Tuesday, February 06, 2007 | Mad at Mexico

Local officials spoke out this afternoon against a bill passed in the Mexican Congress today that makes it legal to carry small amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin and marijuana just the other side of the border.

“It’s just plain dumb,” said Mayor Jerry Sanders, who noted that he called the White House and would contact Mexican President Vicente Fox about his opposition to the new law.

Fox is expected to sign the bill into law, news reports said. The reported intent of the bill is to provide Mexican law enforcement more resources to pursue drug lords by freeing up money that was being used to deter lesser offenders.

San Diego officials took turns sharing their disgust with Mexico’s decriminalization efforts, saying it would “stiffen” the immigration debate and jeopardize the public health and safety of Mexico and the San Diego region.

“One has to ask, ‘are the drug lords running the show?’ ” District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis asked.

James Dunford, medical director for the city’s Emergency Medical Services, estimated that the amount of narcotics that an individual can carry in Mexico is about enough for 5 to 10 personal uses.


Another Stab at It

City Attorney Mike Aguirre asked a Superior Court judge today to reconsider his March decision that the pension system can choose its own legal counsel, arguing in court that his office should be representing the plan because it is a department of the city.

Judge Jeffrey Barton said last month that the City Attorney’s Office could not represent the pension plan in this conflict with the city last month after attorneys for the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System argued that the office would be conflicted.

Barton tentatively agreed to reconsider the decision based on a law that says a court can reweigh a dispute if new or different law, facts or circumstances become applicable.

Aguirre presented an argument that his office was not conflicted in representing both the city and the retirement system any more than the plan’s current set of attorneys, who are now defending pension-benefit deals they once opined to be corrupt. He also said that the interests of the SDCERS board of trustees do not mean they are the interests of retirement plan itself, referring to a state bar rule of professional conduct.

Michael Leone, the retirement system’s attorney, said the ruling should not be reconsidered because Aguirre was not bringing new facts, laws or circumstances to the table, but only new information that supported his defeated argument.

Barton said he would decide whether to reconsider the dispute in the next two weeks.


Market Creek Details

I’ve been getting a few e-mails asking me to provide more details about Market Creek Plaza.

More information can be found at www.marketcreekplaza.com.

Or, you can go to the Web site for the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation.

Empire Blogs Back

There’s no shortage of Web sites and blogs calling for doom, gloom and the sky falling in on the real estate market.

Indeed, “bubble bloggers” as they have become known, have cropped up all over the web. The Blogosphere has lived up to its liberal reputation by backing the concept of a real estate bubble, about to pop at any moment.

But the National Association of Realtors isn’t taking all of this lying down.

Indeed, the association started its own 

The blog has won my heart so far, if only for its really rather nice description of what real estate journalists are all about:

“Myth: If it’s in the newspaper, it must be true.

That’s from the blog entry for April 21. Now that’s a good start, but it gets even better:

“Journalists strive for getting the complete story, but considering the conditions under which they work, they know that’s usually impossible. Rather, they work hard to see that stories are balanced. If they cite a spokesperson for one side of an issue, they will go out of their way to find someone on the other side. Both sides might be dead wrong, but the theory is that the truth lies somewhere between two poles of opinion.”

Considering the barrage of emails I get daily from Realtors and other players in the real estate industry accusing me and Rich Toscano of trying to pull down the real estate industry, this sort of stuff’s a welcome change.

Well done, NAR. Way to fight back.


Cool Beach Tool

Want to know why Imperial Beach’s water was found to be too dirty to swim in today?

Check out this experimental Tijuana River plume tracker kept by the folks at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. Watch the sewage-polluted plume — represented in blue — trickle south first, then whip north toward the southern San Diego beach. Once you get to the link, click on “Start Animation.”

It’s a fascinating glimpse of why IB’s water access frequently gets closed after a rainfall. The rain captures sewage and other polluted runoff from Tijuana’s streets and neighborhoods where many lack indoor plumbing, and sends it into the Tijuana River. Its outfall? The Pacific Ocean. When the plume pushes north, beaches as far north as Coronado get closed.


Who’s Your Attorney?

Thought the legal battle over who should be the attorney to the city’s troubled pension system was over? You’re wrong, buddy. A Superior Court judge issued a tentative judgment today accepting arguments on City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s motion to reconsider.

Superior Court Judge Jeffrey B. Barton last month sided with the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System in their efforts to rebuff Aguirre’s push to bring the pension system’s legal affairs back under the City Attorney’s Office.

A hearing is set for Friday at 9 a.m.


Listen Up

One of the groups pushing to build a new airport in San Diego will hold public forums to emphasize its contentions.

The Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century — that’s ASAP-21 for short — is holding what it calls a “public outreach program” that will include five forums independent of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

The point, said Erik Bruvold, vice president of public policy at the San Diego County Regional Economic Development Corp., is to give the public information they may not get from the authority and to make a stronger case for building a new airport — emphasizing the economic harm that would come to the region without one.

ASAP-21 is comprised of a large group of business interests, such as the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the EDC.

The forums, dubbed “San Diego Speaks. We Listen,” are scheduled to start May 23. No location or time has yet been announced. Check for info at www.asap21.net.


Pension Convention

Dozens of attorneys gathered in Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn’s courtroom this morning, hoping to better sort out the slew of pension-related civil cases that involve the city of San Diego, its retirement system, retirees, city employees, labor unions, elected officials and various consultants.

Quinn told the cadre of lawyers that it would behoove the court to examine whether some of the cases could be consolidated or at least brought before the same judge. The judge said she was concerned that too many judges were spending time on issues that were very similar. Also, she said, different judges could potentially release different rulings — an inconsistency that would muddy up the legal drama.

When asked for suggestions of how or why the cases should be bundled together, City Attorney Mike Aguirre suggested three categories for the different lawsuits.

Aguirre said one group should include cases that deal with pension benefits and funding deals that were struck between the city and the retirement system; another should handle whether the city should pickup the legal tabs of city and pension officials who have been sued and indemnified; and the final category would include malpractice lawsuits that were filed against the retirement system’s outside consultants, such as the actuary, investment manager and auditor.

