Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Next Slum?: "Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading."

We are entering a period of testing for the nation's residential private governments. I think we will see how well they can stand up to the economic stresses of the gutshot housing market. Thanks to Fred Pilot for the link.
LA Weekly - The Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dog: So Good It's Illegal - The Essential Online Resource for Los Angeles: "She would love to sell bacon-wrapped hot dogs — trust her — but a trip last year to the women's county jail, a trip she says officials orchestrated to 'make an example' of her, finally pushed her to give up the bacon and illegal grilling device she used for so long. Instead, she prepares dogs the only way the county Environmental Health Department currently allows, by boiling or steaming. Not grilling. And grilling is the only way to make a classic L.A. bacon-wrapped hot dog."

If municipalities get any more creative about the things they ban, someday people may find more freedom in their homeowners' association. Irony Express, now pulling out of the station.
Georgians want access to Tenn. water | |: "A resolution in Georgia's legislature proposes to move the Tennessee-Georgia boundary about a mile to the north of where it now lies..."

This could get interesting. The US Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over litigation between states over things like this, so if it ends up as a lawsuit that's where it would probably get filed.
City boasts less spitting, better queuing - Yahoo! News: "BEIJING (Reuters) - Less spitting, better queuing and cleaner streets show Beijing has become more 'civilized,' but the city still has to fine-tune its etiquette to attain Olympic standards, Xinhua news agency said Friday, citing a new study."
Fred Pilot sent this along. I guess this means that a municipal government can get its act together. But with the Chinese you never know what happened to the people who didn't shape up. There might be a labor camp somewhere full of former Beijing sidewalk-spitters.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Zogby poll goofs on California - Los Angeles Times: "Super Tuesday may have lacked a runaway winner in either party, but when it came to anticipating the outcome of both primaries in California, there was one clear loser -- the Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby poll.

'We blew it,' pollster John Zogby said."

By how much? Well, he predicted Obama by 13 points and Clinton won by 10. That is an abyss of 23 points of election-affecting error. I don't buy his CAI-sponsored polling and never did, and his abysmal performance in the New Hampshire and California primaries leaves me wondering just what his agenda is. Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- The Sun Also Sets: "Back in 1991, before Al Gore first shouted that the Earth was in the balance, the Danish Meteorological Institute released a study using data that went back centuries that showed that global temperatures closely tracked solar cycles. To many, those data were convincing. Now, Canadian scientists are seeking additional funding for more and better 'eyes' with which to observe our sun, which has a bigger impact on Earth's climate than all the tailpipes and smokestacks on our planet combined. And they're worried about global cooling, not warming."

Warming? Did we say warming? We meant cooling.
Feuding Families Battled With Swords And Golf Clubs - The Daily Record: Newmills, Scotland: "FEUDING families took to the streets to battle with swords, baseball bats and golf clubs, a court heard yesterday."

Submitted for your consideration: a way to resolve neighborhood conflicts without resort to the expensive and unpredictable court system. HOAs, take note.
City running out of funds for snow removal :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State: "Unlike many suburbs, Chicago still has 200,000 tons of salt to drop on snow and ice-covered streets. But, there’s a problem. City Hall is running out of money."

Here's something else Chicago has: an army of overpaid, underworked, and perpetually surly municipal employees who do next to nothing, and another army of politically-connected contractors who are bilking the taxpayers out of millions. That might have something to do with the situation. There are so many corruption scandals going on from Chicago to Cook County to Springfield that it has left the public numb to it.
Briton jailed for four years in Dubai after customs find cannabis weighing less than a grain of sugar under his shoe| News | This is London: "A father-of-three who was found with a microscopic speck of cannabis stuck to the bottom of one of his shoes has been sentenced to four years in a Dubai prison. Keith Brown, a council youth development officer, was travelling through the United Arab Emirates on his way back to England when he was stopped as he walked through Dubai's main airport. A search by customs officials uncovered a speck of cannabis weighing just 0.003g - so small it would be invisible to the naked eye and weighing less than a grain of sugar - on the tread of one of his shoes."

