May 18, 2013
Stern on State Legislative Checks and Judicial Takings
Here's another recently-posted paper from Stephanie Stern (Chicago-Kent): Protecting Property Through Politics: State Legislative Checks and Judicial Takings, forthcoming in the Minnesota Law Review. The abstract:
In the 2010 Supreme Court case Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a plurality of the Court launched judicial takings in political and scholarly debate and laid the groundwork for expanding the Fifth Amendment to encompass court decisions. This Article explores a neglected institution in the debate over judicial takings — state legislatures. In the comparatively rare instances when state courts overreach, state legislatures can revise state court decisions and restore private property rights. Through case studies of state legislative checks of judicial activism, I examine the comparative institutional advantages, and the potential gaps, of situating primary responsibility for state court revision in state legislatures. In view of takings federalism and the costs of judicial takings, I contend that the existing balance of state legislative checks and state court restraint works well enough to police against state court property activism.
May 18, 2013 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Politics, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 07, 2013
Owen on Taking Groundwater
Dave Owen (Maine) has posted Taking Groundwater. The abstract:
In February, 2012, in a case called Edwards Aquifer Authority v. Day, the Texas Supreme Court held that landowners hold property rights to the groundwater beneath their land, and that a regulatory restriction on groundwater use could constitute a taking of private property. The decision provoked strong reactions, both positive and negative, throughout the world of water law, for it signaled the possibility of severe restrictions on governmental ability to regulate groundwater use.
This Article considers the deeper issue that confronted the Texas Supreme Court, and that has confronted other courts across the country: how should the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment, and parallel clauses of state constitutions, apply to groundwater use regulation? Initially, this Article explains why this issue is exceedingly and increasingly important. It then reviews all of the groundwater/takings decisions from federal and state courts in the United States. Finally, the Article considers the implications of foundational property theories for the application of takings doctrine to groundwater use.
The analysis supports two key conclusions. First, it undermines arguments against treating water rights as “constitutional property” — that is, property protected by federal and state takings clauses. Proponents of those arguments generally assert that treating water rights as property has uneven support from prior caselaw and that such treatment will be prevent sensible governance. A review of groundwater caselaw demonstrates that the former assertion runs counter to the weight of authority, and that the fears underlying the latter argument are overstated. Second, and more importantly, the analysis undermines arguments for granting groundwater use rights heightened protection against regulatory takings. Recently, litigants and commentators skeptical of government regulatory authority have widely advanced those arguments. But they find no support in past groundwater/takings caselaw, and no property theory justifies adopting such an approach.
An important issue, and a reminder that state supreme courts continue to play a crucial role in shaping modern property law.
February 13, 2013
Missouri Law Conference on Promoting Sustainable Energy through Tax Policy
The University of Missouri School of Law is hosting a Symposium on February 22, 2013, called Promoting Sustainable Energy through Tax Policy. Sponsored by the Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Law and the Missouri Tax Law Society, the event will be introduced by Mizzou profs Michelle Arnopol Cecil and our own guest blogger Troy Rule, and features panels with Alexandra Klass (Minnesota), Steve Gaw (The Wind Coalition), Felix Mormann (Miami), Roberta Mann (Oregon), Robert Peroni (Texas), with a keynote by David Weisbach (Chicago). Here's the info and link:
Renewable energy and sustainable development are valuable means of combatting climate change and of reducing the nation’s reliance on foreign energy sources. Recognizing the importance of sustainable energy, state and federal policymakers have employed aggressive tax incentive programs to stimulate unprecedented growth in wind energy, solar energy, biomass, green building, and related industries in recent years. Unfortunately, shortfalls in many state budgets and growing concerns about the national debt are now creating pressure for governments to extinguish these tax programs — a move that could bring progress in the nation’s fledgling sustainable energy sector to a grinding halt.
This year’s Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Law symposium is being sponsored jointly with the University of Missouri Tax Law Society. The symposium explores questions about the long-term role of tax policy as a tool for promoting renewable energy and sustainability in the United States.
Cost and Registration
The symposium is free and open to the public.
Registration is suggested by Friday, February 15.
