May 26, 2013

UPDATED: A Bay Area School Ranking Mysteriously Heavy on the East Bay

Now how did this happen?  ZipRealty has produced a school ranking report that justifies buyers staying in its own East Bay backyard. A number of news sites ran completely uncritical parroting of this news release.  Let’s take a closer look to find out exactly how this happened, because there’s a reason there’s a Real Bay Area and the East Bay will never be part of it.

See updates below.

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Top Schools and Affordable Homes: East Bay Dominates ZipRealty’s List of Best Places to Live for Families

San Ramon Valley, Sunol Glen and Piedmont schools top the list.

EMERYVILLE, Calif., May 16, 2013 – ZipRealty, Inc. (http://www.ziprealty.com) (NASDAQ: ZIPR), the leading online residential real estate brokerage and technology provider, has released its first annual ranking of the Best Places for Families to Live: Top School Districts with Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area. The public school rankings were compiled by factoring each school district’s School Score on ZipRealty.com with median price per square foot in that district. To be considered, at least 10 home sales must have closed in that school district over the course of 2012.

"We all know lots of factors – not just price per square foot – go into determining home values," says ZipRealty CEO and President Lanny Baker. "Among the most important of these factors for many families today is the quality of local schools in relation to the price of their local real estate. In our ongoing effort to help home buyers make important decisions, we are thrilled to bring these two sets of data together."

ZipRealty’s proprietary School Score ratings measure the performance of each school district, including elementary, middle and high schools on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. ZipRealty calculates School Score ratings based on test-score data as well as student/teacher ratios, says Jamie Wilson, Senior Vice President of Technology.

130525-zipr-supermodelNotice that dateline? Emeryville. You think a realty portal located in a region with an inferiority complex is going to play fair with school rankings when up against the Real Bay Area? Ha. You can see how this is shaping up with the name of that list: “Best Places for Families to Live: Top School Districts with Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area.”

Now if you’ve been reading Burbed for more than a couple of weeks, you already know that “Top School Districts” and “Most Affordable Housing in the Bay Area” are Two of Those Things That Don’t Go Together. It’s kind of like finding America’s Top Supermodels Who Live In Trailer Parks.  Only the supermodels are probably easier to locate because there’s less overbidding.

But it was the Top 10 on this list that made us write in to ZipRealty to ask just how the heck this list came to be.  Have a look:

  1. San Ramon Valley Unified: School Score 9.1/Median Price per SF $304
  2. Sunol Glen Unified: School Score 9.3/Median Price per SF $356
  3. Piedmont Unified: School Score 9.5/Median Price per SF $539
  4. Palo Alto Unified: School Score 9.2/Median Price per SF $885
  5. Castro Valley Unified: School Score 8/Median Price per SF $265
  6. Dublin Unified: School Score 8.4/Median Price per SF $265
  7. Pleasanton Unified: School Score 8.6/Median Price per SF $332
  8. Albany Unified: School Score 8.6/Median Price per SF $419
  9. Benicia Unified: School Score 7.8/Median Price per SF $181
  10. Martinez Unified: School Score 7.8/Median Price per SF $185

Okay, what the heck? Not only is every single school district on this list but one on the East side of the Bay, every single one is also single.  Where the hell are the non-unified school districts?  And look who’s sticking out like a sore thumb on this list. Yes, everyone’s favorite Palo Alto, sailing in at a Most Affordable Housing Price of $885 a square foot (which is too low because they calculated it more than a week ago).

Needless to say, that Most Affordable Housing figure made us write to ZipRealty’s media contact and ask just how this list was ranked.  Their answer is they put all the 9s in one bucket, then ranked the per square foot prices within the rank, then did the same for the 8s, the 7s, etc.  The school score itself was calculated based on “test-score data as well as student/teacher ratios.”  So Palo Alto and its sky-high price per foot represented the “worst” or Least Affordable of the Most Affordable of the 9s category, which had all of four school districts in it.

We were also sent the full list of 70 school districts, and there actually were some non-unified organizations therein. The highest scoring non-unified district was Los Gatos-Saratoga High School District, with an 8.3 (and a Most Affordable Housing Price of $601 a foot, which then pushed it below the Tamalpais and Fremont Union HSDs, which scored lower but were much more Most Affordable, reinforcing what we said above about those supermodels).

130525-zipr-overcrowdedComparing a high school district (grades 9-12) to a unified district (grades K-12) is batshit insane pretty silly, though.  Elementary schools have lower student-teacher ratios because, and stop us if this concept seems a little too technical, but State Law mandates smaller student-teacher ratios for elementary classes.  Therefore a Unified district would score more highly, benefitting both from that smaller student-teacher ratio and the resulting higher school test scores than a district that only has high schools.  You know, because high schools have… larger classes… and more students in the school from more diverse backgrounds than elementary schools.

