September 18, 2012
Hirokawa on Urban Forests as Green Infrastructure
Keith Hirokawa (Albany) has posted his latest interesting piece, Urban Forests as Green Infrastructure, a chapter from his book with Patricia Salkin GREENING LOCAL GOVERNMENT: LEGAL STRATEGIES FOR PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY, EFFICIENCY, AND FISCAL SAVINGS, p. 257, Keith H. Hirokawa and Patricia Salkin, eds., American Bar Association, 2012. The abstract:
Urban forests capture air and water pollutants as they provide shade, habitat, and social value. The health and character of urban forests are determined by the priorities that communities place on them, the local regulations that direct land use choices, and the extent to which local governments address resource shortages through zoning, resource planning, and resource regulation. Local governments can plan and regulate urban forests to benefit (economically, socially, and environmentally) from the services that trees can provide to communities. This essay explores the role of urban forests in the local provision of local green infrastructure and the ways that local governments capture of the benefits of urban forests by planning and implementing tree protections.
September 06, 2012
Salkin on Small Scale Renewable Energy and Local Land Use Regulation
Patricia Salkin (Touro Law Center) has posted Key to Unlocking the Power of Small Scale Renewable Energy: Local Land Use Regulation, Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law No. 27 (2012). The abstract:
This article provides an overview of some of the strategies that have been used to increase the use of small-scale renewables, focusing on non-commercial renewable energy systems installed at the home or business level. The article begins in Part II with a discussion of various renewable energy incentives offered by the federal and state governments to promote the use of these alternative sources of electricity, including financial and permitting incentives. Part III continues with a detailed examination of how the land use regulatory system can be used to promote small-scale renewable energy by employing traditional zoning techniques, asserting that without an appropriate local land use regime, the incentives reviewed in Part II cannot be effectively utilized. Part IV concludes with a warning to local governments that if they fail to accommodate the emerging federal and state policies supporting the siting of renewable energy sources, they may face preemptive statutory measures in the area of land use regulation. This creates perhaps the greatest incentive for local governments to plan and regulate responsibly for promoting the appropriate use of small-scale renewable energy.
August 29, 2012
Proposed Final Settlement in Baltimore Fair Housing Case
The case arose when the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland sued HUD, saying that it demolished old public housing high-rises where mostly African-Americans lived — only to move the residents to equally segregated housing and poor conditions in other parts of the city.
Attorneys for the residents said Friday that the government in effect “perpetually locked” African-American families in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty, violating federal civil right laws. The settlement, which would cover all claims in the case, was filed in conjunction with Baltimore City and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City.
As the Legal Defense Fund, which worked with the ACLU on the case, notes in its press release, the court had ruled in 2005 “that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) violated the Fair Housing Act by unfairly concentrating African-American public housing residents in the most impoverished, segregated areas of Baltimore City. Judge Garbis held that HUD must take a regional approach to promoting fair housing opportunities throughout the Baltimore Region.”
The settlement requires HUD to allocated money towards expansion of the Baltimore Housing Mobility Program, which has been in place since a partial settlement in the 1990s. The program has enabled over 1,800 families to move to neighborhoods in other parts of the city and to surrounding suburbs. Under the settlement, the program will, among other things, fund vouchers and counseling over the next seven years for up to 2,600 additional families.
The case is particularly interesting given its regional approach to questions of housing and segregation. Housing vouchers can be used throughout the region, enabling participants to voluntarily move to suburban areas with greater employment and educational opportunity. The program provides extensive housing counseling and mobility assistance to aid families interested in moving to lower-poverty neighborhoods. For more details, see this 2009 report discussing the progress of the program at that time.
August 28, 2012
Gage Lecture: Garnett on School Closures in Urban Neighborhoods
UMKC Law and the ABA Section on State & Local Government are hosting an education law symposium with The Urban Lawyer, preceded by the 2012 Gage Lecture, featuring Nicole Stelle Garnett (Notre Dame) on "School Closures in Urban Neighborhoods: Lesson's from Chicago's Catholic Schools."
Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 | 6:30 p.m.
UMKC School of Law's Thompson Courtroom
What Happens When You Close Urban Schools
America’s educational landscape is changing with the rapid disappearance of Catholic schools from the urban core. Yet, studies show negative effects on neighborhoods when schools close. Scholar Nicole Garnett will discuss what this means for urban and educational policy.
Professor Garnett's lecture is free and open to the public; the program and registration for the Oct. 5 symposium are available at the website.
August 27, 2012
New York Times on Home Businesses
The NY Times has a recent article on home businesses in New York City, some of which operate in violation of zoning rules. The businesses discussed include one-room hotels, children's used-clothing shops, personal training, and a vegan cookie business. Operating a business from home is of course, partly motivated by high commercial rents. The article notes that the number of these businesses in New York is unclear:
Because so many home businesses operate under the radar, it is hard to say just how many there are. Complaints to the city’s 311 telephone system about illegal commercial use in a residential area have been decreasing. In 2011, the tally was roughly 2,150, down from about 2,450 in 2008. Even so, the data may not accurately reflect the full range of complaints about businesses, because annoyed tenants who call 311 to carp about ungodly noise may not know about zoning rules.