To register, please contact:
Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Law
University of Missouri School of Law
12E Hulston Hall
Columbia, MO 65211
February 13, 2013 in Clean Energy, Climate, Conferences, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Local Government, Oil & Gas, Politics, Scholarship, State Government, Wind Energy | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 12, 2013
Dispute over Yard Sign Destroys Fairfax HOA
A Virginia Homeowner's Assocation appears to have gone bankrupt due to litigation over its attempts to enforce its rules against a four-inch violation by a couple's Obama yard sign during the 2008 election. After four years, skyrocketing assessments, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, the bankrupt HOA is considering selling off the central common area. From the Washington Post, Feud over sign could force Fairfax's Olde Belhaven to sell square.
Such HOA disputes are as suburban as cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, but few metastasize into legal battles that spend years in the courts, break legal ground and bankrupt the HOA.
Most damaging of all, though, was a move probably unprecedented in area neighborhood feuds: The common area that is the literal and metaphoric heart of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. It appeared that “the square,” as some called the neighborhood, would no longer have a square.
“It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.
The litigation ranged from a challenge to the HOA's power to fine the owners, and a retaliation claim. It made some new law:
In 2010, a county judge sided with the Farrans on the fining issue. The case set a Virginia precedent that HOAs cannot claim powers, such as fining, that are not specifically laid out in their covenants.
You can read the whole article for a great description of the legal issues and the story. As HOAs trend toward more extensive sets of rules, and as not everyone buys in, you can probably finds examples of similar (if not quite so expensive) conflicts in communities around the country. And one thing that's common to both public and private regulation: when individual property rights clash with collective restrictions regarding people's homes, passions run high--even (especially?) when the stakes are as low as four inches on a political yard sign.
Thanks to Helen Jenkins for the pointer.
February 12, 2013 in Common Interest Communities, Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Homeowners Associations, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 16, 2012
The Quiet Revolution Symposium Issue--John Marshall Law Review
Last year we blogged about the then-upcoming Kratovil Conference on the 40th Anniversary of The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control, the seminal 1971 book by Fred Bosselman and David Callies. The conference was hosted by the Center for Real Estate Law and Practice at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, and the Symposium Issue has just come out in the John Marshall Law Review. The Conference blurb:
In 1971, the President's Council on Environmental Quality published The Quiet Revolution in Land Use Control. The book described in detail the innovative land use laws in nine states which returned the control of land use to a state or regional level, largely at the expense of local zoning. This constituted the "quiet revolution." The Kratovil Quiet Revolution Conference [brought] together national scholars and experts in land use to analyze the lasting impact of The Quiet Revolution in several jurisdictions around the country and examine the future of land use policy.
We've posted some of the individual articles as they came out on SSRN, but just last week I received the hard copy symposium issue in the mail. As you can see from the program, this excellent issue includes a foreword by Celeste Hammond, center director, and pieces by leading land use experts Bosselman, Callies, Patricia Salkin, Daniel Mandelker, Edward J. Sullivan, Nancy Stroud, and John S. Banta.
The whole issue is worth getting a hold of if you haven't already. But wait, there's more! Prof. Hammond notes in her cover letter that the entire conference is now available to watch on video! Here's a link to the conference page with videos on the Center's website. Check it out if you couldn't be there and are looking for a great excuse for end-of-semester procrastination!
November 06, 2012
Election Day and Land Use: The Future of Houston Transit
It's Election Day, and we all know what's the most important thing on the ballot: local land use issues. Through the initiative and referendum process, as well as in races for local government office, land use ballot issues often have an importance to our communities far beyond the relative amount of publicity they receive . . . especially in a presidential election year.
In Houston, voters are going to the polls today to answer a number of local government ballot questions, including amendments to the City Charter, a number of bond issues for parks and schools, and perhaps most importantly, a referendum that is colloquially referred to as "METRO."
In the late 1970s, Houston joined about 15 other local government bodies (including the County, the school district, and a number of smaller suburban municipalities) to create the METRO transit authority. METRO was responsible for regional buses and transit, and in the early 2000s it built the first Houston light rail line. METRO has ambitious plans to expand the light rail into a regional transit system, but it has always been controversial. METRO is supposed to be funded by a sales tax, but since its inception, the City has always diverted one-quarter of those revenues toward road improvements. So the ballot question is whether we should *continue* diverting that portion of the transit tax for another decade.
