Saturday, April 24, 2004

Mountain Lion Attacks On People in the U.S. and Canada
From 1991 through 2003, there were 73 mountain lion attacks on people, with 10 fatalities. No wonder they cancelled my daughter's soccer game.
If you meet a mountain lion...: "Stay calm if you come upon a lion. Talk calmly yet firmly to it. Move slowly. Stop or back away slowly. Do not run. Raise you arms to appear larger. If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches, or whatever you can get your hands on. Without crouching down or turning your back. Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back."
This is advice from the Colorado Divison of Wildlife. I like the "stay calm" part. And we humans, having now been disarmed by government, are now advised by government to throw stones or branches at a 150 predatory cat if it charges. What are we, a bunch of chimpanzees? Thanks for nothing.
$200,000 neighborhood dispute | The Arizona Daily Star ?

Here's a story about Mika Sadai's lawsuit against her HOA. She is one of the leading Arizona activists. There's a photo of her, and on the left you will see a copy of...Privatopia.

A Casas Adobes woman has spent six years - and may have to pay a half-million dollars - fighting her homeowners association in court.
She thinks "HOAs" are so tyrannical she's also taken her fight to the Legislature, where she authored a bill to make it easier to sue them. The governor signed it into law last week, allowing individual homeowners to file suit against an association without support from other neighbors. Mika Sadai, 54, who owns eight homes in the neighborhood, has already racked up $200,000 to hire lawyers to fight the Casas Adobes Terrace Homeowners Association - and her neighbors - over disputes including board control issues and annual fees. And with a judge considering dismissing the case, Sadai could be ordered to pay another $300,000 or so in legal fees to the defendants' lawyers.
Everett Business Journal - The condominium conundrum
Here's an article from a Washington state business publication that deals with the high cost of builder's liability insurance due to construction defect suits by HOAs. That's not why I posted it. My eyes happened to hit on this paragraph:

"For Snohomish County, the problem is particularly acute, since most of the
county requires all residential tract development, not just condominiums, to
establish a homeowner’s association
. That means a broader range of housing
falls under the jurisdiction of the Condominium Act’s implied warranty

So you see that it isn't just California, Florida, and the rest of the Sun Belt where municipalities are requiring HOAs. Even in Snohomish County, Washington, they are doing it.
County issues cougar warning...gee, thanks.
I feel so much safer now. The Lake County Health Department is on the case, armed with tranquilizer guns. Maybe they can threaten it with a series of rabies shots. Personally I's prefer a grizzled old lion hunter from Colorado with a .270 Winchester and a pack of hounds. A dart gun filled with sleepy juice may work fine with the occasional raccoon or badger, but I don't think anybody will be getting close enough to this cat for such antics. Zane Grey wrote a book called "The Lion Hunter" that I read when I was a kid. Out west they used dogs to tree the cat, then they shot it out of the tree. Maybe not too sporting, but cougars are fast, stealthy, and very dangerous.

"The mystery regarding what is believed to be a cougar in the Antioch area intensified Friday as the Lake County Health Department issued a rare safety alert to residents and schools. "We've gotten so many calls, it seems highly likely there is a cougar out there," said Leslie Piotrowski, spokeswoman for the department.
Residents were told to keep their cats indoors and not walk alone in wooded areas, among other warnings."

Daily Herald: Big cat news spreading to Antioch
More on the cougar. Keeping kids inside during recess, sending notes home from school, three mores sightings in Antioch, another in Libertyville--this thing gets around. But it looks like we have the A Team on the job:

The Wilmses enlisted Ron Flug, Lake County's master hunter safety instructor, to set live traps in the hopes of snaring what is described as an extremely secretive animal. Flug, who had a 44-magnum on his hip, spent the day in the brush tracking the animal. He found traces of geese and other animals the cougar apparently has been feeding on."He's got a food source here, a good food source. I don't think he'll move on any time soon," said Flug, a former expert marksman in the Navy."

Chicago Tribune | Cougar sightings puzzle officials
Thought I'd bring you all up to date on events in my neck of the woods--far north Lake County, Illinois, a few miles south of the Wisconsin border. My daughter's soccer game was cancelled this morning because somebody saw the cougar near the park yesterday. This is like "Jaws," but dry. What we need is a posse.

