Monday, May 2, 2016
In long-awaited decisions, today the Colorado Supreme Court invalidated the City of Fort Collins fracking moratorium and the City of Longmont's fracking ban as pre-empted by state law. The decisions can be found here. The cities had argued that their regulation of fracking were valid land use controls, but the Court did not agree.
However, the fight from fracking in Colorado is far from over, as signature gathering is underway for several ballot initiatives for the November election.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Land Use Prof Blog is a completely non-partisan forum, but I was fascinated to read this recent article in the Colorado Springs Gazette (apparently picked up from AP) about Marco Rubio's early career as a land use lawyer. (I'm guessing the article appeared in a Colorado publication because the Colorado caucuses are on "Super Tuesday," March 1, although the Colorado Republicans will not actually be caucusing for Presidential candidates, leaving that to their delegates at the national convention.)
It's not often that a zoning lawyer rises to national political prominence. The article is also interesting because it discusses Rubio's work for clients vis a vis his position in the Florida Legislature, and seems exemplary of the role of politics in local land use decisions.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Monday, February 15, 2016
Yesterday our fearless leader, Stephen R. Miller, blogged about Justice Scalia's three most important land-use-related decisions. I agree with his assessment that Nollan and Lucas are two of the most influential takings cases ever decided, and certainly Rapanos' change in wetlands regulation are had a dramatic effect on the development industry and control of water quality (although arguably Justice Kennedy's concurrence with its "significant nexus" test is more relied upon by regulators).
Inspired by Stephen, I perused the list of Scalia-authored opinions and found a couple more of interest. In the vein of my previous post about how Scalia's passing will likely result in the survival of President Obama's Clean Power Plan, I also think Scalia's decision in Michigan v. EPA was highly influential. It held that the EPA must consider cost when deciding whether regulations under the Clean Air Act is "appropriate and necessary." (Bob Sussman wrote about the impact of Michigan v. EPA for the Brookings last summer.)
Also, a somewhat lesser known but important Scalia-authored case was City of Columbia v. Omni Outdoor Advertising (1991), in which the court upheld anti-trust immunity for local governments enacting zoning restrictions - in this case, those that regulated signs. (Linda Greenhouse covered the case for The New York Times.) Although this case lacks the colorful language of some of Scalia's more recent opinions (primarily dissents), it is interesting reading for those of us who care about the limits of local government police power.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Earlier this summer Stephen Miller blogged about the California Supreme Court's decision in the California Building Industry v. City of San Jose case, in which the court held that San Jose's inclusionary zoning ordinance was a valid exercise of police power and not an exaction. However, the folks at Perkins Coie are reporting on their California land use blog that the California Building Industry Association, through their counsel at the Pacific Legal Foundation, have filed a petition for cert. The jury is still out on whether inclusionary zoning is an effective affordable housing tool, but if SCOTUS grants cert, the issue may be moot. Stay tuned.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Friday, October 2, 2015
New York City, like other major cities around the world, has acknowledged the problem of climate change, undertaken a comprehensive risk assessment, created a suite of adaptation and mitigation planning initiatives, and begun to implement policies to both decrease the city’s contribution to the problem and make the city less vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In an article published in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, I provide a detailed analysis of the city’s climate change resilience initiatives and conclude that many of the city’s initiatives provide a model for other coastal communities, but the city's initiatives nevertheless fall short of what is likely required to sufficiently moderate harm from dangerous interference with the climate system.
The city’s robust suite of initiatives put it ahead of the pack as compared to most other U.S. municipalities, especially with respect to comprehensive reform of zoning and building codes, integrated mitigation and adaptation planning, transparent climate change-related data analysis initiatives, and commitment to reduce GHG emissions 80% by 2050 from 2005 levels and progress toward that goal. However, the city also faces a host of wicked policy binds, ineffective regional structures, a lack of support at the federal level, and numerous conditions that constrain its ability to remain resilient. In light of this, the “toughness” theme that runs throughout the city’s plans risks undermining its robust data analysis and reporting initiatives by instilling in New Yorkers a false sense of security with respect to both the scope of the problem and their local government’s ability to protect them from it. The city faces an equally wicked policy bind with respect to waterfront development. Given the foreseeable risks of increasingly intensive and frequent coastal storms, flooding and storm surges, coastal municipalities must carefully evaluate their waterfront development policies to assure consistency with future climate risks and adopt regulations that curtail or eliminate waterfront development in high-risk areas, encourage or require relocation away from vulnerable areas, and take maximum advantage of opportunities to develop natural flood-mitigation infrastructure.
See Sink or Swim: In Search of a Model for Coastal City Climate Change Resilience, 40 Columbia J. Envt’l L. 433 (2015), available here.
Post by Sarah J. Adams-Schoen, Assistant Professor of Law and Director of Touro Law’s Institute for Land Use & Sustainable Development Law, and managing author of the blog Touro Law Land Use.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Land Use Prof colleagues -- please share the following information about an online self-paced course in adaptive planning and resilience as broadly as possible. It's especially relevant for professionals who are engaged in planning and would benefit from skills to make their planning processes more adaptive and resilience-oriented. Students, professors, and other professionals are welcome too. Thanks for your interest and help! All best wishes, Tony Arnold
I’m writing to let you know about an online self-paced professional development course in adaptive planning and resilience. This course is aimed at any professional who engages in planning under conditions of uncertainty, complexity, or unstable conditions, whether in the public sector, private sector, local community, or multi-stakeholder partnerships.
The course is ideal for professionals in sectors such as urban planning, community development water supply, water quality, disasters/hazards, environmental protection, land management, forestry, natural resources management, ecosystem restoration, climate change, public infrastructure, housing, sustainability, community resilience, energy, and many others. I hope that you and the employees and/or members of your organization will consider enrolling in this course.
The 12-hour course is offered by the University of Louisville for a cost of $150 and is taught by Professor Tony Arnold, a national expert in adaptive planning and resilience, and a team of professionals engaged in various aspects of adaptive planning. The online lectures are asynchronous, and the course is self-paced; this offering will last until November 22.
More information is provided below and at the registration web page: http://louisville.edu/law/flex-courses/adaptive-planning. This offering of the course begins October 12 but registration will be accepted through November 15 due to the self-pacing of the course. We are seeking AICP CM credits for the course in partnership with the Kentucky Chapter of the American Planning Association, but cannot make any representations or promises until our application is reviewed.
Please share this blog post or information with anyone who might be interested. Please contact me at email@example.com, if you have any questions.
Adaptive Planning and Resilience
Online and self-paced
Oct. 12 – Nov. 22, 2015
Adaptive Planning and Resilience is a professional development course in which professionals will develop the knowledge and skills to design and implement planning processes that will enable their governance systems, organizations, and/or communities to adapt to changing conditions and sudden shocks or disturbances.
