Sunday, May 29, 2011

Reiss on Foundations of Federal Housing Policy

David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Foundations of Federal Housing Policy, a chapter in the book COMMUNITY, HOME, AND IDENTITY, Michael Diamond, Terry Turnipseed, eds., 2011.  The abstract:

Federal housing policy is heavily funded and made up of a morass of programs. This book chapter provides a taxonomy of goals for housing policy. The chapter first asks what the aim of housing policy is. In other words, what can a well-designed and executed housing policy achieve? The answer to this question is not at all clear-cut. Some argue that the aim of housing policy is to allow all Americans to live in safe, well-maintained and affordable housing. Others argue for a more modest aim – achieving an income transfer to low- and moderate-income families that mandates that the income transferred is consumed in increased housing. And yet others argue that the main aim is to create a nation of homeowner-citizens, a goal which hearkens back to Jefferson’s idealized “yeoman farmer” and continues through to George W. Bush’s "ownership society."

Beginning with these possibilities, I identify and categorize various "principles" of American housing policy. This is an important exercise because 80 plus years of housing policy; hundreds of billions of dollars; and literally hundreds of different housing programs have all conspired to confuse the essential aims of American housing policy. This chapter seeks to clarify debates surrounding American housing policy as the Obama Administration puts its own stamp on this field.

Looks like a fascinating contribution on a very important topic.

Matt Festa

May 29, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Federal Government, History, Housing, Politics, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Washington Post Investigative Report on HUD

Courtesy of Mark Edwards at Property Prof, a link to what looks like an important and troubling report, Million-Dollar Wasteland: HUD's Mismanagement of America's Affordable Housing.  Here's Edwards' initial reaction:

Given that Congress is looking for areas to budget-cut, I suspect this series could be a game-changer for HUD.  That's unfortunate, because the need for affordable housing in the United States is enormous.  No doubt there is waste at HUD.  But I suspect that the committed and well-intentioned people at HUD are trapped in a downward spiral: they aren't given enough resources to adequately oversee the projects they fund; the projects they fund are wasteful; so their resources are cut.

Matt Festa

May 15, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Federal Government, Housing, HUD, Politics, Real Estate Transactions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Will Southern Arizona Become the 51st State?

In my on-going quest to post items that marry my interests in land use and immigration law, I present an NPR story that aired yesterday about efforts by a group in Pima County, Arizona to break away over Arizona's draconian (and possibly federally preempted) effort to regulate illegal immigration.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I also note that Georgia's legislature has passed a similar bill.)

It doesn't sound much like the effort to create Baja Arizona will come to fruition, but it's an interesting piece of political protest.  We'll see what comes next.

Jamie Baker Roskie

May 11, 2011 in Georgia, Politics | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ely on the Constitution and Economic Liberty

James W. Ely, Jr. (Vanderbilt) has posted The Constitution and Economic Liberty, forthcoming in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.  The abstract:

This essay addresses the relationship between the Constitution and Bill of Rights and the concept of economic liberty. It calls into question the famous quip of Justice Holmes in Lochner v. New York (1905) that the Constitution was not intended “to embody a particular economic theory.” The essay contends that the framers of the Constitution clearly envisioned a constitutional order grounded on private property and a market economy. To this end, many provisions of the Constitution pertain to property interests and economic activity. It concludes that, although the Constitution does not endorse a laissez-faire regime, Holmes was wrong to suggest that the Constitution was entirely neutral with respect to economic policy. In fact, the framers favored a free market and sought to protect property and contractual rights.

This short essay from one of my mentors is packed with a compelling historical argument. 

Matt Festa

May 10, 2011 in Constitutional Law, History, Politics, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Spillover Effects of Flood Control

While waiting for the first stack of ungraded final exams to hit my desk this week, I’ve been following developments in a dispute between Illinois and Missouri over flooding along the Mississippi River.  Rising floodwaters in the region presented federal government officials with a difficult choice.  If they took no action, severe flooding would likely destroy the small town of Cairo, Illinois.  If they intentionally broke a downstream levee, they would save Cairo from ruin but would allow floodwaters to devastate 90 homes and 200 square miles of farmland in Missouri.  I plan on discussing this simple dilemma to introduce the concept of cost-benefit analysis to my Land Use students this Fall. 

