Wal-Mart planning session Thursday...Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2009
The city of Merced's Site Plan Review Committee will hold a meeting on the proposed Wal-Mart Distribution Center at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the City Council Chambers in the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St., Merced.
The only action being considered by the Site Plan Review Committee is whether to refer the site plan review application to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and decision.
It isn't a public hearing, but the public is invited to attend and may speak on the action under consideration.
Speakers should focus their comments on the recommended action, the spokesman added. Public hearings on the project will be scheduled at a later date.
Additional information on the project can be found on the City's Web site, www.cityofmerced.org. On the home page, look for the Wal-Mart EIR link listed under public information.
Calif. considers low-carbon fuel standard...SAMANTHA YOUNG, Associated Press Writer
SACRAMENTO -- California air regulators are taking another step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, considering first-in-the nation standards to require the use of so-called low-carbon fuels.
The California Air Resources Board, which will debate the standards Thursday, considers the regulation a framework for a potential national policy advocated by President Barack Obama on the campaign trail last year. Democrats have included a goal for low-carbon fuels in the latest climate bill they have introduced in Congress.
"We see this as a model for the rest of the country and the world to follow," said Air Resources Board member Dan Sperling, a transportation expert and professor at the University of California, Davis.
The proposed regulation calls for reducing the carbon content in California's transportation fuels 10 percent by 2020, but representatives of the petroleum and ethanol industries are objecting to how the state proposes to achieve that.
California oil producers and refiners are skeptical that cleaner fuels and vehicles powered by hydrogen and natural gas will be available in time to meet the new standards. They are asking the Air Resources Board to delay a decision until next year.
"This is the most transforming fuel regulation we've ever done," said Kathy Rehis-Boyd, executive vice president of the Western States Petroleum Association. "We think there's still more homework to do on this. There's a lot of uncertainty."
The low-carbon fuel standard is part of California's drive to reduce its emissions of heat-trapping gasses by roughly a third by 2020. Transportation accounts for 40 percent of the state's emissions.
Two years ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger directed air regulators to develop a rule that would help boost the amount of renewable fuels available to California motorists, truck drivers, recreational boaters and in-state train operators.
Ocean-going ships, interstate locomotives, aircraft and military tactical vehicles are exempt from the rule.
The goal is to allow petroleum refiners, fuel blenders and distributors to decide how to gradually reduce the carbon emissions of their fuels beginning in 2011, rather than having the state tell them which fuel to use.
"We have a long history of what I call 'fuel du jour' approaches," Sperling said. "What we need is a broad policy framework that doesn't pick winners."
The Air Resources Board is not just targeting the emissions of the fuel once it is burned in a vehicle. It also wants to account for all carbon emissions related to the production of the fuel.
For example, refineries could choose to stop buying a heavy crude oil extracted from Canadian oil sands, which takes more energy to convert into gasoline. But accounting for emissions during the entire production cycle of a fuel also would discourage certain fuels from being used in California.
Corn-based ethanol, for example, burns cleanly in a car engine. But making it can take a heavy toll on the environment: Massive tracts of land must be cleared, which requires fuel-powered tractors, then coal- or natural gas-fired plants convert the corn into fuel and petroleum is used to transport the end product to distant markets.
The air board also wants to hold ethanol producers accountable for actions taken in other countries.
Board scientists say that U.S. policies subsidizing corn-based ethanol have caused deforestation in the Amazon. According to the environmental group Rainforest Action Network, Brazil has expanded its soybean production to make up for a drop in soybeans from American farmers, who have been planting corn for biofuels instead.
The deforestation to create soybean fields results in a massive release of greenhouse gases, typically when the trees are burned and soil is tilled for crops. The California air board wants to consider those effects - anywhere in the world - if they are related to the production of biofuels in the U.S., even indirectly.
When all that is factored into the air board's economic models, ethanol produced from Midwest corn in a coal-fired plant actually rates as a dirtier fuel than gasoline.