Another example of what a regime hostile to civil liberties looks like. - Six Dead After Man Opens Fire at Missouri Council Meeting; Gunman Killed by Police - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "KIRKWOOD, Mo. — Ten days after losing a federal lawsuit against this St. Louis suburb he insisted harassed him, a gunman stormed a council meeting and opened fire, killing two police officers and three city officials."

Municipal crackpot and nuisance goes berserk. - Armed 'Drunkenstein' Planned Super Bowl Massacre, Changed Mind in Parking Lot - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "PHOENIX — A would-be bar owner angry at being denied a liquor license threatened to shoot people at the Super Bowl and drove to within sight of the stadium with a rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition before changing his mind, federal authorities said."

Another municipal troublemaker who turns to violence.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Religious police in Saudi Arabia arrest mother for sitting with a man - Times Online: "A 37-year-old American businesswoman and married mother of three is seeking justice after she was thrown in jail by Saudi Arabia's religious police for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks coffee shop in Riyadh. Yara, who does not want her last name published for fear of retribution, was bruised and crying when she was freed from a day in prison after she was strip-searched, threatened and forced to sign false confessions by the Kingdom's “Mutaween” police."

Just to bring some perspective to this whole issue of civil liberties in the US--we may not be perfect, and we may not be going in the right direction all the time, but at least this kind of thing doesn't happen here. And please don't tell me anything like this happened to you in your HOA, because it didn't.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

GOOD Magazine: Vermont: Most Likely To Secede? - Living on The Huffington Post: "On October 3, 2007, delegates to the second North American Secessionist Convention met for two days in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to discuss how to crack the United States into manageable parts. They came representing 11 rebel groups in 36 states, under banners such as the Republic of Cascadia (wedding Oregon and Washington), Independent California (forging the world's fifth-largest economy), the United Republic of Texas (returning the Lone Star State to its lonesomeness), the League of the South (uniting the states of old Dixie), and, spearhead of the effort, the Second Vermont Republic (separating Vermont from the United States). The dominant thought among the delegates was that what they call 'the U.S. experiment' had failed."
I guess the CID secessionist movement that hasn't appeared yet will have to get in line behind these wood-chopping, granola-eating, geriatric hippies. I interviewed some of these folks years ago for a project that never got off the ground. There are lots of them living in the woods in owner-built homes built around big trees and over streams. I gather that their kids grew up in the woods herding goats and have since joined the Taliban, but other than that it has been a glorious social experiment.
Light bulb feud sparks $80,000 in fines, fees: "Sandra Shelton, a spirited 67-year-old widow of Scottsdale, has wrangled with her homeowners' association for more than two years over what she calls her '$80,000 light bulb.'"

It's 30K in fines and 50K in attorney fees. All over a bright light in her back yard that she put there for security.
Shooting Suspect Was Subject of Embezzlement Probe - "A Herndon man shot by police in an exchange of gunfire near Springfield Mall over the weekend was the target of a high-profile investigation into the theft of $2.2 million from hundreds of condominium and homeowners associations."

Hey, who needs to license property managers. What harm can they do, anyway?
The Associated Press: Many Alaska Villages Have No Cops
From 1975 to 1977 I was a field representative for the Bush Justice Project of the Alaska Federation of Natives. The situation described in this article was a problem then, and it seems to be a problem even today.
Association fees another casualty of meltdown | "Foreclosures have a devastating impact on community associations that is not felt by other creditors. A foreclosure wipes out the assessments/dues owed on the property. A foreclosure does not have that effect on credit cards, auto loans and other consumer finance products — those debts remain intact.

Bankruptcies, however, affect associations the same as other creditors. If liens are in place, an association is a secured creditor and will be repaid as a creditor in a Chapter 13 filing with all the other creditors — up to five years.

Rising bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment have formed a perfect storm that is going to hit community associations. Rather than wind and water damage, owners will be hit by a cut in maintenance and services — landscaping, paint, roofs, lighting, concierges, parking attendants, tennis instructors, on-site staff and swimming pools, if they can be filled. That will result in a further decline in resale prices as purchasers shy away from associations that have lost their curb appeal. It will also result in a loss of business for vendors that provide services to community associations."