Some groups raised objections. Michael Conger, an attorney representing a former city employee who is suing the city for its past practices of underfunding, did not want his case to be thrown in with lawsuits that deal with benefit increases. Reg Vitek, the retirement system’s attorney, also said he wanted the benefit cases separate from the funding cases.

Conger, who also represents a client who is suing the retirement system’s actuary, said that the cash-strapped city wants the cases to be reorganized, just so it could put off an upcoming ruling. The city will have to make a budget-busting payment into the retirement plan if the Judge Richard Strauss rules in ex-employee William McGuigan’s favor on May 26.

“I know exactly, what’s going on. It’s a ploy to delay payment,” Conger said.

Quinn said she would entertain ideas, but did not say if or when the court would shift any of the cases.


Tax Talk

At a meeting the City Council held in North Park last night to discuss the mayor’s budget proposal, the subject of taxes came up after a representative of the Center on Policy Initiatives presented a comparison of San Diego to other large cities in California.

The gist: San Diegans get what they pay for, which is less than the others.

When it came time for the council members to comment on the budget, Councilman Ben Hueso led off by championing the idea of raising the city’s hotel room tax — a proposal voters have panned twice in the past two years.

“We need to bring more money to our city,” he said.

Hueso said raising the hotel tax rate would be a boon for the cash-strapped city at the expense of out-of-towners and not residents, and that part of the increase could fund promotional campaigns for the city.

“The money we derive could be used to attract more visitors and thereby compound more benefit to the city,” Hueso said. “The city is a little behind in that sense.”

When it came time for Councilman Kevin Faulconer to speak, he quickly reiterated his support for Mayor Jerry Sanders’ no-tax platform. The council’s independent budget analyst has also opined that a tax hike should not be considered this year, but stated that CPI’s report should be mulled in the future.

Any tax increase would have to be voted on in a citywide election.


In his speech to the San Diego Association of Realtors this afternoon, Mayor Jerry Sanders gave a hint to what might yet be to come in the ongoing investigation into City Hall.

He acknowledged that the investigations are not over yet, and said there would be more grand jury investigations to come.


Alderson Answers

Sandy Alderson, the Padres CEO, took questions from fans last week on www.padres.com. A few of them got interesting, including this following up on promises made to voters when they approved Petco Park:

Base_Ball_3: Sandy, as a Padres fan, I’ve been patiently awaiting the upper-level free agent acquisitions that have been promised now that the revenue stream of PETCO has been approved and created. When can we expect such acquisitions?

Alderson: In order to pursue free agents, you need two things: quality players to pursue and the cash to pay them. Next year we will have the payroll flexibility to add some players, but the free agent class for next year does not look strong if you consider ability and age. The most important thing that we can do to improve the team is to improve our farm system. Devoting some of the money that is typically thrown at free agents by clubs would be better spent on building the player development system.”

Read the whole conversation.


To Add or Not to Add?

Within the same breath, Mayor Jerry Sanders told the San Diego Association of Realtors today that “there was nothing added” in his proposed budget from last year, but that “we added in some things.”


Well, the voiceofsandiego.org staff will be tracking down more about the city’s spending plan for fiscal year 2007 as budget season continues.

In the meantime, you can voice your concerns to the City Council members, who will have the final say, as immediately as tonight. The council will hold a special budget meeting at 6 p.m. at the Birch North Park Theatre, 2891 University Ave., San Diego.

You can view the Sanders’ budget proposal here.


Fewer Happy Fliers

Fewer passengers flying out of Lindbergh Field were satisfied with their experiences in 2005, according to a survey being presented Monday to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s board.

One in four passengers weren’t satisfied last year, an 11 percent drop from 2004 in overall satisfaction, says the survey of 800 outgoing passengers, citing increased traffic as a cause. Passengers flying from the commuter terminal were the most pleased (80 percent,) while people leaving from Terminal One were the least (73 percent.)

Terminal One lagged in cleanliness. Two of every three fliers thought the bathrooms were unclean; one in three thought the terminal itself was dirty.

Fliers also weren’t happy with prices of meals and concessions. Just 15 percent said they were satisfied.

The survey shows that improving ticket counter operations should be a priority. Passengers’ satisfaction at check-in dropped from 95 percent to 82 percent.

The survey is available here.


City Planner Named

Bill Anderson, a former chairman of the San Diego Planning Commission, will be introduced by Mayor Jerry Sanders as the city’s new planning director at today’s annual conference of the San Diego Association of Realtors.

Anderson, a vice president at Economic Research Associates, will assume the newly created position of director of city planning and community investment. The newly created position will oversee the city departments of planning, redevelopment and economic development.

The city’s most recent planning director, Gail Goldberg, is now the planning director for the city of Los Angeles.


Airport Agenda

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has a full plate when it meets Monday.

The authority is taking up the North County supplemental airport idea again, at the request of three board members. Mary Teresa Sessom, a board member and Lemon Grove’s mayor, asked for detailed information about the costs of building an airport near Escondido to supplement the existing airport at Lindbergh Field.

The authority is also considering whether to extend the contract of GCS Public Relations, the firm that’s conducting outreach and public education during the site-selection process. GCS, which has a $3.8 million contract, could continue doing work through the November ballot initiative if the board approves it.

The authority is also reviewing the scope of GCS’s work, which came under scrutiny following a voiceofsandiego.org article dealing its efforts. Scroll down to page six for a presentation with details about the legal background for the educational effort and the plans for continuing outreach.


New Boss at Convis

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau appointed David Peckinpaugh today to be the successor to the organization’s chief executive officer, Reint Reinders.

Peckinpaugh — who has served in the hospitality industry since 1984 — is now charged with leading San Diego’s tourism-promotion campaign.

As CEO, he will oversee Convis’ estimated $12.5 million budget, which is slated to include about $8.8 million in the city’s hotel-room tax if Mayor Jerry Sanders’ proposed budget passes the City Council.

Before joining Convis, Peckinpaugh served as chief marketing officer for Conferon Global Service — a company that helps organize conferences and meetings. Reinders retires next month after 15 years as Convis’ CEO.


NFL to LA Update

The next two weeks will be pivotal in deciding whether the National Football League returns to Los Angeles, commissioner Paul Tagliabue was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times today.

