Thursday, January 19, 2017
I just came back inside from helping dig my neighbor's car out of the snow pile in front of his house. The last two weeks have provided two snow days for the local school district--one because of too much snow, and yesterday because of too much melting snow. And Boise, which isn't particularly used to significant snow fall, 300 miles to the south of my home in North Idaho, has experienced six snow days of its own.
These are the types of conditions that often cause the cynical to say, "I could use some of that climate change right now."
But for parts of the West, this apparent bounty of snow hides one of the most significant changes will we face in a climate-altered future.
These maps reflect current data from the NRCS SNOTEL sites across Idaho, which measure precipitation and snow pack, and help predict water availability for the coming year. The first is how much total precipitation has fallen in the current water year (since Oct. 1) as a percent of 1981-2010 median. That map shows well above normal amounts of precipitation.
But the real story is in the second map, which shows snow water equivalent in the current snow pack. This is a more useful measure of water availability, since is reflects the amount of water stored in our snow pack reservoirs--water that will be available next summer as the snow pack melts. That map tells a different story, with most of North Idaho well below normal, notwithstanding the piles of snow in our front yards. Much of that above average precipitation fell in the early winter as rain, and has already made its way downstream to the ocean.
In the lower elevation mountains of the Pacific Northwest, climate change will raise snow levels, bring more rain and less snow, and shift the peak of the hydrograph to earlier in the year. The snow reservoirs will hold less water, and less water will be available everyone: farmers, cities, hydroelectric dams, and anadromous fish.
And as these maps demonstrate, we are seeing those effects today. More rain, less snow, and a less predictable water future.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Daniel Schaffzin (Memphis) has posted (B)Light at the End of the Tunnel? How a City's Need to Fight Vacant and Abandoned Properties Gave Rise to a Law School Clinic Like No Other (Washington University Journal of Law & Policy) on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
Over the course of the last two decades, intensified by the mortgage foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s, an epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties has inflicted devastation on people, neighborhoods, and cities across the United States. Though surely coincidental, the same time period has seen the emergence of experiential learning coursework, long operating at the periphery of legal education, as a centerpiece of the law school curriculum. In Memphis, the temporal convergence of these two phenomena has acted as a catalyst for the creation of a law school clinical course in which students learn and work under direct faculty supervision to abate the public nuisance presented by neglected properties. This Clinic is distinctive for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its singular client: the City of Memphis itself.
In this article, the University of Memphis School of Law’s Director of Experiential Learning, one of the two founders and codirectors of the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic, asserts the efficacy of the Clinic’s role in training future lawyers and providing zealous legal representation to the City in lawsuits against the owners of blighted properties. For context, the article first considers the rise and devastating effects of the nationwide vacant and abandoned property epidemic, the statutory authority available in Tennessee to pursue recourse against the owners of such property, and the broader blight-fighting strategy being employed by the City within which the decision to launch the Clinic was made. The article then examines the Clinic’s multilayered design and articulates the benefits that the Clinic has conferred upon its students, the Law School and the City of Memphis. The article concludes that the Neighborhood Preservation Clinic offers a government representation model for in-house law school clinics that stays true to traditional clinical pedagogy while honoring clinical legal education’s two-pillared historical mission to effectively prepare students for practice and to work in advancement of social justice and public interest outcomes.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Jonathan Zasloff (UCLA) has posted The Price of Equality: Fair Housing, Land Use, and Disparate Impact (Columbia Human Rights Law Review) on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
What happens when local government policies run head-on into federal civil rights laws? Nowhere does this question assume greater importance than with land use and fair housing, yet in the nearly half-century since the passage of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), courts and commentators have skirted the question. With the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Inclusive Communities Project v. Texas, the most significant fair housing decision in the nation’s history, they can no longer do so. This Article represents the first sustained effort to show how the FHA affects land use, the most important power that cities have under American localism. The Supreme Court held for the first time that the FHA allows disparate impact liability, and outlined when such disparate impact cases can be brought. But it left many crucial questions unanswered, and this Article attempts to fill the gap. It concludes that when cities restrict affordable and multifamily housing, which often has a disparate impact on people of color, zoning ordinances must withstand intermediate scrutiny in order to be sustained. Courts must balance local policies with demands for inclusion: sometimes those policies will triumph, but in many instances they will not, for they rest on weak empirical or legal foundations, or they can be addressed in less restrictive ways. The Article sets forth a series of the most common scenarios and justifications for exclusionary zoning, and seeks to show that such justifications have far less purchase than is commonly supposed. The FHA comes nowhere close to abolishing zoning, but it does insist that local zoning must no longer exclude racial minorities, and the Court’s decision makes clear how fair housing advocates can and should use the law to fight such exclusion. If localities no longer have the discretion to exclude people of color, then that is the price of equality.
Friday, September 2, 2016
Saturday, August 27, 2016
Manufactured housing is a major affordable housing resource for millions of people. Restrictive zoning barriers limit its availability, even though studies have discredited myths, such as objections to its safety and quality. A national statute, the National Manufactured Housing Construction and Safety Standards Act, authorizes building code standards that address all aspects of safety, durability and quality, and that preempt state and local codes that deal with this problem. The Act does not preempt restrictive zoning, and Congress should amend the law to cover zoning restrictions. Judicial control of zoning barriers to manufactured housing is unsatisfactory and requires statutory change. Courts accept unequal treatment that applies restrictive zoning only to manufactured housing, though some statutes prohibit discrimination. The cases uphold exclusions from residential districts if manufactured housing is allowed elsewhere. Some statutes prohibit exclusion by requiring manufactured housing as a permitted use in all residential districts, or allow a community to decide what residential districts must accept manufactured housing. Courts uphold aesthetic standards, such as roofing and siding requirements, and some statutes authorize them, though limitations are needed to protect manufactured housing from exclusionary treatment. Communities often require approval of manufactured housing as a conditional use, and approval as a conditional use is often denied. Courts have upheld conditional use denials, and statutory protective standards are needed that will prevent abuse of the conditional use requirement.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Oceanfront landowners and states share a property boundary that runs between the wet and dry parts of the shore. This legal coastline is different from an ordinary land boundary. First, on sandy beaches, the line is constantly in flux, and it cannot be marked except momentarily. Without the help of a surveyor and a court, neither the landowner nor a citizen walking down the beach has the ability to know exactly where the line lies. This uncertainty means that, as a practical matter, ownership of some part of the beach is effectively shared. Second, the common law establishes that the owner of each oceanfront lot holds easement-like interests in adjacent state-owned land; and, the state holds similar interests in the oceanfront lot. For these two reasons, the legal relationship between the oceanfront owner and the state is more interdependent than it may seem at first. It is much more than the usual neighbor relationship.