The conflict has centered on whether to activate the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, a 130,000-acre area in southeast Missouri.  In the 1920s and 1930s, the federal government paid private landowners an average of $17 per acre to acquire “flowage rights” throughout the floodway.  The acquisition of these rights, authorized under the 1928 Flood Control Act, entitles the federal government to purposely divert water from the main channel of the Mississippi River onto the burdened properties when necessary to prevent flooding elsewhere.

For the past week, Illinois and Missouri have been battling in court over whether the federal government should fill the floodway with water for the first time since 1937 to prevent flooding in Cairo.  Missouri’s attorney general filed a complaint in U.S. District Court last week seeking a court order to prevent intentional flooding of the floodway, arguing that it was unjustified and would cause water pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act.  The District Court denied Missouri’s request, and Missouri’s appeals to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. Supreme Court also failed.  With the legal obstacles cleared, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to blast a two-mile-wide hole in a river levee last night and began floodwaters pouring into the floodway.    

According to Bloomberg, the U.S. Government believes that flooding the floodway will cause about $314 million in damage and contamination but will avoid more than $1.7 billion in damage in Cairo and other communities along the river.  Based on those figures, landowners within the floodway were the least-cost avoiders in this context and sacrificing their land uses to protect more valuable uses upstream probably maximizes social welfare.  Not surprisingly, many of the private individuals residing or working within the 200-square-mile floodway were more focused on their own losses.  A local newspaper article suggests that some landowners intend to file a takings claim against the federal government for breaking the levee. 

Ironically, the concept of externalities or “spillover” effects takes on a double meaning in this case.  The question of whether or not to flood the floodway required government decision makers to consider both the literal and figurative spillover effects of each option!

Troy Rule

May 3, 2011 in Environmentalism, Federal Government, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Takings, Teaching, Water | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boyack on the Role and Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Andrea J. Boyack (George Washington) has posted Laudable Goals and Unintended Consequences: The Role and Control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, forthcoming in the American University Law Review.  The abstract:

The United States is struggling to emerge from an era of loose mortgage underwriting standards – lapses in credit analysis that led to origination and securitization of toxic loans. The fallout has been crippling, costing borrowers their homes, investors their money, and the government its taxes.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the Dodd-Frank Act) passed last summer was the first comprehensive effort to address the problems in the system that led – in sequence – to the subprime crisis, the housing crisis, and the financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank Act, which contains over 2,300 pages of legislation, is very broad as well as very detailed – even though hundreds of rulemakings have yet to completely define its parameters. But this extensive legislation deliberately did not deal with the biggest elephant (or perhaps elephants) in the room: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These government sponsored enterprises (GSEs), behemoths of the secondary mortgage market, are currently in conservatorship and have (so far) cost taxpayers over $130 billion. Yet our current residential mortgage market is utterly dependent upon them for credit and liquidity. With political pressures to stop taxpayer bailouts and the reality of a frozen mortgage market should Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cease to exist, when it comes to the GSEs, the administration feels damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

For decades, the U.S. mortgage finance system was the envy of the world – the only industrialized nation to have a significant segment of housing costs covered by private capital through a securitization investment system. The United States is the only country to routinely offer homebuyers 30-year fixed-rate pre-payable mortgage loans. Better capital accessibility has made more homeownership opportunities more available to more Americans. The GSEs have performed a vital role in financing the production of rental housing as well. Our real estate capital markets set the gold standard worldwide for what is possible in freeing trapped asset values and increasing the wealth of borrowers and investors alike.

Over the past decade, this system undoubtedly became unhinged – and it is critical to reform its failings. But a complete wind-down of the government sponsored enterprises that are the linchpin of our housing finance system goes too far. Subtracting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from the finance equation may very well be market suicide, and the repercussions for borrowers, communities and investors would be dire indeed. Furthermore, this extreme step is unnecessary: the system’s failures can be adequately (and better) addressed within the GSE framework.

Undoubtedly there is still ample dirty “bathwater” to throw out as we reform the mortgage finance market system. But it would be an excruciating mistake to bow to political pressures and throw out the “baby” too. Current and future mortgage borrowers will only be adequately “protected” if they are empowered through access to capital, appropriately constrained by valid underwriting criteria. A well functioning market – rather than political scapegoating – is the best way to emerge from the recession and protect future buyers and investors alike.

