Homestead Axe

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As urban gardeners are evicted in Los Angeles, Rad Geek makes the libertarian case for the squatters.

On a related note, I recommend Sarah Ferguson's history of community gardens in New York.

Update: More commentary here. Some ugly allegations about the L.A. farm's leaders are here. A reply to the allegations is here. Another Sarah Ferguson article on New York's gardens is here. Hernando De Soto's classic Reason piece on the squatters who built America is here.

NEXT: Cut in Half, Doubled, Whatever

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  1. Why doesn’t Daryl Hannah just write a check for the place?

  2. Because the owner will not sell to her.

  3. I don’t think Horowitz should be made into the bad guy here. As long as eminent domain is legal, he hasn’t done anything wrong. If you have a problem with eminent domain (which I do), then take it up with the SCOTUS. Until it’s ruled unconstitutional, then Horowitz is just acting on his right to do whatever he wants with property her legally purchased.

  4. Who should she make the check out to? The people who homesteaded it for the past 13 years while it was city-owned and vacant, or the person who owned a share of it prior to then and has now been awarded full ownership by the city?

  5. There’s more ad hominem in the Rad Geek post than you can shake a celery stalk at. But I was blindsided by the fact that somehow it’s all Wal-Mart’s fault. Should have seen it coming. Damn evil “robber barons!”

  6. Guess this just goes to show that the Law of Unintented Consequences applies to eminent domain abuse as much as it does to any other gov’t program.

  7. Better put on your reading glasses, Ed. He didn’t claim that it was all Wal-Mart’s fault. Or even that it was partially Wal-Mart’s fault.

    You want ad hominem, go after the people whose reaction to the conflict is to ignore the actual history of the land & instead make wisecracks about celebrities.

  8. Well, the money was supposedly raised but those hippies pissed off the owner so much he would never voluntarily sell to them.

    Hannah was on Larry King saying that they had originally “bought the land by eminent domain” and that the owner sued to get his land back but that him winning his own land back was somehow “an illegal ruling.”

    I dont see how I can have any empathy for those who believe they are entitled to land through eminent domain.

    Thats what SHE said anyway, but maybe she just doesnt know how to speak or have a coherent though.. I’m confused now. Who got it through eminent domain? The way she was talking, I thought the farmers got it through eminent domain. Was it actually the current owner who took it from THEM?

  9. Send the squatters to Seattle.

  10. I could not have imagined a more idiotic argument. The City stole that land (never mind that eminent domain is legal), so therefore NOBODY owns it?

    Stolen goods belong to the first person who manages to grab hold of them? Yes, how very libertarian.

    Anyway, the city owned the land, even if it lay unused, even if they obtained it through eminent domain. They sold it to Horowitz for $5 million, which benefited the entire population of Los Angeles. Case closed.

    And please, people, don’t call yourselves “libertarian democrats” if you believe there’s anything even remotely “libertarian” about redistributive taxation. You’ve already ruined two wonderful words: progressive and liberal. I know thievery is in your blood, but please, let us keep at least the word “libertarian”. Have some decency.

  11. JD: First of all, they aren’t hippies. I think most of them are immigrants.

    The city seized the land through eminent domain for a completely different project that it never followed through & built. Rather than let the land sit vacant, the farmers homesteaded it. They’ve held it for over a decade.

    The person who has now acquired the land is one of the original owners, though according to Rad Geek he held only a share of the property before the seizure.

    So it’s complicated.

  12. “Horowitz planned to force the farmers off of his land, so he could develop it by tearing down the farms they had spent the past decade cultivating and putting up a warehouse on the seized land for ? guess who? ? good old Wal-Mart.”

    OK, it’s not all Wal-Mart’s fault.
    But why drag them into the story if not for propaganda points?

  13. “Was it actually the current owner who took it from THEM?”

    The best description I’ve see is as follows:

    Horowitz, who is the guy who bought it from the city, was part of a partnership that owned about 80% of the land at issue when the city seized it thru eminent domain in the ’80s, seeking to make, IIRC, an incinerator. That fell through because of NIMBY, and the land sat vacant for a while, until riots or somesuch and the city then leased it to some non-profit who let the farmers work the land.

    Horowitz has now bought the ENTIRE property (not just his partnership share of the 80% he actually owned previously) from the city.

    As a purely legal matter, Horowitz is clearly the legal owner.

    From a moral standpoint, it’s going to depend on how you justify property rights, and whether you believe the city ever had valid ownership. But it certainly is misleading for people to categorize the story as “Horowitz getting back the property that he lost”. He got back that, plus a whole lot more.

  14. But why drag them into the story if not for propaganda points?

    Because they’re part of the story? So he can link to an old post about Wal-Mart? Because he likes to go off on tangents? Or, yeah, maybe to score with Wal-Mart haters? Who knows?

    At any rate, “He might put up a warehouse for Wal-Mart” does not equal “It’s Wal-Mart’s fault.”

  15. How is this libertarian in the least? You link to Rad Geek, who quotes that garbage “brownfemipower”, no doubt a link full of wonderful references to the free market. And, like it or not, the original owner is entitled to most of that land, it sounds like the city made restitution for wrongfully stealing the land in the first place.

    Simple fact: Horowitz, through a company OWNED the land; city took land (legally, but not morally right) and OWNED it…it was theirs to give. Yet again, a problem with government, but it’s Horowitz’s land because it was the city’s to give. Period.

