Saturday, May 31, 2008

No on 98/Yess on 99

The other day I ran across a piece that brought joy to my heart. It appears that Proposition 98 is going down to well-deserved defeat. Proposition 99 has a narrow lead. Both of these initiatives were allegedly drafted in response to the US Supreme Court's Kelo decision, allowing a local government to take a property, not for a direct public purpose such as a road, sewer line or school, but to resell the property to a private developer. Propositions 98 and 99 are the second and third initiatives since the Kelo decision to address this issue, even though California government entities only rarely take private homes by eminent domain at all. (The first, Proposition 90, was defeated in 2006.)

What's most interesting is the much-increased support for rent control among most sectors of the population. Ferhevensakes, 39% of California Republicans support rent control. A bare majority of homeowners support it. I guess that 25 years of rent control have convinced most Californians that cities with rent control will not resemble the South Bronx, that property values will not collapse (rent-controlled communities in California have some of the highest property values in the country), that rental housing will deteriorate no more with rent control than without it, and that the protections afforded by rent control and just cause eviction have saved tenants from the worst depredations wrought by the landlord class.

California tenants have had a recent lesson in the joys of rent control and just cause eviction. Just cause laws in California do not allow foreclosure as a just cause for eviction. This means that tenants in rent-controlled communities cannot be evicted as a result of foreclosure. (This doesn't afford much protection for tenants of single-family houses, but that's because the State Legislature exempted same from rent control--although not just cause eviction protections--in 1988.) So the timing of the initiative cannot have been worse for the landlord class.

But Proposition 98 does even more. In our own little mini-NAFTA, Proposition 98 also prevents localities from taking over private enterprises better run as public services. This means that a public utility could not be formed in an community already served by a private utility, even when the public utility would provide better service more cheaply. It would also prevent the expansion of an existing utility into areas already served by an existing private utility. Bad idea. Even rabid right-wing free marketeers in areas served by public utilities would not trade them for private service. Our local electrical provider, SMUD, is fully one-third cheaper than PG&E. Roseville Electric is even cheaper.

In a recent attempt to expand into Yolo County (to the west of Sacramento, served by SMUD), the major issue was the valuation of PG&E's infrastructure. PG&E claimed that their lines and poles were worth far more than any legitimate appraisal and even the legitimate appraisals were higher than the value claimed for tax purposes. PG&E spent millions to defeat the initiative (SMUD is barred by law from campaigning for expansion rights), but had it passed, the court might well have used the tax value in setting compensation. It doesn't appear that PG&E has made any contributions to Yes on 98 though.

Proposition 99 would prevent the taking of owner-occupied homes through eminent domain actions. If both Propositions 98 and 99 pass, the initiative passing with more votes would prevail. So Proposition 99 is a safety. Were Proposition 98 to pass (which seems increasingly unlikely), a larger number of votes for Proposition 99 would prevent Prop 98 from becoming law. I voted for that one, even though I don't like it. I dislike Prop 98 more.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shopping in Sacramento

On Sunday J and I went to San Francisco for a graduation party. On the way home we stopped in Berkeley so that I could wander around Berkeley Hort for a little while and then went to Berkeley Bowl, so that J could fondle fruits and vegetables that we never see in Sacramento. (I have noted before the sorry state of the shopping here.) We wandered through the aisles. I must admit that I was the one who found the baby artichokes. When we lived in Oakland, we ate baby artichokes often during the season. (The trick is finding the tiny ones that haven't yet developed much of a choke and then removing the tough outer leaves.) In Sacramento we can't find decent artichokes at all. Sacramentans get the huge, tough ones left over after the coastal regions have taken all the good stuff. Tonight he steamed them and then stirred them into a sauce made of butter, parsley, grated garlic, and salt and pepper. Yummy.

We also purchased raspberries and blueberries. Last night I made berry shortcake, and then I finished off the rest of the berries today. The berries were better and cheaper than anything we would find here.

A Very Angry Woman

I ran across a comment on one of the housing bubble blogs yesterday that left me fuming. It wasn't the post, but the comment by the realtor who works with banks to remove former homeowners and tenants from foreclosed houses. For tenants, he says, he's rather more generous, offering tenants two weeks to move and a small "cash for keys" payment in lieu of return of the tenant's security deposit. I was afraid that the banks were doing stuff like this. At the same time they're convincing our alleged representatives in Congress to take the few resources allocated to affordable housing to subsidize the banks, they're sending their minions around to induce tenants to give up what few rights they have for a piddling cash payment.

For instance, our realtor "offers" two weeks of free rent, without informing the tenant that, in California, tenants must be given a 30-days' notice of eviction. Most tenants, especially tenants without much money, need the time more than they need the money. The cost of storing goods and staying in a motel would cost more money than the realtor is offering. But most importantly, our realtor informs the tenants that the lender doesn't have to return the security deposit. That's not true. California's security deposit law was written to deal with the problem of landlords who claim that the former landlord never handed over the security deposit. It makes the landlords responsible for handing over the deposit, either transferring it to the new landlord or returning it to the tenant. If the tenant doesn't get the deposit back, it's assumed that it is transferred and the lender (as evicting landlord) is responsible for returning the deposit.

So this is what I think is going on. Foreclosure services and lenders are sending their minions to find tenants and scare them into accepting a pittance in exchange for what few rights California tenants have in foreclosure. The banks aren't even returning security deposits, ferhevensake! If one were less cynical than I am, one would think that our state and local legislators would take some action to stop this behavior, either passing legislation (their job) or, at the very least, providing the kind of information that would enable tenants to--I was going to say enforce their rights--but more basically, to know what their rights are. But our legislators know where the money is, and silence is easy.

What's most interesting is that the realtor doesn't see any reason to hide what he's doing. Not surprising, though, when the real estate reporter for our local paper spends much of his time writing about his conversations with realtors--and yes, it's a good time to buy.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hot Hot Hot

Spring appears to have ended early and we have entered the summer season. It's expected to be over 100 degrees both tomorrow and Friday. I don't want to go out, but 3,000 young people are coming to Sacramento to protest the Governor's proposed cuts to the education budget and I'm charged with helping to bring them water. They'll need it.

Monday, May 5, 2008


I've discovered Flickr. I had seen other people's pictures on Flickr, but had been afraid to learn the technology to put up my own. But it's not rocket science. In fact, any six-year-old could do it. I put up a bunch of pictures of the yard, so take a look and then write to let me know what a wonderful, original and inspired gardener I am. I can take the praise--promise. With a free account, though, they only let me upload 100 MB a month, so I've used most of my May allotment already. And it only allows me three sets, so I have to move the pictures from the current set to my public set before I can put up more pictures. Oh, the trauma of modern technology.

Update: J informs me that I should include a link to my Flickr pictures.