We discussed it in land use class yesterday. Here are some competing op-eds: METRO Board member Dwight Jefferson says that "Yes" on the METRO referendum will expand bus system, continue road building and reduce debt. In opposition, Houston Tomorrow president David Crossley says More light rail for Houston? If you’re pro-transit, vote "No" on METRO ballot issue. Mayor Annise Parker (D) and most politicians are in favor of the measure. As you can see in Crossley's op-ed and at the opposition website http://supporthoustontransit.org/2012/, the smart growth/pro-transit crowd is passionately opposed.
So--depending on who you ask--the future of transit in the nation's fourth-largest city is on the line; or, its capability to deal with critical mobility issues.
The unfortunate thing is that very few people even understand the ballot language, let alone the stakes. Here is the language of the ballot question that is referred to as the "METRO ballot" issue:
THE CONTINUED DEDICATION OF UP TO 25% OF METRO'S SALES AND USE TAX REVENUES FOR STREET IMPROVEMENTS AND RELATED PROJECTS FOR THE PERIOD OCTOBER 1, 2014 THROUGH DECEMBER 31, 2025 AS AUTHORIZED BY LAW AND WITH NO INCREASE IN THE CURRENT RATE OF METRO'S SALES AND USE TAX.
Last year I wrote a screed complaining about ballot language for state constitutional referenda. Ken Stahl penned a typically thoughtful response with a partial defense of the initiative process for land use issues (and of course he has the leading recent scholarly piece on Ballot Box Zoning). But this METRO referendum language seems to me to be a perfect example of how screwy the process is. Basically, if you are in favor of more transit generally and light rail expansion in particular, you are supposed to vote "NO" on the ballot referendum that everyone is referring to as "METRO." If you want that tax revenue to contiue to be diverted away from transit and toward roads, then you are supposed to vote "Yes on METRO."
We discussed this in Land Use class yesterday and it confirmed to me how confusing this is. My students are way above the average voter in land-use sophistication, but they still had a hard time figuring this out. I suspect that most voters, motivated into the booth primarily by their choice for the presidential election, will only have the vaguest idea that if you are pro-transit you are supposed to vote "no" on "METRO." That's counterintuitive, and I'm afraid that whatever the result is, it won't be a very good democratic indicator. And that's just for the people who vote on it; the proposal is one of the last items on the ginormous sample ballot that I photographed above. Many people will vote "straight party ticket" (that's an option in Texas) and walk out of the booth, without even seeing the referendum questions.
So we'll have to see how this land use question is resolved by the people, and, after that, what actually happens to the transit system and whether the political predicitons on either side come to fruition. In the meantime, remember that while the national horse race gets all the attention, there are critically important land use issues being decided in communities across America tonight.
UPDATE: "METRO" passed by a large margin: 79-21. The presidential vote in Houston was a statistical tie. All of the other ballot referenda (mostly to approve debt for capital projects) passed as well. I honestly have no idea whether the METRO vote represents anything at all with respect to public opinion on the future of transit.
October 04, 2012
Reiss on the Use of Eminent Domain to Restructure Mortgages
David J. Reiss (Brooklyn) has posted Comment on the Use of Eminent Domain to Restructure Performing Loans, which was submitted to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (No. 2012–N–11) (2012). The abstract:
There has been a lot of fear-mongering by financial industry trade groups over the widespread use of eminent domain to restructure residential mortgages. While there may be legitimate business reasons to oppose its use, its inconsistency with Takings jurisprudence should not be one of them. To date, the federal government’s responses to the current crisis in the housing markets have been at cross purposes, half-hearted and self-defeating. So it is not surprising that local governments are attempting to fashion solutions to the problem with the tools at their disposal. Courts should, and likely will, give these democratically-implemented and constitutionally-sound solutions a wide berth as the ship of state tries to right itself after being swamped by a tidal wave of mortgage defaults.
A concise and thoughtful public comment on what is emerging as a hot, hot issue.
