Growth at UC Merced isn't slowing
500 more expected to be on campus this fall...DANIELLE GAINES
Students admitted to UC Merced for next year are more likely to be first-generation college students and to come from low-income, rural families than the applicants of any other University of California campus.
"We're more diverse than ever before -- while growing," said Kevin Browne, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management at UC Merced.
The campus admitted 1,001 more students from underrepresented minorities this year than UCLA, despite a significantly larger applicant pool at that school.
The University of California Office of the President released admissions data for the 10-campus system Tuesday.
More than 58,000 offers of admission were sent to California applicants for the fall 2009 freshman class; 7,851 of those offers were sent by the Merced campus.
While the admitted students at Merced may be diverse, they also take the fewest college preparatory courses, post lower grade point averages and turn in the lowest standardized test scores compared to the nine other campuses.
UC Merced is expected to continue offering admission to students who are UC-eligible but didn't get accepted to the campus of their choice. Around 10,000 students fit that description and are lumped into a "referral pool."
On average, freshmen applicants applied to 3.5 UC campuses.
Often, students in the referral pool applied to only one or two UC campuses and are among the most qualified applicants system-wide, officials said.
"We want (referral pool students) to know that all campuses of the university offer a high-quality academic program and numerous opportunities to develop their talents and interests," said Susan Wilbur, director of undergraduate admissions for the UC system. "A UC education is still a great education, regardless of where you get it."
Browne said it was tough to predict how many students from the referral pool will decide to enroll at UC Merced.
"It's really hard to estimate at this point, due to the dramatic change in the economy," Browne said.
Although many referral-pool applicants may decline to attend a UC school, they are all guaranteed admission to either the Merced or Riverside campus.
Some 100 students were enrolled through the process last fall, he added.
UC Merced had the second-highest admissions rate in the system at 79.1 percent, after Riverside at 79.8. UCLA had the lowest acceptance rate at 21.4 percent.
UC Merced plans to enroll about 1,200 freshmen for next year, increasing the entire campus population to 3,200.
Today, there are just over 2,700 students on campus.
UC Merced professor awarded stem cell grant...Wednesday, Apr. 08, 2009
UC Merced said Professor Michael Cleary received a $483,000 grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to develop a tool that could allow previously impossible experiments to be performed in stem cell research.
Cleary wants to create a method to identify cells' gene expression, which determines the specific cell type within a mixed population of cells. For example, how a neuron differs from a muscle cell. If successful, it could benefit numerous areas of stem cell research, according to the university.
"We are pleased that CIRM recognizes Professor Cleary's work," said Dean Maria Pallavicini of the School of Natural Sciences. "Understanding how stem cells make decisions is a critical question in this field."
Cleary's Tools and Technologies award is the most recent grant received by UC Merced from CIRM. So far, CIRM has offered $8.49 million in grants to UC Merced.
Cleary, a professor in the School of Natural Sciences, is a member of UC Merced's Stem Cell Research Consortium. He earned his doctoral degree from Stanford University and his undergraduate degree from the University of California, Davis.
Our View: Don't blame colleges for tuition hikes
Legislature sets students fees, but state Senate bill would freeze pay of administrators...Editorial
Here's an idea that sounds appealing, until you think about it.
If student fees go up at public colleges and universities, why not freeze the pay of presidents, chancellors, vice chancellors and others who make $200,000 or more a year? Senate Bill 217 by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, would do just that.
The problem is, the bill targets the wrong people.
California's public college and university administrators do not set student fees.
Legislators directly set the fees for the California Community Colleges system.
As for the California State University and University of California systems, it is legislators -- not university administrators -- who determine what share the state and students will pay. Legislators set a budget, assuming a certain amount of revenues will come from student fees. Then the CSU and UC governing boards set the fees, based on the Legislature's appropriation.
In short, it's the Legislature's fault that public higher education fees have gone up and down in unpredictable swings -- not the fault of college and university administrators.
In setting higher education budgets, legislators have shown that they expect students to pay some share of higher education costs. For example, in 2007-2008, fees accounted for 31 percent of UC's operating cost, 25 percent of CSU's and 10 percent of CCC's.
If Yee believes the student share is out of whack, legislators would do better to create a new, stable, predictable system for setting fee levels.
And if legislators want to curb excessive administrator compensation, they should deal with that directly.
To that end, Yee already has passed the Higher Education Governance Accountability Act of 2007, which requires full disclosure of each compensation package and board action in open meetings. If he believes that's not enough to contain administrative costs, then he should explore other options.
SB 217 is well-intentioned but misguided. The Senate Education Committee should kill it on April 15.
Removal of Rogue dam spells end of bitter battle...JEFF BARNARDAP Environmental Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- Within weeks, jackhammers will start knocking Savage Rapids Dam into rubble, and with it two decades of bitter battles over whether to keep what had become a crumbling symbol of a bygone era when rugged pioneers bent nature to their needs.
When irrigation season starts next month, 12 modern pumps will fill the canals serving 7,500 acres of the Grants Pass Irrigation District. By December, the northern half of the dam on the Rogue River will be gone, allowing salmon and steelhead to swim freely past the site for the first time since 1921.
After the lawsuits and arguments of the past, Grants Pass Irrigation District Manager Dan Shepard is ready to see the dam go.
"This digging in your feet like the Alamo makes good movies," said Shepard, but in those movies, "a lot of people are dead."
In the 88 years since Savage Rapids was built, the logging and mining that once sustained Southern Oregon have faded. Farms that the irrigation district once served have sprouted homes that tap the water for lawns and gardens. And the salmon and steelhead have struggled.
