Badlands Journal
Nunes: Mother Nature is a radical environmental group...Badlands Journal editorial board
Little Good News for Water Users...Rick Elkins...Valley Voice...4-2-09
Back home in Tulare County Friday, Rep. Devin Nunes, Raver-Visalia, explained to more than 100 farmers and water-district officials that drought is caused by radical environmental groups.
            Nunes did not offer a lot of encouragement. “Every 
            year something new (and bad)happens. One common 
            denominator is the radical environmental groups who 
            have cut our water supply. I don't know where we go              from here,” he said discouragingly.
Here we thought drought was a natural periodic feature of California weather, perhaps intensified by global warming, no doubt abetted by some of Nunes' campaign contributors: dairies, insurance, electrical utilities, sceurities and investments, oil and gas, real estate, lobbyists, commercial banks, general contractors, agricultural services/products, automotive and home builders, among others. Obviously, Nunes is no dummy: he knows just how to pitch the manure and what to cover up with it. But, then, so did former congressmen and also California Republican good friends of lobbyists, John Doolittle and Richard Pombo. Nunes even has his own PAC, called NewPAC, reminiscent of Pombo's RICHPac and Doolittle's Superior California PAC.
Merced Sun-Star
Merced County delegates pack 3 days with meetings in D.C.Sun-Star staff
The Merced County Association of Governments said 15 delegates from its One Voice program attended 28 meetings in three days in Washington, D.C., to learn about new federal funding programs this week.
The organization said its delegates split into smaller groups to cover meetings at the departments of Justice, Education, and Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Aviation Administration.
"The message was the same: Visit our Web site frequently to get details on competitive grants and their requirements," said Joe Oliveira, Gustine City Council member and chairman of the MCAG Governing Board. "New programs and guidelines were being developed even while we were there."
A common message heard by the group was to get ready for an increased amount of reporting required by any group that accepts federal stimulus dollars.
Legislators want to know that the stimulus money is being spent as agreed, and they are especially interested in how many jobs will be created, MCAG said.
In addition to meetings with agencies, and senators and representatives' staff, the One Voice group heard overviews on transportation and economic development.
Fred Abouselman, executive director of the National Association of Regional Councils, told the group that his agency's mission this year was to prod the federal government to simplify.
"We have 65 separate transit programs spread over a number of agencies," he said. "We have 90 separate surface transportation programs. Let's consolidate."
One unusual moment occurred during the trip after President Obama issued a memo on Monday advising that lobbyists would no longer be able to meet with federal agencies about stimulus funds.
Tuesday morning, when the One Voice delegation arrived at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, they were met by a department representative asking if there were any lobbyists with the group. After being assured that there were not, the representative escorted the delegation to its meeting.
Meetings covered topics in transportation, economic development, education, law enforcement, health care and water.
Elected officials among the One Voice delegates were Bill Spriggs, Merced City Council member; Joe Sousa, Los Banos City Council member; Johnny Mays, Dos Palos City Council member; Tommy Jones, Los Banos mayor; Ida Johnson, Board of Trustees, Merced Union High School District; and Andree Soares, Board of Trustees, Los Banos Unified School District.
Other delegates included John Alexander, executive director of the Merced County Healthcare Consortium; and Scott Galbraith, executive director of Merced County Economic Development Corp.
About MCAG
MCAG is an association of city and county governments, with members who meet to discuss and solve problems of regional interest. More information can be found at www.mcagov.org or by calling (209) 723-3153, ext. 308.
Tom Vilsack: Cracking down on waste...Tom Vilsack is secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These are tough economic times.
Right now, at kitchen tables across the country, families are struggling to pay bills. The government owes it to the American people to ensure that it is spending their tax dollars wisely and is not wasting valuable resources.
When I agreed to be the secretary of agriculture, I promised President Obama I would make the United States Department of Agriculture more efficient and more responsive to the people we serve.
To that end, we are working hard to eliminate waste, fraud and abuse within the department.
According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, between 2003 and 2006, USDA made nearly $50 million in payments to farmers who weren't eligible to receive them.
Unfortunately, USDA wasn't as attentive as it should have been, and we now have an opportunity to correct this error and provide taxpayers with greater protections and assurances that their dollars are being well spent.
To ensure that farm program payments are provided only to eligible producers under rules established by Congress, USDA recently announced the first stage in a joint effort with the Internal Revenue Service to combat these fraudulent payments.
