Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Houston National CemeteryToday was Memorial Day in the US.  There are lots of land use issues that we can associate with Memorial Day, which, stripped to its essence, is designed as a day to remember the military members who died in service to the nation.  There is the obvious land use issue of cemeteries, and the related legal and cultural norms governing how we memorialize the dead (check out any of the interesting blog posts or scholarship by Al Brophy and Tanya Marsh on cemeteries).  It gets even more relevant when we start talking about government-owned national or veterans' cemeteries, and the attendant controversies about First Amendment and other issues.  [The photo is from last year's Memorial Day ceremony at Houston National Cemetery, which my daughter attended to honor fallen Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Sauer Medlicott.]  Of course, there are always land use and local government issues involved with things like parades and public ceremonies, and in many communities there are specific rules that govern the "summer season" informally commenced on Memorial Day weekend.

For this post, though, I'll go back to the origins of the holiday.  Interestingly, it started as a private or quasi-public endeavor (perhaps like most civic affairs in the nineteenth century).  In the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War--and for much of the rest of the lives of the generations that fought it--Americans on both sides focused a great deal of attention on preserving its history and creating/controlling its public memory.  In 1868 General John Logan, head of the Union veterans' organization the Grand Army of the Republic (a private society with a great deal of government involvement), issued General Order No. 11, creating what became known as Decoration Day:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

Even though this Decoration Day was only adopted in Union states until after World War I (when it was renamed Memorial Day and formally associated with all American wars), the former Confederate states had their own versions to remember the war dead at cemeteries and public venues.  And according to eminent Yale historian David Blight, the first Memorial Day celebration was performed in Charleston, SC, by newly-liberated blacks:

Thousands of black Charlestonians, most former slaves, remained in the city and conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war. The largest of these events, and unknown until some extraordinary luck in my recent research, took place on May 1, 1865. During the final year of the war, the Confederates had converted the planters' horse track, the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club, into an outdoor prison. Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand. Some twenty-eight black workmen went to the site, re-buried the Union dead properly, and built a high fence around the cemetery. They whitewashed the fence and built an archway over an entrance on which they inscribed the words, "Martyrs of the Race Course" . . . . Then, black Charlestonians in cooperation with white missionaries and teachers, staged an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people on the slaveholders' race course. The symbolic power of the low-country planter aristocracy's horse track (where they had displayed their wealth, leisure, and influence) was not lost on the freedpeople.

Anyone interested in the contested history of these issues--with full attention to the negative aspects as well--should read the magnificent book by Prof. Blight (with a name like that, it's a shame he didn't go into land use!), Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.  And a related part of this history, along with the Decoration/Memorial Day commemorations, was the incipient historic preservation movement.  This confluence of impulses, as well as the also-new movement for environmental conservation, led to the novel idea of having the federal government acquire and administer large tracts of land for the purpose of preserving Civil War history.  As noted in the fascinating monograph by the late National Park Service Historian Ronald F. Lee, The Origin & Evolution of the National Military Park Idea, this was a new and not-uncontroversial exercise of government power over land use:

The idea of the Nation acquiring an entire battlefield and preserving it for historical purposes was new in 1890. It is therefore not surprising that it soon engendered a serious controversy, which arose, fittingly enough, at Gettysburg. The controversy involved two questions of fundamental importance to the future of historic preservation by the Federal Government. Is preserving and marking the site of an historic battlefield a public purpose and use? If so, is it a purpose for which Congress may authorize acquisition of the necessary land by power of eminent domain? The circumstances of this dispute, which had to be settled by the Supreme Court of the United States, are of unusual interest and provide an appropriate introduction to our story.

Lee describes the case, United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896), in the on-line version of the book provided by the NPS.  The case was brought by a railway which objected to the federal government's use of eminent domain to condemn their right of way for construction of a railway to take tourists to the significant "Devil's Den" area of the battlefield, "claiming that establishment of Gettysburg National Park was not a public purpose within the meaning of earlier legislation and that 'preserving lines of battle' and 'properly marking with tablets the positions occupied' were not public uses which permitted the condemnation of private property by the United States."  [What a long way from Kelo that was!]  Justice Rufus Peckham wrote for the unanimous majority in upholding the taking for preservation purposes (and not simply because members of the public could visit the park):

Such a use seems necessarily not only a public use, but one so closely connected with the welfare of the republic itself as to be within the powers granted Congress by the constitution for the purpose of protecting and preserving the whole country.

