Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Foreclosures in San Diego

San Diego Foreclosure Property Inventory Increasing
By sdhouserebate
May 12, 2008

...I met with John Cooke at Mission Federal Credit Union (www.missionfcu.org) today, and he said his credit union bends over backward to help their members in trouble by restructuring the loan. The purpose of the credit union is to help its members. It was nice to hear a financial institution agreeing to rewrite some loans. This has not been the case with most lenders...

Interesting video of CCDC head Fred Maas refusing to answer questions of city council

My question: why wasn't Fred Maas investigated at the same time Nancy Graham was investigated? How come she took all the blame for helping developers? Maybe Fred Maas will be investigated now.

See video of Maas refusing to answer questions.

City Council members grilled outgoing CCDC leader Fred Maas on Monday about details of a deal that allows the agency to sequester $6 billion more in property taxes for downtown redevelopment.

Out of the Loop, in a Snit
by Randy Dotinga
Voice of San Diego
Nov. 16, 2010

When it comes to running the city, one might assume that the City Council wouldn't just be in the loop, it would be the loop. That would be a bad assumption, as the council learned last month when the city's downtown redevelopment agency worked out a deal with the state to sequester property tax money. The council had no idea what was going on.

The City Council, which thinks the agency went rogue, spent Monday trying to figure out what it didn't know and when it didn't know it. There was plenty of bipartisan agency-slamming and talk about whether the agency's head deserves to keep his job. It's a rather moot point: he's leaving.

Council, City Attorney Feast Again on Porkfest

November 15, 2010
by Liam Dillon

If the state Legislature is where the late-night downtown porkfest gets fattened up, San Diego's City Council is where it gets slaughtered.

For the second straight hearing, council members sliced and diced staff from the city's downtown redevelopment agency, the Centre City Development Corp., about secret negotiations that led to a last-minute state deal to eliminate limits on downtown redevelopment. The deal happened without the council's knowledge even though members were working on a plan to remove the limits themselves.

Last month, the council had requested a timeline of when key players knew about the deal, which allows the agency to collect $6 billion more in property taxes and potentially finance a new downtown stadium for the Chargers. Outgoing agency head Fred Maas, who had revealed previously that discussions about the deal began in August, attempted to do that Monday afternoon.

Maas said he spoke between five to 10 times with local Republican state Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, the provision's sponsor and he had briefed others on the deal.

But that — and a bland memo from Mayor Jerry Sanders' office also released Monday — wasn't enough. Councilman Carl DeMaio wanted to know about how the deal began, specifically contact between Maas and mayoral chief of staff Kris Michell. Maas refused to answer. DeMaio, in turn, openly wondered if he could fire Maas.

"I don't think I feel comfortable with Mr. Maas staying until the end of the year," DeMaio said.

Incidentally, Maas had just formalized his resignation effective at the end of the year, as the city is seeking to replace him with a permanent downtown redevelopment chief.

Had that not happened, Councilwoman Marti Emerald said, she might have sought Maas' removal sooner.

"I think there's probably some of what you're hearing too is that maybe it should be an immediate resignation," Emerald said. "No offense to the great volunteer work you've done, but this City Council is trying to repair the damage done by previous councils and mayors in doing deals behind closed doors that have gotten us into a lot of trouble."

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who also was kept in the dark about the deal, poked a hole in one of the main arguments made by its proponents. City Council, backers say, has the ultimate decision on how and if the city should spend the new money.

But there are restrictions to how that new money could be spent, Goldsmith pointed out. Had the deal not occurred, property tax dollars would have flowed directly to the city's day-to-day operating budget, meaning it could pay for police, fire and other city services. Now the money will be sequestered downtown, meaning it couldn't pay for those services...

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Local Housing Executives Charged with Manslaughter

Local Housing Executives Charged with Manslaughter

Amerland Criminal Charges
Will Carless
Voice of San Diego
Jun 29, 2010

Five executives at The Amerland Group, a local developer that specializes in building and operating affordable housing projects, have been charged with manslaughter and more than 100 counts of elder abuse in relation to a 2008 fire at a property they operated in Vallejo in which four people died.

The complaint filed by the Solano County District Attorney names Amerland owners Jules Arthur and Ruben Islas Jr. as defendants, in addition to three other executives who either worked at Amerland or at a subsidiary company that operated the Vallejo building.

I wrote about The Amerland Group's troubled history in this piece last summer. I described the fire and the legal fallout from it in the story.