Adaptive planning is more flexible and continuous than conventional planning processes, yet involves a greater amount of goal and strategy development than adaptive management methods. It helps communities, organizations, and governance systems to develop resilience and adaptive capacity: the capacity to resist disturbances, bounce back from disasters, and transform themselves under changing and uncertain conditions. Adaptive planning is needed most when systems or communities are vulnerable to surprise catastrophes, unprecedented conditions, or complex and difficult-to-resolve policy choices.
The course will cover the elements of adaptive planning and resilient systems, the legal issues in adaptive planning, how to design and implement adaptive planning processes, and case studies (including guest speakers) from various communities and organizations that are employing adaptive planning methods. Enrollees will have the opportunity to design or redesign an adaptive planning process for their own professional situation and get feedback from course instructors.
The six-week course totals about 12 hours broken into 30-minute segments. It is conducted online and is asynchronous. Cost is $150.
About Professor Tony Arnold
Professor Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold is the Boehl Chair in Property and Land Use at the University of Louisville, where he teaches in both the Brandeis School of Law and the Department of Urban and Public Affairs and directs the interdisciplinary Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility. Professor Arnold is an internationally renowned and highly-cited scholar who studies how governance systems and institutions – including planning, law, policy, and resource management – can adapt to changing conditions and disturbances in order to improve social-ecological resilience. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the 2013 Trustee’s Award, the highest award for a faculty member at the University of Louisville.
Professor Arnold has clerked for a federal appellate judge on the 10th Circuit and practiced law in Texas, including serving as a city attorney and representing water districts. He served as Chairman of the Planning Commission of Anaheim, California, and on numerous government task forces and nonprofit boards. He had a land use planning internship with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, did rural poverty work in Kansas, and worked for two members of Congress. Professor Arnold received his Bachelor of Arts, with Highest Distinction, Phi Beta Kappa, in 1987 from the University of Kansas. He received his Doctor of Jurisprudence, with Distinction, in 1990 from Stanford University, where he co-founded the Stanford Law & Policy Review and was a Graduate Student Fellow in the Stanford Center for Conflict and Negotiation. He has affiliations with interdisciplinary research centers at six major universities nationwide and is a part of an interdisciplinary collaboration of scholars studying adaptive governance and resilience.
Professor Arnold will be joined in co-teaching the course by a team of his former students who are
professionals knowledgeable in adaptive planning. They include:
- Brian O’Neill, an aquatic ecologist and environmental planner in Chicago
- Heather Kenny, a local-government and land-use lawyer in California and adjunct professor at Lincoln Law School of Sacramento
- Sherry Fuller, a business manager at the Irvine Ranch Conservancy in Orange County, California, and former community redevelopment project manager
- Andrew Black, who is Associate Dean of Career Planning and Applied Learning at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and a former field representative for two U.S. Senators in New Mexico
- Andrea Pompei Lacy, AICP, who directs the Center for Hazards Research and Policy Development at the University of Louisville
- Jennifer-Grace Ewa, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Inequality and the Provision of Open Space at the University of Denver
- Alexandra Chase, a recent graduate of the Brandeis School of Law who has worked on watershed and urban resilience issues with the Center for Land Use and Environmental Responsibility and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida.
October 12 – November 22, 2015,
Online, asynchronous, and self-paced
For more information
September 23, 2015 in Agriculture, Beaches, Charleston, Chicago, Coastal Regulation, Comprehensive Plans, Conferences, Conservation Easements, Crime, Density, Detroit, Development, Economic Development, Environmental Justice, Environmental Law, Environmentalism, Exurbs, Federal Government, Finance, Financial Crisis, Food, Georgia, Green Building, Houston, HUD, Impact Fees, Inclusionary Zoning, Industrial Regulation, Lectures, Local Government, Montgomery, Mortgage Crisis, New York, Planning, Property, Race, Redevelopment, Scholarship, Smart Growth, Smartcode, Sprawl, State Government, Subdivision Regulations, Suburbs, Sun Belt, Sustainability, Transportation, Water, Wind Energy, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, August 6, 2015
I was browsing this week's copy of Law Week Colorado and stumbled across an article from The Pew Charitable Trust's blog Stateline, "As Rent Skyrockets, More Cities Look to Cap It." Rent control is returning to the national conversation as home ownership declines while rents increase in the most desirable parts of the country - including Colorado. However, Colorado, like several other states, has a state law prohibiting local governments from implementing rent control. So is rent control really a viable policy option, or is it a distraction from other policy solutions? What do Land Use Prof Blog readers think?
Jamie Baker Roskie
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
In the last couple of days I've run across some interesting mainstream journalism on fair housing issues - not something that normally gets a lot of play. But I thought this blog's readers would be interested.
The first is Brentin Mock's essay on CityLab "How Los Angeles County Furthered Racist 'Fair-Housing' Practices," about how two southern California jurisdictions colluded with the LA County Sherriff's office to push black families out of their communities through "intrusive and intimidating compliance checks," according to the Justice Deparment's findings. Mock is very critical of both the local governments' and the sherriff's conduct. He also refers to HUD's newly promulgated fair housing rules. . .
An issue also covered in a short Salon interview with Rutgers University's Paul Jargowsky, who calls the rules "long overdue" and yet also "only a start." Most interesting to me in Jargowsky's criticism of the lack of diversity in housing types in the suburbs:
I certainly think that to the extent that we’re spending public money on these units, they should be done in a way that advances access to opportunity and makes the most effective use of the public dollar. But the biggest story here, in the end, is really the private market and exclusionary zoning, and discrimination also in the private housing market. That’s the big one, and this won’t really change that. I’m certainly in favor of what HUD is doing now with this rule, and I think it will make some difference at the margin, but it’s not a big enough program overall to move the needle very much. . .
There has to be some overall constraint on pace of suburban growth, and the second thing would be that every suburban jurisdiction, every town and place that’s growing, has to include in its housing stock as it develops a full range of housing types that would accommodate roughly the distribution of income that exists within the metropolitan area. If you did that, within decades, new housing would accommodate a greater degree of racial and economic integration than it does now.
Yet another set of reminders, if we needed them, that providing safe, affordable housing remains a vexing issue in today's complicated world.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
While everyone was rightly focused on the flurry of historic decisions at the end of the Supreme Court term (including the raisins takings case, my personal favorite) the court also granted cert in an interesting sign regulation case that, until now, was not on my radar. Robert Thomas, head of the eminent domain committee of the ABA's State & Local Government Law Section, posted an interesting summary of the case on his blog:
Central Radio placed a banner on the side of its building protesting government’s attempt to take the building by eminent domain. The City of Norfolk quickly cited Central Radio for violating the City’s sign code, despite not having enforced the code against any other political sign in at least a quarter-century. Although the sign code prohibited Central Radio’s protest banner, it exempts various other categories of signs from regulation. For example, Central Radio’s banner would have been allowed if, rather than protesting city policy, it depicted the city crest or flag.