This article first discusses the history and purposes of the GSEs and what went wrong with the system that led to the 2008 conservatorship and bailout. With reference to the Obama Administration’s February 2011 Report to Congress, “Reforming America’s Housing Finance Market,” Part II analyzes proposals to reform and wind down the GSEs in light of their likely legal and market impact. Part III offers some general suggestions on better approaches to crafting America’s future mortgage market and advocates for solutions more precisely tailored to remedy apparent systemic problems while achieving the identified policy goals.

One of several interesting articles coming out this year that will add to our knowledge about Fannie, Freddie, and the mortgage crisis.  An interesting take on reforming the system from within--check it out.

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, History, Housing, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Politics, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hills & Schleicher on Balancing the "Zoning Budget"

Roderick M. Hills (NYU) and David Schleicher (George Mason) have posted Balancing the "Zoning Budget," forthcoming in the Case Western Law Review.  The abstract:

The politics of urban land use frustrate even the best intentions. A number of cities have made strong political commitments to increasing their local housing supply in the face of a crisis of affordability and availability in urban housing. However, their decisions to engage in “up-zoning,” or increases in the areas in which new housing can be built, are often offset by even more “down-zoning” or laws that decrease the ability of residents in a designated area to build new housing as-of-right. The result is that housing availability does not increase by anywhere near the promises of elected officials.

In this essay, we argue that the difficulty cities face in increasing local housing supply is a result of the seriatim nature of local land use decisions. Because each down-zoning decision has only a small effect on the housing supply, citywide forces spend little political capital fighting them, leaving the field to neighborhood groups who care deeply. Further, because down-zoning decisions are made in advance of any proposed new development, the most active interest group in favor of new housing – developers – takes a pass on lobbying. The result is an uneven playing field in favor of down-zoning.

Drawing on examples of “extra-congressional procedure” like federal base closing commissions and the Reciprocal Trade Act of 1933, we argue that local governments can solve this problem by changing the procedure by which they consider zoning decisions. Specifically, they should pass laws that require the city to create a local “zoning budget” each year. All deviations downward from planned growth in housing supply expressed in the budget should have to be offset by corresponding increases elsewhere in buildable as-of-right land. This would reduce the degree to which universal logrolling coalitions can form among anti-development neighborhood groups and would create incentives for pro-development forces to lobby against down-zonings in which they currently have little interest. The result should be housing policy that more closely tracks local preferences on housing development.

Looks really fascinating.  I plan to read it just as soon as I finish drafting this final exam!

Matt Festa

April 23, 2011 in Affordable Housing, Development, History, Housing, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property Rights, Scholarship, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Final Four and Land Use in the Unzoned City

Img_0468 As many of you might be aware, the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four has been this weekend in Houston, where I live and teach.  As I write this, the championship game is set to tip off in about an hour in Reliant Stadium, about a mile from my home.  So of course you must be thinking "how is Festa going to turn this into a land use issue?" 

Already done, with my students' help.  On the first day of the semester, to make the point that land use issues intersect with almost everything that goes on in our communities, I put up the home page of the Houston Chronicle and challenged them to explain the land use issues in a given story.  The lead story was something about the then-upcoming Final Four.  So here's some of what we came up with on the fly:

Land assembly--where did they get the land to build the stadium and the parking?  It's next to the old Astrodome (you can see a corner of it in the picture), so I don't believe eminent domain was needed this time around, but you know that's always a big issue with new sports stadiums. 

Use--the Reliant/Astrodome complex was just used up until about two weeks ago for one of the nation's largest Livestock Show & Rodeo events with accompanying carnival.  It's impressive that they could retrofit for the Final Four so quickly.

Transportation--can people get there?  Do the roads need to be widened, etc.?  If so, who pays, and are there legal changes needed?  Houston has a seven-year old light rail that goes from downtown through the Texas Medical Center to the stadium, and it's been quite busy the past weekend.  Also, there've been lots of limos, helicopters, and blimps around town the last few days--where do they go?

