Thursday, April 02, 2009

Croatian Village Comes to Collin County | NBC Dallas-Fort Worth: "Adriatica is a new community designed to have the look and feel of a Croatian village by the sea. 'It has character. Its personality is different than other's, almost like cookie cutter houses,' said Croatian native Vesna Solano. Homes vary from mansions to flats and businesses are within walking distance. Adriatica has a bell tower that is an exact replica of the one in Supetar,Croatia. The developer even preserved parts of Croatian buildings nearly destroyed in the war. 'Everything is real. All the stone is really carved, all the buildings are really stone, there's no fake material in the whole project,' said developer Jeff Blackard."
To really bring the feel of Croatia to North Texas, a sniper hidden in that bell tower would add just that little frisson of reality, don't you think?

Marketplace: Home selling moves to a new stage

Marketplace: Home selling moves to a new stage: "These days, savvy realtors sometimes 'stage' whole neighborhoods, mowing lawns on abandoned properties, hiring dog walkers to stroll the streets. And when the financial stakes are high enough, employing professional actors to give the place a truly 'lived-in' feel. I get to see this played out the following weekend."
I guess hiring actors is an effective way to convince people that there is really some community in those community association-run developments. This is an extension of the advertising literature, where they show actors posing as happy soccer moms pushing the kids on the swings. But the whole thing is creepy. Too Stepford-Wifeish for me.
To urban hunter, next meal is scampering by | | The Detroit News: "Detroit - When selecting the best raccoon carcass for the special holiday roast, both the connoisseur and the curious should remember this simple guideline: Look for the paw.

'The paw is old school,' says Glemie Dean Beasley, a Detroit raccoon hunter and meat salesman. 'It lets the customers know it's not a cat or dog.'

Beasley, a 69-year-old retired truck driver who modestly refers to himself as the Coon Man, supplements his Social Security check with the sale of raccoon carcasses that go for as much $12 and can serve up to four. The pelts, too, are good for coats and hats and fetch up to $10 a hide..."This city is going back to the wild," he says. "That's bad for people but that's good for me. I can catch wild rabbit and pheasant and coon in my backyard."

Detroit was once home to nearly 2 million people but has shrunk to a population of perhaps less than 900,000. It is estimated that a city the size of San Francisco could fit neatly within its empty lots. As nature abhors a vacuum, wildlife has moved in.

A beaver was spotted recently in the Detroit River. Wild fox skulk the 15th hole at the Palmer Park golf course. There is bald eagle, hawk and falcon that roam the city skies. Wild Turkeys roam the grasses. A coyote was snared two years ago roaming the Federal Court House downtown. And Beasley keeps a gaze of skinned coon in the freezer. "

The article says that if you cook the meat thoroughly, there is "small chance of contracting rabies from the meat." That's encouraging.

Too Costly to Keep, Boats Become Castaways -

Too Costly to Keep, Boats Become Castaways - "They often sandpaper over the names and file off the registry numbers, doing their best to render the boats, and themselves, untraceable. Then they casually ditch the vessels in the middle of busy harbors, beach them at low tide on the banks of creeks or occasionally scuttle them outright.

The bad economy is creating a flotilla of forsaken boats. While there is no national census of abandoned boats, officials in coastal states are worried the problem will only grow worse as unemployment and financial stress continue to rise. Several states are even drafting laws against derelicts and say they are aggressively starting to pursue delinquent owners."

First, ditch the condo. Then ditch the boat. What's next? Make the kids work as street performers?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Pro-pest group opposes Charlotte's war on cankerworms | "As crop dusters swooped across Charlotte last year to coat the Queen City with cankerworm-killing spray, a young woman raised her head to the skies and whispered: Why?

Yes, the insects have been blamed for devouring the canopy and bedeviling neighborhoods as they rain down from the trees. But the way April Hatcher looks at it, our infamous insects are part of nature and must be preserved.

So she formed a local chapter of Join Our Kindly Ecosystem, which is dedicated to saving insects under attack by man."

The photo shows treed defoliated by cankerworms. I don't know about you, but I am shedding a tear for the noble cankerworm. I like the part where April and her friends will rescue the cankerworms as they slide down out of trees on their slime trails, catching them in "special leaf-lined, recycled cardboard containers," and transport them to some more tolerant community.