The day after this Court heard argument in Reed v. Town of Gilbert, No. 13-502, the Fourth Circuit, over a dissent from Judge Gregory, upheld Norfolk’s sign code. Following the approach adopted by the Ninth Circuit in Reed, the Fourth Circuit found the challenged provisions content-neutral. Applying intermediate scrutiny to the sign code, it held that Norfolk was justified in restricting Central Radio’s banner because some passersby had honked, waved, or shouted in support of it.
The questions presented are:
1. Does Norfolk’s mere assertion of a content-neutral justification or lack of discriminatory motive render its facially content-based sign code content neutral and justify the code’s differential treatment of Central Radio’s protest banner?
2. Can government restrict a protest sign on private property simply because some passersby honk, wave, or yell in support of its message?
Given the court's general hostility to sign regulation (see, e.g. Reed v. Gilbert as discussed above and covered in this WaPo story) is the outcome in this forthcoming case a forgone conclusion?
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
First off, thanks to Stephen Miller for shepherding the blog for the last year-plus. We co- and contributing editors have been off on various adventures, but Stephen has asked us to recommit to regular blogging and I know we're all excited to do so.
Back before I became a land use lawyer in private practice in Colorado, I was the Managing Attorney of the Land Use Clinic at the University of Georgia. We did a fair amount of work around big box development, including maintaining a guidebook for Georgia local governments. So, I continue to follow news about big box stores with some interest. Recently, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance published a piece, "For Cities, Big-Box Stores Are Becoming Even More of a Terrible Deal." The story outlines the efforts of chains like Lowes to avoid local property taxes by an ingenious method:
From the story:
Figuring out the value of a property can be a complicated business. In Michigan, town and county assessors typically use a property’s construction costs, minus depreciation, as a primary metric to determine its fair market value; taxable value is half that amount. Property owners sometimes prefer, instead, to use the sale prices of comparable properties. This was the approach that Lowe’s took—with a catch. Lowe’s looked at the definition of the word “comparable,” and decided to stretch it. It said that, because big-box stores are designed to be functionally obsolescent, that comparable stores are those that have been closed and are sitting empty—the “dark stores” behind this method’s name.
“Unlike many other commercial properties,” the assessor hired by Lowe’s argued in court, “free standing ‘big-box’ stores like the subject [property] are not constructed for the purpose of thereafter selling or leasing the property in the marketplace.”
It’s an established part of the big-box retail model that the boxes themselves be custom-built, cheaply constructed, and disposable. If retailers decide that they need a bigger space, it’s cheaper for them to leave the old one behind and build a new one. When Walmart, for instance, opened its wave of new, twice-the-size Supercenters across the country in 2007, it left hundreds of vacant stores behind it. This means that new, successful stores like the Marquette Lowe’s are rarely the locations that are up for sale, and that when big-box stores do come on the market, it’s because they’ve already failed or been abandoned by the retailer that built them. In other words, Lowe’s was saying, it had built a property that, despite generating roughly $30 million in annual sales for the company, had very little value, and because of that, it should get a break in its property taxes.
According to the report, this is part of a larger scheme by large chains to avoid property tax implications, which has significant ramifications for local governments:
As one example, take Walmart, the largest among them, which looks for tax loopholes wherever it can find them. “For every kind of tax that a retail company would normally pay or remit to support public services, Walmart has engineered an aggressive scheme to pay less and keep more,” found a 2011 report by the non-profit research organization Good Jobs First. These include using its fleet of lawyers to systematically challenge its property tax assessments, and gimmicks such as deducting rent payments made to itself through captive real estate investment trusts. Good Jobs First calculated that these tactics cost state and local governments more than $400 million a year in lost revenue, and concluded, “Walmart may be more of a fiscal burden than a benefit to many of the communities in which it operates.”
There’s also the other side of a local government’s ledger. Big-box retail is expensive to maintain. Because these stores are located outside of town centers and designed for car culture, they require local governments to extend and bolster public services and infrastructure like sewers, roads, and police forces. They also rely on these services heavily. When eight communities in central Ohio looked at the fiscal impacts of big-box retail, they found that the stores actually demanded more public services than they generated in revenue, and created a drain on municipal budgets to the tune of a net annual loss of $0.44 per square foot, or about $80,000 for a typical Walmart supercenter.
Here at LUPB we've blogged a great deal about big box stores (a search of the site generates over 200 hits) and really, rarely is it good news. But, we'll keep our eyes open for future developments.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Thursday, January 22, 2015
For those of you who have not already figured out exactly how land use planning officials are expected to proceed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 decision in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Peñalver (Cornell) have posted Exactions Creep, __ Sup. Ct. Rev. ___ (forthcoming). Rather than deny that the Court has aggravated the uncertainty faced by local governments, Lee and Eduardo explore the nature of the confusion in the Court's exactions jurisprudence and call for a significant revision. Here's the abstract:
How can the Constitution protect landowners from government exploitation without disabling the machinery that protects landowners from each other? The Supreme Court left this central question unanswered — and indeed unasked — in Koontz v St. Johns River Water Management District. The Court’s exactions jurisprudence, set forth in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, Dolan v. City of Tigard, and now Koontz, requires the government to satisfy demanding criteria for certain bargains — or proposed bargains — implicating the use of land. Yet because virtually every restriction, fee, or tax associated with the ownership or use of land can be cast as a bargain, the Court must find some way to hive off the domain of exactions from garden variety land use regulations. This it refused to do in Koontz, opting instead to reject boundary principles that it found normatively unstable. By beating back one form of exactions creep — the possibility that local governments will circumvent a too-narrowly drawn circle of heightened scrutiny — the Court left land use regulation vulnerable to the creeping expansion of heightened scrutiny under the auspices of its exactions jurisprudence. In this paper, we lay out this dilemma and suggest that it should lead the Court to rethink its exactions jurisprudence, and especially its grounding in the Takings Clause, rather than the Due Process Clause. The sort of skepticism about bargaining reflected in the Court’s exactions cases, we suggest, finds its most plausible roots in rule-of-law concerns implicated by land use dealmaking. With those concerns in mind, we consider alternatives that would attempt to reconcile the Court’s twin interests in reining in governmental power over property owners and in keeping the gears of ordinary land use regulation running in ways that protect the property interests of those owners.
January 22, 2015 in Affordable Housing, Conservation Easements, Constitutional Law, Development, Impact Fees, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Scholarship, Subdivision Regulations, Takings, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, January 12, 2015
The Land Use and Sustainable Development (LUSD) Law Clinic at West Virginia University's College of Law has been at full strength for a little over two years. One of only a handful of land use law clinics in the country, the LUSD Clinic staff includes five attorneys (one of whom is an AICP land use planner), and an additional AICP land use planner. We are also fortunate to have our first LLM Fellow this year, Ann Eisenberg, a Cornell Law School graduate. West Virginia University College of Law established a LLM degree program in Energy and Sustainable Development Law in the Fall of 2014. The LUSD Law Clinic class includes 6-12 J.D. students each year, and the students work with the staff and clients across the state.
