Wal-Mart project back before planners...Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009
The Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. Monday to continue the public hearing on the Wal-Mart distribution center.
The commission will hear from anyone who filled out a speaker card at the meeting last Wednesday but didn't speak. After the testimony, the commission will discuss the project and vote. If needed, the meeting could be continued to Wednesday.
The City Council will have the project presented at its Sept. 21 meeting that begins at 7 p.m. Public comment on the project will be taken from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sept. 23, and from 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 26. If needed, the council will continue hearing from the public in the afternoon.
The council plans to discuss and vote on the project starting at 7 p.m. Sept. 28.
All the hearings will be held in the City Council Chambers on the second floor of the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.
Merced County unemployment up a small percentage
Rate is still lower than county's worst month...SCOTT JASON
Merced County's unemployment rate for July crawled higher to 17.6 percent, though it's still below this year's high of 20.2 percent.
Figures released Friday show that the number of Mercedians needing work grew by 0.2 percent, meaning there are 2,800 more unemployed residents than in June. Of the work force of 105,300, there are 18,500 people who lack a steady paycheck.
In July 2008, the county's unemployment rate was at 12.3 percent, reflecting Merced's battered economy and weak job market.
The state posted a rate of 12.1 percent, the highest its been since the state started keeping track of the data in 1976.
Merced's mild June-to-July increase, while still a tough blow for those out of a job, is much less of a rapid increase than last fall. The rate jumped from 10.9 percent in September to 20.2 in March.
Most of July's losses stem from cutbacks at the government level. County and city governments shed 2,700 jobs last month. The state cut 100 employees. The agriculture industry posted a modest increase of 100 jobs. The manufacturing sector tacked on an extra 200 positions.
The recent figures include the jobs Merced city government shed in July. Nine people lost their jobs, one of the ways the city closed a $10.2 million budget gap. The county Board of Supervisors passed a budget Tuesday that cut 89 jobs.
There are some glimmers of hope. Kohl's should open in September and had 120 positions to fill. Interviews were held earlier this month. The Wisconsin-based retailer has been renovating Mervyns' spot in the Merced Mall.
Merced's unemployment rate peaked in March and has hovered around 17 percent throughout the summer. It's been boosted by the seasonal, agriculture-based.
The highest unemployment rate ever recorded in Merced County was 21.7 percent in February 1996. That happened in the wake of Castle Air Force Base's closure.
UC Merced Move-In Day: Life on campus begins for freshmen...DANIELLE GAINES
The colorful, snaking line of suitcases, boxes and rubber containers at the edge of Scholars Lane on Friday could mean only one thing: Move-In Day at UC Merced. It was the biggest move-in to date at the five-year-old campus, and on-campus housing options were sold out, spokeswoman Tonya Luiz said. Some 1,200 students will live in one of the 11 dorm buildings on the west side of campus this year.Campus officials expect a total enrollment of 3,200 students, with 1,300 new freshmen, transfer and graduate students starting next week. Here, the Sun-Star profiles some of Merced’s newest residents:
Kaitlyn Tramontana, 18, Sunnyvale
Tramontana spared nothing in her move from Silicon Valley to Merced: seven family members in three vehicles helped the bubbly freshman move into her modest Mariposa Hall triple-residency room.
"For three women, no way," her grandfather Phil McKay from Santa Maria said after taking a peek into her new digs. "Sons travel with a suitcase. Daughters travel with a full house."
Tramontana chose to attend UC Merced after receiving a generous scholarship. "I also like it because it is the newest UC, and I can be a part of the development," she said.
While she may hit the mark in the classroom, during move-in it was all playful jokes from the family:
"Her father went out and bought her everything she needs to open a Wal-Mart," stepmom Liz Tramontana said.
Brian Hoang, 18, Huntington Beach
Hoang arrived in Merced on Thursday night with a modest one suitcase and five small paper boxes filled with personal belongings.
"We didn't splurge or anything" when shopping or packing, said Christina Hoang, Brian's sister. "We were reasonable."
Brian Hoang's sister, mother, father and family dog were on hand to help him move into his new room in Tuolumne Hall.
"It feels good," Brian said, packing boxes onto a dolly. "I feel independent."
Why did Brian choose UC Merced?
"It's far. I want to meet new people," he said.