The Court thus established the constitutionality of taking land by the federal government for national parks, and struck an important legal blow for historic preservation generally.

So from cemeteries to public memory to national parks and historic preservation and much more, Memorial Day is tied to land use law in many ways.  I hope that our US readers have had a good one, and with remembrance for those whom the holiday commends.

Matt Festa

May 28, 2012 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Environmentalism, Federal Government, First Amendment, Historic Preservation, History, Houston, Politics, Property Rights, Race, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Stevenson & Eckhart on Standing as Channeling in the Administrative State

My colleague Drury D. Stevenson (South Texas) and Sonny Eckhart (JD, South Texas) have posted Standing as Channeling in the Administrative State, forthcoming in the Boston College Law Review, Vol. 53 (2012).  The abstract:

For several decades, courts have approached citizen suits with judicially created rules for standing. These requirements for standing have been vague and unworkable, and often serve merely as a screening mechanism for docket management. The use of standing rules to screen cases, in turn, yields inconsistent decisions and tribunal splits along partisan lines, suggesting that courts are using these rules in citizen suits as a proxy for the merits. Numerous commentators, and some Supreme Court Justices, have therefore suggested that Congress could, or should, provide legislative guidelines for standing.

This Article takes the suggestion a step further, and argues that Congress has implicitly delegated the matter to the administrative agencies with primary enforcement authority over the subject matter. Courts regularly allow agencies to fill gaps in their respective statutes, meaning congressional silence on a point often constitutes discretionary leeway for the agency charged with implementation of the statute. Agencies already have explicit statutory authority to preempt citizen suits or define violations for which parties may sue. The existing statutory framework therefore suggests agencies could promulgate rules for the injury-in-fact and causation prongs of standing in citizen suits. Moreover, agencies have an advantage over courts in terms of expertise about the harms involved and which suits best represent the public interest. On the more delicate question of citizen suits against agencies themselves, agencies could default to the “special solicitude for states” rule illustrated in Massachusetts v. EPA. Finally, this Article explains how standing can function as a beneficial channeling tool rather than an awkward screening device, by allowing agencies to align citizen suits more closely with the larger public interest and established policy goals.

The article's administrative-law approach would have special significance for environmental and land use issues, as evidenced by its discussions of American Electric Power v. Connecticut and Massachusetts v. EPA, and the fact that environmental issues are an important subject-matter source of citizen suits. 

You should really check out Dru Stevenson's excellent Privatization Blog, which follows a lot of important land use issues in state & local government, including the privatization of schools, prisons, and other local services.  And some of you may remember Sonny Eckhart's guest-post here last year on a development in the Severance case. 

Matt Festa

May 26, 2012 in Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Local Government, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nolon on Regulatory Takings, Property Rights, and Sea Level Rise

John R. Nolon (Pace) has posted Regulatory Takings and Property Rights Confront Sea Level Rise: How Do They Roll.  The abstract:

Under the Beach and Shore Preservation Act, the State of Florida is authorized to conduct extraordinarily expensive beach renourishment projects to restore damaged coastal properties. The statute advances the State’s interest in repairing the damage to the coastal ecosystem and economy caused by hurricanes, high winds, and storm surges. The effect of a renourishment project conducted under the statute is to fix the legal boundary of the littoral property owner at an Erosion Control Line. Plaintiffs in Walton County v. Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. claimed that the statute took their common law property rights to their boundary, which would, but for the Act, move gradually landward or seaward, maintaining contact with the water. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection to determine whether the state court reinterpreted Florida’s common law as a pretext for upholding the statute against the plaintiffs’ taking claim and, if so, whether that reinterpretation constituted a “judicial taking.” The Court ultimately decided that the Florida court’s interpretation was correct and that there was no regulatory taking. A majority of the Court could not agree as to whether a state court’s interpretation of state common law could constitute a “judicial taking.”

This article discusses greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, sea level rise, and the ferocity of coastal storms associated with climate change. It explores the tension between these movements in nature and the policy of the State of Florida to fix property boundaries, which under common law would move landward as sea level rises. The property rights and title to land of littoral landowners are described and the effect of the Beach and Shore Preservation Act on them discussed. The article contrasts the Florida coastal policy regarding beach and shore protection with the policies and programs of federal, state, and local governments that use other approaches such as accommodating rolling easements, prohibiting shoreline armoring, requiring removal of buildings, purchasing development rights or the land itself, and imposing moratoria on rebuilding after storm events. These may be less expensive and more realistic approaches to long-term coastal erosion and avulsive events and the inevitability of sea level rise as the climate warms and worsens. The article concludes with a recommendation that the framework for federal, state, and local cooperation in coastal management be revisited and strengthened so that the critical resources and knowledge are brought to bear on this critical issue. It suggests that strengthening those ties, rather than radically restructuring the relationship between state and federal courts, is a more productive method of meeting the needs of a changing society.