Here's a snippet:

As the fire raged through the top floors of the building, residents, firefighters and staff went door-to-door in the complex helping the tenants evacuate the building. Four people died as a result of the fire.
No fire alarm ever sounded inside the Casa de Vallejo, according to the [Vallejo Fire Department's investigation] report. No flashing lights alerted the elderly, frail residents to the fire raging above their heads. The fire department report is clear about why the alarm didn't sound:
"Unbeknownst to the Vallejo Fire Department until after this fire, and without neither permission nor prior notification, since approximately June 2008 and up to and including this fire incident of August 15, 2008, the fire alarm contractor (SimplexGrinnell) had disabled the onsite horn and/or horn strobe devices."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

DeveloperAlert.org tells what's going on in San Diego

I found a superb blog about local developers called DEVELOPERALERT.ORG. Here are some quotes from the blog:

Development that works

Paul Solomon quit his job as a real estate attorney to pursue a dream of redeveloping obsolete factory buildings in downtown Los Angeles (an area that is now being called the Arts District)... As I spent the day with him in February touring his new development of the "National Biscuit Company" Building, every turn seemed to tender a brand new treasure. Copper doors and windows, maple floors, exposed wood formwork, concrete columns, staircases ascending effortlessly to mezzanines open to below characterized these engaging spaces. It was obvious that the architect Aleks Istanbullu had carefully considered every facet of the design... It was obvious that this building was more than just a source of revenue for him, it was a source of pride... and that is rare.

Here's more from DeveloperAlert.org:

Development that doesn't work

"Developers' money is like heroin to politicians." - Roy P. Disney, March 2, 2008, Los Angeles Times

“We need open, honest government that is working for people, not developers.” - Stephen Whitburn, March 15, 2008, San Diego Union Tribune

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger wants California to be like China

China has demonstrated the folly of failing to consider public input. Arnold Schwarzenegger (see story at bottom) now wants to bring this sort of thinking to California by eliminating environmental review.

Some Ships Can't Reach Shanghai's New Terminal
By Louisa Lim
All Things Considered
November 3, 2008

"As China's urban development proceeds at warp speed and with no public consultation, this type of anomaly is not unusual. Many smaller cities have built high-tech development zones that now stand half-empty. And this multimillion-dollar terminal now stands as a monument to a system where narrow, local interests often dominate over common sense."

In the Chinese port city of Shanghai, a glass building shaped like a water drop looks over the Huangpu River. It's a new terminal for cruise ships -- only some are unable to reach it.

"There's a little bit of a challenge, because one of our ships cannot fit under the bridge," says Karen Mann, director of international sales at the luxury cruise line, Crystal Cruises.

She is referring to the Yangpu Bridge, which is so low that many larger cruise ships can't fit under it to reach the terminal.

"If you're too high, you can't get through," Mann says, "so I think that could deter some of the cruise lines from getting to this terminal."

The Yangpu Bridge -- built in 1993 -- is just 165 feet above the water. That means almost one-third of the world's cruise ships can't fit under it, according to one estimate in industry magazine Seatrade Cruise Review. Even for those that can fit under -- those less than 87,000 tons -- it's not easy.

"One of our cruise liners sailed under the bridge -- a 76,000 ton ship," says Michael Goh of Star Cruises. "With that, you have to do a lot of preparation work, study of the tide -- to ensure that it is absolutely 100 percent safe to bring the ships in. With that, you have to spend a lot of resources -- a lot of money to do a lot of studies and things like that."

As the international cruising companies hold their first conference at the new cruise terminal, finished in August at a cost of $260 million, there's praise for the terminal's modernity and its environmental friendliness. But it is clear the bridge is a problem.

Today's trend is towards bigger and bigger super cruisers, so as time goes on, the problems caused by the low bridge will get worse. Two-thirds of cruise ships currently being built will be too big to get under the bridge. So how did this oversight happen?

"They started building this project without thinking it through carefully," says Liu Changshou, a retired engineer who has blogged about the botched decision. He says the city government should have known better, and he accuses the lower-level district government of ulterior motives in lobbying hard for the terminal.

"By building this center, they could attract cruise companies to develop the land," Liu says. "They're using the project to gain all kinds of municipal government support. So what they're doing is developing their own real estate."

At a signing ceremony at the new terminal, presided over by the chairman of Shanghai International Port Group, which oversees all of Shanghai's terminals, the chairman wasn't available for comment. But in an earlier interview with an industry magazine, he said cruise lines were unlikely to send bigger ships to Shanghai anyway, as that market is in its infancy.

But major international companies, like Royal Caribbean, are suffering. Senior Vice President Michael Bayley said that earlier this year one of its ships had to unload passengers at another terminal, farther out from central Shanghai.

"It's quite a problem for us," Bayley says. "We'd like the bridge lifted by about 50 feet if we could. The Chinese are capable of almost anything in construction and engineering. If they built the Three Gorges Dam, I'm sure they could lift a bridge, don't you think?"

But that isn't in the cards at the moment. As China's urban development proceeds at warp speed and with no public consultation, this type of anomaly is not unusual. Many smaller cities have built high-tech development zones that now stand half-empty. And this multimillion-dollar terminal now stands as a monument to a system where narrow, local interests often dominate over common sense.