  16. the farmers homesteaded it

    You can’t homestead land that someone else owns (except for the Indians, that is).

    Either we have land ownership in this country, or we don’t.

  17. Woozle,

    please don’t pretend that you are in any way a libertarian if you’re going to say this:

    “Anyway, the city owned the land, even if it lay unused, even if they obtained it through eminent domain. They sold it to Horowitz for $5 million, which benefited the entire population of Los Angeles. Case closed.”

    Each sentence violates principles of libertarian thought so profoundly that I’m guessing you got your concept of “libertarian” from Insta-sellout.

  18. Quasibill:

    Private ownership of land violates the fundamentals of libertarianism?

    Or you think eminent domain is profoundly illiberal? Well, it’s in the Constitution, like it or not.

    And I sure as hell don’t want to go changing the Bill of Rights.

  19. Look, obviously Horowitz’s history with the land makes this a more complicated case than those New York squatters who planted their gardens in entirely abandoned lots.

    But he hasn’t held (his share of) the land for a long time. His company was compensated way back in the ’80s. Other people have built something on it since then.

    If it isn’t a pure example of homesteading, then, well, I don’t know if this fits the legal definition of adverse possession, but it smells a bit like that to me.

    (And yes, AR, the “brownfemipower” quote is…well, let’s say it doesn’t add much to the argument.)

  20. I posted over on the other blog the following question, which determines how I’ll feel about this case:

    …I?m curious about one aspect: What did the leaseholder, the LA Regional Food Bank, do when the city sold the parcel back to the investor? What were the terms of their lease (yearly? a decade? month-to-month)? Was the rent approximately what the city would have recieved in tax payments, or was it an expediency like a ?$1 per year? lease? Was there an explicit option for the city to sell the plot from under the lease to any buyer? Did the food bank disclose to the sub-leasing farmers any of these considerations?

    It seems that either the LA Regional Food Bank would be organizationally interested in maintaining the farms, or it?s a pseudo-government shell and legalistic fig leaf that existed to execute some legalistic steps. Either is the way it is. But how I feel about the farmers? rights really depends upon the rights, privileges and activities of the food bank organization with respect to the land.

  21. “Or you think eminent domain is profoundly illiberal? Well, it’s in the Constitution, like it or not.”

    Well, there ya go. If it’s in the sacred constitution then it’s got to be libertarian, right? Come on.

    BTW, there’s also good discussion over at the Mises blog:

    http://blog.mises.org/archives/005185.asp#comments

  22. Who should she make the check out to?

    Whoever holds title.

    As a purely legal matter, Horowitz is clearly the legal owner.

    There you have it.

    But it certainly is misleading for people to categorize the story as “Horowitz getting back the property that he lost”. He got back that, plus a whole lot more.

    As long as it wasn’t seized for him (and it wasn’t) and he paid fair market value for it, I don’t see anything wrong here.

    The “squatters” have no claim to the land unless and until they meet the adverse possession requirements, which they don’t. So sorry, but c’mon, they got the free use of it for years, so I’m not shedding any tears.

    I’m no fan of eminent domain, but this doesn’t sound like a case of abuse to me. The land was originally seized for a legitimate public purpose, and sold when the city determined not to use it for that purpose.

  23. I’ve got to say that I’m having an awfully hard time finding a libertarian angle in support of the urban farmers. They had a good deal, using land that was on lease from the city.

    The city, which owned the land (via machinations that are, quite frankly wholly irrelevant to the current conflict), sold it, terminating that lease.

    If I own an apartment building, and sell it to someone who’s planning to raze it, do my former tenants somehow have an ownership interst in the building? Depending upon the language in our lease contract, I may owe them something if the terms of their leases were not up, but that’s it.

    Use does not grant ownership.

  24. “People” like simple solutions- I offered one.

    The issue of ownership seemed to be unnecessarily, and perhaps intentionally so, muddled in the linked article. If we take Eminent Domain to be a fact, however unpleasant we may find that fact to be, and the city’s claim to the land is not genuinely in dispute, then they can sell the parcel to anybody they choose, at whatever price they deem to be acceptable.

    The issue of Horowitz’ previous ownership position is basically irrelevant, except in relation to the terms of the deal. The price seemed to me to be pretty low- there was no mention of the original cost of the acquisition under Eminent Domain.

    If Horowitz now has clear title to the land, then it a potential solution to the problem would in fact be for some person or group to buy the land, and re-establish the lease or whatever terms provide for the farming activities. This, naturally, requires that the “willing buyer/ willing seller” requirement be met.

    ps- good luck outbidding Wal Mart

  25. Jesse-

    A pure definition of homesteading is when you occupy land unowned by anyone, even the government. Now, we can go round and round and say the government can’t really own anything because it’s really our money, yadda yadda. But, as odious as eminent domain is, it’s the law, and legally speaking there was an owner, and you can’t homestead owned land.

    What do you think?

  26. The case can be made for the “farmers” from a “libertarian” viewpoint (if there is such a thing as a libertarian after all the fragmentation and dilution of the concept) only if at some point the ownership of the land had reverted back to– no one. Then one could take a moral stance that a person (or persons) who occupies unowned land and improves it over time has a legitimate claim to it. That’s the original idea behind “homesteading.” But squatters are just that. If they don’t have legal title to the land, tough tomatoes.

  27. A pure definition of homesteading is when you occupy land unowned by anyone, even the government.

    What would that definition do to the Homestead Act? The land opened to settlement, after all, was formally owned by “the public.”