Talk about a stacked deck: Alameda County has no high school districts at all, only unified districts.  Same with Solano County.  And you know else how they shuffled the cards funny?  Where the HELL is Cupertino Union School District?  You may have heard of them, they’re the one that scores 998 on the danged STAR tests from a couple of their elementary schools. But they’re nowhere to be found on the list.  And that’s rather interesting, because we looked up a house in the district on ZipRealty, just to find out CUSD’s ranking.

It’s 9.4, which means it beats every other district on the list except Piedmont (which got a whopping 9.5, or 10.2 on the list of 70 we were sent, which makes us wonder about their copyediting). Yet for some reason there’s no mention of Cupertino at all. Maybe it’s that Most Affordable Housing Price of $750 a foot – except that’s still less than Palo Alto.

130525-zipr-unfairfightPerhaps they only wanted to include school districts that had high schools? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain the presence of two (yes two out of 70) elementary school districts on the list (Howell Mountain and Pope Valley, both toward the bottom).  How many of the 70 were unified school districts? 53. And 14 high school (only) districts.

Sorry, that’s whacked, comparing unified districts with high school only.  We can run similarly helpful lists, showing East Bay city values jumping by huge margins… and forgetting to mention that they utterly imploded after 2006.  Oh wait, that’s what realtards do every time they tell you that NOW IS ALWAYS THE TIME TO BUY.

We’ve helpfully pulled out all the high school districts from the ZipRealty list, to get a better idea of how they rank against each other, since we don’t see the value in comparing apples with horse apples.  The two numbers after each high school district are the price per square foot, and the ZipRealty School Score. 

Updated 4:30 PM: The number in parenthesis in front is the rank amid all those unified districts. And we’ve separated them into their respective school score buckets, which is how the entire list was ranked (first digit of score, followed by ranking price per foot from least to most).

(11) TAMALPAIS UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $486  8.1
(12) FREMONT UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $545  8
(13) LOS GATOS-SARATOGA JOINT UHSD  $601  8.3

(17) WEST SONOMA COUNTY UNION HSD  $255  7
(19) ACALANES UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $307  7.6
(24) SAN MATEO UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $474  7
(25) MOUNTAIN VIEW-LOS ALTOS UNION HSD  $626  7.6

(27) LIBERTY UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $124  6
(32) SAN RAFAEL CITY HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $338  6.4
(36) CAMPBELL UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $408  6
(38) SEQUOIA UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $515.5  6.8

(45) SAN BENITO HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $153  5.5
(52) EAST SIDE UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $272  5.7
(54) JEFFERSON UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT  $344  5.8

Jefferson was 54th out of 70 districts, which means it still managed to beat out 14 unifieds despite the structural handicap of not having any K-8 students.

Update 4:30: Just for giggles, let’s take a look at the bottom 10 schools on their list. East Bay in yellow, and the two WTF elementaries in green (both in Napa County).

61. HAYWARD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $192  4.2
62. HOWELL MOUNTAIN ELEMENTARY SD  $201  4.7
63. OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $210  4.9
64. SAN LORENZO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $211  4.8
65. SAN LEANDRO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $218  4.6

66. PAJARO VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $247 4
67. SONOMA VALLEY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $269.5 4.4
68. CALISTOGA JOINT UNIFIED SD  $405  4.7
69. POPE VALLEY UNION ELEMENTARY SD  $55  3.8
70. EMERY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT  $270  3.6

No RBA here!

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We rank this press release 4 Pinocchios and 5 Lereahs

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And seriously, shame on Yahoo Finance and HuffPo Parents for not doing the slightest bit of due diligence on it. Do we have to do everything?

Update 4:30 PM: We’ve asked ZipRealty to explain their mooshing together unified and high school districts, as well as the two elementaries in their list. We will run any response of theirs in full.

Comments (15) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am






August 5, 2012

Huge Charter School Controversy in the RBA (tl;dr warning)

120804-bullis-cartoonWe haven’t been shy about sharing our educational “reform” position with you: we distrust the charter school movement.  We believe they are a means for private corporations to strip school boards of their resources and teachers of their benefits by providing cut-rate education under the false flag of “school choice.”  After all, corporations exist to make a profit.  Would you really want your child’s education outsourced to the lowest bidder?  Of course not!  That’s why you’ll pay anything to live in the Real Bay Area!

