Monday, February 13, 2012

"In Land, Straight Lines Make For Square Deals"

Land in the USA not located in the east or Texas is divided into 6 mile-square townships by the Public Land Survey System. The townships are further divided into sections one mile square. These sections can be further subdivided.

Gary D. Libecap of the Hoover Institution argues that this system strengthens and protects property rights, thereby promoting economic development. To make his point, he looks at an area of Ohio called the Virginia Military District (VMD) which, to this day, is divided by the old metes and bounds method. ("From the big oak tree north to the stream," etc.) The land around this district is divided by the Public Land Survey System. Libecap and a colleague found the following.

Using census data, we examined land values in the VMD and adjacent counties in two ways. First, we gathered land values, land characteristics, and individual owner attributes from the 1850 and 1860 censuses. Then we gathered land values for the same regions from 1850 through 1950 (the census changed the way it collected data after that so we could not go through 2010). We found that, controlling for land and owner characteristics, land values were around 25 percent higher under the rectangular system than under metes and bounds in 1850 and 1860. Further, extending the analysis for 100 years revealed that these land value differences persisted!

To learn why that might be so, we turned first to data on land disputes from Ohio court records. Over the entire nineteenth century, we found that parcels in the VMD had 18 times more land boundary disputes than the rest of Ohio combined. Indeed, the history of the VMD is one of ongoing land conflicts. We then turned to land market activity. Land transactions in the middle of the nineteenth century were about 75 percent greater in the counties adjacent to the VMD than within it.

Land values were 25 percent higher in the rectangular system than in metes and bounds.

Finally, we looked at the long run to see how weak property rights, diminished land market activity, and continuing boundary disputes affected the VMD relative to adjacent and otherwise comparable lands under the rectangular system. Remarkably, not only did the rectangular survey lands have higher land values from 1850 through the middle of the twentieth century than the metes and bounds lands in the VMD, but they gradually had higher population densities, more urbanization, and more investment in industry. The VMD lands, which started out similarly to the surrounding regions, steadily fell behind in attracting people and economic activity

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Grossly Abuse The Judicial Process, Don't Get Hit With Costs Or Fees

In a decision released today, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit begins its opinion with the following.
This case represents a gross abuse of the judicial process. Just when Defendants-Appellees United States Forest Service and Joseph P. Stringer (USFS), and Intervenor-Defendant Arizona Snowbowl Resort Limited Partnership (ASRLP) had successfully defended an agency decision to allow snowmaking at a ski resort on federal land all the way to the United States Supreme Court, “new” plaintiffs appeared. Represented by the same attorney as the losing parties in the first lawsuit, the “new” plaintiffs—who had closely monitored and, in some cases, actively encouraged and helped finance the first litigation—brought certain environmental claims that were virtually identical to some that the attorney had improperly attempted to raise in the earlier lawsuit, for no apparent reason other than to ensure further delay and forestall development. Years had passed since the original proposal had been made. According to the record, ASRLP, which operated the ski resort, faced a looming prospect of financial ruin without the ability to proceed with the plan to produce snow. Neither fact deterred the “new” plaintiffs’ lawsuit. Nor did the meritless nature of their claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706.

Nevertheless, it ends with:

the Save the Peaks Plaintiffs’ request for reasonable
fees and costs is denied.

If it is a gross abuse of judicial process, punish it by requiring plaintiffs to pay defendants their costs and attorney fees. If it doesn't merit that punishment, maybe one shouldn't call it a gross abuse of judicial process. The case is SAVE THE PEAKS COALITION v. USFS, 10-17896.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Ninth Circuit Issues Amended Opinion Concerning PAC Money in Washington

On January 31, 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision and an amended opinion on Washington's election laws as they pertain to financial contributions by PACS for or against ballot measures.
We address the constitutionality of three provisions of Washington election law as applied to the political committees that support and oppose ballot measures. We hold that Washington’s disclosure requirements, Washington Revised Code § 42.17.090 and Washington Administrative Code § 390-16-034, which require these committees to disclose the name and address of contributors giving more than $25, and additionally to disclose the employer and occupation of contributors giving more than $100, survive exacting scrutiny because they are substantially related to the important governmental interest in informing the electorate. We hold that Washington Revised Code § 42.17.105(8), which prohibits a political committee from accepting from any one person contributions exceeding $5,000 within 21 days of a general election, is not closely drawn to achieve the state’s important interest in informing the electorate. Section 42.17.105(8) is therefore unconstitutional as applied to ballot measure committees.
We affirm the judgment of the district court.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Are Floodway Restrictions Unduly Oppressive?

Nope, not according to Division 3 of the Washington Court of Appeals. In a decision issued today the court reviews the current law of nonconforming structures and substantive due process in Washington.

Sun-Tides Mobile Home Park is located in the floodway of the Naches River. When a mobile home was completely removed and the lot became available, a building permit was applied for to install a new mobile home. The permit was denied because the previous home was a nonconforming structure. The Park appealed to the Superior Court which reversed the denial as violative of substantive due process. On appeal by Yakima County and the Department of Ecology, the Court of Appeals reversed the Superior Court.