Friday, October 21, 2011
Antonio Azuela (UNAM) has published Property in the Post-post-revolution: Notes on the Crisis of the Constitutional Idea of Property in Contemporary Mexico, 89 Tex. L. Rev 1915 (2011). In it he raises a number of questions important to comparativists and property theorists alike through discussion of a series of recent Mexican land law controversies. Here is a summary from the Law Review website:
Professor Azuela responds to a critical lack of contemporary constitutional scholarship concerning property rights in Mexico. He argues that current problems affecting property rights in Mexico stem from a variety of social and political issues, including eminent domain and the tragedy of the commons. Given this variety, theoretical models are often lacking, so Professor Azuela proposes a research agenda that will address weaknesses, account for the constitutional and social-science dynamics of the debate.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
John G. Sprankling (Pacific McGeorge) has posted The Emergence of International Property Law, forthcoming in the North Carolina Law Review. The abstract:
Title to deep seabed minerals, ownership of cultural objects, transferable allowances to emit greenhouse gases, security interests in spacecraft, and rights of indigenous peoples in ancestral lands are all components of a new field: international property law.
Scholars have traditionally viewed property law solely as a national concern. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that international property law does not exist. But if we ask how international law affects private property, we find a substantial body of international property law that governs the rights of individuals, businesses, and other non-state actors. Some components are well established, while others are still evolving.
This article first examines the antecedents of international property law. It then develops the thesis that this law stems from four main sources: regulation of the global commons; coordination of transboundary property rights; adoption of global policies to prevent specific harms; and protection of human rights. It concludes by analyzing the challenges that arise from the emergence of international property law.
Forty years ago, international environmental law emerged as a new field. Today we stand on the threshold of a similar era in international property law. This article argues that the time has come to recognize international property law as a discrete subject, and thereby promote its coherent evolution in future decades.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Five days after the April 27 tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and other communities in Alabama, I had the great privilege of witnessing relief efforts in that region. It is cliche to say that words cannot begin to describe such disasters. But cliches often serve as profound expressions of respect, recognitions that to attempt to describe would be to belittle something that should not be made to appear any less monstrous than it really is. The enormity of the disaster was matched only by the grace and courage of those good people who were working tirelessly to bring relief to the afflicted. They were all working out of churches, reaching out to surrounding neighborhoods in active demonstrations of the very best virtues that communities can embody.
A colleague has placed into my hands Tuscaloosa's "Strategic Community Plan to Renew and Rebuild." Determined to produce new strengths from vulnerability, Tuscaloosa is using this unique opportunity, created by that terrible disaster, to remake its city. Typical of the sentiment expressed throughout the plan is this, from a citizen: "We have an opportunity to start from scratch. We should really try and rebuild in a fashion that allows the city to move forward and turn into something better than it was before."
The plan is very much in the big-ideas phase, and is almost entirely aspirational at this point. It would seem that this is the moment when the big ideas matter, when first principles matter. So I was struck by the following lines from chapter 1 of the plan.
A community is like an organism and all of the parts must work together in order to sustain the City's future. A plan works to align city programs, projects and government in a synergistic relationship. Specific community goals in a Plan allow local decision makers to align around a city-wide vision and ensure that all projects are supported by the greater community.
Based upon what I witnessed in April, I predict that the community will rally around the vision quite enthusastically.
These lines brought to mind John Finnis' remarks about the purpose of law, expressed in his great book, Natural Law and Natural Rights. Finnis grounded (legal and non-legal) authority in the basic human good of community. In order to promote the common good communities need to coordinate the actions of their constituent members. And this is true regardless of human failings; law is not merely about restraining Holmes' "bad man." Indeed, according to Finnis, the more excellent and complex the challenge that the community has set for itself, the more gifted the community's members, and the greater their commitment to the common good, the more legal coordination is required.
I will follow Tuscaloosa's efforts with great interest. The city has set for itself a monumental challenge.
