Sunday, February 1, 2015

United States District Court Strikes Down Mora County's Fracking Ban

As expected, the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, struck down Mora County, New Mexico's ban on hydraulic fracturing. In the case styled SWEPI, LP v. Mora County, New Mexico, the court's 199-page opinion on SWEPI's Motion for Partial Judgement on the Pleadings did not rule in SWEPI's favor on all matters, but comprehensively and completely rejected the notion, advanced by the defendants, that local governments could supersede state and federal law, as well as the attack on the established principle that corporations do not hold rights in the United States. Although I have not been able to digest the entire opinion, for obvious reasons, the court delivered a well-reasoned opinion that strikes another blow to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund's (CELDF) effort to advance "novel" legal arguments to block a variety of Locally Undesirable Land Uses (LULUs).

CELDF advances "Rights-Based" ordinances that assert the rights of local governments to override state and federal law. The group also opposes Dillon's Rule by advancing an incorrect understanding of Home Rule. For a more thorough and nuanced understanding of Dillon's Rule and Home Rule, see my monograph, written for the Brookings Institute.

In brief, the court granted the Motion in part and denied it in part, and invalidated the Ordinance.  SWEPI, LP has standing to bring each of its claims, because it has suffered an injury in fact. Because the Mora County has already enacted the Ordinance, andbecause SWEPI, LP would suffer harm if the Court delayed considering its claims, each of SWEPI, LP‟s claims are ripe, except for its claim under the Takings Clause. Because SWEPI, LP has not sought just compensation through a state inverse condemnation action, its takings claim is not ripe. SWEPI, LP may bring its claim under the Supremacy Clause, because it could bring independent claims, through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, under the constitutional provisions that it asserts trumps the Ordinance. Additionally, the Ordinance violates the Supremacy Clause, because it conflicts with federal law. The Ordinance does not, however, violate SWEPI, LP‟s substantive due-process rights or the Equal Protection Clause, because the Defendants had a legitimate state interest for enacting the Ordinance. The Ordinance violates the First Amendment by chilling protected First Amendment conduct. Because the Defendants lack the authority to enforce zoning laws on New Mexico state lands, they may not enforce the Ordinance on state lands. Also, because there is room for concurrent jurisdiction between state and local law, New Mexico state law does not preempt the entire oil-and-gas production field. The Ordinance conflicts, however,with state law by prohibiting activities that state law permits: the production and extraction of oil and gas. Finally, the invalid provisions are not severable from the valid provisions, making the Ordinance, in its entirety, invalid.

The court, therefore, concurred with my assertion, in "Local Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing",  117 W.Va. L. Rev 593 (2014), that a ban is distinguishable from regulation of an activity. New York remains the outlier in this regard. Also, as argued in that article, the court reaffirms that local governments hold concurrent jurisdiction with states to regulate hydraulic fracturing, but that local regulatory authority falls short of a ban. My article lists other tools, such as impact fees and reasonable setbacks, that are appropriate for local government land use regulation.

The court's rejection of a provision in CELDF's ordinance that purports to prohibit challenges to the ordinance, and which the court repeated from an earlier ruling in the SWEPI case, bears repeating hear as well:

The Ordinance, thus, appears to state that no one can challenge it, or any other
Mora County ordinance, as long as the ordinance concerns the health, safety, or
welfare of its residents. See Ordinance § 5.6. The Intervenor-Applicants‟
argument is that SWEPI, LP, cannot challenge the Ordinance‟s constitutionality,
because the Ordinance deprives SWEPI, LP, of its constitutional rights. If this
argument has validity, it would signal the end of all civil rights that the Constitution
protects. A county could pass an unconstitutional ordinance, but then say that
anyone who challenged the ordinance lacks constitutional rights to support the
challenge. The county could enforce its unconstitutional ordinance free of
constitutional restrictions, because no one could challenge the validity of the
ordinance. The consequences of such an outcome could be devastating to the
Union as the Nation has known it since the Civil War. Some counties could
prohibit speech on certain viewpoints. Others could deny basic rights to members
of certain racial ethnicities. Still others could prohibit religious practices; others
could require participation in religious services. The Constitution would be
applied in a cookie-cutter fashion across the United States with such inconsistency
from place-to-place that it would cease to be a Constitution of the United States at
all.


