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November 30, 2009

Don't Try This At Home

This young god of hiking who calls himself Garret Christensen completed a hike this past weekend that I would not have thought possible.

He starts in the parking area at Badwater and then hikes across it! Okay, stop right there. This is not a recommended activity, even in November.

From there he proceeded into Hanaupah Canyon because he was, like, going to climb to fucking Telescope Peak, which is 11,049 feet.

Then he and his hiking buddy went down the other side of the Panamint Range into Tuber Canyon somewhere above Panamint Valley, thus ending day two of his hike.

Day three they hiked up Panamint Valley to Panamint Springs Resort and then to Darwin Falls, and camped near there.

Day four they hiked to the intersection of Route 190 and Saline Valley Road where they had a water cache. Their goal was Whitney Portal, where they had a car parked. They split up here and his hiking buddy hitched back to Badwater to get the car they left there. Our intrepid hero continued toward Whitney Portal, but NOT on Route 190, because that would be too easy, right? He hikes alone along Saline Valley Road. He went about 15 more miles and camped.

Saturday morning at 1:15 AM, guess what, the precipitation starts. And at his elevation it's snow. So, he decamps and begins to hike. His goal is Cerro Gordo, and he can't see the road in the snow, but has a GPS. He passed 8,500 feet at 5 AM and began to descend. He had wanted to hike along the ridge of the Inyos, but he does know his limits, and heads down to Owens Valley. He ended up in Lone Pine calling a AAA tow to get the car they had left at Whitney Portal.

Photos and videos at the link above.

If you want to try this hike [you DON'T want to try this hike!] here are the details.

Filed under California | permalink | November 30, 2009 at 08:45 PM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2009


As if it wasn't funny enough that a driver picks up a roadkill deer and puts it in the backseat, only to discover that it's still alive, this recording must establish a record of some sort for the number of profanities. I think it's hilarious.

Joe v. the Deer 911 Call sound bite

| permalink | November 28, 2009 at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)

DHS City Council Study Session - November 24

Financial Assurances

This was a discussion to clarify, once and for all, exactly which financial instrument God had created so that cities could guarantee the completion of necessary infrastructure.

Right off the bat Mayor Pro Tem Baker said that he was extremely disturbed that the city attorney had presented a two-page letter to the city council that had some bearing on this subject. He said that he had not had enough time to prepare and understand the issues. He said that without some pressing urgency to discuss this issue, he moved that the discussion be delayed until the first study session in January. The motion died for lack of a second.

Mayor Parks explained that this is not an urgent item, and discussing it now will allow the city council to digest and understand it. Putting off to a later date will gain nothing. Councilmember Matas agreed with the Mayor, and said that since no decision was required at this meeting, the city council would have plenty of time to study the issue.

City Manager Daniels said this discussion was not about any particular project, but about financial assurances, the different kinds and when they are used. He said that they could also discuss improvements to internal procedures on how the financial assurances are handled. As an example, he cited the Paradise Springs project which was assured by a letter of credit that was (A) approved administratively (it should have been approved or disapproved the city council), and (B) from the same institution that was financing the project.

Financial Director Jason Simpson began a Powerpoint presentation that Public Works Director Jonathan Hoy and Attorney Ruben Duran contributed to. Under the Subdivision Map Act (which is a California law) there are FIVE acceptable forms of financial assurance for land development improvement:

  1. Bonds
  2. Cash deposit
  3. Letter of credit
  4. Lien
  5. "Other." Gold bars were used as the example for this during subsequent discussion. But whether the security is gold bars or magic beans the city council must by ordinance specifically permit that security before approving it.

More realistically, a possible "other" item is a promissory note secured by another financial instrument like a lien agreement or real property. Councilmember Matas asked if the fifth option could be ruled out entirely. Attorney Duran said that since each type of financial assurance that falls in the fifth category must be explicitly approved by ordinance before it is acceptable, the fifth category is effectively ruled out unless the council decides to rule it in.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked if in the instance of a cash deposit, could the city pay interest on the cash.

The usual work flow goes like this:

  1. Based on Improvement Plans that are substantially complete, the developer submits construction estimates and a copy of the final map. The city engineer reviews them.
  2. A Subdivision Improvement Agreement (SIA) is drawn up based on the Conditions of Approval & Plans.
  3. Financial assurance is attached to the SIA.
  4. City Council conditionally approves.

