• Urban Law Bulletin

The Urban Law Bulletin: April 4, 2019

The Urban Law Bulletin is a bi-weekly e-newsletter highlighting significant news and legal developments in the field of urban law

Housing and Development #housing

Why California Is Suing Its Own Cities

Recently elected California governor, Gavin Newsom set a goal of building 3.5 million new housing units over the next seven years. While such a goal might be more of an aspiration than a reality, Newsome has begun his work toward it. He has sued the city of Huntington Beach for its noncompliance with a 2017 state law that requires the long term plans of a city to include a “housing element for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing.” While California has passed many comprehensive housing laws in recent years, Newsom is acting on the notion that compliance will only come through enforcement. Additionally, Newsome’s new budget request includes more than $2 billion for housing and anti-homelessness programs, with a sizeable portion earmarked to help local governments with planning. Housing activists hope that Newsom’s dual approach will substantially improve the availability of affordable housing in California.


California Gov. Gavin Newsom (AP)

Urban Planning and Space #planning

If Your City Wants Equitable Job Growth, It Has to Zone for It

Hotels, self-storage providers, tech companies, nightclubs, and bars are among the businesses that have been recently invading areas zoned for “light manufacturing” in New York City. This trend has forced manufacturers to move out of the city, and take many much-needed jobs with them. No longer can hourly workers who live in the affordable housing units typically located in close proximity to manufacturing zones easily commute to their jobs. To address this problem, in December 2018 New York City Council approved a change to the zoning code that requires hotels to seek a special permit to develop in areas zoned for light manufacturing. The zoning change comes on the heels of Mayor de Blasio’s 10-point Industrial Action Plan, which includes funding for nonprofit industrial developers. These nonprofit developers have quickly become the stewards of manufacturing space in the city. Still, according to Armando Moritz-Chapelliquen, senior economic development organizer for the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, “zoning is really what’s going to be the foundation for everything else.”


This discount hotel in a Queens manufacturing zone was recently sold for $36.5 million. (Photo by Oscar Perry Abello)

City Administration and Urban Governance #administration

LA Settles Homeless Property Rights Case

In 2016, a group of homeless residents filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles alleging that government actors violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seized and destroyed the homeless residents’ property, including blankets and medication. One month after the suit was filed, a judge ordered the city to stop seizing items without evidence “that it is abandoned, presents an immediate threat to public health/safety, is evidence of a crime, or is contraband.” Nearly three years later, the Los Angeles City Council has voted to settle the case. While the exact terms of the settlement agreement have not been released, the decision is sure to have wide-reaching implications for the property rights of homeless L.A. residents and will curb law enforcement’s ability to seize property from homeless encampments.


More than 2,000 people live without shelter in Downtown. Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Urban Planning and Space #planning City, Meet County: St. Louis Weighs Historic Merger

A St. Louis think tank put forward a formal proposal to merge the City of St. Louis with St. Louis County. Supporters of the proposed city-county merger assert that the deep fragmentation between the City and the County has led to regional problems such as “excessive public spending, poor municipal credit ratings, fierce competition for sales tax dollars, and a patchwork of local courts in St. Louis County that are primarily used not to render justice, but to generate revenue from things like traffic stops and fines for overgrown grass.” Through consolidation, St. Louis would become the 10th largest city in America and, supporters say, expand economic development to the outer boundaries of the County. Missouri voters will ultimately vote to decide whether to proceed with the merger, which, if approved, will be “among the most ambitious in modern U.S. history, due to the size of the populations involved.”


St. Louis City and County could merge by a vote on a statewide ballot. Jeff Roberson/AP

Public Health #health

Opioid Lawsuits Intensify as Hundreds of Cities and Counties Sue Sackler Family

Purdue Pharma was sued in joint litigation for "allegedly fueling the opioid crisis with deceptive marketing.” The lawsuit's plaintiffs include cities and counties in over 25 states and several Native American nations. The complaint charged eight members of the Sackler family and focused on Purdue’s business practices, including its “false marketing tactics [that] created an overwhelming demand” for addictive prescription medication and an alleged failure to report doctors that over-prescribed such medications. While previous suits had targeted Purdue, the manufacturer of many opioid drugs, this suit also targets the Sackley family which owns and controls the company. In sum, there have been over 1,000 lawsuits filed against Purdue in various states.

Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion #equality

How Cities Can Help Entrepreneurs of Color Scale Up

Entrepreneurs of color have long faced unique obstacles to business ownership. New efforts have been taken to help support their endeavors, “especially in high-growth sectors.” For example, the Blackstone Challenge in Chicago, a three-year effort to “advance entrepreneurship in underserved communities”, funds organizations “that recruit and support entrepreneurs of color as well as women, veteran, and immigrant entrepreneurs.” However, these efforts are insufficient in fully aiding entrepreneurs of color. Five interventions city leaders could undertake to help boost support include: building more capacity to support entrepreneurs of color, targeting support in sectors with large demand from large organizations and government agencies, creating inclusive and industry-specific entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs), investing in collaboration amongst existing organizations, and ensuring access to capital from multiple channels.

(AP/Mel Evans)

Scholarship Corner #scholarship

In 2014, the world caught up with local governments in the global race against climate change. That year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) embraced the critical role of municipal governments in mitigating the causes of climate change… For decades, the legal and practical ability of municipal governments to shape human settlements in ways that lower CO2 emissions and enhance biological sequestration has been clear to land use practitioners. The recognition of a key role for the grassroots level of government is consistent with an impressive body of theoretical work by scholars who focus on the relative competencies of various levels of government. Notwithstanding this practical progress and these strong theoretical underpinnings, until recently the role of local governments in mitigating climate change was largely ignored internationally.”

John R. Nolon, Low Carbon Land Use: Paris, Pittsburgh, and the IPCC, 40 U. Ark. Little Rock L. Rev. 661 (2018).

Now Available: Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities

Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities is a collaborative scholarly focus on comparative and global perspectives in the growing field of urban law. This brand new volume offers diverse insights into urban law, with emerging theories and analyses of topics ranging from criminal reform and urban housing, to social and economic inequality and financial crises, and democratization and freedom for individual identity and space. Particularly now, social, economic, and cultural issues must be closely examined in conjunction with the rule of law not only to address inadequate access to basic services, but also to construct long-term plans for our cities and our world. The book is now available from Routledge here.

Global Perspectives in Urban Law: The Legal Power of Cities (Nestor M. Davidson & Geeta Tewari eds., Routledge 1st ed. 2018) #international



We thank the Urban Law Center's Urban Law Student Fellows for assisting in preparation of The Bulletin, which provides news in major areas of urban law, and categorizes the stories as follows:

· City Administration and Urban Governance #administration

· City-State Relations and Preemption #preemption

· Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion #equality

· Environment and Sustainability #sustainability

· Housing and Development #housing

· International/Global Urban Law #international

· Law and Justice #justice

· Public Health #health

· Technology #technology

· Transportation and Infrastructure #transportation

· Urban Mobility #mobility

· Urban Planning and Space #planning


If you have an article, legal decision, or commentary that you would like to share in an upcoming Bulletin, please e-mail it to urbanlaw@fordham.edu.


Subscribe to The Urban Law Bulletin here.


The Urban Law Center at Fordham University School of Law

Nestor M. Davidson

Faculty Director, Urban Law Center


Geeta Tewari

Associate Director, Urban Law Center


Urban Law Student Fellow Lead Contributor

Thomas Lloyd


Urban Law Student Fellow Contributors

Emma DeCourcy

Victoria Lee

Steven Stern

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