This is the latest in a series of articles by Prof. Nolon addressing how local land use law can be used to manage climate change, including  The Land Use Stabilization Wedge Strategy: Shifting Ground to Mitigate Climate Change; Land Use for Energy Conservation: A Local Strategy for Climate Change Mitigation; and Managing Climate Change through Biological Sequestration: Open Space Law Redux.  The article also discusses Stop the Beach and our favorite Texas Open Beaches Act "rolling easement" case Severance v. Patterson, and offers some solutions toward an integrated federal-state-local framework for coastal management.

Matt Festa

May 24, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Climate, Coastal Regulation, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, History, Judicial Review, Local Government, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Supreme Court, Sustainability, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eagle on Judicial Takings and State Takings

Steven J. Eagle (George Mason) has posted Judicial Takings and State Takings, forthcoming in the Widener Law Journal.  The abstract:

In Stop the Beach Renourishment v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a Supreme Court plurality asserted that takings liability could arise from judicial acts, as well as from state or local legislation and executive agency decisions. The Plurality’s rationale supporting “judicial takings” was that the Just Compensation Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to State acts, not to particular State actors.

This article starts by reviewing the doctrinal bases for the Stop the Beach plurality opinion. It provides prudential reasons why rulings affecting property rights might be legitimate under state law, but nevertheless constitute compensable takings under the federal constitution. It then analyzes the implications of the “state acts and not state actors” doctrine to existing regulatory takings law. Viewed through the lens of “state acts,” the rationales of the Supreme Court’s Williamson County “state litigation” prong and its Dolan “legislative vs. adjudicative” bifurcation are undermined. Similarly, takings distinctions pertaining to whether small-scale rezonings are “legislative” or “quasi-judicial” acts are drawn into question.

Matt Festa

May 18, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, History, Judicial Review, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pipelines, Eminent Domain, and Property Rights

Up until now the Keystone Pipeline issue has been cast mainly as a contest between an economic development imperative and environmental conservation.  Legal commentators have analyzed it as an environmental issue.  As most people can infer, though, the notion of building an "infrastructure" project from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico will require some land rights.  Perhaps only in Texas can we see the underlying tension between two principles that are very often in direct conflict: the exploitation of oil and gas resources, and the property owner's rights to her land.  The New York Times last week did a fascinating story on one Texas landowner's fight against the eminent domain authority of the Keystone Pipeline, An Old Texas Tale Retold: The Farmer versus the Oil Company.

Ms. Crawford is worried about the possible contamination of her creek. She pointed out that the Keystone 1, TransCanada’s first pipeline, had a dozen spills in its first year of operation.

“I called my farm insurance agent and asked what happens if there’s a spill, I can’t water my crops, and my corn dies,” she said. “He said my insurance won’t cover that. I’d have to sue TransCanada for damages.”

The Crawfords are the last holdouts in Lamar County. (It is unclear how many are left in Texas; the company says it has 99 percent of the rights of way secured.) TransCanada asserts that it has used eminent domain only as “an absolute last resort” in an estimated 19 out of 1,452 land tracts in Texas. Critics dispute this number. . . .

Asked if she would take TransCanada’s offer now — if it meant the full $21,000, with all of her conditions met — she did not hesitate. “No,” she said. “There’s a $20,000 check sitting in the courthouse waiting for us,” she said. “But if we touch it, game over. We lose the use of our land, and we admit what they’re doing is right.”

This is a longstanding issue, both historically and today, but it often gets overlooked when people conflate Texas stereotypes about both property rights and solicitude for oil and gas.  Ilya Somin commented on the article at the Volokh Conspiracy, noting correctly that despite its pro-property rights reputation and cosmetic legislation, Texas law still empowers quite a bit of eminent domain for economic development purposes:

Such efforts are unlikely to succeed in Texas. As I described in this article, Texas is one of many states that have passed post-Kelo reform laws that pretend to constrain economic development takings without actually doing so. They might have a better chance in one of the other states through which the pipeline must pass.