"The closest Patti Klodzinski had come to cougars was through binoculars in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. But that changed recently. The Antioch resident said she spotted one of the large cats near her back porch. "I had this almost primal fear," Klodzinski, 36, a mother of four, said Thursday. "I knew it wasn't a dog--it just kept prowling." There has been a flurry of calls--five since last week--about cougar sightings in Lake County."

Friday, April 23, 2004

Surf City Condos' Status Is Illegal
"Dozens of Huntington Beach apartments have been illegally converted to condominiums in recent years, according to city officials, who say sellers could face criminal charges and unwitting buyers will have to pay more than $7,000 each in back fees...The owners of the suspect properties, who probably were unaware that they bought former apartments without the required city permits and approvals for the conversion, will be notified by mail in May, McGrath said. City officials will hold a community meeting several weeks later to answer questions and tell condo owners how to make their homes legal. To help the homeowners, she said, the city is taking steps including possible changes to the zoning code that would permit "most, if not all" of the properties to meet the code. "The way it's written right now, they can't," she said.The owners, however, will have to pay more than $7,000 in city permit fees in a lump sum."
Ouch. I like the part about how the city is going to "help the homeowners." Right.

Study shows voucher programs improve public schools
Here is a study by Harvard economics professor Caroline M. Hoxby titled "School choice and school competition: Evidence from the United States," that says "public schools do respond constructively to competition, by raising their achievementa nd productivity." Also, "students' achievement generally does rise when they attend voucher or charter schools," and "not only do currently enacted voucher and charter school programs not cream-skim; they disproportionately attract students who were performing badly in their regular public schools."

The experiments with school vouchers could turn out to be a major event. With many big-city public school systems being nothing more than horribly expensive, dangerous, and educationally-bankrupt holding tanks, and getting worse every day, this approach is at least worth trying. If evidence is coming in showing that the experiment may be good for private and public schools, it is a good thing all around. But watch for the teachers' unions and the schools of education to freak out over this study anyway.
Way That Grades Are Set Is a Mark Against Professors

The grade inflation situation is so bad that even though it has nothing to do with my ordinary topics I have to post it. After all, I'm a university professor. Hey, nobody is perfect.

"• In 1966 at Harvard, 22% of all grades were A's; in 2003, 46% of all grades were A's. Similarly, a UCLA study reports that in 1968, 22% of all grades at 18 colleges and universities were A's, but by 2002 that percentage had risen to 47%.

• A recent Princeton University study reports that between 44% and 55% of all grades at the Ivy League schools, MIT, Stanford and the University of Chicago are A's today.

• Less than 10% of all grades given out at Duke University are Cs, according to an article by Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer; in 1969, more than 25% were."

This is from a Los Angeles Times commentary piece by Roger Arnold, an economics professor at Cal State San Marcos. It is worth reading in its entirety.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

'Rocketman' takes wing - SpecialsStrangeButTrue -
The ultimate privatization of flight is having your own rocket belt. They promised us this in the 1950s, remember? Well here it is, and it's too cool not to post. The photo is great. He has a costume and everything. All he needs is a ray gun. I want one of these getups.

"Rocketman Eric Scott shot 46 metres into the air in London and promptly claimed a world record. Scott, 41, from Dallas, Texas, donned his red and white jumpsuit and zoomed into the north London sky in his bid to achieve the highest human elevation using a Rocketbelt. His feat, which saw him reach the equivalent height of a 12-storey building, lasted just 26 seconds but allowed enough time for a couple of pirouettes."
Chicago Tribune | Lawyers urged to `play nice'
I think stories like this are amusing. Imagine--asking lawyers to be "nice." Do you want a "nice" lawyer? But civility is now...
" issue being addressed by the Special Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism. "It's the subtle acts of incivility and unprofessionalism to the attorneys, the judges and to clients that we are trying to identify and do something about," said David Rolewick, a Wheaton attorney who is chairman of the committee.""