Stimulus plan: Bypass environmental reviews
Governor proposes shortcuts on reports for public works
By Michael Gardner
November 4, 2008

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's draft economic stimulus package proposes to skip preparing time-consuming environmental impact reports for transportation projects, a move the administration believes would speed up the creation of new jobs...

[Blogger's note: I warmly agree that we need public works projects. Our infrastructure is falling apart and unemployment is high. But let's make sure the projects are good projects.]

Some lawmakers may balk, given the history of disputes over environmental and economic issues during budget negotiations. Schwarzenegger is convinced that immediate investment in public works is necessary to create jobs, and environmental reviews could slow construction by months.

Schwarzenegger tomorrow is expected to order lawmakers, many of whom leave office at the end of the month, to return for a special session to address a staggering budget deficit of up to $10 billion in the current fiscal year...

Schwarzenegger's package will call for the early release of $700 million in state transportation money, including $102 million for projects to improve Interstates 5 and 805 in San Diego County.

Some of the $700 million also would be set aside for smaller local projects, from filling potholes to adding streetlights.

The administration estimates that spending $1 billion on transportation projects creates 22,000 new jobs.

“We have billions of dollars of infrastructure bond money available that has to be appropriated and pushed out so that people can get back to work,” Schwarzenegger said last week.

Some legislative leaders have expressed support for releasing bond money early. Without legislative intervention, for example, the $700 million could not go out until July 1 – and only if the Legislature adopts an on-time budget.

“This is certainly the time to prime the pump in as many ways as possible,” said incoming Senate Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento...

[Blogger's note: It seems to me that Schwarzenegger is prone to showing contempt for people.]

Obama may have 'skinny legs,' but can Schwarzenegger beat him in basketball?
Los Angeles Times
November 2, 2008

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's fitness advice for Barack Obama -- squats for his "skinny legs" and biceps curls "to beef up those scrawny little arms" -- got the Democratic nominee's chief strategist wondering: How are the California governor's basketball skills?

Schwarzenegger might not know it, strategist David Axelrod said, but "Sen. Obama's pretty fit."

The governor poked fun at Obama's lean physique Friday as he campaigned for Republican nominee John McCain in Ohio, where Schwarzenegger's annual bodybuilding contest was being held. In fact, Obama has been adamant about working out 45 minutes a day during the presidential campaign. On Saturday morning in Las Vegas, he hit the fitness center at Caesar's Palace.

Obama also plays basketball, although games have been rare lately. It's an Obama tradition to play on election day...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Do Chip Owens' connections to a developer explain Carolyn Smith's big SEDC paychecks?

Deep Throat's advice seems to still be good 35 years later: Follow the money. Why would Carolyn Smith do what she did? Maybe she was doing what Artie Owen expected, in return for big paychecks.

Chairman Tied to Developer Sets SEDC President's Pay
July 11, 2008

The revelation this week that the chairman of a city of San Diego redevelopment department, Artie M. "Chip" Owen, is unilaterally in charge of setting the salary of a top city of San Diego redevelopment official has fueled further concerns regarding Owen's business ties to a developer and the potential conflicts it creates.

After a voiceofsandiego.org story Tuesday revealed a clandestine system of bonuses and extra compensation for the top officials at the Southeastern Economic Development Corp., Owen and SEDC President Carolyn Y. Smith said in a memo that Owen alone, as board chairman, is responsible for setting Smith's compensation...

Artie M. "Chip" Owen, the chairman of the SEDC board, sets the salary of the agency's president.

At the same time he has controlled Smith's salary, Owen has had financial ties to a company that has won several development deals from SEDC and is currently embroiled in a struggle over Valencia Business Park, a troubled project spearheaded by the agency.

Monday, July 7, 2008

SEDC criticized by City Council for abuse of power

Donna Frye called the secret SEDC bonuses

Carolyn Y. Smith, president of SEDC and her top deputy Dante Dayacap paid themselves handsomely with money intended to redevelop blighted neighborhoods.

Will Carless wrote this story for Voice of San Diego:

"The additional pay for the government officials came to light following a voiceofsandiego.org review of SEDC's tax records, which revealed a complicated system of unsupervised payments for top SEDC officials that are not explained in its public budget.

"In total, between fiscal years 2003-2004 and 2006-2007, SEDC's top four officials collectively received about $256,000 through the various bonus and extra compensation programs...

"City Councilman Ben Hueso said the agency has refused to provide a breakdown of employee payments to the City Council, citing privacy issues.

"'When we ask them for those figures, they say it's privileged information," Hueso said.

"By contrast,... CCDC and its president, Nancy Graham, recently decided to end the practice of paying annual bonuses because the process had become "too controversial.'"