October 4, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Finance, Housing, Local Government, Mortgage Crisis, Mortgages, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 24, 2012
Klass on Takings and Transmission
Alexandra B. Klass (Minnesota) has posted Takings and Transmission, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review. The abstract:
Ever since the Supreme Court’s controversial 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, courts, state legislatures, and the public have scrutinized eminent domain actions like never before. Such scrutiny has focused, for the most part, on the now-controversial “economic development” or “public purpose” takings involved in the Kelo case itself, where government takes private property for a redevelopment project that will benefit another private party as well as increase the tax base, create new jobs, assist in urban renewal, or otherwise provide economic or social benefits to the public. By contrast, until recently, there has been little change in law or public opinion with regard to takings involving publicly-owned projects such as hospitals or post offices or “use by the public” takings that involve condemnation for railroad lines, electric transmission lines, or other infrastructure projects. However, recent changes in electricity markets and the development of the country’s electric transmission system have raised new questions about the validity of “use by the public” takings in the context of electric transmission lines. With some transmission lines now being built by private, “merchant” companies rather than by publicly-regulated utilities, and with the push to build more interstate transmission lines to transport renewable energy to meet state renewable portfolio standards, what was once a classic public use is now subject to new statutory and constitutional challenges. This Article explores the potential impact of these developments on the use of eminent domain for electric transmission lines. Ultimately, it suggests that states should ensure that their eminent domain laws governing transmission lines are consistent with their policy preferences surrounding energy development in the state, and it outlines some ways for states to accomplish this goal.
I think you could make some analogous analysis about the newly-hot issue of eminent domain and pipelines, for example the controversy over the acquisition of rights of way for the Keystone Pipeline. Interesting issues.
September 19, 2012
Weinstein on Development Impact Fees
Alan Weinstein (Cleveland-Marshall) has posted The Ohio Supreme Court’s Perverse Stance on
Development Impact Fees and What to Do About It. The abstract:
Ohio is among the twenty-two states that have no enabling legislation for development impact fees. But in a 2000 ruling, Homebuilders Association of Dayton and the Miami Valley, et. al. v. City of Beavercreek, a divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled that municipalities could lawfully enact impact fees under their police and “home rule” powers, provided that the fees could pass constitutional muster under a “dual rational nexus test.” On May 31, 2012, however, the Court ruled in Drees Company, et. al. v. Hamilton Township, that a development impact fee enacted by an Ohio township with “limited home rule” powers was an unconstitutional tax. The Court’s unanimous opinion in Hamilton Township was authored by Justice Paul Pfeiffer, who, twelve years before, had authored the main dissenting opinion in the Beavercreek case. This article faults the Court’s opinion invalidating the impact fees in Hamilton Township, arguing that the Court, rather than engaging in a fair-handed analysis, chose instead to rely on very limited authority to support a conclusion that appears to have been pre-determined. In particular, the article demonstrates that the Court failed even to acknowledge, let alone distinguish: (1) its earlier ruling upholding impact fees in Beavercreek and (2) the state supreme court decisions that had rejected the reasoning of the Iowa and Mississippi courts upon which the Court relied in part. The article notes that the Court’s ruling leaves Ohio with a bifurcated approach to impact fees that is perverse because it makes impact fees most defensible in municipalities, in many of which there is little new development, and thus the need for impact fees is less, and effectively prohibits their use in rapidly-developing
townships where they are needed most. The article concludes that the time is long-past for the legislature to examine the policy debate on impact fees and make a decision about adopting enabling legislation for impact fees, and that the decision should be to join the majority of states that have enacted such legislation.
This is a big deal given the increasing resort to impact fees by local governments, while nearly half the states don't have clear rules governing their application.
September 05, 2012
Pomeroy on the Case for Standardized Vesting Documents
Chad Pomeroy (St. Mary's) has posted A Theoretical Case for Standardized Vesting Documents. The abstract:
real estate professionals, and lay people throughout the country rely
on the recording system to provide critical information regarding
ownership rights and claims. Indeed, the recording system acts as a
virtually mandatory repository and disseminator of all potential
parties’ claims. This system, in turn, relies on these claimants and
their agents to publicize their claims: property purchasers, lenders,
lien-claimants, title companies, attorneys - these parties interact,
make deals, make claims, order their affairs, and then record. The
information system available to us, then, is only as good as what we
make of it and what we put into it.
