Saturday, January 01, 2005

Private Citizens Outdo Officials in Aid Efforts (
MADRAS, India, Dec. 31 -- As the first chilling images of the death and devastation caused by the tsunami flashed on Indian television Sunday, Tara Kaushal, 21, a freelance writer and accessories designer, started receiving text messages from friends on her cell phone. She in turn messaged others about the disaster, expressing a need "to get together and do something."... The next morning, Kaushal's extended group of friends circulated e-mail asking for contributions to an effort to buy relief supplies. Money poured in -- from young fashion designers, teenage students, lawyers, corporate executives, software professionals, aerobics and yoga instructors, cooks and car drivers. Survivors in the southern state of Tamil Nadu said the relief efforts organized by wealthier, urban do-gooders such as Kaushal's friends arrived more quickly and had been much more visible than government assistance.


I thought it was interesting that the Norwegian UN twerp--excuse me, official--who was complaining about "stingy" nations based his numbers entirely on government contributions, ignoring private charity entirely as if it didn't exist. I guess if you are a Scandinavian socialist that makes some kind of sense.

Thursday, December 30, 2004 / News / Local / Mass. / City cracks down on Boston tradition of reserving parking spaces
People in Chicago do the same thing. They shovel out enough room for their own car, leaving a huge pile at either end that is somebody else's problem, put rusty lawn furniture on the street, and say this 20 feet of public property is now their private little paradise until spring. Then if somebody moves the junk and parks in "their" spot, it's fight time. Seems like unlawful conversion of public property to a private use, without compensation. Sort of a reverse takings clause situation.

BOSTON -- There's an unwritten code of urban etiquette on Boston's narrow neighborhood streets: You shovel a parking space and it's yours until enough snow has melted to unclog the streets. But this year, the city is cracking down on this age-old rule and warning residents that it will no longer tolerate the garbage cans, chairs, boxes and even Christmas trees that litter the streets, saving spaces for those who put in the sweat to clear them.The change is not coming without a fight.

AZ HOA Legislation Is Step In Right Direction,says Silver Haired Legislature

By Barbara Epperson
Arizona Silver Haired Legislature

The Legislature took significant strides in the right direction for individual homeowners in the recently concluded 46th regular session.

Faced with 17 bills relating to planned community and homeowner concerns, lawmakers passed 13. Nine bills that directly relate to homeowner associations (HOAs) have been signed into law.
Residents get snowed after asking city help

Fred Pilot somehow unearthed this story from a Utah paper. HOAs don't get no respect--or snow plowing.

...members of the Renaissance HOA (Home Owners' Association) also approached Cedar Hills, asking the city to either make the streets in the PRD public and take over maintenance, or to snowplow the streets for them in winter. City staff gave the HOA the name of the snowplowing company it contracts to do public roads, suggesting residents contract with the same company. According to Cedar Hills city ordinance, the city is prohibited from maintaining private roads unless the roads are made to comply with city standards in width and sidewalk improvements.
Condo ombudsman works long-distance
Florida's first condominium ombudsman now has his own phone number, but it is long distance for most of the Floridians who want his services. The number, 850-922-7671, rings in Virgil R. Rizzo's new Tallahassee headquarters. But since he hasn't moved to the capital, he retrieves the messages from his Fort Lauderdale apartment. Since his appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush early this month, Rizzo has personally responded to more than 200 phone calls -- 98 percent from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with the balance from Pensacola to Daytona Beach and Stuart to Naples. Eventually Rizzo, a retired lawyer and physician, will have a toll-free number and open branch offices throughout the state with local numbers.

I envision one of those phone banks you see on PBS telethons with a couple of dozen operators, and a big state map on the wall behind them with little blinking lights.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Yahoo! News - Sales of Existing Homes Hit Record High
Sales of previously owned homes in November posted their best month on record as low mortgage rates enticed buyers to live the American dream.
The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that sales, at a seasonally adjusted annual rate, totaled an all-time monthly high of 6.94 million units, representing a 2.7 percent increase from October's pace. While some other recent reports raised questions as to whether the high-flying housing market might be losing a bit of altitude, Wednesday's report suggested the sector is still humming along.
Debris Removal A No-Brainer
Florida newspaper weighs in on the side of gated communities in FEMA debate:

FEMA's official policy maintains that gated communities are private property and removing their debris "does not necessarily serve the public interest" because their mountains of storm debris don't really pose a hazard to the "community at large." Does that mean people living in hundreds of gated communities across South Florida are not part of the "community at large," merely because they enjoy the extra security of a guarded entrance? Does their choice to throw up a gate and their agreement to maintain the roads behind it make them immune from disasters that know no such borders? Hardly. Buying a home, whether it be in a homeowner's association without walls or one guarded by a gate, should not limit its owner from inclusion in society, or from federal aid for legitimate needs. Removing storm debris, especially in genuine disaster areas, certainly applies.
U. S. Bunkers - life assurance, not life insurance.
Mystery Reader sent me this link. Get yours while you still can...and watch the skies.