"They are giving up an aging infrastructure with high (operation and maintenance) costs for a relatively stable pumping facility," said Bob Hamilton, who has overseen the project for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation since 1988. "They will have an electric bill they never had (to run the pumps), but they will also have reliability they never had these many, many years."
The battles started in 1988, when the conservation group WaterWatch, Rogue Fly Fishers and the American Fisheries Society filed a protest to stop the irrigation district from drawing more water from the Rogue.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation took a look and decided the cheapest and best solution to provide water efficiently without harming fish was to remove the dam and replace it with pumps.
The district initially went along, knowing the federal government was likely to pick up the tab with powerful Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., in office, but later flip-flopped and fought to save the dam. Lawsuits were filed. Battles flared in the state Capitol. The Rogue's coho salmon was declared a threatened species, and more lawsuits were filed.
By 2001, after losing every lawsuit and spending more than $1 million on legal fees, the district agreed to remove the dam. The next year the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board pledged $3 million, and a year later Congress started approving funding that would eventually cover the rest of the $39.3 million cost.
Shepard recalls one of the valley's major orchardists asking him why irrigators cared how they got water, as long as they got it.
The answer was a tough one, he said.
It has to do with people feeling powerless before their government, mindful of how spotted owl protection triggered a huge reduction in logging that took away the resource-based economy of the region.
"Nobody likes change," Shepard said. "If you were a businessman - a farmer or rancher - when something comes up you can get all emotional about it for a short period of time. Then you have to back up and look at it from a business perspective.
"Since we didn't have any full-time ranchers or farmers, it's very easy for people to get emotional instead of dealing with reality."
On Tuesday, workers for Slayden Construction of Stayton dumped truckloads of rocks and gravel into the river downstream of the dam and looked over the dry riverbed upstream as they started building a cofferdam that will hold back the water while backhoes and workers equipped with jackhammers start pounding the 88-year-old concrete structure into rubble.
The river flowed through the radial gates at the center of the dam.
For three weeks while the coffer dam is built, no straggling winter steelhead or early spring chinook will be able to climb the fish ladders to spawning grounds upstream.
When the project is finished this December, the northern half of the dam will be gone. The southern half that remains will no longer have the concrete pillars that held in place the needle logs that raised and lowered the dam for irrigation.
Winter storms will start washing downstream the 250,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel built up behind the dam.
Adult fish swimming upstream will no longer struggle with the poorly designed fish ladders. Young fish migrating downstream will no longer get shunted into irrigation ditches or a turbine to die.
Removing Savage Rapids comes on the heels of removing a diversion dam upstream at Gold Hill, and talk that Gold Ray Dam, also upstream, could be out by next year. That would open 157 miles of freeflowing river from Lost Creek Dam, the one dam that stores water and controls flooding on the Rogue, to the Pacific.
"We are seeing one of the nation's largest river restoration projects," said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch.
Cows create homes for tadpole shrimp...Mark Grossi
Endangered tadpole shrimp are flourishing this week in massive mud puddles on a flat-top foothill -- and they owe their good time to a bunch of grass-munching cows.
Well-timed rain and a cool spring have set the stage for the shrimp to reproduce in abundance, but nothing much would have happened here without those visiting cows.
Over several years, state officials have brought in the cows to clear out the grass that was stealing water from the huge temporary pools that form in winter and spring - vernal pools - where the shrimp live.
Biologists say bovine intervention has actually nurtured a swath of nature on the Big Table Mountain Ecological Preserve northeast of Fresno where wildflowers, tadpole shrimp and many other creatures needed help.
Though the effort won't get the shrimp off the endangered-species list, it is a step in the right direction, state biologists say. And it took courage. State officials got opposition from environmentalists who knew poorly timed grazing could lead to trampled pastures and streams.
The table top had been privately owned in the past, and cattle had grazed on it for many years, officials said. Officials didn't realize the cows were thinning out the invasive grass that had been introduced by European settlers more than a century before.
After acquiring the property, state officials tried to return it to a more natural state by removing cows in the early 1990s. But the elegant ecosystem was overrun with grasses that are not native to California. The flat-top mountain overlooking Millerton Lake became a sea of green.
Vernal pools - which form in low spots - were fast disappearing. The pools support many kinds of life, such as the tadpole shrimp. If they disappear forever, birds and other creatures would lose an important food source in the ecological web of life. Well-managed grazing was the obvious solution.
"We thought we were being smart by taking the cows off the land in the '90s," said Chuck Peck, executive director of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, which assists in the effort. "But if you think about it, the best vernal pool areas are usually on ranches where there is grazing."
Since 2000, state officials have allowed ranchers to lease the land and send in cows to devour grasses on the preserve. Grazing takes place only from October to early March so the animals wouldn't obliterate wildflowers and important habitat for birds or other creatures.
Now biologists from the state Department of Fish and Game see an impressive diversity of life.
As she hiked the table top this week, Annee Ferranti, senior environmental scientist with the state, spotted an array of wildflowers - goldfields, fiddleneck, sidalcia, Chinese houses, meadowfoam and many others. Different species of flowers come and go as the weather warms up. The display happens almost in secret. The public can see it on tours with the Foothill Conservancy, but otherwise access is quite difficult.
For many Central Californians, the table tops are mysterious-looking flat foothills visible from Highway 41 and other roads in the area.
Geologists explain that the table tops are actually the course of the San Joaquin River about 10 million years ago. From a plane, they say they can trace the course of the ancient river by following the table tops.