Three main areas form of the focus of the clinic. The clinic director, Katherine Garvey, formerly with the Environmental Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, heads up the wastewater portion of the clinic. Nathan Fetty, the Managing Attorney, and Jason Walls, Land Conservation Attorney, spearhead the land conservation work conducted by the clinic. Last, and certainly not least, Jared Anderson, J.D., AICP, Supporting Land Use Attorney, Christy DeMuth, AICP, and I, as the Lead Land Use Attorney, guide the land use law activities of the clinic. The land use mission of the clinic includes, in addition to representing local governments across the state, education of local land use leaders in West Virginia. Although this education takes many forms, the clinic's Mountain State Land Use Academy holds two major educational workshops each semester. Although the clinic staff includes these three teams, the clinic as a whole operates as one team, working together to address these interrelated issues.
The clinic was established, in part, to aid in putting West Virginia on equal footing with surrounding states in terms of the land use and land conservation issues. West Virginia has lacked such a resource for a very long time. The LUSD Law Clinic seeks to remedy that long-standing lack of resources and has already helped many communities in the state make incredible progress.
During the 2013-2014 academic year, the clinic worked with with 18 local government clients, helping develop comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances, and facilitating over 50 public meetings. For example, the City of Wellsburg successfully adopted a comprehensive plan written by Clinic planners, attorneys and students. The next step is for the LUSD Law Clinic to assist the Wellsburg Urban Redevelopment Authority with redevelopment plans for identified slum and blighted areas in the community.
In the area of land conservation, the LUSD Law Clinic worked with non-profits and government agencies on land transactions aimed at protecting over 25 different properties. For example, the Clinic helped permanently protect 665 acres of land which fronts six miles of the Gauley River. Working in five counties, legal services included title examinations, contract drafting, drafting of title opinions and negotiations.
In partnership with the Northern Brownfields Assistance Center, the LUSD Law Clinic started a program to provide legal resources to local governments to address abandoned and neglected properties. The Clinic interviewed stakeholders such as building inspectors and municipal attorneys throughout the state to identify local concerns. A future blog post will provide more information on this exciting and transformative initiative.
I look forward to continuing to work with my wonderful colleagues, professionals across the country and the wonderful citizens of the great state of West Virginia for many years to come. West Virginia is a beautiful state with a committed and dedicated citizenry. I am very priviledged indeed to have the opportunity to work here.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Brent White (Arizona) , Simone Sepe (Arizona) and Saura Masconale (AZ-Gov't & PP) have published Urban Decay, Austerity, and the Rule of Law, 64. Emory L.J. 1 (2014). In the article, the authors offer a "make 'gov', not war" alternative to the Broken Windows Theory (BWT) and its support for order-maintenance policing. Building upon an intuitively compelling social contract theory insight, the article sets out the theoretical and empirical cases for the authors’ contention that sustained investment in highly visible, essential local public goods provides crucial support for rule of law. Focusing on the refusals of the U.S. and Michigan governments to bail out Detroit and avoid the need for it to file for bankruptcy, the authors use their Urban Decay Theory (UDT) to support their proposal that all municipal governments receive at least some level of fiscal insurance to sustain continuous investment in urban infrastructure, which, according to the UDT is predictive of citizen commitment to rule of law.
At the invitation of the editors of the Emory Law Journal, I wrote a response to Urban Decay for the Emory Law Journal Online. In "All Good Things Flow . . .": Rule of Law, Public Goods, and the Divided American Metropolis , 64 Emory L. J. Online 2017 (2014), I welcome the article’s introduction of the rule of law paradigm to domestic urban policy, find fault with its selection of public goods that purportedly influence rule of law, and contend that the UDT has far greater potential than the poor support it can offer the authors’ flawed policy proposal. By conceptualizing the domestic urban policy goal as rule of law rather than order, the authors open measurements of success to go beyond crime rates and majoritarian perceptions of personal safety. Without losing the groundedness necessary for empirical investigation, rule of law can incorporate ideal aspects of lawful order that address sustainability and inclusion of minority perceptions of legitimacy. While the White/Sepe/Masconale article does not succeed in constructing as compelling an understanding of the most salient public goods, an improved analysis of the root causes of the fiscal degradation of America’s legacy cities can unlock a potentially valuable reframing of urban, metropolitan, and regional policy debates.
In focusing their policy proposal on fiscal guarantees for municipal creditors, the authors, from my perspective, have missed the role that the urban-suburban divide has played in the inability of city governments to provide basic public goods. But, their expansion of the public policy goal to rule of law allows us to get a more holistic picture of the foundation of a truly inclusive, flourishing community. All in all, I think that, by altering the paradigm from order maintenance to rule of law, the authors have, in formulating the Urban Decay Theory, offered a useful complement to the Broken Windows Theory rather than a truly competitive alternative to it.
December 11, 2014 in Community Economic Development, Crime, Detroit, Federal Government, Financial Crisis, Local Government, Race, Scholarship, Smart Growth, State Government, Urbanism, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Today I stumbled across a troubling article about how a type of nuisance ordinance I've never heard of - the so called "crime free housing" ordinance - creates some terrible unintended consequences for domestic violence victims. From the article, on the Aljazeera America website:
When Lakisha Briggs’ ex-boyfriend forced his way into her home in June 2012, she faced an impossible dilemma. Although the man had physically assaulted her on several occasions, Briggs knew that if she called the police for help, she and her 3-year-old daughter would likely be thrown out of their subsidized apartment.
Briggs, a 34-year-old mother residing in Norristown, Pennsylvania, found herself in this situation as the result of a city ordinance aimed at reducing “disorderly behavior” in rental housing. The ordinance stipulated that tenants who made three 911 calls in four months could be evicted. Briggs had already received three strikes as the result of emergency calls made during previous attacks by her ex, and the month before the incident, city officials had notified her that further calls would result in her removal from her apartment.
The article details how Briggs suffered a further brutal attack from her ex without calling the police, due to her fear of being evicted. Because a neighbor called 911, ultimately the city of Norristown began eviction proceedings against her. Only the intervention of the ACLU prevented her from losing her home.
The ACLU and the Shriver Center now have the I Am Not a Nuisance campaign to educate local governments about the dangers of these ordinances. And, as a result of Briggs' case, these ordinances are now illegal in Pennsylvania.
Jamie Baker Roskie
Sunday, November 30, 2014
For my last guest post this month, I want to return to my primary area of research to date: American Indian land tenure. As I’ve written about here already, one of my primary interests is in thinking broadly about the many varied factors that influence landowners’ decision-making about how they use their lands. Our essential land tenure institutions are foundational in this sense and directly impact land use decision-making before anything like zoning or other direct regulation of land use even has a chance to take effect. Nowhere is the influence of the design of foundational property rights more apparent than in the land tenure relationships in the modern American Indian reservation, where significant swaths of Indian-owned lands are currently not used by Indian landowners themselves but instead sit idle or are leased to non-Indian users. In fact, I have a hard time imagining a property system better designed to discourage Indian prosperity on Indian land than the top-down system of property imposed on indigenous people in this country today.
