A Riot of Rebellious Scribbling

The Nov. 28, 2005 edition of Bacon’s Rebellion has been published. We have set a new record for content — 17 columns, plus our regular “Nice & Curious Questions” feature, a new Road to Ruin feature, and sponsored content. People had a lot to say!

You can read the latest edition here.


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9 responses to “A Riot of Rebellious Scribbling”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I see that having left Jerry Kilgore and Ken Hutcheson flattened on the pavement, Phil “Roadkill” Rodokanakis has a new target — Speaker Bill Howell.

  2. Bacon’s Rebellion has outdone itself in the current collection of self-described scribbling.

    In “The Foundation of Babble” E. M. Risse states

    “The major focus of employment uses (sic) take up a very small percentage of the region’s land area. Further, jobs are located in the most efficient place from the perspective of those creating the jobs. (The vast majority of those places are at or near the core of the region. …..”

    This is a major, core premise of his arguments for compact urban areas and he claims that the dispersion of jobs “is a myth” and that is why homes near the job centers are “valued the most” that is, have high prices.

    But here are the facts, with real metrics, as gathered by John McClain of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University and quoted by JJ Ebro in “Edge Cities: Are They Here Yet” as published in the Fauquier Time-Democrat:

    “According to CRA data, in 1950 84 percent of jobs in the Washington region were concentrated in D.C. By 1970, the number of jobs in the suburbs had exceeded those in D.C. This year, the suburbs account for 77 percent of the jobs in the region, with only 23 percent in D.C.” ….”The last figure I remember seeing was that 55 percent to 60 percent of Fauquier residents worked outside the county, …..given current trends, we are going to have a majority of people that reside in the county also working here in about five to seven years.” “”Companies are relocating because their employee base already lives out here, or their owners have moved here and have gotten tired of the commute,” said Bill Chipman, who heads the Warrenton-based Commercial Real Estate Services, Inc.”

    And remember those highly valued homes? “The CRA’s analysis by zip codes showed that the greatest concentration of homes selling for $1.5 million or more were clustered in northwestern Fauquier and southwestern Loudoun counties.”

    I don’t see that EMR advances the cause of conservation and preservation by babbling on with invented arguments that are so easily disproved with readily available facts, provided by a source “without a dog in the fight”, as EMR would say.

    But he is more than willing to take others to task for their views, and even rewrite them according to his own interpretations. As the self-appointed dean emeritus of anti-mobility activists he does this with Rob Atkinson’s argument that there must be some middle ground between trying to build our way out of congestion and what EMR admits is a “strategic stalemate”: linking land use with transportation. If linking land use with transportation is called a strategic stalemate by its chief proponent, then doesn’t sound much like a transportation solution, does it?

    Apparently EMR agrees that people should be allowed to live where they choose as long as they pay their fair share of the location based costs. His notion of the location-based costs is as bogus as his notion about job locations. For example, he claims that large well to do households on large lots make more trips per household and with ten times the vehicle miles traveled. My experience is that I don’t leave the farm unless I have to, and I consolidate all my trips in the most efficient manner. What the facts show is that most households generate the same number of trips, that even in locations where trip lengths are shorter, travel time is not shorter, and congested areas are a locus for increased pollution as a result. Never mind that the people who live on those large lots spend an inordinate amount of time being stewards of the land. Never mind that if people had to pay the full costs of their location decisions, they would move out of urban areas in a wholesale manner: it is the rural areas that don’t have services and largely do without.

    I have argued that rail transport suffers from exactly the same induced travel problem that road building is alleged to have. Apparently EMR agrees because he says we should “ Speed development and deployment of new transportation technologies (as long as the technologies work to balance system capacity with travel demand, not just marginally improve corridor or link capacity which in turn encourages more corridor demand).” Unfortunately, the travel demand already exists, so balancing system capacity with travel demand can only mean one of three things: tear down some houses to reduce demand (what was that about letting people live where they want?), build more capacity, or artificially raise travel costs/reduce travel (and the associated commerce).

    EMR thinks we should “Create regional transportation councils (as long as they are regional transportation and land use agencies and not just transportation “councils”). What does he think those land use agencies are going to do if it is not telling people where they can live?

    It is not just Atkinson’s views that he takes to task. He beats up on Barnie Day for suggesting that some areas might actually be receptive to growth and points out that this kind of misconstrued reality is doubly harmful when it is repeated in Bacon’s Rebellion and the Fauquier Citizen. But he approves of Yak Lubowsky’s article, which was also published in Bacon’s Rebellion and the Citizen.