The flat-top foothills were created when lava flowed down the old river channel millions of years ago. The basalt flow coated the granite in the river channel, protecting it from natural weathering.
Over time, the hills around the river eroded and disappeared, leaving the flat, lava-covered river bottom elevated above the countryside. In other words, the surrounding erosion has turned the ancient river bottom into flat-top foothills at about 2,000 feet in elevation.
Depressions in the table top basalt easily hold water, allowing vernal pools to form. These pools can be filled with creatures, such as the tadpole shrimp or the fairy shrimp. They come alive when the water is available.
"Their eggs are preserved in cysts for many years," said Ferranti. "They will wait in the soil until the vernal pool forms."
State Fish and Game owns the 715-acre preserve, and state biologists Michelle Selmon and Krista Tomlinson are busy cataloguing plants and animals. Whether it's an American kestrel in flight or a northern Pacific rattlesnake out for some sun, they take note.
Around a large vernal pool, they swatted at huge flies and stepped gingerly around cow pies. They found many tadpole shrimp - which means good eating for ducks, egrets, herons and other birds.
"This looks like a good year," Selmon said. "I was surprised by the number of tadpole shrimp here. Looks like they're having a party."
Stockton No. 1 for home prices
HGTV says city best for bargain hunting buyers...Bruce Spence
Stockton came in No. 1 yet again on another list, this one on a Web site grown by Home & Garden Television, the cable TV company.
Stockton sits in the No. 1 place for bargain-hunting real estate, based on price depreciation. The ratings, at www.frontdoor.com/top10, are based on yearly home price declines as measured quarterly by the Federal Housing Finance Agency combined with regional amenities or characteristics.
"The inland California cities - Stockton, Merced, Modesto, Vallejo, Riverside, Bakersfield, Madera and Fresno, to name a few - have been the hardest hit since the real estate housing bubble burst. Home prices in Stockton plummeted a whopping 40.19 percent last year, dragged down by a barrage of foreclosures on the market.
"But Stockton's proximity to both the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento area gives it an advantage over other struggling markets."
Of course, another way to look at this is that most of this least reads like a Who's Who of communities that have been crushed by the residential housing downturn and the resulting wave of foreclosures: Stockton, Miami, Detroit, Phoenix, Las Vegas ...
Foreclosure properties have dominated home sales since January 2008, and real estate brokers reported record unit sales last year. If anything, they say, there aren't enough homes on the market to meet demand.
Ben Balsbaugh, residential sales manager for PMZ Real Estate in Stockton, said that he hasn't noticed any increase in the number of people from outside the area looking to buy houses in the Stockton area because of price declines.
"I am not sure what we will do when that happens," he said. "We don't have enough inventory for the local first-time home buyer/investor as it is now."
Here are the picks of FrontDoor.com for top 10 bargain markets for home buyers, based on year-to-year price declines combined with regional amenities:
1. Stockton - price decline: 40.2 percent.
2. Naples, Fla. - price decline: 32.9 percent. "Known for its vibrant art scene and the natural scenery of the nearby Everglades ... offering new opportunities for buyers looking to live the beach-town lifestyle."
3. Las Vegas - price decline: 32.6 percent. "Prime for bargain hunters who want to spice up their lifestyle."
4. Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - price decline: 26 percent. "Shedding its 'spring break' reputation, Ft. Lauderdale has redefined itself as a pedestrian-friendly, 24-hour community offering a mix of traditional Old Florida neighborhoods with trendy shopping and nightlife."
5. Miami - price decline: 24.2 percent. "Enjoy tropical weather, beautiful beaches and hot nightlife year-round."
6. Napa - price decline: 20.1 percent. "Beautiful wine country. ... If you're a luxury home buyer, you may find multimillion-dollar properties offered at steep discounts."
7. Phoenix - price decline: 18.9 percent. "Home buyers who can appreciate this rugged Southwest region will find many diverse neighborhoods to choose from."
8. San Diego - price decline: 18 percent. "With year-round sun, sand and surf, who wouldn't want to live in Southern California's gem, San Diego?"
9. Detroit - price decline: 16.4 percent. "Detroit is committed to restoration and revitalization, as evidenced by its mix of historic districts and new developments."
10. Washington, D.C. - price decline: 12.2 percent. "The area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and boasts bustling nightlife and culture."
The index measures changes in home prices but doesn't list median or average sales prices in the 292 U.S. metropolitan areas tracked.
San Francisco Chronicle
Habitat proposal endangers links at Sharp Park...Marisa Lagos
A long-simmering fight over the future of San Francisco's public golf courses has been rekindled by a proposal that could mean closing one of the city's most famous courses and restoring the area to improve the habitat of several species.
Sharp Park Golf Course, which is located in Pacifica on wetlands, would be restored as a habitat for the threatened red-legged frog and endangered San Francisco garter snake under legislation introduced by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. In addition to directing the city to develop a plan, schedule and budget for restoration by the end of June, the proposed ordinance would order city officials to either transfer the property to the National Park Service or develop a joint operating agreement with the federal agency.
The proposal comes just months after a city task force charged with considering the future of San Francisco's five public golf courses ended with no real recommendations or consensus.
Environmentalists, including Mirkarimi, argue that the city's ownership of the biologically sensitive land at Sharp Park has opened it up to huge liabilities - one group has already threatened to sue - and say the city shouldn't be wasting its resources on a course outside its limits, especially when the Recreation and Park Department is facing huge budget challenges.
But Pacifica leaders, golfers and their allies - including Supervisor Sean Elsbernd - are fighting back, arguing that the protected animals can coexist with golfers.