Under the new agreement, those seeking assistance will have to sign a document giving the IRS permission to verify their eligibility.
Just like any program with income eligibility tests, the federal government has a responsibility to verify that only eligible individuals are receiving benefits.
The joint USDA-IRS effort is a step toward better and more targeted verification activities that will reduce erroneous payments.
Let me be very clear -- this does not mean that the Farm Service Agency will be looking at every producer's tax records. Rather, the Internal Revenue Service will scan its own tax data and notify USDA if producers are not eligible because the IRS believes they have exceeded the income tests in the statute.
And we will be actively working to ensure that the privacy of the producer is protected throughout the process.
In addition, it's important to note that our enhanced verification activities will not affect or be noticeable to many producers.
It's current practice for USDA to audit a sample of producers each year to verify compliance with eligibility rules. This new initiative will only assist our targeting of these types of activities.
This is just one area in which the USDA is working to eliminate waste and cut costs.
One of the first things I did after being confirmed by the Senate two months ago was to ask the staff to look closely at their programs, processes and budgets to identify waste and report to me how they are conserving taxpayer dollars.
Already, by reducing unnecessary travel, cutting postage costs by utilizing electronic communications, cancelling bad loans and improving the USDA's data center, we are expected to save $24 million.
The men and women who make their living as farmers and ranchers are some of the noblest Americans I know. Their work to provide us with the food we eat is essential to the strength and productivity of our nation.
That is why USDA is so serious about protecting the farm safety net and taking all appropriate actions to reduce and eliminate payments to ineligible individuals.
When the American people elected President Obama they sent a clear message that they were looking for a more responsible government focused on transparency, accountability, and integrity.
USDA is striving to live up to those expectations, while ensuring that American agriculture and rural communities stay strong through the 21st century and beyond.
Snowpack low, but not record drought…MARK GROSSI, The Fresno Bee
Snow surveys this week confirm California's drought is three years old, but it is not among the state's five worst dry spells on record.
At 85 percent of average on April 1, the snowpack is bigger today than in any season during the 1987-1992 drought -- when west San Joaquin Valley farmers each year got at least some irrigation water.
Yet many Westsiders this summer are not supposed to get any federal water, and a few key reservoirs are expected to remain half-empty. Why? Laws require more water to flow from rivers to the ocean these days in an attempt to save dying fish species.
"You're in an entirely different water management world now," said state climatologist Mike Anderson in Sacramento. "You have a drought, but you also have regulatory decisions."
The California Department of Water Resources says 2007-2009 is the eighth-driest three-year period on record.
This week, early April snowpack measurements all over the Sierra indicated water supply from snow runoff will be below average, but not at record-low levels. Though more snow may fall in the next eight weeks, April 1 is considered the end of the precipitation season.
The National Weather Service predicts a chance of snow showers Monday and Tuesday from Yosemite National Park to Kings County National Park.
At this time of year, snowpack measurements are watched closely by cities, industries, farmers and hydroelectric-project operators -- all of whom depend on snowmelt in summer. More than 60 percent of the state's summertime water is frozen in the snowpack each year.
The snowpack in mountains above the Kings River is about 85 percent of average, according to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., which has hydroelectric power plants in that region. A PG&E crew flew in a helicopter Thursday to high-country meadows where snowpack measurement has been done for decades.
A similar measurement ritual took place this week in the mountains above the San Joaquin River. The snowpack in the San Joaquin watershed is also about 85 percent of average.
High-priority federal customers who get San Joaquin water from Millerton Lake -- including 15,000 farmers and the city of Fresno -- will get 85 percent of their allotments, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
But Westsiders, such as Westlands Water District, still are told not to expect any deliveries. The Westside water comes from Northern California, where wildlife agencies are trying to protect the delta smelt, a three-inch minnow.
Giant water pumps at the southern end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have been slowed and sometimes stopped so the fish won't be sucked in and killed.
In 1991 and 1992, the state faced a drier time. But Westlands still got 25 percent of its allotment both years, mainly because many of the wildlife restrictions were not yet in place.
This year, when rivers were running high during a series of February storms, pumping restrictions prevented officials from storing as much water as they would have in the early 1990s.