Disputes over oceanfront property are often framed as cases of wrongful taking under the Fifth Amendment’s Just Compensation Clause. The Supreme Court has historically applied its standard takings test for determining whether or not a state is liable for the impact of its rules on a landowner’s rights. This Article is the first to examine the question of whether use of this standard test is optimal, or even logical, in cases between states and the owners of oceanfront land. Given the fact that climate change impacts such as sea-level rise are likely to increase rates of conflict along the legal coastline, the potential benefits of a test that takes into account the special relationship between these parties are significant. Support for an alternative test can be found in two sets of common law property rules, the upland rights and public trust doctrines, as well as in a mechanism that nineteenth-century courts used to resolve similar disputes.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
(Photo Credit: The Millennium Report)
As national news is just getting around to reporting, Baton Rouge and its surrounding areas recently experienced tremendous flooding. Large portions of southeast Louisiana were (and many remain) underwater. Our tax law friends over at the Surly SubGroup, specifically Phil Hackney (LSU), summarize the situation nicely:
The devastation stretches from around the Louisiana-Mississippi border all the way over to Lafayette -maybe 100 miles across. This story does a nice job explaining the weather phenomenon that caused this massive flood event. Neighborhoods that have never flooded before in our recorded history are under 4 -6 ft. of water, and some higher than that. Almost the entirety of certain cities are submerged. The last data I had for my area is that 20,000 were displaced and 10,000 in shelters. I expect that number to go up over the week. Even though it has stopped raining, the flood waters cannot drain because the rivers are too high and cannot take runnoff from tributaries.
For those who may find this helpful, this short post talks a little about the property law (specifically related to home mortgage obligations and homeowners’ insurance) that victims of natural disasters like the Louisiana flooding should keep in mind.
MORTGAGE LOAN OBLIGATIONS
After a disaster like the flooding in Louisiana it is important to get in touch with your bank or mortgage servicer to obtain relief. The reason for this is because even if your property is destroyed and/or you can no longer live in the home, the mortgage debt does not go away. It is still owed even if the improvements on the real estate are not longer habitable. If contacted, however, sometimes the mortgage company will give you more time to pay your monthly note and even dispense with late fees or penalties. Also, if the home has been lost due to substantial or total destruction, you’ll want to talk to your mortgage servicer ASAP to prevent or postpone foreclosure on the property. For private loans (i.e., not government-backed) it will be up to the lender and you to work out those details. Be aware that even if the lender gives you a forbearance for a period of time, you will still have to make up those payments later.
For those loans that are FHA-backed, borrowers are sometimes eligible for resources that allow them to remain in the home. The FHA has a disaster relief policy pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act where, if (1) you or your family live in a federally-declared disaster area; (2) you are a household member of someone who is deceased, missing, or hurt because of the disaster; or (3) your ability to pay your mortgage is significantly impacted by the disaster, then your lender cannot foreclose on its mortgage for a 90-day period. The FHA also strongly advises its participating lenders to work with mortgagees who are affected by natural disasters (for example, by taking a deed in lieu of foreclosure if appropriate or allowing only partial payment for a period of time). This is why it’s so important that homeowners in these flooded areas contact their mortgage servicers and let them know that they qualify for FHA Disaster Relief. For additional help in this process, HUD has a counseling hotline to call at 1-800-569-4287 or you can contact HUD's National Servicing Center.
With regard to property insurance, dealing with your insurer can be a long and complicated process after a natural disaster. The important part is knowing what your declaration and your policy states, and whether flood insurance is included (i.e., for damage caused from rising waters). A general homeowner’s policy only covers damage caused by wind, rain, hail etc. Flood damage is insured separately. The exclusions portion of the policy will help in making this determination.
When it comes to actually getting money for lost or damaged property, different insurance policies take different approaches. You can either obtain the replacement cost value of the property (which means the insurance company will give you funds necessary to substitute the damaged or lost property with comparable property) or actual cash value (which is where you receive the cash value of the property that was lost or damaged, minus depreciation over time). The insurance policy will reveal to which you are entitled.
In the case of personal property losses specifically, this is generally referred to as the insurance of “contents” of the home. Documenting these losses are particularly important (so don’t start throwing things away too quickly). Keeping receipts are also critical to submitting a successful claim.
Another important aspect of property insurance is the fact that you are not the only person insured. Your mortgage bank is also listed as an insured on your policy, which means that when the insurance company send the check the bank will also be listed as a payee. Usually your residential mortgage contract requires that you send the check to the bank and then, through an escrow and release process, the funds will be distributed to you to pay contractors to repair the home in tranches. This means that you and your mortgage bank will have to work together to get the repairs completed and your contractors paid. Another option can be to actually pay off the mortgage debt altogether (if there’s a sufficient amount), but that is a decision that the mortgage lender gets to make. As a homeowner you should try to find out how the mortgage lender will use the insurance proceeds because if the mortgage debt is paid off that leaves you with no money to make repairs to your home.
