-month open-housing campaign during the summer of 1966. These fair-housing protests brought real estate, political, business, and religious leaders to the conference table for “summit” negotiations.

And the Chicago Tribune:

The marches led to an accord that year between the protesters and the Chicago Real Estate Board. The board agreed to end its opposition to open-housing laws in exchange for an end to the demonstrations. Before he left town, King said it was "a first step in a 1,000-mile journey."

A journey that still continues.

UPDATE: Steve Clowney at Property Prof links to an opinion piece on Dr. King's legacy and fair housing in New Jersey today.

Matt Festa

January 17, 2012 in Affordable Housing, Chicago, History, Housing, Politics, Property Rights, Race | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, December 30, 2011

Wolf on the Supreme Court and the Environment

51hoJRabZCL._SL500_AA300_Michael Allan Wolf (Florida) has a new book out called The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press, 2012).  Here's the Amazon blurb:

Silent Spring (1962) can arguable be cited as one of the most influential books of the modern era. This book, along with 1960's rampant activism reacting to high-profile ecological calamities, helped create the modern environmental movement. The Supreme Court and the Environment, written by Michael Wolf, discusses one of this movement's most important legacies, namely the body of federal statutory law amassed to fight pollution and conserve natural resources that began with the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Instead of taking the more traditional route of listing court decisions, The Supreme Court and the Environment puts the actual cases in a subsidiary position, as part of a larger set of documents paired with incisive introductions that illustrate the fascinating and sometimes surprising give-and-take with Congress, federal administrative agencies, state and local governments, environmental organizations and private companies and industry trade groups that have helped define modern environmental policy.

And for a preview, Prof. Wolf has posted the introduction on SSRN.  The abstract:

This document contains the Introduction and Contents for The Supreme Court and the Environment: The Reluctant Protector (CQ Press/Sage 2012). When one views the body of modern environmental law — the decisions and the other key documents — the picture that emerges is not one of Supreme Court dominance. In this legal drama, the justices have most often played supporting roles. While we can find the occasional, memorable soliloquy in a Supreme Court majority, concurring, or dissenting opinion, the leading men and women are more likely found in Congress, administrative agencies, state and local legislatures, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and state and lower federal courts.

What one learns from studying the Supreme Court’s environmental law output is that the justices for the most part seem more concerned about more general issues of deference to administrative agencies, the rules of statutory interpretation, the role of legislative history, the requisites for standing, and the nature of the Takings Clause than the narrow issues of entitlement to a clean environment, the notion of an environmental ethic that underlies written statutes and regulations, and concerns about ecological diversity and other environmental values. When we widen the lens, however, and focus on the other documents that make up essential parts of the story of the Supreme Court and the environment — complaints by litigants, briefs by parties and by friends of the court, oral argument transcripts, the occasional stirring dissent, lower court decisions, presidential signing statements and press conference transcripts, media reports and editorials, and legislative responses to high court decisions — we discover what is often missing in the body of Supreme Court decisions.

 Looks fascinating, and is a very original take that situates the cases themselves within a broader context of Supreme Court jurisprudence and goes beyond to the larger networks of actors that shape law.

Matt Festa

December 30, 2011 in Books, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Supreme Court, Takings, Wetlands | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Davidson on a Hamiltonian Vernacular as a Social Function of Property

Nestor M. Davidson (Fordham) has posted Sketches for a Hamiltonian Vernacular as a Social Function of Property, Fordham Law Review, Vol. 80 (2011).  The abstract:

This symposium article examines the intersection between Léon Duguit’s concept of the social function of property, predicated on an affirmative duty on owners to put their property to productive use for the sake of social solidarity, and a tradition in the property law of the United States that similarly reflected this kind of pro-development norm. The article associates the impulse to associate ownership with a productivity oriented social function with certain Hamiltonian themes at the founding and in the early nineteenth-century salus populi tradition, and argues that the imperative remains a background norm in the United States that contrasts with classical liberal absolutism and certain strains of civic republican property norms.