Not every home business is legal, but the prohibited businesses are not always obvious:
Not surprisingly, kennels and veterinary practices aren’t allowed to operate from homes. Zoning rules also prohibit a curious mix of other businesses, including advertising and public relations. Stock brokerages and offices for real estate, insurance and interior design aren’t supposed to operate from a desk in the bedroom. Running a commercial kitchen at home isn’t permitted, either — “home processors” like Mr. Semosh cannot use commercial-size equipment.
New York City's Zoning Resolution, at Section 12-10, expressly includes “fine arts studios,” “professional offices,” and “teaching of not more than four pupils simultaneously” within the definition of permitted “home occupation.” It expressly does not include, among others, advertising or public relations, barber shops and beauty parlors, interior decorators’ offices, stockbrokers, ophthalmic dispensing, and real estate or insurance offices. In addition, the code prohibits the sale of articles produced elsewhere and exterior displays. One person who does not reside at the unit may be employed “in connection with the practice of a profession.” Finally, the home occupation must not “produce offensive noise, vibration, smoke, dust or other particulate matter, odorous matter, heat, humidity, glare, or other objectionable effects.”
It is not clear that the prohibited occupations are more likely to produce these nuisances or would cause more traffic or related negative externalities in a neighborhood than the permitted home occupations. It is worth considering whether the categorical acceptability of "professional offices" and the outright prohibition on "beauty parlors," without regard to a specific uses' impact on neighboring properties, reflects a class-conscious determination of what is desirable and should be replaced by a more careful consideration of specific factors that affect residential neighborhood character.
For a discussion of how home occupation regulations might be modernized, see this publication from a few years ago by Patricia Salkin.
August 25, 2012
Philadelphia's New Zoning Code
The Philadelphia Inquirer has an article providing an overview of the city's new zoning code, which replaces its 1962 code. The new code allows high-rises to be built more easily in the city's central commercial district and along its waterfront as-of-right. (See map of new zoning districts.) It also "assumes the city's population will grow in the future, and it encourages higher density buildings to accommodate the newcomers." (Note: Philly's population has declined from slightly over 2 million in 1960 to slightly over 1.5 million today.)
According to the article:
Because the previous code was so outmoded, the Zoning Board of Adjustment had gotten in the habit of handing out variances almost at whim, even when a project deviated dramatically from the neighborhood context. The haphazard process invited abuse from powerful gatekeepers, most of them Council members. It often seemed you only needed to make a campaign contribution to obtain a variance in Philadelphia.
Developers advocated for a more predictable development process, which would enable the city to better compete for residents and jobs. The new code is approximately 200 pages shorter than its predecessor.
Two thoughts come to mind after reading this article. First, the discussion surrounding the new zoning code echoes the considerations raised in relation to tax reform, particularly the desire for simplicity and predictability and the concern that a code laden with amendments, overlays, and other complexities favors sophisticated actors. Second, as Philadelphia pushes greater density and potential population growth in Center City, what will become of outlying city neighborhoods, which have seen substantial population declines (and a significant number of vacant properties) in recent decades? In May the city launched a website mapping its inventory of 9,000 vacant properties, approximately one-quarter of the estimated 40,000 abandoned buildings in the city.
August 24, 2012
Mandelker book on Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs
Daniel R. Mandelker (Washington University) has published a new book on the important topic of sign regulation under the First Amendment: Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs (2012). Professor Mandelker's short summary:
The handbook explains the free speech law that determines how sign ordinances for on premise signs should be drafted. It first discusses the general free speech principles that apply, and next the free speech law that applies to different types of signs and the regulations that apply to these signs, such as height and setback requirements and design review.
Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs is available for free download at the United States Sign Council website, and also at Professor Mandelker's excellent website Land Use Law (the website--a companion to the Mandelker et al. Casebook, has a great collection of statutes, cases, scholarship, photos, and other resources for land use students and practitioners).
One of my most interesting teaching experiences was having a nontraditional student who was semi-retired from the billboard business; his experiences of the interaction between free speech law and sign regulation were what inspired him to go to law school. Free Speech Law for On Premise Signs, which explains these sophisticated legal concepts in a readable and practical way, will be very valuable to any planner, policymaker, or lawyer whose work brings them into this area.