Ilya Somin has answered my query about land use and federalism. I wondered in an earlier post why land use scholars seem to assume that the Commerce Clause generally covers attempts by the federal government to regulate land use. Somin explains that the Court's definition of commerce--production, distribution, and consumption of commodities--is broad enough to reach land use because land is a commodity. This much makes sense to me, at least where the proposed consumption of land is or substantially affects interstate commerce. An obvious example would seem to be federal regulation of cell tower siting.
Then Somin goes on to explain, "State and local land use regulations preempted by federal legislation in most cases also qualify as 'economic activity,' since they control the use and distribution of land." Does this mean that regulation is itself commerce if the activity regulated is commerce? This, I must admit, is new to me.
I still wonder about RLUIPA. Is a church, synagogue, or mosque engaged in commerce when it assembles in its facility for worship? Or is the Commerce Clause argument that local land use regulations regulate commerce (and are therefore themselves commercial) when they address, as they often do, non-religious aspects of the land use, such as how many cars may be permitted on the premises at once, or whether a church may modify a building that has been declared a historic landmark? If that's the rationale then RLUIPA seems on rather firm footing; local governments nearly always offer ostensibly non-religious reasons for burdening religious exercise. And if religion can be regulated in this way, any activity on land will be open to federal regulation.
But then isn't there some tension between the Commerce Clause predicate for RLUIPA's substantial burden provision and the rationale of the provision itself? The justification for RLUIPA, as I understand it, is that we worry that the neutral, non-religious (commercial) reason that the local government has proffered for the adverse decision is not the real, subjective reason for the adverse decision. In other words, we are concerned about pretext. We suspect that the local government ruled against the religious landowner because of the landowner's religious convictions.
Perhaps the argument is that even religion is commerce if it is performed on land because land is a commodity. But that would seem to make all religion commerce. In my admittedly inexpert opinion, that seems rather odd.
As I mentioned in the comments of my earlier post, I still think RLUIPA is on firm footing when applied to truly individualized assessments. In those cases, the enumerated power is found in Section 5 of Amendment 14.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Christopher Serkin (Brooklyn) has posted Public Entrenchment Through Private Law: Binding Local Governments, 78 University of Chicago Law Review 879 (2011). The abstract:
Anti-entrenchment rules prevent governments from passing unrepealable legislation and ensure that subsequent governments are free to revisit the policy choices of the past. However, governments — and local governments in particular — have become increasingly adept at using private law mechanisms like contracts and property conveyances to make binding precommitments into the future. Simultaneously, courts and state legislatures in recent years have reduced the availability of core de-entrenching tools, like eminent domain, that have traditionally allowed governments to recapture policymaking authority from the past. These changes threaten to shift democratic power intertemporally. This Article develops a typology of mechanisms for public entrenchment through private law and private rights, as well as core anti-entrenchment protections embedded in the law. It then develops a framework for evaluating entrenchment concerns, comparing the costs of decreased flexibility against the benefits of increased reliance. Viewed through this framework, some recent changes in the law appear particularly problematic, from restrictions on eminent domain, to the rise of development rights, and creative forms of municipal finance like selling assets instead of incurring debt.
The Saint Index, a recent survey of attitudes about development, provides some incredible insights about the politics of land use. I found it especially interesting that the study attempts to measure how the "Tea Party" movement views development. No word on how "Occupy Wall Street" feels though. The study is worth reading in full, but here are some findings that stood out to me:
- NIMBY opposition to development is "stronger than ever," despite the economic downturn. Respondents were exceptionally cynical about local government land use decisionmaking, and believe local governments have too close a relationship with developers. These findings are nothing really new, although it is nice to see them quantified. The benefits of new development are spread widely, whereas the costs are concentrated locally, so it makes sense that people have a generally negative view of development.
- Now this is interesting: those most likely to have actively opposed a real estate development self-identified as either liberals or members of the Tea Party movement. The most likely to have actively supported a real estate development are -- also, self-identified liberals and members of the Tea Party. This seemingly unusual finding may mean nothing more than that individuals who self identify as lying on the more extreme ends of the political spectrum are also more likely to be politically active. But it may also signify that land use politics defy traditional partisan lines.
