Saturday, March 28, 2009

Tightening belt, standards through difficult times --

Tightening belt, standards through difficult times -- "Many a musician has crooned about hard times—Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton and Ludacris, to name a few. Today, community associations are singing the blues about the many foreclosures in their midst."
The Chicago Tribune's real estate writer Pam McKuen talks about how associations can "soften the blows" of this foreclosure crisis.

Time to eliminate a bad sign law: "Roland Cole’s sign experience highlights the problems created by the Grand View Homeowner’s Association prohibition on political yard signs.

Cole, a candidate for Grand Junction City Council and a resident of Grand View, cannot even display support for his own candidacy with a political sign in his yard, at least according to the current interpretation of the Grand View rules.

So Cole has placed a campaign sign in the yard of a friend whose property is just outside the boundaries of the Grand View subdivision. Cole, who told The Daily Sentinel he supports the Grand View rule, said his sign is just a foot over the border from Grand View.

Well, that ought to protect the Grand View residents from the emotional distress of viewing political signs."

And there is also a state law involved that prohibits sign bans if your dues are over $300 but allows them if you pay less than that. What??? And that law is under attack.

I think a complete ban on political signs is one of the most outrageous things an association can do. Reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions are fine, and cities have those as well. If people don't want lawns festooned with dozens of political signs six months after the election ended, fine. But we are way down the road to authoritarianism when your neighbors can prevent you from announcing your support for a political candidate or cause (even Ron Paul!) as the election nears.

Beware cashing check marked 'payment in full'

Beware cashing check marked 'payment in full': "In some circumstances, without contacting the association, owners simply will remit a payment for a past-due balance with the words 'payment in full' written on the check as their own way of offering a settlement to resolve the account balance.

If the association receives a check from the homeowner that reads 'payment in full,' the association should not cash the check unless it intends for the amount of the check to wipe out the entire balance owed to date. If the check is cashed, it is equivalent to accepting the owner's settlement offer.

The Uniform Commercial Code makes it clear that if a party accepts a payment that is clearly submitted as full satisfaction of the debt, the party has released the debt.

Further, a letter or other document stating that an enclosed check is remitted for payment in full has the same effect as if 'payment in full' were written on the check itself."

Attorney Curtis Ekmark offers a word of advice that can be equally valuable to associations and delinquent owners alike...

Right To Privacy Not Guaranteed By Constitution, Says Supreme Court Justice Peeking In Bathroom Window | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Right To Privacy Not Guaranteed By Constitution, Says Supreme Court Justice Peeking In Bathroom Window | The Onion - America's Finest News Source: "'After careful consideration, it is this justice's finding that there is no specific mention of the right to privacy in any of the 27 amendments,' Alito whispered, before furtively looking around and then jimmying Daltry's bathroom window ajar with a penknife. 'A rigorous originalist interpretation of the pertinent statutory language has yielded the conclusion that privacy is not now, nor has it ever been, a federally protected liberty.'"
Thanks to Chris Olson for this enlightening story from The Onion.

The vanishing shopping mall - THE WEEK

The vanishing shopping mall - THE WEEK: "Enclosed shopping centers, long the cathedrals of American consumerism, are closing their doors by the hundreds as the recession continues to clobber retail sales. Is America’s love affair with the mall over?"
I think this is overstated, but I just looked at retail sales tax data for Lake County, IL, where I live. Holy recession, Batman. The decline in revenues to cities is astounding, and the number of businesses that have closed their doors is terrifying. And it will get worse before it gets better. As noted here earlier, there is about to be a foreclosure crisis in commercial real estate. It will be accelerated by Alt-A mortgages resetting their interest rates upward over the next 9 months or so. Alt-A is a bit better than subprime, and a lot of those mortgages are for commercial real estate. If a business is losing money, letting the bank take the building is less painful than losing the house you live in.

Your Windy City Guide

Your Windy City Guide:City of Chicago imposes trash fee that will sock condo and homeowner associations: "Effective with April 1st your trash hauler will be adding the full payment of the annual permit fee to your association’s bill. For some associations, this fee will come as huge shock and potentially a significant cash flow issue, especially those who use trash-totes for individual units. The minimum fee is $80.00 per trash container up to $780 per trash container.


Refuse haulers have been lobbying the City to repeal the new fee or at least allow customers to pay the fee over several months rather than 100% up front. Unfortunately, the City has not acted upon these requests.

For Wellington Park Homeowners Association that will fee will be approximately $7,520.00 of new tax due in April. That amount will be due every April 1st until the Ordinance is repealed or changed."

Yet one more unanticipated cost for associations to deal with. Wait until the emerald ash borer gets fully established and local governments order property owners to pay for cutting down and hauling away all their ash trees. The way I see it, local governments get squeezed financially and the first thing they do is start offloading costs and charging special user fees. Associations are a perfect target for this because, unlike businesses, they can't relocate.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I didn't delete people's comments!
Someone posting under the name "Bunny" has been claiming in a Yahoo group that I deleted comments critical of Tom Skiba, who got into it with some folks here. This is simply not true. I didn't delete a single comment. Starting from that completely false premise, Bunny then proceeds to denounce me at length for squelching the critics of the Evil Empire.

This is just complete hogwash. Not only did I not delete anybody's posts, I don't even moderate the comments. Your comments go straight from your computer to the internet for all to see. And if that isn't enough latitude, I even let people post anonymously.

Folks, you can't get more freedom than that unless you start your own blog.

I would like to keep things this way. I hope and trust that people will use all that freedom responsibly. Actually, my main concern with this approach is not real comments from real people, however angry. The biggest problem with open comments is commercial spam from people trying to sell condos in Costa Rica or some such thing. When these people find you they can wreck the comments section in no time.