Jonathan Hoy explained that the developer submits plans to city staff and the staff reviews them for consistency with what the city council had approved. Then city staff asks for a cost estimate, which are certified by the developer's engineer. The city engineer reviews the cost estimate and requests changes as necessary. Usually there is a time limit set in the SIA, typically one or two years.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker raised the issue of fluctuations in the cost of construction. If today's data are used to establish estimates, the estimate may be too low (or too high) a few years down the road. Jonathan Hoy said they use estimates based on the last few years and include a contingency. In any case, the SIA should be for only a year, so the estimates can be reviewed and revised after a year.

The presentation included a list of 8 projects in the city with existing financial assurances.

ProjectTypeIssued By
Paradise SpringsLetter of creditEstate Financial
Sunset SpringsLetter of creditCanyon National Bank
Rancho Buena VistaBondLincoln General Insurance
Hidden SpringsBondArch Insurance
Vista Santa FeBondDevelopers Surety & Indemnity
Eagle PointBondTravelers Casualty & Surety
Vista Del MonteBondGreat American Insurance

Paradise Springs - which includes the Village at Mission Lakes - we all know how well that worked. Sunset Springs - the city is having problems getting Canyon National Bank to cooperate. Canyon National says they have a "set aside letter" (something different than a letter of credit) and that the total amount of that set aside letter has been paid to the developer, and the bank thinks it's not the bank's fault that the developer didn't use the money to put in the infrastructure. A set aside letter would fall into the fifth category of financial assurances that would have to be approved by ordinance first - but this was never done. So that financial assurance, like the letter of credit at Paradise Springs, was done illegally [maybe there's a more polite word for that]. Rancho Buena Vista and Hidden Springs - the city is trying to call on those bonds, but the bonders have been dragging their feet in response. In the case of Hidden Springs, the bonding bank went under and now the FDIC holds everything. Vista Del Monte is the development that will go in around the Village at Mission Lakes. They did no more than grub up the land.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked if a developer goes bankrupt, does the financial assurance instrument become an asset in the bankruptcy. Attorney Duran said the answer is "Yes." But if the city has a lien on the property and the developer goes bankrupt, does the lien still stand? The attorney's answer was "Yes."

Attorney Duran said a couple of important considerations in a lien are (1) the anticipated value of the property, and (2) the position of your lien; i.e., the city's lien has got to be primary.

Councilmember Betts described the situation at Hidden Springs, which was bonded by Arch Insurance. He says the bonding company is having a little harder time verifying this project, due to the extraordinary circumstances (of the economy). But he said that made it no less secure now than when the bond was taken. He said if he had a lien on Hidden Springs, we'd be in the same spot as everyone else trying to sell it.

Jason Simpson said that Arch Insurance is one of the largest bonding firms. Their net surplus is at least $2 billion. Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked how that compared with "AIG" two years ago. "AIG" was referenced several times during the discussion. I hasten to point out that they are now called Chartis Insurance (chartisinsurance.com) and if you look on their About Us page you'll see they don't even breathe a mention of their former name, "AIG." Councilman Betts said AIG is very strong right now because it's 80% owned by the U.S. government. He said there is no basis for saying that bonds from a AAA company are suspect. Here's a WikiPedia page that lists bond ratings by Moody's, Standard & Poor, and Fitch. In recent history we've learned that some high ratings of financial instruments were totally bogus. Those may have been stocks, not bonds, but I think people should be aware that it is possible that the bond ratings themselves could be wrong. Mr. Betts went on to say that as far as he knew the city had not gotten any bonds from any company that had failed or that was weak. City Manager Daniels said that AIG did fail, but it was through the good graces of the taxpayers that the city didn't lose on that.

C.M. Daniels went on to say that the city has been unable to get Arch Insurance to perform. Attorney Duran said that 6 months of failure to get a bond company to pay is a long time.

Mr. Simpson presented the strengths and weaknesses of the four types of financial assurance:

Cash DepositCash is kingIf estimates of the cost of development change, additional deposits may be required. (Later Councilmember Betts made the point that this is also a risk of bonds, letters of credit and liens).
Performance Bond
  1. Upholds the obligation made by the principal if the principal defaults.
  2. Surety will hire a contractor to finish or pay damages after notice of default from the city (and finding by surety).
  3. Will cure all mechanic's liens.
  1. Surety is usually an insurance company whose solvency needs to be verified.
  2. Must show damages incurred by the city and may require extensive, unreimbursed legal assistance.
  3. Can expire if the developer does not premiums (although the bonding agency would notify the city in such case).
Letter of Credit
  1. Immediate cash conversion in the event of default.
  2. Irrevocable.
  1. The wording of the letter of credit must be carefully structured to allow ease of access to the fund when default occurs.
  2. The letter of credit is only as strong as the rating and credit of the financial institution issuing it.
LienFirst trust deed position means the city is second only to the owner. Performance is secured by hard asset collateral.
  1. Prior to development, all surety liens would need to be removed if the developer seeks a letter of credit.
  2. Recovery requires the city to foreclose which could be a cumbersome, lengthy and expensive process.