Where they can get eaten by a bluebird.

What Does One Get a Queen? - Political Punch

What Does One Get a Queen? - Political Punch: "President and First Lady Obama gave Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II a video iPod with inscription, songs uploaded and accessories, plus a rare musical songbook signed by Richard Rodgers."
So he gave the Prime Minister some DVDs that won't work on European players, and he gave the Queen an IPod that was packed with Obama speeches. How charming. I'm surprised he didn't put Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols on there. "God Save the Queen" and "Anarchy in the UK" would have had her moshing in Buckminster Abbey for certain.

This Obama sure has the sophistication Bush lacked, doesn't he? Perhaps he can stop by Walmart and pick up a Wii for Nicolas Sarkozy.

Proposed water rate hike blocked | Inland News | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California

Proposed water rate hike blocked | Inland News | | Southern California News | News for Inland Southern California: "City officials say the goal of the proposed rate increase was to bring the rates of the 1,266 households serviced by McCanna in line with what other water users in Perris pay.

A group of homeowners from the Villages of Avalon, the designer home tract that contains most of the impacted households, said the rate increase was too much.

'Not only would this affect individual homeowners in a neighborhood hit hard by foreclosures, this would be adding an extra $200,000 to the homeowner association's budget,' said Marnie Aislin-Kay, who heads the association."

When municipalities are after money, they have the power to sock it to the HOAs. But the reverse isn't true, is it?

Four Resign From Live Oak Preserve CDD Boards

Four Resign From Live Oak Preserve CDD Boards: "LIVE OAK PRESERVE - Days after an announcement by parent company TOUSA to wind down production, Engle Homes, the developer of Live Oak Preserve, is relinquishing some of its authority at the development. Engle Homes Vice President Rick Feather said all Engle employees who serve on the Live Oak I, Live Oak II and The Hammocks' community development district boards are stepping down immediately. 'We resigned under the advice of counsel,' Feather said. Feather served as a board supervisor on all of the three developer-controlled CDDs. Engle employees Lauren Arcaro, Dennis DeMott and Michael Mulvihill were members of the Live Oak II and The Hammocks boards. The taxing authorities are in charge of setting the budgets and overseeing management of the common areas throughout the community."
If I read this article correctly, TOUSA is going out of business, as in "...wrapping up construction projects, selling off its inventory of homes and not planning to build any new ones."

Construction-defects bill before Colorado Senate panel - Denver Business Journal:

Construction-defects bill before Colorado Senate panel - Denver Business Journal:: "Senate Bill 246, sponsored by Sen. John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, is intended to encourage contractors to correct defective construction and gives homeowners bigger settlements when the problems aren’t addressed.

Under current law, homeowners are entitled to claims dating back to the closing of the house — even if defects are not known to the homeowner at that point.

SB 246 establishes a 6 percent interest on the claims that accrue on a defect from the time of closing and 8 percent that accrues on the defect once there has been notification and the legal process begins."

The contractors are not amused.

It's time again to answer your condo questions -- South Florida

It's time again to answer your condo questions -- South Florida "Q: A new state law requires candidates for a condo board to submit a signed form stating they have read and understand state laws and governing documents. What are the consequences if this form is not submitted?

A: The Condominium Act, §718.112(2)(d), Fla. Stat. (2008), does not state consequences; however, from the statute's context it would appear that a candidate who fails to provide a form will not have his or her name printed on a ballot."

Generally the point of a form that requires people to say they have read and understood something is to prevent them from claiming later that they didn't read or understand it, and shouldn't be accountable for violating its terms.

Now, in this case perhaps it is a substitute for training condo residents and board members. The candidates are required to say "I read and understood all that stuff" and presto, no need for the state to do anything more. The problem of ignorance has been eradicated. Our job here is finished.

What do you Florida folks have to say? Am I right or am I wrong?

And what is with those butterfly ballots, anyway?