SWEPI, LP v. Mora County (page 133), citing SWEPI, LP v. Mora Cnty., 2014 WL 6983288, at *48.

Rights-based ordinances are being passed across the country to attempt to ban land application of biosolids, hydraulic fracturing and other LULUs. In addition, some communities are using rights-based ordinances to promote "food sovereignty". The latest ruling in SWEPI, LP v. Mora County provides more evidence that this approach is not only wrong, but can prove to be devastating to the enacting localities. The fact that many of these localities are poor, meaning that they must turn to CELDF instead of costly, but well-qualified, consultants, exacerbates environmental justice concerns. 

Meanwhile, Conestoga Township, PA recently rejected a rights-based ordinance. One supervisor offered an eloquent rationale for his rejection of the ordinance. More local governments should follow the Conestoga example.

Jesse

February 1, 2015 in Environmental Justice, Impact Fees, NIMBY, Oil & Gas, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Fennell and Peñalver on Exactions Creep

For those of you who have not already figured out exactly how land use planning officials are expected to proceed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell) have posted Exactions Creep, __ Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming).   Rather than deny that the Court has aggravated the uncertainty faced by local governments, Lee and Eduardo explore the nature of the confusion in the Court's exactions jurisprudence and call for a significant revision.  Here's the abstract:

How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.

Jim K.

January 22, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Development, Impact Fees, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Fennell and Peñalver on Exactions Creep

Lee Fennell (Chicago)  and Eduardo Peñalver (Chicago) have posted Exactions Creep, 2013 Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming).  Here's the abstract:

How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.

 

Jim K.

November 11, 2013 in Impact Fees, Judicial Review, Local Government, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Echeverria's Take on Koontz

John Echeverria (Vermont) has just this week posted Koontz:  The Very Worst Takings Decision Ever?.  In it, he takes on both of the U.S. Supreme Court's holdings in its most recent land use decision and spells out how they will inhibit development planning discussions at the local level.  Here's the abstract:

This article argues that Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, the most widely discussed of the Supreme Court’s takings trilogy in the 2012-13 term, represents a major, unprincipled break from prior law and casts an unfortunate pall of confusion and uncertainty over takings doctrine, partly reversing the Court’s recent, successful effort to make takings doctrine more coherent and predictable. The Court ruled that the relatively heightened standard of judicial review established by the Supreme Court for so-called “development exactions” in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard applies both (1) when the government denies a development permit after the developer rejects a government demand for an exaction as a condition of project approval, and (2) when a permit condition requires a developer to pay or expend money to mitigate project impacts. In so ruling, the Court rejected the position that claims challenging such government orders should be evaluated under either the Court’s relatively forgiving regulatory takings analysis or deferential due process analysis.  Justice Elena Kagan wrote a dissent for herself and three other justices, arguing that the case did not involve an actual demand triggering Nollan and Dolan and that the standards established by those cases do not apply to permit conditions requiring the expenditure of money. This article contends that the Koontz decision is one of the worst decisions, if the not the worst decision, in the pantheon of Supreme Court takings cases. In doctrinal terms, the majority opinion flagrantly contradicts or ignores established precedent, fails to acknowledge its departure from prior law, and does not attempt to offer any new, coherent justifications for its novel holdings. As a practical matter, the decision creates a perverse, wasteful incentive for local officials to decline to work cooperatively with developers in designing projects that make business sense and protect the interests of the community.  Finally, the decision injects new uncertainty into takings law, setting the stage for future debates over the legitimacy and appropriate scope of intrusive judicial review of local land use decision-making, including whether local governments retain the authority to reject development proposals based on unacceptable project impacts without triggering stringent judicial review. 