  28. Jesse, I still don’t see how that applies in this case. This was a simple lease agreement, terminated by the landowner, end of story. Full. Stop.

  29. There’s nothing unlibertarian about recognizing the rights of homesteaders. If property is abandoned and then maintained by some other party for some set length of time, and during that time the deed holder asserts no claim, then ownership transfers to the party who has made productive use of the property. I am a big supporter of property rights, and salvage and homestead rights are part and parcel to good libertarian governance.

    Jesse,
    Good post, good comments. Keep up the fight.

    joe,
    Where are you? Please come tell us how the city is acting above board and in the best interests of the community, and how these squatters have no rights and should just shut up and go away.

  30. When was the property abandoned, Warren? It was leased by the city to the group that allowed the farming to take place, which would seem to me to be a claim assertion, right there.

  31. Jesse, I still don’t see how that applies in this case. This was a simple lease agreement, terminated by the landowner, end of story. Full. Stop.

    The Homestead Act doesn’t apply in this case! I only brought it up to dispute AR’s overly narrow definition of homesteading.

    It’s not completely clear to me, by the way, whether the lease agreement preceded or followed the first steps to farm the land. The sources I’ve seen say that the farm has been there for either 13 or 14 years. But according to the New Standard piece that Rad Geek references, the lease began in July 1994. Maybe the references to 13- or 14-year periods are inaccurate. Or maybe the lease came about because some people were already planting food there (which would follow the New York pattern).

  32. Warren:

    if that reasoning of yours ever gains legal force, the only consequence will be a COMPLETE ban on squatting and homesteading by property owners.

    You steal one man’s property by claiming misuse, you can be damn sure no one else will allow his property to be stolen in that way again.

    I’m talking tall fences.. and maybe a few photographs hanging on walls as a free “art gallery”.

    In short, there will be no such thing as “abandoned property” in the future.

    But the City of Los Angeles (and thus, its citizens) will lose $5 million.

    All because you think land use is a precondition for land ownership. I’m even afraid to think what’s going to happen if this reasoning is applied to semi-rural suburbanites who own large swathes of UNUSED woodland. What if someone decides to grow a patch of carrots on their land?

  33. The Homestead act specifically offered title to the land in exchange for settling on the land and making improvements; I believe there was a dollar amount related to the improvements, but cannot recall specifically.

    The city LEASED the land, indicating a clear intention to retain title. This may be personally upsetting to the “farmers” but they should have expected that some day it would happen. Again I suggest that some person or group might be moved to step in and fulfil the “need” for urban subsistence farming.

    ——

    I think Eminent Domain should be abolished. If a municipality or other govt entity wants land, they should be required to purchase that land on the open market.

  34. Jesse- OOPS; didn’t see your Homestead post before I pulled the trigger. I thought you knew better.

  35. What a terrible assertion, that any unused land that no one makes a claim on is suddenly ?up for grabs?. So, what, now I can?t just leave my car sit if I choose to do so? I mean, it?s just sitting there, I mean, yeah, I have title and all, but I am not ?mixing it with my labor? or ?making productive use of it.?

    But I am really just making the excellent point Woozle?s already made; you can do what you want with owned land, including not making use of it. The only reason anarchos invented this shady ?mixing with labor? was to thwart government title-granting abilities.

    And Jesse, nice try, but if ?the public? owned the land and granted the government the right to make a decision as to what to do with it, then the Homestead Act is a legitimate use of said property rights, just as any other owner-made decision would be.

  36. My point involved the use of the word homesteading, AR, not the legitimacy of the homesteading law.

    As for Warren’s argument, there’s a pretty wide gap between recognizing property abandonment — something the law already does, by the way — and saying any property not currently being used is abandoned. I don’t think Warren wants to steal your car.

  37. Okay, Jesse, but in what way was this property abandoned? Executing a lease agreement pertaining to the land in question is a clear “use” of the property.

  38. Any way you look at it, Daryl Hannah up a nut tree is damned funny.

  39. In short, there will be no such thing as “abandoned property” in the future.

    This is just false. Property is abandoned because the owner finds it a liability to maintain. You are assuming that the property is always of value and therefore nobody would ever walk away from it, which simply isn’t so.

    Since in this case the city was leasing the land, that would nominally entitle it to terminate the lease and sell the property. However, Jesse makes good points on the validity of the city’s ownership, which complicate the issue.

    So, what, now I can?t just leave my car sit if I choose to do so?
    The hell? You think you can do that now. Just walk away from your car for seven years and expect it to be there when you come back. Of course you can put your property in storage, you are still asserting your title by assuming the expense of ownership. However, if you abandon your property you forfeit your rights to it.

  40. Send the squatters to Seattle.

    God no.

    What a lovely little tangled mess. Maybe after the government siezed the property in the 80’s and then didn’t use it for the intended purpose they should have offered it back to the original owners at that time? (We’ve got similar situations going on in Seattle right now after the aborted monorail project.)

