Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As Goes Merced, So Goes the Nation?

Not many cities are like Sierra Madre. A few years back when banks were lending money at ruinously low rates, and the resulting garbage development was springing up everywhere like so many cow pasture toad stools, this town said no. And the reason we said no is because we didn't want our City to look like what was going down everywhere else. We live here for a reason. It's not just that this is the town we call home, it is also a refuge from so much that is wrong with life in Los Angeles County. And this sense of otherness, of living in a true community safely tucked away against the mountains, is what defines us. And that, along with an ingrained orneriness that is very much a time-honored tradition here, has somehow allowed things to remain as they have been. All while so much of the state has pretty much gone to hell in a handbasket.

But look at it this way as well. We might not have known it at the time, but when we passed Measure V we actually did a very patriotic thing. While we were busily slapping down the Downtown Specific Plan and the atrocious redevelopment designs large moneyed interests were attempting to force us to accept, most other cities were rushing to accommodate just that very thing. Mixed use condominiums with little boutique shops and other nonsense was the planning model du jour, and the very thing that we refused to accept here can now be found littering the state. And when financial writers talk about the next wave of foreclosures and bank failures, it is a result of this era of excess that they're talking about. Because that style of development, backed by banking and development concerns who'd obviously lost their minds, has been a stunning financial failure. And it is going to take a lot of taxpayer dollars to repair all the damage.

The point here being that if more cities had done like we did instead of caving in to the blandishments of the BIA and CAR, there might not be the high level of financial exposure that so much of that building boom has caused. And let's face it, if the get rich quick schemes of the DIC had been allowed to happen here, downtown Sierra Madre would now be a barren half rented wasteland, one that would have sent the banks holding the paper scurrying to Uncle Sam for relief by now.

So what is the epicenter of the next wave of the great American housing bust? According to an article printed in the New York Times recently, that city could very well be Merced, California.

Here are some telling vignettes from this article about Merced, the City that did everything they were told to do by the SCAG/COG-style regional planning organizations of this world, and ended up becoming a celebrated economic basket case because of it.

--> ... hardly anyone in Merced planned very far ahead. Not the city, which enthusiastically approved the creation of dozens of new neighborhoods without pausing to wonder if it could absorb the growth. Certainly not the developers. They built 4,397 new homes in those neighborhoods, some costing half a million dollars, without asking who in a city of only 80,000 could afford to buy them all.

--> ... obviously not the speculators turned landlords, who thought they could get San Francisco rents in a working-class agricultural city ranked by the American Lung Association as having some of the worst air in the nation. And, sadly, not the local folks who moved up and took on more debt than they could afford. They believed - because who was telling them differently? - that the good times would be endless.

--> In the three years since housing peaked (in Merced), the median sales price has fallen by 50 percent. There are thousands of foreclosures on the market. The asking prices on those properties are so low that competitive bidding, a hallmark of the boom, is back.

--> But almost no homeowner can afford to sell. If you cannot go as low as "the foreclosure price" - the cost of a comparable bank-owned house - real estate agents here say, are the elderly entering assisted-living facilities, who often have decades of appreciation built into their home's value.

--> As Merced goes, so might go much of the nation. With as many as 2.5 million homes in the United States entering foreclosure this year and, at best, sales of only five million existing homes, the foreclosure price is becoming the rule in many areas. In Los Angeles County, whose 10 million people make it the most populous county in the United States, a third of the sales are foreclosures.

--> Merced County had a record 523 foreclosures in July, quadruple the rate of a year earlier, according to DataQuick. The repossessions are accelerating as overleveraged owners see the value of their properties sink and can find no way out.

We knew the people that wanted to redevelop downtown Sierra Madre were wrong, but did we know that they were THIS wrong? The great tragedy of this country now is that these kinds of development advocates convinced so many cities that their plans were the right ones. And many were built. Hopefully it won't take too many more trillions of dollars to repair the terrible damage they have done to this country.


  1. I guess we could say that Downtown Sierra Madre would have
    become no income housing.

  2. Measure V has to be defended daily from the undermining of Joe Mosca, John B, our planning commissioners, ex-Mayors and sleazy slimy real estate agents.

    One of the good things about this recession is that it is ruining the life of real estate sales agents, who believed their own hype, overstated values, pushed overpriced propery, arranged flim flam financing with a wink and a nod and many took credit for the real estate boom but have nothing to do with the bust, leeches they are.

    Imagine Sierra Madre with a cavern of condos and empty storefronts and then Joe the Hoe and John the Dud would be clamering for paid 3 story parking lots and whimpering about the rights of "property owners" ie developers while not giving a rats rear about the citizen.

    All the bs about "affordable housing" was just BS. 55 condos and 5 were so-called affordable and how much you wanna bet that they would ahve been swooped up first and then flipped by Webb-Martin or that slime ball from Prudential who touted the demise of Sierra Madre with Measure V, interesting how he has nothing to say now?