Attorney Duran said that bonding firms must, by law, be rated "A-" or better and "California admitted." "California admitted," if I understood correctly, means they are on the list of bond-issuing firms that are permitted in California. A California state agency reviews the companies for solvency and stability for this list. I think the starting place for this list is here. Go down to that line sying "Select Type of Insurance" and pick "Fidelity and Surety." At least that's the one that makes sense to me. Then you'll get your list of "California admitted" firms for the purpose of performance bonds. (I don't find either AIG or Chartis listed there).

Mayor Parks asked what recourse the city would have if a developer failed to pay the premiums on his bonds. Mr. Simpson said that the city could halt the development.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked if the developer of Hidden Springs went bankrupt. Mr. Simpson said that he thought they did. After bankruptcy, did the next party pay the bond premiums, and now does the FDIC pay the premiums? Mr. Hoy said that if the bond premiums are not paid, the bonding company puts a lien on the property. The city would have to release the bonds (i.e., state that the required work was completed) before the lien could be removed. Mr. Baker asked if a bank that had issued a letter of credit went belly up, would the bank that takes it over also take over the letter of credit. Attorney Duran said he would have to research that to be sure, while City Manager Daniels said he thought the new bank would have to take over the letter of credit as well, since the FDIC doesn't allow failed banks to be cherry-picked. Mr. Baker asked if the water district and the city could jointly share a first position on a lien. C.M. Daniels said the city should never, ever accept anything but first position.

City Manager Daniels said that performance assurance is the act of trying to guarantee the future, and there is no guaranteeing the future. He said all the instruments are widely used, while performance bonds are the most popular. At different stages of development different types of assurance might be called for.

At this point, City Manager Daniels called Michael Busch up to speak. Mr. Busch explained that he was offering information pro bono because Desert Hot Springs is his "favorite city to work with." He said he was glad the DHS city council is having this discussion, which is a heavy subject, but we're the first city in the valley to have the discussion. Development agreements are the source for a lot of the issues we're having, and other cities will have. He said the valley "is saturated with bad agreements." He said that when the city has the opportunity to open up a development agreement, we should open up ALL of it to look at all performance indicators and negotiate a better position. He said there are probably 50 agreements in the valley from the period 2001-2004 that are "awful." Letters of credit are almost impossible to get now. Those that may come along have to come from a bank with "AA" status, such as Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Union Bank, etc. Letters of credit may be for 1 or 2 years or as long as 5 years. He thinks bonds are "second to cash." Developer agreements should include milestones so that the developer doesn't move too far along without making improvements. He cited an example where a development agreement stated a developer would build 500 homes and a water reservoir. The effect would be that work wouldn't start on the reservoir until about the 490th home was built. "Community facilities districts" that Councilmember Betts had asked about are still available, but very expensive now. Mr. Busch suggested the city should demand a higher lien to value ratio. The lien may need to be for two times the estimated value of the improvements to allow for fluctuations in the economy. Performance bonds are available, he said, they're just very pricey.

In answer to a question from Mayor Pro Tem Baker, Attorney Duran said that you can't get performance bonds for just part of the required development, in order to reduce the developer's expenses. You have to get bonds for the whole map. But a developer can phase the map. Mr. Baker said that was the problem Paradise Springs ran into, they didn't phase the map. They thought they could just build it all. Mr. Busch said a lot of the developments approved in 2001-2003 were not phased.

Attorney Duran explained that there's a difference between the map and the development agreement. The development agreements have time lines and expiration dates. Any time a developer comes back for an extension on a development agreement, the entire agreement can be updated and revised. The city can negotiate anything it wants.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked about the Snellenberger development. "If he bails, do we get that land?" Mr. Hoy said there is a 25-year development agreement on that. Yes, after hearing Mr. Busch talk about 1-year, 2-year or 5-year development agreements, we learn that Snellenberger has an outrageous 25-year agreement. Who was on the Planning Commission and City Council when that hog came through? Mr. Busch said this was one of those bad developer agreements he referred to earlier.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker asked staff to get some background information from cities that have gone with liens as financial assurance as to why they did it and what their experience has been. Councilmember Betts ask for similar information from cities that have refused to use liens.