Under that scenario, California's proposed low-carbon fuel standard threatens to shut off one of the ethanol industry's largest markets.
"It's a total shell game. There's no way you can prove that growing corn in Iowa has anything to do with destroying the Amazon forest in Brazil," said Tom Koehler, a policy adviser at Pacific Ethanol. "You cannot connect the dots with a straight face."
Roger Salazar, a Sacramento political consultant representing the ethanol industry, said the industry has become much more efficient in its crop production. U.S. corn yields have doubled, in part to accommodate the ethanol market, over the past 10 years while farm acreage has remained constant, he said.
The board's attempt to estimate emissions from such indirect land use has sparked debate in California and elsewhere.
More than 100 scientists - including those from the National Academy of Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories and a host of universities - petitioned the California Air Resources Board to rethink its position.
They said regulators are acting prematurely because scientists remain divided over how best to calculate carbon emissions tied to biofuels. They also criticized the board for penalizing biofuels by not applying the same standard to oil and natural gas production, although the air board does factor in the emissions tied to drilling, transporting and refining oil and gas.
"That creates a bias in the system that should not be there in something as impactful and important," said Blake Simmons, a chemical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories who signed the letter.
Cellulosic ethanol, which is produced from wood, grasses and plants, and next-generation biofuels, including those made from municipal waste, would fare better under the California standard. Their carbon emissions are projected to be much lower than corn-based ethanol.
Biofuel firms and oil and gas producers differ over whether such alternatives will be ready for a mass market in time to meet California's low-carbon fuel standard. A California startup, Fulcrum BioEnergy Inc., is scheduled to begin construction next year on a plant in Reno, Nev., that makes ethanol from garbage.
Feds to release minimal water supplies to farms...GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writer
FRESNO, Calif. -- Farmers in California's drought-stricken agricultural basin finally will get a meager supply of federal water to nurture their crops this summer.
Officials with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that heavy storms in March allowed them to boost the amount of water sent to customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the critical region where most of the nation's fruits and vegetables are grown.
Water districts that supply some of the nation's largest farms in that area will receive 10 percent of the amount they are entitled to under government contracts.
Three years of drought already have forced farmers to let thousands of acres of cropland turn to dust. Hundreds of farmworkers have lost their jobs.
Still, many farmers said some irrigation supplies were better than nothing.
"Every drop of water counts," said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, whose members are major employers in Fresno and Kings county. "Farmers who otherwise would use groundwater to irrigate orchards or vineyards will now be able to reduce pumping of groundwater."
The district, which produces about $1 billion in crops annually, estimates that the water shortages have meant that 300,000 acres of lettuce, tomatoes and other crops won't be planted this year.
Farmers north of the delta, the inland waterway through which drinking water flows to 25 million Californians, fared slightly better. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday they could expect to get 15 percent of their contracted amount.
March rain and snow storms brought water levels in California's largest reservoirs - Shasta and Oroville - to about three-quarters as full as they should be at this time of year.
Still, state officials warn California remains in a dangerous drought. Water also must be reserved for fish in the fragile delta ecosystem.
Last week, the state Department of Water Resources boosted its deliveries to 30 percent of the water typically allocated for cities and farms this year.
Governors seek salmon disaster declaration...JEFF BARNARD, AP Environmental Writer
GRANTS PASS, Ore. -- The governors of Oregon and California on Tuesday asked the federal government to declare another West Coast salmon fishery failure - the third request in four years.
Commercial salmon fishing for chinook, also known as king salmon, has been closed off California and most of Oregon this year due to dangerously low returns to the Sacramento River in California, the second largest producer of salmon on the West Coast.
"Salmon are a vital component of California and Oregon's natural resources and provide significant aesthetic, recreational, commercial and economic benefits to our state," Gov. Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California wrote in a letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former governor of Washington.