It’s unclear whether the league will pursue expansion or push to relocate an existing franchise. Or do both: It was reported last week that the league would like two teams in Los Angeles within the next decade, as the Los Angeles Coliseum and Anaheim have drawn the most attention as possible homes.

Additionally, the newspaper reported an additional revelation in the new saga related to football star Reggie Bush and his family’s rental of a Spring Valley home.


Improperly Funded

Critics of city finances have long bemoaned an alleged switcheroo pulled at City Hall that allows fees paid by users of the water and wastewater system to prop up the general fund, which is supposed to be largely supported by such things as property and sales taxes. City administrators have said that everything’s cool.

A county grand jury largely agreed with the critics in an investigative report released today, finding that contracts known as service level agreements have allowed the city to inappropriately divert funds from its water and wastewater budgets in order to fund its day-to-day operations, such as police, fire and parks.

The grand jury, a body of citizens annually convened to monitor government’s behavior, studied eight relationships between water or wastewater and the city’s general fund.

Among the findings:

— The Water Department in fiscal year 2005 paid $600,000 to the Park and Recreation Department to store water in Chollas Reservoir, even though the reservoir was being used for recreation and as a pond for waterfowl. According to the report, the water department had ceded control of the reservoir in 1966 and water officials couldn’t justify the need for future water storage at Chollas.

“That there was no basis for the $600,000 valuation may suggest that this figure was arbitrary and capricious,” the report states.

— A five-year agreement between the Water Department and the Park and Recreation Department to fund concession stands that sell bait, beverages, snacks and rents boats, costs more than in creates in revenues, causing the Water Department to subsidize losses of $899,914 in 2004; $1 million in 2005; and a projected loss of $1.4 million for 2006.

“Rate payers are subsidizing P & R functions which provide little or no benefit to the water system or water ratepayers,” the report states.

— The departments disproportionately funded positions without proof that the departments benefited sufficiently from the work performed.

The mayor, City Council and the city attorney are required by the California Penal Code to respond to a Superior Court judge regarding the report’s findings within 90 days.


On This Day

On this day in San Diego history, 2005: Mayor Dick Murphy announced his resignation.

It was one in a long line of political, legal and electoral dramas that has played out on San Diego’s stage in recent years, capping the end of what became a tragic tenure. This year seems pretty quiet in retrospect, doesn’t it?


Profs: No Bubble

Nine out of 10 urban markets in the United States are not suffering from a so-called housing bubble, according to a new study released by two Pomona College professors.

The professors claim to have figured out a new way to gauge whether there’s a housing bubble in a specific market. They compared the cash flow generated by owning a home to the cost of renting a comparable house (though, it should be noted, they didn’t study San Diego).

According to a press release that someone forwarded me, presumably in response to the inventory story that we ran today, the two professors, a husband and wife team, evaluated housing as a long-term investment.

According to the press release:

“They projected homeowners’ net savings on rent over time, discounted by a required after-tax rate of return of 6 percent, because the money sunk into the home purchase could presumable be invested elsewhere, for example, in stocks and bonds. Their analysis factored in expenses such as one-time closing costs, taxes, maintenance and insurance. On the other side of the ledger, they also factored in tax benefits from ownership and the fact that rents will rise over time, while payments on a fixed-rate mortgage will not.”

Aha! There’s the rub.

The professors assumed (and it’s a heck of an assumption) a 20-percent down payment, with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at a 5.7 percent interest rate.

Only thing is, the majority of home buyers in San Diego a) didn’t put 20 percent down on their home purchase and b) took out an interest-only or other non-traditional mortgage. That means rates on their mortgages aren’t fixed.

Indeed, according to Loan Performance LLC, a San Francisco-based mortgage analytics firm, 47.6 percent of buyers here used an interest-only mortgage for their home purchase in 2004. That’s more than any other city in the United States, the company said.

Therefore, some analysts might find the Pomona report a little simplistic.

It’s nice and positive though. As the report points out:

“The Pomona College professors question the implicit assumption that market prices previously matched fundamental values but now have exceeded them. ‘Perhaps housing prices were too low in the past and recent prices have brought market prices more in line with fundamentals,’ they write.”

Perhaps, but there are also plenty of people who say homes are simply overvalued.


Fee Fallout

City Attorney Mike Aguirre opined that every sitting member of the City Council, with the exception of Kevin Faulconer, will have to sit out today’s vote on whether to pay the legal bills for former elected officials.

After former Councilwoman Judy McCarty asked for the city to pay for an attorney to represent her on pension-related matters, Council President Scott Peters began asking other former officials if they would be seeking counsel from the city as well.

Peters said he wanted to round up those officials and assign one attorney for all of them as opposed to allowing each their own lawyer, claiming it would save the city money after so much had already been paid to defend current council members and city staff members.

Aguirre said that the motive of former council members is to defend the pension benefits he wants to roll back. Because the council members are beneficiaries of the pension system, they would have a conflict of interest in approving the legal defense of the former officals, Aguirre said.

Faulconer is not enrolled in the pension system, according to retirement plan officials, exempting him from Aguirre’s opinion.

The council will vote on this item at 2 p.m. Check back later for more coverage.


Tobacco Savings Breakdown

In writing stories about the tobacco securitization bonds that the City Council approved in concept yesterday, there’s a lot to explain: how the complex deal is structured; why the city can’t borrow like normal cities; what is owed to labor unions and so on.

That doesn’t leave too much space to break down the numbers. So let’s try that right now.

There are two reasons for doing the deal. One: the Mayor’s Office’s contends that this $100 million loan will satisfy terms in labor contracts (though some unions are disputing that). Two: Officials hope that the borrowing will make the city’s pension debt less expensive (it’s an important distinction: the debt doesn’t go away, per se, but is hopefully refinanced at a cheaper rate.)

Making the debt cheaper relies on two variables: getting friendly interest rates and consistent annual revenues from tobacco companies. Since Mayor Jerry Sanders first announced the deal, those variables have, well, varied quite a bit.

For example, the Mayor’s Office in January thought it could do the bonds at 6.45 percent.  Then, in March, when the deal was supposed to be approved by council, those rates jumped to 6.87 percent, meaning that the city’s savings on the deal would be an estimated $11 million over about two decades.