One final note: I am not part of an evil conspiracy, I don't take orders from a Death Star that lurks behind the moon, and I am just trying to have an informative and entertaining blog that is open to different points of view. Please keep in mind that I was writing about the mistreatment of owners in associations as long ago as 1985. I was called a crackpot for saying that when practically nobody else was. I really don't require any high-handed, self-righteous lectures on the importance of that problem, thank you very much.
California Home Prices Decline 41% on Foreclosures (Update1) - "California home prices dropped 41 percent last month from a year earlier, more than double the U.S. decline, as surging foreclosures drove down values, the state Association of Realtors said today.

The median price for an existing, single-family detached home in California sank to $247,590 in February from $418,260 a year earlier, the Los Angeles-based group said in a statement...The median condominium price in California was $219,960 in February, down 40 percent from $367,540 a year earlier, the Realtors’ report said. The number of condo sales rose 52 percent from a year earlier. "

Wow. You read about "existing home sales are up, whoopee!", but of course the reason is banks are dumping their REO units at fire sale prices.
Assembly panel weighs bill limiting power of HOAs - Las Vegas Sun: "Chief among the bills was Assembly Bill 350, which sponsor Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, said would require homeowners associations to be more open and responsive to their homeowner constituents.

“The homeowners bill of rights,” as Munford called it, would help a growing number of Nevadans as homeowners associations become more common, he said.

“Particularly in Southern Nevada, it is nearly impossible to purchase a relatively new home that is not part of a homeowners association,” he said.

The bill would require any change to an association’s governing documents to be approved by 85 percent of residents, lower the cap on interest that associations can charge on past-due assessments from 18 percent to 5 percent — and 3 percent for special assessments — and forbid associations from foreclosing on homes with unpaid assessment liens.

It would also place limits of two, two-year terms on board members in communities with more than 50 residences, require associations to provide free copies of minutes and association documents to homeowners upon request and allow any homeowner to speak on any item on a board meeting agenda for at least five minutes."

Note the rhetorical connection Munford makes between the lack of choice and the need for regulation. That is a powerful argument. You can't argue that people "chose" something if they didn't have a choice.

There is a comment on the article that cracked me up: "I think the easiest thing to do is require HOA officers to wear exploding collars that all the residents have remotes for. Then the rest of these proposals would be moot."

Drowning lawsuit: Family of boy who died sues Hazel Crest condo association --

Drowning lawsuit: Family of boy who died sues Hazel Crest condo association -- "The family of a boy who drowned in a pool at a Hazel Crest condominium filed a wrongful death suit Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court. The drowning of Jamar Garrett, 12, took place at Stonebridge Condominium Association last summer. The suit alleged a hole in the fence allowed access to a pool so murky that the deep and shallow ends were difficult to distinguish, the suit said."
At last night's law school class I spent the whole session talking about things like this. Associations are becoming targets of opportunity for litigation. I'm not even counting the cases the associations file. I mean when they get sued for tort, breach of contract, discrimination, etc. Most of them have liability insurance and if that fails the assessment stream can be used to satisfy a judgment.

Soros Says Commercial Property Values Will Fall 30% (Update1) -

Soros Says Commercial Property Values Will Fall 30% (Update1) - "Billionaire investor George Soros said U.S. commercial real estate will probably drop at least 30 percent in value, causing further strains on banks.

“Commercial real estate has not yet fallen in value,” Soros, speaking at a forum in Washington, said. “It is inevitable, it is written, everybody knows it, there are already some transactions which reflect and anticipate it, so we know, they will drop at least 30 percent.”"

I have heard this prediction from a number of people, and it was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

20 Most Bizarre Houses around the world - (strange houses, weird houses)

20 Most Bizarre Houses around the world - (strange houses, weird houses)
And none of them is in an HOA, I'll wager.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

North Naples woman accused of stealing $100,000 from condo association : Crime : Naples Daily News

North Naples woman accused of stealing $100,000 from condo association : Crime : Naples Daily News: "A North Naples woman was arrested Wednesday, after she stole nearly $100,000 from Southwest Florida home and condominium associations while she was managing their accounts.

According to investigators with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s Economic Crimes Unit, Amy M. Copeland, 39, stole $95,330.46 while she was employed as an account manager for Integrated Property Management, 3435 10th St. N., Suite 201, Naples. The company, also known as IPM, manages approximately 130 home and condo association accounts, investigators said."

Yet another property management embezzlement charge. It comes on the heels of our heated debate over the NV and FL proposals to crack down hard on such practices. Thanks to Shu Bartholomew for the link. » Geithner agrees to new currency » Geithner agrees to new currency
I have to admit, that is some nice looking currency.

More Cities Target Teens With Daytime Curfews -

More Cities Target Teens With Daytime Curfews - "In Dallas, the city council will vote next month on extending an existing nighttime curfew for minors to make it broadly illegal for minors under 17 years old to appear in public without adult supervision during school hours. Violators would be subject to a fine up to $500. Parents and businesses that let minors congregate on their premises during school hours also would be subject to a fine up to $500.

Elba Garcia, a dentist who serves as chairman of the council's public-safety committee, said the ban will help the police combat crimes that are 'associated with truancy,' especially daylight burglaries and car break-ins."

I thought that was already illegal most places.

The Associated Press: Senate reviewing how college football picks No. 1

The Associated Press: Senate reviewing how college football picks No. 1: "Obama and some members of Congress favor a playoff-type system to determine the national champion. The BCS features a championship game between the two top teams in the BCS standings, based on two polls and six computer ratings.

Behind the push for the hearings is the subcommittee's top Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. People there were furious that Utah was bypassed for the national championship despite going undefeated in the regular season."