    In the LA case, just to muddy the waters more, over at Defamer a commenter Onalius noted:

    Which Way LA had the complete rundown of this yesterday. (http://www.kcrw.com/show/ww) There were four parties involved:
    Mr. Horowitz- the landowner
    The Farmers- both the actual gardeners and their two leaders (who our little Miss Annelle was supporting)
    The Community- Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles, who wanted to turn the space into both a community garden and soccer field/park
    The Annenberg Foundation- the benefactor

    The Annenberg Foundation wanted to purchase the land, but wanted the two stake holders (gardeners and citizens) to agree on a plan for the land before moving forward. But the gardners wouldn’t even meet with the community. Turns out the two leaders of the gardeners have basically turned it into a business. They charge sometime like $1000/year to rent a plot. Many people had multiple plots and used them to grow produce to sell. So much for their Marxist views. This is who DH was supporting. What a trip! On top of that, these two pissed off Mr. Horowitz to the point that he refused to sell at all. Way to go Daryl!

    And I too am waiting to hear joe’s take on this.

  41. Clean Hands: I understand that the city retained its claim to the land it swiped, and I’m sure an abandonment argument would be laughed out of court. I think the farmers have a strong moral claim. That doesn’t mean they have a strong legal claim.

  42. Okay, Jesse, but in what way was this property abandoned? Executing a lease agreement pertaining to the land in question is a clear “use” of the property.

    The lease was executed well after the original squatters took up residence, er, farm on the land.

    From everything I’ve been able to google on it, the first lease agreement showed up two years after the first garden.

  43. RC Dean,

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

  44. Clean Hands,

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

    What about the little guy?

  45. Warren,

    At what point did I ever write that cities always do the right thing with their land?

    Oh, that’s right, NEVER. As a matter of fact, I’ve almost always been the only one on any thread vaguely touching the issue of land ownership who’s stated that the merits of the cases are worth discussing. I guess you missed that part.

  46. The only reason anarchos invented this shady “mixing with labor” was to thwart government title-granting abilities. – Ayn Randian

    OK, if you consider John Locke an “anarcho.”

    Sec. 27. Though the earth, and all inferior creatures, be common to all men, yet every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature hath placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it, that excludes the common right of other men: for this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to, at least where there is enough, and as good, left in common for others. CHAP. V. – Of Property, – The Second Treatise of Civil Government

    C’mon, guys, do the reading!

    I echo sentiments above that the crux of the quandry is the terms of the lease between the city and the gardening co-op. What indemnity, if any, is due the organization, its members or clients, if the lease was terminated early by the sale of the property?

    Kevin

  47. Oooo… that changes my mind completely, joe. I forgot all about the sacred “little guy.”

    The “little guy” should know that he can’t go grabbing up property that is owned by someone else, and then expect that the owner will never want it back.

    Why is this even an issue, for crying out loud?

  48. I must not be using my google thingamabob correctly because I can’t find the terms of the current lease, or the most recent lease that was broken with the sale.

  49. “I’m even afraid to think what’s going to happen if this reasoning is applied to semi-rural suburbanites who own large swathes of UNUSED woodland. What if someone decides to grow a patch of carrots on their land?”

    If you didn’t rouse yourself to check your land for ten years, to the point that somebody else established their livelihood farming it, then some degree of abandonment has taken place, and the farmer has at least enough of a claim to keep working the land.

  50. John Locke’s wisdom still comepels these centuries later. Farming, working the land productively (not working ON the land, mind you, and not extracting from the land, but actualling mixing your labor with the land itself to cooperatively produce value) is a special case.

    Analyzing this situation from the point of view of commercial property right – that is, viewing land only as an object with a certain monetary value as described on a deed – is insufficient.

  51. I read here that the city was leasing it on a month-to-month basis. I would have assumed that this meant the farming community was OK with the terms of the lease. It actually sounds like a clusterfuck of wishful thinking and half-truthful communications on the part of the farm’s managers.

    http://kcet.org/lifeandtimes/archives/200606/20060606.php

  52. Analyzing this situation from the point of view of commercial property right – that is, viewing land only as an object with a certain monetary value as described on a deed – is insufficient.

    So if I come over and set up a truck garden in your backyard, I then own your backyard?

  53. Farming, working the land productively (not working ON the land, mind you, and not extracting from the land, but actualling mixing your labor with the land itself to cooperatively produce value) is a special case.

    And non-urban farmers (real farmers, that is) who lease their land can quit paying on their leases?

  54. Your concept of property ownership seems more and more slippery with every passing day, joe.

  55. Thanks Bee!

    Well, it was a month-to-month lease agreed upon by the gardeners representatives. Sorry kids – should have negotiated a better deal for yourselves.

  56. “So if I come over and set up a truck garden in your backyard, I then own your backyard?”

    If you put anything in my back yard, I’ll have it removed and sue you for the cost. Or, grant you permission. Or do something about the situation. That’s the difference here.

    “And non-urban farmers (real farmers, that is) who lease their land can quit paying on their leases?” No no, too far. If they’re working land informally for years, with no action taken by the landowners, they gain some status.

    “Your concept of property ownership seems more and more slippery with every passing day, joe.” Tell it John Locke, buddy. Your inability to recognize the complications doesn’t make the situation any simpler.

  57. Your concept of property ownership seems more and more slippery with every passing day, joe.

    Farmers, mass transit and blight. It all goes together for uncle joe.

  58. “So if I come over and set up a truck garden in your backyard, I then own your backyard?”

    I haven’t seen any of the LA farmers claiming ownership – just the right to purchase the land, or to keep paying rent to use it.

  59. If you put anything in my back yard, I’ll have it removed and sue you for the cost. Or, grant you permission. Or do something about the situation. That’s the difference here.

    You’re not paying attention, joe.