Thursday, July 7, 2016
Seemingly overnight, companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, WeWork, Taskrabbit, Shyp, and many others have transformed transportation, accommodations, personal services, and other sectors. The evolving regulatory response to this “sharing economy” presents an intriguing puzzle. Where telephone, broadband, early Internet companies, and similar previous technologies were shaped by battles with federal regulators, the fate of sharing enterprises is playing out in front of taxi and limousine commissions, zoning boards, and city councils.
The reason for this atypical dynamic, this Article argues, is that — unlike prior technological disruptions — the sharing economy is fundamentally an urban phenomenon. The platforms that enable sharing leverage or confront conditions of density, proximity, specialization, and even anonymity that mark city life. And many sharing companies flourish through a kind of regulatory arbitrage that finds value in frictions and barriers generated by urban regulatory regimes.
A fascinating experimentalist dialectic is emerging from the resulting decentralized regulatory landscape. Local economic, political, legal, and social conditions are generating regulatory responses that range from full embrace to open hostility. And sharing enterprises are responding by adjusting their business models and reconciling in various ways to these regulatory constraints. These compromises are generating creative solutions to balancing innovation and public welfare.
The interaction between urban governance and the sharing economy, however, flows both ways. Local governments are being pushed to be more transparent about their policy interests, creating spillover effects in regulatory regimes beyond the sharing economy. And the sharing economy is transforming cities themselves. The shift from ownership to access is altering development and mobility patterns as traditional links between transportation, housing, and labor markets and the shape of metropolitan space morph.
By framing the sharing economy as an urban phenomenon, this Article sheds important new light on a rapidly emerging scholarly discourse. To date, scholars have failed to recognize the sharing economy’s deep reliance on the urban fabric and its potential to mold that fabric. Understanding this relationship will also lead to better calibrated regulatory responses that reflect the sharing economy’s holistic impact on cities. Equally important, it will firmly ground our understanding of the sharing economy in its urban birthplace as it matures.
Edward W. De Barbieri (Brooklyn Law School) has posted Do Community Benefits Agreements Benefit Communities? (Cardozo Law Review) on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) campaigns and public discussions about community benefits are becoming the norm in deciding how large urban projects are built outside of formal public land use approvals. CBAs have revolutionized land use approvals for large, public-private economic development projects: now developers and coalitions representing low-income communities can settle their disputes before formal project approval. As a result, CBAs are now commonplace nationwide.
Legal scholarship, however, has failed to keep up with these important developments. This Article aims to do just that by examining how CBAs, when properly negotiated, lower transaction costs, enhance civic participation, and protect taxpayers. It argues that CBAs achieve all these outcomes well, and more efficiently than existing government processes. Indeed, this Article’s central argument is that to the extent that scholars have analyzed CBAs, their analyses have gone astray by either dismissing CBAs as harmful to communities or by focusing on the role of the state in negotiating what really should be a private contract between a coalition of community groups and a developer. It is a mistake to give the state’s role in CBAs primacy over the community coalition because the inclusion of government in the CBA bargaining process creates a host of constitutional protections for developers — namely that the community benefits must be connected to and proportional with the instant government approval.
This Article places focus back on CBAs as private contracts enforceable by inclusive and representative community coalitions. It presents a case study of a successful CBA negotiated for the development of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center in the Bronx. This Article proposes a framework for assessing the impact of CBAs in economic development — one that recognizes the nuanced role that states and municipalities play in the formation and enforcement of CBAs. The framework focuses on the extent to which CBAs (1) lower transaction costs by effectively resolving disputes among developers and community groups, (2) increase civic participation in public processes, (3) protect taxpayers, and (4) avoid government intervention and constitutional protections for developers. This Article concludes with recommendations for the appropriate, limited role of government in CBA negotiations.
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Last week Conservation Partners released a report titled "The Disappearing West," which maps the amount of land developed across the eleven states of the American West from 2001-2011. According to the report, natural lands are developed at a rate of one acre every 2.5 minutes, or 432 square miles per year. California is unsurprisingly developing the fastest. More surprising is that Wyoming -- the least populated of the eleven western states -- is not far behind, due to rapidly expanding energy development in the state.
The map is worth exploring, if only to see how your favorite places might have changed during the first decade of the 21st Century.
Monday, May 9, 2016
Professors’ Corner's FREE monthly webinar featuring a panel of law professors, addressing topics of interest to practitioners of real estate and trusts/estates.
Sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
12:30 p.m. Eastern/11:30 a.m. Central/9:30 a.m. Pacific
A Lawyer’s Guide to the Law of Public Art
Tyler T. Ochoa, Professor of Law, High Tech Law Institute, Santa Clara University School of Law
Anthony L. François, Senior Staff Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation, Sacramento, CA
Moderator: Christopher K. Odinet, Assistant Professor of Law, Southern University Law Center
The use of art in public spaces has captivated the minds of federal, state, and local policymakers in recent years, with some cities even requiring that private developers include public art in all new projects. Moreover, ownership of public art has drawn the attention of lawyers and advocates, particularly when it comes to competing property and management rights between the public, the artist, landowners, and interested third parties. This program begins with an overview of the intellectual property rights in connection with public art, explaining the differences between the rights in the intangible work and the rights in the physical object itself. The program continues with a case study of the City of Oakland's art requirement for private real estate developers, exploring the property and related legal issues that surround such regimes.
Register for this FREE webinar by clicking here.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The map above shows one year of wanderings for a famous grizzly bear known as "The Boss." The majority of his travels occurred in busy transportation corridors, including the famous Bow River Valley between Banff and Lake Louise, which contains a railroad, the two-lane Bow Valley Parkway, and the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway (his story is available here). He has managed his travels rather well, managing to avoid accident save for one encounter with a train. Which he survived, of course, because he's the Boss.