Lauren Dalupan, 18, Folsom
"I brought a lot," said Dalupan, as her mother brought in another batch of belongings from the curb. "At least eight different bins or bags. I hope I'm not the only one that brought so much."
Dalupan arrived in Merced on Thursday night with her parents, Theresa and Al. She will be living in Tuolumne Hall with two other roommates.
"It feels surreal. It hasn't quite hit me yet that I am a college student," Dalupan said.
Theresa Dalupan was all smiles during the move-in.
"I'm very excited for her. Very excited because I didn't get to do this myself," said Theresa, who attended college in her native San Francisco but never lived in a dorm.
Nick Self, 18, Newport Beach
Nick and his parents, Michael and Hema, left Newport Beach early Friday morning to arrive on campus early for move-in.
Their early arrival was a good thing too, as Nick tried to shove all of the belongings in his nine boxes under one half of the bunk bed. Then there was the mini-fridge and the shelving unit.
"This is the first time he has ever lived somewhere other than the place he was brought home to from the hospital," Michael Self said of the new, smaller accommodations.
Nick said he chose UC Merced for one reason: "Yosemite."
A chemical sciences major, Nick had visited the national park a couple times a year before enrolling here.
Now he will visit more often, he said, showing off a photo he had recently shot at Tenaya Creek that he will hang on the bare walls of his new room.
5% solution for county budget crisis
Just symbolic, but supervisors and top officials should take a pay cut until economy improves...Our View
After the wailing, gnashing of teeth, renting of garments and metaphorical bloodshed from the county's sweeping layoffs this week, we'd like to present a modest proposal.
Why don't each of the five county supervisors cut her or his salary by 5 percent?
In fact, why not add all the senior nonunion administrators, including the county executive officer, to the bucket list?
Stacked up against a $44 million budget deficit -- and the loss of 89 county jobs -- the total would be tiny.
But the symbolic gesture would go at least a little ways toward rehabbing the battered image of some of the supervisors and those who run the county. They're paid handsome salaries to do just what their name says -- supervise. But it's clear too many of them sometimes have been asleep at the switch.
Sure, at least half the blame falls on the mud wrestling and cage fights in Sacramento among politicians whose re-election is assured by the way they've gerrymandered their districts into what look like Rorschach Test blobs.
Some of it falls on the Obama administration, which has brought glorious vision and almost no practical common sense to the fiscal problems facing our nation. A lot of the blame should also be assigned to Congress, since whether they're Republican, Democrat, Blue Dogs or purple haze, they make the laws that benefit the special interests in whose pockets they comfortably sit.
But blame part of the county's problems on some of the people we elected to run the county, and on a few top managers in the county bureaucracy. Where was the leadership from the supervisors and administrators when they looked down the budgetary tunnel and saw the headlight of the onrushing locomotive?
What it looks like from here is that elected and appointed officials -- and some of their predecessors, because the county's problems didn't unfold just in the past two years -- failed in their basic duty to watch how and where our money was spent.
We believe those tasked with oversight relied too often on a hands-off approach, especially when faced with the entrenched bureaucratic skills of a few county employees long used to avoiding accountability.
Rather than view their tenure as supervisors as a full-time job, some of the people we elected rubber-stamped the papers they were handed by experts in red tape. Nothing criminal -- just the usual mastery of the rules and exceptions and how to leave no fingerprints, especially when it comes to their own six-figure paychecks.
To be sure, a few of them looked around the corner and decided to be conservative with our money. To a degree, a few of them planned for a recession -- not one this brutal, but unlike some counties there's still about $30 million in reserves. And they used $11 million of it to avoid even more layoffs.
Besides the drought fund (in today's parched Valley it can't be called a "rainy day" reserve), they've also held vacant positions open for quite awhile -- more than 100 of them. That goes on the positive side of the ledger.
Still, Merced city has had to cut only 1.5 percent of its jobs; the county cut 3.5 percent.
The supes have already made one worthwhile move: they agreed to slice their special-project allotment to $65,000 from $100,000. That's the slush fund we have written a lot about over the past two years. An emblematic but meaningful message that there'll be less pork to spread around like fertilizer on a farm field.
Now if we can get them and the top administrators to cut their salary by 5 percent -- which happened this year to all of us editorial board members at the Sun-Star -- the gesture might remind them every day that they hold a real job: overseeing the sprawling creature that is county government.