"If we had this exact same year in the early 1990s before we had the regulatory restrictions, we could have moved 300,000 more acre-feet (into reservoirs)," said Tom Boardman, water resources engineer with the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority. An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, which is a 12- to 18-month supply for an average family.
Things could get worse, said Maurice Roos, chief hydrologist for the state Department of Water Resources. He said California had two six-year droughts in the last century -- the late 1920s to the early 1930s as well as the late 1980s to the early 1990s. It could happen again.
"Are we going to get another three years of drought?" Roos asked. "I think we have to bear that as a possibility."
Fresno Bee
Judge sides with environmentalists in wolf case...SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN,Associated Press Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. A federal judge says a lawsuit by environmental groups to keep the government from aggressively removing endangered Mexican gray wolves that have attacked livestock can move forward.
U.S. District Judge David Bury this week rejected a motion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to throw out the case filed nearly a year ago by several conservation organizations.
The government began reintroducing Mexican wolves to the Southwest in 1998 in a 4 million acre territory along the Arizona-New Mexico line. A survey last year found 52 wolves scattered between the two states.
The plaintiffs are challenging a "three strikes" rule that calls for wolves to be removed from the wild or killed if they prey on livestock more than twice a year.
Sacramento Bee
Labor groups join legal challenge of Delta Shores project...Tony Bizjak
Sacramento's latest environmental watchdog is, it turns out, your local plumber.
The plumbers union and other labor groups have teamed with residents and wildlife advocates in a legal challenge of the city's planned housing, retail and office project known as Delta Shores. They contend the massive south county project will harm burrowing owls, sandhill cranes, the area's air and water quality, and residents' lungs.
A representative for the Delta Shores developer counters that the union's involvement in the lawsuit may have more to do with a fight over jobs than a concern over the plight of owls.
The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court, alleges the city rushed its environmental review in hopes of jump-starting construction, and did not adequately study the project's impact on global warming or compensate enough for vehicle pollution.
Nor, according to the lawsuit, did the city come up with an appropriate plan for handling a loss of Swainson's hawk habitat or controlling polluted stormwater runoff from new streets and homes.
The Delta Shores project, sometimes described as the city's final growth frontier, is planned as a mixed-use community on its last major chunk of open land.
The 800-acre site sits on Sacramento's southern flank, bordering Meadowview and Interstate 5.
In January, the City Council signed off on the environmental report, one of the last steps before construction starts.
City attorneys said the environmental analysis is legally solid, and that the project – which includes 5,000-plus homes and apartments – will be environmentally healthy.
"We learned from North Natomas," said planner Greg Bitter. The "Delta Shores (plan) has a good housing product mixture, a pretty good street network that provides for pedestrians and bikes."
But residents of rustic Freeport, a tiny burg at the base of the Sacramento River levee, complain the project will build suburbia in their backyards, hemming them in and ruining their rural lifestyle.
"They are proposing 500 homes right up against Freeport, which will kill this town," said Tracy Oto, who runs a car repair shop in town and is a member of the Freeport Preservation Coalition.
Advocates for the nearby Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge said Delta Shores threatens local wildlife habitat and could send polluted stormwater flowing into their fragile oasis.
"The threat is real," said refuge board official Liz Zainasheff.
Freeport residents and Stone Lake overseers joined the lawsuit in February with a group called the Coalition for Responsible Development.
That coalition is made up of three local unions, the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, Local 447; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local 340; and the Sheet Metal Workers Union, Local 162.
The unions had unsuccessfully sought a formal agreement from the development company, M&H Realty Partners, on using union labor for the project.
The coalition's attorney said the unions did not file the lawsuit because of labor issues, but because they share the community's interest in growth that's good for people and doesn't harm the environment. Thomas Enslow said his clients already have gotten the city to improve the contaminated soils cleanup process at the project site.
"You're seeing these unions embrace this idea of sustainable development," Enslow said. "They are not out for the quick buck."
However, a developer's representative said he believes the unions are using the lawsuit to apply leverage for jobs.
"They want a project labor agreement," Greg Thatch said. "I don't think there is any real camouflage there. It isn't a new tactic using the (environmental) process to get a project labor agreement."
The labor issue came to a head in January.
While approving the project's environmental analysis, several City Council members instructed the developer to meet with the unions to discuss labor issues in the Delta Shores project, which is expected to create hundreds of construction-related jobs.
The developer's representatives and labor officials met but failed to reach an agreement.