Because most of my students will end up working in small towns (and I include Boise as a "small town"), I like to spend time on those aspects of land use and property law that are relevant to life on the wildland-urban interface. In the western United States, these conversations generally focus on wildfire, but there are also significant effects on wildlife. Unfortunately, I have found that while people (including both law students and land owners) generally understand the significance of fire in the wildland-urban interface, they don't react with the same openness to land-use regulations designed to protect wildlife. I like to use the land-use regime of Teton County, Wyoming in my land use class, both because it is a beautiful place many of my students are familiar with, and because it has an impressive array of provisions designed to protect wildlife, from the obvious grizzly bears and bald eagles to cutthroat trout and mule deer. Among other things, the regulations contain standards for wildlife-friendly fencing, define ten different vegetative cover types with different levels of protection, protect migration corridors, and contain requirements for bird feeder placement so as to avoid unwanted interactions with bears.
But it is surprising that in a place where many of my students hunt, fish, hike, and spend a lot of time outdoors, there are often some rather negative reactions to these requirements. These are students who love wild places--I once had a student from a very small town in eastern Oregon describe to me an experience out hunting when he was briefly surrounded by a howling wolf pack; he unashamedly said it was one of the most beautiful experiences of his life. But many of these students (reflecting the broader public) still find regulating the bird feeder, or protecting presently unoccupied migration routes, to be questionable legally, and a violation of their property rights. Apparently, loving wild places and understanding wild places, at least how the law might interact with those places, are two different things.
It is one of the contradictions of the legal (or any) profession that we are proud to claim, and are jealous of, a specialized expertise, while we simultaneously complain about the layperson's lack of legal knowledge. But the greatest failing of the law is not that the layperson doesn't understand it, but rather that the judge, lawyer, and law professor don't understand the rest of the world. We just covered Rapanos v. United States in Environmental Law. While it is likely easy to find lawyers and law professors who will commend the legal reasoning of the plurality opinion, it would be difficult to find the same level of respect among hydrologists or ecologists. Those people who know and study the "waters of the United States" likely would tell you that the plurality opinion demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding about how the world works.
The Boss's wanderings around Canada's highways reminded me of my own neighborhood. A few weeks ago, just as I was about to turn the corner to walk down my street, my wife called with a warning to be careful. It wasn't that she had heard reports of a prowler in the neighborhood, at least not the typical kind. As we were talking, I turned the corner to see two moose happily browsing on the tree in my neighbor's front yard. Although we live in the middle of suburbia--at least the Moscow, Idaho form of suburbia--this is not a rare occurrence. We have had moose in our yard several times, including one young moose who spent a couple of days sitting under a tree in our front yard happily snacking on our bird feeder. Once a year or so, the University sends out the always humorous "Moose on Campus!" alert. We're at the point where we almost don't take notice--a few years ago we asked my son if anything exciting had happened at school. "Not really" he responded. Didn't a moose walk right through your playground, while you where there? "Oh.... Yeah." Those moose are part of our neighborhood, our place, and thus our law, whether we recognize it or not.
Assessing the appropriateness of law, whether it be wetland regulation or bird feeder placement, requires moving beyond the canons of construction, IRAC, and the "thinking like a lawyer" that so stresses 1Ls each fall. It requires thinking about how moose might travel across a landscape, connecting wetland function to downstream water quality, and understanding the interactions of bears, highways, and bird feeders. Lawyers who work in property, land use, and natural resources law should look at that map of The Boss's wanderings and immediately think about how law and the bear might interact, and how the law we craft for the future should understand, intricately, the lands and places it emerges from.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
(University of Idaho students discussing a culvert on a Boulder Creek tributary scheduled to be replaced to improve salmonid habitat.)
A common complaint about legal education is a perceived lack of “practical” experience. Law schools across the country, including at the University of Idaho, have addressed this need by increasing opportunities for students to participate in live-client experiences through clinics or internships, and by incorporating practical exercises throughout the substantive curriculum. But although students now have the opportunity to draft real legal documents, appear in court, and communicate with clients, many students are still missing exposure to the “things” of law—the people and places that law affects and effects.
The study of law is, of course, notoriously dense and difficult, with much in the way of words and little in the way of images, places, or dirt under the fingernails. This is a serious problem, as should be particularly obvious when we are studying the law of natural resources, land use, environmental protection, and real places and real people. We cannot understand conflict, and cannot propose useful solutions, until we know—intimately—the people and landscapes where those conflicts arise.
In August 2014, during my first attempt at offering a field course in natural resources law at the University of Idaho’s McCall Field Campus, we spent all of one afternoon driving gravel roads around what would become the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek Landscape Restoration Project on the Payette National Forest. We were looking at places that would be burned, roads that would be closed, and culverts that would be replaced to allow for steelhead and bull trout passage. I also tried to take advantage of our time in the forest to teach my students to identify all of the trees in the area, and perhaps more important—to me at least—to care about what those trees are. This is something of a Long-family tradition that I have taken from my father and am trying to impose on my own sons. My sons seem to enjoy it, but on the Payette, I got the sense that while a few of the students seemed to want to know the trees, most were bored—or worse, annoyed—by my constant pestering.
I finally felt compelled to pull our van over in a large clearing, at the high point of that day’s drive. The spot is known as Railroad Saddle, and is the hydrologic divide between Boulder Creek to the north and Lost Creek to the south. It is a broad, open, and relatively flat divide, offering few clues as to its legal and ecological significance.
But it is significant. Boulder Creek flows north and east about twenty miles to the Little Salmon River, which continues north until it meets the main stem of the Salmon River at the small town of Riggins, Idaho. At this point, the Salmon has mostly completed its unencumbered journey across Idaho. From Riggins, it continues north and then west before finally joining with the Snake River on the Idaho-Oregon border.
Precipitation falling south of Railroad Saddle follows a different path, flowing into the East Fork of Lost Creek. The East Fork flows about eight miles before joining with Lost Creek itself, a mile or so upstream of the Lost Valley Reservoir. After pausing a bit in the reservoir—filled with algae, surrounded by cows and overgrazed riparian areas, off-road vehicle trails, and paradoxically, a colony of the threatened Northern Idaho Ground Squirrel—Lost Creek continues on another ten miles to the West Fork of the Weiser River. This becomes the Weiser River, and then after flowing southwest for quite a while, eventually also meets the Snake River at the town of Weiser, Idaho, also on the Idaho-Oregon border.