Charter Schools’ Negative Impact on the Educational System

120804-bullis-protestCharter schools are being implemented all across the country, whether parents want them or not.  This is happening because some very wealthy people, not one of them with any education background, see this as a way to profit at the expense school boards and teachers unions.  Much of the current “school reform” movement has been taken over by tons of money from foundations from the Walton (Walmart), Gates (Microsoft) and Broad (construction and insurance) families and, of course, the Koch brothers.  These groups have completely derailed real school reform in favor of their plan to corporatize our educational system.

All that money crowds out real reform in favor of forcing charter schools, despite their lackluster performance despite their ability to cherry-pick students.  There are stories everywhere of neighborhood schools forced to close, fire all the teachers and administrators, and then reopen as charters, despite complete opposition from the affected teachers, parents and children.  Needless to say, this is most likely to happen where parents are not well-represented in the political system.  That is, this process is most likely to happen in poorer neighborhoods rather than wealthy suburbs.  Remember Waiting for Superman (which is, of course, pure propaganda)?  The Bay Area school in the film was in Redwood City.  And look at all the corporate charter schools that have popped up in Oakland and San Jose.

Click on through to find out what happens next.

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Comments (20) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:06 am

May 6, 2012

12 “facts” that “may” “surprise” you about the “housing bust”

While the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, News Corporation, is getting a proper punching across the pond, let’s see how Rupert Murdoch’s business-as-usual cheerleader reports on the causes of The Second Great Depression.

Twelve Facts That May Surprise You About the Housing Bust

By Nick Timiraos, The Wall Street Journal, May 4, 2012

120505-foreclosure-sign-wsjWhat if the conventional wisdom about the mortgage crisis is all wrong?

That’s the implication of a new paper from economists at the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Boston that’s bound to spark debate because, if their premises are correct, it sharply undercuts the justification for much of the new regulation that’s been erected over the past two years.

Three economists, Christopher Foote,Kristopher Gerardi, and Paul Willen, present two narratives of the financial crisis in trying to answer why so many people made so many dumb decisions.

The first view is that the financial crisis was an “inside job” where various industry players, from the mortgage lenders to mortgage traders, took advantage of unsophisticated rubes, from homeowners to mortgage investors.

They largely discard that view for a second one—the “bubble theory” where delusional attitudes about home prices, not distorted incentives, fueled poor decision making.

120505-mcmansion-broken-windowsThis is the Wall Street Journal.  Does anyone think for a New York minute that they’d get behind the Inside Job view of the housing debacle?  Of course not.  It was obviously the fault of strawberry pickers, the Community Redevelopment Act of 1977, Barney Frank, and undeserving minorities who never should have been allowed to own property ever ever ever.  (Uppity rabble might then expect the vote, too.)

And as for the origin of this paper?  The Boston Federal Reserve?  Everyone working there is hoping to get hired by one of those market manipulators, so don’t look for their facts to bear much relation to what really happened.

Here’s the authors’ abstract of the excuse for wrecking the whole economy report:

This paper presents 12 facts about the mortgage market. The authors argue that the facts refute the popular story that the crisis resulted from financial industry insiders deceiving uninformed mortgage borrowers and investors. Instead, they argue that borrowers and investors made decisions that were rational and logical given their ex post overly optimistic beliefs about house prices. The authors then show that neither institutional features of the mortgage market nor financial innovations are any more likely to explain those distorted beliefs than they are to explain the Dutch tulip bubble 400 years ago. Economists should acknowledge the limits of our understanding of asset price bubbles and design policies accordingly.

Translation: if we blame the meltdown on irrational exuberance, then none of our friends will have to give up their bonuses. Or their freedom.

120505-fed-theoriesThe above diagram is from the research paper, and it neatly blames the victims for believing housing prices only go up.  Notice who’s missing from the picture?  Realtards.  You know, the people who tell you that housing prices only go up.

Fact 1: Resets of adjustable-rate mortgages did not cause the foreclosure crisis.

120505-mortgage-ratesBanks weren’t wrong for issuing adjustable rate loans, borrowers are the problem for having crap credit.  Bad credit meant those borrowers could have an adjustable loan or remain renters. 

Hey, what do you expect when you loan to a bunch of deadbeats?

We’ve got 11 more of these delightful “facts” waiting for you after the break.

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Comments (16) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:15 am

April 17, 2012

UPDATED: Two Million Dollars for a Sunnyvale House. Good Luck with That.

Recently, we took a look at a house in Midtown Palo Alto that a number of commenters thought was overbuilt for the neighborhood.  That reminded me of a similarly situated structure in Sunnyvale, so I pulled it up for nostalgia’s sake.  What a delightful surprise to discover that it’s once again for sale!  It was relisted just in time for April Fool’s Day, and at the same attractive price as it was three years ago.