Local government--the stadium is goverened not by the City of Houston, but by an independent quasi-public County Sports Authority.  Plus the transportation is governed by a separate Metro agency.  However a lot of coordination is necessary for big events like the Final Four. Final Four 010

Facilities--lots of people coming in from all over the country; where do they stay, etc.  For example, I took a ULI-sponsored construction site tour about a year ago of the just-opened Embassy Suites downtown.  The city's goal was to get a hotel opened in time for the Final Four, so there was a fairly complicated tax incentive scheme put in place that involved changing the law to provide an occupancy-tax break for new hotels sited in a particular space (and they say we don't have zoning based on use).  The incentivized siting was between the light rail and the new Discovery Green park--where a lot of free concerts have been given as part of the festivities--and the downtown convention center, where the "Bracketown" official hoopla program was held.  All of this is just a few blocks from where I teach at South Texas College of Law.  Discovery Green is itself also a recently-built and critically acclaimed new urban park and public space.  Finally, all of the planning and coordination that involves a city's hosting a big event requires lots of logistics, regulatory changes, and many many permit approvals, for things ranging from temporary buildings to new signs.

So my students and I think there are a lot of land use issues involved with having the Final Four in town, and it goes to show that even in the Unzoned City, there are many ways that land use gets regulated and controlled.  It's been fun having all the activity in town, and . . . Go Butler!

UPDATE: It wasn't to be for the underdogs, so congrats to Connecticut.  The photo above was taken by Natalie Festa at almost the exact time that the national championship game tipped off.  "The Road Ends . . ." = land use metaphor?  Tuesday is the women's championship--don't tell my fellow Texans that I'll be pulling for Notre Dame vs. A&M. 

Matt Festa

April 4, 2011 in Development, Downtown, First Amendment, Green Building, History, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, Signs, Sun Belt, Teaching, Texas, Transportation, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day 2011

[This is a reprise of last year's St. Pat's post, plus a picture from 2011--MJF]

Now it's time to try and make a land use-related post about St. Patrick's Day.  First of all, the legend of St. Patrick has it that he drove the snakes out of Ireland.  If that isn't an awesome land use regulatory feat, then nothing is!     

St. Patrick is credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland, and the Church played a major part in land control over the centuries.  Later on in Irish history, the Catholic-Protestant struggle had a great deal to do with English land ownership and the relationship of the Irish people to the land.  Even until recent years, the symbol of St. Patrick has been part of the controversy over the IRA and Northern Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day has spread throughout the Irish diaspora worldwide.  In the U.S., St. Patrick's Day has, of course, served as a semi-official Irish-American holiday.  Irish immigrants moved throughout the country, but are particularly known for rising to political power in the cities.  Anti-Irish/Catholic prejudice loomed over the Gilded Age ("no Irish need apply") and the Progressive Era (multifamily housing (the "pig in the parlor") associated with immigrants).  Irish Catholic churches played a major role in urban affairs and continue to have a presence in First Amendment and RLUIPA issues.  After attaining some political power in urban political systems such as Tammany Hall, Irish-Americans have played a central role in city governance for over a century.  My undergrad alma mater, Notre Dame, served as a source of pride for Irish-Americans for its competitiveness in that land-use struggle known as football, and later in academics.  When John F. Kennedy was elected President, it seemed to many Americans of Irish extraction that they had finally become accepted into the American Dream. Img_0390

In the last few decades, St. Patrick's Day has continued to influence American land use issues.  Major celebrations take place in many U.S. cities, and places like Chicago, most famously, and Savannah dye their rivers green for the occasion.  [ancillary question: is being "green" a good thing, in this sense?]  In some American cities the St. Patrick's Day parade has become one of the most important political events of the year, which has led in turn to protracted litigation over the question of who gets to decide who marches in privately-organized yet publicly-sanctioned St. Patrick's Day parades.  The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the matter in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 557 (1995).  Justice Souter's opinion for a unanimous Court upheld the First Amendment associational rights of the parade organizers to exclude an Irish-American GLBT group (would the case come out the same way today?). 

St. Patrick's Day has a lot of cultural significance and a little bit of land-use significance too.  So hoist a green beer and celebrate.  [And in 2011, Jim and I are hoping that the luck of the Irish works all the way to Houston for the Final Four!]