Although both Boulder Creek and Lost Creek are part of the larger Snake River watershed, they differ in meaningful ways. The divide is open and flat enough that you can look each direction and see how the vegetative communities change, from the thicker, wetter, Douglas fir dominated forests in the mostly north-facing Boulder Creek drainage to the more open, drier, Ponderosa Pine forests on Lost Creek. Because we had spent the morning with the New Meadows District Ranger, we also knew that as we traveled from Boulder Creek into Lost Creek, we’d start seeing more cows and more evidence of unauthorized off-road vehicle use.
But it is what we cannot see that might matter more, particularly from a legal perspective. Boulder Creek is part of the Salmon River watershed, famous for containing the largest area of contiguous wilderness in the continental United States—the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. Although the Frank Church gets the most press, the Salmon River watershed is also home to the Gospel Hump Wilderness and millions of acres of National Forest. It is a fairly pristine watershed, as they go in the contemporary West, and between Railroad Saddle and the confluence of the Salmon and Snake Rivers, there are no dams, just as there are no dams on the entire Salmon River itself.
The Weiser River, and thus Lost Creek that flows into it, are farther upstream in the Snake River watershed. Lost Creek has its own dam, just a few miles from where we stand on Railroad Divide. But much more significant, immediately after flowing into the Snake River, the Weiser River water enters Brownlee Reservoir and the slack water of Brownlee Dam. Below Brownlee, it becomes the slack water of Oxbow Dam, and then the slack water of Hells Canyon Dam, a 330-feet tall concrete monolith standing at the head of Hells Canyon.
Together, these three dams—the Hells Canyon Complex, owned and operated by Idaho Power—are a complete barrier to fish passage, and the thousands of miles of streams that were historic spawning grounds for migrating salmon and steelhead.
This is what we cannot see, standing on Railroad Divide. Despite having to endure the eight dams on the Columbia and Lower Snake rivers on their journeys to and from the Pacific, salmon and steelhead continue to survive, and on occasion thrive, in the watershed to our north. But there are no migrating salmon or steelhead in the watershed just a few feet to our south.
The law means two very different things in these few feet of space we occupy on Railroad Divide, some of us standing in salmon habitat, some of us not. And we can see those differences on the ground, and in the proposals for landscape restoration we discussed in the morning and are visiting in the afternoon. The hours we spent seeking out culverts—both old and new—would have been largely meaningless just a hundred yards to our south. And the cows and off-road vehicles we will soon see would be much more meaningful—as significant as they already are—just a hundred yards to our north.
All of these subtle, meaningful things come together in this one place, as law on the ground. During this day, we have seen human uses on the landscape: sheep and old timber harvests and camping areas complete with 1950s pit toilets. We have seen the different trees, the different slopes and mountains and streams. And we have talked and thought and seen the effects of law. And so concluding my Railroad Divide soliloquy, I tell my students that it is my belief—and the raison d’être of the class—that you can only understand how law works, and why, when you understand the natural history of a place, when you know the people who live there and what they care about, and when you have walked the landscape and felt the rocks beneath your feet, waded the streams, and maybe crawled through the culverts.
And when you know the trees.
Railroad Divide, as a place, demonstrates how understanding specific laws, or particular legal or policy decisions, requires moving beyond text and into the forests. Understanding place in a broader sense is at once as simple as thinking about how water flows across the ground, and as complex as all of the constellations of legal, cultural, social, and physical landscapes through which that water might pass. An intricate understanding of people and landscapes, and of the unique cultural and social histories they developed on those landscapes, similarly requires exploring the streams and forests, meeting the people, and thinking about how legal, social, and cultural relationships work themselves out on the ground.
Friday, February 12, 2016
This past weekend, weather and stream flows cooperated enough that I could justify spending a day chasing steelhead. The high winter flows do challenge my already limited angling skills, so I spent the day searching for any kind of structure or rocks that could make the river smaller and more approachable—at least from a fly fishing perspective—and give me a slightly greater than zero chance of finding a fish. I finally found what I was looking for, immediately behind a sign declaring “Private Property.”
Two characteristics largely define the Interior West—public lands and aridity. This combination makes for some complicated land use conflicts. In an arid environment, both people and animals congregate on the same land—land near water—and the public lands landscape affects our ability to disperse by limiting land available for human settlement. Thus, despite the millions of acres of public lands in the West, much of the land use conflict occurs not on public lands but within the private landscape where we congregate.
Private western lands are private precisely because they were the most productive or attractive, and in many ways they provide the best wildlife habitat or ecological services. In some cases, they also provide the best recreational opportunities. While the public’s perception of the Interior West might focus on federal lands issues, the private lands are an increasingly significant source of both conflict and opportunity.
And lost in the stories of the West’s public lands are the thousands of examples of private landowners not only protecting or restoring their land, but also allowing the public to hunt, fish, and recreate on private property.
In the past year, while wandering around Idaho, I have squeezed through gates, walked across farm fields, followed “secret” trails below cabins, and parked along private logging roads. In each case, I was crossing or using private property to find places to fish. And in each case, I was doing so with permission of the private landowner. The two photos at the top of this essay were taken on neighboring parcels near a small stream just southwest of Yellowstone National Park—I respected the requests of both and enjoyed a memorable day of fishing with my brother. I have also spent literally hundreds of hours running, hiking, and mountain biking on publicly-accessible private forest lands near Moscow, Idaho.
