Tagged: land use

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Should More Land Use Professors Be Libertarians?: Part III (Final Post)

This is (hopefully) the last in a series of three posts. 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.   Read More

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Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians? Part II

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:

The Market

 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 downtown-houston-at-night-1430683-sthe 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? Read More

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Should More Land Use Professors be Libertarians?

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.

The organization of local governments, on the surface a merely technical matter, has fallen victim to a similar pattern of what public choice scholars call “rent-seeking.” Cities look to annex neighboring unincorporated areas in order to gobble up their tax base, while affluent small areas incorporate in order to resist the redistribution of wealth to poorer neighborhoods and prevent unwanted land use sitings. Metropolitan regions have been fragmented into dozens of little local fiefdoms, each acting with little regard for its neighbors. Sprawl, inefficiency, interlocal inequality and de facto racial segregation are the consequences, and the norm, in most metropolitan regions. Read More

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A Modest Proposal: Install Permanent Blue Lines Physically Along the Coast

There’s been quite a hullaballoo nationally and regionally on this the first anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Sandy, you will recall, pummeled the coast of New Jersey and New York for days last October, killing an estimated 285 people, destroying or damaging 650,000 homes and 200,000 businesses, leaving 8,600,000 homes and businesses without power, gas, or water, and shutting down New York City’s subway system for days, crippling the city. The estimated cost of Sandy was $65 billion dollars.

Monmouth University held an excellent online symposium about the response to Sandy on October 29, the anniversary of Sandy’s landfall. Here are youtubes of the morning and afternoon sessions.

Among the notable speakers was Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who directed the national response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita, served as the National Incident Commander in the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, and was appointed by New York Governor Cuomo to co-chair a task force on New York State’s responses to future weather-related disasters. Another notable was Christine Todd Whitman, former Governor of New Jersey and former Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. She resigned as I recall over differences with the George W. Bush administration over whether climate change was going to be a serious problem.

A pollster from and institute at Monmouth University reported that only about half the folks who were supposed to evacuate the New Jersey shore did so; and that when polled later, about the same number said they would not evacuate the next time.

And there surely will be a next time. Another speaker suggested that even a four foot sea level rise by 2100, somewhere in the mid-range of credible estimates, would drastically increase the frequency of severe floods. He offered the analogy of a basketball court. Raise the floor a few inches and you get more dunks. Raise the floor a couple of feet and all you get is dunks. Add to that that many major cities are less than five feet above sea level now – among them Hoboken and Atlantic City here in New Jersey – and that spells trouble with a capital T.

And yet there is this persistent insistence on retaking the land, rebuilding bigger and better, standing up to the storm. Read More

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Shame On You! Hand Over That Dune Easement!

This blog post is the second in my series of four this month on coastal land management and disaster. It will be just a bit shorter than the last, and focuses on the efforts of one among several Jersey Shore beach communities, Long Beach Township, in Ocean County, to use shame as an incentive and punishment for beachfront property owners who have refused to negotiate easements necessary for a protective beach and dune restoration project.

First, some background. New Jersey has something like 127 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline – barrier islands, marshes, and inlets. All of its length is developed, with few exceptions. This practice of barrier island development goes well back into the 19th century. Long Branch, in Monmouth County (not to be confused with Long Beach), called itself the “home of Presidents”. It became accessible by rail early on, and seven nineteenth-century presidents summered there. One, James Garfield, died there, after he was shot and taken there for what turned out to be some very bad medical treatment.

Apart from the results of a few episodic impulses to preserve (among them Island Beach State Park and the Sandy Hook element of the Gateway National Recreation Area), all the rest of the buildable New Jersey shore is built. And how! There are the more exclusive enclaves, and also towns with beaches that are narrow and crowded and commercial. In most places you have to pay to get onto the beach. To the chagrin of many a first-year property student, there’s a whole case law and scholarly literature about beach access below the mean high tide line and the public trust doctrine, centered on a series of New Jersey cases. More exclusive towns still try various stratagems to exclude outsiders (What, no all day parking? No changing facilities?). Other towns just let outsiders in as daily visitors or weekly renters and take their money.

For protection against storms, much of the Jersey Shore has been reinforced with hard structures such as sea-walls and groins, which project out into the ocean and supposedly prevent sand from migrating down current. Coastal geologists generally consider what has happened in New Jersey a very bad way to manage beaches on barrier islands. It just fosters erosion and imperils structures that shouldn’t have been built there anyway. Beaches gotta move. See, e.g., Wallace Kaufman & Orrin H. Pilkey, Jr., The Beaches Are Moving: The Drowning of America’s Coastline. Read More