August 22, 2012
Greg Bankoff (History--University of Hull), Ewe Lubken (Rachel Carson Center, Munich), and Jordan Sand (History--Georgetown) have published Flammable Cities: Urban Conflagration and the Making of the Modern World (U. Wisconsin Press, 2012), an edited volume of essays on the role of fires in the history of urban development. The blurb:
In most cities today, fire has been reduced to a sporadic and isolated threat. But throughout history the constant risk of fire has left a deep and lasting imprint on almost every dimension of urban society. This volume, the first truly global study of urban conflagration, shows how fire has shaped cities throughout the modern world, from Europe to the imperial colonies, major trade entrepôts, and non-European capitals, right up to such present-day megacities as Lagos and Jakarta. Urban fire may hinder commerce or even spur it; it may break down or reinforce barriers of race, class, and ethnicity; it may serve as a pretext for state violence or provide an opportunity for displays of state benevolence. As this volume demonstrates, the many and varied attempts to master, marginalize, or manipulate fire can turn a natural and human hazard into a highly useful social and political tool.
Over at The Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger has a review called The Uncomfortable Politics Behind the History of Urban Fires. She notes how fires played a role in the contested theories and policies behind land use, property, and government:
In the United States, we’ve come to think of forest fires this way, as we spar over the rights of wealthy people to build their vacation homes in flammable places like Malibu. But the history of urban fires is similarly political, in large part because it reflects the story of how governments came to view and value property.
"Fire is, of course, this threat to human life, but conspicuously it’s about the destruction of property," Sand says. "Is it the obligation of the city fathers or [government] to prevent peoples' private property from being destroyed?"
Badger's review and the book have a lot of interesting observations.
August 17, 2012
Heintzelman, Walsh, & Grzsekowiak on Open Space Referenda
Martin D. Heintzelman (Clarkson--Business), Patrick J. Walsh, and Dustin J. Grzeskowiak (Clarkson--Business) have posted Explaining the Appearance and Success of Open Space Referenda. The abstract:
To guard against urban sprawl, many communities in the United States have begun enacting policies to preserve open space, often through local voter referenda. New Jersey sponsors such municipal action through the Green Acres Program by providing funding and low interest loans to towns that choose, through a referendum, to increase property taxes and spend the money raised on open space preservation for the purposes of conservation and/or recreation. Understanding which factors contribute to the appearance and success of these measures is important for policy makers and conservation advocates, not only in New Jersey, but across the United States. Although previous literature has examined this issue, this is the first study to account for spatial dependence/spatial autocorrelation and to explore dynamic issues through survival analysis. The traditional two stage model from the literature is extended by incorporating a Bayesian spatial probit for the first stage and a maximum-likelihood spatial error model in the second stage. A Cox – proportional hazard model is used to examine the timing of referenda appearance. Spatial dependence is found in the second stage of the analysis, indicating future studies should account for its influence. There is not strong evidence for spatial dependence or correlation in the first stage. The survival model is found to be a useful complement to the traditional probit analysis of the first stage.
August 11, 2012
Can Eminent Domain Solve the Mortgage Crisis?
There has been some discussion over the past couple of months over an innovative proposal to have governments use the eminent domain power to take ownership of underwater mortgages, to decrease the risk of default and then refinance the obligations, all to promote the common good. Here are some links to give you a sense of the major points of this debate.
The launch of this idea comes from a proposal by Law Professor Robert C. Hockett (Cornell) in his piece It Takes a Village: Municipal Condemnation Proceedings and Public/Private Partnerships for Mortgage Loan Modification, Value Preservation, and Local Economic Recovery. The abstract:
Respected real estate analysts now forecast that the U.S. is poised to experience a renewed round of home mortgage foreclosures over the coming 6 years. Up to 11 million underwater mortgages will be affected. Neither our families, our neighborhoods, nor our state and national economies can bear a resumption of crisis on this order of magnitude.
I argue that ongoing and self-worsening slump in the primary and secondary mortgage markets is rooted in a host of recursive collective action challenges structurally akin to those that brought on the real estate bubble and bust themselves. Collective action problems of this sort require duly authorized collective agents for their solution. At present, the optimally situated such agents for purposes of mortgage market clearing are municipal governments exercising their traditional eminent domain authority.
I sketch a plan pursuant to which municipalities, in partnership with investors, can condemn underwater mortgage notes, pay mortgagees fair market value for the same, and systematically write down principal. Because in so doing they will be doing what parties themselves would do voluntarily were they not challenged by structural impediments to collective action, municipalities acting on this plan will be rendering all better off. They will also be leading the urgently necessary project of eliminating debt overhang nationwide and thereby at last ending our ongoing debt deflation.
Professor Hockett's idea was then promoted in the media by, among others, Prof. Robert J. Shiller (Yale--Economics & Finance), in the New York Times Piece Reviving Real Estate Requires Collective Action. As the title indicates, Schiller theorizes the mortgage crisis as in part a collective action problem that can be addressed by Hockett's proposal to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages.
But eminent domain law needn’t be restricted to real estate. It could be applied to mortgages as well. Governments could seize underwater mortgages, paying investors fair market value for them. This is common sense too. The true fair market value for these mortgages is arguably far below their face value, given the likelihood of default, with its attendant costs.