Elsbernd said he is exploring whether there is a way to designate the 77-year-old course a historical landmark, in part because it was designed by famed architect Alister McKenzie and landscaped by John McLaren. Golfers contend the relatively cheap - and visually stunning - links are a great recreational resource that should be protected.
Headache for years
Located just north of Mori Point, a 110-acre stretch of headlands where the National Park Service is already working to save both species, the flood-prone course has been a headache for city officials for years. In 2005, federal authorities chastised the city for pumping water off the golf course during winter flooding, a move that left frog eggs and tadpoles out to dry. The warning from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service means that the city must leave portions of the course underwater for weeks or months each year; it also led to the creation of a restoration plan that is still being developed by the park department.
Mirkarimi said his legislation is different because it would force the city to look at how to partner with the National Park Service, which has expressed interest in taking over the area. While he insisted that the proposal doesn't necessarily mean that the golf course will no longer exist, he expressed concern about its cost to the city.
"This is not about environmentalists versus golfers or humans versus endangered species," he said, adding that the city's budget crisis makes the issue more urgent. "This is about a sensible restoration plan and whether there should be a partnership."
Mayor open to partnership
Pacifica Mayor Julie Lancelle, who helped the Park Service acquire Mori Point, said she's open to a partnership - but has another kind in mind. Lancelle said Pacifica would be open to operating the course, and while acknowledging that there are some environmental problems that need to be addressed, she said the course should remain.
"I think the whole thing is being used as a red herring by a small group who wants to turn the golf course into a marsh," she said. "To Pacifica, the issue is fairly simple: This is a form of recreation that works with the habitat. There are some issues with draining, and there needs to be some tending" of the lagoon.
Brent Plater, a San Francisco environmentalist who has been leading the push to close the golf course, contends that the course is costing the city tens of thousands of dollars a year, money that should be used to save jobs and services in the park department. He argued it would be more expensive to improve the course and create a habitat management plan than to simply shutter the links and restore the area to its natural state.
"This is a good opportunity to re-create our vision for the landscape and do something good for the environment," Plater said.
Dave Diller, a South San Franciscan who has played at Sharp Park for 45 years, counters that golfers and protected animals can live together in harmony.
"We don't want to hurt any species," he said. "This course is the poor man's Pebble Beach. It's the only place in the area that's affordable for the everyday person to go play golf. ... We've been there over 70 years. If we weren't doing a good job, why are the frogs and the snakes still there?"
Epic drought bids most of South adieu after rains...GREG BLUESTEIN, Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA (AP) -- The epic southern drought has bid most of the region adieu after sucking reservoirs dry and shriveling crops for three years.
Only about a third of the South faces moderate or worse drought conditions, roughly half the area that was dry a year ago, and less than 10 percent is in severe drought. In hard-hit South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, homeowners are getting more leeway to water their lawns as utilities relax restrictions.
An unusually wet March that flooded homes around the region also had a silver lining: Forecasters say the drenching helped refill parched lakes and dry water tables, capping a monthslong drought recovery.
"It's been a gradual progression," said David Stooksbury, Georgia's climatologist. "It wasn't one event; it improved over three months because of an uptick in rain, and also because this is the prime recharge period" when cool weather limits evaporation and plants absorb less water.
But Stooksbury and others caution that a prolonged dry spell during a hot and humid summer could quickly reverse the gains.
"We're climbing up the fence, but it just takes a long dry spell to knock us right back off," said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center. "And we don't have a security blanket of a buffer since many areas are just trying to get back to normal."
In Georgia, the drought affected about 75 percent of the state as recently as October, but Stooksbury said dry conditions are currently only affecting a handful of counties. But those counties also happen to be the basins for two of Georgia's key water supplies: Lakes Lanier and Hartwell. Lanier, the main source of water for Atlanta's 4 million people, is still down by more than 8 feet.
"While we may be in relatively good shape now, when you look at how quickly conditions can change, it gives cause for concern," he said.
Out of caution, water restrictions haven't been removed completely. Homeowners in the hard-hit northern part of the state can resume the use of soaker hoses on their lawns, but sprinklers and most other types of outdoor watering are still banned there.
In North Carolina, some 202 water utilities still impose voluntary restrictions and 133 have mandatory ones, a significant reduction from the dry season about a year ago, said Woody Yonts, chair of the Drought Management Advisory Council.
In South Carolina, only a handful of counties still have mandatory water restrictions — down from dozens of counties a year ago. State officials say even now they still routinely field questions about why any limitations are still in place.
"We're getting a lot of questions, especially given the rains, about why we are still in drought mode," said Mark Malsick of the South Carolina Land, Water & Conservation Division. "But it's a long, long period that started basically in 2006. And we're slowly coming out if it. It takes a long time to recover."
The drought was a "wake-up call," but more long-term changes, such as plugging leaks in county and city water systems and installing low-flow toilets, are badly needed, said Sally Bethea, director of Georgia's Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
"We have to recognize that a lot of the water savings have really been due to temporary restrictions on outdoor watering," she said. "We have to focus and invest in permanent savings in water use."
In downtown Atlanta, 33-year-old Stephen Skibinski said the drought hasn't much changed the way he uses water.
"Some people could care less," said Skibinski, a former bowling alley manager. "Others, like me, plan to be here as long as I can. So I don't want to have to take showers on odd and even days."
On the Net: www.drought.gov
Banks aren't reselling many foreclosed homes...Carolyn Said
A vast "shadow inventory" of foreclosed homes that banks are holding off the market could wreak havoc with the already battered real estate sector, industry observers say.