Failure to Sell San Quentin Reflects Deeper Problem | Fox & Hounds Daily

Failure to Sell San Quentin Reflects Deeper Problem | Fox & Hounds Daily: "The fact that a bill by state Senator Jeff Denham to sell San Quentin failed to move forward from the Senate Committee on Public Safety yesterday indicates a deeper problem than the state managing this one piece of property.

Over the years, the state has acquired property as if it were a real estate magnate building an empire. California should not be in the real estate business. It should just hold property related to its essential functions and manage that property wisely.

While a prison is an essential state function, San Quentin is an example of poor management of resources."

Good point. Why is a piece of real estate with a spectacular ocean view being used as a state prison in the first place? Fred Pilot found this followup story.
Justice Dept. Seeks To Void Stevens' Conviction : NPR: "The Justice Department on Wednesday asked a federal judge to drop all charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska.

A jury convicted Stevens last fall of seven counts of lying on his Senate disclosure form in order to conceal $250,000 in gifts from an oil industry executive and other friends. Stevens was the longest-serving Republican in the Senate. However, he lost his bid for an eighth full term in office just days after he was convicted. Since then, charges of prosecutorial misconduct have delayed his sentencing and prompted defense motions for a new trial."

It was the Bush justice department that did this. They went after Stevens, cheated to get a conviction that occurred eight days before the election (they withheld from the defense notes of an interview with a key prosecution witness that would have allowed the defense attorneys to undermine his credibility on important issues), and then Stevens narrowly lost his Senate seat to a Democrat. He was the longest-serving Republican Senator in history.

Here is what Stevens' attorneys had to say:

Stevens' attorneys claimed the government "disregarded the Constitution" by going through with the prosecution but praised both Holder, the new prosecutorial team and Judge Emmett G. Sullivan for demonstrating integrity in the case.

"The misconduct of government prosecutors, and one or more FBI agents, was stunning. Not only did the government fail to disclose evidence of innocence, but instead intentionally hid that evidence and created false evidence that they provided to the defense," said attorneys Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. and Robert M. Cary.

The Iraq war and the meltdown of the economy overshadow the incompetence and venality of the Bush administration in running the Justice Department. Bush actually nominated Harriet Miers for the United States Supreme Court. That tells you all you need to know about his respect for law.

Eric Holder wouldn't have been my choice for AG, but at least he has some common sense and realizes that the Stevens conviction would undoubtedly be reversed on appeal anyway. And now that Stevens is gone and the Democrats have snagged a Senate seat in a Republican state for six years, there is no political fallout for Holder's party in letting the case die.

It is a strange thing to hear Republicans still defending Bush, considering that he destroyed his own party. Talk about blind loyalty.

TechEBlog » Artist Recreates City of Kings with Matchsticks
Now, that's what I call a gated community.

Neighbour from hell 'blew up own home' minutes before eviction | Mail Online

Neighbour from hell 'blew up own home' minutes before eviction | Mail Online: "A 'neighbour from hell' is thought to have committed suicide by blowing up his home minutes before he was due to be evicted.

Wheelchair user Donald Joyce, 58, had been ordered to leave his two-bedroom bungalow after a campaign of harassment against neighbours during which he blocked access to their homes, filmed them through windows, and shouted abuse.

Bailiffs were due to remove him at 10.30am yesterday but at 9.45 a series of explosions blew apart the building in Cherry Hinton, Cambridge, and it burned to the ground."

I take it alternative dispute resolution efforts must have broken down.

California lawmaker proposes selling San Quentin prison -

California lawmaker proposes selling San Quentin prison - "State Sen. Jeff Denham is proposing selling the 432-acre prison, which offers a breathtaking view of San Francisco Bay, to garner money for California.

'Our inmates just don't need an ocean view. Let's level it off,' said Denham, a Republican.

'Let's rebuild something for the community there and reap the benefit for the state by having that money come in,' he added.

Denham estimates that the property could sell for as much as $2 billion, even amid a down market."

I could see a developer making it into a different kind of gated community.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spokane residents smuggle suds over green brands: "SPOKANE, Wash. – The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers. They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don't work as well. Spokane County became the launch pad last July for the nation's strictest ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates, a measure aimed at reducing water pollution. The ban will be expanded statewide in July 2010, the same time similar laws take effect in several other states."
This is just the beginning. Soon the government will require us to take the laundry out to a stream and pound it with rocks.