The larger question that he poses is whether and how environmental concerns will play a part in future discussions about eminent domain and the never-ending debate over the essentially contested concepts of property rights and the common good.  In the real world of land use, the alignment of stakeholders, interests, policy preferences, and legal interpretations isn't always as easy to predict as the cartoon versions might imply.

Matt Festa

May 16, 2012 in Agriculture, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, History, Houston, Judicial Review, Oil & Gas, Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government, Takings, Texas | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Strategic “Blight” Designation in Missouri

As most land use professors are well aware, having land declared “blighted” isn’t always such a bad thing.    

The potential disadvantages of official “blight” designation are obvious.  Properties in declared “blighted” areas can be particularly susceptible to takings by eminent domain, as famously highlighted in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954).  Official designations of blight can also depress property values in some situations due to a perceived stigma commonly associated with blighted land.  

Why, then, would anyone want their real property to be declared “blighted”?  The reason, of course, is that officially blighted property can qualify for special tax benefits or programs in many jurisdictions.  If parcels are eligible for huge tax breaks only if they are officially labeled as “blighted,” then getting that label can suddenly be more a blessing than a curse.

An ongoing political debate in Columbia, Missouri, showcases this ironic aspect of redevelopment policy.  Missouri statutory law provides that new real property improvements in “enhanced enterprise zones” (EEZs) can qualify for generous property tax reductions.   Companies that invest in redevelopment within an EEZ can also receive state income tax breaks.  A group of government officials in Columbia have thus been seeking to have nearly half of the city designated an EEZ.  Unfortunately, EEZ designation requires that the entire EEZ area be declared blighted.  In Columbia, the proposed blighted area would encompass vast portions of the city where retail outlets are succeeding and businesses appear to be thriving. 

Sadly, those in favor of the EEZ proposal in Columbia argue that declaring half of the city to be blighted is necessary to enable it to compete statewide for new manufacturing and other jobs.  At least 118 Missouri communities--comprising one third of the land area of the state--have already declared themselves blighted to take advantage of the EEZ statute, giving them a leg up in attracting private redevelopment dollars. 

Should state redevelopment policies be structured such that local officials must declare large amounts of their communities to be blighted to have any chance of competing for private investment? 

Those interested in exploring this topic from an academic perspective will find plenty of published scholarship on LexisNexis or Westlaw to distract them from grading final exams for at least a few hours.  For a convenient launching point, consider Colin Gordon, Blighting the Way:  Urban Renewal, Economic Development, and the Elusive Definition of Blight, 31 Fordham Urb. L. J. 305 (2004).

Troy Rule

May 14, 2012 in Community Economic Development, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Politics, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ABA "Professors' Corner" Teleconference on Property Cases

On Wednesday I'll be part of the ABA's "Professor's Corner" teleconference, to discuss Severance v. Patterson, the Texas Open Beaches Act case. The teleconference is Wednesday, May 9 at 12:30 eastern/11:30 central. All are welcome to participate at the number below. The blurb:

The ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section’s Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group has a regular (and free!) monthly teleconference, “Professor’s Corner,” in which a panel of three law professors highlight and discuss recent real property cases of note.

Members of the AALS Real Estate Transactions section are encouraged to participate in this monthly call (which is always on the second Wednesday of the month).

The May 2012 call is this Wednesday, May 9, 2012, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a..m. Pacific). The call-in number is 866-646-6488. When prompted for the passcode, enter the passcode number 557 741 9753.

The panelists for May 9, 2012 are:

Professor Tanya Marsh, Assistant Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law. Professor Marsh will discuss Roundy’s Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, 674 F.3d 638 (7th Cir. 2012). Decided in March 2012, this case held that Roundy’s (a non-union supermarket chain) did not have the right to exclude third parties (in this case, non-employee union organizers) from common areas of shopping centers in which it operated.

Professor Matt Festa, Associate Professor of Law, South Texas College of Law. Professor Festa will discuss Severance v. Patterson, 2012 WL 1059341 (Tex. 2012). In this case, decided March 30, 2012, the Texas Supreme Court struck down the “rolling easement” theory of public beachfront property access under the Texas Open Beaches Act.