Matt O'Festa

March 17, 2011 in Chicago, Comparative Land Use, Constitutional Law, Downtown, First Amendment, History, Houston, Humorous, Local Government, New York, Politics, Supreme Court, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Dimensional Master Plan?

Helsinki Underground 
Hello all and thanks for the welcome, Matt.

For years cities, such as Montreal (the RESO), have been developing space underground.  In what CNN reports as a "first," Helsinki has developed an Underground Master Plan.  The plan designates a diverse group of uses for the underground area, ranging from industrial to recreation uses, such as an existing swimming pool (which, fortunately, doubles as a bunker when necessary).  According to the report, Helsinki sits on bedrock strong enough to support the existing streetscape even when space is carved out for the lower levels.  The CNN report claims a host of environmental benefits from the action, many of which are disputed in the comments.

As cities such as Helsinki start to think about the relationship between the street level and the subsurface (as inhabitable space), the next step may be to craft a three dimensional master plan.  And who knows, this may be Seattle's chance to recommission its underground, although "[w]hen your dreams tire, they go underground and out of kindness that's where they stay." (Margaret Fuller).

Jon Rosenbloom

March 1, 2011 in Architecture, California, Common Interest Communities, Community Design, Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Density, Development, Downtown, Economic Development, History, Homeowners Associations, Housing, Local Government, New Urbanism, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, Smart Growth, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 28, 2011

Making Comprehensive Planning Optional (in Georgia)

It's not getting much play in the media, but there is legislation moving through the Georgia legislature that would make local comprehensive planning and solid waste planning optional.  Currently both are mandated by state law.  Well, actually, comprehensive planning isn't mandated, exactly, but local governments must have comprehensive plans to quality for various kinds of funding, including state-administered community development block grants. (See the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website for more information about comprehensive planning requirements.)  The Association [of] County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association both support the bill.  Interesting, the Gwinnett Council for Quality Growth has expressed concern.  The Council, which started out as a developers' organization, is apparently now largely populated by consultants and professional planners who make their living writing comprehensive plans (among other things).   It will be interesting to see how this plays out, particularly given the precarious financial position of local governments.

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 28, 2011 in Comprehensive Plans, Georgia, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where does Redevelopment Fit in our Priorities?

Ethan Elkind has a great post over at Legal Planet about Redevelopment and Governor Jerry Brown's budget priorities.

We have quite a quandry in front of us as states deal with budget problems and many redevelopment agencies seem poorly run. What's a poor city to? Ethan offers some suggestions. Like the unions in Wisconsin, he is also admitting that we are going to have to give some ground and agree to budget cuts.

- Jessica Owley

February 24, 2011 in Density, Development, Politics, Redevelopment, State Government, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Purdy on American Natures: The Shape of Conflict in Environmental Law

Jedediah Purdy (Duke) has posted American Natures: The Shape of Conflict in Environmental Law.  The abstract:

There is a firestorm of political and cultural conflict around environmental issues, including but running well beyond climate change. Legal scholarship is in a bad position to make sense of this conflict because the field has concentrated on making sound policy recommendations to an idealized lawmaker, ignoring the deeply held and sharply clashing values that drive, or block, environmental lawmaking. This Article sets out a framework for understanding and engaging the clash of values in environmental law and, by extension, approaching the field more generally. Americans have held, and legislated based upon, four distinct ideas about why the natural world matters and how we should govern it. Each of these conceptions persists in a body of environmental law, a network of interest and advocacy groups, the attitudes and even identities of ordinary citizens, and even the American landscape. The first, Providential Republicanism, treats nature as intended for productive human use, and gives high status to its users: this idea justified the European claim to North America, defined public debates about nature in the Early Republic and persists in important aspects of private and public land-use law. The second conception, Progressive Management, arose in the later nineteenth century as part of a broader legal reform movement, and gave its shape to much of federal lands policy, notably creation of the national forests and national parks. In this idea, nature’s productive use requires extensive management by public-spirited experts, whom reformers imagined as steering the environmental policy of the administrative state. The third conception, Romantic Epiphany, concentrates on the aesthetic and spiritual value of nature, and has defined both national parks policy and the creation of the national wilderness system, and lent essential support to the Endangered Species Act. This idea entered environmental politics at the turn of the last century, with the efforts of the Sierra Club and other innovators. The most recent conception of nature, Ecological Interdependence, arose in the middle of the twentieth century and shaped much of the environmental law of the 1970s and thereafter. This conception treats nature as an intensely inter-permeable web, which humans are unavoidably part of, to our benefit and hazard. Because all these ideas persist today in environmental law and politics, they provide a map of our existing statutes and doctrines and the conflicts around those laws and emerging issues such as climate change.