Professor Hockett argues that a government, whether federal, state or local, can start doing just this right now, using large databases of information about mortgage pools and homeowner credit scores. After a market analysis, it seizes the mortgages. Then it can pay them off at fair value, or a little over that, with money from new investors, issuing new mortgages with smaller balances to the homeowners.
Yesterday in The Atlantic Cities, Amanda Erickson published an excellent overview story about the proposal, Can Eminent Domain Solve our Mortgage Woes?. Of note to us are the comments by the eminent eminent domain expert (that's not a typo) Prof. Thomas Merrill (Columbia).
It's a clever idea. But is it legal? "It's very unusual," says Thomas W. Merrill, a law professor at Columbia University who specializes in property law. But, he notes, "this doesn't mean it's unconstitutional."
Before the landmark 2005 Kelo vs. New London decision, Merrill says, there's little doubt that the courts have upheld this kind of law. "Before Kelo, courts took a hands-off approach," Merrill says. In the 1984 case Hawaii Housing Authority vs. Midkiff, the Supreme Court ruled that the Hawaiian legislature could take a property controlled by landlords and sell it back to leasees. "Condemning a landlord's interest in property to transfer to a tenant is not too different," Merrill says.
But Kelo changed that. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that cities could use eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another, and that doing so for economic development purposes constitutes a public use. "At this point, I guess you'd have to say all bets are off in terms of what is and isn't eminent domain," Merrill says.
And finally for now, Prof. Richard Epstein is critical of the idea. From More Nonsense on the Home Mortgage Front: Don't Let Municipal Governments Condemn Mortgages at Bargain Rates:
The idea has already been rightly panned by the Wall Street Journal. But the entire proposal needs still further consideration. First off, Hockett and his group insist that there is a huge collective action problem that prevents the rationalization of mortgage matters. And there is. It is called local government regulations that have blocked the foreclosure measures set out above. Handle those and the externalities to which they refer disappear. No longer do we have owners neglecting property or clogging the courts with endless motions.
Again, this post is just to give you some links to look at the arguments. From my perspective, these are some fascinating arguments that illuminate not only the mortgage crisis but also the general debate over eminent domain.
August 11, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Finance, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Politics, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack
August 09, 2012
Bronin & Byrne Casebook on Historic Preservation Law
Sara C. Bronin (Connecticut) and J. Peter Byrne (Georgetown) recently published a new casebook called Historic Preservation Law, Foundation Press 2012. HP is quickly becoming a central part of land use planning, as the authors make clear in this excerpt from the Preface:
This book was written for anyone interested in the increasingly important area of historic preservation law. With this book, we hope to advance and encourage the teaching of preservation law, shape the way the field is conceived, and create a practical resource that will be consulted by attorneys and other preservation professionals.
Our approach to the subject is reasonably straightforward. We present the most significant legal issues in preservation and place them in a contemporary context, identifying contested questions and areas of reform. The format of the book is traditional: edited leading cases with notes that provide explanation, extension, and issues for discussion. Given the interdisciplinary nature of the field, we belive that the legal issues can only be understood in light of historical, aesthetic, political, and administrative issues that make up the larger realm of preservation. Accordingly, we provide secondary materials, both legal and non-legal.
Because we focus on preservation of buildings and sites, we present preservation as part of land use or urban development law. Thus, we provide extensive treatment of local preservation law, which regulates private property, as well as relevant issues in real estate finance and project development. We also provide comprehensive treatment of federal law, including the National Historical Preservation Act and related statutes. In addition, we explore federal laws that address preservation vis-a-vis cultural property issues, particularly regarding Native American and archaelogical sites. Preservation has also generated important and interesting constitutional questions related to takings, religious freedoms, and free speech rights, which we address.
This is the first, or at least the most recent, major casebook on the law of historic preservation that I know of. Professors Bronin and Byrne, who are also accomplished scholars in the land use field generally, have provided us a major contribution with this book, which looks to be *the* significant text in HP law. Land use scholars and professionals should definitely have this one on their shelves.
August 9, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Development, Federal Government, Historic Preservation, History, Local Government, Property, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
August 06, 2012
New Jersey Seeks to Take Back Affordable Housing Funds
An article in this Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer discusses New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's demand that towns in New Jersey turn over to the state money that has been in their affordable-housing trust funds for more than four years, a total of $141.2 million. A state law (N.J.S.A. 52:27D-329.2) requires that this money, which towns receive from fees paid by developers, be committed within four years. The state recently sent letters to 372 town outlining how much each one is being asked to transfer to the state's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. (NJ's Fair Share Housing Center posted a copy of one of these letters.)
Christie's effort, as the Inquirer article notes, is just the latest episode in New Jersey's battles over zoning and affordable housing regulation, battles made famous by the Mount Laurel decision. Christie previously sought to eliminate the state's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH), which enforces the judicial requirements regarding how much housing must be built in each town. However, NJ's Supreme Court rejected his attempt. (For an interesting perspective on Christie's "War Against the Mount Laurel Doctrine," see this piece by Rick Hills from a while back on PrawfsBlawg).