Professor Wilson Freyermuth, John D. Lawson Professor and Curators’ Teaching Professor, University of Missouri. Professor Freyermuth will discuss Summerhill Village Homeowners Ass’n v. Roughley, 270 P.3d 639 (Wash. Ct. App. 2012), in which the court refused to permit the mortgage lender to exercise statutory redemption after its lien was extinguished by virtue of a foreclosure sale by an owners’ association to enforce its lien for unpaid assessments. He will also discuss First Bank v. Fischer & Frichtel, 2012 WL 1339437 (Mo. April 12, 2012), in which the Missouri court rejected the “fair value” approach to calculating deficiency judgments under the Restatement of Mortgages.

It should be an interesting conversation with a good variety issues to discuss. Please feel welcome to participate, whether or not you are a currently a section member.

UPDATE: Thanks to everyone who participated, and to Wilson Freyermuth for moderating and Tanya Marsh for inviting me.  The ABA RPTE Section will be doing this every month, so stay tuned for more interesting discussions to come!

Matt Festa

May 8, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Conferences, Mortgages, Property, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mulvaney's Hectic Week in Takings

In the past week there have been two major state court takings decisions--both involving beachfront property--and a U.S. Supreme Court cert grant in a takings case from the Federal Circuit.  Our erstwhile guest blogger Prof. Tim Mulvaney has a terrific analysis over on the Environmental Prof Blog: A Hectic Week on the Takings Front.  From the post:

For Takings Clause enthusiasts, the past week has proven a busy one.  Two state court decisions out of Texas and New Jersey, coupled with a grant of certiorari at the U.S. Supreme Court, threaten to constrain governmental decision-making at the complex intersection of land and water.

Tim's post discusses the Texas Supreme Court's final decision in Severance v. Patterson; the New Jersey case of Harvey Cedars v. Karan; and the SCOTUS cert grant in Arkansas Game & Fish Comm'n v. U.S.  Exciting times in the takings world.  Read Tim's whole post for a good analysis. 

Matt Festa

April 6, 2012 in Beaches, Caselaw, Coastal Regulation, Constitutional Law, Federal Government, Property Rights, State Government, Supreme Court, Takings, Texas, Water | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tear Down This Mansion?

Nc_mansion0221_500kmsnbc_120221_standardA Michigan appellate court has ordered the owner to tear down what looks to be a fairly elaborate and presumably expensive home, because it is only 80 feet from the neighboring property, instead of the 100 feet required in the deed restrictions.  Talk about strict enforcement!  But as the neighbors say in the video, rules are rules. 

The news story is here at  Might be an interesting clip to show for servitudes, land use, or real estate transactions.  Thanks to Helen Jenkins for the pointer.

Matt Festa

February 22, 2012 in Homeowners Associations, Judicial Review, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Remedies, Servitudes, State Government, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hines on Joint Tenancies

N. William Hines (Dean Emeritus, Iowa) has posted Joint Tenancies in Iowa Today.  The abstract:

This paper updates the author's extensive earlier research on Iowa joint tenancies, which was published in the 1960s. The earlier research revealed that, while joint tenancy law had changed very little in the past five hundred years, patterns of joint tenancy usage had expanded greatly, particularly in property holdings by married couples.

This paper traces the changes in Iowa joint tenancy law since the 1960s. It posits that, in respect to joint tenancies in real property and tangible personal property, the law has changed very little, except for adoption of an "Intent" analysis to replace the former "Four Unities" test for determining severance issues. Far greater change is observed, however, in the Iowa law governing joint and survivor accounts with financial institutions. With respect to such joint and survivor accounts, the author suggests how the law might still be improved to make such accounts more effective in achieving the goals of the parties who create them.

A helpful study from one of the great senior scholars of property law.

Matt Festa

February 22, 2012 in Property Rights, Scholarship, State Government | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Pennsylvania Limits Municipal Zoning Power

The Pennsylvania legislature approved a bill that limits municipalities zoning
power with respect to gas drilling. The issue of municipal authority to zone for hydraulic fracturing and related operations has been a significant issue in Pennsylvania as it has in New York
(see February 2, 2012 post). Pennsylvania courts had determined the contours of municipal power but Governor Tom Corbett and industry representatives pushed a through bill that requires municipalities
to permit nearly all types of oil and gas operations in all zoning districts including residential neighborhoods and sensitive natural and cultural resource protection areas. The bill does not offer any increased protection to environmental resources although it does include some bonding requirements. Called a “compromise” the bill does include impact fees payable to the counties
and municipalities but concerns have been raised that the fees are insufficient to offset any costs. Governor Corbett is expected to sign the legislation this week.