Jim K.

August 31, 2013 in Community Economic Development, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Impact Fees, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, June 4, 2012

New SCOTUS ruling on infrastructure assessments

Interesting decision out of the US Supreme Court today on infrastructure assessments.  In a 6-3 ruling in Armour v. Indianapolis, the Court refused an equal protection challenge from property owners to a municipal sewer assessment.  Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, summarized the case and the Court's decision as follows:

For many years, an Indiana statute, the “Barrett Law,” authorized Indiana’s cities to impose upon benefited lot owners the cost of sewer improvement projects. The Law also permitted those lot owners to pay either immediately in the form of a lump sum or over time in installments. In 2005, the city of Indianapolis (City) adopted a new assessment and payment method, the “STEP” plan, and it forgave any Barrett Law installments that lot owners had not yet paid.

A group of lot owners who had already paid their entire Barrett Law assessment in a lump sum believe that the City should have provided them with equivalent refunds. And we must decide whether the City’s refusal to do so unconstitutionally discriminates against them in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Amdt. 14, §1. We hold that the City had a rational basis for distinguishing between those lot owners who had already paid their share of project costs and those who had not. And we conclude that there is no equal protection violation.

The slip opinion is here.

Stephen R. Miller

June 4, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Impact Fees | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 9, 2012

California's War on Suburbia?

In this Wall Street Journal opinion piece, transportation planner Wendell Cox claims that state and regional planners are driving people out of the state of California with their plans for high-density, transit-oriented development, which he calls a "war" on the single-family home.  According to Cox, requiring a change from a primarily single-family suburban to a multi-family urban settlement pattern will make "the state's famously unaffordable housing .. even more unaffordable."

I am at a loss to understand how multi-family housing is going to be more expensive than single-family housing.  Cox's claim rests on economic data drawn from William Fischel and others showing that land use regulations in California, such as urban growth boundaries, development moratoria, and so on, generally drive up the cost of housing.  This is true, but only because most of these regulations either restrict the overall supply of housing (development moratoria) or force developers to internalize the costs of new growth (exactions). Urban growth boundaries, by contrast, will not necessarily increase housing prices as long as growth is permitted at sufficient densities within the UGB to offset the loss of housing outside the UGB. Yet, Cox places the blame squarely on increasing density! 

Furthermore, it is ironic that Cox sees salvation in reverting to the single-family lifestyle, when of course all of the cost-increasing restrictions he now decries, such as moratoria and exactions, have been called into service in order to subsidize single-family homeowners and exclude affordable, multi-family housing. 

Ken Stahl

April 9, 2012 in Affordable Housing, California, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Impact Fees | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Juergensmeyer & Nicholas on Growth Management in the Recession

Julian Conrad Juergensmeyer (Georgia State) and James C. Nicholas (Florida) have posted Loving Growth Management in the Time of Recession, published in The Urban Lawyer, vol. 42 (2011). The abstract:

The current deep and long lasting recession has challenged the value of local government growth management programs – especially those which rely heavily on developer funded infrastructure finance programs such as impact fees. An examination of the characteristics of the current recession reveal that its severity is due in large part to excessive exuberance in housing development in the years preceding the burst of the housing bubble. Many local governments intensified the consequences of over-building by adopting ambitious infrastructure programs funded by impact and other fees charged to developers upon the issuance of building permits or other development approval actions. With residential building permit issuance at near zero in many formerly double-digit growth areas, local governments can no longer pay for nor do they need much of the planned or already constructed infrastructure. The authors advocate greater restraint by local governments in accepting growth projections and issuing bonds to be repaid through impact fee collection. Most importantly, the authors suggest as a pre-condition of development approval requiring developers to submit market studies establishing probable market demand for the proposed development.

Matt Festa

September 15, 2011 in Development, Housing, Impact Fees, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)




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