Saturday, April 17, 2004 - Work nearly grinds to halt amid raid rumors
"Most days, teams of Latino immigrant workers swarm over the townhouses under construction near Gulfgate, filling the air with the buzz of power tools and orders shouted in Spanish. But the site was nearly silent Thursday. Instead of dozens of workers, there was just a handful, mostly Anglo contractors. Like dozens of work sites across greater Houston, construction at the Gulfgate site was nearly brought to a standstill because the immigrant workers had fled, likely after hearing rumors of government immigration raids."

The government denies there is any such crackdown planned. The rumor was spread through Spanish-language radio and eventually hit the TV, according to the article. This event does highlight the major role of illigal immigrant workers in the construction of new housing in the Sunbelt, most of which is in HOAs.
Iowa House advances citizen tax-vote measure

This is turning into an anti-taxation movement of sorts and bears watching.
DES MOINES (AP) - The Iowa House passed a resolution Friday that seeks a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval for future large tax increases. The resolution passed 48-40. A tax increase that surpasses 1 percent of the state's revenue in the previous year - currently about $44 million - would be subject to voter approval. Rep. Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, said eight states now require a taxpayer vote to raise taxes. "Whose money is it? Is it ours or is it the taxpayers' - that is, the citizens of Iowa?" he asked. "I think it is theirs. This amendment is simple confirmation of that principle." Opponents said the amendment is an invitation for the state to raise fees to pay for government priorities because of the limit on raising taxes. The amendment also counts state funding cuts to local governments - ones that lead to a property tax increase - as a tax increase.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Volunteer to save California from toxic mold!
Now, this is what I call counting on a thousand points of light. The California legislature passes a law to protect the public against toxic mold, and the funding is supposed to come from voluntary contributions. As Dr. Evil would say, "Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight."

SB 732 (Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001)

Implementation Update

December 2003

Many people have contacted the California Department of Health Services (DHS) asking about the status of implementation of the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 (SB 732). This statute, enacted January 1, 2002, charges DHS, assisted by a task force of volunteer stakeholders, to undertake a series of complex tasks. These include determining the feasibility of adopting permissible exposure limits for indoor molds and the development of new standards or guidelines to

· assess the health threat posed by the presence of indoor molds,

· determine valid methods for fungal sampling and identification,

· provide practical guidance for mold removal and abatement of water intrusion,

· disclose the presence of mold growth in real property at rental or sale, and

· assess the need for standards for mold assessment and remediation professionals.

However, the implementation of this statute depends on the provision of funding to accomplish these tasks.

Fund for voluntary contributions

The Public Health Protection from Indoor Mold Hazards Fund, authorized by AB 442 (budget trailer bill, 2002) has been established and is ready to accept contributions to help support DHS indoor mold-related activities, including, but not limited to, those mandated by SB 732. Donations can be made by sending a check payable to the California Department of Health Services (with notation for “Mold Fund”) to:

Michele Sabel

Environmental Health Investigations Branch

Department of Health Services

1515 Clay Street, Suite 1700

Oakland, CA 94612

Arizona Senate OKs limiting HOA liens
This is the foreclosure bill that left the Government Committee last week and has now cleared the full Arizona Senate:
"This year’s most significant proposed reform for homeowners associations appears headed to the governor’s desk after the state Senate tentatively agreed Thursday to remove the power to foreclose on homes for unpaid fines. State lawmakers have been convinced by reform advocates that some HOAs abuse foreclosure by taking the home of someone who hasn’t paid fines for planting the wrong bushes or placing a trash can in the wrong place. But for the fourth straight year, lawmakers have rejected a proposal to restrict the use of liens and foreclosures on an HOA member who hasn’t paid association dues. HB2402 is one of a series of bills moving through the Legislature that are intended to scale back the power of HOA boards and management companies. Other proposals that appear to be headed to the governor or already have been signed would require annual audits and the release of additional association records and would block HOA rules that forbid political signs in front of homes. But Thursday’s vote goes to the heart of an HOA’s ability to enforce rules that can range from landscaping and parking to a house’s color palette. HB2402 still allows an HOA to place liens on a house for unpaid fines as well as legal costs incurred for trying to collect. But the HOA wouldn’t be allowed to use the lien to seize a home. Instead, the HOA might have to wait after the house is sold, when a lien must be paid from sale proceeds."

This "goes to the heart" language that I highlighted is pretty silly. Let's not get carried away. The cardiovascular analogy is better applied to the revenue stream, and the HOA can still foreclose over that. But this bill is an improvement. It is not a good situation if a BOD has the power to make a rule, cite you for violating it, find you guilty of the violation, sentence you to pay a fine, and foreclose on you if you don't pay. This is one stop shopping, complete with danger of abuse of power. Considering that the owners have no constitutional protections and there's no separation of powers, removing the power of the HOA to take your home for rule violations is an obvious and much needed reform in my opinion.