In one sense, surprisingly, this notion of public “rights” in private places is embedded within western culture. The state of Montana guarantees all residents the right to use any stream that is subject to recreational uses, regardless of the ownership of underlying lands. Idaho is slightly less permissive, in a formal if not practical sense, providing that all streams capable of floating a six-inch diameter log or being “navigated by oar or motor propelled small craft” is a public highway available for fishing, boating, or other recreational purposes. Somewhat unexpectedly, Colorado—despite being arguably more progressive in some areas than other western states—has what might be the most restrictive stream access regime, potentially allowing private landowners to completely prohibit anyone from passing down “non-navigable” streams, whether they touch the bottom or banks or not (this might be an understatement, but the issue remains somewhat contested in Colorado).
These examples might seem minor, parochial, or insignificant in the broader public lands context. But two of the greatest conservation successes in the West were the result of private landowners acting to protect public rights. When people park along the roadside at the Cathedral Group viewpoint in Grand Teton National Park, what they are viewing—the Grand Teton and neighboring mountains—was originally protected by an Act of Congress in 1929. But the land they are standing on where most visitors spend most of their time, down in the valley floor, was quietly and somewhat secretly purchased by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and later transferred to the federal government (with some significant opposition) to expand the park. Across the Tetons in Idaho, the most famous stretch of a world famous trout steam—the Railroad Ranch reach of the Henrys Fork—flows through the old hunting and fishing retreat of the Harriman and Guggenheim families. In 1977, Averell and Roland Harriman donated the 11,000-acre ranch to the state of Idaho for use as a state park, providing for permanent public access to one of the world’s great fly-fishing destinations.
These stories, and my own experiences, came to mind this week when I received a call from a researcher investigating how to manage amenity-driven population growth in the rural West. She asked if I had any ideas for tools that would work to balance private and public interests, and my immediate (and admittedly cynical) reaction was that nothing would work—not until some fundamental change occurred in how the rural West perceives private property.
But immediately upon saying that, I thought of the “private property” sign I encountered while chasing steelhead. The bottom of the sign contained two additional admonitions. Not the expected “survivors will be prosecuted,” but rather the following: “please clean up after yourself” and “48 hour maximum stay.” This sign, on a private ranch at the end of a quiet, bumpy dirt road next to a famous steelhead stream, was a welcome sign.
Stories of private landowners offering public access to their lands might be more common outside of the western United States (in Wisconsin, for example, the state claims 25,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails open to the public, most of them on private lands). But in the West, the stories of private landowners too often lean the other direction, focusing on those that seek to exclude rather than share. They thus overlook the fact that there are also stories of western landowners who have already accepted that cooperation—even with respect to their private lands—should be a fundamental characteristic of the rural West.
These are small stories, to be sure, but they are a confirmation that in some places in the rural West, different perspectives and attitudes are emerging (or in fact, were always there) on the relative rights of the public and private with respect to our land. And those different attitudes might allow for new approaches to developing the proverbial “society to match the scenery,” as long as we are willing to recognize them. At a time when stories of western lands are focused on the selfishness of a few, we should acknowledge that these stories of sharing are just as common.
And so taking advantage of this one example last Saturday, I walked past the private property sign to where I knew (ok, hoped) a steelhead would be waiting—a steelhead that would not be waiting for me on public land.
Monday, February 8, 2016
(Photo Credit here)
ProPublica recently came out with a story detailing how NYPD officials are using nuisance law to kick individuals out of their homes, largely based on groundless criminal claims that are ultimately dismissed in court. In at least 74 cases of nuisance eviction that were studied by ProPublica in partnership with The Daily News, residents agreed to warrantless searches of their dwellings (sometimes on an on-going basis) in order to be allowed to return to their homes. More importantly, the vast majority of these nuisance actions are falling on minorities. Over an 18-month study period, 9/10 homes targeted for nuisance abatement were in minority communities. The article notes that ProPublica "identified the race of 215 of the 297 people who were barred from homes in nuisance abatement battles. Only five are white."
This story raises some very interesting legal issues for property law professors in teaching nuisance principles. At the turn of the 20th century, nuisance law began to yield to zoning and land use restrictions, which were viewed as superior methods for regulating competing, adjacent land uses. In fact, in many cases zoning rules can preclude or at least diminish the validity of nuisance claims. For an excellent historical article on the progression of zoning and nuisance law in the U.S., click here.
The way nuisance law is being wielded in NY raises a host of policy and legal issues, spanning from fair housing, criminal procedure, constitutional law, and beyond. Here's an excerpt from the ProPublica article:
The nuisance abatement law was created in the 1970’s to combat the sex industry in Times Square. Since then, its use has been vastly expanded, commonly targeting apartments and mom-and-pop bodegas even as the city’s crime rate has reached historic lows. The NYPD files upward of 1,000 such cases a year, nearly half of them against residences. . .
A man was prohibited from living in his family home and separated from his young daughter over gambling allegations that were dismissed in criminal court. A diabetic man said he was forced to sleep on subways and stoops for a month after being served with a nuisance abatement action over low-level drug charges that also never led to a conviction. Meanwhile, his elderly mother was left with no one to care for her. . .
The NYPD has embraced nuisance abatement actions as part of its controversial “Broken Windows” strategy of aggressively pursuing low-level offenders to prevent more serious ones. . . Sidney Baumgarten, the former city official who commissioned the drafting of the nuisance abatement law in the 1970s, said it is now being abused. He is alarmed by the sheer volume of cases, especially those aimed at households in which no one has been convicted of a crime.
“I think it’s wrong. I think it’s unconstitutional. I think it’s over-reaching,” he said. “They’re giving up their constitutional rights. And why? Because they’re afraid they’re going to be evicted from their home, with their children. There’s a certain amount of compulsion, and threat and coercion, by the very nature of the process they’re using.”
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
(photo by Jonathan Long)
The Malheur Occupation has presented at least two community-learning opportunities. These most recent sagebrush rebels have used a specific, limited reading of the Constitution to support their arguments, and legal and policy scholars have understandably and capably countered with a more nuanced and complete reading of the Constitution’s property-related provisions. Because the counter to “that’s unconstitutional!” is never as easy as we’d like, continuing to simplify and clarify the argument for continued federal ownership of the public lands will be useful.