If any of our elected and appointed officials harbor notions of actual civic duty, they'll start acting like managers instead of avatars. They'll burrow into the nitty-gritty of budgets and learn what gets the best bang for the buck and what should be tossed overboard. They'll hold county bureaucrats responsible for what they do and don't do.
In a word, they'll lead.
The 5 percent solution is just a start. But it will send a signal that we're all in this together.
Stanislaus home prices rise...J.N. Sbranti
Three months in a row.
Stanislaus County's median home sales price rose $1,000 in July to $140,000, continuing the upward trend that started in May.
After 3½ years of crashing real estate prices, the gentle climb is sorely welcome. Stanislaus' home prices peaked in December 2005 at $396,000, then started a steady drop to $133,000 by April 2009.
This is the first time since 2005 that home prices have increased three consecutive months.
MDA DataQuick's statistics, released Friday, showed 889 homes sold in Stanislaus last month, which was about the same as during May and June.
While home sales remain brisk and countywide median prices are up, that doesn't mean every city is doing better.
"Each neighborhood has its own characteristics," said Phil Harris, owner of Harris Appraisal Service in Modesto. "We're starting to see some of these markets stabilizing, but others aren't."
Appraisers consider many factors in determining a home's fair market value, and where it's located is a key element.
Harris said that from one part of town to another, the strength of the real estate market varies. In Modesto, for example, some sectors of the city are edging up in value, while others have continued to decline.
Stability varies by area
Northwest Modesto, Harris said, "is the only Modesto market right now showing it is stable."
He said that corner of the city, north of Briggsmore Avenue and west of McHenry Avenue, had a median sales price of $145,500 during the past three months.
Northeast Modesto, by contrast, "is still showing a declining market overall," Harris said. Those homes, north of Briggsmore and east of McHenry including Village I, sold for a median $183,000.
Home prices elsewhere in Modesto are much lower, according to the sales data used by appraisers.
Southwest Modesto homes sold for a median $60,000 during the past three months, Harris said. And in the southern Modesto region that includes the airport neighborhood, the median sales price was just $37,000.
There are differences from one neighborhood to the next in Patterson, too.
"Patterson as a whole still is showing a little bit of a decrease, but the newer neighborhoods and starting to stabilize," Harris said.
The citywide median sales price was $145,000 over the past three months. "The bigger houses, however, are showing an uptick in price," Harris said.
Merced County isn't faring as well.
DataQuick reported that Merced's home prices dropped in July, down $2,500 to a median $107,500. That's still higher than in May when Merced prices hit bottom at $105,000, but that county's housing market doesn't seem to be recovering as quickly as others in California.
Merced's home sales volume slumped in July, with just 369 homes selling. During June, by contrast, 576 Merced homes sold.
Sales continued to soar in San Joaquin County last month, with 1,212 homes selling for a median $165,000. That was $13,000 more than homes sold for in May or June.
Even with the recent increases, homes throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley are worth less than 40 percent of what they were at the peak of the real estate boom.
Tuolumne down from June
In Tuolumne County, where home sales prices often vary widely from month to month, 50 homes sold in July for a median $199,500. That was $24,000 less than in June.
Statewide, DataQuick said homes sold for a median $250,000 in July, up $4,000 from June. Typical California home buyers last month committed themselves to paying a monthly mortgage payment of $1,101.
Bay Area buyers agreed to pay far more. Buyers in the nine-county region paid a median $395,000 for homes in July, which was a $43,000 increase from June. Bay Area homeowners committed themselves to paying $1,739 per month for mortgages.
Los Angeles Times
Unemployment in California hits post-World War II high
The state's rate jumps to 11.9% in July as the U.S. rate declines to 9.4%. Job losses have an outsize effect on Latinos in the state as work in the construction and hospitality sectors vanishes...Alana Semuels
California's jobless rate reached a fresh post-World War II high in July, climbing to 11.9%, a sobering reminder that though the nation's deep downturn may be nearing its end, the state's employment woes are far from over.
Golden State employers cut their payrolls by 35,800 jobs in July, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department. That's a significant improvement over monthly losses that averaged 76,000 over the first half of the year.
Still, July's numbers were worse than some analysts had expected, rising from 11.6% in June and led by declines in trade, construction and manufacturing. Even with the rise in unemployment here, however, a consensus is growing that the worst of the recession may be over.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke on Friday declared the economy to be "leveling out," and the National Assn. of Realtors reported a sharp rise in July home sales. Wall Street responded by pushing the Dow index to its highest point since November.