Now, critics claim Christie is seeking the money to fill holes in the state budget, while the Governor's camp responds that the money will be used for housing programs at the state level. Local officials assert their failure to spend the money is largely due to the state's confusing guidelines, particularly regarding what it means to have, as the law requires, "committed" funds to fulfill their affordable housing obligations.
When Christie first announced his plans to seize the funds, the Fair Share Housing Center filed a motion seeking to enjoin the state's actions, arguing that COAH failed to promulgate standards outlining what municipalities must do to "commit" the funds. The Appellate Division of the NJ Superior Court refused to issue an injunction, but did require that municipalities receive written notice of the amount they owed and how it was calculated. This notice came in the form of the subsequent letters stating the amount due and demanding that towns transfer the funds - or dispute the amount calculated - by August 13, 2012. The Fair Share Housing Center, joined by the NJ State League of Municipalities, now contend that the letter sent to municipalities fails to comply with the requirement that municipalities be informed regarding how the amount was calculated.
To my mind, it seems the challenge to the state's actions will be an uphill battle for the municipalities. The statute the state is relying upon in seizing the funds states:
"The council shall establish a time by which all development fees collected within a calendar year shall be expended; provided, however, that all fees shall be committed for expenditure within four years from the date of collection. A municipality that fails to commit to expend the balance required in the development fee trust fund by the time set forth in this section shall be required by the council to transfer the remaining unspent balance at the end of the four-year period to the “New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund" . . . to be used in the housing region of the transferring municipality for the authorized purposes of that fund."
In its Order denying the request for an injunction, the court declared that "[t]he ambiguity, if any, concerning the term commit has not precluded municipalities from seeking COAH's approval of particular housing projects on a case-by-case basis." The court's chief concern, as noted, was that the municipalities receive notice and an opportunity to contest the transfer. It is likely this battle will continue to drag out, largely focused on the process through which the state is seeking to take back the funds, but it seems difficult to envision a strong legal basis for the municipalities ultimately stopping the seizure of the funds. It may be more likely that political pressure, from local municipalities and residents who will still need to fulfill their affordable housing obligations, but will be forced to find new sources of funding, may stop the state's efforts.
August 05, 2012
Rain, Rain, Don't Go Away: Green Infrastructure in Buffalo
We had a torrential downpout here in Buffalo today. Many people were happy about the rain because it has been very hot here of late, and weeks without rain has led to the death of many lawns and gardens. I was excited for a different reason. It was the first big test of our new street! I am lucky enough to live on the first test block for porous asphalt in Buffalo. My neighbors and I are quite excited about it even though it took two months for them to install it. The difference was pretty awesome. My three year old and I ran around in the rain, and watcedh it all just seep into the street. Rumor has it that we will also be getting free rain barrels.
There are a lot of exciting green infrastructure projects around the country. Having lived through one of them, I think there is a lot of potential. But it took 2 months for them to do one block here in Buffalo. Wonder how much time and money it would take to do a significant part of the city?
August 04, 2012
Anaheim Police Shooting and At-Large Elections: Is there a link?
A major news item here in Orange County has been the rash of protests in the county's largest and most well-known city, Anaheim, sparked by a pair of police shootings of two suspected Latino gang members. Activists and the media have drawn a link between the shootings and Anaheim's system for electing city councilmembers. In Anaheim, as in most cities in California, all five members of the city council (technically four members plus the mayor, but the mayor is really just a fifth councilmember who gets to hold the gavel at meetings) are elected at-large, meaning the city as a whole is a single electoral district and candidates can reside anywhere in the city. It has been alleged by the ACLU that the at-large system dilutes Latino voting power because it diminishes the ability of geographically concentrated groups (which often include minority communities) to elect representatives from their own neighborhoods, and places a premium on the ability to gather a huge war-chest, which advantages candidates with support from the more affluent constituencies. In Anaheim, indeed, there is not a single Latino member of the city council despite Latinos representing more than 50% of the city's population, and four of the five councilmembers live in Anaheim's wealthy, largely white "Anaheim hills" area. Thus, the argument goes, it is because the city government is out of touch with the concerns of its major constituency that incidents like these police shootings are able to happen.
This story hits home to me because I wrote an article a few years ago that made a very similar argument, although it was more focused on land use: The at-large electoral system deployed in most California cities means that neighborhoods have little voice on land use matters, which tends to favor the interests of the pro-development "growth machine." I further argued that this system tended to dilute minority voices on land use issues (especially eminent domain, of blessed memory). In my article, however, I argued that neighborhood interests did not simply fade away but necessarily expressed themselves outside the political system, either in the form of the initiative process or in the form of urban riots. Indeed, the famous anti-tax initiative Proposition 13 has been referred to (although I could not definitively verify the original quote) as "the Watts riot of the middle class." In the paper, I called for the jettisonning of the at-large system and the implementation of district or ward systems, which is precisely what the activists in Anaheim are calling for.