Thursday, April 15, 2004 News - Latest News - Ban on 'Idiots and Lunatics' Sparks Electoral Row
Northern Ireland seems to have hit upon a solution to the basic problem with democracy. Maybe some HOAs might want to experiment with this:
Electoral chiefs in Northern Ireland were plunged into a row tonight over rules banning “idiots and lunatics” from voting.
Newfound World Shatters Distance Record
I just think this is cool:
Separate teams today announced the discoveries of three planets outside our solar system, including one that is more than three times farther away than the previous record holder. The planet and its host star are near the center of our Milky Way galaxy and about 17,000 light years away. Previously the most distant known planet was 5,000 light-years away. One of the newly spotted worlds and its host star are 17,000 light-years distant. They inhabit a crowded region of space toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. The far-off planet is estimated to be about 1.5 times the mass of Jupiter and presumed to be similarly gaseous. It orbits the star about three times farther than Earth is from the Sun, or 3 astronomical units (AU). Jupiter is 5.2 AU from the Sun. Its presence does not surprise astronomers, but they are thrilled to have developed a new technique that can locate such faraway objects.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

MercoPress - Followup: Here's why the Rio de Janeiro government wants to turn the favelas into a gated community (see below)
"Rio Governor asks for 4.000 Special Forces.
After five full days of bloody fighting between drug gangs and police forces the governor of the Brazilian state of Rio do Janeiro Rosinha Matheus officially requested 4.000 Special Forces from the federal government to help combat organized crime in the city’s shanty towns, favelas."
SB1137, Arizona
This bill was signed by the Governor on April 12. I have linked to the House summary of the bill rather than the text because it is easier to understand the significance of the measure this way. As the summary says, "Current law requires that in order to challenge the validity of any corporate action, the corporation’s membership must obtain at least 10 per cent of the voting members or at least 50 members (unless fewer are provided for in the articles of incorporation). SB 1137 establishes a separate statutory provision applicable to HOAs that proposes to allow an HOA member to challenge the corporation’s power to act." In other words, now a single member of an HOA can challenge board decisions.

The New York Times > National > Built With Steel, Perhaps, but Greased With Pork
Here's a great example of Paul Samuelson's theory about the problem with public goods. There is no check on oversupply. Put differently, there is just no adequate mechanism for the taxpayers to let the legislators know they don't want their money wasted on pork barrel projects like these. Bush is going to veto this bill, I think. Congress simply can't control its spending. They are like the serial killer who writes the note saying "Stop me before I kill again!" They keep adding on their own pet projects and then they logroll and vote for each others, and soon you have abominations like the highway bill.
KETCHIKAN, Alaska, April 8 — "Even by the standards of Alaska, the land where schemes and dreams come for new life, two bridges approved under the national highway bill passed by the House last week are monuments to the imagination. One, here in Ketchikan, would be among the biggest in the United States: a mile long, with a top clearance of 200 feet from the water — 80 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge and just 20 feet short of the Golden Gate Bridge. It would connect this economically depressed, rain-soaked town of 7,845 people to an island that has about 50 residents and the area's airport, which offers six flights a day (a few more in summer). It could cost about $200 million. The other bridge would span an inlet for nearly two miles to tie Anchorage to a port that has a single regular tenant and almost no homes or businesses. It would cost up to $2 billion. These "bridges to nowhere," as critics have dubbed the two costliest of the high-priority projects in the six-year, $275 billion House bill, are one reason Republicans are fighting among themselves in shaping the nation's transportation spending."

Residents petition for safeguards against condo and homeowners associations
Cyber Citizens for Justice rally to demand changes in Florida law, including creation of an ombudsman office. Includes photos.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

AB 2610 Assembly Bill - AMENDED
Now there is some meat on the bones of AB 2610, the California bill that I referred to below when it was just a measly spot bill with no actual textual changes from existing law worth mentioning. But now, as I say, it is real piece of legislation. Go ye forth and read of it.
"gated community: It's in the dictionary! To be precise, the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
gated community

SYLLABICATION: gat·ed community
NOUN: A subdivision or neighborhood, often surrounded by a barrier, to which entry is restricted to residents and their guests.
JS Online: Vouchers spur lasting achievement gains in MPS schools, study says
I think school vouchers are a good test of the belief that public services can be improved by regulated privatization, in the form of school choice plans that force the public schools to perform or lose funding. Naturally teachers' uniions are dead against any such program, and against any other law that would hold them accountable in any way, shape, or form for accomplishing anything at all. They are even against having teachers tested to see if they are competent to teach their subjects. It's pretty simple: either we try school vouchers and give parents choice, coupled with mandatory standardized testing so they can make intelligent choices, or the big-city public schools will never get better. They might even get worse, which in the case of Chicago, Milwaukee, the District of Columbia, and a few other systems might seem impossible but isn't.
Financial Times:Rio de Janeiro state plans to wall off slums
Here in the USA some of us wall out the poor. But in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, they have decided to wall them in. To wit:
The government of Rio de Janeiro state yesterday proposed to build a wall around its sprawling favelas in an effort to help control rampant crime in the picture postcard city.
"The wall won't put an end to violence [in the slums] but if we don't contain it, it will destroy the [surrounding] forest, the economy of Rio de Janeiro and the lives of the city's residents," Luiz Paulo Conde, deputy governor, said on Monday.