February 10, 2012 in State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Owley on Exacted Conservation Easements and Enforcement Concerns

Jessica Owley (Buffalo) has posted Exacted Conservation Easements: Emerging Concerns with Enforcement, Probate & Property, Vol. 26, No. 1, p. 51, 2012.  The abstract:

Enforceability of exacted conservation easements is uncertain. Legislators, activists, and academics did not contemplate the proliferation of exacted conservation easements when enacting, advocating for, and writing about state conservation easement statutes. Despite this early oversight, exaction has become one of the most common ways that conservation easements come into being. Enforceability of exacted conservation easements is a threshold question of analysis for the continued use of the tool. Assessing the validity, and thus legal enforceability, of the exacted conservation easements involves examining the state’s conservation-easement statutes and state servitude law as well as the underlying permit scheme.

This article presents a roadmap for investigating the enforceability of exacted conservation easements and makes three suggestions for improvement. First, states should address exaction in their state conservation-easement acts. Second, drafters should increase the precision and detail of the agreements, acknowledging and explaining the nature of the exaction and the underlying permitting law. Third, to clarify the elements and uses of exacted conservation easements to both agencies and citizens, government agencies that use exacted conservation easements should promulgate regulations related to their use. Such regulations should include ensuring that permit issuers retain third-party right of enforcements. This will keep the permitting agency involved even if it is not the holder of the exacted conservation easement.

Uncertainty in enforceability of exacted conservation easements calls into question their use as a method of land conservation. Furthermore, the questionable validity of exacted conservation easements indicates that the permits relying upon such exactions could be ill advised and potentially in jeopardy.


This accessible piece builds on some of the concerns outlined in her recent Vermont Law Review piece, The Enforceability of Exacted Conservation Easements.

Matt Festa

January 26, 2012 in Conservation Easements, Environmental Law, Scholarship, Servitudes, State Government, Sustainability | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

State & Local Government section--Cities in Recession program

From an email sent by Rick Su (Buffalo), the Chair of the AALS Section on State & Local Government Law, here is something that may be of interest to land users.  The Section is already planning for the 2013 AALS meeting in New Orleans:

The tentative title is Cities in Recession. The program will look into the many ways that cities have not only been affected by, but are also responding to, the current economic downturn. This should provide a timely lens for exploring a wide range of local government issues, from municipal finance to education to economic development. In addition, it offers an opportunity to look at both distressed and resilient cities. The planning for this panel is in its early stages; I eagerly welcome any comments or suggestions that you might have (

Matt Festa

January 14, 2012 in Conferences, Development, Economic Development, Finance, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Scholarship, State Government, Urbanism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

City Journal's take on the California Redevlopment decision

I've been enjoying the outstanding posts on last week's landmark California Supreme Court ruling by Ken Stahl (here and here) and guest-blogger Stephen Miller (here and here) (I smell a great panel or symposium topic in the making).  Just now I came a cross an early analysis by Stephen Greenhut at City Journal, the always-interesting center-right urban affairs journal.  Greenhut has a strongly positive take on the decision in Crony Capitalism Rebuked California’s supreme court strikes a blow for property rights and fiscal sanity:

On December 29, the California Supreme Court handed down what the state’s urban redevelopment agencies (RDAs) and their supporters called a “worst of all worlds” ruling—first upholding a law that eliminates the agencies, then striking down a second law that would have allowed them to buy their way back into power. This was great news for critics who had spent years calling attention to the ways modern urban-renewal projects distorted city land-use decisions, abused eminent-domain policies, and diverted about 12 percent of the state budget from traditional public services to subsidies for developers, who would build tax-producing shopping centers and other projects sought by city bureaucrats. As of now, the agencies are history, though the redevelopment industry is working to craft new legislation that would resurrect them in some limited form.