Absolutely fascinating-- an original insight that makes an important contribution to our understanding of early republic property theory and its implications for property law today.

Matt Festa

December 20, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, History, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Senik on Direct Dysfunctionality (initiative & recall)

Last month I posted a rant on Election Day and State Constitutions based on the referendum for new Texas constitutional amendments; Ken Stahl posted a thoughtful response with a qualified defense of direct democracy in ballot-box zoning, which set forth some thoughts that he more fully elaborates in his excellent article The Artifice of Local Growth Politics: At-Large Elections, Ballot-Box Zoning, and Judicial Review

My complaints--prompted by my frustration with a slate of ten poorly-articulated and confusing process amendments for which the State Legislature required a nominal thumbs-up from the people-- were more focused on (1) statewide (more than with local) lawmaking through referenda; and (2) the over-constitutionalization of public policy in fundamental state law.  Troy Senik has written an article for City Journal that articulates some of the points of this (hardly original) critique: Direct Dysfunctionality: California celebrates 100 years of the initiative, referendum, and recall

Golden State voters can approve or reject public-policy changes at the ballot box through the use of the initiative and referendum. They can also remove unpopular elected officials with the less frequently employed recall, made famous when it chased out Governor Gray Davis in 2003. While nearly half of U.S. states have an initiative process of some kind, nowhere is it as central to the political process as in California, where, in 2010 alone, 14 issues appeared on the ballot. As a result, voters constitute a de facto fourth branch of government. . . .

These measures were introduced in the salad days of the early Progressive movement, when California Governor Hiram Johnson (who would eventually serve as Theodore Roosevelt’s running mate on the Bull Moose presidential ticket of 1912) pressed for their implementation as a firewall against political domination by special interests—particularly those of the well-heeled railroads. . . .

But statewide direct constitution-making has its problems:

Expediting policy shifts, however, is a relatively modest benefit in exchange for the dramatic cost of the initiative process: inducing widespread public-sector sclerosis. Rather than simply providing an outlet for popular grievances, direct democracy actually annexes huge swaths of policymaking from the legislature. When voters mandate a policy directive from the ballot box, the legislature has no way to override the decision, even by supermajority. As a result, any issue that voters weigh in on directly becomes their exclusive purview in perpetuity—amendable or repealable only by another popular vote. This also has the ironic effect of slowing down the democratic process that the initiative system is supposed to make more responsive, ensuring that policy shifts can only come on election days spread years apart. And many of the ballot measures take the form of constitutional amendments, a trend that has given California the unenviable distinction of having the third-longest constitution in the world, after India and (believe it or not) Alabama. Because altering the state’s foundational political charter only requires a simple majority, California ends up inhabiting a bizarro world where it’s relatively easy to amend the constitution but can be nearly impossible to alter basic public policy.

So as with any political process tool, it's a mixed bag with some good things that can be contorted into bad results; my tentative thesis is that direct democracy is less effective the broader the polity (i.e. state vs. local) that engages in it.  I know, James Madison and others had something to say about this too. 

Soon I'll blog about an interesting local-government direct democracy land use requirement that is a little different from the ones that Ken has written about. 

Matt Festa

December 8, 2011 in California, Constitutional Law, History, Local Government, Politics, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reiss on Glaeser on the City

David Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted a review of Harvard economist and urban theorist Edward Glaeser's new book. Book Review: Edward L. Glaeser, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier (The Penguin Press 2011), forthcoming in Environment and Planning (2012).  The abstract:

It is always a bit unnerving to read someone else’s love letters, but even more so, when you have the same object of desire. Edward Glaeser’s TRIUMPH OF THE CITY is a love letter to cities and to New York City in particular. Glaeser provides a theoertical framework of the city, arguing that “Cities are the absence of physical space between people and companies. They are proximity, density, closeness.”