    The city did do something about the situation. Now the’ve done something else about it.

    “And non-urban farmers (real farmers, that is) who lease their land can quit paying on their leases?” No no, too far. If they’re working land informally for years, with no action taken by the landowners, they gain some status.

    Oh, okay. So only if they steal the land do they gain status. That’s the kind of moral clarity I’ve come to expect from you.

    Quoting Locke to justify theft is pretty funny, BTW.

  60. “I haven’t seen any of the LA farmers claiming ownership – just the right to purchase the land, or to keep paying rent to use it.”

    Their RIGHT to purchase is not in dispute- just their ABILITY.

  61. I haven’t seen any of the LA farmers claiming ownership – just the right to purchase the land, or to keep paying rent to use it.

    They have a right to offer these things, but they have no right to impose their offer on the property owner.

  62. Even something dropped in a garbage can belongs to the original owner until he makes a very clear statement disclaiming the property

    Uh Woozle, isn’t dropping something in the trash can a clear statement disclaiming the property? That’s why the cops can search your trash. Or do you need to put everything you put in the trash in writing to disclaim it?

  63. Well, one thing seems clear – even if the urban farmers were to win this battle they will make it next to impossible to ever have another urban farm set up on unused land in the future. Imagine a property owner that has a parcel of land but for whatever reason doesn’t wish to use it now but wishes to develop it sometime in the next 10 years or so. It would otherwise seem a win-win situation for him to allow its use as an urban farm or something similar in the interim. He doesn’t loose anything and the farmers gain the use of the land essentially free of charge for several years.

    If however, he is worried that when the time comes to develop he won’t be able to remove them he is much more likely to just fence it off and refuse to allow any use at all, being very vigilant from day one to remove any squatter that attempts to move in. So this might end up a sort of win the battle / lose the war issue for the farmers. I think Woozle made a similar point about abandoned land, but I think the bigger concern would be land that isn’t abandoned but simply unused for a period of time while the owner waits for a suitable project.

    Then again, maybe the only difficulty here is merely a product of the complicated eminent domain / city ownership period that would otherwise not be an issue against a parcel help privately with express permission given to the farmers for its temporary use. Still, I find myself thinking a clear, bright-line property rule for the actual title holder is better for both sides in the long run.

  64. Brian: Someone made that argument on the Volokh Conspiracy website. It falls apart, though, when you look at the history of these gardens, which generally appear on genuinely abandoned, frequently city-owned land. The conflict arises when the city awards the land to someone who wasn’t on the scene when the garden appeared.

    I recommend the Sarah Ferguson article that I linked to in the original post.

  65. joe,

    What about the little guy

    Historically, clear and enforceable property rights benefit the “little guy” more than they benefit the “big guy.” Strong property rights place the little guy and the big guy on equal footing. Weak property rights give the advantage to the big guy because the big guy has the resources to game the system. A little guy with strong property rights can stare down the richest corporation whereas a little guy with weak rights can find himself outgunned in the legal and political arena. There are many examples of this in the evolution of land titles in American history.

    Think about defining abandonment. Who is more likely to not have the resources to monitor an little used property: the little guy or the big guy? Who is more likely to win a legal battle over abandonment, the little guy or the big guy.

    Ad hoc decision making seldom systematically benefits the little guy. Clear, concise rules grounded both in formal law and in the general cultural zeitgeist usually do.

    p.s. You misconstrued Locke by the way. Locke is talking about how naturally existing resources are converted into human property, not how property is transferred between humans.

  66. If you didn’t rouse yourself to check your land for ten years, to the point that somebody else established their livelihood farming it, then some degree of abandonment has taken place, and the farmer has at least enough of a claim to keep working the land.

    It’s called adverse possession and it’s a very old legal doctrine. It is incumbent upon a property owner to actively defend his title at all times and there are legal mechanisms to do so.

    Adverse possession is not an issue here, since for a case of adverse possession the be valid the owner must have ignored the occupation. The fact that the city had leased the land out rules that out.

    But in the context of the comment he was replying to, joe was correct, as was he, here:

    “So if I come over and set up a truck garden in your backyard, I then own your backyard?”

    If you put anything in my back yard, I’ll have it removed and sue you for the cost. Or, grant you permission. Or do something about the situation. That’s the difference here.

    In other words he would defend his title against your open and hostile trespass. Something he has both a right and an obligation to do.

    See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_possession

    and

    Quote: If you own land, it is important that you do not “sleep on your rights” since you could lose ownership of the land.

    Or just google “adverse possession” for about nine million more.

  67. 1. “…the person who owned a share of it prior to then and has now been awarded full ownership by the city?” J W

    2. “…the city awards the land to someone who wasn’t on the scene when the garden appeared.” J W

    Come on, now, Mr Walker- “awarded” is not the same as “sold.”

    Where were these so-called farmers during the negotiations between L A and Horowitz; too busy tilling their fields to make an offer?

    If there was skullduggery of some sort, there should be a remedy. If these guys were merely asleep at the switch, then my response is, “Too bad, you should have been paying attention.”

  68. OK, for the adverse possession folks, how long, or how much labor, do you have to have been “mixing” with the land? I mean, there are people who own thousands of acres that they cannot necessarly monitor at all times…what if they only get to their boundaries once every two months? Once a year? But in that year I have established my “livelihood”?