The group filing the lawsuit said it is not trying to stop the project from being built.
Freeport residents say they just want a buffer zone to keep from becoming part of Sacramento.
"There is way too much sprawl in Sacramento," Freeport resident Rachel Anderson said. "We'd like a greenbelt."
Wildlife advocates say they want the environmental report to require that the developer build "infiltration wetlands" to defend the refuge from polluted stormwater.
City officials said the lawsuit is likely to stall plans to build a new interchange at Interstate 5 near Freeport and an extension of Cosumnes River Boulevard westward to I-5.
Work was set to begin later this year. But Delta Shores' developer said it won't front its portion of the costs for roadwork until the lawsuit is settled.
Representative Thatch said the developer also will postpone plans to build stores, restaurants and a movie theater along I-5.
"There has to be resolution before we go forward," Thatch said. "There aren't a lot of projects in this economy, and this was a real one."
City officials defended Delta Shores. They said they see it as an important addition to the city, bringing residents in Meadowview and other south-area communities new homes and jobs.
San Francisco Chronicle
New fuel economy standards sued as too weak...Bob Egelko
The Obama administration's new fuel economy standards for 2011 vehicles, the first industrywide increase in miles-per-gallon requirements since the mid-1980s, were challenged in court Thursday by an environmental group, which said the rules are too weak and still don't consider the impact of emissions on global warming.
The standards, announced last Friday by the Department of Transportation, would boost average fuel economy requirements to 27.3 mpg for all vehicles, up by 2 mpg from 2010 models. Passenger cars would have to reach 30.2 mpg and light trucks 24.1 mpg.
Some environmental groups have said the new standards are a small step in the right direction, but the Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday they're actually weaker than the requirements that the Bush administration proposed last year for 2011 vehicles.
"These low standards, which ignore greenhouse gas emissions and the climate crisis, are illogical, illegal, and very disappointing from a president who has promised to make the United States a leader in the fight against global warming," said Kassie Siegel, who directs the organization's climate law project.
The group asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to declare that the administration violated a federal law requiring that fuel economy standards be set at the maximum feasible level, in light of current technology, economic impact, and the nation's need to conserve energy. The same court ruled in a similar lawsuit in 2007 that the Bush administration's fuel standards for light trucks and SUVs for the 2008 through 2011 model years were invalid.
The court nevertheless allowed the new standards to take effect for 2008 through 2010 because of the time needed to prepare new rules. As a practical matter, Siegel said, the 2011 standards will probably survive the lawsuit for the same reason, but a favorable ruling would require the government to change its approach for future years. A recent federal law requires automakers to achieve an average of 35 mpg by 2020.
Separately, the Obama administration is considering California's request to limit vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under state law, which would effectively require cars and trucks sold in the state to increase fuel efficiency. If the administration approves and the action survives an auto industry lawsuit, 13 other states and the District of Columbia plan to adopt the same standard.
The new Transportation Department rules included an assessment of the effect of fuel economy on climate change. According to Thursday's lawsuit, however, Obama administration officials used the same mathematical formula as the Bush administration and minimized the cost of carbon emissions. As a result, Siegel said, the department found that increasing gas mileage, to the extent now technologically and economically practical, would not reduce global warming.
The administration "cooked the books to conclude the maximum fuel efficiency level the United States can achieve in 2011 is the lowest in the world," Siegel said
Environmentalists delay S.F. biodiesel plans...Robert Selna
Plans to build San Francisco's first biodiesel plant have been tripped up by environmentalists who argue that the city failed to consider hazards associated with converting fat into fuel.
Darling International Inc. has operated since the 1960s at Pier 92, south of Islais Creek. Darling creates tallow by processing bones and other animal parts from meatpacking facilities and restaurants. The company now sells the rendered tallow for the production of soap and fertilizer, but wants to start using the tallow to produce biodiesel - a cleaner fuel that can be blended with petroleum-based diesel or used on its own to run vehicles with minor modifications.
The city of San Francisco uses a blend of biodiesel in all of its 1,500 diesel vehicles, but the fuel is delivered by truck or rail from as far away as the Midwest. The city would like to get all of its fuel from local sources.
Biodiesel is created from recycled products, but producing it can pose environmental threats. Biofuel spills can foul waterways and harm birds and fish. And some of the chemicals used to process the fuel, such as methanol, are highly flammable.
