For Release: April 26, 1999
Gathered Leaders Proclaim:
Private Property Rights Will Best Pave the Way for the Future,
Not "smart growth," government ownership and regulation
ALBANY Property rights advocates took a new tack at the conference which the Property Rights Foundation of America held during April. They examined some of the latest alternatives to responsible private ownership and control of land-use and pronounced them self-defeating, expensive, unjust, and most strikingly liable to defeat in court at great taxpayer expense.
John Charles is an environmental activist turned free market advocate at the Cascade Policy Institute in Portland, Oregon, where the much-touted land-use planning method known as "smart growth" or "urban growth boundaries" began.
Speaking on "Land Use Planning in the Twenty-first Century" at the conference in Albany, New York, he called Portland's 26-year-old system "the most expensive and extensive regional land-use exercise ever implemented" and proceeded to debunk it.
"Smart growth" crowds houses together but has failed to ease traffic congestion. People try to escape the cookie cutter houses crowded against light rail tracks, making Portland less dense than Los Angeles. For Portland's public transit, smart growth planners designed streets and rails to discourage auto use but failed, he said. "Public transit market share is dropping," said Charles, "because the auto is the most popular arguably the most empowering invention of the 20th century."
Referring to New Urbanism as "Orwellian," Charles said that when smart growth advocates promise "more choices" they mean "less choices." The light rail lines promoted for smart growth caused "sprawl" rather than preventing it and are more expensive than any transit mode. Vans, which planners dislike, are prohibited by many municipal governments, but are the most energy-efficient transit. Urban growth boundaries have driven up the price of land to $100,000 per acre. Instead of smart growth's rigid top-down planning, Charles called for voluntary zoning compacts based on private property rights.
Other speakers also dealt head on with the trends toward bigger and more powerful government that have remained in fashion in spite of the national mood to the contrary.
R.J. Smith of the Center for Private Conservation
at Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., traced
the growth of government land ownership in this country. Today,
government owns 42% of the land in the United States. He pointed
out that back in 1981, before the devolution of the U.S.S.R.,
John Kenneth Galbraith observed, "Where socialized land ownership
is concerned, only the U.S.S.R. and China exceed the U.S."
Mr. Smith said that at present the United States must certainly
be the nation with the most socialized land ownership.
The federal government's accounting of its acreage is notoriously inaccurate, Mr. Smith observed. But this could get worse, if the trend to sell partial title to land to government continues.
Private Conservation and Resource Use
William R. Sayre of Associated Industries of Vermont in Montpelier, discussed "Forest Land Easements - Freezing the Future." Easements are gaining popularity as a way to keep "working forests," he said, but they are "deceptively posed."
Mr. Sayre critiqued an easement being negotiated in Vermont in a land transaction announced simultaneously with a sale to New York State through a land trust by Champion International of conservation easements in 110,000 acres. He pointed out many conditions favoring wildlife, scenic and recreational resources in the lengthy documents. Subservient to these conditions, the practice of forestry would be reduced to the status now existing in the National Forests, where timber harvests are being closed down.
In addition to speaking about the need to keep forests private, experts told about battles to defend the use of mineral deposits and conserve fisheries through private ownership. Geraldine Tortorella, partner in Shamberg Marwell Hocherman Davis & Hollis in Mt. Kisco, won $17.6 million for Briarcliff Associates because the Town of Cortlandt rezoned an emery deposit as residential although home construction was impossible. Frederick William Meeker, an attorney at Battery Place in Manhattan, described the long effort still being pursued by fisherman to implement state legislation to protect the Long Island surf clam resources by instituting individual transferable quotas (ITQ's), which have been used successfully in federal fisheries.
Jonathan Tolman, domestic policy analyst for the House Republican Policy Committee, displayed and explained his wetlands research data which demonstrated unequivocally that preserving wetlands by regulation through the Army Corps of Engineers protects only a fraction of that which has been done using voluntary methods. The voluntary methods such as the Wetland Reserve program have cost far less than regulation.
Preserving Private Property Ownership
The consistent theme of the speakers was that private ownership should be preserved and that citizen action both politically and in court is the way to insure just compensation.
Dana Berliner, an attorney with the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C., successfully defended an elderly widow from eminent domain by Atlantic City to take her house for a parking lot for Donald Trump's casino. Ms. Berliner said that eminent domain is often a tool for favoritism and is used against certain businesses such as factories just because they're unpopular. The citizen should be on guard to prevent new government entities from receiving the power of eminent domain, to oppose the use of eminent domain even when government has that power, and to strictly limit the power by legislation. For instance, government should be able to condemn property for roads, but not scenic views.
Eminent domain was also the theme of attorney Roger Sullivan of Sullivan, Workman & Dee. He came from Los Angeles to describe the courageous 20-year ordeal of the Gherini family, who won $12.7 million in compensation from the National Park Service for a legislative taking of their pristine land on Santa Cruz Island. Announcing the victory in February, Mr. Sullivan said, "Nothing is more rewarding than fighting a bureaucratic and overreaching government agency and winning."
James Morgan, an attorney in Delmar, described the quest which John and Kathy Salvador have embarked on in federal court. The submerged land they own at their resort, Dunham's Bay Lodge on Lake George, is suitable for expansion of their marina but has been rezoned "residential." They seek compensation and damages for an unconstitutional taking because they were stopped from building the most minimal residence possible, a small floating camp.
Paul Palmieri told the participants about the Coalition of Landowners, Homeowners and Merchants, his new organization on Long Island which is going to bat for property owners.
Chuck Cushman, president of the American Land Rights Association in Battle Ground, Washington, alerted the participants to the need to oppose the Conservation and Reinvestment Act, which would create a trust fund with one billion dollars annually for land acquisition and easements.
A highlight of the conference is the presentation of awards to two individuals who have distinguished themselves in defense of the constitutional right to own and use private property. New York State Assemblyman Robert G. Prentiss (R-C, Albany) bestowed PRFA's Fourth Annual Property Rights Advocate Award to Chuck Cushman. "Chuck has organized more citizens in defense of private property rights in more states, than any other person," said Mr. Prentiss.
The Assemblyman presented PRFA's Third Annual New York State Private Property Rights Defender Award to Allegany Councilman Thomas A. Miller in recognition of his effective defense of small businesses from overbearing zoning and his advisory role to the Property Rights Foundation about arbitrary regulation of independent petroleum producers by New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.
James Bovard, the visionary author of Freedom in Chains, brought the conference to a close by warning against complacency in the face of government excesses, especially property forfeitures. He said that he brings up Waco and Ruby Ridge in his books and speeches because people need to hear the facts. "Government is not just planning meetings; government is deadly force," Mr. Bovard said.
"It's a pleasure to talk to a group like this because you all are bringing about the changes," declared Mr. Bovard.
The Fourth Annual Conference was co-sponsored by American Land Rights Association; Builders Institute of Westchester and Mid-Hudson Region; Civil Property Rights Associates, Inc.; Competitive Enterprise Institute; Coxsackie Awareness Group; Homeowners Against Rent Kontrols; New York LICA; People for the USA; Rent Stabilization Association of New York City; and The JM Foundation.
The Property Rights Foundation of America, which is based in
Stony Creek, N.Y.,
(518) 696-5748, is publishing the full proceedings of the conference, The Best Alternative - Enhancing Private Property Rights. Audio tapes of the conference are now available.
For More Information: Carol W. LaGrasse