Glaeser prescribes three simple rules to protect the vitality of the urban environment: First, cities should replace the current lengthy and uncertain permitting process with a simple system of fees. Second, historic preservation should be limited and well defined. Finally, individual neighborhoods should have some clearly delineated power to protect their special character.

While Glaeser does not fully justify his set of rules, he does provide a thought-provoking discussion of the consequences of not following them. If you were to take nothing else from TRIUMPH OF THE CITY, you should attend to its cri de coeur: “the real city is made of flesh, not concrete.” But, notwithstanding its limitations, the book offers much, much more than that. It challenges broadly held beliefs and presents a theory of the city that helps to evaluate urban policy proposals with a clear eye.

Matt Festa

December 6, 2011 in Density, Historic Preservation, History, Housing, Local Government, New York, Planning, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Upcoming Oral Argument in PPL Montana, Inc. v. Montana

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear one of the only cases that touches on property rights scheduled for this Term, PPL Montana, Inc., v. Montana.  Professor Thomas Merrill has posted an excellent preview of the case on SCOTUS blog:

On December 7, the Court will hear argument in PPL Montana, LLC v. Montana. The case is one for history buffs. The question is whether the state of Montana holds title to portions of three riverbeds in the state. The parties agree that the relevant legal test is historical: were the river segments in question part of a waterway that was “navigable in fact” when Montana became a state in 1889? Prominent among the many bits of historical evidence cited are the journals of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who explored the rivers in 1805 on their famous expedition.

That's enough to get me excited (seriously).  Go read the rest of Prof. Merrill's informative analysis.  (h/t to our friends at Property Prof Blog for the link).

And don't forget that we had our own pre-preview here at the Land Use Prof Blog, back on the day after the Court granted cert. From guest-blogger Tim Mulvaney's take on SCOTUS cert grant for PPL Montana v. Montana:

In finding that all three rivers at issue met this “navigability for title” test when Montana entered statehood in 1889, the Montana Supreme Court cited to a litany of historical evidence, including the centuries-old journals of Lewis and Clark.  As today’s brief AP story notes, PPL Montana disagreed, pointing “to accounts of the [Lewis and Clark] expedition’s arduous portages of canoes and supplies around waterfalls to argue that the contested stretches of water were not navigable.”  The Montana Supreme Court’s opinion also drew PPL Montana’s ire by considering what the company alleges are flawed contemporary studies, as well as recent recreational uses of certain stretches of the rivers, to support the finding that the rivers are held in total by the state in trust for present and future generations.

One of the foremost experts in natural resources and water law, Professor Rick Frank, notes on Legal Planet that the U.S. Supreme Court has not addressed navigability in the context of state public trust claims for several decades.  How the Supreme Court interprets its time-honored test and identifies what evidence is relevant in its application could have major ramifications for thousands of miles of inland lakes and waterways nationwide.

Should be very interesting.  Stay tuned.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, History, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Transportation, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Morgan Stanley says US moving toward "Rentership Society"

I came across a link to this Bloomberg report in reading for my previous post on the Leinberger-Kotkin debate.  The article is a few months old, but I still think it's highly relevant: U.S. Moves Toward Home 'Rentership Society,' Morgan Stanley Says, discussing a report on housing.

The U.S. homeownership rate has fallen below 60 percent when delinquent borrowers are excluded, a sign of the country’s move toward a “rentership society,”Morgan Stanley said in a report today. . . .

The homeownership rate reached an all-time high of 69.2 percent in 2004 as relaxed lending standards fueled home sales and President George W. Bush promoted an “ownership society.” Mortgage delinquencies, foreclosures and tighter credit for housing loans are reducing property buying, [Morgan Stanley analysi Oliver] Chang said.

“Taken together they are forcibly moving the country away from being an ownership society,” Chang, based in San Francisco, said in an e-mail. “This change is only beginning, and is moving the country towards becoming a rentership society.”