Matt Festa

January 5, 2012 in California, Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Development, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, Real Estate Transactions, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Court to Redevelopment Agencies: Drop Dead! (Or, It's TKO for TIF in CA)

Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a great new year! I've been on blog hiatus (blogatus? blogcation?) but simply had to report this piece of news. Two days ago the California Supreme Court put a huge lump of coal in the Christmas stocking of California's very naughty redevelopment agencies, issuing an epochal (or perhaps apocalyptic) but not entirely surprising decision that puts an end to redevelopment in the state of California, probably the state where redevelopment has hitherto been most popular. As of 2008, there were 395 redevelopment agencies in California, holding $12.9 billion in assets in 759 redevelopment zones. Now, after the court's ruling, they are all history. The court upheld a state law abolishing all California redevelopment agencies, and struck down a compromise bill that would have permitted redevelopment agencies to stay in business if they shared some of their tax revenue with other local government agencies, mostly school districts. Forlorn city leaders are already predicting all sorts of doomsday scenarios for cash-strapped California cities. Critics of redevelopment such as the Institute for Justice, are, as you can imagine, more pleased with the result. They must take especial delight in knowing, as I explain below, that redevelopment agencies basically brought this plight on themselves. Critics will be less pleased to learn that redevelopment is almost certainly not really dead, and will likely be back in a form hardly less objectionable to its critics than the original. According to this great recap from California Planning & Development Report (an excellent resource, by the way), this lawsuit was never about the merits of redevelopment itself, but was just the beginning of a complex negotiation over who is going to control the prized redevelopment money.

Much more below...

Continue reading

December 31, 2011 in California, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Redevelopment, State Government | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Senik on Direct Dysfunctionality (initiative & recall)

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

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

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

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

But statewide direct constitution-making has its problems:

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

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

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

Matt Festa

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should be very interesting.  Stay tuned.

Matt Festa

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Somin on Eminent Domain and Mississippi Measure 31

Ilya Somin (George Mason) has an op-ed in Daily Caller about the passage of Mississippi Measure 31, a post-Kelo eminent domain reform measure: Referendum Initiatives Prevent Eminent Domain Abuse.  The intro:

The Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London generated a record political backlash. Kelo upheld the condemnation of private property for transfer to other private owners in order to promote “economic development.” The case inspired widespread outrage. Polls show that over 80% of the public opposes economic development takings. As a result, 44 states have enacted eminent domain reform laws that restrict the condemnation of property for the benefit of private interests.

The most recent state to react to Kelo is Mississippi. On Tuesday, Mississippi voters adopted Measure 31 by a decisive 73% to 27% margin. The new law will make taking property for economic development unprofitable by forbidding most transfers of condemned land to a private party for 10 years after condemnation. The measure is a major victory for both property owners and the state’s economy.

Somin has also blogged on the measure at the Volokh Conspiracy here and here.  And from the former post, here's a nugget that's relevant to the discussion Ken and I have been having on direct democracy in land use:

As I explain in this article, referendum initiatives like Measure 31 tend to be stronger than reforms adopted by state legislatures because many of them are drafted by activists rather than by politicians. Measure 31 was submitted drafted by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation (small farmers are often victims of eminent domain in the state). The vast majority of post–Kelo referenda adopted by voters impose tough restrictions on takings.

More on that to come soon!

Matt Festa

November 10, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Eminent Domain, Local Government, Politics, Property Rights, State Government, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

State Constitutional Amendments on Texas Ballot

So I sat down to write a post noting some of the land-use related issues that are before Texas voters today as proposed amendments to the state constitution, and then I went off on a rant about why I don't like voting on state constitutional amendments--generally, because they're already too bloated with non-fundamental policy; and specifically, because of the informational problems that make it a terrible democratic mechanism.  But anyway, there are ten proposed amendments to the Texas constitution today, so let's see if any involve land use . . .

None of them seem to be that radical this year, and hence haven't gotten any publicity to speak of (unlike last time around (2009), when eminent domain reform and constitutionalizing the Texas Open Beach Act were on the ballot).  But as always, a few of them will affect land use--politically, structurally, and fiscally. The 2011 Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments by the Texas Legislative Council is probably the best source out there.  So let's take a look at a few.  I'll paraphase the ballot language, which in turn only paraphrases the actual text of the amendments that will be come law!

1.  Authorizing the legislature to provide a property tax exemption on the residential homestead of a surviving spouse of a 100% disabled veteran;

2.  Authorizing the Texas Water Board to issue general obligation bonds up to $6 billion for water projects;

4.  Authorize the legislature to allow a county to incur debt "to finance the development or redevelopment of an unproductive, underdeveloped, or blighted area within the county," and to pay for it with increased tax revenues from that area.

Now this one really strikes me as a great example of what I was talking about in my last post.  What this is about is tax-increment financing, e.g. TIFs.  On the one hand, if you read the background of this proposal, it's not radical; it's simply giving county governments the same power that municipal governments already have.  On the other hand, the uses and abuses of TIFs are a big deal, and if it took this land use professor a few minutes of closely reading the ballot language to figure out that that's what were voting on, I can't have much confidence that this vote is in any way informed.