Federal scientists blame the salmon collapse primarily on a combination of climatic conditions that produced very little food in the ocean, and an over-reliance on hatchery fish, which do not have the genetic diversity to cope with changes to their environment.
If approved by Locke, the declaration would open the way for Congress to appropriate aid for salmon fishermen. Congress appropriated $170 million in 2008 and $60 million in 2006.
"The guys who are still fishing could sure use it, because they are really struggling," said Mark Newell, a Newport salmon fisherman and member of the Oregon Salmon Commission.
Salmon fishermen have been struggling since the mid-1990s, when cutbacks to protect threatened and endangered species allowed salmon farms to fill markets with
Fishermen started handling their catch more carefully, offering a premium product, and prices rose until 2006, when returns to the Klamath River in Northern California plummeted, prompting the first fishery failure declaration for Oregon and California.
Seasons were generous in 2007, but catches were poor, and in 2008 forecasts up and down the coast were dire, prompting the second fishery failure declaration, this one covering California, Oregon and Washington. Fishermen, tribes and related businesses were eligible for money.
This year, the collapse focused on the Sacramento River. Returns to the Columbia River, the region's biggest salmon producer, were on the increase. Coho returns in Oregon and points north were also on the upswing, allowing some commercial and recreational fishing off Oregon and Washington.
Many salmon fishermen with larger boats have been able to diversify into crab, albacore, black cod and rockfish, but those with smaller boats have suffered, Newell said.
A change in climatic conditions produced vast quantities of food in the ocean this year, and scientists expect more plentiful salmon returns next year, even in the Sacramento.
In Oregon, Kulongoski declared a state of emergency in coastal counties due to the fishing cutbacks.
EPA to limit mercury from cement plants...RENEE SCHOOF, McClatchy Newspapers
WASHINGTON The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday called for the nation's first limits on mercury emissions from the more than 100 cement factories across the U.S.
The proposed new rule would require cement kilns to add pollution controls that would reduce mercury emissions by 81 percent by 2013. The rule also would reduce emissions of soot, hydrocarbons, hydrochloric acid and sulfur dioxide from the production of cement.
Mercury is contained in the raw material used in kilns and in the coal used for power. Once released into the air, mercury travels over wide distances and settles in soil and water. People are exposed to mercury mainly from eating contaminated fish.
The toxin can damage the brain and nervous system and is especially dangerous to fetuses and small children.
Environmental groups sued the EPA over a decade ago to try to force it to impose the emissions controls. The agency agreed to set new standards in court documents last year. It announced the new regulations late Tuesday.
A report by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, which was involved in the cases, said the largest concentration of cement manufacturing in the U.S. is in Midlothian, Texas. Other plants are scattered around the country.
The EPA said in a statement that cement kilns were the fourth largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S. In addition to setting the first limits on mercury from existing kilns, the new rules also would tighten the limits for new kilns, it said.
Andy O'Hare, the vice president for regulatory affairs for the Portland Cement Association, said in a statement that the industry group was reviewing the rules and would work with the EPA, but had no further immediate comment about them.
Before the rules take effect, EPA will have a 60-day public comment period.
Jim Pew of Earthjustice said the regulations were "very good news for health and the environment."
California plans to cut fuels' carbon footprint...Jim Downing
If a tree falls in the Amazon, does it have anything to do with California's alternative-fuels policy?
This week, the California Air Resources Board is set to adopt a plan that says it does.
The low-carbon fuel standard aims to cut the carbon footprint of the state's motor fuels 10 percent by 2020. It will influence what powers your car – from hydrogen to electricity to biofuels – for decades to come. It's likely to drive federal policies. And it will guide billions of dollars of investment in alternatives to petroleum.
But the plan doesn't encourage much of a long-term role for corn-based ethanol, currently the most widely used alternative fuel.
A key provision makes ethanol accountable for a ripple of potential impacts around the world, such as deforestation in the Amazon. That makes ethanol's carbon footprint larger, and its attractiveness to investors lower.