- 24% of respondents gave "protecting the environment" as their reasons for opposing a project, while only 14% said "protecting the value of their homes." The study authors state that, according to their previous survey results, these numbers are "not an accurate gauge" of the importance of home values as a motive for opposition. In other words, NIMBYS are liars!
- Here's an interesting finding that the authors pay little attention to: the majority of respondents were favorably disposed (56 to 41) toward apartment buildings/condos. This is in contrast to extreme hostility toward landfills, casinos, quarries and powerplants. These findings suggest that, at least in a survey, respondents are less concerned about revenue than more tangible impacts.
- Here's a noodle-scratcher for you: Self-identifying "Tea Party" members were most likely to support a Wal-mart, but most likely to oppose a Target or K-mart!
- The vast majority of respondents favor a rail line going through their community if there is a rail stop in their community. A slight majority opposes such a rail line if it does not stop in their community.
- Self-identifying Tea Party members were far more likely than the average respondent to oppose apartment/condo development and to favor landfills, quarries, and powerplants.
Inhabit.com has a beautiful slide show and accompanying article about the world's first residential building incorporating a verticle forest.
The Bosco Verticale is a system that optimizes, recuperates, and produces energy. Covered in plant life, the building aids in balancing the microclimate and in filtering the dust particles contained in the urban environment (Milan is one of the most polluted cities in Europe). The diversity of the plants and their characteristics produce humidity, absorb CO2 and dust particles, producing oxygen and protect the building from radiation and acoustic pollution. This not only improves the quality of living spaces, but gives way to dramatic energy savings year round.
Each apartment in the building will have a balcony planted with trees that are able to respond to the city’s weather — shade will be provided within the summer, while also filtering city pollution; and in the winter the bare trees will allow sunlight to permeate through the spaces. Plant irrigation will be supported through the filtering and reuse of the greywater produced by the building. Additionally, Aeolian and photovoltaic energy systems will further promote the tower’s self-sufficiency.
It looks like something out of Tolkein - I highly recommend you take a look.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Richard Epstein (NYU) has written Littoral Rights under the Takings Doctrine: the Clash between the Ius Naturale and Stop the Beach Renourishment, 6 Duke J. Const. L & Pub. Policy 37 (2011). He begins with the point that, due to the self-contradictory nature of judicial takings in a unitary court system, "the doctrine of judicial takings can, in practice, only arise in a federalist system." He goes on to argue for an appropriate deployment of centralized, federal oversight of state courts in defense of age-old, decentralized ius naturale. He sees Stop the Beach as a missed opportunity to invalidate years of Florida precedent as well as the Preservation Act that occasioned the controversy. He concludes that application of the judicial takings doctrine "should be limited to those circumstances in which the decided cases make a radical break from well-established common law patterns that systematically work for the advantage of the state or some identifiable private faction."
Saturday, October 15, 2011
According to this interesting post from the NY Times City Room Blog, signs like the one above have recently proliferated in New York City's Central Park, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy. The Conservancy, according to its website, "manages and maintains Central Park under contract with the city of New York." If you ask me, an exclusive contract to manage and maintain city property would make an organization a government agency, but as is typical in modern urban governance both the City and the Conservancy are eager to characterize the latter as "private." Hence, these signs, whose "Titling Gothic" font and "Conservancy Green" background are designed to exude the warmth and informality of a private organization rather than the arbitrary meanness of a regulatory entity, even as the signs tell you where you are and are not supposed to go. The money quote, from the designer of the font in question: "None of the styles of Titling Gothic exude the kind of authoritarian insistence of Helvetica...."
Wednesday I drove into Atlanta to hear a talk by Rob Teilhet, the new executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters. Rob had some great things to say about finding common ground on environmental policy in this fractious political environment.