Looks like an interesting and important historical perspective on contemporary environmental policy. 

Matt Festa

February 24, 2011 in Climate, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Politics, Property Theory, Scholarship, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Eagle on Urban Revitalization, Eminent Domain, and Jane Jacobs

Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted Urban Revitalization and Eminent Domain: Misinterpreting Jane Jacobs, forthcoming in the Albany Government Law Review.  The abstract:

This article reviews the implications for land use policy of Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Fifty years after its publication in 1961, Death and Life remains a clarion call for resistance to monolithic development and to the reigning paradigm of urban planning in the mid-20th century. The article asserts, however, that government officials and planners have learned the wrong lesson from Jacobs. Their emphasis on the top-down imposition of what purports to be varied development is evident in the growth of condemnation for retransfer for private economic redevelopment. Such policies are directly contrary to Jacobs’ insistence on bottom-up organic development.

The article further describes the muddled state of the U.S. Constitution’s Public Use Clause, evident in Kelo v. City of New London and in state cases such as Goldstein v. New York State Urban Development Corporation. It asserts that judicial unwillingness to provide meaningful scrutiny to condemnation for private redevelopment is based, in part, on acceptance of the revisionist, and incorrect, reading of Jacobs’ work.

Matt Festa

February 12, 2011 in Eminent Domain, History, Housing, New Urbanism, New York, NIMBY, Planning, Politics, Scholarship, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Billions for High Speed Rail

Vice President Biden made an announcement Tuesday that's grabbing headlines - $53 billion in the Administration's proposed budget for high speed rail.  From an article on CNN.com:

The proposed new investment -- including $8 billion in the upcoming fiscal year -- would accompany a streamlined application process for cities, states, and private companies seeking federal grants and loans to develop railway capacity.

"There are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation -- one of which is infrastructure," Biden said in a written statement. There is a pressing need "to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced."

It might be, though, that none of that money ends up in Georgia. Georgia has a history of being hostile or apathetic to proposals for high speed rail, something that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made a point of when he visited the state last year.

I think it's a shame Georgia's leadership isn't more progressive about rail.  I loved the ease and convenience of riding the train to Philly when I lived in DC (much better than being grounded on a plane by thunderstorms in the summer, or driving the insanity that is I-95 in the Northeast corridor). Rail between Athens and Atlanta, and Atlanta and Chattanooga, make a ton of sense. But then, nobody's really asking me...

Jamie Baker Roskie

February 10, 2011 in Budgeting, Federal Government, Georgia, Politics, State Government, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Super Land Use Bowl

In class, we started off the week with a quick session of Current Events in Land Use (aka, what-can't-Festa-turn-into-a-land-use-issue).  The topic?  Super Bowl.  The students were prepared.  Here's what they came up with:

The weather.  Of course that was on everyone's mind last week all around the country, with blizzards in the northeast and midwest, and even a snow day in Texas.  But Dallas had it particularly rough, affecting travel both to and around the DFW metroplex.  When the Super Bowl is held in New Jersey in 2014, the weather may be worse, but I predict that it won't cause as many problems as it did in Dallas because it isn't (usually) rational for a city like Dallas to make the local government investments in snowplows, employees, and materials (salt) that will be on hand in NJ.

The parties.  The worst weather was earlier in the week, so not that big a deal, right?  I didn't realize this until the big game came to Houston in 2004, but the Super Bowl brings a full 1-2 weeks of celebrities, money, and parties--everything from huge VIP bashes to public street parties.  Unlike any other sports event that I know of.  And these things take lots of permits, approvals, resources, and land use coordination with local governments.  I even have it on good authority from a DFW land use prof that there were private helicopter services to take people from party to party.  I remember my very first assignment as an associate was to research the Houston sign code for a client who wanted to do a lot of temporary advertising during the Super Bowl festivities.  Probably lots of SOB issues too.