A real estate professional demurs, but look at the reason why:

Most Americans still aspire to own their houses and don’t want to be renters forever, said Rick Davidson, president and chief executive officer of Century 21 Real Estate LLC in Parsippany, New Jersey.

“It isn’t about the financial aspects, but about building a family and having a part of the American dream,” Davidson, whose company is a unit of Realogy Corp., said today during an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in New York. “What really drives purchases at the end of the day is emotional and has to do with lifestyle.”

We're still conditioned to think of homeownership as the sine qua non of the American Dream--but it's not necessarily in our financial or economic interest; it's emotional and about lifestyle.  But is there an adequate range of opportunities presented for Americans to choose (emotionally?) between different forms of lifestyle?  I believe that at their base, issues of housing, community, and urban form are primarily cultural.

Matt Festa

December 5, 2011 in Financial Crisis, History, Housing, Landlord-Tenant, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving & Black Friday

I hope all of our U.S. readers had a Happy Thanksgiving yesterday.  As we've suggested before, Thanksgiving is in many senses the original American land use holiday, and itself derives from even more longstanding traditions of honoring the relationship between people, communities, and the land.  Over the years since it became an official U.S. holiday, we still have the element of celebrating the harvest, but I would say it's evolved more into an event that revolves around that other significant land use element: the home.

If you're heading out shopping for the big sales today on "Black Friday" (the day many retailers go "in the black" financially), many of you might be confronted with some other aspects of modern American land use: sprawl, traffic, and the architecture of modern suburban development.  Growing up, we spent Thanksgiving visiting relatives in the older, traditional New Jersey town in which my parents grew up, but which was adjacent to newer suburban development.  Perhaps this weekend, you're experiencing what I often did: on Thursday, dinner at a relative's home in the older traditional neighborhood; then Friday, out to the suburban shopping malls and big-box parking lots.  Looking back, I think I was subconsciously aware that there was a big difference.  It just occurred to me that because of these two major activities--traditional family dinner, then shop-til-you-drop--the Thanksgiving holiday weekend might be about the sharpest contrast that many people experience with such different land use models. 

I wonder how this sort of experience affects people--how it might impact the emotions that many people feel during the holidays when visiting relatives, and perhaps old homes since moved away from, or a walk around the old downtown; thinking about the old days, and talking about how their communities have changed.  I wonder if a holiday spent experiencing the stark visual and spatial contrasts between the traditional neighborhood and suburban sprawl heightens these emotions.  While much of the holiday experience centers around spending time with people, surely the visual and geographical elements of time and place certainly play a big role for many, even if not explicitly acknowledged.  Ideas, memories, and feelings about the places in which we live and have lived must have an effect on the way people think about, and during, the holidays.

I hope that yours were and are mostly pleasant ones.  We're thankful for the opportunity to blog here, and for everyone who reads and contributes in this land use blog community.

Matt Festa

November 25, 2011 in Downtown, History, Housing, Sprawl, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 8, 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.

Matt Festa

November 8, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmentalism, History, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Texas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Land sales in Cuba?

Land use news from Cuba: New law will let Cubans buy and sell real estate. (Paul Haven, AP).

HAVANA (AP) -- For the first time in a half-century, Cubans will be allowed to buy and sell real estate openly, bequeath property to relatives without restriction and avoid forfeiting their homes if they abandon the country.

The highly anticipated new rules instantly transform islanders' cramped, dilapidated homes into potential liquid assets in the most significant reform yet adopted by President Raul Castro since he took over the communist country from his brother in 2008.

But plenty of restrictions remain.

. . . including restrictions on sales to emigrants or foreigners, so shelve those plans to acquire your Caribbean resort. But it's a great step in the right direction for Cuba. Thanks to Adam MacLeod for the pointer!