    Like it or not, joe, your position is garbage; land is an object, with boundaries (ask a surveyor) that is owned…you have a deed/title and it’s worth money. It’s the same as any other good, and if you own it, that’s it…you can let it sit for 100 years as far as I am concerned, because it’s yours to do with as you please.

    That’s what ownership means. You know, I always rolled my eyes when people complained about the leftward tilt of Reason. Now I am not so sure.

  69. It’s not reason, AR, but some of the posters here (joe is a prime example) are token liberals. Every so often we tree ’em, and set a fire under their nuts.

  70. Okay, here it is. The city ED’d the property in the 1980’s and they own it. It sits unused(eg. abandoned) until some farmers decide to work it. The city recognizes this use of it’s land and issues a lease. At this point, the farmers could have made a claim for land ownership by working the abandoned land if a sufficient length of time had passed to qualify for adverse possession. Instead, they took the lease, thereby legitimizing the city’s claim to the land. The city then owns it until it is sold to Mr. Horowitz. End of story.

    The farmer’s screwed up by not asserting thier rights to land ownership when the city invoked the lease. Regardless of any other event, this act legitimized the claim to the land by the city.

  71. And for those who claim that Adverse Posession is not a legally standing idea you may want to check this out. I am not sure what the rules are in California but I doubt the land would have qualified anyway.

  72. P. Brooks: For “awards” you can read “gives,” “sells,” “leases,” or whatever – the circumstances will vary from garden to garden. If you look at some of the New York gardens, you’ll see some clear-cut skullduggery, e.g.:

    The first sign that our urban pastoral was ending came in January 1997, when a survey crew rolled back the chainlink fence and drove a drilling rig into the center of the yard to test the soil and water tables. Concerned at that point how new construction might impact my aging apartment building, I contacted the Community Board, and was informed that the garden lots had been awarded to the New York City Housing Partnership, and that construction would commence “in the fall.”

    In fact, the lots were not actually ceded to the Partnership until five months later, when the Mayor signed off on the deal in June 1997. Had we been informed, we could have at least presented our case before the City Council, which is required to hold public hearings before disposing of the city-owned properties. Instead, when our garden and the other 11th Street plots came up for a vote, they were listed as “vacant,” “blighted lots,” enabling the city to transfer them to the Partnership through an accelerated process called UDAAP (Urban Development Action Area Program) with little public input and no environmental review….

    Had it just been my garden, I might have been willing to accept the situation. (Little Puerto Rico occupied such a large expanse of land, it was inevitable the city would seek to recoup some of it.) Yet as I soon discovered, dozens of gardens in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx were being disposed of as vacant lots, with Council members for the most part unaware of the true nature of the land they were voting on.

  73. Ah, so it’s a nationwide conspiracy to keep people from gardening on land that they do not own. And that’s what makes it a libertarian issue.

    Come again?

  74. Ayn_Randian,

    I did not make “adverse possession” up, it is simply a long and accepted legal doctrine. Read the links I provided.

    The number of years that the open, notorious and hostile occupation must occur differ from state to state and are spelled out in each state’s statutes on the subject.

    Now, in Florida at least, judges have been set the bar so high in adverse possession cases as to render it nonexistent. However it still exists as law, as the Pro Libertate Esq. reminded me in another thread where this matter came up.

    I’m not a surveyor now, but I almost went for licensure several years ago, and believe me under the law ownership of land is nowhere near as cut and dried as you seem to think. Title to land places upon the owner a constant obligation to actively defend and maintain that title. That is fairly easy with modern record keeping* but many properties are constantly in dispute.

    *In fact with their Torrens System the Australians have made land tenure as simple and secure as the ownership of any personal property. But that’s exactly what Robert Torrens intended when he first designed the system.

  75. It’s a well and good that you didn’t make it up, Isaac, I never said you did. What I don’t understand is a libertarian defense of said doctrine; substitute land for “car” “house” “pool” or anything else and you would be laughed out of libertarian circles forever.

    I suppose I am the radical now for suggesting that land is (or should be considered) like any other possession, with the right to do with it as you please, up to and including (foolishly, in my opinion) doing nothing with it all?

  76. Brian: Someone made that argument on the Volokh Conspiracy website. It falls apart, though, when you look at the history of these gardens, which generally appear on genuinely abandoned, frequently city-owned land. The conflict arises when the city awards the land to someone who wasn’t on the scene when the garden appeared.

    Thanks Jesse. I not unsympathetic to your arguments above in general. Where it is indeed the case that these are on abandoned or unused city-owned property I think a stronger philosophical case can be made along the lines of a adverse possession / prescriptive easement type claim (I don’t mean the technicalities of such claims, by the way, but the more general moral philosophy behind their historical development in the common law). I’m certainly not saying that in no cases are those issues valid, but I would certainly not apply that to a privately held parcel which is simply unused but not abandoned for the reasons I stated, which were probably more clearly reasoned over at Volokh (though I realize, as I mentioned that in this case the intervening city ownership is the complicating factor).

    But, couldn’t the same argument be made about cities? I mean if a city knows that in the future it is going to be impossible to sell off a parcel to a developer if it allows squatters to set up an urban farm, wouldn’t the city be inclined to simply turn it into a parking lot (not that that is necessarily a bad thing!) so that it can preserve its right to develop it at some point? So again, you could argue that urban farmers wishing to make use of unused city property might be better off with a clear rule that would leave unused city property open to them at least temporarily rather than not at all.