I am (almost) speechless. This isn't a public policy issue. Period. But even if it were, isn't it blindingly obvious that this is not the time for the Senate to even think about it, much less waste time on publicity-grabbing hearings?

Orrin Hatch is pushing this because Utah didn't get to play for the national championship. Well, boo hoo hoo. Neither did USC, and they would have stomped a mudhole in Utah, Florida, or Oklahoma.

This is unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Is there anybody left in Washington with any respect for the principle that there are limits to the powers of the national government?

Survivor of Both A-Bombs Is Certified -

Survivor of Both A-Bombs Is Certified - "The survivor, Tsutomu Yamaguchi, had already been a certified hibakusha, or radiation survivor, of the bombing on Aug. 9, 1945, in Nagasaki, but he has now been confirmed as surviving the attack on Hiroshima three days earlier, in which he suffered serious burns to his upper body."
Here is the ultimate survivor. But on the other hand, you could call him the person with the worst luck. He survives Hiroshima, then heads for Nagasaki.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Elk Grove Ponders Stinky Fix For Unpaid Bills - Money News Story - KCRA Sacramento

Elk Grove Ponders Stinky Fix For Unpaid Bills - Money News Story - KCRA Sacramento: "ELK GROVE, Calif. -- City staffers in Elk Grove are working on a proposal to stop picking up trash and recyclables from residential customers who are severely behind in their utility bill payments.

The city said over the past year, the proportion of utility customers who are at least four months delinquent has grown from 4 percent to nearly 10 percent. Currently, the city sends out warnings to those customers, then adds a lien on their property and eventually includes the charge on the homeowner's yearly property tax bill.

However, city finance director Rebecca Craig said the current process can take 18 months and that the total amount of unpaid bills has grown to $1 million."

Drastic solution. I take it this will lead to peer pressure from the neighbors.
Fred Pilot contributed this slice of life.

DailyTech - Users Flood the Internet With Web Rage: "People, in increasing numbers, are headed to the internet to vent their rage, signs indicate. Road rage has been replaced by web rage -- a new form of public antipathy for the twenty-first century. While this is evident in the descent into name-calling and petty aspersions on many a site, it is also evidenced by the rise of sites specially dedicated to users expressing their anger at the world."
Yes, such as in the comments section here every time Tom Skiba takes a position on anything--and this time, I asked what CAI had to say about a bill in NV, and Tom replied, and suddenly it was time for some WEB RAGE from anonymous posters.

I have an idea. How about registering, so you have a name, and then let's have a civil conversation, complete with disagreements and controversy, but without personal attacks?

I have always welcomed Tom's posts and will continue to do so. He and I have debated these issues in public and although we don't always agree, we listen to each other and think about the other person's views. That's how you grow.

Griffith University | Strata and Community Title in Australia for the 21st Century III < Conference

Griffith University | Strata and Community Title in Australia for the 21st Century III < Conference
This is what they call CID housing in Australia.

Municipal Market Regulator Regrets Enabling Losses (Update1) -

Municipal Market Regulator Regrets Enabling Losses (Update1) - "The former chief regulator for the $2.69 trillion municipal bond market for the first time acknowledged that the governing board failed to save taxpayers in Detroit, Jefferson County, Alabama, and local California governments from suffering more than $1 billion of losses because of opaque financial instruments that backfired.

Christopher “Kit” Taylor, the executive director of the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board from 1978 to 2007, said his board wouldn’t allow the group to set rules on swaps and derivatives. Many of these deals went awry last year as credit markets seized up, saddling taxpayers with unexpected bills just as the slowing economy reduced tax revenue.

“The big firms didn’t want us touching derivatives,” said Taylor, 62 and now a consultant on financial markets and regulatory policy, in a telephone interview from his home in Alexandria, Virginia. “They said, ‘Don’t talk about it, Kit.’”

Congress set up the MSRB in 1975 to make rules for firms that underwrite, trade and sell municipal debt. The board is funded by fees paid by member firms, which generated revenue of $22.2 million in fiscal 2008.

As a self-regulatory organization, members of the industry are granted the authority to supervise their own practices. A 15-member board oversees the organization and 10 of the directors are from Wall Street firms. Enforcement is handled by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission."
How about this Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board? Their logo doesn't look like the Masonic emblem, but they sound like the Illuminati to me.

Call for help: Postal chief says agency crashing

Call for help: Postal chief says agency crashing: "WASHINGTON – The financially strapped U.S. Postal Service will run out of money this year without help from Congress, Postmaster General John Potter warned on Wednesday. 'We are facing losses of historic proportion. Our situation is critical,' Potter told a House subcommittee. The agency lost $2.8 billion last year and is looking at much larger losses this year said Potter, who is seeking congressional permission to reduce mail delivery from six days to five days a week."
The Postal Service says they will go postal if they don't get a bailout. Fred Pilot sent this latest example of institutional implosion. How about if the last institution standing in Western civilization turns off the lights?

Council uses spy plane with thermal imaging camera to snoop on homes wasting energy | Mail Online

Council uses spy plane with thermal imaging camera to snoop on homes wasting energy | Mail Online: "Our movements are already tracked by CCTV, speed cameras and even spies in dustbins.

Now snooping on the public has reached new heights with local authorities putting spy planes in the air to snoop on homeowners who are wasting too much energy. Thermal imaging cameras are being used to create colour-coded maps which will enable council officers to identify offenders and pay them a visit to educate them about the harm to the environment and measures they can take."

This is Great Britain. They seem to have lost any hold they ever had over government. The bureaucrats just intrude wherever they see fit.