Lenders nationwide are sitting on hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes that they have not resold or listed for sale, according to numerous data sources. And foreclosures, which banks unload at fire-sale prices, are a major factor driving home values down.
"We believe there are in the neighborhood of 600,000 properties nationwide that banks have repossessed but not put on the market," said Rick Sharga, vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide statistics on foreclosures. "California probably represents 80,000 of those homes. It could be disastrous if the banks suddenly flooded the market with those distressed properties. You'd have further depreciation and carnage."
In a recent study, RealtyTrac compared its database of bank-repossessed homes to MLS listings of for-sale homes in four states, including California. It found a significant disparity - only 30 percent of the foreclosures were listed for sale in the Multiple Listing Service. The remainder is known in the industry as "shadow inventory."
"There is a real danger that there is much more (foreclosure) inventory than we are measuring," said Celia Chen, director of housing economics at Moody's Economy.com in Pennsylvania. "Eventually those homes will have to be dealt with. If they're all put on the market, that will add more inventory to an already bloated market and drive down home prices even more."
More than one-third locally
In the Bay Area, a Chronicle analysis of data from San Diego's MDA DataQuick shows that more than one-third of foreclosures are in shadow territory - that is, they are not registering in county records as having been resold.
For the 26 months from January 2007 through February 2009, banks repossessed 51,602 homes and condos in the nine-county Bay Area, according to DataQuick. Yet in the same period, only 30,823 foreclosures were resold, leaving about 20,000 bank repos unaccounted for.
Turnaround usually quick
Realtors say foreclosures generally go on the market a month or two after the bank takes title and then sell fairly quickly, often getting an accepted offer within a week or two of being listed and then closing escrow within 30 days. That means that foreclosures should register as being resold within three months.
But taking the foreclosures in any given month or selection of months and looking at what happened three months later also reveals a big gap between what banks took back and what they resold.
Tom Kelly, a spokesman for banking giant Chase in Chicago, said the bank sells foreclosed homes in a timely fashion.
"We try not to be in the business of owning homes," he said. "Our goal is to get them back on the market as quickly as possible. We want to maximize what we sell them for and yet do it quickly."
Kelly was at a loss to explain the shadow inventory phenomenon other than the quantities involved.
"The inventory might be growing because there is just a lot of volume coming in. That would not surprise me," he said.
Locally, the monthly number of foreclosures has decreased since peaking at 4,321 in August 2007. That has allowed foreclosure resales to start closing the gap.
Most observers say the recent fall-off in foreclosures came because California and many banks implemented foreclosure moratoriums in the fall, not because the problem has diminished.
Only 65.5 percent resold
A second DataQuick study of all Bay Area homes repossessed by banks in the 18 months ending January 2009 tracked how many of those homes had resold by mid-March. It found that 65.5 percent had resold. Discovery Bay's ForeclosureRadar.com compared its database of Bay Area foreclosures to MLS listings for the past 120 days and found that fewer than one-fifth of the foreclosures showed up as for-sale listings.
"Foreclosure numbers are artificially depressed," said CEO Sean O'Toole. He puts California's shadow inventory at about 100,000 homes.
So why aren't banks selling off their foreclosures?
Observers say several factors are at work.
-- The "pig in the python": Digesting all those foreclosures takes awhile. It's time-consuming to get a home vacant, clean and ready for sale. "The system is overwhelmed by the volume," Sharga said. "In a normal market, there are 160,000 (foreclosures for sale nationwide) over the course of a year. Right now, there are about 80,000 every month."
-- Accounting sleight-of-hand:Lenders could be deferring sales to put off having to acknowledge the actual extent of their loss. "With banks in the stress they're in, I don't think they're anxious to show losses in assets on their balance sheets," O'Toole said.
-- Slowing the free-fall:Banks might be strategically holding back some foreclosures so prices don't fall as fast. "They want to be careful about not releasing them too quickly so they don't drive prices down and hurt the values," O'Toole said.
Besides the shadow foreclosures, yet another wave of distressed properties is in the pipeline. These are homes with delinquent payments for which the banks appear to be prolonging the foreclosure process. Some of that could be because they're negotiating with homeowners about loan modifications or other ways to keep them in the home. But banks also could be deliberately foot-dragging for the same three reasons listed above.
"The problem is that no one knows how extensive (the shadow inventory) is," said Patrick Newport, U.S. economist with the Massachusetts research firm Global Insight. "It's a wild card. If it's a really big number, you'll see prices drop a lot more and deeper problems for the financial system."
Only 65.5 percent of all Bay Area homes repossessed by banks in the 18 months ended January 2009 had been resold by mid-March. This study looked at the same homes over time, not an aggregate of all foreclosures.
% foreclosures resold
% foreclosures unsold
34.5% Source: MDA DataQuick
UC sticking to lower enrollment goals...Jim Doyle
Despite receiving a record number of freshman applications for next year, University of California officials said on Tuesday that they will stick with their target of enrolling 2,300 fewer students than they registered last fall.
While holding the freshman class to about 33,000 students next fall, UC officials said they will offer admission to all UC-eligible applicants for the 2009-10 school year, though some may end up at campuses they did not even apply to.
Overall, UC's nine undergraduate campuses received applications from 80,820 California residents for the freshmen class for the fall 2009 term, and offered spots to 58,631, admissions officials said.
According to university officials, 10,000 freshman applicants who were not offered a seat at campuses where they applied will be offered admission to less-popular UC Merced or UC Riverside.
UC officials decided to pursue this admission policy, knowing that many students offered such places may elect to attend public or private colleges elsewhere.
