Larry Salzman sees property rights as the foundation of a civilized society and prosperity. It is this passion that drove him to become a public interest lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation. His passion for property rights and economic liberty gives him joy in his work, rewarded by trips to Disneyland.
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
I was in part inspired to pursue property rights and economic liberty by my parents’ experience losing their business to an abuse of the eminent domain power by a local government. We had a family business and the city decided that if Costco were located where their family business was, they would make more tax revenue and so they condemned the family business and turned that land over to Costco. I was incensed by that. It was hard to believe that that was Constitutional.
That led me on an intellectual journey of leading economists and philosophers and legal scholars who were talking about property rights and it created a passion great enough for me to sustain a career. I had a great professor, Bernard Siegan, at the University of San Diego who suggested that I consider a career doing public interest law in defense of property rights.
I’ve known a lot of unhappy lawyers in my life and the key from going from unhappy lawyer to happy lawyer is finding the practice area that you really love and will bring you personal meaning.
What’s the most valuable thing you do for your clients?
Making it clear to them through my actions that we can win and that I have the skills and background to do the work that is required.
Sounds prosaic but you’ve got to be confident, hardworking and optimistic. Often the people who call me are at the end of their rope. They’re unable to pursue the occupation that they’ve chosen because the government’s licensing requirements are needlessly burdensome. Or, their most substantial asset, like a home or a piece of land, is in jeopardy by some governmental action. The courts give tremendous deference to government when it comes to regulating property or imposing economic regulation–individuals and small businesses can rarely afford the cost of the legal battle.
Can you give me some background on the Pacific Legal Foundation? How do people find you?
Our website is PacificLegal.org and we are a public interest law firm. We’re known as the foremost public interest defenders of property rights, since 1973. We do strategic constitutional litigation: we look for the precedents that are threatening the ordinary, productive use of property and engage clients with the kinds of problems that would make good test cases to overturn the precedents in court.
PLF has won 10 cases in recent decades before the U.S. Supreme Court. However, we had an unfortunate property rights loss in the Supreme Court last month, Murr vs. State of Wisconsin and St. Croix County. But part of being a good public interest law firm is that we take the losses and work to find a strategy to move forward and to turn it into something positive.
We are fortunate to have thousands of donors around the country who contribute because they believe in property rights, economic liberty and the principles of limited government. They allow us to represent all of our clients for free, pro bono.
Tell me about the Marin County case.
I represent a husband and wife, they’re both 83 years old. They own a vacant lot in Marin County that was inherited from the husband’s father. They live on very modest means and they got to a point where they were out of retirement income. They decided they needed to split that lot, sell half and keep half to pass along to the next generation. And when they were in talks of splitting the lot, Marin County enacted what they call an”Affordable Housing Ordinance.” And what it meant for them is that they would face a new requirement to pay about $40,000 in fees to the County as a condition of splitting their lot. And that was $40,000 that this couple really didn’t have.It made no sense: the way to make housing affordable is to produce more housing. Here, the couple was splitting their lot to make more land available in the County. Yet, rather than permitting more homes to be built to relieve the housing crisis, the County is leveraging their permit power to impose fees on individual property owners, perhaps to build subsidized housing or public housing projects. The couple got no redress from the County political process and they came to us to pursue litigation.
Property rights are the foundation of civil society. In this case the couple involved consider themselves progressives. They are in favor of affordable housing but never gave much thought to the importance of property rights until a piece of land that they owned was encumbered by a rule that struck them as really unfair. They didn’t cause the affordable housing problem and yet they’re being singled out to pay extraordinary fees to pay for it. They recognized that this is a civil rights problem: why am I being burdened by the government in a way that doesn’t seem fair and by the way is almost certainly unconstitutional?
If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be?
I would almost certainly be a psychotherapist. I think that there’s a common element that you enjoy helping people through problems. Maybe it’s the kind of clients I attract, but people seem to be able to talk to me about issues that they don’t want to discuss with others. I like this idea of having a very personal relationship with them where my skills can make a difference in their lives and help them solve their problems.
What’s something you do to unwind?
I do like to go to the beach quite a lot. That’s one of the reasons I came back to California – I lived for some period of time in Washington, D.C. But I like to spend time with friends and my partner and we do spend a lot of time at the beach.
What’s something your clients would never guess about you?
When I have a victory, I have an annual pass to Disneyland and I like to go there.
For more information about Larry Salzman, go to:https://www.pacificlegal.org/bio-salzman