Finally, Jonathan can enjoy a mundane meeting

Finally, Jonathan can enjoy a mundane meeting: largest HOA in MN: "'We're better now,' said Nate Bostrom, the new president of the group, which last year was looking at a civil war brought on by board members wanting to dissolve the association. The board then was run by a group that was seen as trying to disrupt or break the association, the largest in the state with dozens of neighborhoods and about 2,900 households. The dissident group two years ago mounted a legal challenge in which the association, in effect, tried to sue itself because it was believed that some of the newest neighborhoods were added to the association improperly. In a counter-coup during last year's annual meeting, six of the nine board members were removed and replaced by members who pledged to keep the association together and stop the proposed lawsuit."
Sounds like the Borgias would have loved that place last year.

Homeowners association fees on the rise

Homeowners association fees on the rise: "TAMPA - Some homeowners in the Tampa Bay area are being forced to pay for their neighbors.

Already struggling to pay mortgages, they also have to pick up the slack in association fees. The boards of many homeowners and condo associations are increasing membership fees, in order to make up for dollars lost by homeowners delinquent in paying their dues.

Rampart Properties in Tampa is one of many management groups facing this challenge. Vice President Kelly Moran says many communities are in crisis.

'Job loss, people losing their jobs, and the first thing they're not going to pay is an HOA or a condo fee,' Moran told FOX 13, describing the problem as widespread."

You bet it is widespread. And finally the press is getting the picture.

Proposed Florida bill would create a condo police force -- South Florida

Proposed Florida bill would create a condo police force -- South Florida "Soon Florida could have condominium cops who would bust those who defraud community associations.

The state officers would have the authority to inspect the records and premises of any state regulated community — condos, homeowners, cooperatives, mobile home parks and timeshares. The cases they uncover would be handed over to a state attorney's office.

'We are getting so many cases of potential fraud that most local police departments are too overwhelmed to deal with them,' said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who filed House Bill 1397, proposing the new police force. 'And most often they are low priorities for police who must worry about robberies and murders. So, nothing happens. But all this police force will do is condo fraud cases.'"

Rep. Robaina takes another step toward cleaning up the CID industry. Couple this with what Sen. Schneider is doing in Nevada, and you have two states where serious muscle might be brought to bear on the crooks.

In the comments to the Nevada article I posted (see below), CID prohibitionists weighed in with the usual sour grapes routine over any and all attempts to make this institution work a little better. Please don't try to tell me that prosecuting the people who steal from and defraud CID owners is not worth doing. Regardless of whether it cleans up the industry, it needs to be done. There has to be some punishment and some deterrence. There happen to be millions of innocent people living in these communities, with billions of dollars of their money in the hands of others. They have a right to some protection from thieves. Until recently state governments have largely ignored this problem and told people to go file a civil suit. That's why crooked property managers, lawyers, board members, and contractors have felt so free to steal. Finally, we see some signs that the criminal justice system will get involved.

Anybody who doesn't get behind that idea is not on the side of homeowners. I don't care how high you think your horse is.

Bills seek to expand HOA transparency

Bills seek to expand HOA transparency: "Area civic associations have come out in support of two state Senate bills that would make it more difficult for condominium and homeowners' association boards to hold closed-door meetings.

The bills, sponsored by Sens. Mike Lenett (D-Dist. 19) of Silver Spring and Allan Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship, would eliminate a condition found in the Maryland Homeowners Association Act and the Maryland Condominium Act that let a board of directors hold a closed-door meeting without a stated purpose.

Both bills, addressing each act, passed 44-0 in the Senate on Friday. The House has yet to take up the legislation."

Governing in secret is a bad idea unless you are making national security policy. I don't think Maryland's HOAs are involved in that area yet, so these bills sound like a good idea.

The CBO Says Barack Obama's Budget Would Increase the Deficit by $2.3 Trillion More Than Expected - "President Obama's 2010 budget looks more astounding by the day, especially when someone other than the White House budget office is analyzing it. The latest case of epic sticker shock came Friday when the Congressional Budget Office published its assessment, which found that the proposals would increase the federal deficit by $2.3 trillion more over 10 years than the White House had claimed."
Reactions to the President's proposed budget are mixed, with the Russians and Chinese wanting a new world currency because pretty soon the dollar will be monopoly money, and the President of the European Union saying Obama's policies are "a way to hell."
Parking Meter Revolt: Frustration Over High Costs - "Enter a guy who calls himself 'Mike The Parking Ticket Geek.' He contacted us via Twitter and showed us his website,, which he used to give people advice on how to beat parking tickets. The site has become a lightning rod for peoples' complaints about the new rates and operators. Mike says the people who are writing to him have a sense of 'anger, frustration, rage in some cases.' To the point where some, it appears, are vandalizing the meters. Pictures on Mike's website show meters deliberately smashed, taken apart, spray-painted, or deliberately jammed. 'People suggest taking a quarter, putting some super glue on it, and putting it in the coin slot,' Mike said."
Daley's privatization of the parking meters was followed immediately by $3.00 per hour parking meter rates in Chicago. Next was a huge decline in parking in Chicago, and then vandalism of the meters.

But Daley got a huge up-front payment from the company that bought the meter rights, and the city gets to keep all the fines, so...another successful experiment in municipal privatization. - Go back into hiding, GOP begs Dick Cheney - Go back into hiding, GOP begs Dick Cheney: "Congressional Republicans are telling Dick Cheney to go back to his undisclosed location and leave them alone to rebuild the Republican Party without his input. Displeased with the former vice-president's recent media appearances, Republican lawmakers say he's hurting GOP efforts to reinvent itself after back-to-back electoral drubbings."
Really. Maybe somebody should take him duck hunting.