"Historically, the percent of students in that referral pool who accept admission to a campus where they didn't want to go, or didn't apply to, is a low rate," said UC spokesman Ricardo Vasquez.
UC received the most applications in its history, increasing by 4.7 percent over last year - despite a projected 1 percent decline in the number of seniors graduating from California public high schools.
"This was an exceptionally competitive year," said Susan Wilbur, director of the university system's undergraduate admissions. "Students were exceptionally well prepared."
Budget uncertainties, including what UC officials call the existing over-enrollment of about 11,000 students for whom the university receives no state funding, and an expected tuition hike of nearly 10 percent in the fall, clouded this year's admissions decisions.
The university needs to cap the freshman enrollments at several campuses "to maintain academic excellence and the level of service students expect when they enroll at a UC campus," Wilbur said.
UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz have all reduced their number of freshman admissions offers, and many applicants received fewer UC offers than in previous years. On average, students applied to three or four UC campuses.
The recession makes it more difficult for UC officials to predict the number of admitted UC applicants who will attend a UC campus rather than a private college, as well as the number of admitted students who will register at a California State University campus or a nearby community college for financial reasons.
"We really don't know how students and their families will react given the economic situation," Wilbur said.
UCLA had the toughest acceptance rate of the UC campuses, according to Wilbur's data, that showed 21.4 percent of freshman applicants were granted admission for the fall term.
Competition stiffened at UC Santa Cruz, which accepted 64 percent of freshman applicants, compared with 83 percent two years ago.
More than 3,000 freshman applicants are being offered places at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego in the winter or spring of 2010 - instead of the fall term of 2009.
UC Berkeley released its own set of numbers.
Cal spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said offers were made to almost 13,000 freshman applicants out of a record pool of 48,640 applicants for the fall term - an acceptance rate of 21.6 percent. An additional 2,445 students were offered admission to the spring term - for a combined acceptance rate of 26.6 percent for the 2009-10 school year.
UC Berkeley is aiming for the same target enrollment levels of a year ago: about 4,300 freshmen students for fall 2009 and 950 for spring 2010.
Berkeley officials said they had not seen a direct correlation between the economic downturn and the number of students applying for financial aid. More than 8,800 newly admitted students received financial aid offers.
Overall, about 72 percent of fall 2009 California freshman applicants were offered admission somewhere in the UC system - down from 75.4 percent a year ago.
Nearly 9 out of 10 students offered admission to the UC system are California residents. The remainder come from out of state or are international students.
About 38 percent of admitted freshman students come from families where neither parent has a four-year college degree, and 37.3 percent come from low-income families with annual earnings of $45,000 or less.
To learn more about UC admissions, go to: sfgate.com/ZGRD
Inside Bay Area
With comment period finally over, the real planning for high-speed rail line begins
Officials pore over comments as three-month review period ends...Mike Rosenberg Daily News Staff Writer
Now that they have what they asked for, state officials will spend the next few months sifting through all the public comments, suggestions and criticisms that have surfaced during a three-month review that focused on the Peninsula portion of California's high-speed rail project.
Monday marked the final day for cities, residents and groups to comment before planning commences on the San Francisco-to-San Jose stretch of the line. The comment period, which opened at the beginning of the year, was viewed as the most opportune time to lobby the state before it determines how the bullet train will run through the Caltrain corridor, including whether the tracks will be built above or below ground.
As a result, just about every city along the corridor sent the state a detailed and in some cases harshly-worded letter — ranging from bullet-point lists to 28-page narratives — in hopes of offsetting as many potential negative impacts as possible. Individual residents, homeowners associations, neighborhood groups, transportation agencies and other stakeholders provided formal commentary, too.
The comment period closed just days after Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority inked a deal outlining how the two agencies will one day share the corridor. The agreement formally gives the Peninsula a local voice in the transportation project.
Dominic Spaethling, high-speed rail project regional manager, said Monday it's too soon to tell how many letters the state received, or what all the themes are. He said he will be one of a group of officials reading the letters over the next few weeks and summarizing them into a document that will be posted to the Web.
Judging from comments at public meetings, some of the top concerns likely involve the seizure of property through eminent domain, noise pollution and aesthetic impacts.
Some unique concerns raised during the comment period, however, educated the rail authority about unforeseen potential problems, Spaethling said. For example, Palo Alto officials informed planners that issues could arise should the rail line cross through a subterranean toxic plume there or the root system of the historic El Palo Alto tree, he said.
"So the cities really provide us with a wealth of information for things that we should be aware of," Spaethling said.
Officials have urged the state to study as many options as possible, most notably the potential for varying track elevation levels.
Contra Costa Times
Oakland port commission approves pollution reduction plan...Denis Cuff
OAKLAND — The nation's fourth largest container port still faces tough decisions about how to reduce diesel emissions from trucks, ships and trains after Tuesday's adoption of its first comprehensive master plan for reducing the toxic pollution.
Bay Area, state and federal clean air agencies and environmental groups criticized the Port of Oakland plan for postponing or dodging many decisions about cutting pollution — including setting a container fee to fund pollution reductions.
Despite taking two years to develop, the air quality plan moves too slowly with too few commitments to protect public health public from diesel soot, regulators said. The soot elevates the cancer risk in West Oakland, and to a lesser degree, in other communities in western Alameda and Contra Costa counties, a California Air Resources Board report concluded last year.
"Because of the seriousness of the health risk, the air district expected a far more robust and collective effort from the port to implement solutions ahead of regulatory requirements," said Jack Broadbent, executive director of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. "The plan is too passive and too reliant on outside agencies enforcing state and federal regulations and providing subsidies to your tenants and customers.'
