California dreamin’ a nice break from Lansing do-nothings

Published 3:14 am Monday, September 24, 2007

By Staff
Weary of Michigan politicians bickering and finger-pointing like kids on a playground as the state slides toward an abyss, I jumped at the opportunity to peruse someone else's news when a friend brought me some California papers.
Where else but the Golden State, colorfully governed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and bereft of grizzly bears since 1926, does the real estate section feature "Hot Property?"
Hockey's Great Wayne Gretzky sold his seven-bedroom mansion near Thousand Oaks for about $18.5 million to devote more time to making wine in Niagara Falls, Canada.
Gretzky, 46, who won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, also keeps a residence in Arizona near the Phoenix Coyotes, the National Hockey League team he co-owns and coaches. He and his wife, actress Janet Jones, have five children.
The property has a 10,800-square-foot main house, two guesthouses, a carriage house, golf course and lake views, a pool and tennis court.
So who can afford an $18.5 million neo-Georgian mansion?
Surprisingly, retired baseball player Lenny Dykstra, 44, who patrolled centerfield for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Los Angeles Times also reported that Tommy Lee, 44, the Motley Crue drummer and ex-husband of actresses Pamela Anderson and Heather Locklear, plunked down close to $6 million for a mansion in Calabasas.
Lee's crib of almost 9,000 square feet has a 10-car subterranean garage, a three-story atrium with a retractable roof, three spas, a piano-shaped pool, a home theater, two kitchens (one for wine tasting), six bedrooms, a gym and two steam showers.
California West Nile mosquito stories sound more exotic than Michigan's and are housing stories, too. They have mosquito-control technicians who inspect and treat untended pools in the backyards of foreclosed homes.
Antelope Valley, which has a Mosquito Control District, treated 45 pools in August – 41 at vacant homes. In July, 48 of the 57 pools treated were at abandoned dwellings.
In 2006, 34 pools were treated in July and 25 in August, and about half of the pools in each of those months were abandoned.
Bites from an infected mosquito were suspected in the first-ever Antelope Valley case of a human infected by the West Nile virus.
Default and home foreclosure notices are "skyrocketing" this year in the Antelope Valley.
Through the end of June, Lancaster and Palmdale recorded 749 foreclosures, compared with 274 in all of 2006.
A total of 2,353 notices of default were issued to Antelope Valley homeowners through June, compared to 2,394 in all of 2006.
In California, this is depicted as a normal real estate cycle where house prices go too high, mortgage companies make too lenient loans and there's a correction.
Several articles detail the burst housing bubble. Typical is an account of Baja's flopped flippers.
Californians pulled equity from their primary homes and "snapped up vacation properties in northern Baja California as if they were buying $10 lobster dinners," the Los Angeles Times reported. "Ground zero was this midsized community (Playas de Rosarito, Mexico) about 20 miles south of Tijuana, where developers sold hundreds of condominiums on spec. Most jacked up their prices as their projects filled, fueling a sense of urgency among U.S. buyers to get in while the getting was good."
At a 274-unit development under construction, the average condo costs $500,000.
"We were all appealing to people's greed," a sales director admitted.
"Greed has turned to regret for some investors who now can't sell their Mexican properties," according to the Times. "Upward of 40 percent of the condos in some northern Baja projects were purchased by flippers who intended to resell them even before construction was finished" to pocket a fast profit in an area where prices had been appreciating 20 percent to 30 percent annually.
Homes sales last month in Fresno County were the lowest of any August in the last decade; 910 new and existing houses sold represented a 33-percent decline from the same month in 2006. Fresno County also has the highest chlamydia rate in the state. In Tulare County, 422 transactions were the lowest for any August since 1998.
Clovis City Council is discussing a 500,000-square-foot shopping center with a 24-hour Wal-Mart, a Kohl's, Petco, Ross and Old Navy. It is expected to attract 19,000 vehicles a day.
Gas was "up to" $2.90 – above the national average, $2.81, after peaking at $3.22 May 21.
There's a story out of Poway about a 6-year-old backyard observatory built not to make the property stand out in the slow real estate market, but because the technology executive liked astronomy since he was 8 years old. Now he's moving to Pennsylvania to be near his grandchildren.
Imagine, your very own white-domed observatory with a 16-inch rotating Meade telescope that permits a clear view of moon craters, Saturn rings and four Jupiter moons, but "it doesn't quite allow them to see their grandchildren," a San Diego Coldwell Banker real estate agent put it.
Californians aren't happy with their politicians either. As the Fresno Bee opined Sept. 16:
"The nation's illegal immigrant problem won't be solved by lawmakers who act like demagogues on the issue when they talk to constituents at home and then do nothing when they have a chance to make improvements in Congress. This problem won't go away by ignoring it."
Gov. Schwarzenegger, having already laid down the law for his two teenage daughters, signed legislation in Sacramento Sept. 13 prohibiting the rest of Californians younger than 18 from using cell phones, text message devices and laptop computers while driving. Good for him.
Madera County supervisors were taken to task for approving a mammoth new 2,000-acre development just north of Fresno, despite serious concerns over water supplies and air quality.
Gateway Village will add as many as 21,000 new residents.
Acres of orchards and other crops will be replaced by row upon row of suburban dwellings and new ribbons of highway.
Water supplies are "already dicey" in much of Madera County and the Valley "will be further strained. Increased traffic from all those new homes will add to the bad air and bring even more congestion to local roads."
Madera County is the top producer of figs. California produces 99 percent of figs consumed in the United States.
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve for almost two decades, is harshly critical in his memoir, "The Age of Turbulence: Adventure in a New World," of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican-controlled Congress for abandoning their party's principles on spending and deficits.
Greenspan describes the Bush administration as so captive to its own political operation that it paid little attention to fiscal discipline. "The Republicans in Congress lost their way," writes Greenspan, a self-described "libertarian Republican."
Quips, quotes and qulunkers: "It's nice to be in a country where Iraq is never mentioned (China). How nice it must be to be a great power and be almost entirely focused on addressing your own domestic problems … something is out of balance with America today … we've spent ourselves into debt on iPods and al-Qaeda … either we get help or get out."
– New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman
"After years of favoring the hands-off doctrine of the Bush administration, some of the nation's biggest industries are pushing for something they have long resisted: new federal regulations. For toys and cars, antifreeze and fireworks, popcorn and produce and cigarettes and light bulbs, among other products, industry groups or major manufacturers are calling for additional health, safety and environmental mandates … The tactical shift by some industry groups is motivated by a confluence of self-interests: growing competition from inexpensive imports that do not meet voluntary standards, and a desire to head off tough state laws or legal actions that were a response to laissez-faire Bush administration policies."