Gated Communities Under Attack in Florida! |

Gated Communities Under Attack in Florida! |
This is ironic. Here's an alarm company making a new ad pitch: gated communities are now a target of home invaders because they have only the illusion of security. You need to upgrade your gated community to REAL security today!

Complex rules don’t benefit homeowners - Las Vegas Sun

Complex rules don’t benefit homeowners - Las Vegas Sun: "Nevada Senate Bill 183, portions of which greatly affect common interest communities (homeowners associations), is an example of how the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. I cannot speak to all of the details, as I’ve only read a synopsis, but I will speak to the totality of this bill and others like it.

This continuous regulatory expansion of HOAs is an example of what happens when our state government decides to create thousands of independent governing “states.” Who really benefits more, the property managers, attorneys or politicians? Certainly it’s not the homeowners who must now live under additional complex rules of a governing association."

Here's a letter to the editor from somebody who has things figured out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mesa council nixes Dobson Ranch tattoo parlor

Mesa council nixes Dobson Ranch tattoo parlor: "In a 6-1 vote, the council denied a special use permit for Angel Tattoo, which had rented and begun remodeling space in an Albertson's strip mall at Dobson and Baseline roads in hopes of offering 'upscale' tattoo and piercing services."
Hey--that's one of those cities that requires CIDs in all new construction. HOAs are required, but tattoo parlors are prohibited. There must be a connection.

The End of the Global War on Terror | 44 |

The End of the Global War on Terror | 44 | "The end of the Global War on Terror -- or at least the use of that phrase -- has been codified at the Pentagon. Reports that the phrase was being retired have been circulating for some time amongst senior administration officials, and this morning speechwriters and other staff were notified via this e-mail to use 'Overseas Contingency Operation' instead."
Oh. Does that mean we won?
California Labor Federation - Our Issues - Municipal Bankruptcy: "AB 155 (Mendoza) will provide state oversight and guidance to cities and counties considering filing for municipal bankruptcy. AB 155 will create a three-person Commission, comprised of the Controller, the Treasurer, and the Director of Finance, who will have oversight over municipal bankruptcies. This bill will NOT ban municipal bankruptcies or make them impossible. Instead, it will simply create an oversight structure to ensure that bankruptcies are only entered into when necessary."
California's public employee unions, having driven the state and many local governments into insolvency, are now pushing a bill that would make it harder for cities to declare bankruptcy, as Vallejo did and others are considering. They would need permission from three presumably Democratic and union-beholden state officials. In bankruptcy, the unions lose their power because their contract gets broken. All the stuff on the union's web page about the impact of bankruptcy on communities is window dressing. This is all about union contracts.

Unions were one of the main reasons the privatization revolution took hold in this country back in the early 1980s. Some cities couldn't afford to have unionized public employees collecting the trash and so forth, and the only way to get around the public employee unions was to abolish the department and contract out the function. Trash collection was one of the first experiments with privatization and it seemed to work. Then it was on to other things, and now we have private communities with private governments, private parking meters on public streets, and private police on Chicago's streets.

So, this entire slide toward privatizing away what are now the most basic, traditional, functions of local government was in a sense fueled by the intransigence of public employee unions. Look at school district funding problems today and you can see the same thing in many big city systems: lousy performance, high cost, and no way to fix either. That's why the drive for privatization through charter schools and school choice and vouchers is so strong. It's the only way around the unions.

Oh, and Assemblyman Mendoza is a former LA school teacher and teacher's union stalwart. Here is what passes for a sentence on his official web page: "First as a fourth grade teacher at Brooklyn Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles, then as an active member in United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and as a representative to the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the National Education Association."

That's a sentence fragment. I wonder if he was an English teacher.

U.S. bill seeks to rescue faltering newspapers | Politics | Reuters

U.S. bill seeks to rescue faltering newspapers | Politics | Reuters: "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With many U.S. newspapers struggling to survive, a Democratic senator on Tuesday introduced a bill to help them by allowing newspaper companies to restructure as nonprofits with a variety of tax breaks."
Maybe it would be easier if this Congress just identified whatever tiny remnants of the economy that are still going to be governed by the laws of supply and demand, and designate them "the private sector," and then say that everything else is part of the United States Government.

July 4th First Amendment Rights March in Silver Spring, Maryland | NowPublic News Coverage

July 4th First Amendment Rights March in Silver Spring, Maryland | NowPublic News Coverage: "Over one hundred people marched today, July 4th, in support of first amendment rights in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland.

The demonstration was prompted by a ban on photography in a quasi-public, quasi-private street, Ellsworth Drive.

The Montgomery County, Maryland government leased Ellsworth Drive in Silver Spring for a dollar a year to a developer, the Peterson Company, giving that company the right to provide security and amenities to Ellsworth Drive, a formerly public street that runs through the heart of Silver Spring. The Peterson Company called Ellsworth Drive 'private property' and prohibited photography."

Shu Bartholomew sent this, originally published in 2007, to remind us of another dramatic privatization. The Daley privatization of policing in Chicago fits a pattern.

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dodd's Wife a Former Director of Bermuda-Based IPC Holdings, an AIG Controlled Company

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Dodd's Wife a Former Director of Bermuda-Based IPC Holdings, an AIG Controlled Company: "No wonder Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) went wobbly last week when asked about his February amendment ratifying hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to executives at insurance giant AIG. Dodd has been one of the company's favorite recipients of campaign contributions. But it turns out that Senator Dodd's wife has also benefited from past connections to AIG as well.

From 2001-2004, Jackie Clegg Dodd served as an 'outside' director of IPC Holdings, Ltd., a Bermuda-based company controlled by AIG."

Senator Dudd is getting deeper and deeper into a hole he dug for himself, and now it seems that his wife was shoveling, too.