A group of environmentalists and neighbors became concerned when the city's Planning Department concluded that Darling's new biodiesel operations required no environmental review. That decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors.
"Once constructed, Darling's proposed biodiesel facility will cause air pollution, wastewater discharges, hazardous waste and increased truck, rail and boat traffic in a neighborhood already over-burdened with a high level of industrial activities," stated the appeal by a group called the Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates. The advocates are represented by an environmental law clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law.
"There was no opportunity for the public to be able to understand whether the project was safe and clean and operated in a manner compatible with the area," said Karen Pierce, a group member who lives in the Bayview. "We don't have a full picture of what is going to happen to decide if we should be concerned or not."
Pierce said that on the whole, she supported the biodiesel plant, but simply needed to know more about it. The Planning Department has since agreed to do the report, which could take four to six months.
Industrial toxins have long been blamed for high incidences of asthma and other illnesses in southeast San Francisco. It is home to the former Hunters Point Shipyard and other polluted industrial sites.
The new biodiesel facility would add 12 aboveground storage tanks and would be capable of producing 10 million gallons of biodiesel annually.
City planners concluded that the new facility fit in with the area's current heavy industrial zoning and did not create significant new environmental impacts. In addition, air and water quality issues are already regulated by regional, state and federal agencies, officials said.
"Things like methanol tanks and wastewater discharges have to be approved by federal and state authorities and so we were very comfortable with that," said Bill Wycko, the Planning Department's environmental review officer.
CNN Money
2 million jobs lost so far in '09
Unemployment rate spikes to 8.5%, a 25-year high, as 663,000 jobs lost in March. 5.1 million jobs have now been lost since the beginning of 2008...Chris Isidore
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Job losses continued to mount in March and unemployment hit a 25-year high, according to the government's latest reading on the battered labor market Friday.
Employers trimmed 663,000 jobs from their payrolls last month, roughly in line with forecasts of a loss of 658,000 jobs, according to economists surveyed by Briefing.com.
For the first three months of the year, 2 million jobs have been lost, and 5.1 million jobs have been lost since the start of 2008.
To put the three-month loss in context, if no more jobs are lost over the next nine months, 2009 would still be the fourth worst year for job losses since the government started tracking the number of workers in 1939.
March's monthly loss is up slightly from the loss of 651,000 jobs in February, although it's less than the number of jobs lost in January. That figure was revised up to a loss of 741,000 jobs -- which now stands as the biggest monthly drop in 59 years.
More big job losses likely lie ahead, said Tig Gilliam, chief executive of Adecco Group North America, a unit of the world's largest employment staffing firm. He said many of the layoffs announced in recent months have yet to be implemented.
He predicted that between 600,000 and 700,000 more jobs will be lost in April, and that the best people can hope for is that the pace of job losses starts to slow down heading into summer.
"What we have to hope is as we get to May and June, the losses can be limited to only 300,000 or 400,000 range," Gilliam said.
The unemployment rate climbed to 8.5% from 8.1% in February, in line with economists' forecasts. It was the highest since November, 1983.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis issued a statement citing steps that the Obama administration has taken to address the problems in job market, including the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year, as well as steps taken to get credit flowing to small businesses.
"Today's numbers show that we have more work to do," she said.
The job losses were felt throughout all areas of the economy, with the manufacturing and construction sectors as well as business and professional services industries all cutting more than 100,000 jobs each in March.
Retailers and leisure and hospitality companies also trimmed jobs, as did the government. The only industry to post a gain in jobs during the month was the education and health care services group -- and that sector only added a modest 8,000 jobs in the month.
John Silvia, chief economist with Wachovia, said that the widespread nature of the job losses may only make the recession worse. Rising unemployment could batter consumer confidence and spending, which could lead to businesses cutting more down the road.
Silvia also expressed concern that the typical length of time people are out of work continued to climb and now stands at an average of 20.1 weeks.
"Such increases suggest that the impact on those losing jobs will be longer and more severe. Therefore we expect greater financial stress, credit delinquencies and foreclosures," he said.
Employers cut back the number of hours for their workers as well. The average hourly work week fell to 33.2 hours, the lowest level on record going back to 1964.
There also was an increase in the number of people working part-time jobs who want to get a full-time job. A record 9 million Americans were "underemployed" in March.