But in some ways, supporters of the public lands have missed an opportunity to consider and understand the non-legal arguments of the sagebrush rebels. These non-legal arguments are generally that contemporary public lands management has treated rural westerners unfairly, and has ignored western and public lands history. While it might initially seem counter-intuitive, failing to consider carefully some of the rebels’ reasons might be problematic in a future in which threats to the public lands are likely to increase.
A common response to sagebrush rebels is that the public lands are just that, public—owned by all people, whether in New York or Nevada, and managed by the federal government in trust for all of us. In this argument, it doesn’t matter where a person lives, or whether they have or ever will visit the public lands—all should have equal say in their management. That is, of course, true in a general sense. But it assumes a specific type of and singular purpose for the public lands. The public lands story is somewhat more complex than that.
Those who have studied public lands history are familiar with three general eras: acquisition, disposition, and retention. Today, we view the disposition era somewhat out of focus, as a romantic old western that seems as much fiction as not. We forget, or at least ignore, that for a long time the official policy of the United States was to transfer the public domain to private owners. Retention largely first came in 1872 with the creation of Yellowstone National Park, and then more completely with the first forest reserves authorized in an un-debated “rider” on the General Revision Act of 1891 (note, even the “Forest Service Organic Act”—which guided management of the National Forests for eight decades—was a rider to an 1897 appropriations bill).
But disposition of the public domain did not stop being the official policy of the United States until 1976 when Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Even with that, disposition (i.e., transferring federal property to private owners) is still a real and important part of today’s federal property management regime, as anyone who deals with coal mining, timber harvesting, or any other resource development program on the public lands can attest.
Recognizing that the disposition and retention eras overlapped for much longer than generally acknowledged only gets us part of the way to a more complete public lands story. We often talk about the “public lands” as a single thing, but there are many categories of public lands and purposes—National Forests, National Parks, National Monuments, Wildlife Refuges, and the “public lands” managed by the Bureau of Land Management, among others. Today we think we understand, at least generally, why each of these categories exists. But their origins and original purposes were rather more contested and complicated.
Of this list, only National Parks were (or are) specifically and necessarily created by Congress for a single purpose. The others are less unified in origin and reason. When President Teddy Roosevelt created the first National Wildlife Refuges (including the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1908), he did so under somewhat questionable authority. Many of our National Forests were initially reserved despite express opposition from Congress—President T. Roosevelt’s “Midnight Forest Reserves” included 16 million acres of now National Forests that were reserved after Congress had signed legislation prohibiting the President from creating more reserves (but before President Roosevelt signed the bill into law). And controversy over the use of the Antiquities Act to create National Monuments dates from its very beginnings—when it was used to create Devil’s Tower National Monument, and to help create Grand Canyon and Grand Teton National Parks—to today. On Tuesday, the Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would have limited the President’s use of the Antiquities Act.
Focusing on the National Forests alone demonstrates the potential disconnect between purpose and contemporary perception of the public lands. The 1897 Organic Act specified that the purpose of the forest reserves was to secure “favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continual supply of timber[.]” That first purpose, at least, was very much locally-focused, given how water is managed in the West. And these purposes—and none other—remained until 1960 when the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act added outdoor recreation, range, and wildlife and fish as purposes of the National Forests. It is entirely appropriate today to expect that National Forests be managed, in part, to protect biodiversity. But that was not always the case, nor is it the sole designated purpose of those lands.
With respect to the BLM-administered public lands, they were managed largely for disposition, range, and mineral development until 1976, when FLPMA specified that they also should be managed for a wider variety of uses. Today they are still managed largely, in some places, for the historically dominant uses—the joke about the “Bureau of Livestock and Mining,” while increasingly unfair, does have some reason for being. Although we might eventually so decide, the BLM public lands are not yet, nor have they ever been, intended exclusively as an outdoor recreation mecca or wildlife sanctuary.
So what is the point of this admittedly simplistic, incomplete attempt at history? The public lands are complex and contested. And many current public lands users were part of that complex public lands history. Long-term successful management of the public lands as public lands will require an intricate and nuanced understanding of the conflicting notions of purpose and ownership that have always been a part of the public lands story. Going forward, it will be insufficient to simply claim, “but they are public!” and leave it at that, even if the law seems to allow us to do so. That is too simplistic, and ignores the long history in which they weren’t public, at least not as most people understand that word today. It also ignores that, even today, we manage them for a variety of private uses, granting enforceable property rights in the public lands to private individuals. More frightening, should the assumption prove inappropriate, it assumes that efforts to “take back” the public lands never gain traction in Congress or the Supreme Court.
I was recently criticized as being “naïve and unrealistic” in my assessment of contemporary public lands conflict. That is likely true—I still believe that no one is immune to the smell of sagebrush after a rain. Maybe growing up a tree-hugger in a sagebrush town has that effect. However, naïve or not, I do think that understanding the public lands requires experiencing them on the ground and face-to-face with the people, trees, cows, and sagebrush. We cannot claim nor expect legitimacy if we ignore the history of the place or its people.
We need to love our public lands enough to be willing to consider why other people might not. Perhaps better said, we need to love them enough to be willing to consider why other people might love them differently. I believe that there are things, at least a few, that we can all agree on. And that’s where successful public “public lands” management starts.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
This past Friday I had the pleasure of participating in a symposium on Housing for Vulnerable Populations and the Middle Class: Revisiting Housing Rights and Policies in a Time of Expanding Crisis, hosted by the wonderful faculty and law review folks at the University of San Francisco School of Law (and a special hat tip to our very gracious host, Tim Iglesias). The timing of this gathering couldn’t have been better. 2015 was a busy year in the housing world as SCOTUS upheld the validity of the disparate impact theory under the Fair Housing Act and HUD issued its significantly updated regulations on the obligation to affirmatively further fair housing. Moreover, cities and local governments are being looked to more than ever to solve major and seemingly intractable issues around housing, spurring a host of new policies, programs, and initiatives. The impressive participants of the USF symposium (coming from practice, government, non-profit, and the academy) explored these and related issues, including potential solutions to pressing problems of housing. Here’s an overview of what the panelists had to say:
What’s the matter with housing?