Mr. Hoy said Fontana recently decided to do a lien. A map had been approved, but no development had been undertaken. The developer is not ready to begin work, so rather than requiring the developer to carry bonds while he waits, the city agreed to a lien to tie him over. When he gets ready to develop, then the lien may be removed in favor of bonds, or some other type of assurance.

Public Comment

Jim Kozak from Skyborne said that he thought this was a great discussion and he suggested that the council and staff be flexible and look at different ways to protect the city and allow development to go forward.

Water Efficient Landscaping Ordinance Discussion

Mayor Pro Tem Baker moved to accept the staff recommendation on the landscape ordinance without discussion. He said that since MSWD has an ordinance in effect, the city doesn't need one. City Manager Daniels said the item would be agendaed for action at a future city council meeting.

Red Light Cameras

The proposal for a red light camera program will come to the city council at the December 15 meeting. Chief Williams said that in addition to north and southbound Palm Drive at Two Bunch Palms, the city is considering a red light camera for northbound Palm at Ironwood. The chief's presentation was a much-shortened version of the one given at the public safety commission. An RFQ is out right now, so if anyone wants to bid on it in addition to American Traffic Solutions, they can. The Chief pointed out that the information presented to the alleged red-light runner will allow them to see if the yellow light was too short.

Here you can find the Federal Highway Administration guidelines on the duration of the yellow light. It says "A yellow change interval should have a duration of approximately 3 to 6 seconds. The longer intervals should be reserved for use on approaches with higher speeds." There ya go, pretty vague. But clearly, something shorter than 3 seconds is not acceptable.

Mayor Pro Tem Baker said he had heard that red light cameras caused higher accident rates in Cathedral City and Beverly Hills. Chief Williams said he had not heard any credible information to that effect. Earlier I have linked to this news report that accidents have declined by 30% at Cathedral City's Date Palm and Ramon intersection. While there is no 100% clear proof that the reduction is due to the red light cameras, there certainly has been NO INCREASE in accidents at that intersection. Mr. Baker went on to ask how confident the chief was that this would be revenue source (this after the chief had said it was not intended to be a revenue source). The chief said that American Traffic Solutions is prepared to expect 30% of the violations will never be paid.

Councilmember Betts said that at Date Palm and Ramon the traffic patterns have become difficult to drive through. Not only does he worry about the camera, but also about how other drivers will react to it. He is concerned a red light camera will impede safe traffic control. Chief Williams said that by that reasoning the police should not park a cruiser at the intersection either.

Mayor Parks admitted that she didn't even know there were red light cameras at Ramon and Date Palm, and she hasn't noticed any problems at that intersection.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs | permalink | November 28, 2009 at 09:08 PM | Comments (4)

Responses to the BART arrest at West Oakland

Good chance you've already seen this YouTube video of the aggressive drunk being arrested at the West Oakland BART station, but I'm bringing it up here because of the off-the-wall reactions to it.

Here's how it got reported in the Contra Costa Times. The article says that although it looks like the arrestee (Michael Gibson) got his head slammed into the window, it may be that it was his right arm that did the breaking. The issue I haven't heard addressed is why is BART putting breakable glass in public areas of a station elevated 30 feet above the ground?! It looks good, I know, but I can tolerate scratched plexiglass if the only other choice is shattered glass.

MediaNews (Contra Costa Times) editorialized:

It's not at all clear that Gibson's bombastic behavior posed an immediate threat to anyone — nor that physical restraint was immediately necessary.

Yes, it might have been inconvenient to the other passengers to halt the train for a couple of minutes, to allow time to talk him down from his agitated state and for backup officers to arrive. But that might have been the much-wiser course of action.

What a load o' horse crap! Maybe the fine editorialists at MediaNews have never been trapped in a subway car with a drunk, angry psycho threatening to go on a rampage. I have, and I can assure them (and you) that you don't want to sit quietly and wait for that first kick in the face before anything is done to protect public safety. That BART cop came in at just the right time and did just the right thing, moving the guy away from the innocent bystanders.

Today the Contra Costa Times has a reader response from Steve Gray, retired 31-year police veteran. He spends several paragraphs explaining why the officer's actions were the right thing to do, and then he gets to a more important issue: community support.

I found it ironic that the same day the Times published the article critical of the BART officer, it also published an article naming two Bay Area cities as among the nation's most dangerous. The juxtaposition of these two seemingly different articles supports a syllogism that police have long understood: Police confidence and community safety are directly correlated. If officers sense that a community supports criminal conduct, they will passively respond to calls for help.

That is why the Times editorial is not only myopic, but dangerous. If officers get intimidated and feel they don't have community support in addressing lawlessness, they will conform to community standards and adjust their responses accordingly. Before responding assertively to calls for help from our wives, parents and children, officers will first be wondering "how will this affect me." That should be a frightening prospect.