The California Air Resources Board and federal Environmental Protection Agency offered similar comments, as did several local residents and leaders of community groups who grumble the port is putting the economic health of port customers ahead of public health.
Oakland's Board of Port Commissioners and their advisors defended the plan as a broad road map for cutting pollution from the many privately-owned trucks, ships and railroads that haul food, clothes, tennis shoes, and other freight to and from the port.
The port commission plans this summer to consider a container fee and make a controversial decision on whether to require trucking companies calling at the port to make their truckers permanent employers so that the companies will bear the cost of making trucks cleaner. Most truckers using the port are independent contractors.
"The board is adopting a long term framework to take the many different actions it needs to take to reach our goal of the reducing the health risks from our diesel sources by 85 percent by 2020," said Richard Sinkoff, the port's director of environmental programs and planning.
In a related action Tuesday, port commissioners agreed Tuesday to restore up to $5 million in funding for grants to awarded to truckers to install diesel filters in their trucks. The commission had suspended the allocation in November during a review of the port's financial condition during the economic downturn.
San Jose neighbors petition to stop high-speed rail until bilingual meetings are held...Tiffany Carney, Willow Glen Resident
A group of Willow Glen residents who say Spanish-speakers were not properly notified of community meetings about the high-speed rail slated to cut through their neighborhood has been going door to door collecting signatures to temporarily stop the plan from moving forward.
"The Spanish-speaking community knows nothing about this; they have been neglected," said Dee Urista, who lives in the Gardner neighborhood, where there is a high number of Spanish-speaking residents.
Urista is one of four neighbors collecting signatures to extend the public comment deadline until the High-speed Rail Authority holds meetings to inform Spanish-speaking residents in their own language.
She and others in her neighborhood say they were never notified of the community meetings in Spanish and haven't had the opportunity to submit their concerns about the project, which is slated to bring California's 800-mile high-speed rail line through the Gardner neighborhood.
The deadline for submitting questions for the environmental impact report is set to close April 10.
"[The rail authority] needs to go back and inform the public in Spanish. It is not fair to them; they are taxpayers and voters, too," Urista said.
CirclePoint's Ben Strumwasser, public outreach manager for the project segment from San Jose to Merced, said a phone number for additional language services was included on meeting notices.
Strumwasser said notices were mailed prior to the formal environmental scoping meeting in San Jose to "property owners immediately adjacent to the proposed corridor in the four counties as well as within 500 feet of the stations."
"We had some folks from the city who could also be used as translators," he said of the formal scoping meetings, but not at the smaller community meetings. Strumwasser said the goal is to do as much outreach as possible, and those who speak Spanish can call 415-613-3612 for information.
"We will get somebody who can translate for them if they have specific questions," Strumwasser said.
Los Angeles Times
UC makes it official: Fewer freshmen get in for fall
The system turned away 27.5% of applicants this year, with Santa Cruz, Davis and Irvine experiencing the greatest jumps in selectivity. A record number had applied to UC schools...Larry Gordon
The University of California confirmed today what applicants and guidance counselors already knew firsthand: It was harder to gain admission to many of UC's nine undergraduate campuses this year.
Mainly in response to budget-related enrollment cutbacks for the fall, the percentage of California applicants offered freshman admission by at least one UC campus dropped from 75.4% last year to 72.5% this year, a decline of 3.85%, according to data released Tuesday. Officials estimated that it was the lowest acceptance rate for the university since 2000.
The biggest declines were at UC campuses in Santa Cruz, where the rate of acceptance dropped from 74.3% last year to 63.7%; Davis, where it fell from 52.4% to 46.2%; and Irvine, which went from 49% to 42.8%.
"Admission to the university was very competitive this year," said Susan Wilbur, the UC system's director of undergraduate admissions. In addition to the enrollment cut, a record number of California students -- 80,820 -- applied to at least one UC campus for this year, up about 1.4%. In-staters usually make up about 90% of UC undergraduates.
But Wilbur emphasized that all students who were academically qualified for the university would find a UC spot, although not necessarily at campuses they preferred. About 10,000 eligible students who were rejected by all campuses to which they applied will be offered admission to Riverside and Merced this month, she said.
Even before those so-called referral offers, it was somewhat easier this year to get into UC Riverside, which accepted 79.8% of its applicants, and UC Merced, which took 79.1%. The system's newest campus, Merced is trying to grow from its current 2,700 enrollment to 25,000 over the next two decades or so.
Wilbur said all UC campuses had taken into account projections that the recession could result in more students than last year attending a UC instead of higher-cost private colleges.
However, she said some others now might choose to live at home and attend a Cal State or community college instead of an out-of-town UC. So she said planners are uncertain how many students will commit to UC campuses by the May 1 deadline.
"We are very curious about that ourselves," she said.
In January, the UC regents reduced freshman fall enrollment by 2,300 students, or about 6%, because of what they described as insufficient state funding. UC officials now hope to enroll about 33,000 California freshmen for the coming school year, while increasing transfer students from community colleges by 500, about 4%.
Monica Ward DePriest, a college counselor at Marlborough School, a private Los Angeles school for girls, said she noticed the tighter admissions most dramatically at UC Davis and UC Irvine. Some students she felt certain would have been admitted to those campuses if they had been seniors last year were denied entrance last month, she said.
"I've been using the word 'perplexed' a lot this year," DePriest said. But she said that her students still have good offers from which to choose despite their disappointment about UC rejections.