The nation's corn-ethanol leaders say it's a penalty that will hamstring their industry, which despite federal supports has lately struggled with debt, low prices and too much production capacity.
"Instituting a regulatory bias against biofuels … will hurt every facet of the industry," said Tom Koehler, policy adviser at Sacramento's Pacific Ethanol Inc.
Air board staff members have concluded that using farmland to grow fuel crops constricts world grain supplies, driving up prices. Higher commodity prices prompt farmers in other countries to cultivate more land, the argument goes, increasing pressure to plow up grasslands and cut down (or burn) forestland, sending more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
According to a staff report, the footprint of a gallon of Pacific Ethanol's product rises by about 60 percent when such side effects are factored in. The company's fuel still beats gasoline, even after accounting for the poorer mileage ethanol delivers. But the penalty would work against it and other crop-based brews in a future market for low- carbon fuels likely to emerge under the plan.
Which is only fair, said Dan Sperling, an air board member and University of California, Davis, fuels expert.
"The argument that we're picking on poor corn ethanol is really disingenuous," he said at a recent board meeting. "Nobody's been able to find a large … effect" on land use from other alternative fuels.
Whether the air board has accurately estimated the magnitude of the side effects is a subject of disagreement among scientists. Steve Kaffka, a UC Davis agronomist who directs the California Biomass Collaborative, said the factors driving deforestation and other land-use changes in foreign countries are complex. The uncertainties are so great, he said, that today's science can't deliver a good estimate of the secondary climate impacts of biofuels. "It could be anything," he said.
Other researchers agree with the air board that using farmland to produce fuel has at least some spinoff effects and argue that the impacts could be even larger than estimated. Major environmental groups are backing the air board.
Roland Hwang, Transportation Program Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the air board's proposal will put the state on a trajectory to move beyond corn ethanol to other fuels that should be more sustainable – politically and environmentally. The policy, he said, lays out a framework that will help to foster investment in so-called "next-generation" biofuels like cellulosic ethanol, made from grasses or crop waste, as well as hydrogen, electricity and other alternatives.
"Everybody can understand where they should put their money," he said.
Cellulosic ethanol isn't yet produced on a large scale. It also stands to generate land-use side effects, depending on how it's produced, but the air board has indicated the fuel probably won't be penalized as heavily as corn ethanol.
Companies and investors in the nascent cellulosic ethanol industry have expressed concern that the side effects provision might end up hurting their industry, too.
The fuels plan grew out of a 2007 executive order from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is meant to deliver about a tenth of the emissions cuts mandated under Assembly Bill 32, the 2006 law requiring the state to trim releases of climate-warming gases to 1990 levels by 2020. It would be the first policy of its kind in the nation. The plan would take effect next year and phase in gradually. By 2020, the state's fuel supply would deliver automotive energy with 10 percent lower greenhouse-gas emissions than in 2010.
There's no formula for how refiners and fuel blenders would achieve the reduction. The idea is that the fuels delivering the carbon reduction for the lowest cost will win out.
Federal water deliveries may reach 15 percent...Tim Hearden
For the first time this year, farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta are being promised some federal water.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation's updated forecast on Tuesday, April 21, foresees between 10 percent and 15 percent of normal deliveries of agricultural water to Central Valley Project contractors south of the Delta.
Growers north of the delta will get 15 percent of its normal allotments. Wildlife reserves and water rights holders will get their full allocations throughout the state, while cities will get 65 percent in most scenarios.
"This is probably as good as it's going to get," said Pete Lucero, a Bureau of Reclamation spokesman in Sacramento. "However, we're hopeful that May will bring improved numbers that may allow us to increase our allocations a little bit. It probably won't be too much more based on the fact that we don't see any major precipitation or snowfall coming."
The bureau has been updating its forecasts since February, when it rocked the agricultural world with the announcement that a third straight year of drought could eliminate any federal water for farms.