Home Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Fell by a Record 19% (Update2) -

Home Prices in 20 U.S. Cities Fell by a Record 19% (Update2) - "March 31 (Bloomberg) -- Home prices in 20 U.S. cities fell 19 percent in January from a year earlier, the fastest drop on record, as demand plummeted and foreclosures rose.

The S&P/Case-Shiller index’s decrease was more than forecast and compares with an 18.6 percent decrease in December. The gauge has fallen every month since January 2007, and year- over-year records began in 2001.

A glut of unsold properties may keep prices low, shrinking household wealth and damping spending. Still, sales of new and previously owned homes rose in February, indicating the housing slump, now in its fourth year, may ease as policy efforts to unclog credit and aid borrowers begin to take hold."

Prices down, sales up. Eventually prices start going back up, driven by the demand. At least, that's the theory. But we need to see an end to the foreclosure epidemic first, because the banks are unloading their foreclosed properties and that keeps overall prices suppressed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Tax Day Tea Party FREE sign artwork supplies national shirts slogan buttons
Some of these are pretty clever.

Homeless in Lancaster get free tickets to go away - Los Angeles Times

Homeless in Lancaster get free tickets to go away - Los Angeles Times: "Nonprofit pays for people to bus to places where they have family or other support systems. Mayor R. Rex Parris says Lancaster has become a 'dumping ground' for other cities' homeless...Parris is a strong advocate of the bus program, even contributing $10,000 of his own money. He said he is upset by what he believes is an unspoken policy by Los Angeles agencies and others to use his city as a "dumping ground" for the homeless.

Support systems? Must be a support system they didn't know they had, until the city of Lancaster handed them a bus ticket. It sounds like these folks are being shipped from pillar to post like so much freight. Thanks to Fred Pilot for this depression-era link.

Obama team drops war on terror rhetoric | Politics | Reuters: "THE HAGUE (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the Obama administration had dropped 'war on terror' from its lexicon, rhetoric former President George W. Bush used to justify many of his actions."
I understand that the term "terrorist" has been replaced with "friend you haven't met yet."
How Michael Osinski Helped Build the Bomb That Blew Up Wall Street -- New York Magazine: "I have been called the devil by strangers and “the Facilitator” by friends. It’s not uncommon for people, when I tell them what I used to do, to ask if I feel guilty. I do, somewhat, and it nags at me. When I put it out of mind, it inevitably resurfaces, like a shipwreck at low tide. It’s been eight years since I compiled a program, but the last one lived on, becoming the industry standard that seeded itself into every investment bank in the world.

I wrote the software that turned mortgages into bonds."

Read the sordid story for yourself. Plus you can see Osinski at work in his new occupation: oyster farmer.

More condo owners breaking homeowners rules | Business | | News for Seattle, Washington

More condo owners breaking homeowners rules | Business | | News for Seattle, Washington: "SEATTLE - Desperate times call for desperate measures as more and more condo owners are breaking the rules to survive the saturated market.

They're renting out their condos while they wait for them to sell, but the short-term rentals don't fly with most homeowners associations."

And what else can these owners do? They have to stay afloat. But this can cause huge problems for the other owners. If rentals go about 20-25% Fannie Mae and banks and insurance companies shy away from any involvement with the units or the association. So: does the association take action against the owner and incur legal expenses for both sides?

Thanks to Fred Pilot, who sent this link.

In Homeowners’ Latest Woe, Banks Are Skipping Foreclosures -

In Homeowners’ Latest Woe, Banks Are Skipping Foreclosures - "City officials and housing advocates here and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate.

The so-called bank walkaways rarely mean relief for the property owners, caught unaware months after the fact, and often mean additional financial burdens and bureaucratic headaches. Technically, they still owe on the mortgage, but as a practicality, rarely would a mortgage holder receive any more payments on the loan. The way mortgages are bundled and resold, it can be enormously time-consuming just trying to determine what company holds the loan on a property thought to be in foreclosure."

Thanks to Daniel Bliss for this link. What an astounding turn of events: now the banks are walking away from foreclosed properties. Maybe they can't prove or even figure out who owns it, or they just don't want to bother spending a dime on it.