Last week, rates jumped up to 7.17 percent, and the savings conversely went down to an estimated $3 million over about two decades. Yesterday, rates were quoted at 7.11 percent and savings at $7 million. What will the rates, and the savings, be come June when the bonds are actually issued? That’s unknown.

The city is charged 8 percent interest on its pension debt annually, so it plans to go ahead with the bonding deal unless interest rates climb north of 7.9 percent. Those savings assume the city can pay off the bond debt sooner (2024) than is contemplated in the deal’s structure (2028). 

That takes us to the second part of the savings: the time it actually takes to pay off the loan, which is dependent on the strength of the tobacco company revenues. When the deal was first announced, it was thought the city could bank on getting at least $10.3 million a year, if not more, to annually dedicate to repaying the loan.

Last month, that number sank to $10.1 million because the participating tobacco companies have challenged the amount they have to hand over to governments, claiming they have suffered competitively to smaller tobacco outfits because of the settlement.

Because of that challenge, the city thought it would only receive $8.7 million as of April 17. Two days later, it got an additional payment from tobacco firms to bring its share up to $9.3 million.

The city’s plan relies on a consistent flow of tobacco company revenues into city coffers.

If tobacco revenues stop coming in altogether, city officials say the risk has been transferred to investors and not the city. However, if the revenues come in below the projected $10.1 million, the life of the loan is extended — making it more expensive to pay off with every year repayment gets pushed into the future. 


Record Inventory (Again)

As of this morning, San Diego County’s home inventory leaped back up to the record set on Saturday.

I just did a search on ZIP Realty and it’s saying there are 19,260 homes listed for sale on the county’s Multiple Listings Service, as of 10:17 a.m. today.

That’s exactly the same number as Saturday, and is a record. If just one home gets added today, it will be an all-time record, which isn’t really surprising as inventories have been rising daily.

For a look back at the number of homes that have been listed for sale, check out this site, which lists inventory figures roughly every 10 days or so, for the last couple of years.


Eating Away Returns

In the finale of a three-part series, the Los Angeles Times today reported that “some of the nation’s largest teachers unions have joined forces with investment companies to steer their members into retirement plans with high expenses that eat away at returns.”

The newspaper uses a teacher’s anecdote in the L.A. area to tell the story, but notes that similar arrangements are commonplace around the country, including in San Diego.


Peters: Is it Worth It?

Council President Scott Peters asked the Mayor’s Office in a memo Tuesday to reevaluate what could be won in court if City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s pension lawsuits prevail, reiterating his claim that Aguirre’s attack on pension increases isn’t worth the effort.

Aguirre is attacking pension increases the city doled out in 1996 to 2002, alleging that they were linked to retirement board decisions to allow the city to skirt its pension bills during those years. The retirement trustees who are also city employees had a conflict of interest in making those decisions, Aguirre argues.

Peters points to a legal settlement the city entered into in 2000, known as Corbett, which falls between the first and second rounds of pension increases that Aguirre is challenging. Because Aguirre’s case does not challenge the 2000 settlement, which raised benefits beyond the 1996 levels, the city attorney is only really attacking the 2002 increases, Peters said.

“As you know, I have expressed my doubts in general about the ability of the City Attorney to prevail on these issues. However, even if the City Attorney is successful, the fact that the Corbett judgment is unchallenged means that all benefits contained in the judgment must be and will be deemed ‘legal,’” Peters wrote to Sanders and Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone.

The council president estimated that the benefits doled out in 2002 equated to $41 million — “… far short of the recovery of $600 million to $700 million, which the City Attorney has pledged to realize through his litigation.”

Aguirre responded by claiming that Peters’ idea of giving up on the 1996 benefit increases “was adverse to the city’s interests.” Sanders has stated that he supports challenging the pension enhancements in court.

In addition, the city attorney disputed Peters’ claim, arguing that his courtroom opponents have already raised concerns that the benefits granted in the Corbett case are legal binding, but that that they were overruled.

“They’ve raised that argument in litigation and it was rejected by a judge already,” Aguirre said. “The increase in benefits (in 1996 and 2002) supersedes Corbett.”

Municipal Employees Association attorney Ann Smith has raised the Corbett case as a counter to Aguirre’s case in past public speeches. She disagreed, saying that the court overseeing the pension lawsuit has not made any decision on Corbett’s role in the current pension case.

“Aguirre is flat out wrong to say anything has been spoken about Corbett,” Smith said.


Seattle’s Best

When it comes to the war of the online real estate search engines, Seattle’s Redfin.com has just about everybody else beat.

Not only does the company offer a full interactive satellite map of the Emerald City, but they also pinpoint specific properties on their map that are for sale.

That’s not so amazing in itself, Trulia.com’s been doing that for a while now, but Redfin.com takes things to another level.

Click on any of the properties listed (which are outlined in red, yellow or blue on the satellite map) and you’ll get a full run-down on the property, rather than just a link to its MLS listing. Some of the properties even have photos and floor plans that you can scan through.

Once, Google maps looked pretty spectacular. What’s next? Live virtual walk-throughs? Scratch and sniff Smellivision that lets you know what odors are floating through from next door?


Bonds Planned Downtown

The San Diego City Council, sitting as the Redevelopment Agency, will decide Tuesday whether it should take out a $114 million loan to build affordable housing and infrastructure downtown. If they approve the loan, it would mark the first time a city agency has borrowed money from the public bond markets since its credit rating was suspended in 2004.

About $79 million in tax-exempt bonds would be issued to help fund the construction of storm drains, a fire station, a pedestrian bridge over Harbor Drive, facilities within the North Embarcadero Visionary Plan and the Centre City Development Corp.’s slice of the Main Library tab. Another $35 million in taxable bonds would go toward constructing affordable housing units within the downtown area.

CCDC Chief Financial Officer Frank Alessi said the priority of the construction projects funded by the bonds does not need to be specified at the time of the issuance. The bonds are set to come due in 2031, he said.

Because the Redevelopment Agency’s credit rating is tied to the city’s inability to release its financial statements, the agency’s credit rating was suspended along with the city’s in 2004. While the city is effectively barred from the public markets until its credit rating is restored, the Redevelopment Agency has an easier time getting to the bond markets because future property tax money is earmarked to service the debt on the loans, Alessi said.