Matt Festa

November 3, 2011 in Beaches, Comparative Land Use, History, Politics, Property, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bell on Property in the Third Amendment and the Constitution

Back when I was in law school a few of us would joke around about writing a paper on the Third Amendment, since it hardly ever comes up. But now Tom W. Bell (Chapman) has made it relevant, with 'Property' in the Constitution: The View from the Third Amendment, forthcoming in the William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, vol. 20 (2012). The abstract:

During World War II, after Japan attacked the Aleutian Islands off Alaska’s coast, the United States forcibly evacuated the islands’ natives and quartered soldiers in private homes. That hitherto unremarked violation of the Third Amendment gives us a fresh perspective on what “Property” means in the U.S. Constitution. As a general legal matter, property includes not just real estate - land, fixtures attached thereto, and related rights - but also various kinds of personal property, ranging from tangibles such as books to intangibles such as causes of action. That knowledge would, if we interpreted the Constitution as we do other legal documents, tell us just about everything we need to know about the scope of constitutional property. Case law and commentary do not speak as plainly, however, raising troubling questions about what “Property” means each of the four times it appears in the Constitution. In particular, some authority suggests that the Takings Clause protects personal property less completely than it does real property. The unjust treatment of Aleutian natives during World War II shows the risk of giving constitutional property so peculiar and narrow a definition. This paper describes the troubling inconsistencies that afflict the law of constitutional property and invokes the Third Amendment, that oft-forgotten relic of the American Revolution, to argue for giving “Property” a plain, generous, and consistent meaning throughout Constitution.

Matt Festa

November 1, 2011 in Constitutional Law, History, Property, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anderson on Dissolving Cities

Michelle Wilde Anderson (Berkeley) has posted Dissolving Cities, forthcoming in the Yale Law Journal, 2012. The abstract:

During the twentieth century, 3,000 new cities took shape across America. Stucco subdivisions sprawled and law followed, enabling suburbs to adopt independent governments. That story is familiar. But meanwhile, something else was also happening. A smaller but sizable number of cities were dying, closing down their municipal governments and returning to dependence on counties. Some were ghost towns, emptied of population. In those places, jobs were lost and families struggled; crops died off and industries moved on. A larger group of dead cities were humming with civic life: places with people but no longer with a separate government. In these cities, citizens from the political left and right, often in coalition, rose up to eliminate their local governments.

As an end in itself, understanding these changes would be worthwhile. But this past has not passed. An unprecedented groundswell of cities and citizens are currently considering disincorporation in response to economic crisis, tax pressure, and population loss. The dissolution law they are turning to, as it is written in state codes and as it is understood in theory, is immature and thin. Cities’ experiences with dissolution are unknown, constraining our ability to judge the values it serves or undermines. If dissolution is to grow in importance as part of the legal machinery of urban decline - as cities themselves are asking it to become - we must understand what it meant in the decades that passed before.

Dissolving Cities tells the story of municipal dissolution. It is an article of law, theory, and urban history - a reminder that urban growth and local government fragmentation, which have long dominated academic discourse on cities, may not be the upward ratchet we have assumed them to be. Cities can die (legally at least), and when they do, they raise critical questions about decline, governance, taxes, race, and community.

This is a critically important topic for the future of land use in American communities, and Prof. Anderson's article looks like a must-read piece.

Matt Festa

September 21, 2011 in Downtown, Economic Development, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 and land use at Ground Zero

Today America commemorates 9/11 on its tenth anniversary.

While the tragedy and heroics of that day appropriately take precedence, 9/11 has created long-running and controversial land use issues since 2001. From the logistics of managing the rescue operations and the excavation, to last year's "ground zero mosque" kerfuffle, issues from the local to the international have played out in discussions over land use at the WTC site in lower Manhattan.

Two of the most controversial land use questions, especially as the years passed, have been (1) how should 9/11 be remembered at the site, and (2) what and how to build/rebuild to replace the twin towers.

On the first question, public memory and historic presentation, you may have seen the news that the 9/11 Memorial opens with a dedication ceremony today. The project seems to be a classic American example of public-private cooperation:

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation, Inc. began formal operations in the spring of 2005 and worked with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation on the design and construction management plan. In the summer of 2006, the organization assumed responsibility for overseeing the design and working with The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), the construction manager on the project. . . . In the beginning of October 2006, the Honorable Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of the City of New York, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Following the election of the Mayor as Chairman, the Foundation named Joseph C. Daniels as President.