Monday, April 12, 2004

MSNBC - Why Housing Is About to Go "Pop!"
One view on the housing market, from Business Week Online's Mark Weisbrot:
"If you still need proof that a bubble is building in the housing market take a look at the findings of my economist colleague Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy & Research in Washington, D.C. He has tracked national housing prices going back to 1951. Prices pretty much track the rate of inflation up until 1995. But since then, average prices on new and existing homes have soared more than 35 percentage points beyond the overall rate of inflation. Is that unusual? You bet it is..."

...and he goes on from there. An interesting argument, but this has been predicted many times and so far hasn't happened. People are reluctant to sell at a loss so they hold onto their houses, and that keeps supply low, and that keeps prices up. At least, that's what they told me in Econ 101. And it's what happened in California in the early 1990s, and I hear that even the Hawaian market is coming back after the collapse caused by the Japanese eternal recession (a factor that figures into the Weisbrot article). Give it a read. - KPUA Hawaii News - Kaneohe woman awarded $470,000 in condo mold lawsuit

These mold lawsuits against HOAs are becoming a cottage industry (no pun intended). The mold removal procedures are costly and scary looking, with people running around in hazmat suits like characters from an end-of-the-world movie--how about, "The Mold That Ate My Condo"? Metro: Small special districts fear state raid on their funds
"Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed 2004-05 budget calls for taking away millions of dollars in property tax revenues paid to cities, counties and special districts. The money will help the state pay for public education at the kindergarten through high school level...Special districts, which are forms of local government created by a community to meet specific service needs, could face devastating losses if the governor's proposed budget is passed, said Catherine Smith, executive director of the California Special Districts Association. The budget proposal calls for special districts statewide to lose between $100 and $110 million or about 25% of their revenues."

Fred Pilot passed this link along. All levels of state and local government California are feeling the pinch, and next to the bottom rung are the special districts, with low visibility and no clear constituencies to object to measures like this. Special districts, such as mosquito abatement districts, will be hit harder than municipalities because of their lack of political clout. The bottom rung of the intergovernmental ladder is, of course, HOAs. They just get told what to do and have to raise private revenues to do it. They don't even get help from the tax collector, unlike business improvement districts (which don't have to threaten foreclosure to collect because government collects for them).

Sunday, April 11, 2004

AB 2610 Assembly Bill - INTRODUCED
This is a link to the text of a bill being pushed by California attorney Jim Lingl, and introduced by Assembly Member Strickland, that would limit the liability of individual HOA unit owners for judgments against the incorporated association that exceed the limits or coverage of the association's liability insurance policies. I believe this text is a "spot" bill that will be rewritten. Jim is trying to avoid the "bottomless pit" liability of owners that raised its ugly head in bankruptcy court in the Le Parc and Oak Park Calabasas cases. I'm going to be watching this issue closely.
Los Angeles Times: Crazy for condos
CONDOMINIUMS, historically considered a purchase of last resort, increasingly are the most popular option on the block, resulting in sharply higher prices and attracting high-income move-up buyers seeking a simpler lifestyle...Condos currently account for nearly a quarter of all home resales in Southern California, up from 17% a decade ago. Part of that increase is attributable to major revitalizations underway in the downtown areas of San Diego and Los Angeles, which are attracting a new group of buyers interested in high-density housing."

Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link. It seems to me that the real estate market is on a separate track from the press/public policy track. People buy condos for economic and lifestyle reasons, without thinking much about the challenges involved in living in them.
Contractors say lawsuits propel home prices
SACRAMENTO BEE — "New-home construction costs in California could go through the roof, say specialty contractors, if something isn't done to curb construction-defect lawsuits. They blame lawsuits for their escalating costs on general liability insurance. Some specialty contractors, who are the plumbers, roofers and others hired to build new houses, say their premiums have increased 300 percent to 500 percent in the past three years. They say increases wind up being passed to home buyers, adding tens of thousands of dollars to a new home's price. "

This is a familiar refrain from developers and construction contractors. It misses the point, which is, who should bear the financial risk of loss from latent (i.e., not apparent to the eye) defects in original construction? The candidates are: the building professionals who made all the mistakes in the first place; their liability insurance carriers; the buyers, who didn't know and had no way of knowing that the defects were there, and who weren't even around when the mistakes were being made; the buyers first party property insurance carriers.

OK, time's up. Answer, if I ran the world: the carriers for all the building professionals (developer, general contractor, subcontractors) who screwed up put together the money to pay the owners and/or their HOA. Then the carriers pursue their coverage issues and if they win, the insured construction professionals have to pay back their carriers. But it isn't fair to make the owners wait while complex coverage issues are litigated or arbitrated between the wrongdoers and their carriers.