Can Private Security Guards Act As Cops, As They May Be Asked To Do On Far South Side -

Can Private Security Guards Act As Cops, As They May Be Asked To Do On Far South Side - "Mayor Richard M. Daley has already privatized many city functions. The Chicago Skyway has been leased to a Spanish conglomerate. Midway Airport is run by a Canadian company. The parking meters were sold to a firm run by Morgan Stanley, and as a result, the cost of parking in the city has skyrocketed.

But the question is whether another foreign firm providing cops on patrol may be privatization gone too far."

What the city envisions, it seems, is replacing police with security guards. It isn't just allowing gated communities to hire their own patrols for their own private streets. It is privatizing police services for minor offenses on public streets. And the streets they have chosen for this project are not easy to police.

What happens the first time somebody defies the security guards, by refusing to stop, identify himself, accept the ticket for loitering/littering/graffiti, and so forth? What then? How much force can these mall cops use to "obtain compliance," as the cops call it?

Daley isn't big on thinking things through, to put it as tactfully as possible. He is thinking about the money: somebody else pays the cops, the city collects the money from the tickets. The residents pay full property tax anyway. Does this logic sound familiar? That's because this is another privatization cash cow boondoggle like CID housing with its double taxation.

World Politics Review Blog |Afghanistan and Iraq as Gated Communities: "I've said this before, but the militarization of the Afghan economy doesn't strike me as an effective way to pacify the place. This picture by Josh Foust (more here) of FOB Salerno in Khost Province, Afghanistan, got me thinking that essentially what we're modelling in Iraq (the Green Zone) and Afghanistan is the most extreme version of the American gated community."
Is this stretching the metaphor a bit too far? But I do see the resemblance--sort of.

Woman helps police catch alleged scam artist | LOCAL NEWS | | News for Houston, Texas

Woman helps police catch alleged scam artist | LOCAL NEWS | | News for Houston, Texas: "Amber Rogers, a single mom, believed she had found the perfect home for her kids inside a gated community off Barker Cypress.

Rogers says she found the home online. She called the number in the ad and spoke to Jonathan Soto. He claimed he worked for an investor who was saving homes from foreclosure, and then renting them out.

Rogers signed the lease, gave him a $2,500 cash deposit, and was ready to move in.

But when she pulled up to the gated community, she learned that she had been scammed."

Good work on her part. She hid in the garage and called 911. He was taking deposits from multiple people for the same house.

How politics works: Senator Christopher Dodd and his cosy Irish cottage :: Toby Harnden: "Dodd became part owner of the 10-acre Galway property in 1994 along with Missouri businessman William Kessinger, whom Dodd knew through investor Edward R. Downe Jnr, who had pleaded guilty the previous year to insider trading charges. The mortgage was listed as 'between $100,001 and $250,000'. Downe was a witness to Kessinger's purchase.

In 2001, Dodd circumvented the US Justice Department to help get his pal Downe a full pardon on President Bill Clinton's last day in office. The following year, Dodd bought off Kessinger's two-thirds share of the 'cottage' for, Dodd said, $127,000.

Ever since then, Dodd has continued to list the value of the property as 'between $100,001 and $250,000'."

"Cottage"? This is a cottage? This is the same Sen. Dodd who got a sweetheart deal from Countrywide. And the same Dodd who included in the stimulus bill the provision that allowed AIG to pay the bonuses. And who then told CNN he didn't do it. And who eventually was forced to admit that he did.

One would hope that his constituents can read about this in US newspapers and don't have to search the web for a UK newspaper like this one.

Hartford Advocate: News - A Chicken in Every Yard: "There are at least 30 off-the-books flocks in backyards throughout New Haven, and East Rock alderman Roland Lemar has hatched an ordinance to regulate them. He's tentatively planning on presenting the ordinance this spring. Currently hens are tolerated under an unofficial don't-ask-don't-tell policy.

Lemar's ordinance would allow six hens per backyard, but no roosters."

The Yale faculty has their own chickens. How earthy of them.

Breaking news -

Breaking news - Man torches skateboard ramp: "ORANGE CITY -- A Volusia County man who had repeatedly asked that a skateboard ramp be removed from the road near his home set it on fire, sheriff deputies said."
He had repeatedly told the man who built the ramp to get it out of the road. That didn't pan out. So he resorted to self help.

U.S. Seeks Expanded Power to Seize Firms

U.S. Seeks Expanded Power to Seize Firms: "The Obama administration is considering asking Congress to give the Treasury secretary unprecedented powers to initiate the seizure of non-bank financial companies, such as large insurers, investment firms and hedge funds, whose collapse would damage the broader economy, according to an administration document.

The government at present has the authority to seize only banks.

Giving the Treasury secretary authority over a broader range of companies would mark a significant shift from the existing model of financial regulation, which relies on independent agencies that are shielded from the political process."

The rationale is: if this had been the law last year the feds could have seized AIG and wrapped up its affairs like a federally-insured bank that failed, instead of buying a big ownership interest in AIG to keep it from failing, and then watching it continue to bleed away the government's bailout money and come around to Congress asking for more.

But the rationale for bank seizure is that the bank accepted federal depository insurance, and as a condition of that insurance, they agreed to be scrutinized at will by federal regulators, who also have the power to walk in at 4:00 on Friday afternoon and shut it down.

Monday, March 23, 2009 / Asia-Pacific - China calls for new reserve currency / Asia-Pacific - China calls for new reserve currency: "China’s central bank on Monday proposed replacing the US dollar as the international reserve currency with a new global system controlled by the International Monetary Fund.

In an essay posted on the People’s Bank of China’s website, Zhou Xiaochuan, the central bank’s governor, said the goal would be to create a reserve currency “that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run, thus removing the inherent deficiencies caused by using credit-based national currencies”.