    I would say that after reading Ferguson article, I can see a decent case could be made that in cities enduring difficult economic times, when large amounts of abandoned property lie vacant and deteriorating with no real intent or ability to ever use or develop it, it would be reasonable to grant some form of property right to those who make a productive use of it. In the present case I’m not sure that applies (though admittedly I’ve read relatively little of the details).

  77. Ayn Randian: the thing is, it is impossible to justify land ownership on libertarian grounds. We’re free and are thus entitled to the fruits of our labor.

    But land is NOT the product of any man’s labor. It was here long before we existed and thus I can argue that your right to build a fence around any piece of land and claim it as your own interferes with my right to plant carrots on any unused patch of land that I want.

    Land ownership is a privilege and a convention, not an innate right. It certainly does not stem from the concept of individual liberty, in fact, as in the example above, it violates it.

    But it’s very efficient, as Locke once pointed out, and thus more useful to the society overall than, say, communal land ownership that was the norm everywhere in the world until fairly recently.

  78. Actually a case can be made for a difference between land and all other types of property.

    It would be based on its non-portability and the fact that the quantity is for all practical purposes absolutely fixed.

    Of course, the Dutch have done something about the latter. As have the people of Venice and Monaco. Although how much longer Venice will survive is coming into question since there are now some Italian politicians questioning whether it is worth the cost to maintain it.

  79. CH: Who said anything about a national conspiracy?

    What it is is a recurring conflict between people who mix their labor with abandoned land, and thus from a Lockean perspective become its rightful owners, and people who cut deals with town hall to acquire the land from under the homesteaders. That brushes up against several issues of obvious libertarian interest. (The L.A. case is unusual in that the person who cut the deal with the city at least arguably has a prior claim to the land.)

    Why talk about other cases? Well, partly because that’s what political writers do when resonant stories enter the news. And on this particular occasion, because Brian Court made an argument about how this will affect future urban gardens that I think is wrong, and explaining why requires me to point to how these things play out elsewhere.

  80. In a public-service effort to throw more fuel on the fire, shall we consider the case of a far-sighted individual who buys farm land in the anticipation that a nearby metropolis will eventually expand to adjoin it?

    If he chooses to allow the land to lie fallow rather than farming it, does that constitute “abandonment?”

    (I think not)

  81. Fair enough, Jesse.

    However, your case is signficantly weaker in the LA case than in the NYC one, because the LA land was clearly not “abandoned.”

    It was (Woozle’s incredible statement above notwithstanding) under clear, active ownership at all times. The urban farmers involved are now engaged in an effort to seize the land from its new rightful owner, and it’s that for which I’m having a hard time seeing a libertarian case.

    (Woozle, would I likewise be unable to assert title over a nugget of gold, say, that I possess, since, after all, it was not a work of Man in any sense? I would hold that just as gold, land – and the value it represents – is just another commodity in which one may store the value inherent in the fruits of one’s labor.)

  82. So what? You know what else is non-portable and fixed in quantity? Radio waves!…let’s regulate ownership of that, why don’t we?

    And I continue to argue that land is not fixed, not by any means…they are building islands over at the UAE…have you heard of landfills? And…what do you call a high rise office complex…for all practical purposes, every floor is more land with which to conduct business, or to live, or, if you made it big enough, hydroponically farm and possibly hunt in there, if you really wanted to. There is no fixed quantity of land.

  83. Woozle, would I likewise be unable to assert title over a nugget of gold

    This is a good question, because procuring this nugget of gold requires labor. But many, if not most countries in the world consider all natural resources within their borders to be public property and I see nothing even remotely anti-libertarian about that position.

    Which means that any gold nugget that you’d find and keep would have been stolen from the public. But if the public sells it to you, you may certainly use it to “store” the fruits of your labor.

    But I again would like to bring up the efficiency of private ownership. This is a convention, and a very useful one at that. I’m a staunch supporter of the inalienable right of land ownership 🙂 I just don’t see it as a libertarian issue.

  84. Woozle old boy, that Georgist talk of yours won’t get a sympathetic hearing around here. 🙂

    Ayn_Randian, all you have to do to defend your title is visit and inpect your property on a regular basis, and eject any trespassers. The local sherriff will be more than happy to do that for you.

    Keep in mind also that in order for a claim to occur the occcupancy must be “open, notorious and hostile” and without your permission. If the occupancy is done in secret and no improvements are made there is no case. In other words we’re not talking about some hippie pitching a tent in The middle of your hunting property and planting some pot.

    In most cases adverse possession comes from someone erroneously building a fence or other improvement on the other side of a property line and both parties allowing it to remain through the statutary term.

    And read the whole fucking post. If you had read mine you would have seen that I did refer to reclaiming land. It’s done at great expense and mostly with huge government subsidies.

  85. This farm situation has been dragging on for several years and has been covered pretty extensively by the LA Weekly and other local sources.

    My understanding of it is: After LA used emminent domain to take the land, the NIMBYs took the city to court for a protracted fight over the intended use (elec generating garbage incinerator). When the city backed out on this project they then leased the land to the food bank. Later, when Horwitz (one of the original owners) saw that the city took his land for one purpose and then used it for something else, he took them to court in an attempt to get the land back. This court fight and various mediations have lasted several years.

    All of the displaced farmers have been offered other plots of land in other community gardens and most have already accepted this offer and moved months ago. The last holdouts seem to think they’re fighting a marxist revolution.