It appears in Anaheim we may be seeing "the Proposition 13 of the disenfranchised." Stay tuned.
Hat tip to my colleague Ernesto Hernandez-Lopez for some of these links and for alerting me to some of the details of the story.
Police Powers, Free Speech, and the Chick-fil-A Land Use Controversy
The Chick-fil-A land use controversy has mostly focused on freedom of speech, but I think there is a larger point about the police-power basis of land use regulation that has been overlooked. In the wake of the Chick-fil-A CEO's comments on gay marriage, and the subsequent statements of public officials in Chicago and Boston indicating their opposition to building new Chick-fil-A franchises in their jurisdictions, there seems to be a general agreement that it would be illegal to deny building rights on the basis of the CEO's speech. Ken Stahl and Stephen Miller have offered additional insights on the political, tax, and other potential motivations behind this controversy, with which I completely agree. In this post, I want to expand on Ken's point about a potential Fourteenth Amendment violation of basing a land use decision on "animus" against the owner, and to peel back the onion a little bit and consider what might be the primary legal basis to a challenge to such a land use denial.
The general agreement seems to focus on the First Amendment free speech issue. Eugene Volokh seems to have the definitive analysis that, whether or not one agrees with the CEO's opinions, it would be a First Amendment violation to deny a building permit on that basis (h/t Property Prof). Viewed through the general prism of free speech and the Bill of Rights, this is entirely correct, and is probably sufficient for the public understanding of the issue. As Prof. Volokh's caselaw indicates, there can be a First Amendment violation in denying a permit based on the property owner's speech. But I think that's actually a secondary issue when it comes down to hypothetical litigation here. What's really the primary issue, as I see it, is whether or not such a denial would be a violation of the police power itself.
The Chick-fil-A hypothetical permit denial does not on its face regulate speech: neither the CEO's personal remarks, nor the official speech of the corporation are being suppressed. While there is a colorable as-applied claim of retaliation through the land use process in this hypo, the way I see it is that the primary cause of action would be that the permit denial was a violation of the statutory zoning/regulatory power itself. In other words, Chick-fil-A would start by arguing that the city's denial of permission to build is not legitimately related to the purposes for which the state legislature granted the power to regulate.
The power of local governments to engage in planning, zoning, and building regulations comes from the police powers--the state legislature's plenary authority to regulate. The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act, promulgated by Secretary Hoover's Commerce Department in 1926, starts with the standard description of the police-power font of authority for all modern land use regulation, which is "[f]or the purpose of promoting health, safety, morals, or the general welfare of the community . . . ." This means that in theory, as long as there is a legitimate reason for regulating on those broad bases, a local government can be empowered to regulate land use in its political discretion. Therefore there is a "presumption of constitutionality" granted to land use regulations (see Mandelker & Tarlock 1992 for a nuanced analysis of the presumption in judicial review). Judicial review--again, in theory--has generally centered on whether the regulation itself (whether a use restriction, site requirement, etc.) is legitimately related to one of the police-power purposes. A classic Euclidean example would be restriction of industrial uses from a residential area, for health and safety purposes.
While the courts have given broad interpretation to the police power justifications of land use regulations, the outer limit is supposed to be--again, in theory--that the nature of the restriction is itself somehow related to the objective. What it can't be is an arbitrary and capricious restriction based on considerations outside the police power. It's very similar to the "rational basis" standard of scrutinty that all lawyers learn about in consitutional law.
The reason this is important is because the presumption of constitutionality usually holds, the police powers usually win, and "arbitrary and capricious" challenges to land use decisions are hard to prove and usually lose. Steve Clowney noted Matt Yglesias' insight that almost any seemingly-legitimate content-neutral reason could give a police-power justification to regulate despte ulterior motives (though I think his example of a Sunday-opening requirement isn't the best one--just about anything involving traffic, for example, would be much easier to justify), and this is obviously a longstanding issue in land use law. But if I were trying to prove that a negative land use decision was outside the bounds of the police power basis of government regulation, I couldn't ask for a better piece of evidence than a published statement by a City Alderman like this:
"Because of this man's ignorance, I will now be denying Chick-fil-A's permit to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward."
(emphasis added). In other words, the primary reason for the negative land use decision does not have anything to do with the actual use of the land itself, but instead is based primarily on the government official's opinion about the property owner's opinions about topics extraneous to the land use (again, the decision is not based on any discriminatory practice, or on speech taking place on the site). This may in fact be a decision that is not rationally related to the police power basis for regulation, and could be struck down for that reason alone. This is important because while the First Amendment angle that had dominated the discussion of the issue could apply "strict scrutiny" to the decision, this situation could be the much rarer case where a court could find a government decision to be arbitrary and capricous, and therefore to flunk the rational basis test itself. Which means that this is potentially much more than just a case of an individual right trumping the regulatory power; it means that the city didn't have the power to do it in the first place.