Still, a robust recovery appears unlikely, and some regions of the country are expected to suffer fallout from the bursting of the housing bubble for years to come. That includes California, which is now tied with Oregon for the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, behind Michigan, Rhode Island and Nevada. The U.S. unemployment rate is 9.4%, down from 9.5% in June.
California's battered construction and housing industries, long pillars of the state economy, remain troubling sources of weakness. Over the last year, the state has lost 760,200 jobs, nearly 1 in 5 of them in construction. White-collar workers have likewise suffered from the housing crash as thousands of jobs in banking, mortgage processing and real estate sales have vanished.
The number of new-home permits issued in July fell 47.4% from a year earlier, according to the Construction Industry Research Board.
"We've disproportionately benefited from two sectors, construction and financial services," said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University.
"The demise of these two sectors has hurt us disproportionately."
That's had an outsize effect on California's 13.5 million Latinos, who are heavily concentrated in the building trades. In 2007, Latinos made up 47% of the construction workforce in the state, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In July, California's Latino unemployment rate hit 12.7%, dwarfing the white jobless rate of 9.5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Black unemployment remains the highest in the state at 14.2%. But Latino joblessness has grown much faster. In July 2007 the Latino unemployment rate stood at just 5.9%, compared with 9.2% for blacks and 4.8% for whites.
Last month, 805,000 California Latinos were jobless. That's up 127% over the last two years. The number of unemployed whites in the state grew 103% over the same period, while the number of out-of-work African Americans rose 66%.
"You really begin to see desperate times for lots of Latino families throughout California," said Vince Vasquez, a senior policy analyst with the National University System Institute for Policy Research.
East Los Angeles resident Robert Gonzales said he was struggling to support his three children after his job as an industrial painter disappeared a year ago when his employer moved to Ohio.
When he first lost his job, he was able to find odd carpentry and plumbing work, but his phone has stopped ringing. Now, he can barely pay the taxes on the home he owns, and he struggles to put food on the table.
"I come to the EDD every day, and nothing happens," he said, standing outside the workforce development office in East L.A., where the computers had malfunctioned. "They say, 'Don't call us, we'll call you.' "
A large proportion of Latinos also are in hospitality, nondurable-goods manufacturing and warehousing, said Jerry Nickelsburg, senior economist for the UCLA Anderson Forecast. As consumer demand for products worldwide shrinks, companies responsible for making and shipping goods are jettisoning employees.
That leaves people like Juan Cortez, a 33-year-old from Monterey Park, scrounging for work. He was laid off from his job as a shipping clerk nine months ago, moved back in with his parents, sold his Chevy Tahoe and now is hoping to get a callback about a job as a forklift operator.
He and a few friends have been talking about moving back to Mexico, he said, where it's cheaper to live and the job prospects seem better.
"There's jobs there," he said. "There's no jobs in L.A."
The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Los Angeles County also reached 11.9% in July, up from a revised 11.2% in June. The government sector was especially hard hit as state budget cuts took their toll, with the number of jobs dropping 4.6% from June. Education and health services was the only sector in the county to employ more people this month than it did in July of last year.
The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area felt the most pain in the Southland, with the unemployment rate rising to 14.3% in July, up from a revised 13.9% in June. A major center for warehousing and distribution, the area has shed 20,100 jobs since July 2008 in the trade, transportation and utilities sector. The area's construction sector lost 20,700 jobs over the same period.
The recession has been particularly hard on less-educated Californians. People without a high school diploma had a 16.8% unemployment rate in June compared with a 10.8% unemployment rate in June 2008.
That's plagued the region's Latinos, many of whom have less schooling, fewer linguistic skills and spottier community connections than people who have lived in the country for generations, policy analyst Vasquez said.
"It's about where you went to school, it's about having relationships, and those are the things that really affect Latinos in a situation like this," he said.
About 44.5% of Latino adults in the state do not have a high school diploma, compared with 20% of the state overall, and 6.8% have a bachelor's degree, compared with 18.7% of the state overall, according to U.S. Census estimates.
After being laid off from her job as a receptionist at an oncology office in June, 22-year-old Denise Muralles decided it was time to hit the books. She's taking classes at Los Angeles Community College in the fall, she said, and hopes to eventually study physiology.
