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PostPosted: August 20 19, 12:21 am 
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https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2019/08/square-expansion-st-louis-demolition-blight-vacant-dorsey/596299/

What say you, GRB?


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 7:39 am 
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Interesting read. I don't understand how a lot of the stuff works but I did see this snippet that caught my attention.

Quote:
Another recent project is the Metropolitan Sewer District’s ongoing acquisition of vacant city-owned houses, most in the north side—and the subsequent demolition and replacement of them with passive stormwater retention lots. This project is designed to get the district in compliance with a federal court decree mandating reduced stormwater flow into the city’s antiquated combined sewer system. However, in wealthier and whiter parts of the city, a more expensive separation of sewer waters is underway. Only the poor, almost all-black north side gets erasure.


I'm not really sure what the federal court decree involves. Though, in general, combined sewer systems are ... weird. Basically all the storm (rain) runoff and sanitary (toilet, shower, sink, etc) discharge go to a treatment plant via a combined pipe. Due to the nature of the increased peak flows during rain events, there is method for all the runoff and discharge to bypass a lot of the treatment and leave the site. Presumably, the increase in volume that the rain brings dilutes the sanitary discharge enough to be compliant....which is pretty damn gross. But, whatever.

I'd guess in order to be compliant with the federal court decree, they had to bypass less volume. And, rainwater is going to be exponentially higher volumes during rain events than sanitary. So, it makes sense, if you can, to detain the runoff and decrease the flows that way. HOWEVAH, it costs money to buy property and turn them into detention ponds. If the land costs $20K/lot, it makes a lot more sense to go this route than if they have to pay $200K/lot. This is all common sense.

But, what makes me wonder *cough* zeus/lipp *cough*, can a City take two separate approaches despite economics in a City where the separation is largely divided on racial lines?

In this case, it sounds like they're keeping the combined storm/sanitary treatment plants and just buying empty lots to decrease the peak flows into the plants and obtain compliance that way. Yet, in the wealthier areas they are installing separate sanitary sewer pipe and likely modifying the plant to allow storm water to bypass the plant entirely as the sanitary gets removed from the combined pipes. If these different strategies fall largely along racial divides, is that legal?

My guess would be that it is not because the land they use in the poor areas as detention ponds will never be able to be developed again; and even if it was, it would come at a premium to do so which in turn drives down the value of the land.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 9:52 am 
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AWvsCBsteeeerike3 wrote:

But, what makes me wonder *cough* zeus/lipp *cough*, can a City take two separate approaches despite economics in a City where the separation is largely divided on racial lines?


This is a fascinating question and would make an extremely interesting case, if anyone had standing to make the argument. You'd probably need a plaintiff who actually owns one of the vacant homes that is proposed to be torn down to have standing (ie, be affected by the sewer district or city's actions). It's likely not enough to just be someone else living in the community where the teardowns were happening, because their harm is not concrete and particularized to them (as opposed to a general harm suffered by a community or taxpayers as a whole).

Now, if you have that plaintiff, it's a 14th amendment argument - the equal protection clause, specifically. When it comes to equal protection claims and property, the plaintiff would have to argue that two similarly situated pieces of property were treated differently by the city and/or sewer district - one was torn down to try to solve the sewer capacity problem, while elsewhere, a more expensive fix (like installing stormwater detention ponds) was used that let similarly empty buildings stand.

The problem for 14th amendment plaintiffs is that courts will review the city/sewer district's actions using what's called a rational basis test. If the governmental entity has any rational reason whatsoever for what it's done, the plaintiff loses. So in this case, I'm sure the city and sewer district would argue that it is much more cost effective to raze an abandoned building on the north side where costs are very cheap, and build a stormwater pond in a more prosperous and developed part of the city because there aren't cheap buildings to tear down there.

Where it gets complicated is the question of race, and whether the plaintiff can show that the city and sewer district's actions are either motivated by race or have a disparate impact on a particular minority race. It's possible a court might have to apply an intermediate or heightened scrutiny standard to reviewing whether the city/sewer district's actions meet a compelling governmental interest, in order to justify actions that disproportionately affect a minority group. That's a tougher call, but still a tough tough case to make for the plaintiff to show that race was a factor in the actions taken.

Sorry, this is too long of an answer.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 12:30 pm 
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zues' analysis is spot on. I wouldn't take the case. Local governments enjoy a lot of immunity for their decisions - especially for something like addressing sewer and water problems.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 12:32 pm 
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Thanks for the response. Not too long, this is fascinating.

Point of clarification though:

In the poor neighborhoods, they're tearing down houses and using those lots as detention ponds.
In the wealthier neighborhoods, they're building a separate sanitary sewer system.

Let's break it down to a simple math equation.
A + B = C
A is the amount of stormwater runoff from rain
B is the amount of water that's flushed down toilets, sinks/dishwashers/washing machines/showers/etc
C is, well, those two added together and what's going to the treatment plant

Generally speaking, both A and B flow downhill. So, their basins (areas contributing to the size of the pipes) are going to be similar (identical in the case of combined pipes).