Seriously, I think the decline in civility is a major problem, especially in civil litigation where you have depositions and other discovery procedures that are done without a judge present.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Yahoo! News - Judges Declare War on Pet Pests
Two questions: 1) is the "ritzy development" an HOA? and 2) do the judges live in gated communties? Just asking:
"Irked by a profusion of pet excrement on the small lawn of the federal courthouse in downtown Austin, U.S. District Judges Sam Sparks and Lee Yeakel issued an order on Thursday: "Any person who authorizes or permits any animal to relieve itself on the grass or grounds of the United States Courthouse shall be subject to citation, fine, and/or arrest effective from this date... "Too many individuals had permitted their pets to relieve themselves on the grass and grounds," the order said. The courthouse neighbors a ritzy loft development, and the dog owners who live there are the apparent targets of the order. The courthouse has the only grass in the immediate area."

Monday, April 19, 2004

The Advocate - Finance board member sued over plan for new home
Here's the old "waiver and estoppel" argument in a complex factual situation with an old association. Cases like this are tough. If the HOA gives anybody a break, then somebody comes along and says "me too," arguing that the rule is no longer enforceable against anybody. To avoid claims like this, attorneys sometimes advise BODs to never make any exceptions. That often leads to silly and oppressive enforcement practices that end up in the press. Personally, I think boards should be able to waive rules or make common sense exceptions without losing the ability to enforce it later. But that requires courts to do case-by-case analysis that can go either way...
And one the question of building a new home on an old lot, should the old covenants still govern?

"Rubino, an attorney, said the set-back requirements should not matter because his house, built in 1949, is out of compliance now. "Right now, my house is in violation," he said. "It was built in violation . . . as were several other houses." The association has a history of letting the rules slide, he said. "They have allowed so many people to violate the restrictive covenants, they can't enforce them on me," he said. "You can't selectively enforce these restrictive covenants." Among the violators, Rubino said, is [the] association President...
...and if so, that never looks good, does it? -- Politics -- Couple's plight raises questions
Here is another take on the famous Radcliffe foreclosure that includes a detailed account of how foreclosure sales work. Some will find it controversial because it seems to suggest that owners are often to blame for the foreclosure. Most scheduled foreclosures don't happen, the article says, because the owners pay up and avoid it, or they sell the house. For the few foreclosures that actually occur, the article says, the owners are often "irrational" and even "clueless" about the foreclosure process, so they end up losing a home, sometime with lots of equity, for a small amount of assessments, costs, and attorney fees. The article ends up talking about legislative reform being considered in California. Anyway, here's some of the text:
"Every few years, a story comes along that is similar to that of the Radcliffs: a home built or bought with very little or no mortgage, an illness or other personal problem that distracts the homeowner, an association that begins foreclosure for a trivial debt and a speculator who apparently snags a big profit. Homeowner advocates and some state lawmakers say the association foreclosure process is out of control. They say it defies reason that homeowners associations can foreclose for such small sums, robbing homeowners of thousands of dollars in equity...But homeowners associations say that without the power to foreclose they would need to dip into reserves to make up for residents who don't pay - and that they still could face insolvency. They say notification requirements ensure that homeowners know they are being foreclosed on and that only extraordinary cases lead to foreclosure, demonstrating that the system works. The sales are rare in part because it's almost never in a homeowner's interest to have the property sold at auction. If there's a dispute over debt, experts say, pay it and sue. If you can't afford to pay, file for bankruptcy - or sell the home on the open market. Either way, foreclosure is put off..."

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Realty Times - Raising Cash Without Homeowner Association Assessments

"Instead of yet another assessment levied against home owners, how about a pancake breakfast bash, a rummage sale or selling ads in the homeowner association newsletter to come up with the money to replace that outdated roof on your condo development?"

The article is about a 1999 book by CAI called "Increase Income, not Assessments." The article also mentions holding a car wash, setting up a service bureau, offering your development as a movie set, auctions, bingo, and renting parking places, etc.

I was wondering who exactly is supposed to have the time and energy to do all this car washing and cookie baking, considering that the HOA directors and committee members are volunteers who presumably have lives of their own. I wonder, if people won't make cookies for the bake sale, can you foreclose on them? Maybe I'll have to read the book to find out.

Fred Pilot has sent the following correction to Broderick Perkins, author of the Realty Times article linked and quoted above:

"This quote was attributed to me in your story at

"I would expect an HOA's non-profit corporation charter could be jeopardized if the HOA's primary activity and source of income is business ventures designed to produce profits," said Frederick L. Pilot, president of the Sacramento, CA-based Common Interest Consumer Project.