Her mother, a secretary, has been adamant that Muralles not follow in her footsteps.
"She really wants me to get an education," she said. "She doesn't want me to be a secretary."
Economists predict that the unemployment rate in the state will continue to climb. Job growth doesn't usually begin until about six months after the end of a recession, economist Adibi said. He expects the unemployment rate to keep rising into early 2010.
Still, there is some reason to be optimistic, economists said. The rate of job losses in the state is slowing.
Two categories, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality, added jobs last month. Employment in other sectors, including financial activities and natural resources and mining, were stable, which economists say is a good sign.
"There is a ray of hope," Adibi said.
Mortgage defaults soar to record 13%
In the second quarter, the number of homeowners behind on payments or in foreclosure rose along with the jobless rate, with California among states leading the way...E. Scott Reckard and Ronald D. White. Times staff writer Martin Zimmerman contributed to this report....8-21-09
Widespread joblessness is causing more Americans to fall behind on their house payments, triggering a new round of foreclosures that some analysts fear could delay the nation's economic recovery.
A mortgage trade group reported Thursday that more than 13% of the nation's mortgage holders were delinquent on their mortgages or in the process of having their homes repossessed during the second quarter of this year. That's the highest figure since tracking began in 1972. California's rate, 15.2%, was among the highest of all states.
The numbers underscore a worrisome trend. A spate of foreclosures -- which began with speculators who walked away from their souring investments, then spread to high-risk borrowers who couldn't make their payments when their low-interest mortgages reset -- is now hitting unemployed homeowners with good credit scores, clean financial histories and conventional home loans.
The U.S. has shed 6.7 million jobs since the recession began, employment losses that have left even high-quality borrowers struggling. One in three new foreclosures from April to June was from a prime, fixed-rate loan, up from 1 in 5 a year earlier.
The rising tide of foreclosures could swamp positive economic trends such as improving home sales and a surprise increase in U.S. regional manufacturing, also reported Thursday.
"The broadening of the foreclosure crisis to include prime loans due to high and rising unemployment will delay a bottom in the housing market and threatens the economic recovery," said Mark Zandi, co-founder and chief economist of Moody's Economy.com.
It's also a huge challenge to the Obama administration, which is pressuring banks to restructure troubled mortgages to keep borrowers in their homes. Such modifications are difficult to achieve when a family's income is slashed. The Washington-based Mortgage Bankers Assn. predicts that U.S. job losses will continue at least until the middle of 2010, meaning that mortgage delinquencies and repossessed homes will almost certainly continue rising.
"We would expect delinquencies and foreclosures to peak sometime after that, probably at the end of next year," said Jay Brinkmann, the trade group's chief economist.
The U.S. jobless rate in July was 9.4%, down slightly from 9.5% in June, a 26-year high. California's June unemployment rate was 11.6%. July figures will be released today.
The employment troubles are compounding a messy situation for banks. Faced with a burgeoning backlog of problem loans, loan-servicing giants such as Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. have gotten off to a slow start on the Obama administration's Home Affordable Modification program, recently released government statistics show.
Anxious borrowers who have contacted The Times complain that lenders lose their documents, pass them from employee to employee and make them endure unexplained delays.
They include Janet and Stan Hurwitz, who said they enjoyed pristine credit and good salaries before this recession turned their financial world upside down. Both now unemployed, they're worried about exhausting their savings and losing their spacious Porter Ranch home.
Stan, 58, lost his job as an apparel sales representative in May and has pursued dozens of leads without success. Janet, a 53-year-old commercial pilot, has been unable to find work in the battered airline industry since returning from disability last summer.
The couple have pared expenses drastically and are trying to refinance their 6.25% mortgage to reduce their $2,789-a-month payment. But the Hurwitzes say that the mounds of paperwork they have sent out -- to Bank of America, two government-sponsored home retention plans, credit and debt consolidation agencies and several elected officials -- seem to have disappeared into a black hole.
"No matter what you send in, or where, it just disappears," Stan Hurwitz said.
After The Times contacted Bank of America on Thursday about the case, the bank issued a statement saying it "has reached out to the Hurwitzes to apologize for their experience and to ensure they have a single point of contact to help them through these challenging times."
