|... for what I am not sure|
Treasury, Fed kill idea of $1 trillion platinum coins to avert debt crisis (click here): The U.S. Treasury Department said on Saturday it will not produce platinum coins as a way of generating $1 trillion in revenue and avoiding a battle in Congress over raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
The idea of creating $1 trillion by minting platinum coins has gained some currency among Democrats in recent days as a way of sidestepping congressional Republicans who are threatening to reject a necessary increase in the debt ceiling unless deep spending cuts are made.
The Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve, both independent of one another, each concluded this was not a viable option.
"Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit," said Treasury spokesman Anthony Coley in a statement.
(Mod: it is sad to note that quantitative easing has reached the point where it can't even rise to the level of paper currency anymore. Also, will these coins be like some of our recent quarters? If so, what states will they put on the reverse side? And will we be allowed to collect the whole set?)
Save the Date - State of the City (click here): On Tuesday, February 19, 2013 from 6:30 – 7:30 pm the City of Sierra Madre will host its 3rd Annual State of the City Address at the Community Recreation Center in the Sierra Madre Room at 611 East Sierra Madre Boulevard. This year’s theme is “Finding the Right Balance” and this event will highlight programs and services the City has provided over the past year and give residents insight to the City’s goals for the next fiscal year.
(Mod: Apparently the City's snappy new redo-revote campaign slogan for raising the UUT rates to 12% is "finding the right balance." This applies to various other rates and fees as well.)
Time to buy Southern California real estate - if you can (click here): Real estate agent Alan Castillo recently listed a client's fixer-upper in Granada Hills for $278,250. It was only 1,600 square feet -- but it drew 128 offers, most of them in cash. The final selling price, after all of 10 days on the market? $377,872. "I was very surprised," said Castillo, the owner of Financing Realty Center Inc. in Granada Hills, who has been in the business for 20 years. "I didn't think I'd get that many offers. This was overwhelming."
While that particular transaction may be an extreme example, it reflects a Southern California housing market that is emerging from the late 2000s crash. For 2013, real estate experts say it's time to get ready for a new normal, or, perhaps more accurately, a new abnormal.
Interest rates are at historic lows, prices are moderate and demand is surging. But at the same time, banks are keeping a tight rein on credit, and homeowners -- especially those who bought at higher prices a few years back -- are still reluctant to sell. Plus investors are swooping into the market with all-cash offers that often pre-empt first-time homebuyers with moderate credit.
Those factors combine to make it a great time to buy -- and a more complicated, difficult time to do so. With rates so low and the housing bubble in the rearview mirror, home prices are starting to show some signs of recovery.
Last year was "the long-awaited transition year for California and locally," said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "We can't say that the housing market has recovered fully. I think that is a couple years off. But this is the turning point.
(Mod: I suppose this is good news. After all, for most of us the most valuable thing we own in this world is our home. But does this mean we will be returning to the housing speculation frenzy of a few years back? You do know what that does to people. It ain't pretty.)
Joel Kotkin - California's politics of farce (click here): Karl Marx wrote, "History repeats ... first as tragedy, then as farce." Nothing better describes how California, with its unmatched natural and human riches, has begun to morph into what the premier California historian Kevin Starr has called "a failed state" – a term more usually applied to African kleptocracies than a place as blessed as the Golden State.
The tragedy begins with the collapse of a governance system once widely hailed as a leader in efficiency and foresight but which now perpetually teeters at the brink of insolvency and suffers among the worst credit ratings of all the states. Only 20 years ago, the state's fiscal debt per capita was just below the national average; now it ranks consistently toward the bottom No surprise, then, that California routinely ranked as the "worst governed" state in America.
This poor performance has consequences, particularly in terms of business. Today, CEOs rank California as just about the worst place to do business in the country, and have for a remarkable eight years in a row. And it's not just the plutocrats who are angry; a survey by the economic forecasting firm EMSI shows that, in 2011, California also ranked 50th, just ahead of Michigan, in new business startups.
Unlike my conservative friends, I do not think the fault lies entirely with the Democrats. Instead, it has to do with the total eclipse of the state's once-lively two-party system. As Starr has noted, California's golden age of governance from the 1940s to the 1960s was largely a bipartisan affair, with power shifting between the parties. "Despite their differences," Starr writes, "Democrats and Republicans saw sufficiently eye-to-eye" to embrace policies that drove California's growth.