On the way home, though, I saw the new HOT (high-occupancy-toll) lanes in Gwinett and DeKalb counties. HOT lanes are Atlanta's new version of HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes. Previously one could only use HOV lanes with two or more passengers. HOT lanes can be used by vehicles with three or more passengers, or with two or fewer passengers who have a "Peach Pass" (an electronic window sticker that records tolls to be paid from an account the driver establishes with the State Road and Tollway Authority). The tolls depend on the distance traveled, and vary by time of day (a version of congestion pricing).
This week is the first week of operation for the HOT lanes, and so far everyone's confused and nobody's happy. Despite the fact that it was rush hour, I saw absolutely no vehicles in the HOT lane (not even cars or motorcycles, which still travel free). There were a couple of police cars in the median watching for violators, but otherwise the lane just seemed like an extra big shoulder. Drivers have been extremely critical, and the Governor's office is lowering tolls to attract drivers and alleviate congestion.
HOT lanes have been touted by conservative commentators a better alternative to HOV lanes. Philisophically I love the idea of carpooling, but in reality (and since there are no reasonable public transportation options between Athens and Atlanta) I'm often the only occupant of my vehicle, so I'm vaguely considering getting a Peach Pass. We'll see how things work once (or if) they get the kinks worked out.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, October 14, 2011
In light of our earlier ponderings about land use, federalism, and whether Wickard can support a general federal power of land use regulation, this post by Randy Barnett might be of interest. Barnett, of course, is the chief architect of the case against the individual mandate in the health insurance act, so he has been lately paying a lot of attention to the question how far Wickard reaches.
Patricia Salkin (Albany) and Pamela Ko (Albany) have posted The Effective Use of Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in Land-Use Decision Making, Zoning Practice (Oct. 2011). The abstract:
Health impact assessments (HIAs) outside of the United States have long been used to hone in on the public health impacts of certain government decision making. While health impacts have been considered to a lesser degree through environmental impact review (EIR) in the United States, recent findings suggest that HIAs can be very helpful in analyzing proposed development and redevelopment projects. This article briefly reviews the history of the HIA movement, examines the differences between HIA and EIR, and provides those involved with the land use planning and regulation examples of how to best integrate HIAs into the land use decision making process.
Long-range shotgun house.
The ordinance in question would require 5-foot sideyards in the event that plaintiff would construct a residence on her property commonly known as 482 Park Avenue, Glencoe, Illinois. This property measures 25 feet by 198 feet, and, therefore, a residence erected pursuant to the ordinance could measure 15 feet in width at maximum.
Ziman v. Village of Glencoe, 275 N.E.2d 168, 169 (Ill. App. 1971)
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Sewin Chan (NYU Wagner School), Claudia Sharygin (NYU Furman Center), Vicki Been (NYU Law), and Andrew Haughwout (Federal Reserve Bank--NY) have posted Pathways after Default: What Happens to Distressed Mortgage Borrowers and Their Homes? The abstract:
We use a detailed dataset of seriously delinquent mortgages to examine the dynamic process of mortgage default – from initial delinquency and default to final resolution of the loan and disposition of the property. We estimate a two-stage competing risk hazard model to assess the factors associated with whether a borrower behind on mortgage payments receives a legal notice of foreclosure, and with what ultimately happens to the borrower and property. In particular, we focus on a borrower’s ability to avoid a foreclosure auction by getting a modification, by refinancing the loan, or by selling the property. We find that the outcomes of the foreclosure process are significantly related to: the terms of the loan; the borrower’s credit history; current loan-to-value and the presence of a junior lien; the borrower’s post-default payment behavior; the borrower’s participation in foreclosure counseling; neighborhood characteristics such as foreclosure rates, recent house price depreciation and median income; and the borrower’s race and ethnicity.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Patricia Salkin (Albany) and Daniel Gross (Albany) have posted International Comparative Property Rights: A Cross-Cultural Discipline Comes of Age. The paper is being given this weekend at the Brigham-Kanner Conference, which is being held in Beijing this year. The abstract:
This article provides an overview of the differences and similarities among a select group of nations through an examination of their real property protection regimes. The countries selected – South Africa, India, Chile, Singapore and Ghana – were chosen to illustrate how geographical, social, and economic diversity all contribute to different property rights cultures and legal approaches. Part II of this article examines general international or global factors that affect property rights. Part III offers a focused look at the historical and cultural development of property rights in the five selected countries. Part IV follows with a discussion of some of the domestic factors present in these five different countries that contribute to or influence the development and enforcement of different property rights regimes. The article concludes in Part V with a discussion about the importance of understanding the property rights regimes in other countries to better enable practitioners to provide responsible legal counsel to clients.