Analysts said the proposal was an indication of Beijing’s fears that actions being taken to save the domestic US economy would have a negative impact on China."

First Russia suggested this, and now China. Why not go for the trifecta and have North Korea or Iran chime in? Actually, our semi-friendly enemies, or semi-enemy friends, aren't the only ones who think that we are adopting policies that will have a negative impact. Plenty of Americans think that, too. I do not know at this point and am hoping for the best, but when I read the outline of the proposal to create a market for buying the toxic assets, it seemed that the government takes a lot of risk if it fails, but the private investors have the upside potential and don't seem to be able to lose much. Or am I misreading something?


Today I am opening up my new eponymous domain, The web site is still under construction, and a whole lot more content will be going up on it, but all the sections work and I invite people to drop in, register, and submit articles for publication there. I will keep The Privatopia Papers here on Blogspot for the near future at least, so nothing here will change.

Eventually the site will have a lot of things for free to anybody who drops by, and another level of access for registered users that will contain more.

I expect to have another book on CIDs in print this year, and I will have more to say about that when I get more information on the timing. The publisher has sent it out for review and that process has to be completed. I will also be creating more .pdf files of other articles I have published to go with the three that are already up.

Drop in at and give me your feedback.
Las Vegas Now | Legislation Introduced to End HOA Corruption
Noto and others say Park Avenue and several other HOA's were allegedly part of a wide-reaching plan by Leon Benzer and his associates. He is a developer who is said to have used friends to take control of HOA boards and funnel questionable work to his construction company. Sources tell the I-Team, that money could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Noto says the problem started with questionable elections, "There are hundreds of millions of dollars for them and if they can manipulate the law in their favor, then they're going to do it."

State Senator Mike Schneider proposed two bills Wednesday that would clamp down on HOA boards to open up the books and reveal any conflicts of interest. It would also bar people from tampering with board elections and if they do, it is a category C felony -- up to five years in prison.

So here is one state where one legislator is taking HOA and condo association corruption seriously. We will see who gets behind this and who tries to stop it. Anybody in the industry who is thinking in the long term should support this, because on top of all the other risks that go with buying a CID unit, if you add in the potential for Chicago-style election theft by outsiders, people may decide once and for all to reject this form of housing. I don't know who did what in the case that gave rise to this proposal, or even if anybody will be convicted, but there are just way too many cases of property manager embezzlement, board misbehavior, and abuse of owners. Calling them isolated examples is beside the point--all crimes are isolated examples, because most of the time people behave themselves. Crime is still a major social problem. And the need to clean up privatopia has never been more acute. This is especially true for condominiums, which always get hit hardest by recession and are now sliding into crisis all over the nation.
update: The state of the condo market today reminds me of a great scene from the movie There Will Be Blood. The oil man, Daniel Plainview, wants to lease land from a lot of farmers so he can drill for oil. The farmers meet in a house to talk about the proposition, and the whole place erupts into a chaotic group argument. Here is what happens next:

Prescott: [Plainview has just stormed out of a town meeting] Mr. Plainview? No! Mr. Plainview, where are you going?
Plainview: I don't need the lease, thank you.
Prescott: We need you, we need you to...
Plainview: Too much confusion! Thank you for your time.
Prescott: No, no, no! There's no confusion! If you just...
Plainview: [stops in his tracks, stares down Prescott] I wouldn't take the lease if you gave it to me as a gift.

Plainview decides the whole situation is just too much trouble and too much risk, even though there is money to be made. And if the chaos and dysfunction in privatopia do not abate, soon you will not be able to give away a condo unit as a gift, because people will think it is just too much trouble and too much risk. For a housing sector that sells itself as carefree living, this would be not only ironic, but fatal.

So, I think CAI and other industry organizations should be working overtime to clean out the crooks and the sharpies. Prosecuting the crooks and sending them to prison would be a great place to start. Ottawa, banks take action to rescue mortgages

Canadian banks urge borrowers to renegotiate mortgages if necessary Ottawa, banks take action to rescue mortgages: "As the recession deepens, Canada's big banks and its federal mortgage insurer are moving to head off a rise in defaults by homeowners. Ottawa is launching a campaign to urge the cash-strapped to approach their banks for mortgage relief, as the banks adopt more flexible practices aimed at preventing borrowers from falling behind on payments. The measures by the banks and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., the federal agency that guarantees mortgages, signal growing concern about increasing levels of household debt. With house prices dropping, job losses rising and the economy not yet showing signs of recovery, both the government and lenders are pushing consumers to be proactive if they think they might have problems paying their debts."
What a concept.

Capital News 9 | 24 Hour Local News | TOP STORIES | Schenectady mayor considers options, martial law over police woes

Capital News 9 | 24 Hour Local News | TOP STORIES | Schenectady mayor considers options, martial law over police woes: "Schenectady's Corporation Counsel John Van Norden said, 'If you abolish the police department you still have a need - not an obligation - but a need to police the community. You would need something in transition. Declaring martial law would be one way to bridge the gap.'"
It seems that the city is having so many problems with their police officers that they are considering abolishing the department, declaring martial law, and having the National Guard to the policing until they re-establish the department. I see declaring martial law in peacetime as an ominous precedent, so I hope they decide to go another route.

It’s Not Easy Turning Co-op Boards Green -

It’s Not Easy Turning Co-op Boards Green - "The politics at residential buildings, which are notoriously contentious, have become even more so as environmental issues have entered the fray. At many co-ops and condominiums, the members of energy and green committees lobby and cajole their neighbors to embrace projects that sometimes require upfront money, like solar panels, but more often just demand interest and effort on the part of residents, like recycling correctly.