The stadium issue.  I'm sure you've all heard about controversies over sports teams' demanding new facilities, and the debate over whether the projects prove as economically beneficial as promised.  The nearby baseball Ballpark at Arlington was built in the early 1990s using public funding and eminent domain (under the supervision of then-owner George W. Bush).  Apparently the same tactics were used for the recently-built (just in time for the team to not play in the Super Bowl!) Cowboys Stadium.  Another land use issue is the location--out in the suburbs.  One student told me that team owner Jerry Jones tried to get it built close to downtown, but for issues of either land assembly or zoning and permitting (or maybe tax issues too), it couldn't get done.

I'll add one more: the team names.  I take no side in the Clowney-Edwards debate at Property Prof Blog (though I did see a "Cheesheads for Obama" pin at the junior scholars conference in Albany).  But I like the fact that these two team names say something about their cities' histories, and of course, land uses: Pittsburgh is obviously a steel town, and Green Bay's team is named after its meat-packing industry.

So that was in land use class.  In my Property I classes, I simply noted that at the end of last week I predicted that the final score would be Packers 31, Steelers 24; and that the actual score was Packers 31, Steelers 25.  So there!

Matt Festa

February 9, 2011 in Development, Eminent Domain, History, Local Government, Politics, Suburbs, Texas, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Fracking Conference

We've got a lot of exciting things going on here in Buffalo these days. At the end of March, we'll be holding a symposium and community forum on fracking. I hope to see some of you there!

- Jessica Owley

 Hydrofracking: Exploring the Legal Issues in the Context of Politics, Science and the Economy

March 28-29, 2011 at University at Buffalo School of Law

Buffalo, New York

On March 28-29, 2011 the University at Buffalo Environmental Law Program and the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy will host the conference: Hydrofracking: Exploring the Legal Issues in the Context of Politics, Science and the Economy.

Horizontal-gas drilling involving hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking or fracking, and its potential effects is an important environmental and energy concern for the nation. This conference provides an opportunity for a scholarly exchange of ideas regarding the issue as well as a forum for community discussion.

We welcome submissions on any related topic, including the following:

  • Hydrofracking and Nuisance Law
  • Impacts on Tribal Lands
  • Administrative law and the EPA Rulemakings
  • Environmental Review Processes    
  • Application of federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act
  • Energy issues, in including the Energy Policy Act and DOE policy
  • Endocrine Disruption and Human Health Impacts

Authors will have an opportunity to publish their work in the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. You are invited to submit a paper or presentation proposal for of no more than 250 words by Monday, February 21st to jol@buffalo.edu.

For more information, contact Jessica Owley [jol@buffalo.edu or 716-645-8182] or Kim Diana Connolly [kimconno@buffalo.edu or 716-645-2092]

February 7, 2011 in Clean Energy, Climate, Conferences, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Exurbs, Federal Government, Local Government, New York, NIMBY, Nuisance, Oil & Gas, Planning, Politics, Property, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Sustainability, Water | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Eminent Domain Song

 

I am neither endorsing the musicality of this video nor its message but I just can't resist sharing land-use-inspired music.

- Jessica Owley

February 7, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Development, Eminent Domain, Humorous, Planning, Politics, Property Rights, Transportation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Snow Days in Texas and Elsewhere

Today I am in my hometown of Albany NY, trudging through waist-high ramparts of plowed snow.  Much of the US has suffered tremendous snowfalls/blizzards in the past week.  Back in my current home of Houston, TX, my family and students are having a "snow day" because they anticipate maybe getting some white stuff.  Since the typical transplanted-yankee reaction is to scoff at the inability of southern cities to deal with snowy weather, I think it's worth editing and reprising this post from last year, where I defend the local government choice to take the occasional shutdown over the necessary land use investment for snow removal:

Snow Day in Texas

Hard to believe, but it might snow today in Houston. Such weather is pretty rare in Houston.  My law school has closed for the day in mere anticipation of snow.