This is from a piece by attorney George Nowack of Atlanta. He is very active with CAI. I say that because I don't often see from CAI members such a candid evaluation of the precarious situation CIDs are facing right now. The phrase "perfect storm" is probably accurate, I think.
Most condo owners pleased with their boards, state says -- South Florida "Despite all the horror stories you read about condo and homeowner associations, 99.8 percent of owners in Florida apparently have no problem with their boards.

That means just a fraction of 1 percent of associations are giving them all a bad name, according to state figures.

During 2007, unit owners filed 2,482 complaints about associations with the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation, the agency that oversees condos. There were 1,394,467 condo units in Florida on Dec. 31."

The "state regulator" apparently believes that if you don't file a complaint with the state every year, you are "happy." I wonder if that is an accurate assumption... - Homeowners could dissolve association
One man's opinion...
Celebrity Real Estate Losers - "LOS ANGELES -

Even Hollywood's rich and famous can't avoid the housing downturn that's sweeping the nation. In Los Angeles, only 4,430 homes were sold in December, down 48% from the previous year. And prices fell 11% to an average $470,000."
I was discussing this situation with my brother yesterday while we sat in a Corner Bakery at Union Station, next to the Chicago River. We grew up in the LA area. We heard nothing but "real estate is always a good investment because it never goes down in value." But both of us think that this law may be broken for good. It is possible that real estate values were so inflated that they are never coming back to where they were--or at least no time in the foreseeable future. Many people used their homes as their only investment property, and now they are looking at a very grim situation.
Zogby polls
I notice CAI has chosen Zogby as the pollster they hire to generate poll results showing how satisfied people are with their community association. I also noticed that Zogby has been wildly inaccurate at key moments of the 2008 election cycle. After Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, I seem to recall that Zogby told the world that Obama had a 13 point lead in New Hampshire just a couple of days before the election. Clinton won by 3 points. Two days ago I heard on the radio that Zogby had Obama ahead by double digits in California. Clinton won easily.

If a pollster can't accurately measure public opinion a day or two before an election, on a simple "who are you going to vote for" question, how can he possibly be counted on to make a definitive finding on anything else?

Also, the issue is how "satisfied" people are--whatever that means--with an organization that most of them know little or nothing about. And those vague sentiments are wrapped up and inseparable from the way they feel about their neighborhood, their home values, and a dozen other things.

But even aside from all that, the inability of the Zogby firm to accurately measure public opinion in this election cycle is shocking. I could poll my students and ask them to predict the state by state outcomes and maybe produce a better record.

Note, though, that Zogby's (ultimately inaccurate) predictions get huge play in the press before election day, thus influencing the mindset and probably the votes of those who hear about them. For example, in the open New Hampshire primary, there were probably independent voters who decided to vote for McCain rather than Obama because Zogby was saying Obama was far ahead but McCain was in a close race. McCain and Obama were the two top candidates for independents. - Florida Orders Sex Offenders Living Under Miami Bridge to Find Permanent Housing - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News: "MIAMI — The state is trying to dissolve a community of sex offenders living under a bridge that includes a gym, kitchen, living room and two dogs.

The men have lived under the Julia Tuttle Causeway for a year. They say limited money and strict local ordinances make it nearly impossible for them to live anywhere else. But state officials are telling them to leave."

I suppose if you have laws and covenants keeping certain people out, logically it would seem that eventually they have nowhere to go. So now these 14 are under a bridge.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008 / Companies / Property - Risk of commercial property defaults growing: "There is a growing risk of defaults on loans on commercial property this year, in a trend that could spill over into tumbling values and create more jitters in the credit world, analysts and bankers warn."

A bunch of analysts are expressing the fear that real estate market problems are about to produce the big R.
Homeowners Associations Face More Regulation: "Virginia's General Assembly is said to be considering legislation that would make it harder for just about anybody to get into the business of running an HOA. The Washington Post reports that the Assembly may create a regulatory board to license professional management companies, just like Realtors and other occupations."

Thanks to Fred Pilot for this link.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Is a condo a money pit? - MSN Money: "Dont let the surge in prices fool you: The condo craze is all bubble. Worse, living in a condo can be maddeningly complex -- and costly."

Another voice crying in the wilderness...

Sunday, February 03, 2008