In this post, I want to give at least an overview of some of what I think are the most important and influential aspects of American Indian land tenure and then talk just a bit about why I think further scholarly engagement in this arena would be incredibly valuable in a range of settings.
I. The Indian Land Tenure Challenge
To start, I appreciate that there is a wide spectrum of knowledge regarding the nuances of modern American Indian land tenure. For some of us, it’s just a mystery how land is owned and held within reservation boundaries. For others, the system is so complex that once we start to study it at all, conversations and work regarding indigenous land rights devolve into a level of generality that isn’t as productive as it could be. Thus, a significant part of my current research agenda is trying to do the deep work required to develop a really rigorous understanding of the modern property rights framework within this very complex reservation setting. This post won’t be able to do all of this work justice. Nonetheless, here is a brief overview.
Two of the biggest and most widely recognized challenges for Indian landowners are the federal trust status on many Indian-owned lands and the fractionation (or extreme co-ownership) conditions within many of those same properties.
Many, but not all, Indian-owned lands within federal Indian reservations are held in a special trust status over which the federal government acts as trustee for the benefit of the individual or tribal landowner. This trust status’s history is complex, but the important point for this purpose is that the trust status has been extended indefinitely and, to many eyes, appears to be perpetual.
This federal trust status certainly has some legal advantages—as evidenced, for example, by ongoing efforts by many Indian tribes to have additional lands taken into trust. The primary benefits include cementing a stronger case for exclusive federal/tribal (as opposed to state) jurisdiction over the space and also clarifying that state property taxes may not be imposed on that trust land. (The property tax issue is not quite that black and white. Many tribes still make special payments in lieu of taxes to state and local government in exchange for services and to help eliminate conflicts over fee-to-trust conversions.)
The trust status, however, also has significant disadvantages for Indian landowners. It is restrictive and extremely bureaucratic. The federal government exercises significant land management control, and most Indian-owned trust lands cannot be sold, mortgaged, leased, or otherwise developed or used without a formal approval from the Department of Interior after a cumbersome process of appraisals, oversight, and multi-level review. This trust system very dramatically increases the transaction costs for any land use and is often inefficient and even demoralizing for Indian landowners (not to mention extremely expensive for the federal government to maintain).
The second problem, fractionation, is closely related to the trust status issues. Fractionation refers to the fact that many individually owned Indian trust lands (often called allotments) are now jointly owned by many, many co-owners—sometimes as many as several hundred or more. Fractionation makes any kind of coordinated decision-making among all of these co-owners practically difficult and, as an individual co-owner’s interest size diminishes, reduces the likelihood that the co-owners will so cooperate. This then increases co-owners’ reliance on the federal government’s ongoing trust management role over these lands. All of these tiny interests, in turn, overwhelm the federal trust system, as evidenced by the recent Cobell class action litigation which uncovered the federal government’s gross inability even to account accurately for all of these small interests.
The federal government has explicitly acknowledged that this fractionation problem is a direct consequence of its own failed federal policies on Indian lands. For example, historic prohibitions on will writing for Indian landowners and the modern alienation restraints on Indian trust land have all exacerbated fractionation. Implementing any kind of solution to consolidate these small interests has been exceedingly difficult. This is true both because of the general idea that it’s much harder to reassemble property than it is to disassemble it and because of a host of other political, legal, economic, and even moral issues. Possible solutions do exist, and part of the Cobell settlement funds are currently going to fund a limited buy-back program that will purchase some individual small interests from willing sellers and re-consolidate them in tribal ownership. However, the general trend has been that any such effort at a solution moves so slowly and addresses such a small proportion of the problem that new tiers of fractionation outpace any improvements, with exponentially more small interests continually being created through further subdivision of already small interests over new generations of heirs.
While these two issues—the federal trust status and the fractionated ownership patterns—are complex enough, I don’t think they give a complete picture of all of the issues going on in American Indian land tenure. For example, in a piece called No Sticks in My Bundle: Rethinking the American Indian Land Tenure Problem that I’m currently wrapping up edits on for the Kansas Law Review, I argue that a third significant problem for Indian land use is the gradual elimination over time of any informal use and possession right for co-owners of Indian trust land. Although co-owners in any non-Indian tenancy in common would have a default right to use and possess their own jointly owned land presumptively and informally and without any prior permission from their other co-owners, that is not the case in fractionated Indian lands. Modern federal regulations have recently evolved to require Indian co-owners to get permission or a formal lease from co-owners before taking possession of their own land and also to pay those co-owners rent. I think preserving some route for direct owner’s use of jointly owned land is important and valuable, even in highly fractionated properties, and as noted, I am writing about this more here.
In addition, in another piece I’m currently writing and calling Emulsified Property, I am exploring the problem of uncertain and sometimes overlapping jurisdictional authorities within Indian Country as it relates to land use. This piece explores new dimensions of these property-related jurisdictional issues, but at a high level, the fact is that modern Indian reservation are uniquely plagued by a mind boggling array of unsettled, case-specific, or otherwise unresolved jurisdictional questions. Part of this stems from the fact that most reservations include not only Indian-owned trust lands but also fee lands, which might be owned by non-Indians, Indians of another tribe, tribal citizens, or the governing tribe itself. The state or local government is likely to assert jurisdiction at least over the non-Indian fee properties, but where that state and local jurisdiction ends, and when and if it overlaps with tribal or federal jurisdiction as well, turns on a complex balancing of multiple factors, depending on the type of jurisdiction being asserted. It continually shocks me (and my research assistants) how many unresolved questions there are in terms of who governs what in Indian Country. In my property law class, we often talk about the importance of certainty in property rules. So many of our social and economic institutions rely on having clearly established, easily communicated entitlements and responsibilities with respect to a given thing. In Indian law, there is often very, very little of that certainty.
This just scratches the surface of the American Indian land tenure paradigm, but it is already easy to see why land use is such a challenge in Indian Country. Despite significant reserved lands and natural resources, Indian people suffer some of the worst poverty in the United States.
II. Why It Matters
Now for my plug for why I think more of us should be engaging in this important work around Indian property and land use. Of course, immediately and most importantly, there is the compelling problem of justice and fairness for indigenous people, who suffer the consequences of these failed property systems most directly. The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development has found repeatedly that Indian people having the power and the liberty to make their own decisions with respect to their resources and their futures is the best and most effective solution to the persistent problems, including persistent poverty, in Indian Country. In many respects, it is the law that stands most in the way of this, and it will take legal minds to dismantle the current ineffective system. And legal minds who are uniquely interested in the transformative potential of property institutions are especially well suited to begin this task.
On another practical note, the problem of American Indian land tenure also matters economically for all of us. The federal government has acknowledged again and again that it using (wasting) incredible resources continuing to maintain this broken property system.