"Despite our best efforts, there are limits to how far modification programs can go," the Bank of America statement said. With unemployment rates so high, "even the most ambitious modification plan will not help when the homeowner has no income or prospects."
The bank said unemployment benefits count as income under the Obama plan as long as they continue for nine months, adding that it is working with the government "to find solutions for at-risk homeowners who fall outside the eligibility requirements of the current program as well as the growing number of customers now unemployed."
The mortgage bankers group said efforts to aid distressed borrowers, such as the Obama administration's housing affordability program, are providing some relief but are not addressing all the problems.
"While the various loan modification programs continue to have an impact on holding foreclosure rates below where they otherwise would be, the issue is that many of the foreclosures involve homes that are vacant, borrowers who no longer have jobs, or loans where there was fraud involved," Brinkmann said.
Another problem plaguing California and other hard-hit areas is the unprecedented decline in home prices. Falling values have left homeowners who purchased at the peak of the housing boom "underwater," owing far more than their homes are worth. Even drastically reducing interest rates and paying borrowers bonuses to stay in their homes can have little lasting effect if it will be years before homeowner equity is restored, Economy.com's Zandi noted.
"The idea [of the Obama plan] is to give homeowners a break so they can get through the recession and the falling housing market and, hopefully somewhere down the road, make full payments again," Zandi said. "That's going to be helpful, but as long as foreclosures keep rising and home prices keep falling, a lot of houses will be so far underwater that it makes no sense to bother modifying them -- from the lender's perspective and from the borrower's."
He said the Obama administration might reach its goal of having lenders offer 3.5 million to 4 million loan modifications -- restructurings that lower rates, extend the time for borrowers to repay what they owe and, in some cases, suspend interest payments on part of the loan balance. But Economy .com is projecting that only half of those offers will result in actual modifications, "and they'll be lucky if they get 1 million successful modifications out of that," Zandi said.
If the problem worsens, the government and lenders may have to revisit some ideas that so far have proved untenable, such as finding a way to reduce the principal owed on large numbers of loans, he added.
The problems are especially thorny in California, Zandi noted, because unemployment is higher and home prices have fallen more than in most states.
Still, he said, the Golden State should recover sooner than other hard-hit states including Nevada, Florida and Michigan because its economy is more diversified. Already, he noted, there are signs of stabilizing prices in areas such as San Francisco and Orange County, as buyers step in on the belief that California's notoriously up-and-down housing market will eventually stage one of its famous recoveries.
EPA sets legal limits for water pollution in Fla....MITCH STACY, The Associated Press
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Environmental groups on Friday lauded long-awaited action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set legal limits for farm and urban runoff polluting Florida's waterways, limits that could serve as a model for other states.
A consent decree signed Wednesday settled a lawsuit filed last year by the Sierra Club, Florida Wildlife Federation and others against the EPA seeking to get the federal agency to set numeric standards for runoff such as fertilizers and animal waste.
The settlement marks the first time the EPA has forced numeric limits on so-called nutrient runoff on a state. A handful of other states, at the urging of the EPA, have already acted to set their own standards. The rest have only vague limits on waste and fertilizer pollution, but many of those are in the process of developing numeric limits.
Environmentalists say rain sends the runoff into rivers and lakes, nourishing algae blooms that poison the ecosystems.
The agreement means "real protection for Florida's waters," said Earthjustice attorney Colin Adams, speaking at a news conference in Tampa. The public interest law firm had filed the suit in federal court on behalf of the environmental groups.
"For the first time, EPA will begin the process to address massive fertilizer and human and animal waste pollution problems that increase dead zone areas along practically every U.S. coastline," Adams said.
He said numeric limits, which still have to be determined, will make it easier for the government to go after major polluters and help farmers regulate agricultural runoff.
The groups credited President Barack Obama's administration with quick action on the matter after years of what they called "foot-dragging" by the Bush administration.
The EPA acknowledged in a statement Friday that standards are necessary "to protect Florida waters from the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution."
The statement said the agency will work closely with scientists from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to develop "scientifically defensible" water quality standards.
Under the settlement, the EPA has until Jan. 14 to propose the new pollution limits for Florida's lakes, rivers and creeks, and until October 2010 to finalize the rules.
The Sierra Club's Cris Costello said the agreement was expected to move the EPA to set similar standards in other states.