    Lubowsky’s article is also doubly harmful: it is full of self defeating statements and statements that are just wrong. Referring to free market principles Lubowsky refers to “the farmer choosing instead to sell his ground to a developer, at a premium — because the farm is situated in a desirable community, with good services for which neither of them has paid much or anything” he repeats the argument that is featured by Jolly DeGive in a concurrent letter in the Fauquier Democrat: homes are tax negative and farms pay 300% in taxes of what they cost in services. My farm has been sitting here (dysfuctionally, according to EMR) for close to two hundred years. (That’s just in this family; the farmstead was here long before that.)

    So after paying a 300% premium for all these years (and that is AFTER land use laws came into effect. Who knows what the premium was before we became so enlightened.), here comes Yak telling me I’m some kind of social freeloader if I actually sell my place at market value. Worse, he says “building homes in some places farms now stand makes no economic (or social) sense. Well, when selling the land will bring you more money in interest on the principal than you can make by farming the land, then it is farming that makes no economic sense. According to the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, this happens when farmland is valued at $7000 per acre.

    Considering the losses incurred by farmers in Loudoun, Clarke, and Fauquier counties, a farmer will make more by selling his land than he will make by farming it in a thousand years. What Yak fails to mention in his free market polemic is that the market is not free: it is highly restricted, and that is causing the scarcity that makes land worth $100,000 per acre, or more. If farms were actually allowed to sell wholesale, the value might drop to where it is economic to continue farming, but probably not, or at least not for quite some time. The only economic value in farming is that it allows you to hold out until it is time to sell.

    Yak breezily talks about developers who seek “even more disadvantageous (i.e. socially costly) zoning than they may already exploit “by right”. Now this is a real hoot. In 1986 my farm was zoned for two-acre lots “by right”. Those “rights” were exploited away by zoning advocates without any compensation, yet now Yak thinks these same landowners should pay for impact fees and adequate facilities legislation. The reason he thinks they should pay is to offset the costs of “school crowding, increased noise, traffic, and pollution.” Apparently EMR and YAK think these benefits should be foisted off on some other location that is equally busy imposing impact fees and holding NIMBY development meetings. That’s what you call a strategic stalemate, and what they call a solution to dysfunctional patterns of development (and oddly enough transportation problems and congestion).

    Maybe the reason “Barnie, and many others, confuse efforts to “stop development in the wrong places” with efforts to stop “no growth anywhere.”” is because no one wants growth anywhere near them and “the wrong places”, “inappropriate development” and “dysfunctional patterns” are apparently everywhere. It I easy to use such subjective terms when you don’t have any metrics, the metrics you have are either wrong or invented, and you are unwilling to accept any metrics that are presented as correct.

    Yak is right, the farmer who holds onto his ground is not creating any social costs, (other than higher home prices.) He is also not creating any jobs, any profit, or any increase in equity. He is either flat out wrong when he says that homes are ”overwhelmingly tax negative” or he is admitting that our tax structure is unfair. Maybe if homes were taxed at their full rate, we wouldn’t need impact fees. If Yak and EMR are so in favor of charging full costs, then lets see them run for office on that platform. On the other hand, if an efficient market was charging farms for their true external costs, and if the neighbors who benefit from pastoral views and increased property values were paying their external costs to the farmers, then maybe farmers could afford to stay in business.

    I’m all in favor of internalizing the externalities, as long as the process is uniform, and not slanted toward one groups’ view of what is inappropriate, disadvantageous, dysfunctional, and wrong. At least not without metrics.

    EMR even forgives Yak for babbling with this gem. “Unfortunately Yak is constrained to argue within the parameters that failure of a create a comprehensive vocabulary and an overarching conceptual framework inflicts on discussions of human settlement patterns.”

    Whatever. At least Yak doesn’t go as far as Douglas Morris, who apparently believes that sprawl is the cause of pederasty and serial murders. Yak and EMR have nothing on Trip Pollard. Here is a guy who says “Despite spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars each year, traffic congestion is getting worse, and this approach has contributed significantly to air and water pollution, sprawl, energy dependence, and the destruction of neighborhoods, farmland, forests, and open space.” New road initiatives will “offer minimal transportation benefits, and they would cause considerable damage to communities, farmland, and the environment.” “The highway will cause extensive damage to communities and the environment, including increasing driving in a region that already falls short of health standards for air pollution, and taking an estimated 21 residences and 42 acres of historic properties and parkland, resulting in a major four-lane highway forming the western border of the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Finally, the highway would spur additional sprawl in an area already suffering from rapid, poorly-planned growth.”
    He might as well throw in pederasty, serial murders, obesity, baldness, and rare panda diseases.

    He thinks its time for “a new approach for transportation”. Well, I’m waiting. As soon as someone offers me a new approach that even halfway approximates what autos do, Ill sign up, as long as it is not at twice the cost. He thinks the Tri-county parkway is going to cause new development. That parkway has been under discussion for thirty years, and that argument has been used for thirty years. Right now it is a little out of date, because the development has already happened, as noted by the Center for Regional Analysis.

