Saturday, March 5, 2011

Association for Law, Property, and Society Papers

For anyone that couldn't make it to the conference, here's a list of the papers that are being presented.  This get together really is terrific.

Steve Clowney

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March 5, 2011 in ALPS | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who Owns Our Helium?

Here's a little known property fact: Twelve miles northwest of Amarillo, Texas, the federal government has a storage facility that houses a billion cubic feet of (federally owned) helium gas. 

Congress established the federal helium reserve in 1925 as a strategic supply of gas to power dirigibles.  If this all seems rather silly to you, you're not alone.  In 1996, the federal government - full of budget cutting fervor - mandated that the U.S. helium reserve (by far the largest in the world) be sold off to private industry by 2015.

But here's the rub; since 1996 helium as become an essential component of numerous important technologies. Liquid helium cools all kinds of medical equipment, helps our TVs work, and even powers some rockets.  For many of these uses (especially the industrial ones) there's no good substitute for helium.  Not one.  And here's the other reality of helium: it's a non-renewable resource, mainly collected from the very slow decay of radioactive elements.  As one writer put it:

There is, as of yet, no way to produce more helium. Right now in the circles studying the matter, the cheapest way to get more helium once it’s gone from Earth is to go to the Moon and mine it. Let me repeat that: once the Earth’s helium is depleted, the cheapest way to get more helium is to get it from the Moon.

There are growing concerns that the world's helium supply won't last another 30 years.  To recap, at the very moment we need to concentrate on helium conservation, the federal government is flooding the market with a billion cubic feet of helium.  Helium that it must sell by 2015, irrespective of market price.  Thus, helium is too cheap and there's little incentive to recycle it.

This privatization raises two issues for me.  First it highlights how shortsighted budget cuts can have powerful long-term consequences.  Second, it raises a deeper property question: Why do we allow private ownership of oil, minerals, and natural gas?  Historically, the private ownership of oil and gas is an extreme outlier (see list of national oil companies here).  And more importantly, I don't think it's worked out so well.  For example, it's easy to think that the people of Eastern Kentucky would have ended up better off if the government, rather than private companies, owned the coal resources of Appalachia.  More money would have flowed back into their communities (a la the Alaska Permanent Fund) and it seems likely that they would have been exposed to fewer environmental catastrophes.

Steve Clowney

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March 3, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

ALPS on the horizon

My top three concerns heading into the ALPS conference, for which I leave way too early tomorrow:Edelweiss

(1) will be revealed as idiot during panel (estimated probability: 33%);

(2) will spill food on others (estimated probability: 48%);

(3)  will have song "Edelweiss" stuck in head entire time (estimated probability: 99%).

Mark A. Edwards

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March 2, 2011 in ALPS | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Cemeteries, Land Use, and Cultural Differences

As readers of this blog may recall, one of my main research interests is the law of cemeteries and the relationship between the law, custom, and commercial interests in determining how Americans dispose of our remains.  I am fortunate enough to receive regular e-mails from students, colleagues and friends, sharing an Internet link to a stories related to this area.  (It's a little disturbing that so many people associate me with death, but it is also very nice of them to help me with my research!)

My colleague Barbara Lentz recently e-mailed me a link to a story from by an American author sharing her family's experience with the Greek burial system.  The author's grandparents moved back to their native Greece in the 1990s, eventually died and were buried there.  At that point, the author's family learned that in Greece, graves are rented for a maximum of three years.  When the lease term is up, the remains are removed from the individual grave to a communal ossuary.  

From an American perspective, the Greek practices are horrific.  Our default position is that a grave is permanent, with superstition, secular cultural norms, and religious beliefs all arguing against disturbing a grave (See, e.g. Poltergeist).  But of course that isn't the entire story.  Why are there few graveyards in Manhattan and Chicago, and none in San Francisco?  Because they were all moved to the suburbs (or paved over) when the cities began to expand.  We would all have difficulty imagining that it would be acceptable to disinter Grandma and put her skeleton in a museum, but the Smithsonian has a fascinating CSI-type exhibit on the dead of Jamestown, Virginia -- all of whom were disinterred, examined, and put in a museum. We all draw lines regarding the rights of (or respect for) the dead and the interests of the living.  I'm really interested in where Americans draw those lines, and why.

If you are also interested in this subject and attending ALPS, I will be participating in a Saturday morning panel at 8:30am.  And if you run across any interesting stories, or have some to share from your own experience, please feel free to e-mail them to me!

Tanya Marsh

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March 2, 2011 in ALPS, Property in the Human Body, Recent Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Vernon, California -- An All-Business Town

The New York Times has an interesting story today about Vernon, California, a municipality in Los Angeles County that has only 95 residents and 1,800 (mostly industrial) businesses.  The human residents (and sole voters) live in small homes, all of which are owned by the City.  Given this set-up, the City has a reputation for corruption and anti-democratic practices.