Filed under California,Public Safety | permalink | November 28, 2009 at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

Altamont Free Concert 40th Anniversary

The Oakland Tribune is soliciting "readers' thoughts on the 40th anniversary of the most famous music event in Bay Area history -- the Altamont Free Concert." They are not restricting their request to reminiscences of your experience there. Anybody with any "thoughts" on it are invited to phone 510-495-1442 to share. Maybe you've got a critique of the documentary movie about the concert. Give 'em a call! BUT you are limited to 30 seconds. Yes, it's obvious this project will lead to some deep and revealing discussions on the subjects of music, festivals and public safety.

Filed under Music | permalink | November 28, 2009 at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2009

Araby Trail

I went on a hike with Great Outdoors on the Araby Trail (and the Berns and Henderson Trails). Even though these are very popular trails, this was my first time hiking them. Araby is most famous for the fact that it passes behind and above the formal Bob Hope house up on the hillside. I've seen a lot of photos of the Bob Hope house from this trail and they all seemed to be from about the same spot, so I had assumed the house was only visible for a short distance along the trail. Completely wrong! The house was clearly visible along
most of the hike and could be photographed from many different angles. Angles that I had not seen before. Here are some photos from those different angles, and photos of some of the other interesting vistas along the trail.

Araby View (4)

Araby View (1)

Araby View (2)

Araby View (3)

Bob Hope House (1895)
The Bob Hope house.

Bob Hope House (1828)
New house being built below the Bob Hope house.

Bob Hope House (1852)
Bob Hope house entrance.

Bob Hope House (1856)

Airplane Approaching PSP (1826)

Desert Hot Springs (1886)
Desert Hot Springs.

Golf Courses & Mountains (1890)

Palm Springs (1898)

Palm Springs House (1921)

Palm Springs (1922)

More photos from the hike here.

Filed under Coachella Valley,Photography | permalink | November 27, 2009 at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2009

The First Router

Delivered to UCLA on Labor Day weekend 1969.

Filed under Technology | permalink | November 26, 2009 at 09:46 PM | Comments (1)

Public Safety Commission on Rental Inspections - November 24

The only item on the agenda was discussion of the proposed Residential Rental Unit Inspection program. Here's a PDF copy of the first draft version of the proposed ordinance that the commission referred to during discussion. The version presented to the city council on December 1 will reflect changes requested by the city council and, we hope, those suggested by the public safety commission.

Chairman Jeff Bowman began by describing the proposal as a monumental ordinance, but he commended staff for their due diligence on it. He said he has heard that up to 75% of the rental properties in DHS are not owner occupied. Martin Magaña said he didn't have a specific number for that, although he was sure it is high. Mr. Bowman asked if additional staff might be hired, or would it be out-sourced. Mr. Magaña said he foresaw the hiring of additional staff. After 180 days staff will come back to the city council to report on how the process is working, and at that time they should have a good idea of how much staff may be needed.

City staff do not yet have a specific number for the fee to be charged. The amount of the fee will not be included in the ordinance itself, so that info will not necessarily be available when the ordinance comes before the city council on December 1. Some cities charge $100 per unit, others charge as much as $225. The fee, under California law, can be high enough only to reimburse the city's expenses, but not high enough to turn a profit.

Commissioner Russ Martin said he is concerned about the fee, especially with the consideration of the parcel tax coming up.

Commissioner Terry Scheurer asked how public safety issues in rental housing are handled now. Mr. Magaña said it's driven by complaints. A complaint is received and code enforcement investigates.

Chairman Bowman discussed the definitions in the ordinance. The ordinance includes only one item defined as a "major violation" and that is "Heating system not fully operational at any time between October and May of the following year." Mr. Bowman suggested that needs to be more specific, such as a requirement to maintain a specific temperature at a certain height above the floor. He also pointed out that the ordinance does not address cooling systems at all. He also suggested adding "evidence of mold, rodent droppings, roaches" to the list of "Hazardous code violations." Mr. Magaña said that the revised ordinance will add a lot of items to that list.

The ordinance defines "residential dwelling" as "a single-family home, duplex, multi-family dwelling, hotel, motel or other similar living accommodations." Mr. Bowman suggested revising the final item to: "...or other similar living accommodations used for stays longer than 29 days." That would align the ordinance with the definition of hotels for the Transient Occupancy Tax. He said that places run as actual hotels are already judged by their customers. The city needs to focus on the flop houses and single-room-occupancies that used to be hotels, but are now rented as apartments.