    He says the need for these projects has not been shown, and follows up in the next paragraph by saying that ”Northern Virginia obviously has serious traffic problems”. I’m obviously missing something that has not been shown.

    “We need to adopt a new approach to transportation.” “…the flawed studies of these controversial proposals largely ignored alternatives for addressing the transportation challenges used to justify them” “No serious analysis was conducted of transit, improvements to existing roads, or other steps to relieve congestion.” “the PPTA is a flawed statute in need of reform.”

    He says the tri county parkway will offer minimal benefits (allowing an additional 150,000 miles of travel while slightly reducing average travel time is not a benefit, I guess.) But he never does get around to what we should do instead.

    Except for the following:
    We should fix our existing roads and bridges, before spending more. So it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Sounds like another strategic stalemate.

    We can’t pay for the roads we have but we should spend more for additional choices in transportation.

    We should get more out of our existing network. Ok, but that won’t be nearly enough.

    We should combine or link travel modes. We haven’t built the other modes yet, and mode swapping is always a time and money loser. You can’t ask for a better way to guarantee this “plan” will fail.

    And, here we go, improve the link between transportation and land use: the good old strategic stalemate, that no one has the foggiest idea of how to implement or what the results will be.

    Guys, listen. I don’t want to see the state paved over either. I have no intention of developing my farm. The environment is important to me, and I spend a lot of time and money working on it. But if you can’t make better arguments than this, then you are guaranteed to fail. You need a clearly articulated plan, with milestones, schedules, and budgets. You need a funding plan that is not expressly designed to screw somebody. You need metrics that can be duplicated and verified and stated dispassionately and without pejoratives or subjectives every third word.

    If you need help, hire me. If you want to save open space, go raise the money and buy some. That is how the market works. But if you want to babble BS or scribble circular logic, don’t expect any kudos from this kid.

  3. Barnie Day Avatar

    I spent the weekend in a fishing cottage on the Chesapeake Bay that was built in the 1950s for probably $1500 but now has a local property tax evaluation exceeding half a million dollars. I’m not sure of the county I was in. The town was small, the neighborhoods mature and “built out,” and the schools were old. There is no commercial development to speak of. So, I’m thinking, ‘why no new growth, what does the local government do with the money it collects?’ The answer to the first was obvious–there is no municipal water and sewer–and there is a high water table precluding additional well and septic tank development. I still don’t know the answer to the second, but the point is this. I quizzed the property owner about his taxes until he got his tax ticket out–one component of it being a “view” valuation. I had not seen that before. But, of course, “viewscape” has market value. The next thought that occurred to me was this: If I own property that my neighbors enjoy looking at, even to the point of being taxed for the gaze privilege, should not some of that tax come to me as compensation or incentive for keeping my property in a fashion that attracts appreciative–and paying–gazers? It is a short leap from that to compensating urban farmers for the viewscapes they provide to all who want to look. Yes? No?

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Ray, You mis-read the significance of the numbers you quote from the Center for Regional Analysis at GMU. There is no question that the District of Columbia accounts for a smaller percentage of jobs in the Washington metro region than it did 30 years ago, and that “the suburbs” account for far more. But the jobs are still center-weighted in the region. A couple of points:

    (1) Former “suburban” jurisdictions like Arlington, Alexandria, parts of Fairfax and parts of Montgomery County are rapidly urbanizing — adopting urban densities and development patterns. In other words, the region’s urban core is expanding. It only confuses the issue to refer to Arlington County as a “suburban” district. It is, in fact, urban.

    (2) The study does not take into account the reality that many low-density “exurban” counties outside the metropolitan area are, in fact, a part of what Ed Risse refers to as the “New Urban Region.” Residents of those exurban bedroom counties, many of which lay beyond Fauquier, commute to job centers closer to the urban core. Very few jobs are moving out to those exurban counties.

    (3) The economics of business location have not changed. Primary businesses like Northern Virginia’s tech companies usually want to locate where they can draw upon the largest labor pool. By locating close to the core, if not in it, they can tap a larger pool than if they locate on the periphery. Yes, some will pursue a contrarian strategy of moving into the bedroom communities in the hope of hiring employees looking for a shorter commute, but those numbers are relatively small as a percentage of the whole.

    Thus, Risse’s framework for analysis has not been disproven by the facts, as you claim. If you look more closely at the numbers, you will see that they confirm his analysis.

  5. Maybe. At least if the numbers are open to interpretation we have a point of departure as opposed to a blanket and unsupported declaration. Still, going from 84% to 23% sounds like job dispersion to me, especially if it involves a lot of new jobs.

