Oct 072005

The grand North Park Theatre has been restored, and is opening as the Stephen and Mary Birch North Park Theatre. It is now the home of Lyric Opera San Diego.

There are only two public restrooms in downtown San Diego. This is a problem. I found it interesting that a self cleaning restroom can cost 65k per year to run. Why not just hire a guy to clean a couple of non-automated restrooms?

We score number two, then number one in some bubble tests by Business Week – What’s Your House Worth Now?

One of the best indicators of potential problems is the National Association of Home Builders-Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index. This measures the percentage of homes sold in a given area that are affordable to middle-income families, defined as those with incomes at the midpoint of all families’ incomes. The index takes into account property taxes and current interest rates, and assumes that families can afford to spend 28% of their monthly gross income on housing. Certainly, many people in hot markets stretch to spend more than that on housing, but there comes a point where prices are simply too high. By this measure, Los Angeles ranked dead last in the final quarter of 2004, with only 5.2% of area houses affordable by a median-income area family. San Diego was barely better with 5.3% affordable. Other areas that look bad include New York (10.8% affordable), San Francisco (11.6%), and Las Vegas (36.2%). By contrast, middle-income folks could afford 90% of the homes in Buffalo.

By itself, the Housing Opportunity Index doesn’t prove that a bubble has formed or is about to pop. The case for an overinflated market gets stronger if you can rent a nice house for far less than the monthly carrying cost of buying it, including mortgage and maintenance. High price-to-rent ratios mean that people are paying a premium to own rather than rent, presumably because they expect their homes to appreciate and earn capital gains. The bigger the premium, the more unrealistic their expectations are likely to be.

San Diego is the most bubble-icious big city by this measure. According to Torto Wheaton Research of Boston, it cost only 40% as much to rent as to own in San Diego last year. The ratio was 45% in San Francisco, 54% in Las Vegas, 55% in Los Angeles, 59% in Washington, and 63% in Miami. In these cities, “It’s much better to be a renter than a buyer unless your horizon is longer than five years,” says Gleb L. Nechayev, a senior economist at Torto Wheaton.

It seems this is starting to head south. The corridor of broken dreams and giant entryways is in a condo building and buying frenzy – Baja’s building boom. People seem to be regaining confidence for buying homes on leased land in Baja. The Baja market was hit hard in ’99 after the court-ordered evictions of more than 200 US citizens at Punta Banda. With this much of a surge, buyers are advised to do their homework – sellers don’t have to disclose anything. How much of this is legitimate vs. speculative?

Voice of San Diego looks at TJ police corruption: How Much Has Tijuana Done to Clean Up Its Corrupt Police Force? They follow the story of a US citizen that was locked up for 3 days before the police took $400 from his bank account and let him go. They mention the Sindicatura in Baja as the best place to report corruption. Interestingly, I’ve always been told to tape the following information on the back of your drivers license when traveling in Baja:

Sindicatura del Gobierno Municipal Tijuana (665) 688-2810, 973-7770, 973-7759
Ensenada (646) 617,1561, 176-2222
Mexicali (686) 558-1600 x1661

The thought is that if you are stopped by a policeman, you will have a better shot at getting legitimate treatment because they know you are aware of the Sindicatura. Is it worth doing? Not a clue. I;ve never had a problem. The green angels and other patrols are supposed to be much better these days.

While I’m on the topic of Baja, I really need to head to the Sea of Cortez to see the flying mobulas (related to rays). Check out this story and photos of flying mobulas.

Oct 062005

This Times article is interesting – Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible. They haven’t gone crazy and renounced the virgin birth or anything like that, but they have said that “We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision”. This is contrary to the views of much of the Christian right here in the US, many seem to want to revert back to the days of literal biblical translation.

That is not to say of course that there is not valuable literal information in the bible. The bible, as well as other religious texts, have been great resources for historians. For example, The Hittites and King Belshazzar were thought to be biblical myths until archeology records were found that proved the bible was accurate. But the idea that the bible should be relied upon as a scientific or historical guide is ridiculous. That was never the purpose of the book.

Roman Catholic Church also touches on views and feuds from thousands of years ago, and how they should not be used today. They specifically quote Matthew 27:25, �His blood be on us and on our children� and say it must never be used again as a pretext to treat Jewish people with contempt. They also mention Genesis iii 16, which some have seen as a curse on woman – �I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.�

This has been a good step for the church. The primary purpose of the bible is to guide, teach, and inspire. To expect scientific facts and figures from a text that is thousand of years old, and translated many times, is nescient. Yes, I’m using both definitions.