1474 VALCARTIER St
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
$1,999,000

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BEDS: 6
BATHS: 4.5
SQ. FT.: 4,790
$/SQ. FT.: $417
LOT SIZE: 8,000 Sq. Ft.
PROPERTY TYPE: Detached Single Family
STYLE: French
STORIES: Tri-Level
VIEW: Neighborhood
YEAR BUILT: 1991
COMMUNITY: Sunnyvale
COUNTY: Santa Clara
MLS#: 81211851
SOURCE: MLSListings
STATUS: Active
ON REDFIN: 7 days

Extraordinary six-bedroom, four and one half-bath custom estate perfect for executive lifestyle of luxury and unmatched class. Within this showcase home you will find a remodeled ONE-OF-KIND gourmet kitchen featuring best-in-class appliances with close access to the formal dining room, casual family room and truly alluring outdoor venue that is perfect for entertainment.

120406-valcartier-kitchenThis time around, they’re not letting us see the inside.  And it would need a lot of pictures, because this property has a FAR of 0.60.  That can’t even be LEGAL in Sunnyvale. 

But, this is a Custom Bahl Home!  And if you haven’t heard of Bahl Homes, they built a few tracts around Silicon Valley, including some zero lot line curiosities and the snout-house “patio homes” just around the corner from this place. Now that they’re done with building tracts, they remain as a real estate company. Fortunately for us, today’s house has its own webpage on Bahl’s site, with pictures even!  We don’t know when these were taken, though, as it’s been listed and sold many times since its construction.  Have a look at those pictures and more, after the break.

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Comments (65) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:03 am

April 8, 2012

Lights Out for Los Gatos Painter Thomas Kinkade

Here’s something to deepen your observation of Easter.  While devout Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus today, this man’s passing on Good Friday leads to a kind of different kind of immortality, and we are not talking about paintings.

Thomas Kinkade, one of nation’s most popular painters, dies suddenly in Los Gatos at 54

120407-kinkade-2002By Mike Rosenberg, San Jose Mercury News
Posted:  04/06/2012 06:43:30 PM PDT; Updated:  04/07/2012 03:41:26 AM PDT

Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” and one of the most popular artists in America, died suddenly Friday at his Los Gatos home. He was 54.

His family said in a statement that his death appeared to be from natural causes.

“Thom provided a wonderful life for his family,” his wife, Nanette, said in a statement. “We are shocked and saddened by his death.”

120407-kinkade-tasteHis paintings are hanging in an estimated one of every 20 homes in the United States. Fans cite the warm, familiar feeling of his mass-produced works of art, while it has become fashionable for art critics to dismiss his pieces as tacky. In any event, his prints of idyllic cottages and bucolic garden gates helped establish a brand — famed for their painted highlights — not commonly seen in the art world.

“I’m a warrior for light,” Kinkade told the Mercury News in 2002, alluding not just to his technical skill at creating light on canvas but to the medieval practice of using light to symbolize the divine. “With whatever talent and resources I have, I’m trying to bring light to penetrate the darkness many people feel.”

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Now, if you want to instead refer to the Los Gatos Patch (an AOL-owned series of hyperlocal blogs), Kinkade actually died in Monte Sereno, while with his live-in girlfriend, as he had been estranged from his wife for two years.  That would explain why his family was in Australia at the time of his death.  Kincade’s passing is indeed relevant to the Real Bay Area, since he lived in Los Gatos.  Or Monte Sereno, depending on which reported version you prefer.  But this scan of the firefighters’ frequency shows an engine was dispatched to 16342 Ridgecrest Ave, due to a 54 year old male “drinking all night, not moving.”  That address is owned by someone named Kinkade, and also had an “under influence of drugs/alcohol” arrest there last year.  The address is missing from most property databases, though, including the Recorder’s Office.

120407-kinkade-vallejo-village-at-hiddenbrookeKinkade certainly has his staunch supporters and determined detractors.  This Mercury News article generated 150 comments in just a few hours and had more than 250 by the following afternoon.  Most Merc articles draw under 20 comments.  The NY Times obituary generated an even more derisive stream of criticism, while the Washington Post put the negative commentary in the article itself.  The daddy of all Kinkade-dissing news items has to go to this 2006 Los Angeles Times piece, though.

But there’s an aspect of Thomas Kinkade that had managed to elude us all this time.  It turns out that his kitschy paintings of cottages in the woods inspired multiple housing developments.

That’s right, for the fan who isn’t content with buying a snowglobe or a throw rug, there were plans for actual tract houses trying to look like his paintings.    And one of the first such developments, the Village at Hiddenbrooke, was built in Vallejo right as dot.com went dot.bomb in 2001.  4259 Andover, The Villages at HiddenbrookeThe homes were 1800-2600 square feet on 4000 square foot lots.  The large photo above is interior décor from one of those model homes.  Most of the links to the builder and the development in the Salon article are now defunct.