    Besides the obvious $$$ and another not needed ego boost for John B, I'm still puzzzzled why our Council and staff literally shut down City Hall for anything to do with present citizens and went willy nilly pandering to developers for people who didn't even live in Sierra Madre.

    I had a neighbor that got put through the wringers for a simple addition to his house but One Carter and the downtown puke developers and real estate agents went to the front of the line.

    Thank you to the three Council members who actually listen to the "majority" of the people and Joe and John can go to that place that is the opposite of Heaven.

    Watch out for the next dirt zombie to rise out of Pioneer Cemetary - I shudder if Shirtless Pete runs for Council.

  3. Good article today, Sir Eric.
    My friend and I drove through Merced on our way back from Modesto a few weeks ago.
    It's basically a nice town, a lot of beautiful old homes, like we have here in Sierra Madre.
    It's sad that Sacramento could do this to cities.
    There is up to 40% unemployment in the central valley of Calif.
    Thanks to Kurt Zimmerman, Don Watts and SMRRD...it hasn't happened here.
    We must continue to stay vigilant.
    Make sure you all stress to your friends and neighbors the importance of voting only for slow growth candidates.

  4. Sir Eric, I knew the DSP was wrong from the get go, and not because of the wider picture & broader understanding you have here.
    It was wrong because it was trying to fancy up the town, turn us into something we are not.
    This is a simple place, and that's why we love it. And so far we have our own water.
    There's a feeling of self-suffciency here that is very inviting.
    The developers want to buy it.

  5. 9:44, the developers did buy some of it. We did save our downtown for the time being, but took a terrible loss in the hillsides. We have provided new housing for millionaires, and evicted the wildlife.

  6. Good things are happening slowly. One little piece at a time. We are taking the power back and staff is not happy. Get involved just like the DIRTS did. A few people can't do it all. Speak up.

    (from NBC NEWS)

    Metro: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale

    What a home will be worth in 2012: $253,328

    Q4 2008 price: $350,000
    Projected price change by MSA: -27.6%
    Projected price change by state: -13.2%

    Los Angeles, best known as the home of Hollywood, is home to excellent universities such as the University of Southern California and large corporations such as aerospace contractor Northrop Grumman. Southern California has been particularly damaged by the downturn in the housing market and home values are expected to remain soft.

  8. Another reason to say NO to RHNA numbers.
    Make Sacramento go after a small town with the bogus numbers they put out, Kurt Zimmerman will defend our position!
    I'm sure Sacramento and the dirts wouldn't like to see Sierra Madre the focus of a cable station's "keeping them honest" segment!

  9. SM dodged a bullet - so farOctober 20, 2009 at 11:04 AM

    Anon 8:23, please think about running for city council.

  10. SMDAB:
    I'm with you. I'll vote for 8:23!
    We need someone to replace Joe Mosca.

  11. There have been suggestions for years about how to make city hall a better reflection of the community. One of them is to change the name of Development Services back to Planning. Think about it. It's a very good idea.

  12. Anon 11:43- fairly profound and I agree completely. Something that has bothered holy heck out of me is that no one calls a spade a spade or a mosca a fly.
    These acronyms and goofy agency titles are gratis our suspect business and government schools.

    Today's spanish translation lesson:
    mosca-noun, -an impertinent intruder.

  13. Sierra Madera is much better than that poorer town Merced. I mean they are an economic basket case. Isn't that funny? Just like that border town a few weeks ago.

    When the smug cat ladies and local crabby old kooks are safely tucked away in long term care to spend their days grouching about the lumpy tapioca responsible people will still be left to deal with the probems of the future. Like where is everybody supposed to live.

    Criswell, Liberace, Prince Eric and the whole Fire Island Glee Club can't stop that.

  14. Merced is a much nicer place than El Centro.
    Lots of beautiful old historic homes.
    It's very sad they complied with RHNA numbers, according to Sacramento and it really damaged their nice town.
    They should be a reminder to all.....JUST SAY NO to RHNA.

  15. 12:44, birth control could solve the problem of where everybody is supposed to live! Birth control could solve the problem of global warming! Birth control could solve the problem of famine! Birth control would make RHNA numbers unimportant!

  16. agreed 12:44, but how can you control these 3rd world countries?
    Look at the continent of Africa?
    The more money you give them, the more they populate.
    Until we can educate these people, the worse it's going to get.

  17. Challenged person at 12:44 - If Merced is such an awful place, how do you explain the actions of the developers that built almost 4,400 new homes there? Or the banks that lent them the money to build them? Some of them costing halk a million dollars? Does that fit into your guilt trip scenario? Now El Centro, the home of both SCAG's president and a 30% unemployment rate, would be a problem. But Merced? They only became poor after the forced building boom.

  18. 1:06 - don't know if birth control is the answer. The Census shows population in California stagnant or evn possibly in a slight decline. Something that everyone with the possible exception of SCAG recognizes. The real problem as I see it is building housing for people who don't exist. Seems like that might be a bad investment. And if you don't believe that is true, go ask IndyMac.