This one looks really interesting for those who are looking at comparative perpsectives. There have been a lot of land use and property related articles posted recently (I think we're probably two articles behind just on Prof. Salkin's recent work!)-- we'll be bringing them to you soon . . . and if you have an article that you'd like us to post about, let us know.
Jim’s post linking to Ashira Ostrow’s latest article brought to my mind a question that has perplexed me for some time, for which I have yet received no satisfactory answer. When prominent, accomplished land use scholars discuss federalism why do they pay so little attention to the United States Constitution? However one views the desirability of any particular attempt by Congress to regulate land use, if Congress does not have the power to regulate then the rest of the discussion is moot. Yet, though extensive scholarly discussion has in recent months been committed to the problem of federalism in land use controls, scant attention has been paid to the powers enumerated in Article I.
I do not mean to single out Ashira Ostrow here. She is a very accomplished land use scholar. She has forgotten more land use law than I have ever known. I’ve not yet read her latest article (though I certainly will; her articles always reward the careful reader). From a cursory glance it appears that Ashira has paid attention to the Commerce Clause, arguing that land, like wheat grown locally for personal consumption (see Wickard v. Filburn), is a “national resource, properly subject to federal regulation.” Okay, but what about the Lopez and Morrison decisions? What about enumerated powers? That the national government has an interest in the use of land does not entail that it has the power to regulate land use.
Simply by mentioning the Commerce Clause, Ashira has paid more attention to the problem than most. For example, one of the most strenuously-asserted objections to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) is that it violates principles of federalism. Two very prominent scholars have argued that RLUIPA intrudes upon local control of land use without sufficient reason. I think these arguments fail, for reasons that I discuss in an article forthcoming in the Real Estate Law Journal. But the critics miss entirely a federalism argument that I believe is nearly-fatal to RLUIPA, namely that RLUIPA is not a permissible exercise of the Commerce Clause power.
RLUIPA does not regulate commerce. It regulates courts in their review of decisions by local governments, which concern land use. Specifically, it directs state and federal courts to subject to strict scrutiny review those land use decisions that substantially burden exercises of religion. And religious exercise is generally performed by claimants engaged in non-commercial activities. Under Morrison and Lopez, which to my knowledge remain good law, the Commerce Clause predicate for RLUIPA seems indefensible.
What’s baffling is that the critics of RLUIPA whom I mentioned both have sparkling credentials. They are at least as smart as I am and far more prominent. Yet they ignored the strongest, most obvious, and most basic federalism critique of RLUIPA. Why? Do they suppose that the Constitution is irrelevant to the federalism discussion? Surely they have enough intellectual integrity to avoid such a blunder. Do they not know about Morrison and Lopez? That also cannot be. Perhaps it is an act of charity toward less-prominent scholars; they leave the low-hanging fruit for people like me.
It’s strange. Federalism in land use law is a hot topic right now (due, in largest part I think, to the stellar scholarship of Ashira Ostrow). On several occasions recently I have found myself in a room full of land use scholars, all at least as intelligent and informed as I, who have provided sophisticated, detailed accounts of the local, state, and national interests involved in various land use problems but never stop to consider whether any of their proposals are constitutional. Am I missing something?