    Ever since Horwitz won (in court) the right to buy back the land he as been tied up in “negotiations” with the farmers. These talks have been pretty unproductive as the farmer’s position is “give us this land so we can use it and profit from it”. After fighting this for so many years I think Horwitz would rather kiss a rattlesnake than sell to the farmers for any amount.

  86. Radio waves!…let’s regulate ownership of that, why don’t we?

    No, I think you should obtain title to a radio frequency which the goverment would help you defend against all challenges. Exactly the same way as it does with your land title.

  87. Should be: “…I think you should be able to obtain title…”

  88. So again, you could argue that urban farmers wishing to make use of unused city property might be better off with a clear rule that would leave unused city property open to them at least temporarily rather than not at all.

    Fair enough. You could certainly make the case that the resistance to the eviction makes future leases less likely.

    That said, you could also make the case that it raises the profile of the issue, among both potential gardeners elsewhere in the city and potential garden boosters within the city government. So there’s more than one factor at work here.

  89. What about the little guy?
    What about the little guy?
    What about the little guy?
    et al

    joe, I just have to make a personal comment about this, and I hope that you won’t take it as intentionally snarky.

    About six months-a year ago there was another thread discussed here dealing with eminent domain. Perhaps you remember. It was from some city on the east coast, and involved the city government condemning several blocks for a renovation project. Many of the buildings were vacant, but it also included an ordinary blue-collar guy that owned and ran an auto repair shop. He had been doing it for 20 years or something. First rented the space, then saved up and bought the building. Even though the rest of the area was allegedly ‘depressed’ he was doing a steady business, paying the bills and meeting payroll for himself and employees. Pretty much a traditional American Dream success story.

    His place was of course being taken over by ED. In it’s site the city was going to make a new building with the upper levels to be apartments, to be sold to and leased by a private for-profit company, and the lower level was to be a sort of ‘postmodernist electronic art gallery’, done by a fancy well-off artist. The story also had a political tinge in that the Mayor was a Democrat and the developers and artist were all well-connected to him and his associates.

    You took the position that the city was justified in doing this, in that the economic development would be for the greater good. I asked you point-blank if you thought that seizing the auto shop owner’s land, whether legal or not, was morally and ethically wrong– not unfortunate, or sad, but just whether you felt it was wrong. I recall that you hemmed and hawed and said something about it ‘looking bad’, but wouldn’t go any farther than that.

    joe, I think about this exchange every time you bring up the ‘little guy’ metaphor.

    Part of it is because when I think of the ‘little guy’ it usually implies to me individuals. Very often from reading your arguments it appears that you assign ‘little guy’ status based on some kind of group attributes– race, gender, sexual persuasion, political ideology. That’s your perogative of course. But– and while I myself might not count as too pure in regards to all the theory– I believe that the libertarian focus would also be much more on individual rights than the rights of groups. The fingers in the glove, rather than the glove. So when you use the phrase ‘looking out for the little guy’ it grates on me. I think something like ‘looking out for a disadvantaged group’, based on whatever criteria you adhere to, is more accurate.

  90. Um, if the law and ethics were perfectly clear on what to do in this complex situation wouldn’t it be a sign we had too many laws, and were too rigid in our thinking…

  91. (1) From either classical liberal or classical libertarian points of view, once the farmers mixed their labor with the land, established accustomed use of the land, etc., they homesteaded the land and owned it outright. They paid lease to the city; peasants paid rent to their landlords and we (sometimes) pay taxes to the gov’t but that does not mean the city, the landlords, or the government has any right to the land, only that they have the stronger force.

    (2) From legal points of view, did the farmers have the right of first sale?

  92. …there are now some Italian politicians questioning whether it is worth the cost to maintain [Venice].

    OT – too bad we can’t get some of our domestic ones to do the same for New Orleans…

    And for the LA plot, I say we give it to some Bolivian farmers, forcing Hugo Chavez to compensate Horowitz.

  93. If Daryl Hannah feels so passionately about this cause, why doesn’t she and other like-minded Hollywood types purchase a piece of land and invite a couple of these homesteaders onto that property? Or better yet, let them use her own estate? It would be a hell of a lot more effective than climbing up a tree and getting arrested. Why does every environmental cause have to framed as “us against the evil developer”?

  94. It’s a well and good that you didn’t make it up, Isaac, I never said you did. What I don’t understand is a libertarian defense of said doctrine [of adverse possession]

    The reason is the value of certainty in law. Nobody’s liberty is secure as long as the facts are uncertain. So the law tries to keep the suspense about the facts within bounds with doctrines like adverse possession, laches, and limitations.

    Say you own some land, but you keep its boundaries a secret. Someone else builds on your side of your secret line. Their building is obvious, your line is secret. It would be bad for the economy if you could later spring your secret and grab that land back. So after a period of time, the certainty and obviousness of the other person’s building nullifies your secret line.

    So what adverse possession does is keep people from using sneaky tactics to steal, and improve the economy and liberty in general by making land holdings more definite and therefore secure.

    In this case when the city and the farmer agreed to the lease, both sides were acknowledging facts concerning ownership of the land. Therefore adverse possession did not occur.

  95. So what about the farmer’s property that was sold along with the land. A walnut tree is a real investment of time, energy, and money that provides income and everything. It has value, but can’t, really, be taken by the leasee when they leave. Shouldn’t they get some compensation for the property of this type that is entangled with the land sale?

    Can’t think of a more clear cut example of labor getting mixed in the property.

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