Unlike most cities, San Francisco follows a land use practice called “discretionary review,” which “allows anybody to appeal any permit for any reason (or no reason) and force a public hearing in front of the famously arbitrary Planning Commission.” A falafel shop wanted an ordinarily straightforward change of use permit to open in a vacant storefront on Castro Street, but an incumbent gyro shop on the same block filed an objection which will succeed in delaying the opening for months. The whole episode “encapsulates everything wrong with San Francisco’s permitting process.” [Dana Beuschel, Medium]
Janice Smyth’s family had paid property taxes for 40 years on a residential-zoned land parcel on Cape Cod, which has been left as the last plot in its neighborhood not residentially developed. But the town of Falmouth has adopted land-use regulations that have left only a 115-square-foot patch of it developable. Massachusetts courts: even if the plot’s valuation fell from $700,000 to $60,000, a decline of more than 90 percent, it’s not a taking since you could still use the land as a park or to walk dogs or for neighbors to buy as a buffer. The dispute might make a suitable vehicle for the Supreme Court to revisit the question of whether an outright confiscation of all uses is required before the Constitution’s requirement of just compensation kicks in [Trevor Burrus on Cato certiorari amicus brief in case of Smyth v. Conservation Commission of Falmouth et al.]
- When does a taking of land occur? The wrong answer would let the government push around owners in disputes over rails-to-trails projects [Trevor Burrus on Cato Institute amicus brief on Federal Circuit case of Caquelin v. U.S.]
- Though the federal government can’t successfully manage the Western lands it already has, it will soon extend its grip over more. This time Republicans are responsible [Chris Edwards, Cato]
- “Sydney’s rental prices are declining because it’s seeing a building boom. The size of Sydney’s apartment market has doubled in two years, and landlords have had to drop rents in order to get tenants.” [Scott Shackford, Reason]
- To make NYC’s public housing towers a better place to live, throw Le Corbusier off the balcony [Howard Husock, New York Post]
- Economist Robert H. Nelson, R.I.P. [Jane Shaw, Cato Regulation Magazine]
- Update: Baltimore eminent domain case against owner of Preakness Stakes race and Pimlico track dropped for now, but remains as bludgeon in closet [Ilya Somin, earlier here, etc.]
As population and the job base in the Washington, D.C. area continue to expand, households face a crunch in the price of housing, made worse by the reluctance of local governments to permit residential construction near most of the major employment centers. A unanimous county council in Montgomery County, Md. has now made it slightly easier for homeowners to create in-law units or backyard cottages, but along the way had to face down noisy opposition. I tell the story in a new Cato post.
- Hearse driver in HOV lane to highway patrol: you mean I can’t count the corpse as a passenger? [Michelle Lou, CNN]
- “Caterpillar Now Going After All The Cats For Trademark Cancellations” [Timothy Geigner, TechDirt, earlier]
- Before trying to open a storefront business in San Francisco you might look to this advice from commercial real estate brokers about the city’s zoning and permit hurdles, and please quit using words like “bonkers” or “flabbergasting” [Robert Fruchtman Twitter thread]
- “Lawyer engaged in ‘sustained campaign of unfounded litigation,’ disbarment recommendation says” [ABA Journal; Waukegan, Illinois]
- Breaking from two other federal appeals courts, Third Circuit rules that Amazon as a platform can be sued under strict liability principles over defective items sold by third-party vendors on its site [Brendan Pierson, Reuters] Should the ruling stand, implications for online marketplaces are dire [Eric Goldman]
- New challenges for Mathew Higbee, high volume copyright enforcement lawyer, and his clients [Paul Alan Levy, more, earlier]
It’s common for communities to use zoning codes to exclude commercial and industrial uses from residential areas, but Sacramento County, California, seems extra-zealous about making sure that residents don’t try to operate auto repair businesses amid homes. While it concedes to residents the right to perform minor auto repairs on their own cars in their driveway or garage, it bans repairs or maintenance in any of the following circumstances:
1. Using tools not normally found in a residence;
2. Conducted on vehicles registered to persons, not currently residing on the lot or parcel;
3. Conducted outside a fully enclosed garage and resulting in any vehicle being inoperable for a period in excess of twenty-four hours.
So if you’re thinking of
changing the oil in doing fairly minor work on your dad’s or girlfriend’s car, or trying any work that might run into a snag and have to be carried over to the next day — let alone working on a project car as a hobby, as many do — Sacramento County has other plans, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you are creating any nuisance for neighbors. “One commenter on the Grassroots Motorsports forum reported that he’d already been issued a $430 fine for working on his car in his garage.” [Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik]
- NYC landmark decree will strangle famed Strand used bookstore, says owner [Nancy Bass Wyden, New York Daily News, Nick Gillespie, Reason, earlier] NIMBY resistance to Dupont Circle project behind Masonic Temple insists on preserving views that weren’t there until fairly recently [Nick Sementelli, Greater Greater Washington]
- “Barcelona city hall has finally issued a work permit for the unfinished church designed by the architect Antoni Gaudí, 137 years after construction started on the Sagrada Família basilica.” [AP/Guardian] At least they’re not in one of the American towns and cities that would make them tear down work outside the scope of permit before proceeding;
- FHA lending tilts heavily toward detached single-family housing over condos, encouraging sprawl [Scott Beyer]
- “San Francisco’s Regulations Are the Cause of Its Housing Crisis” [Beyer]
- “What Should I Read to Understand Zoning?” [Nolan Gray, Market Urbanism]
- I think we can all guess which union was not cut into a share of the work in this Bay Area housing development [Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside (Laborers union files CEQA suit), Christian Britschgi, Reason]
Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision along 5-4 ideological lines in Knick v. Township of Scott, on whether owners whose property is taken must first exhaust state remedies before seeking relief in federal court, is a big win for property owners. It overrules the unsound 1985 precedent to the contrary of a case called Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank. It also represents the second time this term the Court has overruled one of its precedents, following Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, in which it overturned an earlier precedent on the scope of state tax power. The Court this term has declined to overturn precedent in a third case (Gamble v. U.S., on double jeopardy) and has yet to decide whether to overturn two notable administrative-law precedents in the still-pending case of Kisor v. Wilkie.
In some legal contexts, it can make sense to condition court relief on exhaustion of administrative remedies. But as Chief Justice Roberts wrote for yesterday’s majority, claims under the Bill of Rights are in general allowed direct access to federal courts. In creating an exception, Williamson had “relegate[d] the Takings Clause ‘to the status of a poor relation’ among the provisions of the Bill of Rights.”
Cato actively urged the property owner’s case in Knick, a case arising from a Pennsylvania law that imposed various uncompensated mandates, barbed by fines and penalties, on the owners of land on which persons are buried. Pennsylvania is known for its rural practice of “backyard burials.” Ilya Shapiro has one quick reaction and Ilya Somin, who has written extensively on Knick and the constitutional issues it raises, has another.
As booming demand to live and work in the most sought-after cities runs into not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) restrictions on new housing construction, the ideas of Henry George are getting back into the conversation. Who will invest in civic amenities, even the most basic, if their effect is to cause rents to rise even further? [Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg; related and more on New Zealand cities where strict controls on building have contributed to unaffordable prices]
Related: “Why Is Japanese Zoning More Liberal Than US Zoning?” [Nolan Gray, Market Urbanism]
A 75-unit housing development in San Francisco’s Mission District, a block from a BART station, is running into delay over what is termed a “potentially historic laundromat.” It’s a total mystery why housing is so expensive in the city by the Bay, with the average one-bedroom apartment said to rent for $3,258. [Adam Brinklow, Curbed via Derek Thompson]