However, as land use legal scholars, there are other important reasons to work in this rich area. I believe a sustained and careful understanding of these unique Indian property institutions, and the evolution of these property relationships through various federal land reforms over time, can help us address property and land use challenges not only in Indian Country but in other venues as well. Other scholars have sometimes analogized to Indian land tenure issues for this kind of purpose, but that work has sometimes lacked a real detailed and deep understanding of how complex Indian land tenure issues actually are. However, with more careful analysis, there could be very fruitful comparative work. Let me give just two immediate examples, both of which I'm just beginning to work on.
First, the co-ownership institutions in Indian Country are unique, but the fractionation (or heir property) issues are not. Paying attention to the default co-ownership rules for individually owned Indian lands can help us learn about and address co-ownership challenges in other settings—such as the role of default co-tenancy rules in balancing flexible use arrangements with land preservation strategies for at-risk communities. It can also inform property theory and practice on how co-ownership institutions can best be designed to promote coowner cooperation and efficient use of resources more generally, how anticommons properties actually work, and what methods are most useful to re-aggregate overly fractionated property rights.
Second, I am also excited about how learning from indigenous land planning practices across multiple potential stakeholder jurisdictions within a given reservation (i.e., local municipalities and county governments, state governments, federal governments, and the tribe itself) may translate to inform other work on moving land use planning more generally to more regional, cross-jurisdictional models. Cooperation among multiple levels of government is a persistent challenge in efforts to plan more broadly on a regional, resource-based, or ecosystem level, and yet almost any natural resources or planning person would tell us that this is the kind of decision-making we must do. These kinds of jurisdictional conflicts are being addressed at the reservation level on an ongoing basis, and work on indigenous planning may teach us a lot about how we can plan across jurisdictional boundaries in wider settings. (This is not to suggest that there is a broad literature on indigenous planning or land use issues within reservation legal settings that already exists. There is not. However, for anyone looking to start to review the literature, I recently read an interesting dissertation on comprehensive planning on American Indian reservations and on the Oneida reservation in Wisconsin specifically by Dr. Rebecca Webster, a former law school classmate of mine, that provides a nice place to start and can be found here.) The challenges of planning within a reservation are different and, in some ways, arguably even more complex than the challenges of regional planning generally. Notably, within reservation boundaries, jurisdictional uncertainty may increase concerns about any decision that would jeopardize a future case for asserting jurisdiction, and there are long conflicted histories between neighboring sovereigns. Still, it is a comparison I hope to continue to explore.
This long post only barely skims the surface of all the rich and fascinating land use issues at play in American Indian land tenure. Please consider this an invitation to reach out any time for further discussions on this subject. I would love to continue to engage with more colleagues in this critical subject area and to build more critical learning connections across subject areas and disciplines.
Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss this and other issues here this month.
- Jessica A. Shoemaker
November 30, 2014 in Community Economic Development, Comparative Land Use, Comprehensive Plans, Economic Development, Federal Government, History, Local Government, Planning, Property, Property Rights, Property Theory, Race, State Government, Zoning | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
It's been about a month and a half since I last posted to the LUPB, but nobody's changed the password on me, so I guess I'm still welcome! For those few of you who might have been following my career since I left UGA, I'm finally about to open my own practice in Northern Colorado. Also, following the path of Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, about which I have blogged a bit in the past, I hope to open a law firm incubator for young lawyers who want to do land use and environmental practice in the West.
I've started my own blog about what I'm up to nowadays - I hope some of you will check it out. And, from time to time I'll still check in here (as long as ya'll will let me).
Jamie Baker Roskie
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Land Use in Canada - Where "Extensive and Restrictive Land Use Regulation is the Norm" by Deborah Curran
Greetings from Canada where most of the water flows north and there is no Canadian equivalent to the Fifth Amendment. Arguably the biggest difference in land use law between Canada and the U.S. is that we have no constitutionally protected property rights in Canada. Of suprise to many of you and, indeed, to many landowners in Canada, this approach to land use regulation allows provincial and local governments to restrict virtually all use of land without compensating the property rights holder for loss of land value as long as the regulation is in the public interest. As Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada reasoned in Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General), (1999) 177 D.L.R. (4th) 696, 178 N.S.R.(2d) 294 (NSCA) when he was a judge of the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in a judgment that thoroughly canvassed this area of law (at paras. 41-42):
These U.S. and Australian constitutional cases concern constitutional limits on legislative power in relation to private property. As O'Connor, J. said in the Unites States Supreme Court case of Eastern Enterprises v Apfel 118 S. Ct. 2131 (U.S. Mass. 1998), the purpose of the U.S. constitutional provision (referred to as the "takings clause") is to prevent the government from "...forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be born by the public as a whole." Candian courts have no similar broad mandate to review and vary legislative judgments about the appropriate distribution of burdens and benefits flowing from environmental or other land use controls. In Canada, the courts' task is to determine whether the regulation in question entitles the respondents to compensation under the Expropriation Act, not to pass judgment on the way the Leiglature apportions the burdens flowing from land use regulation.
In this country, extensive and restrictive land use regulation is the norm. Such regulation has, almost without exception, been found not to consitute compensable expropriation.
However, the principle that a government or expropriating entity must pay compensation when expropriating an interest in property is alive and well in Canada. Its foundation rests in the royal perogative, powers bestowed on the Crown or government from the common law, and the common law principle that unless a statute explicitly provides, it is not to be construed as taking away property without just compensation (Attorney General v DeKeyser's Royal Hotel  A.C. 508 H.L.). As a common law principle for which the courts have set a high bar when testing whether regulatory behaviour equals regulatory or de facto expropriation. The claimant must prove that:
1. The legislation or government action must so restrict a landowner's enjoyment of property as to constitute confiscation an interest in property; and
2. That interest in property must be acquired by the Crown (government).
It is the second part of the test that is the hardest to meet. Courts have found that simply benefitting Crown land such as a park is not sufficient to prove acquisition by the Crown.
In many provinces this common law rule is codified in a modified form in provincial land use law. For example, sections 914 of the Local Government Act in British Columbia and 621 of the Alberta Municipal Government Act state that no compensation will be paid for changes in the value of land caused by specified decisions made under a land use bylaw or permitting function. It is only when regulation takes away virtually all incidents of private ownership that the regulation will be found to be improper. The precise wording in British Columbia under s.914 is:
(1) Compensation is not payable to any person for any reduction in the value of that person's interest in land, or for any loss or damages that result from
(a) the adoption of an official community plan or a bylaw under this Division [zoning and other development regulation] or the issue of a permit under Division 9 [development permit] of this part,
(2) Subsection (1) does not apply where the bylaw under this Division rstricts the use of land to a public use.
These regulatory or de facto expropriations are few and far between in Canada. Although we hear about successfully argued "takings" cases in the U.S. courts, in Canada a court has never found land use regulation by a local government to result in a regulatory expropriation for which compensation is owed. See Mariner Real Estate Ltd. v Nova Scotia (Attorney General) 1999 CanLII 7241 (NSCA) for an excellent discussion of this area of law, and Canadian Pacific Railway Co. v Vancouver (City)  1 SCR 227, 2006 SCC 5 for the most recent Supreme Court of Canada discussion in the municipal land use context. Courts have ruled that significantly curtailing development on land that is environmentally sensitive, freezing development, development moratoria, and requirements to plant a vegetated buffer adjacent to a watercourse to protect a drinking water source do not require compensation.