This way of looking at the controversy allows us to consider the larger issue of what are the outer bounds of legitimate land use regulation, in a way that we don't often get to see in the real world. I'm still no fan of the substance of the CEO's remarks on gay marriage, but as a land use specialist, I'm also very disturbed by what Ken identified as an attitude of "entitlement" to near-absolute discretion over land use decisions by government officials in informal systems such as Chicago's traditional "aldermanic privilege," which is apparently so ingrained that it can lead an elected official to say things like:
"You have the right to say what you want to say, but zoning is not a right."
Well, maybe not, but the latter certainly can't depend on what a government official thinks of the former. Zoning still has to comport with the rule of law.
July 30, 2012
Salkin on the Quiet Revolution and Federalism
Patricia Salkin (Touro Law Center) has posted The Quiet Revolution and Federalism: Into the Future, 45 John Marshall Law Review (2012). The abstract:
This Article offers an examination of the federal role in land use planning and regulation set in the context of varying theories of federalism by presenting a historical and modern overview of the increasing federal influence in local land use planning and regulation, specifically highlighting how federal statutes and programs impact local municipal decision making in the area of land use planning. Part II provides a brief introduction into theories of federalism and their application to local land use regulation in the United States. Part III provides a brief overview of federal legislation in the United States which affected local land use across three time periods: first, that which existed before the publication of THE QUIET REVOLUTION; second, legislation that emerged a quarter century after the publication of THE QUIET REVOLUTION; and third, more recent federal programmatic and legislative approaches. Part IV provides analysis of the future of federalism in land use regulation, noting the increasing trend of the federal programmatic influence and the potential future influence on local land use controls. The Article concludes with a warning to local governments to be vigilant and to rethink the paradigm of land use regulation to regain control in certain areas to prevent further encroachment by the federal government into matters of local concern.
This article comes from last year's excellent Kratovil Conference retrospective on The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control (David Callies & Fred Bosselman (Council on Environmental Quality, 1971)), hosted by John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
The Politics of Chick Fil-A Bans
Matt has the legality of the various proposed Chick Fil-A bans covered. As numerous commentators have pointed out, prohibiting Chick Fil-A stores based on the opinions of the store's owner is flagrantly unconstitutional. While most commentators have focused on the First Amendment, I think Chik Fil-A has an equally strong legal argument under the Fourteenth Amendment given the Supreme Court's decision in Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562 (2000): it is a violation of the equal protection clause to discriminate against a particular landowner due to "animus" against the landowner.
To me, the more interesting question is why city officials would propose something that is obviously unconstitutional (leaving aside the possibility that these officials are dumb, which is of course a legitimate possibility). In fact, if city officials really wanted to prevent Chick Fil-A from locating in their towns, the very worst thing they could have done is announce publicly their discriminatory animus toward the franchise. As land use folks have seen time and again, it's really easy for communities to exclude land uses they don't like (e.g., affordable housing) by citing vague concerns about traffic, noise, congestion, and so on. They rarely make the mistake of saying "we just don't want poor people living here." Now, because of what the various officials in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, etc have said, it will only be harder to exclude Chick Fil-A even if the city has legitimate concerns about traffic, noise, etc because the inference of discriminatory animus will be so hard to shake. So why, to repeat my question, are city officials doing this? There are two possible answers, as I see it:
1) City officials see themselves as having nearly absolute power over zoning. Such a sense of entitlement may stem from a variety of sources: 1) city officials' authority is rarely challenged by repeat-player developers who would rather not anger city officials they may have to deal with again and again; 2) the news media rarely takes up zoning issues as causes celebre, and 3) courts are largely deferential toward local zoning practices. This sense of entitlement may be especially acute in Chicago, where the informal practice of "aldermanic privilege" essentially grants the alderman in each ward the unfettered right to dole out land use permissions.
This is the less likely of two alternatives, however.
2) City officials knew all along that what they were proposing was unconstitutional, and never had any serious intention of banning Chick Fil-A. The real reason for their strident statements: signalling that they are gay-friendly communities. Under the public choice model of local governance, cities are conceptualized as "firms" who compete for affluent residents and tax revenues. Richard Florida has provocatively argued that one of the greatest potential resources for cities are gay residents, who tend to have high disposable incomes and have had a history of revitalizing depressed neighborhoods in many urban areas. Thus, it makes sense that these cities would want to signal their friendliness toward gays, and it especially makes sense that once one city so signalled, others did the same to ensure that they're not seen as any less gay-friendly. In this sense, the proposed Chick Fil-A bans are very similar to then-mayor Gavin Newsom performing gay marriages in San Francisco in 2004 in flagrant violation of California law.