It sounds like, due to the treatment plant treating the combination of A and B, the result C is too big and needs to be reduced. In the poor areas, razing houses decreases B, but more importantly when turned into a detention pond, it can greatly reduce A. You might get 0.02 (?) CFS drop in the B number if a house is demolished/taken offline, but you can see somewhere in the vicinity of a 5 cfs reduction in A if the lot can collect enough runoff and store it (though that would take a pretty effective lot and probably isn't typical...probably closer to 1 on average, but still).

In the wealthier areas, they're installing new pipes to collect B. And, A can simply bypass the treatment plant altogether because it's simply rainwater, not poop. Thus, A is completely eliminated from the equation. B = C now and as such the treatment plant is no longer even close to being above capacity.

......

But, here's the issue as I see it.

There's a lot of revitalization going on as the article alludes to. What drives revitalization? Well, cities and developers would argue investment into the area. Take a bad part of town, put some nice restaurants, shops, nightlife, etc and people will be attracted to it and as it grows, so do the crowds, and people spend money, and start to live there, and the City makes money off the tax revenue and property values go up, and yay it's glorious. Maybe, but that's the argument at least and it has worked in some areas, to be sure.

So, given how they're solving their A+B=C issue in the poor areas by using the land as detention ponds to reduce A, how can that land then be developed? I guess, from a City standpoint they just have to maintain mostly similar ordinances and requirement for development across the City unless there is a reason not to. But, they're essentially making the land incapable of being developed as the system can't handle an increase in A which development would increase or be forced to spend excessive money to prevent its increase, more money than a developer would have to spend to develop land where they simply separated A and B which leads to a decrease in value due to increased construction costs.

Or put it this way, in poor neighborhood and wealthy neighborhood, all things being equal except the sewer system, it will cost more to develop in the poor neighborhood simply because the decisions the City made. Of course, the City owns the land so it may all be a moot point....until someone wants to initiate a revitalization project to increase property values but can't.

Sorry for the long post.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 1:23 pm 
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stlouie_lipp wrote:
zues' analysis is spot on. I wouldn't take the case. Local governments enjoy a lot of immunity for their decisions - especially for something like addressing sewer and water problems.

Thanks, just kind of thought they might be approaching that point despite, admittedly, not knowing the full extent of what is going on.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 1:31 pm 
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heyzeus wrote:

This is a fascinating question and would make an extremely interesting case, if anyone had standing to make the argument. You'd probably need a plaintiff who actually owns one of the vacant homes that is proposed to be torn down to have standing (ie, be affected by the sewer district or city's actions). It's likely not enough to just be someone else living in the community where the teardowns were happening, because their harm is not concrete and particularized to them (as opposed to a general harm suffered by a community or taxpayers as a whole).

Looking at just this part about needing a plaintiff, could the plaintiff not be a POA especially if it could be proven that their property values were being decreased due to the actions of the City?

I need to find out more about what's going on, the more I think about it, the more this pisses me off.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 1:44 pm 
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One correction here which may be a bit pedantic but whatever. They are not building retention ponds in place of the building being torn down, they are basically just removing everything from the lot so that it will just overgrow with grass and weeds like other vacant lots that aren't developed. The idea being that the newly exposed dirt and plant like will absorb water from storms and heavy rains and relieve some of the burden from the sewer system where a building or parking lot or whatever would just funnel the water to the system quicker.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 1:58 pm 
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tlombard wrote:
One correction here which may be a bit pedantic but whatever. They are not building retention ponds in place of the building being torn down, they are basically just removing everything from the lot so that it will just overgrow with grass and weeds like other vacant lots that aren't developed. The idea being that the newly exposed dirt and plant like will absorb water from storms and heavy rains and relieve some of the burden from the sewer system where a building or parking lot or whatever would just funnel the water to the system quicker.

Ahhh, gotcha. Makes more sense. So, they're just restoring them to natural conditions more or less, not reducing peak runoffs to below natural conditions. Makes way more sense.


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PostPosted: August 20 19, 2:08 pm 
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Tlombard's correction was what I perceived to be the case as well. That is, no construction of stormwater detention facilities, just letting nature retake the land where a building once stood, and the pervious cover would absorb more rainwater.

>could the plaintiff not be a POA especially if it could be proven that their property values were being decreased due to the actions of the City?

Does that stand for Property Owners Association? (us lawyer dorks usually use that acronym for Power of Attorney). Assuming so...it depends. I'm not a Missouri lawyer. But in Texas, for a property association to have standing to challenge a governmental body's action, that association is going to need to own property that is directly affected. Like, the government is condemning its land, or restricting its use of its land, or forcing stormwater runoff onto its land, etc. It's not enough to say that some governmental action might lead to a decrease in land values, unless that action directly restricts usage of or takes or discharges pollution or stormwater onto the affected property.


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