It’s not easy figuring out which streets in Hiddenbrooke are part of The Village.  And given that the builder was London-based, that’s a particularly interesting name for a community accused of being somewhat, um, ersatz.  Here’s a home that sold last year, and do check out its history, because it sold for less in 2011 than when it was sold new nine years beforehand.  You can check out the neighborhood on Redfin but nothing seems to be for sale there now.

However, Kinkade did not stop with just the one housing development in Vallejo.

Architect Rann Haight, left, financier Roger Stewart, center, and builder Steve Torres have signed a deal to build luxury homes that will be based on the Thomas Kinkade paintings on the table in front of them in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, April 21, 2006. The luxury homes, to be built around Lake Coeur d'Alene, will cost $4 million to $6 million. (AP Photo/SPOKESMAN-REVIEW, Jesse Tinsley)The photo at right shows the team planning for five Kinkade-inspired $4 to $6 million luxury homes around Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho named The Gates of Coeur d’Alene.  This project was launched in (of course) 2006, at the height of bubblicious housing insanity.

Plans for 100 homes based on the cottage paintings were being developed later that winter for a project in Columbia, Missouri called The Gates at Old Hawthorne.  Prices were expected to come in at $500,000 to $1 million.  It’s not clear if any of these plans came to fruition, as the builder’s website no longer seems to exist.  This 2007 article reflects the typical attitude of housing boosters, acknowledging the slowdown but insisting that It’s Special Here and full steam ahead for the Kinkade development:

120407-kinkade--missouriThe homes are being built at a time when the U.S. home market is declining. However, Columbia and Boone County have been able to avoid the national trend. The median price for new single-family homes in Boone County has steadily increased, going from around $136,000 in May 2003 to a little over $188,000 in May of this year. And while the price of new homes is rising, the number of homes being built has decreased from 79 single-family units in May 2003 to 52 this May.

“In general, our home market is good, (but) it’s not as good as last year’s,” said Brent Jones, president of the Columbia Board of Realtors. According to Jones, the present home market is a buyer’s market. The effects of the market are even more apparent in the sale of high-end houses, like the Kinkade homes. […]

“News stories give the idea that the market is homogenous,” Jones said. He cited cities that have experienced extreme home appreciation, and are now experiencing just as extreme depreciation. The Columbia market is relatively stable and hasn’t had the appreciation that other markets have experienced, .

However, market fluctuations are not a concern for HST.

“One of the reasons we came to Columbia is because Columbia’s economy is so strong,” Stewart said. Sales of the Kinkade houses are surpassing the inventory, Stewart added.

120407-kinkade-empty-caveThere is no evidence that either of these Kinkade-inspired home developments were ever built.  Most references to them are from 2006, when everyone was drunk on Kool-aid.  Here’s an application for an alternative use for the Missouri land, which suggests nothing was ever built from the Kinkade project.  The Gates of Old Hawthorne website is gone, and here are some empty lots for sale from that project.

Just like the empty cave in today’s Holiday Story.

Have yourselves a Happy Easter, and remember: This means Spring Bounce has begun!

Comments (19) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:09 am

October 23, 2011

Prop 13: Insidious Budget Cancer or Fiscal Terrorist Threat?

Well, that certainly got your attention.  I’d like to direct you to an excellent, dare I say seminal piece of reporting on the elephant in the California real estate room: Proposition 13.  I’ll quote a few grafs here, but I really would like you to read the entire piece.

California Diminished by 1978 Tax Revolt Shows U.S. in Decline

By Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg/Businessweek
October 17, 2011, 12:23 AM EDT

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) — California voters approved Proposition 13 to rein in property taxes that had doubled in 10 years. More than three decades later, that rebellion has mortgaged the state’s future, saddling it with the nation’s highest debt and lowest credit rating.

The measure led to reductions that dropped per-student school spending from seventh to 29th nationally, prompted cities to pursue sprawling retail development to compensate for lost revenue, and pushed the state into budget gridlock, including a $705 million revenue shortfall announced Oct. 10, by requiring two-thirds approval for any tax increase.

“Proposition 13 set up an unfair and dysfunctional two- tiered system of property taxes,” said Kevin Starr, a history professor at the University of Southern California and the author of a series of books on the state. “It choked off a source of revenue, and the lack of that revenue has brought California to the edge.”