As such, it is surprising how little thought has been put into exactly what it is that we record. Should the mortgage of a lender in Ohio look like that of a lender in Florida? Should a deed from an individual in Texas differ from that of a corporation in Nevada? As it stands now, no one familiar with real estate law or commerce would expect different parties in different jurisdictions to record identical, or even similar, instruments. In an immediate sense, this heterogeneity of the recorded documents (“vesting heterogeneity”) does not seem a good thing: parties utilizing the recording system generally seek to make known, or to discern, the same generic type of information – that is, evidence of claims upon property – so why are different forms and types of documents utilized all over the country?
This article analyzes this vesting heterogeneity from a new perspective and concludes that it is, in fact, cause for significant concern. Vesting heterogeneity has arisen organically, growing with the recording system as they both evolved over time. This historical explanation does not, however, excuse the cost associated with such a lack of uniformity. Anyone seeking information with respect to any piece of property must navigate the complexities and uncertainties that arise because all such information is heterogeneous and, as a consequence, difficult to understand and utilize. This represents both a immediate transactional cost and an increased risk of ill-informed behavior.
This is particularly troublesome because this sort of cost-based concern arising from variability has a well-established analogue in property law that the law clearly desires to avoid. That analogue is the cost that would arise if property law were to permit unlimited property forms and gives rise to what is known as the numerus clausus theory. This theory explains the law’s hostility toward new, or different, types of property and holds that such heterogeneity is not generally permitted because of the extremely high informational costs associated with such creativity.
This article suggests that this common law concept can, and should, inform our analysis of vesting heterogeneity and that it precipitates strongly against such lack of uniformity. This is because the costs that drive the numerus clausus to hold that variability should be limited are strikingly similar to those created by variability of vesting documents. As such, this theory is relevant here such that the same analysis should be applied to vesting heterogeneity by asking whether a different (or “new”) document is helpful enough to outweigh the informational costs inherent therein.
Based on this reasoning, this article concludes that the law is wrong to systematically ignore heterogeneity in vesting documents. Instead, a numerus clausus type of analysis should be applied to new or different vesting documents to determine whether any inherent lack of uniformity is defensible. Where it is not, uniformity should be imposed.
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 24, 2012
Man Fights to Keep Wife's Remains Buried in Front Yard
If you've been reading the work of some of our colleagues at Property Prof like Tanya Marsh and Al Brophy, you know that cemeteries, memorials, and burial rules can be important issues in law and historical memory. Here's a more quotidian case in point, from the Huffington Post: James Davis, Alabama Man, Fights To Keep Remains Of Wife Buried In Front Yard. From the article:
Davis said he was only abiding by Patsy Ruth Davis' wishes when he buried her outside their log home in 2009, yet the city sued to move the body elsewhere. A county judge ordered Davis to disinter his wife, but the ruling is on hold as the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals considers his challenge.
While state health officials say family burial plots aren't uncommon in Alabama, city officials worry about the precedent set by allowing a grave on a residential lot on one of the main streets through town. They say state law gives the city some control over where people bury their loved ones and have cited concerns about long-term care, appearance, property values and the complaints of some neighbors.
But even some of the objecting neighbors are still concerned with the individual property-rights aspect of this situation:
A strong libertarian streak runs through northeast Alabama, which has relatively few zoning laws to govern what people do with their property. Even a neighbor who got into a fight with Davis over the gravesite – Davis said he punched the man – isn't comfortable with limiting what a homeowner can do with his property.
"I don't think it's right, but it's not my place to tell him he can't do it," said George W. Westmoreland, 79, who served three tours of duty in Vietnam. "I laid my life on the line so he would have the right to do this. This is what freedom is about."
The article profits from the analysis of Samford law prof Joseph Snoe (invoking Mahon (which I just taught) and other important precedents):
A law professor who is familiar with the case said it's squarely at the intersection of personal rights and government's power to regulate private property. While disputes over graves in peoples' yards might be rare, lawsuits over the use of eminent domain actions and zoning restrictions are becoming more common as the U.S. population grows, said Joseph Snoe, who teaches property law at Samford University in suburban Birmingham.