It can be a thankless job that sometimes is met with indifference, skepticism and even outright hostility. But environmentally motivated residents say they operate on the theory of, “If I don’t do it, who will?” as it was put by Sharon Lee Ritchie, who started a green committee in her co-op in Harlem."

This "Green Building Movement" is coming at a time when many people are more concerned about keeping their home than saving the planet. Municipal buildings are heavily into this way of doing things, and the stimulus legislation has megabucks in it for this, but I think the CID buildings are on their own. Considering that there is usually a huge fight over raising assessments to fix a leaky roof, I wonder how far this movement can get.

Foreclosures hit communities hard | | The News-Press

Foreclosures hit communities hard | | The News-Press: "'The biggest issue we're seeing now is collections,' he said. 'It's causing tremendous amounts of heartache for the associations.'

To make matters worse, Kaplan said, when a condominium unit goes into foreclosure the lender trying to get it back is liable for only the first six months of assessments or 1 percent of the original mortgage, whichever is less. For homeowners' associations, it's 1 percent or 12 months."

The press seems to be understanding the financing crisis of condos and many HOAs the same way they finally got the issue of BOD abuse of owners in the mid 1990s. However, what they do not grasp in either case is that this is all the logical outcome of the decision by governments and developers to privatize the functions of local government and pass the costs on to home buyers. Until that issue is dealt with, the problems will continue. And in the current economic situation, condo ownership is a minefield.

Sunday, March 22, 2009 / UK - London homes lose top slot: "London has been pushed off its top spot by Monaco as the most expensive place to buy residential property, with the capital and the home counties suffering some of the biggest price falls in the world.

Monaco is now the world’s most expensive residential market, where prime property is being sold for €50,000 (£47,000, $68,000) per square metre (up 2.1 per cent in 2008), followed now by London, at €28,000 per square metre, and then Manhattan, at €16,500 per square metre (down 4.1 per cent)."

And you thought property was expensive where you live. At $68,000 per square meter, even a knuckle-dragging Yankee like me can see that this is some seriously pricey real estate. Put me down for six square meters so I can pitch a tent.

Get ready: Here comes the 'prosumer economy'

Get ready: Here comes the 'prosumer economy': "Kelly believes - and this is a Fortune 100 adviser, mind you - that material consumption is being replaced by, for want of a better word, spiritual consumption. In a nutshell, quality supersedes quantity, a trend I believe we are already starting to see. For companies, that implies 'a massive emphasis on co-creation with consumers,' evolving into what Kelly calls the 'prosumer economy.'

It also presages, he believes, a transition from traditional models of competition to shared 'webs' of innovation. 'Companies are going to have to be more agile, more collaborative.'"

I wonder how that mentality will affect the real estate development industry. CID housing epitomizes the consumer economy, with not just the home, but the neighorhood itself being turned into a mass-produced and highly standardized commodity. Will developers pay more attention to what people really want, as opposed to what they can be convinced to buy and put up with?

My Way News - Treasury's toxic asset plan could cost $1 trillion

My Way News - Treasury's toxic asset plan could cost $1 trillion: "WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration's latest attempt to tackle the banking crisis and get loans flowing to families and businesses will create a new government entity, the Public-Private Investment Program, to help purchase as much as $1 trillion in toxic assets on banks' books."
That "public-private" in the name has a nice neoliberal ring to it, but if you read it over it looks like a great deal more regulatory power for the public partner. I guess the concession to the private sector is that the federal government doesn't flat-out nationalize the banks.

Rural Mexican villages dig moats to repel gangsters | Chronicle | - Houston Chronicle

Rural Mexican villages dig moats to repel gangsters | Chronicle | - Houston Chronicle
The chaos in Mexico is horrific. The article says 6000 people were killed in the drug wars last year, and this year is expected to be as bad. These tiny villages were raided by 15 SUVs full of armed bandits who kidnapped five people. It is like something out of The Magnificent Seven, except it is happening in 2009.

Officials question Gary spending on videotaping meetings /

Officials question Gary spending on videotaping meetings / "In a era of tax caps zapping municipal budgets, several local leaders, reform advocates and the governor question the wisdom of cash-starved Gary paying the mayor's son nearly $40,000 annually to videotape sanitary district meetings."
Seems like a reasonable question, especially given the amazing coincidence that the mayor's son is getting paid more for this than anybody else in northwest Indiana--according to the article.

A Green Zone » California Homeowner Association Fails To Block Installation Of Low Cost "Blue" Solar Panels

A Green Zone » California Homeowner Association Fails To Block Installation Of Low Cost "Blue" Solar Panels
The Rancho Palos Verdes HOA art jury didn't like the way the panels looked. The city of Palos Verdes said "tough." The panels stay.

Lousy Rating Agencies To Make $1 Billion Rating Bailout Debt

Lousy Rating Agencies To Make $1 Billion Rating Bailout Debt: "Remember the rating agencies? S&P? Moody's? The folks who rated all that subprime paper Triple-A?

Well, the Fed's baillout program is going to be issuing a lot of new asset-backed securities, which means the rating agencies are about to be busy again. In fact, the Wall Street Journal estimates that they'll make $1 billion of fees rating the paper produced in the latest bailout programs."

I suppose this could cause a backlash, but if it does, maybe Obama can just dispatch the mobs to their houses, too.

Richard White: Condominium association's underfunded reserves causes red flag situation : Columns : Naples Daily News

Richard White: Condominium association's underfunded reserves causes red flag situation : Columns : Naples Daily News: "Her neighbor recently applied for a reverse mortgage, but when the bank reviewed the condominium’s association’s financials, the family was turned down because the association has a deficit and no reserves."
Condo owners are finding out that the screws are being tightened on every side.