The measure, approved in 1978, was the inspiration for an antitax movement that has taken hold of the public discourse in Washington and in state legislatures throughout the country. It caps real estate levies at 1 percent of a property’s most-recent sale price. Before it passed, local governments could raise revenue as they saw fit.

imageHere’s a few more colorful quotes from this story:

  • “You couldn’t invent a crazier system,” [Santa Clara County Assessor Larry] Stone said in a telephone interview.
  • “It’s had a profound impact on multiple levels,” said Jean Ross, executive director of the California Budget Project, a nonpartisan research group in Sacramento. “The one that’s underestimated is the shift in decision-making from the local level to the state. All of our public systems have been affected by our seemingly perpetual budget crises.”
  • “Prop. 13 has had the unintended effect of favoring commercial property owners at the expense of homeowners,” [Los Angeles Mayor Antonio] Villaraigosa said Aug. 16 at the Sacramento Press Club. “Let’s apply Prop. 13’s protections to homeowners and homeowners alone.”
  • “This is a nightmare,” said Mohammad Islam, San Bernardino’s assistant superintendent who has worked in school finance for 22 years. “It’s impossible what the state is doing to us.”

Yet despite all California’s budget woes (as described by Michael Lewis in Vanity Fair), there is no organized movement toward either doing away with, or even modifying Proposition 13 to a homeowners-only tax adjustment.  While presented as a way to keep senior citizens from losing their homes to skyrocketing property taxes, Prop 13 has become a windfall for commercial and corporate property owners instead.

imageMeanwhile, California’s public school system has declined from seventh in per-pupil spending to 29th according to this article. If you go by this NEA report, it’s 36th. According to this article from KQED, it’s 42nd.  Or 43rd.  Or 46th.  More importantly, education quality has dropped as well.  California ranks 46th of 51 (50 states plus District of Columbia) on test scores in 2003.  This more recent ranking had California come in 30th (but this appears to be a different series of grades).

That NEA report said we’re #3 in prison spending per capita, though!  Woot!

Now, if you don’t think an educated citizenry is an important goal, then you can tell me to shut up already about school funding.  But I suspect most knowledge workers (such as Silicon Valley engineers or San Francisco creative class members) would want our schools to return to their previous high quality, and that means starving them is not in our interest.

image

Let’s hear from someone else who doesn’t agree with that.  Furthermore, this is someone who writes a San Francisco real estate blog.  Here is his complete takedown of that 2600 word Bloomberg piece.  Ready?

Prop 13 Isn’t Squeezing Anything

Bill Quick, San Francisco Real Estate Blog

The political big spenders absolutely hate Prop 13, because it cut off their unlimited access to the piggy bank of private property taxation.

The truth is, our spending on essentials like education, public safety, and other bottom-line items is not being constricted by Prop 13. It is being choked off by the propensity of governments at both the local and state levels to spend money on tens of thousands of pet projects and pet constituencies, rather than paying for services that voters feel are the most basic. We’re not broke because our state “salary” (taxes) is too low, it’s because we spend way too much on non-essential fripperies.

Wow, I’m speechless from that relentless chain of brilliant logic!  And to be fair, when I called Quick on his heavy use of facts and supporting evidence, he did respond with this:

imageEnjoyed your sarcasm! I’ll be looking forward to your piece supporting runaway property taxes and booting retired boomers into the street, too. Of course, California’s housing economy is in such great shape that property tax hikes should be just the ticket for rocketing us to even greater heights!

Right.  Because interest rates and inflation are exactly the same as they were in 1978, and property tax assessments are rising faster than college costs.  Then there’s this:

Here’s a bunch of stats on California’s tax and business climate. Short takeaway: We’re in awful shape, with one of the highest overall tax burdens in America.

imageThe bunch of stats are from the Tax Foundation, so I looked into just who they are and what their real motives are.  They’re funded by high-minded humanitarians such as the Koch Foundation (as in Koch Brothers) and ExxonMobil. They obviously have your interests in mind rather than those grabby one percenters!  Would you expect anything less from a group founded by the CEOs of General Motors and Standard Oil other than whether grannies are getting taxed out of their Cayman Island Corporations and have to bunk in their Swiss bank deposits?

Paul Krugman (a know-nothing economist who won a stupid Nobel) accused this group of committing “deliberate fraud” in their evaluation of Obama’s jobs proposal.  This isn’t the first time he’s questioned their methodology, either. But let’s drink to “the tax is too damned high” Kool-aid that the Tax Foundation is pouring.

It’s a lot cheaper than actually fixing things.

Comments (64) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:05 am

June 18, 2011

Movoto Moves Recent Sales Beyond Space and Time

imageIn a previous column, I was giving real estate site Movoto a little bit of friendly ribbing over how they “helpfully” provided high schools that were far from a featured home, while ignoring much closer (but lower-scoring) schools.  I suggested that they deliberately “lost” their distance data so they could upsell site visitors, who would see the high test scores and decide to buy a more expensive house.