Including those people along with discouraged job seekers no longer counted in the main unemployment rate, the government's so-called underemployment rate stood at 15.6% in March.
Employers also cut the number of temporary workers by 72,000 in the month, taking the percentage of temporary workers in the overall work force down to the lowest level since 1994. Employers have cut 20% of temporary workers in the last six months.
Gilliam said the fact that employers are cutting temporary workers and hours are signs that some are trying to find creative ways to cut labor costs without laying people off.
He added that when the length of the average work week and the number of temporary workers start to rise once again, it will be an indication that the labor market is getting ready to turn around.
Signs of life in California real estate
There's is a lot of activity out on the coast that may indicate a reawakening of the housing market there - and across the country...Les Christie
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- No state has been harder hit by the housing bust than California.
It has piled up more foreclosures and has endured among the worst home-price declines. The median price of a single-family home sold in February was $247,590, down 41% from 12 months earlier, according to the California Association of Realtors (CAR).
And home construction in the Golden State has nearly vanished: December housing permits shrank to about a quarter of what they were during the boom years, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.
But there are signs that California's housing market may be coming out of this tailspin: Sales volume is increasing, investors are returning and inventory is shrinking.
Bringing back buyers
Low prices have brought out droves of buyers. In February, they purchased more than 600,000 homes, some 80% more than they bought in February 2007, according to CAR. And most of this activity is where prices are off 40% to 60% from their peaks.
In the Sun City area of Riverside County, for example, prices have fallen more than 35% over the past 12 months. Two-thirds of February's sales in the area were of foreclosed properties owned by banks, according to Chuck Whitehead, broker with Coldwell Banker Associated Brokers.
"The sales rebound is largely centered around areas that have experienced the biggest impact from the subprime crisis," said CAR chief economist Leslie Appleton-Young.
How low can home prices go in your city?
In more stable communities, where fewer homes were saddled with toxic mortgages, prices have not crashed as badly and sales are rebounding more slowly. But foreclosures still account for a significant portion of sales, according to Phil Jones, a broker with Coldwell Banker Coastal Alliance in Long Beach.
Most analysts foresee continued price declines in California, according to Nicholas Retsinas, director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "But [there'll be] a slowing of that decline, which portends the end of price drops."
That may already be happening in Long Beach, according to Jones. The measure he uses to judge market trends there, price per square foot, turned up in February, growing 5% to $360.
"Every one of my agents is very busy," Jones said.
Investing 2.0
Another positive sign that markets don't have much further to fall is that investors are returning to some markets.
"I spoke with one investor who is putting together a group of buyers and they're ready to get back into the market," said Jones. "They're planning to buy single-family homes in bulk."
John Dugan is one such investor. The San Francisco-based medical supplies salesman is using a portion of his Entrust Group-managed IRA to buy townhouses in the Sacramento area.
So far he's purchased three 840-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath duplexes. He paid just $35,000 to $80,000 a piece - down from their $180,000 to $200,000 selling prices a few years ago.
He paid cash for the first property and rents it out for $750 a month, a profit of $550 after dues and common charges. That's a 19% return on investment, without figuring on appreciation.
"This kind of pricing is something you only think of as Midwestern, not Californian," he said.
Supply dropping
The booming sales have whittled away existing home inventory to just six and a half months - down from 15 months a year ago.
"Typically, I would describe a normal market as having a six to seven month supply of homes," said Appleton-Young. "We have that now."
California's inventory now compares favorably with the rest of the nation, where there's a 9.7 month supply of homes on the market, according to the National Association of Realtors.
One wildcard, however, is that banks have kept many repossessed homes off the market. "Banks are spoon feeding them out very slowly so they don't overload the market," said Whitehead. But, he added, if they release a lot of properties during the heavy spring buying season, they "will be eaten right up by buyers."
Could the end be near?
All of those factors add up to a more optimistic forecast for California, which is seen as a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the country.
Appleton-Young said that while home prices should continue to decline for the rest of 2009, she predicts that the pace of decline will slow. In total, she's predicting a total loss of 19% for the year. But, "I think we could see home price stabilization by early next year," she said.
If that happens in California, it could spread to the rest of the hard-hit Sun Belt markets - and beyond.
"California was the pace setter for lots of the mortgage products that went toxic," said Retsinas. "The sense is if the problems can be addressed there, the rest of the country will follow."