(Mod: Joel Kotkin is just about my favorite California disaster chronicler. I too believe that California has become a failed one party state being run like a corrupt third world banana republic. That the symptoms are so pervasive is one of the reasons why the dark comedy of our City Council meetings is so appealing to me.)
Steven Greenhut - More to crime fighting than just hiring more cops (click here): As California's toughest cities struggle with violent crime, we are hearing a familiar refrain: "Hire more police officers." While more cops may be the right answer in some places, public officials need to consider a wider array of crime-fighting options and examine ways to stretch their existing budgets.
William Bratton, the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York, now heads to Oakland to help address a gang-driven crime wave. Bratton already has bemoaned the relatively small size of that city's police force and the court-mandated constraints on the Oakland Police Department because of a police-brutality scandal. As a consultant, he will be focused on using a new crime-fighting tool that helps police pinpoint areas to focus their resources.
That kind of high-tech approach sounds more promising than the typical scare campaign, designed to help loosen residents' grip on their wallets. For instance, during a San Bernardino City Council meeting in late November, city attorney Jim Penman said, in light of the city's pending bankruptcy and police layoffs, that residents need to "lock their doors and load their guns" – a bit ironic, given California officials' stepped-up efforts to limit gun ownership.
The city manager in Stockton warned in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown that the city would "slip into municipal chaos" by then-proposed pension cuts driven by that city's bankruptcy. He warned of a "mass exodus" of police officers. The city ultimately decided to stiff the bondholders who issued the city pension-obligation bonds the last time it couldn't make ends meet, rather than shave some of the most generous benefits in the country.
In 2010, Stockton's police union gained nationwide attention for its graphic billboard signs – with a body count and images of crime-scene tape – welcoming people to "The 2nd Most Dangerous City in California" and demanding the city "Stop Laying Off Cops!" The Stockton Record reported that, despite police spending reductions, the city's violent crime had dropped by 14.3 percent from the previous year, although it's since gone up again.
Ironically, the same officials who argue that cutting police budgets will lead to mayhem also advocate pension policies that sap municipal budgets so severely that these cities have little choice but to slash the number of working police officers so they can pay for the retirees.
'Clean water, clean beaches fee' may be coming to L.A. County (click here): The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will hear arguments Tuesday about whether to place a measure on the ballot seeking to impose a "Clean Water, Clean Beaches" fee on 2.2 million parcel owners. The board will hold a public hearing at the Hall of Administration on the Los Angeles County Flood Control District's proposal to charge parcel owners an annual amount -- some call it a tax -- to pay for projects that would boost the local water supply and reduce water pollution by collecting and treating stormwater and urban runoff, and using it to recharge the aquifer.
Under the proposal, the average fee will be $54 per 5,000 square foot lot, though the actual amount would be based on how much runoff a home or business generates. For example, a big box store could pay $15,000. Overall, the fee could generate $275 million a year in revenue.
The public hearing will coincide with the deadline for parcel owners to submit the protest forms attached to the notices they received in the mail last month about how much they would have to pay if the fee is approved. If more than half of the 2.2 million parcel owners who received the notices file the protest forms -- considered unlikely -- the measure is automatically killed. If not, a majority of the five-member board can vote to place the measure on a mail-only ballot, although two supervisors have already vowed to oppose that.
"I support clean water and if we need to do something, fine," Supervisor Don Knabe said. "I just think that any effort we take to put something on somebody's tax bill should be clearly explained and project-specific." He said it was "outrageous" that many who received the notices thought they were junk mail and discarded them without opening them. He also criticized the lack of information about exactly what projects would be built with the money. "There are no projects attached," Knabe said. "This is just a pot of money forever -- there's no deadline on how long this would be charged."
"Some of these parcels are school districts, churches, community-based groups," he added. "Anyone who owns property is going to get smacked with this thing and not really understand what's happening."
(Mod: Oh look, a tax hike that says it is green. Isn't everything bad these days called green? Does this word have any integrity whatsoever any more?)
Try and stay warm.
Bonus Coverage: Interesting video from British Metro on train safety, among other things (click here). They're much edgier than L.A.'s Metro.