The cases where courts have awarded compensation for loss of an interest in property centre around federal or provincial regulation that essentially prohibits an otherwise existing lawful activity or prevents access to a property right. Several cases in British Columbia award compensation for mineral rights that the provincial government rendered inaccessible upon creating a provincial park [R v Tener [1985 1 SCR 533; Casamiro Resource Corp. v British Columbia (Attorney General), 1991 CanLII 211 (BCCA)]. The classic case is Manitoba Fisheries v The Queen  1 SCR 101 where the court found a de facto expropriation by the federal government when it enacted legislation that created a monopoly in favour of a Crown corporation dealing with a freshwater fishery that removed all economic viability, including the goodwill, of one business.
Before I seal your view of Canada as the quiet socialist neighbour to the north ("What? No constitutionally protected property rights?") I must add that in practice land use regulation by local governments works much the same in Canada as in most parts of the U.S. Zoning typically awards development potential or development rights, and once an application is submitted to a local government that zoning and other regulations vest. Few local governments attempt to curb growth in any comprehensive way. There is little coordination at a regional scale about where new development will occur, and most cities are challenged with revitalization of a formerly industrialized water front or downtown core that has to compete with the big box periphery. Proposals for a slight increase in residential density in existing neighbourhoods result in an eight hour public hearing, and there is, of course, no accounting for municipal bad taste in what was kind of development council believes is in the public interest. Although we have somehow resisted building freeways through most of our urban centres and do have a few somewhat successful provincial growth management or agricultural land protection law in place (more on that this month), the local politics of land use law often favours individual property rights.
If we conducted a poll I would be willing to wager that most Canadians and, in particular, municipal elected officials believe that compensation is owed if development "rights" are taken away by regulation. Most intersting is the fact that the Canadian law of regulatory expropriation has remained unchanged since land use regulation came into vogue yet it is popularly trumped by the law of eminent domain from the U.S. Perhaps telecommunications law has more impact on land use than land use regulation itself.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
This is (hopefully) the last in a series of three posts, again cross-posted from Concurring Opinions. In the first, I asked why more land use professors are not libertarians, considering the strong leftist critique of local government. In the second, I suggested that one reason for the leftist commitment to local government (and specifically to local government land use control, albeit often in the guise of “regionalism”) is that the relevant libertarian alternatives – namely, the marketplace and the common law of nuisance – are far worse. Nevertheless, I conceded that this answer was unsatisfactory, considering that many leftists – myself included – betray a Tocquevillian optimism about local government that is difficult to square with the position that local governments are merely the least bad of all the alternatives. So I am left here, in this third post, with the hardest question: How can left-leaning local government scholars have any optimism about local government in light of the abusive local government practices we have witnessed (and documented)?
State Structuring of Local Governments
Alright, here goes… While there is no denying the manifold abuses of which local governments are guilty (see my initial post), the blame for these abuses really falls upon state governments, not local governments. The reason local governments act in the parochial fashion they do is because states have empowered and constrained local governments in such a way that effectively forces local governments to be parochial. In a variety of ways, states have facilitated and encouraged the proliferation of small local governments within metropolitan regions, each of which is thus coerced into a zero-sum competition with the others for scarce revenues. States have, at the same time, dumped all kinds of unfunded and underfunded mandates on local governments, which they must meet with whatever revenue they raise locally. Yet, there is one saving grace for local governments: states have given them an awesome power — the land use power. Is it any surprise that local governments use the biggest power states have given them to solve the biggest problem states have saddled them with –an ongoing obligation to provide costly services with limited funds? The local government abuses I mentioned in my initial post, including the “fiscalization” of land use, exclusion of undesirable land uses (and users), strategic annexation and incorporation efforts, and sprawl are thus not things local governments do because they are inherently corrupt; they do so because the state has structured local government law so as to make these abuses inevitable.
That’s not even the interesting part. This is: Why have the states created a system in which local governments have such perverse incentives? According to Jerry Frug, states created the modern system of local government law because they were threatened by cities. Cities’ openness and spirit of participation stood in contrast to the bureaucratizing tendencies of the state. States created a system of local government law designed specifically to emasculate and frustrate cities’ ambitions. In other words, local government represents a vital aspect of human experience that has been actively suppressed by the state. Frug and many others have argued ever since that in order to recover the essence of the local, we need to recalibrate local power and change cities’ incentive structures.
Local Governments and Participatory Democracy
Frug wrote in the tradition of the New Left, with its emphasis on participatory democracy, and in the aftermath of a period in which cities had been devastated by riots, white flight, urban renewal, disinvestment, and outright hostility from state and national political figures. During the late 1960s, there had been a moment when cities appeared to be on the brink of realizing their potential as fora for public participation – a heady time of citizens’ councils and “maximum feasible participation” – but this potential was quickly squashed by nervous elites.
Frug’s argument echoes theorists of participatory democracy such as Hannah Arendt. Arendt writes that, despite the bureaucratization of modern life, there periodically erupt spontaneous displays of citizen activism that demonstrate a latent human desire for political participation. These moments, of which she includes the Paris Commune of 1871, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and others, are quickly snuffed out when powerful interests feel threatened. Nevertheless, Arendt sees participatory democracy as lying at the core of the human condition, and the quest to recover the lost tradition of spontaneous citizen activism as a noble calling, which she refers to as “pearl diving.” This “pearl diving,” this quest to recover the vital potentiality of the local, is I think what motivates many leftist local government scholars, and fuels our optimism.
A False Utopia?
Before we all choke on the sentimentality of the last paragraph, I should note that the nostalgia for the pre-Progressive era city is somewhat discomfiting. The Gilded Age city was no enlightened democracy; even before the political machines turned cities into cesspools of corruption, as legal historian Robin Einhorn writes, cities were highly privatized, “segmented” entities that almost exclusively served the will of propertied interests. Going back further in history, certainly very few of us would like to live in the “free” cities of the middle ages, which were basically totalitarian communes, or the Athenian polis, which was rooted in the exploitation of slave and female labor.
Moreover, it is hard for cities to fulfill their potential as fora for participation when they are so embroiled in the quotidian business of governing at the local level. While states have the freedom to delegate hard decisions and devote their energies to ideological struggles, cities have to deal with the pragmatic daily chore of picking up the garbage, literally and figuratively. On a nearly daily basis, cities must address intractable issues such as homelessness, affordable housing, climate change, education, health care, security, immigration, and more, issues that, in an era of globalization, are only likely to intensify the pressure on cities as states and national governments recede in influence. Managing all these issues will require shortcuts, and city governments will be forced to make unpopular decisions that are sure to anger significant segments of the community; these issues cannot possibly be addressed if we see urban politics as merely, or even principally, a forum for democratic deliberation.