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Why do landowners get to decide what to do with their land? If the answer to this question is, as economists would have it, that those who invest their resources in the purchase, development, and use of land are generally in the best position to maximize the value of land, then what happens if this turns out not to be true? What to make of economically irrational landowners, or unproductive or wasteful landowners? Are they exceptions to the rule? Can they be managed with rare exercises of the eminent domain power? Or does their existence supply reason to doubt altogether the efficacy of owner sovereignty? And what about considerations for which economists cannot account, values that are incommensurable to each other, such as charity and the other virtues? Can one run a regression analysis to measure the effectiveness of private property in promoting generosity?
These are some of the questions that Progressive property theorists have prompted in recent years, raising formidable challenges to private property generally, and land owner sovereignty in particular. Consider perhaps the most prominent and influential of these challenges, the Statement of Progressive Property authored by Gregory Alexander, Eduardo M. Peňalver, Joseph William Singer, and Laura Underkuffler. They doubt that private property ownership accrues to the common good, on balance. And they challenge the orthodox view of property as a core right to exclude, with government regulation operating only at the margins. They claim instead that the core of property is complex, and includes management by government.
Of course, one could just as easily ask the questions the other way around. Why are governments empowered to regulate land use? If the answer to this question is, as land planning advocates would have it, that controls on land use are necessary to internalize negative externalities, and to reduce conflict and waste, then why do we allow ex ante controls? The common law had mechanisms—doctrines of nuisance and waste, the power of eminent domain—to alleviate or eradicate harmful uses and non-uses of land. Ex ante planning rests on the assumption that government planners are capable of discerning the best uses of land and avoiding the worst, an assumption upon which scholars have cast considerable doubt (including on this very page, no less). And what about considerations for which government planners cannot account, such as (lack of) market demand, that irritating reality? The development authorities of New London, Connecticut had planned a real shining city by the sea. The dreams and plans of redevelopment authorities are often strikingly attractive. They could transform the world if only they never had to be implemented.
It is fine to acknowledge the value of incommensurable ends, to insist that the institution of property account for virtues and other values that are difficult to quantify. But are Progressive theorists really advancing these ends in a way that owner sovereignty does not? Henry Smith thinks not. He insists that both defenders and critics of private property rights are in favor of virtue and human flourishing. They disagree merely over the means that best serve the agreed-upon ends. The critics of private property rights are simply impatient with the “mysterious way” that property promotes human flourishing.
This is (very) roughly the current state of what is arguably the most interesting debate in property theory today. Why should land use lawyers care about this debate? Today’s legal theory is tomorrow’s legal doctrine. Economic substantive due process was just a theory before the Court decided Lochner. Originalism was just a theory before a young Justice named Scalia began questioning the judicial-supremacy orthodoxy espoused by Justice Brennan. John Locke had a theory. If you’re curious what came of it, read the Declaration and Constitution in one hand with a copy of the Second Treatise in the other. Holmes had a theory. He failed to persuade a majority of his colleagues on the Lochner Court, but his theory ultimately prevailed in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I hope to explore some of the implications of this debate among property theorists. In particular, I’d like to think with our readers about how these principles play out in land use law. Are there principled reasons why the age of landowner sovereignty should come to and end? Do policy makers have principled reason to doubt the efficacy of government planning of land use? Or can landowner sovereignty and government planning co-exist on rational, coherent grounds?
Ashira Ostrow (Hofstra) has posted Land Law Federalism, 61 Emory L.J. ___ (forthcoming 2012). A must-read, this foundational work explores the theoretical framework for appropriate federal intervention in the state/local-dominated area of land use regulation. Here's the abstract:
In modern society, capital, information and resources pass seamlessly across increasingly porous jurisdictional boundaries; land does not. Perhaps because of its immobility, the dominant descriptive and normative account of land use law is premised upon local control. Yet, land exhibits a unique duality. Each parcel is at once absolutely fixed in location but inextricably linked to a complex array of interconnected systems, natural and man-made. Ecosystems spanning vast geographic areas sustain human life; interstate highways, railways and airports physically connect remote areas; networks of buildings, homes, offices and factories, create communities and provide the physical context in which most human interaction takes place.