Commissioner Young asked about an exclusion for single family homes. Mr. Magaña clarified that the intent of the city council is to exclude single family homes based on how many homes the landlord rents out. If the landlord has only one house rented (or available to rent), then that house is excluded from the ordinance. But if he rents two or more, then they are subject to this ordinance.

There was a discussion of how rental properties will be identified. Obviously, multi-family dwellings will be easy to identify. To find single family homes, the city will compare tax records with utility bills. If the names don't match, it may be a rental property. Commissioner Martin suggested that some people will just say that the utility bill happens to be in the name of some other family member who also lives there.

The ordinance doesn't define "rent" or "available for rent." Maybe "rent" is defined somewhere else in the city's ordinances or in California law, but I think it might be good to clarify if renting a unit to someone in return for labor is the same as renting for cash.

Attorney Duran said the city's jurisdiction over rental housing hinges on the fact that money is being paid for the rental unit (it's a business). The ordinance exempts all units that are occupied by a manager. Commissioner Martin pointed out that some managers pay a reduced rent, and are are not necessarily living there rent-free. He went on to say that while the ordinance includes "Sewage leaking into walls, floors or onto the grounds" as a "hazardous code violation," it says nothing about having a working, functioning toilet.

Chairman Bowman suggested adding a septic system check to the list, or requiring the absence of evidence of non-functionality. Commissioner Young said that if many more items are added it will become the equivalent of a full building inspection, while the ordinance is only meant to identify major problems.

Chairman Bowman suggested an additional item in the Scope section to explicitly exempt "audited, TOT-paying hotel, motel or spa."

The ordinance requires landlords to register their rental properties within 6 months. Chairman Bowman asked how the city will know that landlords will receive notice of this ordinance. He said that good landlords will comply, the flaky landlords will not, and then enforcement will proceed with only the good landlords. As a result, the public could perceive that the ordinance is being used only against good landlords, while the bad places are ignored. He also asked what the penalty will be for failure to register.

Commissioner Scheurer said his concern is that passing this ordinance now may make it more difficult to get the parcel tax passed, as people will see it all as too much of a burden. Commissioner Martin also expressed his concern, saying the landlords will pass the fee on to their tenants. The commissioners referred to the inspection (and the inspection fee) as an annual thing, but the draft ordinance says the inspections will take place once every three years. So even the very highest possible fee mentioned ($225) would come out to only $6.25 per month. Commissioner Scheurer said the requirement to have an on-site caretaker in multi-family dwellings with 16 units or more [the caretaker's office must be staffed Monday through Friday, 8 AM to 5 PM] will really drive up the price of rental housing. He went on to say that one of the attractive attributes of living in Desert Hot Springs has been the lower cost of living.

Mr. Magaña said the reason for the ordinance is the high number of complaints about substandard housing and absentee landlords. He said the investments in the city's parks and streets need to be protected, and the ordinance is needed to provide decent housing for residents and visitors.

Chief Williams said he supports the effort of the ordinance. He said that while low-cost housing is one of the city's attributes, it also attracts those "from that end of the spectrum [of human behavior]" who are trouble. At the end of the day, this ordinance will improve the health of the community, the chief said. The city will be using the foreclosure registration program as the model to work from for this rental inspection ordinance. It will be a challenge to identify all of the single-family rentals. The ordinance is a huge toolbox, the chief said, to deal with the knuckleheads who have not responded to traditional methods. Being able to get inside a property is a huge benefit.

I'll say that one clear benefit of rental inspections that I don't think has been discussed publicly, is that once an inspector is inside the property, if he observes an illegal situation that happens to fall outside the scope of a simple property inspection, that illegal situation is reported to the police and dealt with. IOW, if the tenant is so foolish as to leave a stack of drugs out on a table, or displays a collection of illegal weapons, or even abuses a puppy, then the police can deal with that. It's very similar to the vehicle safety code. How often do we read about knuckleheads being arrested for guns, drugs or DUI after first being pulled over for something trivial like a non-functioning taillight? The ordinance does include this provision to protect the property rights of the owner and tenant:

Owners shall make every effort to make Unit(s) subject to this Chapter available to the City for inspection. If the Owner and/or Occupant does not consent to entry by the City for purposes of this Chapter, the Code Enforcement Officer may not force or otherwise attempt to gain entry except in accordance with a valid inspection warrant issued in accordance with California Civil Procedure Section 1822.50, et seq.