But everything I have just said also explains why we leftists insist on putting all our eggs in the local government basket. Like it or not, cities are, and for the foreseeable future will be, the primary means of dealing with the messy everyday problems we confront. In some cases, as with the provision of clean water (see my earlier post on cities in the developing world) they have succeeded spectacularly. In others, such as the provision of affordable housing, they have failed miserably. But even where they have failed, as in the case of affordable housing, we can often point the finger at the way states have empowered local governments, rather than some inherent flaw in local government. In any event, as I mentioned in my previous post, we have few viable alternatives to local government. For reasons both practical and utopian, it figures to think that cities represent our best hope for the future, and to rest our efforts on improving urban governance rather than displacing it.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
This post is, again, cross-posted fom the Concurring Opinions blog.
In my previous post, I asked why more land use/local government law professors do not identify as libertarians, considering the role many of us have played in exposing the dysfunctional workings of local government.
If there is an obvious argument in favor of the status quo in land use/local government regulation, it is that all the alternatives seem worse. Let us consider some of the candidates:
An unimpeded free market in land use development would apparently be the worst of all worlds, as there would be no way to prevent open space from being gobbled up by new housing, roads and schools becoming impossibly congested, or a refinery locating next to a single-family home (or, perhaps more likely, a landowner threatening to build a refinery in order to extort his neighbor, a common scenario in pre-zoning Chicago). In a densely populated society, we need some way of ensuring that landowners consider the impact of their land use on neighbors. The good people of Oregon realized this after an ill-advised ballot initiative a few years ago effectively wiped out zoning, and suddenly a single landowner could, for example, subdivide his parcel into 100 lots for single-family homes with no regard for the impact the development would have on local services or infrastructure. The ballot initiative was repealed by a subsequent initiative a few years later.
In my previous post, I mentioned Houston as a possible alternative to most places’ current system of land use regulation. Houston is often touted for its lack of zoning, and corresponding low home prices. I should point out, however, that Houston is not quite a free-market paradise. Houston has a full complement of land use laws, including subdivision regulations (to prevent the aforementioned 100 lot problem) billboard regulations, and the like. The city even enforces restrictions contained in private covenants. As my friend and Houstonian Matt Festa points out, Houston has a quirky city charter that prohibits zoning without a voter initiative, so the city does lots of land use regulation but simply calls it something other than zoning. And, while I’m on the subject, does anyone really think the reason Houston has lower land prices than San Jose is because of zoning?
The common law of nuisance, a favorite of libertarian land use scholars, would appear to solve some of the problems of a free-market system, such as the refinery locating near a single-family home. But what if, instead of a refinery, it’s a bowling alley? A tavern? A cemetery? Are any of these nuisances? On that note, is subdividing my property into 100 new lots a nuisance? In all of these cases, the answer is … maybe. It depends on the severity and nature of the impact on my neighbors, the existing precedent on nuisance law in the particular state, and, most importantly, how the judge assigned to the case chooses to balance the interests involved.
This, of course, is exactly the problem. If local government land use control has been criticized for subjecting landowners to uncertainty about permissible uses of their property, for forcing developers to go through an expensive and time-consuming process to get permits, for picking winners and losers based on crass political concerns such as campaign contributions, the process of “judicial zoning” through nuisance law is little better. First, nuisance law is, if anything, more uncertain and expensive than local government land use control. Nuisance doctrine is so ambiguous that no landowner can ever know with certainty what his or her rights are without resorting to a highly fact-intensive litigation, which will inevitably involve a massive expenditure of time and money. (And Coasean bargaining won’t work if people don’t know their rights.) Second, judges inevitably pick winners and losers in nuisance cases, and while we might expect a judge – even an elected one – to rule on the legal merits of a nuisance case rather than political considerations, the nuisance inquiry is so vague and policy-driven (e.g., harm v. utility) that judges necessarily end up making value judgments about what land uses they find desirable and undesirable. Moreover, though judges – again, even elected judges – are surely less influenced than legislators by political concerns like campaign contributions, public choice research has shown that the judicial decision-making process shares many of the abuses that plague the political process – such as the dominance of repeat players and the ability of small, well-organized interests to exercise disproportionate influence.
To go a step further, the fact that local government decisionmaking is “political” whereas judicial decisionmaking is not (at least in principle) is precisely what makes local government land use control superior. When local officials make land use decisions, members of the community will at least have the opportunity to influence them through the political process. By contrast, a judge hearing a nuisance case is likely to be far less sensitive to the full array of interests affected by its decision, both because the adversarial nature of common-law litigation precludes anyone but the parties from being heard, and because judges, even when elected, are generally (and hopefully!) less amenable to pressure from voters than are local politicians.
The question, as my favorite economist Bill Fischel puts it, is whether we would rather be ruled by judges or by legislators. Though the choice, as I have presented it here, is an unpleasant one, the balance of the evidence seems to favor legislators. Judges have long understood this, and they have consciously assumed a passive and deferential role in the land use process from the beginning (Indeed, it is notable that the foundational 1926 case upholding the constitutionality of zoning, Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365 (1926), was authored by perhaps the most libertarian justice of all time, George Sutherland. Sutherland’s opinion made a point that zoning was necessary because nuisance law had become an inadequate means of dealing with modern land use problems.)
Nevertheless, there is something unsatisfying about this justification for local government land use control, even for leftists. The leftist vision for local government is an optimistic one, rooted in the belief that local government offers an opportunity to realize our highest aspirations for democratic self-government. The local-government-as-least-of-all-evils argument is for us an unacceptably pessimistic view of government, and its insistence on a merely quantitative accounting of the relative demerits of various systems of land use control invites every armchair empiricist to place a thumb on the scale in favor of his or her own preferred arrangement. On the other hand, given the unsparing descriptive account of local government detailed in my previous post, how can leftists be so optimistic? I will address that question in my next post.
Monday, October 6, 2014
In case you missed it, I am cross-posting something I initially posted to Concurring Opinions, that may be of interest to our readers here. Parts II and III to follow:
Many professors who study land use and local government law, myself included, consider ourselves leftists rather than libertarians. That is, we have some confidence in the ability of government to solve social problems. Nevertheless, were you to pick up a randomly selected piece of left-leaning land use or local government scholarship (including my own) you would likely witness a searing indictment of the way local governments operate. You would read that the land use decisionmaking process is usually a conflict between deep-pocketed developers who use campaign contributions to elect pro-growth politicians and affluent homeowners who use their ample resources to resist change that might negatively affect their property values. Land use “planning” – never a great success to begin with – has largely been displaced by the “fiscalization” of land use, in which land use decisions are based primarily on a proposed land use’s anticipated contribution to (or drain upon) a municipality’s revenues. Public schools in suburban areas have essentially been privatized due to exclusionary zoning practices, and thus placed off limits to the urban poor, whereas public schools in cities have been plundered by ravenous teachers’ unions.