"We believe this should and will be held up by the EPA as a model," she said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said in a statement Friday that it has been working for years to establish its own guidelines for such runoff. In a 2008 report, the department concluded that half of the state's rivers and more than half of its lakes had poor water quality.
"To ensure that there is no duplication of work, we will continue to work with EPA in the same manner they have worked with us," the statement said.
The EPA acknowledged more than 10 years ago that Florida needed to promptly develop runoff standards to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act in 1972 "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters."
The agency noted then that "nutrient pollution is the leading cause of impairment in lakes and coastal waterways." The agency also said the nutrients in runoff had been linked to so-called "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico.
Third largest bank failure of 2009 announced
Texas-based Guaranty Bank is bought by Spanish bank. Regulators also seize institutions in Alabama and Georgia, bringing this year's tally to 81...Ben Rooney...Fortune's Colin Barr contributed to this report
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Guaranty Bank was closed by federal regulators Friday in the third largest bank failure this year bringing the total number of failures to 81 in 2009.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was named receiver of the Austin, TX-based thrift, which had approximately $13 billion in assets and $12 billion in deposits as of June.
BBVA Compass, a U.S. subsidiary of Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, agreed to assume all of Guaranty's deposits and will buy $12 billion of its assets. The FDIC said it would share losses on $11 billion of the failed bank's assets.
The 162 branches that Guaranty operated in Texas and California will reopen Monday as branches of BBVA Compass, which is based in Birmingham, Ala.
Guaranty was the third largest bank to fail in 2009. It tied for the title of 11th largest bank failure in U.S. history with First City Bancorporation, which failed in 1988.
The estimated cost of Guaranty's failure to the FDIC is $3 billion.
BBVA (BBV) emerged as the winning bidder for Guaranty's assets, beating out potential buyers including a private equity group led by investor Gerald Ford.
Jose Maria Garcia Meyer, chairman of BBVA Compass, in a statement said the transaction makes "excellent strategic sense" and represents an opportunity for BBVA to expand its presence in the "high growth Sunbelt Region."
The purchase marks the first time an overseas-based bank has bought a failed U.S. bank this year. However, the Bilbao-based bank made a series of acquisitions in Texas earlier this decade and already operates the fourth-biggest banking chain in the state by deposits.
Most of this year's failures have been small, regional banks that were brought down by rising delinquencies on home and other consumer loans as unemployment has risen to a 25-year high in one of the longest recessions on record.
Guaranty, which was the fourth Texas bank to fail this year, had a substantial number of risky mortgages made to California borrowers on its books. These loans became a severe liability as the housing market in California collapsed and borrowers defaulted in droves.
Option adjustable rate mortgages made up almost a third of Guaranty's single family mortgage portfolio, according to investor presentations on its Web site. Guaranty also had $1.2 billion of loans to homebuilders in California's overbuilt market.
BBVA said it will maintain regulatory capital ratios at a level that exceeds "well-capitalized" guidelines, and that the impact of transaction will be "immaterial" to BBVA.
California's housing woes also played a major role in last year's failures of Washington Mutual and IndyMac. WaMu, which had $307 billion in assets, was the largest U.S. bank failure on record.
Three other banks fail
Earlier in the day, regulators closed Birmingham, Ala.-based CapitalSouth Bank, which operated ten branches and had $617 million in assets and deposits of about $546 million.
Iberiabank, which is based in Lafayette, La, will assume all of the CapitalSouth's deposits and will purchase $589 million of its assets.
In Georgia, regulators closed Newnan-based First Coweta and arranged for United Bank, of Zebulon, to take over its four branches.
United Bank will pay the FDIC a premium of 1% to assume all of the First Coweta's $155 million in deposits and will buy $155 million of its assets.
Georgia regulators also closed the sole branch of Atlanta-based ebank, which will reopen on Monday as a branch of Stearns Bank.
St. Cloud, Minn.-based Stearns, which has bought a number of failed banks this year, will purchase the bulk of the failed bank's $143 million in assets and will assume all of its $130 million in deposits.
So far this year, 18 banks have failed in Georgia.
Friday's closure brings the total number of bank failures this year to 81, compared with a total of 25 in all of 2008.
The failures of CapitalSouth, First Coweta and ebank will cost the FDIC an estimated $262 million on top of the $3 billion from the failure of Guaranty Bank. Over the next five years, the agency expects roughly $70 billion in losses due to the failure of insured institutions.