The Redevelopment Agency will buy bond insurance to ensure the bonds receive a higher rating, but the lack of a credit rating will likely raise the premiums with the insurers, Alessi said.

Pending the council’s approval, the bonds would go to market in late May, Alessi said. The interest rates on the bonds are not known, he said.


On Our Own

If the airport authority picks a military base as a site for a new airport — and the Pentagon maintains its opposition — the Federal Aviation Administration won’t step in to broker a deal.

That was the message today from Marion Blakey, the FAA’s administrator, who spoke at a noon press conference. San Diego’s airport issue, she said, is San Diego’s airport issue.

Blakey isn’t the only visiting fed to have called it a local issue. U.S. Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who leads the House subcommittee on aviation, made the same point when he led a roundtable discussion here a month ago.

Blakey, in town for the American Association of Airport Executives annual conference, said the FAA’s role will be limited: It will review the authority’s master plan and examine environmental impacts.

If the FAA approves the as-yet-developed plan, it could fund 10 percent to 30 percent of airport construction costs, said Catherine M. Lang, the FAA’s deputy associate administrator for airports.

“Paying for a new airport is probably the easiest part of the equation,” Lang said.

Denver’s $5 billion airport, which opened in 1995, received approximately $500 million in federal funding, Lang said. A project to redo the airfield at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is receiving about $6 billion in federal assistance, she said.

With San Diego airport price tags as high as $25 billion being tossed around, Lang also offered words of caution: “This isn’t a blank check, either.”


Early June Decision?

Those hoping to get a decision on an airport site by late May will have to wait.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s big decision won’t happen until early June, said Angela Shafer-Payne, the authority’s vice president of strategic planning.

An updated timeline: The authority’s May 1 board meeting will include a presentation on its public outreach campaign. Technical analysis of military sites will be released in mid-May. Some of that analysis will be presented at a May 22 strategic planning committee meeting.

The authority’s full board meets again June 5 and is scheduled to adopt its budget then, Shafer-Payne said, which could push the site selection to another day.

And all of this is still tentative.


Dining with George

Mayor Jerry Sanders and five other elected officials dined with President Bush last night as part of the president’s Southern California visit.

The officials discussed how federal issues affect their communities locally and Sanders articulated San Diego’s need for Homeland Security funding as well as the importance of federally funded infrastructure along the border, according to the Mayor’s Office.

The half-hour dinner marked the second time in a month that the mayor met with Bush.

They were joined by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O’Neill, Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe.


Rancho Santa Wahey!

Rancho Santa Fe is the second most expensive ZIP code in the United States, according to Forbes.com.

A house in “the ranch” will set you back, on average $2,445,000. That’s only a tad shy of the most expensive ZIP code in the country, Sagaponack, in Suffolk County, New York (Maybe there’s a premium for the cool name?)

One note about the study, however. La Jolla is 368th on the list, with a 2005 median sales price of $730,250. I don’t know where they got that figure, but it doesn’t sound right, especially as Coldwell Banker named La Jolla as the most expensive ZIP in the nation last year, with average home values of something like $1.6 million.

Of course, the low figure could be because people didn’t sell in La Jolla last year, or are holding onto the premium homes.

Forbes also list San Clemente as being in the county of San Diego.

Go figure.


IBA Tobacco Report

Last evening’s final This Just In was a summary of the Independent Budget Analyst’s report on the mayor’s plan to issue $100 million in tobacco securitization bonds. We just received the final copy of the report and you can read it here.


Source: Team Can Talk

A source close to the San Diego Chargers negotiations said that Jerry Sanders will today ask the City Council to allow the professional football team to negotiate with other cities in the county.

Sanders has called a press conference for 1 p.m. today, and the source said the mayor will support a proposed amendment to the team’s contract, something that would allow the Chargers to speak with cities such as Oceanside, Chula Vista and National City about a new stadium.

County supervisors have also shown interest in the team’s ongoing push for a new stadium.

Under the current contract, the team can speak with any city beginning Jan. 1, 2007.

The mayor is “basically going to say this is a bad time for the city of San Diego to be focusing on the stadium issue, we don’t have the resources, but we want to keep them here,” the source said.

Such an amendment would give other cities in San Diego County a head start to woo the team before cities such as Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Antonio come calling.


Chargers Update

Mayor Jerry Sanders has scheduled a press conference for 1 p.m. today to announce a strategy for dealing with the Chargers’ desire for a new stadium and an approaching deadline that would allow the team to begin negotiating with other cities.

Members of the business community and City Councilman Jim Madaffer have suggested allowing the team to speak with other cities in San Diego County before Jan. 1, 2007, when the team can begin talking with any city, anywhere.

Right now, the team cannot speak with anyone except the city of San Diego.

Please check back regularly today for updates and see a complete version of the story in Saturday’s edition.


IBA: Bonds Maybe OK

Yesterday City Attorney Mike Aguirre pooh-poohed $574 million of the $674 million in loans that Mayor Jerry Sanders wants to inject into the pension system. The remaining $100 million is another story. Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin issued a report late today blessing the mayor’s proposal to sell city’s share of its annual tobacco settlements in exchange for $100 million upfront — if the city attorney rules that the borrowing plan complies with labor contracts.

That’s a big if. The city attorney refused to sign the labor contracts last year. Aguirre said today on the Roger Hedgecock Show that he doesn’t believe the contracts are legally enforceable to begin with since he didn’t sign them. He didn’t sign them, he said, because they would tie the hands of the new mayor. (Former Mayor Dick Murphy had already announced his resignation and a campaign was underway when he reached the labor deals.)

In exchange for having to pay more into the pension system or for taking pay cuts, labor unions forced the city to agree to put $100 million in borrowed money into the pension system by the end of fiscal year 2006 and a total of $600 million by 2008. If they don’t, the pay and benefit savings go back to the employees, according to the contracts.

Tevlin blesses the mayor’s tobacco securitization proposal, saying it complies with the goals of the City Council and her office to increase the funding level of the struggling pension system. However, in her report she also notes that interest rates on the bonds have jumped from 6.87 percent to 7.17 percent just since March 29, the day the council was first slated to approve the deal.

The deal was supposed to save the city $11 million by reducing the city’s payments into the pension system, but because of the interest rate hike, that savings will be dropped to only $3.1 million, the report states.