While it's a quirky fact pattern, this sort of case is intensely personal, and goes to show the broad range of issues that can end up in disputes over land use law. Thanks to Troy Covington for the pointer.
August 22, 2012
Who Owns Land Created by a Volcanic Eruption?
During my just-completed trip to Hawaii, I spent some time in the wonderful Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The volcanic eruptions in the park continue to add new land to Hawaii’s youngest and largest island. In fact, over 500 acres of new land have been added since 1983 alone.
This led me to wonder who owned this new land. It turns out that the US Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory provided a helpful answer to this question a while back. The Hawaii Supreme Court, in the 1977 case State by Kobayashi v. Zimring, 566 P.2d 725, decided the issue. Granted this is not an issue of broad relevance, but I found their resolution of the question interesting.
In Zimring, the State of Hawaii sought to quiet title over 7.9 acres of new land added after a 1955 eruption extended the shoreline. This new land, which was termed a “lava extension,” was adjacent to land purchased by the Zimrings in 1960, after the eruption. The lava flowed over the purchased land and into the ocean, forming the new 7.9 acres of land. After purchasing the adjacent land the Zimrings entered onto the new land, bulldozing it and planting trees. The State even assessed the land and collected taxes from the Zimrings on it. Nonetheless, the court found in favor of the State of Hawaii and in doing so distinguished lava flows from the common law doctrine regarding accretion of land.
The court first reviewed the history of Hawaiian law regarding private property ownership, concluding that it made clear that “land in its original state is public land and if not awarded or granted, such land remains in the public domain.” It then considered whether there was a relevant doctrine from the common law or traditional Hawaiian usage that applied in the case. It concluded that there were too few similar lava flows over private land to have established a usage.
It then considered the common law, first declaring that “[n]o court sitting at common law has had occasion to deal with the question of lava extensions.” The court distinguished the common law regarding accretion, the gradual increase of land through the deposit of soil. Under the common law, owners of contiguous land take title to land formed by accretion. In contrast, the court declared, “in cases where there have been rapid, easily perceived and sometimes violent shifts of land (avulsion) incident to floods, storms or channel breakthroughs, preexisting legal boundaries are retained notwithstanding the fact that former riparian owners may have lost their access to the water.” Similarly, it noted that under California law if an accretion is caused by artificial means, the newly created land does not belong to the upland property owner. The court concluded that “[r]ather than allowing only a few of the many lava victims the windfall of lava extensions, this court believes that equity and sound public policy demand that such land inure to the benefit of all the people of Hawaii, in whose behalf the government acts as trustee.”
It can be expected that the Loihi Seamount, which is being formed by volcanoes southeast of the Big Island, will similarly fall under control of the state when and if it emerges some thousands of years into the future.
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.
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.
July 26, 2012
DeGennaro & Li on Business Formation in the Wake of State Responses to Kelo
Ramon P. DeGennaro (Tennessee--Finance) and Tianning Li (Hood College) have posted Business Formation in the Wake of States' Responses to Kelo. The abstract:
On June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London, 505 U.S. 469 (2005) that the Public Use Clause allows governments to take private property for transfer to new private owners for the purpose of promoting “economic development.” Our theoretical model identifies the circumstances under which Kelo and subsequent state laws affect business formation. We show that business creation can be encouraged, unaffected, or discouraged as the probability of takings increases, depending on the level of compensation for the takings and the magnitude of the owners’ public use benefits. We also show that utility-maximizing entrepreneurs’ choices of investment depend on the probability of takings and the level of government compensation for the taking. Our empirical results yield three insights. First, states and municipalities can pass laws protecting property rights without fear of retarding business formation. Second, we identify explanations why Kelo and these laws do not measurably affect business formation in our empirical work. Specifically, we believe that either government entities correctly compensate entrepreneurs for the disruption in their businesses through eminent domain legislation, or that the change in the probability of such takings is very small, so that any effect on business formation is too small to measure. Third, takings open the possibility for political corruption and distortions in the economy by encouraging overpayment or underpayment for takings. Under this interpretation, local laws against takings are not pro-business laws or anti-business laws. Rather, they are anti-corruption laws.