I grew up in upstate New York [where I am today, in Albany], where the average January temperature is 22 F (compared to Houston's 55 F); average winter snowfall was 64" (compared to Houston's < 0.05").  Tennessee, where I lived for about eight years as an adult, is just far enough north to get some decent snowstorms each winter, but overall it has a much warmer, and shorter, winter.  Yet it seemed that in Tennessee the authorities were constantly cancelling school and shutting the city down.  Often the schools had to extend their year to make up for all of the snow days.  In New York we hardly ever lost a day of school due to snow; perhaps 0-2 per year.  Even a 12-inch snowfall was not a problem, while in Tennessee they would preemptively close for a forecast of snow.

Fellow northern transplants and I would snicker at all this.  You call this a snowstorm?  I chalked up the different approaches to the hardiness of our yankee constitutions.  But eventually I think I figured out what might be the biggest factor in the different regional reactions, and it's a land use & local government issue.  Albany County's snow removal budget for supplies alone (salt, fuel) is $1,217,500.  This doesn't include the operating costs for personnel, nor the capital outlays for the equipment; a new snow plow can cost a city around $200,000.  Chicago's total snow removal budget is $17 million

So while these types of expenditures are necessary in northern cities, it wouldn't make sense in warmer climes to purchase and maintain the equipment, supplies, and personnel necessary for snow removal capability.  In Houston a freak storm like today's doesn't happen often enough to remotely justify the expense.  It becomes a more difficult question for places in the latitudinal middle, like Tennessee and Kentucky.  One could measure the economic impact of lost school and work days and business in the area, and compare it to the costs of snow removal.  But even that would still need to make some predictive assumptions based on variance from year to year.  (Besides, why invest in a snow plow when Georgia will soon be underwater due to global warming?) 

Assuming rational actors, one would think we could draw lines between the places where it is more efficient as a matter of municipal policy to do snow removal, and those where it is more efficient to simply ride out the storms as they come.  Obviously there are a lot of other factors for planners in making this decision, including geography, the urban/suburban/rural character of the place, and other unique factors.  Plus there are the politics of snow removal (a blizzard is said to have altered the outcome of Chicago's mayoral primary in 1979). 

But obviously it would never make sense on the Gulf Coast, so we'll just hunker down as we watch the freak snowfall today (my three-year-old [now four, and still talking about last year's snow] has no idea what this stuff is).  But don't feel bad for me-- it will be back up to 74 F by Tuesday. 

So take that, yankees.  As Jessica points out, in Buffalo they make the social land use adjustments that are necessary, but they take a rational approach in Houston too.  I might reconsider this stance tonight after I freeze off my fourth point of contact. 

Matt Festa

UPDATE: No snow in Houston, but everything's frozen.  Contrast the icy fountain in front of my Houston apartment with the snowdrifts piled high in front of my childhood home in NY.  Yet the local government responses are as different as the respective amounts of frozen H2O. 

MJF 2-2011 113 Albany Feb 2011 017

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 4, 2011 in Climate, Georgia, Houston, Local Government, New York, Planning, Politics, Sun Belt, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Principle of Proximity

Heard the news that the Internet has made geography irrelevant to the formation of community?  You might want to look at this paper anyway.  Jeremy Waldron (NYU) has posted The Principle of Proximity.  Here's the abstract:

How should we think about, how should we model the basis of political community. To the extent that it is a matter of choice, what should be the basis on which the people of the world divide themselves up into distinct political communities. This paper seeks to cast doubt on the proposition that it is a good idea for people to form a political community exclusively with those who share with them some affinity or trust based on culture, language, religion, or ethnicity. I want to cast doubt on that proposition by articulating an alternative approach to the formation of political communities, which I shall call the principle of proximity. People should form political communities with those who are close to them in physical space, particularly those close to them whom they are otherwise like to fight or to be at odds with. This principle is rooted in the political philosophies of Hobbes and Kant. The suggestion is that we are likely to have our most frequent and most densely variegated conflicts with those with whom we are (in Kant’s words) “unavoidably side by side”, and the management of those conflicts requires not just law (which in principle can regulate even distant conflicts) but law organized densely and with great complexity under the auspices of a state. The paper outlines and discusses the proximity principle, and the conception of law and state that it involves, and defends it against the criticism that it underestimates the importance of pre-existing trust in the formation of political communities.  

Jim K.

February 3, 2011 in Politics, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)