That means the deal’s getting costlier by the day, and the report estimates it will cost the city $182.7 million over the next two decades in order to put $91.3 million into the system this year. (The full $100 million doesn’t go into the system because of associated borrowing costs.)

The deal could get costlier if tobacco revenues don’t come in at projected levels, a possibility given recent challenges to the tobacco settlement by the big tobacco outfits.

And though the city attorney is likely to raise legal objections to the plan, labor reps from the city’s firefighter and blue-collar unions have raised concerns that the deal doesn’t comply with labor contracts as well.

The City Council will be asked to approve the $100 million bonding plan Monday.


Caporicci Conundrum

The lawyer for Caporicci & Larson thought we should make a simple clarification about our This Just In item Wednesday regarding the city risking the loss of TransNet dollars because it has not submitted a detailed record of how it has used the sales tax money for the past three years.

We’ll stipulate, as they say in the legal world.

The TransNet audits are being performed by the Caporicci firm, which we originally said had been auditing the city’s books since the 1990s. Well, the Caporicci group purchased portions of Calderon, Jaham & Osborn in 2003, but did not begin performing audits for the city of San Diego until that year. Calderon was responsible up until then.

“No one at Caporicci & Larson did any business dealings for the city prior to Jan. 1, 2003,” attorney Matthew Smith said.

The Caporicci outfit was replaced after it released the 2003 audits, which are now being performed by KPMG. That firm is just one end of the great consultant pretzel.


Totally Uncool

The California Ocean Protection Council joined the slowly growing chorus of state agencies questioning power plants that use seawater to cool their systems. The council passed a resolution today that urges the State Water Resources Control Board to examine whether the plants’ impacts on marine life can be reduced.

The council, established in 2004 as part of the California Ocean Protection Act, serves as an umbrella organization to organize and advance policy for all state government offices working on ocean-related issues.

The council agreed today to fund a six-month study to analyze each plant — including the Encina Power Plant in Carlsbad — to see how they could convert to alternative cooling techniques.

Twenty-one plants along the coast draw in an estimated 17 billion gallons of water each day. (The State Lands Commission, which approved a similar measure Monday, says it’s 22 plants and 16 billion gallons.) Environmentalists decry the process, which kills fish, larvae and plankton by trapping them against intake screens or pulling them into the plant.

The resolutions aren’t expected to impact the proposed Carlsbad desalination plant.


Madaffer Unimpressed

Thursday, April 20, 2006 — 5:16 p.m.

Today, in SLOP™, we wrote that Councilman Jim Madaffer must not have had a chance to peruse the Web site of the mayor’s new Office of Ethics and Integrity.

We were wrong. Madaffer had seen the new Web site. It’s just that, like many, he still couldn’t figure out what the office really does after looking over the flashy site.

“I found little if anything on their Web site other than a dream for duplicating something we already have (Ethics Commission) in a time we have little money to be spending on things twice.  I could find few accomplishments except for the commandeering of the employee complaint hotline, which had been previously established by City Auditor John Torrell,” Madaffer told us today.

Tomorrow you’ll have to drop by voiceofsandiego.org’s commentary section to read a column by a professor of philosophy and applied ethics who helped the mayor come up with the idea for an Office of Ethics and Integrity at City Hall.

FF Probe Announced

City Attorney Mike Aguirre announced today with a press conference that he has opened another investigation into City Hall, in response to an article in The San Diego Union-Tribune suggesting that four firefighters gamed the retirement system by moving in and out of high paying positions. Such activity would allow them to boost the salary their retirement calculation is based on, but fire officials said staffing and personal reasons led certain firefighters to accept top management positions but return shortly to lower-paid positions.

The second headline of the story says “Troubled system being gamed, critics contend.” However, the avid readers here in our office didn’t find such a contention by critics. The story does quote Diann Shipione saying it “wouldn’t surprise” her to see such gaming, however the crack staff at voiceofsandiego.org, and our wholly owned subsidiary SLOP™, were unable to locate any contention by critics in the story that the system was being gamed.

Readers, please notify us if you read otherwise.


Mayor’s Response

We failed to include a PDF of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ written response to City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s opinion yesterday that the mayor couldn’t go ahead with his financial recovery plan without a public vote. Click here to read it.


County’s POBs

Regular readers of our government reporting know that pension obligation bonds have dominated the news the past two weeks. Supporters of such borrowing often cite the county of San Diego as an example of how POBs, as they are called, can be used to shrink a pension deficit.

However, it isn’t that simple. Scott Lewis took an in-depth look at the county’s pension system last year with a four-part series. The second in the series examined the positives and negatives of POBs. Give them a read if you missed them, or a re-read if you care to be further enlightened.

The county borrowed more than a billion dollars in pension obligation bonds to invest in its pension system starting in 2002.


Once-Through Cool

The State Lands Commission on Monday approved a resolution that encourages reductions in the number of state power plants that draw in seawater for cooling.

The commission, which oversees leases of 12 of the state’s 22 coastal power plants — including the Encina Power Plant in Carlsbad — said it won’t approve leases for new so-called “once-through” cooling plants and won’t extend existing plants’ leases unless they’re in full compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

“It was a huge step,” said Bruce Reznik, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper. “Even if it’s more symbolic than anything, it’s important. It’s the first agency of many that are considering similar resolutions.”

Many environmentalists reject the need for once-through cooling, a process that draws in billions of gallons of seawater each year, killing fish, larvae and plankton. The plants under the commission’s purview draw in about 16 billion gallons daily.

But the resolution isn’t expected to impact the desalination plant Poseidon Resources proposes at the Encina plant. Peter MacLaggan, a Poseidon senior vice president, said the Carlsbad plant and a similar one in Huntington Beach are designed with the idea that they’d outlive the nearby power plants where they’re proposed.

“The environmental community has been working for some time to get the state agencies to put the pressure on these power plants to discontinue the use of seawater for cooling purposes,” MacLaggan said. While environmentalists may have hoped the commission would take a stronger position, he said, “it’s difficult to suggest that a more strident approach was necessary.”


TransNet Trouble

The city of San Diego is at risk of losing millions of dollars for road projects until the city produces an audit of how its uses money generated by the TransNet tax.