Seems I’m not the only one wondering what’s up with Movoto and their data.  Here’s an observation from Burbed reader Robert:

You guys have a link to Motovo.com on your website. When I looked at San Jose, CA market stats on Motovo.com I get some strange data out… http://www.movoto.com/statistics/ca/san-jose.htm Over 5,000 new listings, but only 11 sales, in the last five months. How can that be?

Just in case Movoto actually reads the other column and fixes whatever was munging their data, here’s some screenshots to show what Robert is talking about.  This is the first part of Movoto’s San Jose statistics page.

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Since that’s not the easiest thing to read, here’s a close-up of the monthly listing and sales numbers:

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Notice the number of price reductions and listings sold or expired.  Robert is right.  What the heck happened here?  First, let’s see if the problem is everywhere or just this one site.  What does Redfin have to say about sales in San Jose?

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According to Redfin, sales dropped but not by several orders of magnitude.  Is Movoto showing weird numbers for all cities?  Here’s Santa Clara:

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Interesting: sales plummeted, but in March rather than January.  Let’s check a few more cities.  Everybody’s favorite: Sunnyvale!

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The elevens dearth continues.

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Cupertino’s numbers didn’t crash until April, and didn’t crash as badly, either.

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And Los Altos almost looks normal, except for May.

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Here’s the real answer: they don’t care about the South Bay.  Palo Alto’s numbers look okay, and that’s all that matters.

Comments (36) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 4:04 pm

March 20, 2011

2010 Census Data Displays Diverse Diversity Diversions

Thanks to Burbed reader Real Estater for nominating this article by posting it in the comments on Friday.

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Image from USA Today

East Bay tops among California’s most diverse places

By Eric Kurhi and Matt O’Brien, Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/18/2011 03:20:18 PM PDT

HAYWARD — Close to the geographic center of a city known as the “Heart of the Bay,” Luciano Ruiz peered out the pickup window of a burger joint in what is, by one measure, the most racially diverse neighborhood in California.

“There’s been a mix of people here ever since I grew up,” said Ruiz, 18. “It’s always been mainly Latino down here in South Hayward, but now you see more African-Americans, a lot more Asians. I’ve seen a little increase in Middle Eastern people.”

The 2010 census shows a collection of census tracts in the Hayward flatlands as the most diverse in California and a microcosm of the state’s likely future. Latinos are the largest group, but share the space with many other people. Multicultural churches, mosques and businesses are in walking distance.

Thirty-five miles away, in the Walnut Creek retirement community of Rossmoor, a cluster of census tracts reflect an older, less integrated California. About 90 percent of residents are white and less than 1 percent are African-American in the Bay Area’s least-diverse neighborhood.

“It’s probably accurate,” said Rossmoor resident David Smith of the newly released statistics. “Our population is overwhelmingly white.”

imageSince this is from the Contra Costa Times, there’s little about neighborhoods in Santa Clara or San Mateo County, and which would be the most or least diverse. East Palo Alto was specifically called out as one of the 10 most diverse communities in California. The diversity index is the probability that two randomly picked people from the area would be of different race or ethnicity. Maybe you might have an idea which neighborhoods you’d nominate?

imageAnyway, I looked up the data, and East Palo Alto has a DI of 83.4 (the highest was 86.4 and Hayward was 85.1).  Oakland was 81.1. Not mentioned in the article are Sacramento, 79.6, South San Francisco, 79.0, San Jose, 77.1, San Bruno, 76.3, Santa Clara, Cholula Half Gallon - Click Image to Close71.8, and Sunnyvale, 70.7.  On the other end of the scale we find Belvedere, 16.4, Portola Valley, 22.3, Woodside, 25.2, and Boulder Creek at 26.  Don’t assume that a low DI means white-bread; the Central Valley’s Mendota is 96.6% Hispanic and has a DI of 26.0.

In case you’re wondering how some areas end up with lots of diversity, here’s the secret, according to the above article:

It didn’t happen overnight,” Bogue said. “Just like anywhere, somebody puts a house up for sale, somebody looks at it and somebody buys it.”

Yeah, that couldn’t happen in Atherton, where houses are bequeathed.  But while houses are occasionally listed for sale in homogenous census tracts, the diverse ones, such as Richmond, San Pablo, Pittsburg, Hayward, Vallejo, Oakland and San Leandro have another interesting thing in common.

imageLocal historian Frank Goulart said affordability has also long attracted a broad spectrum of people to parts of Hayward.

“If you want an honest answer, it’s the cheap housing,” Goulart said.

He said many of the homes in the city’s most diverse tracts “were built like shacks.”