Public Comments

Russ Augustine, a home inspector, had some suggestions. He acknowledged that his home inspections are different from code enforcement, because he doesn't care about nuisance violations like a car parked illegally. He said he focuses on

  • Safety
  • Habitability
  • Things in working condition
  • Leak-free

He said you could go on and on with items to inspect. He did suggest checking water heaters not for temperature but for carbon monoxide. Same with vent-free fireplaces and decorative firelogs. He said almost all of the dangerous fire risks he finds are in attics. He said an inspection of a single family residence can be done in two hours, as long as there isn't a lot to write up. He prices by square footage: a home under 3,000 s.f. is $300. Each additional 1,000 s.f. above 3,000 is another $100. A small apartment can be done in 45 minutes.

Chairman Bowman asked if the fee could be based on square footage or time.

Next public comment came from Judy Bowman who, as President of the Hoteliers Association, could say more about the issue of excluding TOT-paying hotels from the inspection than Chairman Bowman could in his position on the commission. Hotels (including motels and spas) pay business license fees that are proportional to the number of rooms. She praised the goal of a good-looking, safe and habitable town. She said that sometimes snowbirds will stay for more than 29 days, but that doesn't make them permanent residents. She suggested that the definition of a hotel to be included (or excluded) could be based on the percentage of residents who are permanent. Snowbirds who might put in a postal mail forwarding notice, still maintain a permanent residence elsewhere. At one time there were more than 100 hotels, motels and spas in DHS. Most of those have been converted to rental apartments. She offered to provide staff with a list of those addresses.

Commissioner Scheurer asked if staff had an estimate of what percentage would be out of compliance. Mr. Magaña had no estimate. He thinks that when he provides the 180-day report he'll have some idea of an estimate. No other city in Coachella Valley has an ordinance like this.

Commissioner Martin said this ordinance is another piece of the puzzle this city needs to improve the quality of life in our community. Chairman Bowman agreed with that and asked about the fee amount. Some units will be easy to inspect, others will take longer. Attorney Duran said the fee rate will be based on a general average in order not to bog the system down.

I would suggest that there will be some economies of scale when inspecting multi-family dwellings. They may share one roof, possibly the heating system will be shared as well. Possibly a sliding scale for multi-family dwellings could be set up. Something like charging X percent less per unit beyond Y number of units, so that the landlord is not overcharged.

Commissioner Scheurer again said he didn't want this ordinance to jeopardize the passage of the parcel tax. Chairman Bowman said this will happen below the radar of most residents. Indeed, what percentage of landlords live within DHS and vote?

Commissioner Young said staff had done a great job on a great ordinance and that as a renter he would not mind $10 or $15 more per month to assure better housing. Chairman Bowman pointed out that a landlord could not pass on the full cost of the inspection immediately, but could only raise rents piece by piece, according to the leases.

Commissioner Scheurer moved to request the city council to delay implementation until the fees are accurately know. Mr. Magaña said the fees will be set by city council resolution and that can't be done until after the second reading of the ordinance. The motion died for lack of a second.

Chairman Bowman made a motion to support the ordinance and asked the city council to heed the feedback from Mr. Augustine and Mrs. Bowman. The motion was approved 3-1 with Commissioner Scheurer voting against, saying he was uncomfortable with the ordinance.

Commissioner Young asked that the 180-day report be given to the Public Safety Commission as well as the City Council.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Public Safety | permalink | November 26, 2009 at 12:27 PM | Comments (2)

November 25, 2009

Your Cultural Dose

Bohemian Rhapsody performed by the Muppets.

Filed under Music | permalink | November 25, 2009 at 07:36 AM | Comments (0)

Optical Illusion

| permalink | November 25, 2009 at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2009

Jeff Bowman Sworn In As MSWD Director

Jeff Bowman was sworn in and Nancy Wright was re-sworn in as Mission Springs Water District Directors at a brief ceremony this afternoon.
Jeff Bowman Swearing In (4882)

Jeff Bowman & Nancy Wright (4888)

More photos here.

Filed under Desert Hot Springs,Photography | permalink | November 24, 2009 at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

Nikon vs. Canon

Filed under Music,Photography | permalink | November 24, 2009 at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

Oh, THAT Thatcher

From the L.A. Times:

A text message that was a little too succinct — "Thatcher has died" — caused a brief diplomatic kerfuffle at a black-tie gathering earlier this month in Toronto.

As the news electronically ping-ponged around the soiree honoring Canadian armed forces, it reached Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who asked an aide to confirm what had everyone buzzing — that Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s former prime minister, had reportedly died.

Calls to 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace confirmed that the 84-year-old Thatcher was very much alive.

Turns out that the original message was sent by Canadian Transport Minister John Baird from his home to someone at the gala dinner.