July 13, 2012
Korngold on Governmental Conservation Easements
Gerald Korngold has posted a new article on SSRN. Governmental Conservation Easements: A Means to Advance Efficiency, Freedom from Coercion, Flexibility, and Democracy. It already looks to be an important piece for conservation easement junkies like me. Korngold explores conservation easements held by government entities. Depending on the jurisdiction, (1) government entities, (2) land trusts, and (3) tribes can hold conservation easements. I agree with Korngold that the character of the agreements and the concerns surrounding them vary by holder. Most writing on conservation easement has focused on holder (2) – and largely considering donated conservation easements. I have been working this summer on a project examining holder (3) and this article examining holder (1) provides lots of food for thought in framing that work and in considering where and when conservation easements are a good idea. Korngold’s abstract is below:
Over the past twenty-five years, courts and commentators have recognized and upheld conservation easements as an important vehicle to preserve natural and ecologically sensitive land, focusing primarily on easements held by nonprofit organizations (NPOs). During the same period, courts and commentators have supported property rights of owners against governmental land use regulation. This paper maintains that these two independent developments militate for the increased use of consensual conservation easements by governmental entities to achieve public land preservation goals. Governmental conservation easements can realize the benefits of efficiency, consent and free choice, and conservation, while avoiding the coercion implicit in public land use regulation. Moreover, governmental conservation easements have advantages over private easements in some situations: governmental easements may be more easily modified or even terminated to address future changes in conservation values and community needs; as with public land use regulation, governmental easements must be transparent and are subject to democratic, participatory processes that NPOs do not have to follow; and properly functioning governmental ownership may be best able to discern and represent the public interest when making acquisition, modification, and termination decisions about conservation easements. I suggest that both NPO-held conservation easement activities and legitimate public land use regulation are valuable and should continue, but argue that increased use of governmental conservation easements can bring significant benefits as well.
July 03, 2012
Dwyer on Urban Blight and its Impact on Children
James G. Dwyer (William & Mary) has posted No Place for Children: Addressing Urban Blight and Its Impact on Children Through Child Protection Law, Domestic Relations Law, and 'Adult-Only' Residential Zoning, Alabama Law Review, vol. 62 (2011). The abstract:
For any child, residential location is a large determinant of well-being. At the negative extreme, a neighborhood can pose threats to children's well-being far exceeding those present within the home in typical cases of child protection removal. The worst neighborhoods pose direct threats to children's physical and psychological well-being, and they also adversely affect children indirectly by creating stressors that undermine parents' abilities to care for children. Pervasive crime and substance abuse, in particular, substantially elevate risks to children beyond those created just by less capable or less motivated parents. Given that a relatively high percentage of adults who live in the worst neighborhoods are marginal to begin with, in terms of their inherent capacities for giving care and maintaining safe and healthy homes, the additional threats present in the larger residential environment push the experience of most children in such neighborhoods below what most people -- including those who live in the neighborhoods -- would regard as a minimally acceptable quality of life. Because such neighborhoods are also likely to have inadequate -- even dangerous -- schools and few legal employment opportunities, living in them severely diminishes the life prospects of children forced to grow up in them.