There you go.  Diversity is code for crapboxes (like this one above, in Hayward, the City of Diversity).  But don’t worry about it.  The majority of California public school students are now Hispanic, so the Diversity Index must be heading down (see Mendota, above).  That means housing quality will go up, so the Real Bay Area will get bigger!

imageThere’s no danger of that in Silicon Valley, though.  Santa Clara County’s index is a kumbayah 74, almost as multicultural as Alameda County’s state-topping 78.  The least diverse Bay Area County?  Marin, at 45. The overall state index is 72.9, second only to Hawaii’s 81.1.

But what’s more important is housing!  And the county with the highest percentage of vacant housing units goes to Alpine, with a whopping 71% of its housing sitting empty.  For the Bay Area, the winner is Sonoma, with 9.2%, imagebut Santa Cruz’s 9.7% would have beaten it had any of the county physically come into contact with the Bay.  Meanwhile San Mateo and Santa Clara county are both in the 4’s, while San Francisco managed double: 8.3% of the housing units sitting empty.

There’s stats, stats, stats to play with, so have fun courtesy of USA Today.  Data is available by city as well, so go wild and wonder why the city (town?) of Almanor has 100% of their 75 housing units empty.

Photo above: foreclosed home in Hayward, showcasing diversity.

Comments (8) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:04 am

March 12, 2011

Palo Alto is the New Cupertino

And now, some local news from one of our favorite location, location, locations.

Census: Big spike in Palo Alto’s Asian population

City’s Asian population increased by 73 percent over the past decade, fueling overall population growth of 9.9 percent

by Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online Staff

Palo Alto’s population spiked by almost 10 percent over the past decade, fueled in large part by a growing Asian community, new data from the U.S. Census Bureau show.

The data, which the bureau released Tuesday afternoon, indicate that Palo Alto’s Asian population jumped from 10,090 in 2000 to 17,461 in 2010 — a 73 percent increase. While Asian Americans made up 17.2 percent of the city’s population 11 years ago, the proportion spiked to 27.1 percent last year, according to the census numbers.

Statewide, the Asian population went up by 31.5 percent over the past decade, census data indicate.
The new data confirm what many Palo Alto officials have publicly acknowledged in recent meetings: The city’s population is growing and become more diverse. The city’s listed total population grew from 58,598 in the 2000 census to 64,403 in the new one — an increase of 9.9 percent. At the same time, the city’s population of white residents dropped from 44,391 to 41,359 over the past decade — a 6.8 percent decline.

Well, isn’t that special?  Seems whatever made Palo Alto so different than its neighbors is less and less the case every day.  Yes, they knew they were rich, but they could also say they were white.  Oh, where are those restrictive covenants when you need them?

Time for a little history, then.

California used to have the Alien Land Law which prohibited non-citizens from purchasing land, but was used primarily to prevent Asians from purchasing property.  The law was found constitutional in 1923 and upheld in 1946, despite the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 (which grew out of wartime diplomacy rather than any concern for civil rights).

When the Supreme Court overruled themselves and barred restrictive covenants in 1948, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) quickly came to the aid of racial separatists with this delightful item added to their ethics code:

“A realtor should not be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or use which clearly will be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

California law also permitted school districts to set up different schools for Asian students, and if such a school was set up, all Asian students must attend that school.  San Francisco had such a school and triggered an international incident in 1906 when they required Japanese-American children to attend this hitherto Chinese-American school.  Yet California never specifically set up schools for black students, as was typical in the Southeast.  Racially segregated schooling, at least by statute, ended in 1954 after Brown v. Board of Education.

Also look out for the legal phrase “alien ineligible to citizenship” when reading these old laws and statutes.  That’s code for Asians again, and which Asians was spelled out in terms of longitude and latitude.  It sure didn’t apply to Russians and Middle Easterners.  It wasn’t until 1952 that racial restrictions to naturalization were done away with.

And now, in 2011, Palo Alto is getting a little bit more diverse than it has been.  Formerly a city for wealthy, high-achieving white people, Palo Alto will become a city of wealthy and upper-middle class high-achievers, of both European and Asian ancestry.  Diversity rocks!

Meanwhile, we can celebrate the return of de jure segregation, as the article mentions Hoover Elementary School has 78 percent of their students with Asian ancestry.  The photo at left shows what Hoover classes looked like back in 1951.

Check out the highly-charged comments in the online story, the editors of Palo Alto Online are yanking quite a number of them.  Seems there’s a few longtime (or not so longtime) residents who don’t appreciate any changes coming to Palo Alto, because, after all, It’s Special Here.

Comments (37) -- Posted by: madhaus @ 5:34 am