Statewide, the percentage of Latinos among the UC pool of accepted applicants rose from 20.7% to 22.2%; of African Americans from 3.8% to 4%; and of Asian Americans from 33.6% to 34.9%. The percentage of white students admitted dropped slightly from last year, from 34.4% to 33.1%.
The average weighted grade-point average for all California students admitted to a UC campus this year was 3.82, which includes bonuses for honors and Advanced Placement courses. Last year, that figure was 3.79. The average SAT total was 1,790, out of a 2,400 perfect score on the three-part test, up from 1,777 last year.
The data showed that UCLA had the most applicants and the toughest admission rate, just 21.4% for in-state students. The average high school GPA for California students admitted to UCLA was 4.17 (with honors points) and the average SAT total was 1,992.
Morgan Currier, a senior at the humanities magnet at Cleveland High School in Reseda, was accepted by UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara but turned down by some other UCs, including Davis, San Diego and Berkeley. She said she too noticed that some UC campuses accepted friends last year and denied her classmates with similar grades last month.
"This year was a lot more of a downer and a very touchy subject for a lot of people," she said.
Morgan is being philosophical: "You don't want to hear 'We don't want you,' but at the same time I got into other places and have options." She said she will forgo a UC and attend the University of Washington in Seattle because she likes its location, big-time sports and a special major there in social justice.
Beware the new builder bubble
Pulte's deal to buy Centex could spark a wave of mergers. But with homebuilder stocks perking up, experts say investors should look at likely buyers, not targets...Paul R. La Monica
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Signs of stabilization in the housing market during the past few weeks helped lay the foundation for a nice pop in homebuilder stocks. Now, a big merger in the sector could be setting the framework for a continued rally in the group.
With Pulte Homes (PHM, Fortune 500) agreeing to buy rival Centex (CTX, Fortune 500) for a premium of 38% to Tuesday's closing price, investors excitedly bid up shares of other homebuilders Wednesday morning on the hopes that they too would succumb to the urge to merge.
Shares of Hovnanian Enterprises (HOV, Fortune 500) and Lennar (LEN, Fortune 500) each gained about 7% in late morning trading. Standard Pacific (SPF) and Beazer Homes (BZH), two of the hardest-hit builders during the housing slump, shot up 10% and 15%, respectively. But both stocks still trade for only about a buck a share though.
Talkback: How bad is the housing glut in your market?
So will more homebuilders rush to pair up? Probably.
"There will be more consolidation. Now that these companies have written down the value of their land holdings, it's cheaper to buy another homebuilder than to go out and buy land," said Merrill Ross, senior analyst with BGB Securities, a research firm owned by money manager Aegis Financial.
Most homebuilders have suffered from weak demand for the past year or so as the housing boom led to a glut in inventory that may take years to truly work through.
Many of the leading homebuilders, including Pulte and Centex, lost money in 2008 and are expected to remain in the red this year. And many of the stocks are trading as if the housing market will never come back -- several trade well below book value, or the price they would likely fetch if they were forced to liquidate.
That said, Ross warned investors should not get too enthusiastic about the homebuilding group. She thinks that even though there will be more homebuilder mergers, some stocks that were rising sharply Wednesday because they were thought to be takeover targets may not wind up getting bought.
"The Pulte-Centex merger is just the beginning. But some companies are too damaged and have too much debt to be acquired," she said.
For that reason, she said investors might want to focus more on companies that are likely to be survivors of the downturn, i.e., ones that may be doing the buying instead of looking to sell.
Ross mentioned D.R. Horton (DHI, Fortune 500), KB Home (KBH, Fortune 500), MDC Holdings (MDC) and Meritage Homes (MTH) as examples of companies with strong balance sheets and an attractive portfolio of land holdings. Her firm's Aegis Value fund owns Meritage.
Stephen Kim, a senior analyst focusing on global real estate for money manager Alpine Woods Capital Investors, agreed that the builders that may go on shopping sprees could be better long-term bets than takeover targets. To that end, he said shares of D.R. Horton could be a good investment.
Interestingly, the stock fell almost 6% Wednesday. Kim said that's probably because most investors realize the company, which is currently the nation's largest homebuilder but will be leapfrogged by the combination of Pulte and Centex, may be the only builder that won't be viewed as a takeover target. Everyone else in the sector may be fair game.
"There may be a history of guppies eating whales in the homebuilder world, but the one that is too big to be bought is D.R. Horton," Kim said. "And D.R. Horton has a history of being partial to growing through acquisitions."
Kim added that he views NVR (NVR, Fortune 500), a builder that has remained profitable during the downturn and has more than $1 billion in cash and no debt, as being a safer investment for individuals looking to buy builders now on the hopes that the housing market will improve over the next few years.
Still it may be a bit premature to declare that the worst is over for the group, merger-mania speculation notwithstanding. So a pullback could soon be in the cards.
"Generally speaking, we're probably near the bottom in sentiment for homebuilders. But I wouldn't be chasing this particular rally. I am not of an opinion that this is THE signal to jump back in to the group," said Kim.
For this reason, he said the Alpine U.S. Real Estate Equity fund, which as of December owned NVR, Lennar, Centex and Pulte in its top 25 holdings, has been more actively trading builder stocks instead of taking long-term positions just yet.
The SPDR S&P Homebuilders (XHB) exchange-traded fund, which includes the shares of most top builders, is up about 35% since the broader market took off in early March. And even though this ETF is still 50% below its price of a year ago, Ross said it may be too late to find rock-bottom bargains.
"At the moment, we're not as heavily invested in the real estate sector. We may have missed the point where the homebuilders were really deep-value stocks," she said.