It has clearly monopolized the property tax revenue from the businesses located within its borders (Vernon has a tax base of $4.1 billion) while freed from providing services to the 55,000 workers who work in Vernon and live elsewhere (neighboring Bell, with a population of 40,000, has a property tax base of $1.1 billion).

Now, state government officials have mounted a campaign to legally abolish Vernon and make it part of Los Angeles County.  Vernon is fighting back with a PR campaign, and expensive lobbyists and lawyers.

Tanya Marsh

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March 2, 2011 in Land Use | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Anarchy in the Sky

A New York Times video on what happens when 2500 squatters take over a 45-story skyscraper.

Steve Clowney

March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Recent SSRN Downloads

Ssrn In honor of the beginning of the month, here are the most downloaded property articles over the last 60 days.


1.  [871 downloads] Mortgage Servicing by Adam J. Levitin (Georgetown) and Tara Twomey (National Consumer Law Center)

2.  [296 downloads] Lady Bird Deeds: A Primer for the Texas Practitioner by Gerry W. Beyer (Texas Tech) and Kerri M. Griffin

3.  [182 downloads] Degrees of Property by Peter G. Turner (Cambridge)

4.  [92 downloads] Zoning for Off-Campus Fraternity and Sorority Houses by Patricia Salkin (Albany) and Amy Lavine (Albany)

5.  [89 downloads] The Subprime Crisis: How Much Did Lender Regulation Matter? By Robert B. Avery (Federal Reserve) and Kenneth P. Brevoort (Federal Reserve)

6.  [88 downloads] The Prudent Investor Rule and Trust Asset Allocation: An Empirical Analysis by Max M. Schanzenbach (Northwestern) and Robert H. Sitkoff (Harvard)

7.  [84 downloads] The New Judicial Takings Construct by Timothy M. Mulvaney (Texas Wesleyan)

8.  [80 downloads] Government Entrepreneurs: Incentivizing Sustainable Businesses as Part of Local Economic Development Strategies  by Jonathan D. Rosenbloom (Drake)

9.  [72 downloads] Making Coasean Property More Coasean by Thomas W. Merrill (Columbia) and Henry E. Smith (Harvard)

10. [62 downloads] Keeping Pace?: The Case Against Property Assessed Clean Energy Financing Programs by Prentiss Cox (Minnesota)

Steve Clowney

March 1, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 28, 2011

History's Lost Black Towns

The Root profiles 15 Black communities that history threatens to forget:

Black Americans have played a vital role in building this nation.  Eager to live and prosper as free people, we have established our own towns since Colonial times.  Many of these communities were destroyed by racial violence or injustice, while some just died out.  

Steve Clowney

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February 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Garnett on Land Use Patterns, Disorder, and Crime

Nicole Garnett (Notre Dame) has posted The People Paradox on SSRN.  Here's the abstract:

American land-use regulators increasingly embrace mixed-land-use "urban" neighborhoods, rather than single-land-use "suburban" ones, as a planning ideal. This shift away from traditional regulatory practice reflects a growing endorsement of Jane Jacobs’s influential argument that mixed-land-use urban neighborhoods are safer and more socially cohesive than single-use suburban ones. Proponents of regulatory reforms encouraging greater mixing of residential and commercial land uses, however, completely disregard a sizable empirical literature suggesting that commercial land uses generate, rather than suppress, crime and disorder and that suburban communities have higher levels of social capital than urban communities. This Article constructs a case for mixed-land-use planning that tackles the uncomfortable reality that these studies present. That case is built upon an apparent paradox: In urban communities, people do not, apparently, make us safer. But they do make us feel safer. This "People Paradox" suggests that, despite an apparent tension between city busyness and safety, land-use regulations that enable mixed-land-use neighborhoods may advance several important urban development goals. It also suggests an often-overlooked connection between land-use and policing policies.

I always enjoy Garnett's work, and think this piece plugs a significant hole in the land use literature.  It also builds on and expands many of the themes of advanced in Ordering the City - a must read for anyone interested in urban governance.

Steve Clowney

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February 28, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Restrictive Covenants in Custom Home Subdivisions

The Indianapolis Star has an interesting article this morning describing a situation that is doubtlessly occuring in many upscale communities across the country.  There are several subdivisions in Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, that were marketed as available to custom home builders only.  The large lot sizes, large home sizes, and required architectural features were supported by both restrictive covenants and zoning restrictions.  But, as you may have heard, the economy crashed.  Many smaller custom home builders in Indianapolis have gone out of business.  The original developers of the subdivisions either lost unbuilt lots to the bank or have been forced to sell them in a bulk sale to production home builders.

So the people who built their $1 million plus custom dream homes (which is a VERY VERY nice house in Indianapolis) in these subdivisions are now battling to keep out the $350,000 to $500,000 production homes. 

Lawsuits have already been filed, so I suspect that we will be seeing more appellate court decisions across the country soon interpreting restrictive covenants that the homeowners understood as limiting the subdivisions to custom-built homes.

Tanya Marsh

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February 27, 2011 in Mortgage Crisis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)