Given the traditional commitment to localism, scholars and policymakers often reflexively dismiss the potential for an increased federal role in land use law. Yet, modern land use law already involves a significant federal dimension resulting, in part, from the enactment of federal statutes that have varying degrees of preemptive effect on local authority. Moreover, this Article maintains that federal intervention in land use law is warranted where the cumulative impact of local land use decisions interferes with national regulatory objectives (such as developing nationwide energy or telecommunications infrastructure).
Finally, this Article advances an interjurisdictional framework for federal land law that harnesses (a) the capacity of the federal government, with its distance from local politics and economic pressures, to coordinate land use on a national scale and (b) the capacity of local officials, who have detailed knowledge of the land and are politically accountable to the local community, to implement land use policies.
October 11, 2011 in Climate, Development, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Federal Government, Globalism, Green Building, Inclusionary Zoning, Local Government, NIMBY, Planning, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Sprawl, Subdivision Regulations, Sustainability, Transportation, Wetlands, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, October 10, 2011
Michelle Wilde Anderson (Cal-Berkeley) and Victoria Plaut (Cal-Berkeley) have posted Property Law: Implicit Bias and the Resilience of Spatial Colorlines, a chapter in Implicit Racial Bias Across the Law (forthcoming 2011, Cambridge U. Press, Levinson & Smith, eds). Here's the abstract:
Subjectivity and discretion exert tremendous influence over property and our built environment. From members of a city council to planning commissioners, from bank actuaries to developers, from tax assessors to neighbors, individuals constantly and silently make consequential judgments. How much is a home worth? How trustworthy is a credit-seeker? Is a proposed development, land use, or landowner suitable for this community? Is this neighborhood safe? Current research in psychology can tell us much about how we make such decisions and how the race of parties involved can shape those outcomes. This chapter investigates the application of unconscious bias research to property and land use decisions that affect where people live, work, shop, and travel - decisions that in turn affect household wealth, educational opportunity, health, and personal safety.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
The indispensable Planetizen links to this interesting blog post on Los Angeles's efforts to deal with "Mansionization," in which homeowners tear down existing homes and build huge mansions on small lots (see the photo here.) One wonders how much of a problem Mansionization is in the current economy, but apparently it still is, at least in some of LA's more affluent residential neighborhoods.
In any event, Los Angeles apparently set down some basic Mansionization regulations, but allowed individual neighborhoods to adopt their own, more restrictive rules (which are subject to city council approval because, as I explain here, municipalities cannot constitutionally delegate their zoning power to neighborhoods). Studio City, one of the aforementioned affluent residential neighborhoods, did in fact adopt a more restrictive set of Mansionization regulations, which the city council is expected to approve. It is certainly intriguing to see wealthy homeowners signing on to a proposal that will reduce maximum home sizes, perhaps recognizing that property values are driven by aesthetic factors other than just size.
With that in mind, the text of the proposed Studio City ordinance, here, is very interesting. It appears to be modeled on New York City's landmark 1961 zoning regulation, which introduced the concept of "bonus" or "incentive" zoning. (Jerold Kayden has written a great book, Privately Owned Public Space, about the NYC regulation). The Studio City ordinance provides for a maximum FAR (Floor Area Ratio -- percentage of the lot which can be covered with buildings), but permits greater lot coverage if homeowners incorporate certain design elements that mitigate the impact of the larger home. In addition, homeowners can also qualify for an FAR bonus if they incorporate certain green building standards, such as qualifying for the LEED "Gold" standard.
On a related note, and the hopeful subject of a future post, recent California legislation allows the governor to "fast-track" environmental review under the state's CEQA law if it meets the same LEED standard. It appears, then, that these LEED standards are more and more being used as a talisman that assures some minimum level of environmental protection and therefore justifies the circumvention of otherwise applicable regulations. But my admittedly amateurish understanding of LEED suggests that these standards leave a lot to be desired -- they can, for example, easily be manipulated to rack up lots of "points" for trivial environmental benefits.
Should we be placing so much faith in LEED standards? I welcome comments from those with greater knowledge of LEED.