"The next wave of the crisis," says one law professor.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Urban coyote attacks on rise, alarming residents

Urban coyote attacks on rise, alarming residents: "Since December, four people in the Denver area have been nipped or bitten by coyotes. A fifth told police a coyote lunged at him.

State wildlife officers have killed seven coyotes. An eighth was killed by a sharpshooter hired by Greenwood Village, in Denver's southern suburbs.
Greenwood Village is a municipality. Near us, an HOA hired a tracker because there were mountain lion sightings. He was walking around the area packing a .44 magnum. Have HOA, will travel.

But on the coyote front, these rascals are everywhere and they are hardy and smart. They aren't particularly afraid of people, either, although they would just as soon avoid us.

Coyotes in North Pinellas are getting more aggressive - St. Petersburg Times: "The increase in aggressiveness among North Pinellas coyotes is exactly what authorities would expect from a predator that has lived for generations in close proximity to people. Based on what happened in Dunedin about four years ago and in South Florida last year, this is what East Lake can expect next:

Coyotes snatching dogs right off leashes, crashing through lanai screens to grab cats by the throat, people mauled trying to protect their pets.

Already, residents have armed themselves with sticks, golf clubs, a stun gun and, in at least one case, a cane that transforms into a sword."

We have plenty of coyotes around here. A few days ago I was standing at the kitchen sink and I watched a coyote trot past the back yard with a small furry animal in its mouth. Where we live there are lots of squirrels and rabbits, so there haven't been any pets attacked. But these coyote vs. suburbanite situations are getting so common that a cartoon would be in order.

Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns -

Cities Deal With a Surge in Shantytowns - "Like a dozen or so other cities across the nation, Fresno is dealing with an unhappy déjà vu: the arrival of modern-day Hoovervilles, illegal encampments of homeless people that are reminiscent, on a far smaller scale, of Depression-era shantytowns. At his news conference on Tuesday night, President Obama was asked directly about the tent cities and responded by saying that it was “not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours.”"
Why are they still calling them "Hoovervilles"? Hoover didn't have a whole lot to do with this. Can we find somebody to name them after who is a little more directly related to the problem?

Unpaid association fees pit neighbor against neighbor | | Detroit Free Press

Unpaid association fees pit neighbor against neighbor | | Detroit Free Press: "The wear marks of Michigan's poor economy are appearing in some of metro Detroit's tidiest neighborhoods, where annual condo and homeowner association fees have traditionally kept things looking good.

Faced with job losses and potential foreclosures, many owners have decided to skip these fees, forcing the associations to go to such measures as placing liens on properties, levying special assessments and suing property owners. Some have even considered garnisheeing owners' wages."

A person would have to be blind not to see where this situation might be heading. And yet I don't think anybody regards it as a public policy issue. If this situation escalates across the nation, as I think it may, the repercussions will be substantial.

Nagin may lose Dallas home for failure to pay homeowner fees - Breaking News from New Orleans - Times-Picayune -

Nagin may lose Dallas home for failure to pay homeowner fees - Breaking News from New Orleans - Times-Picayune - "Mayor Ray Nagin and his wife have 10 days to pay outstanding homeowners' association fees on their suburban Dallas townhouse before it is sold in a public auction from the steps of the local county courthouse, a Texas TV station reported Saturday.

Public records unearthed by CBS-affiliate KTVT-TV show that the Bella Casa Owners Association filed a lien Jan. 28 against the property owned by the mayor and his wife, Seletha Smith-Nagin. The documents, posted at the station's Web site, claim the Nagins have 'continued to default' on fees owed to the association in the city of Frisco, which now total $1,507.14.

The notice of sale, filed March 17, states that if the fees are not paid, the property will be auctioned off between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on April 7."

Shu Bartholomew sent this along. Check it out. The mayor of New Orleans, who waxed so eloquently about the failures of the federal government to evacuate people in Hurricane Katrina (but forgot he had a fleet of buses at his disposal, seems to have forgotten or otherwise neglected to pay his HOA assessments. His Dallas townhouse is about to be sold on the courthouse steps.

I say it is all Bush's fault.