One footnote here: If I'm right, why did New York mayor Mike Bloomberg so forcefully diverge from these other big-city officials and declare that cities have no right to ban Chick Fil-A? Perhaps Bloomberg felt he already had sufficient credibility with gays that this was an unnecessary stunt. In addition, cities aren't just competing for gays but for business. Bloomberg's corporate instincts probably led him to conclude that potential investors in NY real estate might be deterred if the city started engaging in viewpoint-discrimination among different businesses. This shows the delicate tap-dance big city officials have to constantly engage in: give sufficient tribute to the liberal constituencies while not alienating big business.
July 29, 2012
Call for Papers: Local Government Law Works-in-Progress Conference
Here's a great opportunity for the local government scholars among us (Full disclosure for those who don't want to scroll to the bottom: I am one of the conference organizers)
Call for Papers: Local Government Law Works-in-Progress Conference
Marquette University Law School is pleased to announce that it will host the first annual
Local Government Law Works-in-Progress Conference on Friday, September 21, 2012
(possibly Saturday, September 22, 2012 as well, depending on interest). The conference
will provide an opportunity for local government law scholars to present works-in-
progress and receive feedback from their colleagues in the field.
Registration Deadline: Monday, August 13, 2012
Register: [Link] (https://mulaw.wufoo.com/forms/local-government-law-worksinprogress-conference/)
Abstracts and Papers: Deadline Tuesday, September 4, 2012; submit papers to
Matt Parlow, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Marquette University Law School
Ken Stahl, Associate Professor of Law, Chapman University School of Law
Rick Su, Associate Professor of Law, SUNY Buffalo Law School
Ambassador Hotel (ask for MULS rate)
2308 W. Wisconsin Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53233
Rate: $109 (plus applicable taxes)
For more information, please contact Matt Parlow at email@example.com
July 28, 2012
Chick-fil-A, Gay Marriage, Constitutional Law, and Land Use
Even the culture wars often end up in a land use controversy. Over the past few days, public officials in Boston and Chicago made statements that Chick-fil-A restaurants would not be welcome in their jurisdictions because of the anti-gay-marriage opinions expressed by the company's CEO. According to the Wall Street Journal's Jack Nicas, one Chicago alderman went so far as to state that he would personally deny a permit solely on that basis. From First Amendment Trumps Critics of Chick-fil-A:
Chicago Alderman Proco Moreno wrote in the Chicago Tribune Thursday, "Because of [Mr. Cathy's] ignorance, I will deny Chick-fil-A a permit to open a restaurant in my ward."
I don't agree with the CEO's statements either, but it's pretty clear that, under the Constitution, his opinions can't legitimately be the basis for granting or denying land use permission. Cleveland State law prof Alan Weinstein put it best:
Alan Weinstein, a professor of law at Cleveland State University who specializes on the intersection of land-use law and constitutional issues, said he has seen officials try to use zoning laws to block adult stores or religious institutions, but never a commercial enterprise because of political views. He said that beyond the First Amendment, "in the land-use sphere, the government has no legitimate interest" in the political views of an applicant.
That last observation is key. Most of the commentary on this issue has revolved around the CEO's First Amendment rights. And it's true that free speech is one of the only areas where the courts will apply strict scrutiny to overturn government land use decisions. But as Prof. Weinstein notes, this question isn't even really about regulating actual speech on land; it's about the rational basis for land use regulation itself under the police powers.
From a pragmatic perspective, it's pretty easy to imagine a counterfactual scenario where an unpopular political opinion on the other side of the spectrum could likewise result in negative land use decisions under such a precedent. It appears that this constitutional reality is setting in, and the public officials are backtracking. Here's a video interview with the WSJ reporter:
I was one of the other "land use experts" who talked to the reporter, but Prof. Weinstein definitely said it best.
So to sum up: Many of us disagree with the Chick-fil-A CEO's opinions, but everyone seems to agree that it would be unconsitituional to prohibit the company's land use on that basis.
July 27, 2012
Streamlining Land Use Regulation and Development Review
As reported on Planetizen, Seattle's City Council approved a series of changes to the city's land use regulations on Monday that, it is claimed, "will create jobs and encourage flexibility and creativity in new development." These changes include an easing of parking requirements for new projects, a higher threshold for the size of projects subject to environmental review, and the elimination of a requirement of ground-floor retail space in certain areas. Last month, New York City initiated a program aimed at speeding up the land use review process and reducing associated costs for developers. New York is also considering reductions, in certain areas, of off-street parking requirements for new developments. (See a Furman Center report on the impact of minimum parking requirements on housing affordability.) Similarly, Los Angeles recently approved five years of funding for its Planning Department to revise the city's zoning code, part of a broader initiative to streamline development approvals.
These programs are championed for their benefits in spurring development and increasing predictability. But for critics they threaten to reduce public input and the careful consideration of neighborhood concerns. It will be interesting to see whether these changes represent a trend, partly motivated by the current economic climate, towards major reforms in city land use regulations and review processes. If readers know of similar efforts underway elsewhere, please share.