5.  Authorize the legislature to allow city and county governments to enter contracts with each other (for, e.g., consolidation or regional projects) without the imposition of a tax or a sinking fund).

6.  Allow the General Land Office to distribute revenue from certain dedicated lands for educational purposes.

7.  Allow El Paso County to create conservation and reclamation districts to develop parklands.

8.  Require the legislature to tax open space land devoted to water stewardship based on its productive capacity rather than its (usually higher) market value. 

So there you have it, out of ten proposed state constitutional amendments put before the people of Texas today by the biennial session of the legislature, seven of them by my count have at least something to do with land use, even though they're more about structure and finance than use regulations per se.  But of course, some of my students accuse me of "turning everything into a land use issue."  But we all know it's true, right?

Anyway, I've got to run out now and go vote!

UPDATE 11/9/11: Seven amendments passed; the three that failed were #4 (county TIFs); #7 (El Paso parks); and #8 (tax assessment for water stewardship).  The Secretary of State has the results.  But hey, over 5% of the registered voters turned out!

Matt Festa

November 8, 2011 in Constitutional Law, Local Government, Politics, State Government, Texas | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Election Day 2011 and State Constitutions

Even though the media is obsessed with the 2012 elections, it is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and as land use folks well know, a lot of important law is made at the state and local level during off-year elections.  Today in Texas there are ten state constitutional amendments on the ballot for voter approval, generated by the 2011 legislative session (Texas' legislature still meets only bienially--one of four remaining states to do so, and the only major state). 

I'm generally not a fan of constant new constitutional amendments, for two reasons, one structural and one democratic.  First, many state constitutions--like Texas'--are already bloated.  I printed it out once--all 80,806 words of it (sorry environmental profs)--and I make the point in class by comparing the massive document to a pocket U.S. Constitution.  In general, I don't think that most mundane policy issues should be entrenched in fundamental law.  On the other hand, this structural critique can be countered somewhat by the argument that while the federal constitution enables the Congress to do a certain range of things, state legislatures already have plenary power, so state constitutions largely exist to limit the legislature--and then they need to be amended often to adjust those limits.  But still . . . 80,806 words?

My second beef with the practice of placing a slew of state constitutional amendments is has more to do with the theory of state and local elections, and I don't like it for the same reason I'm skeptical of the overuse of initiative and referendum.  What could be more democratic than letting the people vote, you ask?  The problem is informational.  I usually ask my upper-level state & local government students--a sample of pretty well educated and informed voters--which way they voted on certain amendments or referenda from prior years.  Almost universally I get two responses; either (a) no recollection whatsoever; or, occasionally, (b) they voted with their gut based on a cursory reading of the ballot text in the voting booth.  And if they remember which way they voted, it was usually "yes" because the text sounded like "good things," or "no" because the text sounded like "spending more money." 

There in turn at least two reasons why even smart voters end up voting with their gut on these important measures.  First, the ballot language is usually vague and fuzzy, and often is quite different from the actual text of the law that will go on the books.  I don't think this is usually done to confuse the voters, I think it's the opposite intent--but regardless, the ballot language in my experience is usually so general that it fails to communicate what the proposal is really about.  Another major reason, of course, is that with a few exceptions, these items don't get very much media exposure.  So most Texans probably know a lot more about, e.g., the latest in sexual harrassment allegations against national candidates, than they do about the 10 items they are probably going to add to the state constitution today.  The info is out there, but it's up to the individual voter to burn some calories and go find and read information such as the analysis by the Texas Legislative Council.

Now in class, we talk about whatever amendments and referenda are on the ballot, and it's a lot of fun.  Students do class presentations, we have guest speakers, and so on.  And it often turns out that a lot of these state constitutional amendments (and local referenda) are substantively about land use--from eminent domain to land sales, zoning, conservation, and more (which was going to be the original point of this post, before I got off on my rant).  So I do my part to create a group of 40 or 50 educated voters.

But if that's what it takes, is democracy really served by putting all this stuff on the ballot, and in such a vague manner?  I find more and more that people in general really do care about land use in their communities and their region.  A lot.  Yet in the cases where they actually have a say in the matter, it gets translated so poorly that most votes actually cast are probably not informed ones.  So it's the people behind the scenes in and around legislative bodies that end up making all the rules.

Matt Festa

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