"Thatcher," Baird’s gray tabby cat named in honor of the British leader, had died at 16.

| permalink | November 24, 2009 at 07:28 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2009

"And then we come to nudist magazines..."

"Very few blind people join the nudist colonies." This 1964-65 lecture about "Perversion For Profit" provided an excellent guide to anyone who wanted to know the titles of "girlie" magazines, or those for nudists, or "homosexuals" along with a sample of what was between the covers.

Here in the slightly longer second part they forget to put black boxes over buttocks and nipples!

Filed under Film/Movies | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 11:37 PM | Comments (0)

"Bacon - An Appetizing Energy Food"

A film about exercise and nutrition for children. In 1941 you could distribute a beautiful Kodachrome film showing breastfeeding and naked babies and nobody even thought about sending you to jail. Watch for the boy they describe as "heavy."

Filed under Film/Movies,Health | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

"The Greatest Advance In Television Since Color Television Itself"

RCA Victor introduces the remote control. It had 14 buttons, and they take almost 6 minutes to explain the function of each of them to an audience that RCA assumed had never seen buttons before.

I wanna know what they've got to smoke in that hookah next to the TV.

Filed under Television | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 08:56 PM | Comments (0)

BART Construction Update - 1967

Other sizes here.

Filed under Architecture,California,Film/Movies | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 08:42 PM | Comments (1)

Market Street 1905

A fascinating, 7-minute film shot from a streetcar as it traveled down Market Street toward the Ferry Building in San Francisco, 1905.

You can go here and download other versions, without the music. It's in the public domain. I downloaded the 332 MB version. You can see more detail, and it's almost 14 minutes long. But the first 1½ minutes are difficult to stomach as the image rolls continuously. On a TV you would need to adjust the horizontal hold to fix that. I don't know what they call it in motion pictures. The same problem crops up near the end, as the streetcar gets closer to the Ferry Building than it does in the 7-minute YouTube version. Then it's capped off with a few still photos.

Here is a similar film shot after the 1906 earthquake.

Filed under California,Film/Movies,Photography | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 08:27 PM | Comments (0)

Burning Man Update

Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern news site, writes about Burning Man.

You are distracted by a double-decker bus disguised as a birthday cake, and another that has been turned into a flame throwing dragon, and another that has taken on the persona of a pirate ship. You find yourself following the mutant vehicles over to Robot Heart that is booming out experimental sounds that you can only thrill to. Then, without warning, Robot Heart rolls off across the playa to play to people amassing on the other side of the semi circle of camps and villages structured around an effigy that will be burnt down. Art is democratic here. This entire enterprise serves as a gargantuan art gallery. The art is interactive — you can touch it; you can climb it; you can shelter in it. The institutionalized world and all its preconceived notions about art are challenged here. Across the pitch dark playa, curious shapes are floating around you — moving light installations? Creatively altered golf carts and bicycles. Most of the offerings on the playa are music-focused, and they roll around the playa playing to you — you don’t have to subject yourself to the painful process of having a bouncer give you the eye-sweep before letting you in. There are no tickets, no velvet rope, no performance times and there is definitely no seating system.

An accurate description, but the author avoids mention of either the ubiquitous alcohol or nudity.

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Burning Man panoramas by Brad Templeton. This one, shot at twilight from atop the DPW headquarters, is far from the prettiest, but most accurately shows what evening life is like in Black Rock City. I can almost taste the playa.

More of his Burning Man panos going back to 1998. Check out this pano of the Burning of the Temple in 2008. The people at the left end of the image look like figures from a Norman Rockwell painting.

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A blog "dedicated to the ephemeral architecture of the desert." It's not all Costco tents and RVs.

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100 excellent photos from Burning Man by Scott London. Some nudity.

Filed under Burning Man | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 07:11 PM | Comments (0)

Pressure Measurements

This article is about a treatment for erectile dysfunction, but the real reason I want to link to it is this bizarre description of pressure, which I'm sure is supposed to help clarify the concept.

Each shockwave applied roughly 100 bar of pressure – some 20 times the air pressure in a bottle of champagne, but less than the pressure exerted by a woman in stiletto heels who weighs 132 lbs. (60 kg).

Having never been inside a champagne bottle, I don't know what that pressure is like (so I don't know what 20 times the pressure feels like, either). And, while I'm sure that some people are familiar with "the pressure exerted by a woman in stiletto heels who weighs 132 lbs.," most of us are not.

100 bars equals 1,450.37738 pounds per square inch. That's about 41½ times the pressure inside a car tire inflated to 35 psi. That seems like a lot of pressure to apply to a flaccid penis.

Filed under Health | permalink | November 23, 2009 at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)