It's not mine. Apparently you intended to quote Nancy Bianconi who is cited the the graf immediately preceding the quote attributed to me. Also, FYI the Common Interest Consumer Project was dissolved more than two years ago and the link you have for it above is dead."

Weblog 101
Judging by the e-mail I'm getting, some people are easily confused by the format of a weblog and don't seem to understand how to read one. This is a new way of doing things, so let me explain a few things.

When you pass your cursor over a block of text and it lights up, that is a hyperlink, or just "link" for short. The link takes you to another file somewhere on the internet. Almost all my posts have hyperlinks. Many of them are links to on-line newspapers, like the internet version of the Los Angeles Times. The words "the Los Angeles Times" are a hyperlink. Click it if you don't understand what I just wrote. These links are the equivalent of citations in a printed publication because they are references, in this case electronic ones, to the full text of some other publication.

Often I make the header of the article the hyperlink. This is easy to do because Blogger (where this site is hosted) has a shortcut for that. Typically I put an excerpt from the article in italics, usually with quotation marks around it. The point is to get people to click the link and read the whole article.

Sometimes I put my own comments before and/or after the article in non-italic text. I use bold text throughout, in block quotations or my own comments, to highlight things that I think are especially important. If I have material in quotation marks in my comments on an article I have linked, the quoted material comes from the article I linked. I thought this was incredibly obvious, but in a post below (that I have now edited to fix this problem) I included a four-word quotation from an article I linked. I thought it was obvious that I was passing along a short quotation from the article. Some people didn't understand that, I guess. I cited the article by linking to the entire piece. I will have to be more explicit about this in the future. Live and learn.

But this points up a problem with the internet. Information gets cut and pasted and passed around so fast that people can circulate a rumor, a misunderstanding, or any other kind of misinformation with light speed. In the time it once took to write and mail a single letter, a group of overwrought and hypersensitive people e-mail misinformation back and forth, reacting to it over and over, and ultimately they all reach escape velocity over nothing at all. Remember the Y2K panic? People spent a gazillion dollars freaking out over that and it was a big fat nothing.

Maybe now there is such a thing as too much communication--at least, more than some people can handle given their propensity to overreact.

So, that's the way it works. Perhaps anybody who still doesn't understand should trot down to the local community college and take a course on how to use the internet. Or maybe get off the web entirely and spend all that spare time watching QVC.
Las Vegas SUN: Some associations targeting fake turf
Seems to me that people who live in a desert ought to think about conserving water instead of punishing people who save hundreds of gallons per year by installing artificial turf.
"When Kevin Peltier had synthetic turf professionally installed in the front lawn of his Summerlin home, he felt that he was helping to preserve the desert's most precious commodity: water. But two days after the turf was installed, Peltier received a letter from the Summerlin North Community Association that stated the synthetic lawn was "an unapproved condition" and must be removed immediately...
"The controversy is not limited to Summerlin, according to Eldon Hardy, the state ombudsman for common interest communities. His office gets complaints from all over the Las Vegas Valley from homeowners who have been told to take out their artificial turf.
"I'm a little frustrated with the attitude of some of the associations," Hardy said. "I could appreciate it if we weren't in a drought condition, where everybody could have real grass for nothing." Right now less than 10 percent of the 1,000 to 1,200 calls a month his office gets relate to artificial turf, he said, but he expects that to increase this summer, when heat and water restrictions provide a deadly mix to lawns. "I'm looking fearfully at how many complaints we will get this summer because people are going to be fined because their grass is brown and they're watering when they're allowed to," he said."

Do I understand this correctly? If you water within the legal limits, you might end up with brown grass and get fined by your HOA for that? But if you install artificial turf you get fined for that? Catch 22?

We live in Lake County, Illinois, where most of the municipalities just dig wells and pump the groundwater to the residents. There's a lake across the street and a tiny stream running across our back yard from our sump pump and the neighbors'. We have more water than we need. But people are leaving Illinois for the Sun Belt, where there are concerns about drought already. I expect more water-related issues to come up in state and local politics in the years to come, and they could be serious.