Rachel Bratt (Harvard Joint Center) kicked off the day by giving an overview of the nation’s current housing woes. She noted that the increase in income inequality over the last 20 years, combined with disinvestment and misinvestment of public resources, has been at the core of the affordable housing issue. She also described how political spending has played a role in further entrenching existing housing interests (in 2015, $234M was spend on real estate/finance lobbying, second only to healthcare). Bratt also explained the uneven distribution of federal housing benefits to the wealthy and the continued persistence of concentrated racial segregation. Rosie Tighe (Cleveland State-Urban Affairs) followed by describing the particular housing problems facing so-called “shrinking cities” (those places in an intense population-decline). She noted that the issue for these cities has more to do with poor quality affordable housing, rather than quantity. Tighe described the failure of low-income housing tax credits to meet the needs of these locales, and discussed the need for more scattered-site developments in these areas, while recognizing the financing and property management challenges inherent in such developments. Peter Dreier (Occidental-Poli Sci) rounded-out the discussion by pointing out that the current political discussions around the presidential election have focused much on wages and other issues, but not at all on housing. He described some reasons for the absence of attention to this important area, and drew the strong connection between household over-all health and housing.
What’s the matter with our current solutions?
Chris Odinet (Southern) started the discussion by describing some current efforts by states and local governments to deal with the fall-out from the housing crisis and on-going issues of blight and abandoned property. He then explained a number of recent federal court cases and acts taken by the FHFA that have significantly frustrated these efforts and also seriously call into question the ability of states and local governments to be innovative in dealing with issues of housing when federal programs are involved. Michael Allen (Relman, Dane, & Colfax) discussed the Fair Housing Act and the new “affirmatively furthering” regulations. He went into depth on contemporary disagreements between affordable housing advocates (who support more affordable units) and fair housing groups (who support integrated housing, and advocated for a way to reconcile their views under the auspices of these new HUD regulations. John Infrana (Suffolk) followed by describing the types of housing in and changing household composition of many cities. Despite these changing demographics, however, housing has not kept pace. In connection with this, Infranca pointed to the many possibilities that micro-housing and accessory-dwelling units (ADU) provide in the way of meeting this need. He noted that ADUs allow for greater economic diversity and can better align with demographic trends, but noted current legal barriers to them such as occupancy requirements and zoning restrictions. Marcia Rosen and Jessica Cassella (both of the National Housing Law Project)) concluded the panel by discussing the current state of the public housing program in the U.S., noting that there are currently 1.2M units (and ever-declining). She described HUD’s recent efforts to give public housing authorities (PHAs) a financing tool to rehab and rebuild these properties through the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program (RAD). This program essentially allows PHAs to convert their public housing stock into section 8 funded housing, and to combine section 8 with tax credits and other forms of debt and equity financing to fund the project. Cassella stated that although the program has great potential in terms of revamping old and decaying public housing properties, there are draw-backs in the way of transparency and long-term funding stability.
What are some new solutions?
For this final panel, John Emmeus Davis (Burlington Community Development Associates) gave an overview of community land trusts (CLTs)—currently over 280 exist nationwide—and their successes across the country. He noted that these types of entities are usually most successful in communities where there would otherwise be no affordable housing available. He noted the ability of CLTs to empower communities, protect tenants, and provide street-level land reform. Andrea Boyack (Washburn) followed by noting the current lack of rental stock compared to the growing demand across the country. She pointed out that in 2015 over half of the population of the U.S. is renting, with an annual demand of 300K new rental units per year. She followed by describing some current statistical trends in American homeownership and posited a number of ways in which cities and states in particular can seek to achieve solutions to these major housing problems. Lastly, Lisa Alexander (Wisconsin) discussed the the human right to housing, not through the lens of federal law, but rather through the ways in which localities across the country are building legal structures that provide many of the rights associated with a right to housing. She noted that market participation has been important to this process, and she used the “tiny homes for the homeless” movement and community control of vacant land as examples.
You can watch each of these presentations by clicking on the youtube video above. Participants, moderators, and USF Dean John Trasviña (former HUD assistant secretary for fair housing) are pictured below.
January 31, 2016 in Conferences, Home and Housing, Land Use, Landlord-Tenant, Law Reform, Mortgage Crisis, Real Estate Finance, Real Estate Transactions, Recording and Title Issues, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, October 28, 2013
Lee Fennell (Chicago) and Eduardo Penalver (Chicago) have posted Exactions Creep (Supreme Court Review) on SSRN. 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.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Monday, July 8, 2013
Professors’ Corner: Wednesday, July 10, 2013: Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District: A Significant Victory for Property Rights?
Professors’ Corner is a monthly free teleconference sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section's Legal Education and Uniform Laws Group. Each month’s call features a panel of law professors who discuss recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars. Members of DIRT are invited to participate in the call (as well as to join and become involved in the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section).
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
12:30 p.m. Eastern time (11:30 a.m. Central, 9:30 a.m. Pacific). Call is ONE HOUR in length.
Call-in number: 866-646-6488
This program will feature a roundtable discussion breaking down the Supreme Court’s important June 25 decision in Koontz v. St. John’s River Water Management District. If “monetary exactions” have always seemed a little untamed to you, you’re not alone. The 5-4 decision in Koontz leaves a lot of room for analysis, and this month’s panel is prepared to guide you through it by parsing the decision and the dissent. Our distinguished panel will include Professor Jonathan H. Adler, who is the Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law; John D. Echeverria, Professor of Law at Vermont Law School; and David L. Callies, who is the Benjamin A. Kudo Professor of Law at the University of Hawai’i.
For those that haven’t already seen it, here’s a link to the opinion:
Please join us Wednesday for this great program!