To date, government efforts to improve the lives of these children, and scholarly writing on the topic, have focused on urban renewal and criminal law enforcement in these neighborhoods. These have mostly been unsuccessful, where they do succeed they typically do so by simply relocating the dysfunction to another neighborhood, and even if renewal efforts undertaken today might ultimately be successful that is of no help to a child born today into dangerous urban blight. The only way to ensure that children do not suffer the effects of growing up in deeply dysfunctional communities is to get them out now. Policy should shift to a strategy of separating children as early as possible from the adults who are creating toxic social environments in impoverished areas. In fact, programs that have assisted parents who wished to relocate with their children from high-poverty, inner-city neighborhoods to low-poverty areas have greatly improved the children's well-being and longterm life prospects. This Article presents a novel argument for expanding such relocation programs, an argument founded upon basic rights of children -- not rights against private actors who might harm them, though children certainly possess such rights, but rather rights against the state. I argue that the state violates basic rights of children by making certain decisions about children's lives that effectively consign many of them to living in hellish conditions. To remedy this violation of children's rights, the state should now institute reforms such as giving children first priority in distribution of housing vouchers and in provision of relocation assistance and, most controversially, making relocation out of the most dangerous neighborhoods mandatory rather than voluntary for parents who have and wish to retain custody of children. The state should no more permit parents to house children in apartments where stray bullets come through windows and drug addicts clutter the hallways outside than permit parents to take children into casinos and nightclubs. This Article argues that the state is legally free, and in fact morally and legally obligated, to adopt new legal rules and policies aimed at ensuring that no children live in the horrible neighborhoods that exist, and likely will always exist, in our society. It also presents a constitutional lever for overcoming political and community resistance to taking the necessary measures. These measures would entail changes to the law in three broad areas -- child maltreatment, domestic relations, and zoning.
June 26, 2012
Ryan on Obamacare, Federalism, and . . . Land Use
No, this is not a lame attempt by me at expanding the bounds of the "what can't Festa turn into a land use issue" parlor game that I play in class, in order to reach the hot issue du jour. Erin Ryan (Lewis & Clark) recently posted a fascinating essay on the Environmental Law Prof Blog about the potential effects of the ACA decision on federalism and, in turn, on land use and environmental issues. From Obamacare and Federalism's Tug of War Within:
In the next few days, the Supreme Court will decide what some believe will be among the most important cases in the history of the institution--the Obamacare decisions. And while they aren't directly about environmental law, they may as well be--because the same issues animate environmental governance conflicts from cross-boundary pollution management to nuclear waste disposal. For that reason, I thought I'd take this opportunity to go deep on the federalism issues at the heart of the long-awaited health reform decisions.
. . . .
In service of this balance, the Constitution clearly delegates some responsibilities to one side or the other—for example, the federal government guarantees equal protection of the laws and regulates interstate commerce, while the states manage elections and regulate local land use. But between the easy extremes are realms of governance in which it’s much harder to know what the Constitution really tells us about who should be in charge. Locally regulated land uses become entangled with the protection of navigable waterways that implicate interstate commerce and border-crossing environmental harms.
Read the whole thing for a good legal analysis that goes well beyond the immediate politics of the decision. Professor Ryan has a new book on the subject called Federalism and the Tug of War Within.
And, so yes, there is a land use angle to the Obamacare decisions. But you already know that there's a land use angle to everything.
June 13, 2012
Kearney & Merrill on Private Rights in Public Lands
Joseph D. Kearney (Marquette) and Thomas W. Merrill (Columbia) have posted Private Rights in Public Lands: The Chicago Lakefront, Montgomery Ward, and the Public Dedication Doctrine, 105 Northwestern University Law Review (2011). The abstract:
The Chicago Lakefront, along Grant Park, is internationally regarded as an urban gem. Its development - or, perhaps more accurately, lack of development - has been the result of a series of legal challenges and court rulings, most famously involving the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Illinois Central R.R. v. Illinois (1892), and four decisions of the Illinois Supreme Court, from 1897 to 1910, involving Aaron Montgomery Ward. The former invented the modern public trust doctrine, which continues as much the favorite of environmental groups; the latter involved the now largely forgotten public dedication doctrine.
This article begins with a description of the evolution of what is now known as Grant Park. After tracing the origins of the public dedication doctrine in the nineteenth century, the article describes how the doctrine was invoked in controversies over the use of the Chicago lakefront before Montgomery Ward came on the scene. The article then details Ward’s remarkable crusade to save Grant Park as an unencumbered open space, which created a powerful body of precedent having a lasting impact on the use of the park. Next, the article describes the limits of the public dedication doctrine that was recognized in the Ward precedents. The article concludes with some brief observations about why the public trust doctrine eclipsed the public dedication doctrine, a comparison of the efficacy of the two doctrines in the context of the Chicago lakefront, and by offering general reflections about what this history tells us about the promises and pitfalls of recognizing 'antiproperty' rights to contest development of public spaces.
A terrific example of how legal history and land use case studies can illuminate important issues of legal doctrine.