At the website, there are links to a lot of of great photos and interactive views of the site and the Memorial.

The second enduring issue--whether and what to rebuild on the site--has generated a lot of criticism as a decade has passed without any replacement for the towers. This issue has been a perfect storm of land use issues: real estate, economics, regulation, federalism, urbanism, architecture, planning, transportation, culture, history, and of course, politics, politics, politics. For what it's worth, my impression has been that on the one hand, it's too simplistic to just say we should have built a ginormous tower immediately to stick it to the terrorists--yes, NY got the Empire State Building up in about 15 months during the Great Depression, but that's not realistic in lower Manhattan today. On the other hand, I think that the decade-long wait for putting some of the world's most valuable real estate to use says something important about the effect of the burdens that we have placed on property in the modern regulatory environment. Many of the procedural and political issues and delays might have been for justifiable ends, but really, a decade?

Things are finally moving along, though. From the Wall Street Journal's Developments real estate blog comes the helpful post Six Questions on Rebuilding the World Trade Center. The signature tower is in progress:

What’s the status of the office buildings? Some are further along than others. One World Trade Center, the site’s signature office building, is going up about a floor per week and is currently around 80 stories out of a total 104, and it’s already the tallest structure in Lower Manhattan.

On the delays:

What’s taken so long? Conflict has been a big theme of the rebuilding. There have been battles with insurers, wars between agencies, and repeated fights between the public sector and private developer Larry Silverstein over how to rebuild and fund his office towers. Those fights have often led to stalemates. Add onto that the fact that the site is extraordinarily complex — it’s often likened to a Rubik’s cube, but it’s sometimes more like a messy ball of rubber bands. The mechanics of the site are all intertwined — exits and emergency systems for the PATH station are in the neighboring towers, and deliveries to One World Trade Center need to run underneath 2, 3, and 4 World Trade Center. This means everything underground had to be built more or less at once, with precision. There is a laundry list of public agencies involved, and historically they hadn’t been great at communicating with each other.

The WSJ also has a great interactive graphic Exploring Ground Zero, Ten Years Later.

9/11 deserves our remembrance today, our continuing thanks for those serving in harm's way, and--secondarily--our commitment to good land use at this very important place for commerce, human activity, and public memory.

Matt Festa

September 11, 2011 in Architecture, Development, Downtown, Federal Government, History, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hirokawa on Zoning and Rezoning under the Change-or-Mistake Rule

Keith H. Hirokawa (Albany) has posted Making Sense of a 'Clear Misunderstanding of the Planning Process': Examining the Relationship Between Zoning and Rezoning Under the Change-or-Mistake Rule. The abstract:

In some states, zoning is marked by the persistence of the so-called “change or mistake rule." In contrast to the traditional deference afforded to local zoning decisions, this rule limits the freedom of local governments to make site-specific zoning amendments by burdening the applicant to justify the rezone with evidence of a mistake or a substantial change in circumstances since the initial zoning designation was adopted. Despite being chastised in the courts and labeled in legal literature as a “clear misunderstanding of the planning process,” the rule has endured for over a half a century. This article explores the criticisms of and justifications for the change or mistake rule in order to identify the understanding that supports its continued application. Specifically, this article argues that the change or mistake rule was intended as a mediator between two fundamental purposes of zoning - maintaining communities that have sufficient flexibility to implement a new community vision, while providing stability and certainty as a planning device.

Looks really interesting. The rule cuts to the heart of the larger, longstanding public administration debate over rational-comprehensive planning versus flexible incremental decision making.

UPDATE: bad link fixed; thanks for the tip!

Matt Festa

August 28, 2011 in History, Local Government, Planning, Property Rights, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)