The US Ignores Beaches while the DOD Grabs Land
Pentagon is World’s Leading Landlord
What's "defending" land got to do with owning land? Isn't wise use truly defending land? Would sharing land motivate truly defending it? We excerpt two 2012 articles from (1) Face The Facts USA by George Washington University, Oct 28, on bases and (2) New York Times, Dec 4, on beaches by A. Kahrl.
by Face The Facts USA and by Andrew W. Kahrl
Pentagon is World’s Leading Landlord
Move over, Donald Trump and Ted Turner. The Department of Defense is the world’s top property owner with holdings around the world. The US so-called DOD manages 5,000 sites in 41 countries.
In the United States alone, DOD occupies 1.9 billion square feet of office space -- about three times the floor space of all the nation’s Walmart stores, or 10 times the office space in all of Los Angeles.
Worldwide, DOD has more than 2 million people working on 5,000 sites in 41 countries. (Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, has 1.4 million workers.)
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JJS: It’d be good to know how the acreage owned by the US military compares to the acreage owned by others, such as the US Government as a whole, other governments, the Queen of England, the sheikhs of oil-rich nations, the Roman Catholic Church, the Chinese agency buying up farmland in Africa, et al. However much the total is in government hands, it should show that there is a huge difference between public land and common land. And is public land -- which can be closed to the public -- even a step closer to common land, which people can enjoy rather freely?
The People’s Beach
Up and down the Eastern Seaboard, beachfront property owners, wealthy municipalities, and private homeowners’ associations threw up a variety of physical and legal barriers designed to ensure the exclusivity — and marketability — of the beach. These measures were not only antisocial but also environmentally destructive.
By increasing the value of shoreline property and encouraging rampant development, tidal lands that soaked up floodwaters were drained and developed. Jetties, bulkheads and sea walls were erected, hastening erosion. And sand dunes — which block rising waters but also profitable ocean views — were bulldozed.
OTOH, in Texas the Open Beaches Act of 1959 defined all land below the vegetation line as belonging to the state for use by the people. The fences and jetties that beachfront property owners had constructed to restrict public access were dismantled. In some instances, buildings were torn down. Slowly, the beach returned to a more natural state.
This law was a restoration of the ancient right of the public to the foreshore — a right dating from Roman civil law that was incorporated into English common law, transported to the American colonies, and finally preserved in the new nation in what came to be known as the Public Trust Doctrine.
By dedicating beaches to the states for use by the public, Congress would be declaring an end to the destructive — and futile — attempts by private property owners to hold back the sea. It would ensure a better future for America’s coasts and restore one of our founding legal principles. We would not be confiscating private property, but merely recognizing who owned it all along: us.
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JJS: Public ownership could mean common access, but is public ownership even needed? Perhaps public management. But perhaps not even that. Groups like the Nature Conservancy or a land trust could manage public land. Government might not be needed at all, except to enforce the equal right to access if ever violated or if the ecosystem were to be mismanaged.
However, standing in the way of either public ownership or common access is the profit to be had from land. As long as that flow of revenue tantalizes individuals, they’ll block any form of ownership other than their private individual ownership. To counter that land lust, the land ethic must be raised high, front and center. And that ethic is not just land conservation; it goes well beyond environmentally friendly land use. Indeed, even more important is the issue of who gets the “rent”, who gets the value of a desirable location or any location? The ethical answer is all of us, since it is society in general who generate the value of sites and no one in particular who created any parcel.
Once we straighten out what’s yours, what’s mine, and what’s ours when it comes to land, then there should be a lot less violent struggle for land. And no excuse for a military as a great big landowner. The Quakers, who often oppose war, also oppose land speculation. The American Friends Service Committee's Social Investment Policy and Guidelines state that: "Investments should be avoided in companies primarily involved in products and services of limited or questionable social value, such as intoxicants, tobacco, some luxury items, or land speculation." (from Socially Responsible Investing by Amy Domini, 2001, via reader Mike O.) Their colonist William Penn urged a land tax, which was the first tax levied by Philadelphia, and no other taxes. May modern Quakers catch up to their leader of 400 years ago.
Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics and helped prepare a course for the UN on geonomics. To take the “Land Rights” course, click here .
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