I like the red, white, and blue one, myself.
Public vs. private interests--USSC sets date for Kelo case hearing

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments Feb. 22 in a case that should be of intense interest to Colorado - and, for that matter, every other state. The issue is whether the U.S. Constitution places any practical limit on the right of local governments to condemn private property in the name of economic development.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Idaho Mountain Express: Keeping Ketchum 'open' - December 29, 2004

Nothing announces a community's frigid unneighborliness and the personal fear of its residents than gates that seal some people in and seal others out.

The Ketchum City Council spotted the unwelcome nature of this architectural appurtenance for what it is, and moved quickly to ban gates and "gated communities" as a matter of zoning law
HOA ban on rentals may cool home sales
Note the name of this HOA. Agritopia? Excuse me--does that sound at all derivative? But the real reason for including this extract is to highlight the point Fred Pilot astutely picked up on. HOA lawyer Scott Carpenter says first that no-rent clauses are like municipal ordinances, then says that they are private contracts. As Fred says, this is a good example of the industry "attempting to straddle the line between HOAs as public vs. private entities."

Every house along the neatly planned streets of Agritopia has a porch, a patch of grass and a little slice of the American dream. The idyllic "country" living appeals to newcomers flocking to Gilbert every month. But don't look to rent a home there. Homeowners in Agritopia sign contracts prohibiting them from renting out their homes beyond a room, guesthouse or garage apartment...HOAs' changing their rules to prohibit rentals is similar to cities' changing their zoning codes. It's a move that is within the rights of the governing body, argues Scott Carpenter, an attorney who represents homeowners associations. "When you choose to live in a planned community, it's a contractual matter, not a property-rights issue," he said.
Attorney Frank Askin's appellate brief in Twin Rivers
Check this out for the definitive statement of the "HOA as state actor" argument.
The News-Press: Cape Coral - Cape faces Sunset wrath
Dozens of angry Sunset Towers Condominium residents confronted Cape Coral city officials Monday, accusing them of conspiring with developers and trying to force elderly residents from their hurricane-damaged homes.

Amid jeers, hisses and outbursts of name-calling, city officials defended their actions as concern for the residents' health and safety.
The New York Times > National > Yard Display's Neighbors Wish for a Silent Night
At 6 o'clock on Friday, as a crystalline blue dusk descended over the desert valley, Chris Birkett began his nightly Christmas extravaganza, turning his modest house and yard into "Winter Wonderland," a blazing filigree of up to 150,000 lights forming Santas, reindeer, "Nutcracker" characters, snowflakes, stars and American flags, under puffs of soap bubbles and sprays of artificial snow.

With it came blaring Disney music and narration that echoed up and down the quiet residential block: "Do you believe in magic? Look to the sky and make a wish. Star light, star bright, I wish I may, I wish I might."

The family next door wishes he would just shut up.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Boing Boing: Tsunami blog coverage: updates
After uncannily foreshadowing this week's Asian earthquake in an e-mail message, Mystery Reader sends the link to this post on key blogs for following the aftermath of the quake. | 12/26/2004 | Animosity lingers after flag dispute
Fred Pilot passed this one along--another senseless anti-flag campaign by an HOA, and the unpleasant aftermath:

American flags fly freely now in the Heritage Place subdivision, but Euless resident Linda Martin, who championed the cause, continues to struggle for neighborhood harmony. Martin raised the flag issue after the July Fourth holiday when she was told to remove her American flag because of a deed restriction. After an onslaught of criticism, the Heritage Place board of directors in August lifted the restriction, reportedly enacted as precaution against people who don't maintain their flags. All homeowners association board members resigned after residents circulated a petition requesting their removal. A new five-member board is in place and plans to present general policies at a meeting in January.
Gated communities in Palm Beach County want FEMA cleanup cash
Another example of the betwixt-and-between status of HOAs:

Grasping at whatever hope there is, county officials and community leaders are seeking federal reimbursement of thousands of dollars spent clearing debris after hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. The issue remains mostly unsettled for gated communities that paid haulers to pick up fallen tree limbs and other vegetation from their roadways, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency considers private and ineligible for assistance. But with the backing of two county commissioners, community leaders are gambling on a payback...An explanation of the policy in an internal FEMA memo from late September states: "[R]emoval of debris from private property, including roadways in private and gated communities, does not necessarily serve the public interest because the restrictions inherent to private or gated communities limit the exposure of the community-at-large to the hazard posed by the debris."
8 Glendale, AZ, HOAs given fix-up funds by city officials
Fred Pilot found this example of city governments giving $$ to HOAs.
News - Cat-leash rule riles homeowner -
I have never heard of a municipality doing this, so maybe this association has broken new ground. The lack of common sense is stunning. This sort of thing predictably generates bad press, and that provides a hook for an enterprising legislator to get easy publicity by introducing a silly piece of legislation to ban an even sillier HOA rule.

Homeowners associations have made national headlines in recent years for enforcing arbitrary rules - from the color of house paint used to types of lawn ornaments allowed. Now, this rule that requires cats be leashed or confined indoors is attracting the attention of homeowner advocates and state lawmakers seeking change. Residents of Village Greens are required to leash their pets when in the community's common areas or face a $50 fine per violation, according to copies of the association's governing documents.
Lighthouse Rotating Homes and Commercial Structures
If you are interested in the concept of rotating homes and other structures, check out this link, sent to me by Don Dunick, who has built a rotating home in New Zealand.

Lighthouse Projects
67 Cavan St, Annerley, QLD, 4103, Australia
Phone +61 7 3255 8855, Fax +61 7 3848 5223
Give Up the Suburb? Yes. Give Up the Car? No Way
Many urban planners firmly believe that if they can just get enough control over the built environment they can produce the kind of social change they want. They think, for example, that if they can create "pedestrian friendly" neighborhoods we will all ride around on bikes like Chinese factory workers, and then urban planners will have saved the planet from the internal combustion engine. Then, along comes reality...

When urban planners first talked about the new residential boom in downtown Los Angeles, they conjured up idyllic streets where pedestrians — their cars sold to ex-neighbors in the suburbs — strolled happily to work along streets lined with cafes and bookstores. People are moving downtown, all right. But this is L.A. So they're bringing their cars with them. And now local officials, who just a few years ago stopped requiring developers to build parking spaces in most loft buildings, are scrambling to accommodate automobiles — and their owners — downtown.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

ScrappleFace: Bush Now Proposes to 'Public-ize' Social Security
I guess it's all in the way you say it...

Under pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President George Bush today scrapped his plans to privatize Social Security and offered instead a new plan to "public-ize" the retirement system. "I want to keep our promise to America's seniors," said Mr. Bush. "So, instead of privatizing their government-owned retirement accounts, I propose that we public-ize Social Security--in other words, we're going to return the money to the public while we still have some to return." Mr. Bush said he reversed course after learning from Democrat strategist George Lakoff that all policy questions were really "about words and craftsmanship" rather than the substance of the proposed policies. "I've always been a student of the English language," said Mr. Bush. "I suddenly realized that if you say 'privatize', it sounds like that money belonged to the government in the first place. That ain't right."
SSRN-Do You Have A Case Under the New Bill of Rights: A Checklist by John Ryskamp
Here's a link to a fascinating new piece by John Ryskamp. Readers interested in new approaches to Bill of Rights claims regarding housing would be well advised to check this out. The abstract reads as follows:
From the theoretical considerations of Kelo v. New London: Deciding the First Case Under the New Bill of Rights, we proceed here to more practical considerations for those who wonder if facts of importance to them are similar to facts of the New Bill of Rights or the Bill of Rights. This article takes the next step: it outlines which facts need to be developed and presented in order to convince a Court to consider granting elevated scrutiny to new facts. This brings the New Bill of Rights into practice and lays down the methodology for adding facts to it. It also presents the manner in which a fact of the individual - the new link between Founder intent and facts mentioned in the Constitution - has now become the process of Constitutional adjudication.
Opting Out: Citing lack of services, River Bend wants disannexation from city

Like a marriage that’s gone bad, the city of Brownsville’s annexation of the River Bend Resort area in 2002 has turned sour and one party wants out, complaining they’ve gained nothing from the union. River Bend residents have requested that the area located off of Highway 281 be disannexed and return to an unincorporated area...Although the area is a gated community with private roads, residents are required to pay city taxes for all municipal services, including street repairs.


And expect a lot more of this in months and years to come.