The city is already late on a March 31 deadline to produce an inventory about how the money doled out by the San Diego Association of Governments is spent, a requirement that has already cost City Hall its April TransNet check for $2.6 million.

That money is partially funding 21 ongoing infrastructure projects in the city, including roads, traffic signals, storm drains and sidewalks.

On Friday, a SANDAG committee will consider whether it will grant two-month extension to the city and other local agencies that receive TransNet money but did not turn in an audit in time.

The requirement was instated last fall to better track how money created by the half-cent sales tax was spent by local agencies. Only the city of San Diego, CalTrans and the Metropolitan Transit System failed to meet the deadline, which was imposed on all the agencies that receive TransNet funding.

The middleman in this recent episode of economic morass for the city is Caporicci & Larson, the auditing outfit who was dismissed by the city in 2004 after reviewing and certifying the city’s annual statements since the mid-1990s.

Craig Thomas of SANDAG said the Caporicci firm said the city’s outstanding TransNet audits for the past three years could be wrapped up by the new deadline being proposed, May 31.


Fewer Mortgages

I guess it’s not just Wells Fargo that is having trouble convincing people to take out mortgages.

The national Mortgage Bankers Association released its weekly mortgage applications survey today and the numbers don’t look too good.

Basically, 14.9 percent fewer mortgages were taken out last week than in the same week last year. That’s based on something called the Market Composite Index, which is a measure used by the industry to figure out how many loans are being taken out.

That index was also down 1.4 percent from last week and is showing no traditional “spring rebound.”

You can read more about this and view an interesting chart here. 


Down in Flames

U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, called us back this morning with criticism of the airport marketing study released yesterday evening.

The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority study says Marine Corps Air Station Miramar would be the strongest site from a marketing standpoint, because of its proximity to businesses, tourist destinations and the county’s population center. It says the four airport sites farthest from San Diego are impractical, predicting that they’d actually cause more problems than keeping the status quo. Filner has been a fervent supporter of one of those sites: Imperial County.

“Clearly the board doesn’t want to look at anything outside of San Diego County, so that’s what the consultants gave them,” Filner said. “They’re heading for disaster. All the millions and millions they spend is going to be for naught.”

Filner, whose 51st District includes all of Imperial County, has touted the desert site as the most practical solution to San Diego’s airport capacity crunch. Filner contends that a $15 billion to $25 billion magnetic levitation train could get passengers there in as little as 25 minutes. The study released yesterday says it would take an average of 82 minutes for travelers to get there, even if everyone rides the maglev — which isn’t expected.

Filner said the authority’s consultants aren’t “thinking dynamically” about options other than Miramar.

“They were focused on Miramar from day one,” Filner said. “They came up with the exact same answers [as previous studies] and they are going to go down in flames.”


Mayor Hits Snag

The lynchpin of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ financial recovery plan hit a major snag this morning, as the city attorney released an opinion stating that voters must first approve a planned $500 million in bonds before the massive borrowing plan can go forward.

The city attorney opined that San Diego does not qualify for a key exemption in state law that has allowed scores of municipalities across California issue pension obligation bonds without voter approval because of outstanding questions surrounding the legality of pension benefit increases granted to employees in 1996 and 2002.

Typically, municipalities can’t issue debt without a vote of the public. However, an exception in state law allows cities such as San Diego to do so if the proceeds from such bond sales go toward “obligations imposed by law.” To date, pension debts have been determined to be “obligations imposed by law” because municipal employers have been found to be bound by law to pay retirement benefits.

But City Attorney Mike Aguirre states in his opinion released today that the city does not qualify for this exemption because of two outstanding lawsuits he has filed seeking to void a host of employee benefits on the grounds they were created in illegal and corrupt deals.

Check back later for updates.


Bond Advice Follow Up

It is fairly common practice in the state of California for municipalities to use proceeds from pension obligation bonds to pay for some or all of their annual pension bill, an attorney with Orrick, Herrington and Sucliffe LLP said in an interview today.

Concerns have been raised as to whether pieces of the mayor’s $674 million pension borrowing plan are legal because the proposal envisions using part of the bond proceeds to cover about half of the city’s annual pension bill.

So, has that been done before in the state of California?

“Absolutely yes,” said Roger Davis, chairman of the firm’s public finance practice.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre has promised a legal and financial analysis of the mayor’s proposal tomorrow.

(Orrick, Herrington and Sucliffe LLP is well-known for its work on previous pension obligation bonds. It is also a defendant in a malpractice suit brought by the city related its stint as bond counsel at a time when the city released financial disclosures that misstated the city’s obligations.)


Less Mortgages

San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank, one of the largest home mortgage lenders in the country, announced today that its mortgage business had dropped 43 percent from the first quarter of 2005.

While the company’s quarterly earnings report touts double-digit gains in every other business category, and the overall profit was up 9 percent from last year, the drop in mortgage revenue is very interesting.

The report comes amid talk that mortgage brokers are being laid off around town.

Local analysts have been saying for a while that the slowdown in home price appreciation was going to hit the refinancing industry hard. Looks like that’s already happening.


San Francisco Home Hunt

San Francisco is still one step ahead of San Diego when it comes to optimizing flashy online gadgets to sell people homes.

This site is basically a Google map of San Francisco, onto which a company posts markers showing where open houses will be happening. Anyone looking for a home can log onto the map and scroll through the possibilities.

It’s not quite as cool as Zillow.com, but probably equally as useful.


Prices Up, Sales Down

The median price of a Southern California home passed $500,000 for the first time last month, according to DataQuick, a local real estate information service.

According to a DataQuick press release, the average price for a home sold in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Ventura, San Bernardino and Orange counties was $501,000 last month, up 4.4 percent from $480,000 in February and up 14.1 percent from $439,000 in March 2005.

“We still expect the annual increase in median to go down into the single digits sometime this summer. San Diego County is still the market furthest along in this cycle. Price increases there have been below 10 percent the last eleven months,” the press release quotes Marshall Prentice, DataQuick president, as saying.

From March 2005 to March 2006, home sales dropped a massive 17.4 percent in San Diego County. That’s more than every other market in Southern California except Orange County.


Bonds Good to Go?