    Formerly suburban areas are becoming urban (which might not be such a good idea) and formerly rural areas are becoming suburban. In England, planners have recognized this and reconciled themselves to the facts. Fredericksburg, Culpeper and Winchester are growing, and to a lesser extent Front Royal, Strasburg, and Woodstock.

    Those large lots and small farms that EMR derides are supported by jobs, not farming. As more jobs exist farther out, where more land is available, more people will be able to afford being stewards of the land. It doesn’t happen for free.

    Chipman thinks Fauquier will be a job center in five to seven years. Since the periphery has more area it has or will have more people available than the core. The “labor” those tech industries desire are unlikely to be in the economic strata that chooses to live in the core.

    Barnie has latched onto an idea I have been promoting for years. Many people want to save farmscapes precisely because they know that they enhance the value of neighboring properties. That argument suggests that promoting what EMR calls a minimum density of three homes per acre is not going to sell well. Having you rhome next to open space is the second best value enhancer: the first is having a horse facility on your property, and the third is being close to shopping. There is the conundrum.

    New Zealand already has a program to compensate farms for their environmental benefits, in addition to production subsidies, and favorable taxes. If you want to save farms, stop taxing them to death, and make them profitable. If you think homes are tax negative, then raise the taxes, just don’t plan to get elected that way.

    But, if we all pay each other for every externality, a lot of money is going to change hands for very little production.

    I hope not to develop the farm, but I don’t know what the economic future will bring. If I do sell, it will go to the highest bidder, so anyone who wants to preserve land should figure out how to be in that position.

    In the meantime, I’m restoring 200 year old structures, without help, and it is not cheap, even with my own labor. I don’t see nonsense as promoting the cause.

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Who owns the land – really? What rights do the owners have? What restrictions,incentives and disincentives do governments place on property owners – and this is what really needs to be chatted out – WHY?

    Then, my pet project or Quixotic inquiry, what principles should be applied and handed over to the next generation in the Code of Virginia and local laws and regulations? Many questions will fall out of this discussion, like what should be the Principles of Taxation? As opposed to the Willy Sutton practical rationales applied today.

  7. Right. In England ALL development rights are nationalized.

    In Oregon, they were effectively controlled at the state level until voters rebelled under an initiative action. Subsequently a judge overturned the initiative as unconstitutional. Curiously, his argument was the exact opposite of previous case law that was used to support the land use laws when they were enacted.

    A new initiative is under way to recall the judge.

    It will be curious to see if the people can actually write the laws they wish to live under or if they will be written by “A Thousand Friends of Each Other”.

    In Fauquier, I am restricted only to farming. Any other activity, even if farm related, requires a special exception permit. This can take years and involves NIMBY hearings. On average, every farm in the county is losing $2000 per year. If you take out the top ten farms that get large agricultural subsidies, the number is more like $7000 per year loss. For this, we get taxed at 300% of what we cost the county, and we expect to bear the brunt of new Bay regulations.

    The current regulations are set up so you cannot do one lot: you pretty much have to do a full subdivision and involve a developer. Local builders are dead meat.

    My supervisor told me in so many words that he hoped someone wealthy would buy my place so it could be put in easement.

    That is what it comes down to now: someone else’s subjective judgement, absent any economic thought.

  8. E M Risse Avatar

    Jim:

    Thank you for coming behind Hyde and cleaning up some of the mess he makes. You did a nice job of pointing out his threshold misconceptions. Hopefully readers will understand that most of his points are misconceptions, be it intentional or happenstance.

    Now that Mr. Hyde has apparently retired to spend his time posting his “observations,” you may need to hire someone to work full time to clean up behind him. His observations on Road To Ruin re West Main in C’ville were irrelevant and / or oblivious to the core function of shared-vehicle systems supporting viable urban fabric.

    It is a shame because Hyde is sometimes quite observant, has traveled more than most, has unlimited time to surf the web and retains information.

    Unfortunately he lacks a comprehensive conceptual framework to orient his thinking and lacks a robust vocabulary with which to express his ideas.

    In fact Hyde is a poster child for the most severe form of Geographic Illiteracy. When one says “I am lost, I do not know where I am” there is hope. When one claims to be Geographically Literate and makes the sort of statements he does, it is like drunk saying he can drive a car just fine if he can find the door to get behind the wheel.

    Hyde is consistent. His points always tend to justify his idea of scattering urban housing around his and other land holdings in the Countryside.

    Until he takes the time to do just what you suggest: “look more closely at the numbers” and their context, he will continue to generate more fog than insight.

    EMR

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Sure, why not. Numbers don’t mean anything, call your opponent and idiot, declare victory, and retreat without a valid response.

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