  19. Just watched the neuroblast clip of Don Watts to the hillside developers. Don said a big house on Lot 3 of Carter would be an "Ode to a McMansion."
    Merced is an "Ode to a Ravaged Community"

  20. The sierra madre downtown specific plan was an "ode to a city hall run amuck"

  21. Since someone else opened this thread I will add a thought or two. Just a hundered years ago on a planet that is millions of years old we did not have: cars, airplanes, TV, nuclear weapons, computers, feedlots, fertilizer, and pesticides.

    We did have in 1900 1.68 billion people on the Earth, unpolluted oceans, clean atmosphere, and rich soils.

    In the last 100 years we have added 5,184 billion good folks to the Earth, Our Earth population is as of Oct 2009 is estimated to be
    6.792 billion

    If that doesn't scare you nothing will. Its already over!

  22. Hey, Sierra madre could get poor and plenty fast. Just let Joe and John get control of our planning. They'll run the place into the ground in minutes flat.

  23. A subject that is not getting attention is our "Sierra Madre Boulevard". It does need something other than high density development.
    Pardon, but when you get past the boarded up Katrina Nursing home the view resembles runway 340 at LAX. It was redone a few years back but not very well. There are no trees, no shade, no 20 ft wide sidewalks, no benches every 30 ft, no connector walkways to the "well hidden back parking lots", no signing kiosks at appropriate locations, no atmospheric lighting, But there is rediculous parking.

    Where is the Chamber when you need them?

  24. Signing kiosks? Will you be conducting autograpgh sessions?

  25. Speakiing of City Hall run amock, when we get rid of CH we need to remember those who so cruely dumped Steve Pock, a fair man and a gentleman. Wish we could hire him back......

  26. 2:27, do you mean the part of the Blvd that Arnolds is on? The part that has Cafe 322, Dave's beauty parlor at 300 West (a very busy place), the Highlander (store & soon again liquor store), the Wildflour bakery the been there forever cleaners, the new electric scooter place?
    Seems lively enough to me.

  27. "Criswell, Liberace, Prince Eric and the whole Fire island Glee Club."

    Hmm. Now I wonder who would write something like that...

  28. Good question 4:28.
    Somebody with a mean spirit.
    And a snob to boot.

  29. Sounds like he's tall bald, and plays crapy music on the guitar.

  30. I've been slow on the uptake. Thanks for pointing out 12:44. I couldn't figure out just who that poster was mad at, and then I got it! That poster hates old people. Well good luck not becoming one.
    Also thinks of him or her self as one of the "responsible people" -
    responsible for posting nasty little slams at others.

  31. My guess is it must be someone who organizes parades in his spare time.

  32. We are lucky we are not in the same position Merced is, and we could have been. Give a shout out to Councilman Zimmerman for leading Sierra Madre away from the fate of towns like Merced. We are unbelievably fortunate that he was here to help us, that he and SMRRD worked to bring us Measure V.

    It's a nightmare to imagine a DSP'ed Sierra Madre, even more development in the hillsides than there already is and will be, and a......Mayor Mosca. That's a scary thought!

  33. This is off topic, but I saw the Pasadena Star news had an article on the 19th about the police shooting and a copy of the lawsuit , why won't our local papers even mention the incident


  34. If there's good information in the article, no doubt the Tattler will cover it. I saw it too, and it looks pretty bad for SM taxpayers.
    Anybody know who's the attorney defending the officer?

  35. 1:06.. too bad your mother didn't practice it.

  36. EeeeeZzzzzzeeeee,
    Lets all be respectful please, no personal attacks. We would like to avoid such things.

  37. 2:27...please elaborate just a tad more on what you are trying to describe,,,no 20 foot sidewalks,,,when was that ever discussed way back when,,, Scooter store,BOOMING business their, line out the door, Highlander, boy that gets me all choked up with civic pride every time I go by it while they are waiting to get the liquor license back so they can sell booze to minors again,YAY!!!! no connector walkways to the well hidden parking, well let's just ask Billy Sullivan if he wouldn't mind tearing down the Bottle Shop so we can put in a connector walkway, where do you propose these connector walkways be located, whose business do you sacrifice....jeezo peezo!!

  38. 2:27 You win!!! It was not even close about the shops, stores, etc, It was about the ambience and effort to make creative draw for the shops. You win with your narrow outlook...or maybe you lose in the competive world of retailing. Enjoy your opinion,

  39. Somebody is just a little too excited here.

    Trouble in paradise, perhaps?

  40. "...grouching about the lumpy tapioca" is a funny line. The post appears to be about the habit of contrasting the very pleasant and lucky town of Sierra Madera (wherever that may be) with less gifted and poorer towns while holding them up to ridicule.

  41. I think by Madera our friend was referring to the wine. But pray, how does a Sierra Madreano discuss towns that have run themselves into the ground without being politically incorrect? And does that really justify the gay baiting?

  42. Ah who cares. Good example of a thread wearing itself out. Too bad, too, because the article had a lot to say that could be discussed.