Concerns have been raised regarding the legality of pieces of Mayor Jerry Sanders’ $674 million pension borrowing plan, but a report on the Web site of bond counsel Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP appears to show precedent for the mayor’s plan.

The contested part of the mayor’s proposal: his plan to use a portion of the borrowed money to pay about half of the city’s annual pension bill. (Previous plans offered by city leaders imagined putting the bond proceeds into the struggling system on top of the city’s full annual payment.)

In describing past pension obligation bond deals it had completed, the Orrick report says: “A number of these transactions financed the regular annual pension payment in addition to all or part of the UAAL.” UAAL stands for unfunded accrued actuarial liabilities and is essentially the deficit accrued by the pension system — a measure of its assets versus liabilities. 

Ironically, the city is suing Orrick for malpractice for work it did on as the city’s bond counsel.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre has promised a legal and financial analysis of the borrowing plan tomorrow.


Rope Deal Sealed

The City Council on Tuesday approved placing a rope barrier at La Jolla Children’s Pool during the birthing season for harbor seals in an effort to protect the seals from human contact.

A rope barrier will be set up in the Children’s Pool annually between Jan. 1 and May 1, which is the recognized pupping season for harbor seals.

Both supporters and opponents attended the council hearing. Proponents of the rope said it provided protection for the seals, which attract throngs of tourists to La Jolla. Opponents argued that protecting the seals there shut the public out from that beach while attracting great white sharks to nearby areas of the coast where people do swim.

Councilmembers Donna Frye, Kevin Faulconer, Ben Hueso, Toni Atkins, Jim Madaffer, Brian Maienschein and Tony Young voted for the rope. Council President Scott Peters, who represents La Jolla, voted no.


Ten More Condos

Ten more condos came on the market in downtown San Diego last week, pushing the total number of condos for sale into previously uncharted waters.

As of last Wednesday, 491 condos were for sale in the 92101 ZIP code, according to Lew Breeze, a Little Italy Realtor. That’s up from 481 the week before.

The increasing amount of downtown inventory on the market mirrors the county’s real estate market. More than 18,800 homes are currently for sale in the county, which is very nearly a record for the market.



A federal magistrate said two former retirement board members were entitled to court-appointed attorneys in the U.S. attorney’s case corruption case against five former pension officials for their alleged roles in a 2002 pension funding deal that raised defendants’ future retirement pay.

Former Human Resources Director Cathy Lexin and former Assistant Auditor Terri Webster were provided legal defense in the criminal case. Attorneys have said that a similar corruption case filed by the district attorney and other civil lawsuits have left the defendants unable to pay their legal bills.

Firefighters union President Ron Saathoff, former retirement Administrator Larry Grissom and former retirement general counsel Lori Chapin were also charged in the corruption case.


Ethics Orgy Part IV

I was surprised to see not only the massive advertisement for the mayor’s new budget proposal this weekend in The San Diego Union-Tribune but also some of the numbers in it.

One of the most surprising was the cut in the budget of the Ethics Commission of $138,000 at the same time all this bonanza of new money was found for everything else — including more than $1.17 million allocated for the mayor’s new Office of Ethics and Integrity. We’ve had trouble in the past identifying exactly what the big new bureaucracy would do.

We found out today that the Ethics Commission cut listed in the Union-Tribune super-advertisment was a mistake.

“I’ve been assured that it’s a mistake,” said Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the Ethics Commission. “The $138,000 will be restored.”

How could such a mistake have happened? Fulhorst said she didn’t know.

“The Ethics Commission wasn’t invited to participate in any aspect of the budget’s preparation,” she said.


Aguirre on Enterprise

Monday, April 17, 2006 — 1:35 p.m.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre said at a noontime press conference Monday that he is going to investigate if water, sewer and other enterprise funds are paying the City Attorney’s Office for legal services after the editorial page of a local Pulitzer-winning newspaper  called him out.

The investigation will also probe whether the enterprise funds also pay for the outside legal fees of several city employees and elected officials that relate to the various inquiries by the Justice Department, District Attorney’s Office and Securities and Exchange Commission.

An editorial in The San Diego Union-Tribune accused Aguirre on Saturday of “boosting his own budget at the expense of pipe repairs.”

Aguirre also said his legal opinion on Mayor Sanders’ plan to borrow money from Wall Street to pay down its estimated $1.4 billion pension deficit and part of its annual pension bill will be released Wednesday after initially saying the opinion would be due out in a few weeks. Aguirre said it’s unclear whether the city can borrow $374 million this year without a vote of the public or whether the city can use a loan to pay the part of its annual contribution that goes toward the interest on the debt and a portion of the deficit.

“Are we [borrowing] in order to shore up the budget or because issuing pension obligations bonds is a sound financial move in the interest of the people of San Diego?” Aguirre asked.


The Mayor’s Ad

Those who read The San Diego Union-Tribune, a local newspaper, likely ran across a massive advertisement this weekend for Mayor Jerry Sanders’ budget.

Complete with an array of pie charts and cost breakdowns, the advertisement features a note from Sanders, the City Council and a few important dates in the budget process.

The ad was financed by a number of corporate sponsors and cost $20,478, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Spokesman Fred Sainz said the Mayor’s Office went to these corporate outfits and asked them to pay for the ad. He said corporations wrote checks directly to the local newspaper to cover the costs.

The corporate sponsors are Sempra Energy, Qualcomm, Inc., Westfield Incorporated, the San Diego County Chapter of the California Restaurant Association, Gen-Probe Incorporated, Downtown Residential Marketing Alliance and CDC Small Business Finance.


Wowie Zillowie Part 2

The Web site that brought you scroll-through maps of the nation’s neighborhoods, complete with individual real estate prices and sales histories for most homes, has just stepped up its act.

Zillow.com, which offers Google Maps-style maps of local neighborhoods, has started to offer aerial photos of addresses in certain cities. The photos are taken at an angle so that prospective buyers (or just real estate peeping toms) can check out what each address looks like.

The service is only currently available for New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston.

It’s very cool, if a little creepy.

Choose an address in any of those cities and you can scroll along, through each neighborhood, checking out each home.

Enterprising  home seekers might even want to check out how nice the cars are in each neighborhood — that’s right, it’s clear from the photos which cars are parked in which driveways — thus giving some indication of how home prices are doing in the area.

Have fun.


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