In March, the agency predicted that 5 to 15 percent of normal deliveries would be available for agriculture north of the Delta, although a zero-water scenario was still possible in the San Joaquin Valley.
In their latest forecast Tuesday, bureau officials predicted the project's Stanislaus River contractors would receive 18,000 acre-feet of project water. Friant Division contractors will get 90 percent of normal deliveries for their higher-priority Class 1 customers, who are mainly in the foothills and have no other water source, while Class 2 customers in the valley will have to go to other sources for water.
Reclamation is working with the state to facilitate water transfers through the state's Drought Water Bank and to provide help with water management, the announcement stated.
The bureau's latest forecast follows the state Department of Water Resources announcement last week that anticipated state deliveries have been increased to 30 percent of normal - up from the March prediction of 20 percent.
The agency warns that the state is still in a severe drought and urged residents, businesses and farms to conserve water.
"By no means has California been lifted out of this third year of drought," Lester Snow, department director, said in a statement. "In fact, 2007-2009 is expected to rank in the top 10 driest three-year periods in the last century. Saving water must become a way of life for all Californians now and into the future, but long-term solutions must also include investment in our state's water management infrastructure."
The DWR credited U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for earmarking $260 million in stimulus funds for California water projects and drought assistance.
The latest state and federal allocations were a result of the state's fourth snow survey of the season on April 2 in the Lake Tahoe area. The survey indicated that snowpack water content statewide was 81 percent of normal for this time of year. Last year at this time, the snowpack was 95 percent of normal.
In many parts of the valley, water shortages have prompted farmers to fallow ground and pull out orchards and vineyards. Many have been taking emergency measures to help permanent crops survive until the water supply improves.
Farmers have said the increases in allocations likely won't have much of an impact on what's planted this season, but any additional water would help keep trees and other permanent crops alive.
"My guess is many of the farmers have already made decisions about the year," Lucero said. "That being the case, 15 percent will help to facilitate what plans they did have. Using the water that this 15 percent will allow will do some good with the crops they're planning to plant this year."
After this month, the numbers may stay roughly the same. Water Resources will do its final snow survey next month and issue its final allocations.
If the percentage remains at 30, it will match the lowest in state water project in history, matching 1991.
"April is when we consider the snowpack and water content to be at their peak," department spokesman Ted Thomas said. "In other words, it's kind of downhill after that."
The February and March storms created a snowpack that's still feeding the reservoirs. As of midnight Monday, April 20, the water level in Shasta Lake - the centerpiece of the Central Valley Project - had risen to 66 percent of its capacity, from below 30 percent in December.
Lake Oroville is still 28 percent below average and San Luis Reservoir has already peaked at its lowest level in history, the DWR noted in a news release.
While many areas of California flirted with normal rainfall totals late in the winter, most will finish April well below their averages for seasonal rainfall.
For instance, Redding's 19.13 inches of rain since July 1 falls well below its seasonal average of 30.56. Sacramento's 14.69 inches of seasonal rainfall is below is norm of 16.99 inches, while Salinas' 11.13 inches have fallen below the city's seasonal average of 12.42 inches.
San Francisco Chronicle
EPA wants crackdown on cement plants' mercury...Jane Kay
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule Tuesday that will require cement plants in the United States - including plants in Cupertino and Santa Cruz County - to reduce stack emissions of mercury, dust and other pollutants.
For a decade, environmental groups have been urging the EPA to set standards for the potent neurotoxin that comes out of the stacks and falls into oceans and rivers, eventually contaminating fish and raising mercury levels in the humans who eat the seafood.
Mercury can harm the nervous system, affecting normal growth, cognition and behavior. It's particularly dangerous to children.
The new standards, which apply to 99 cement plants in 35 states, are expected to reduce pollutants by 90 percent, said representatives of environmental groups who held a press conference to praise the federal action.
"The Obama EPA is waking up to community voices," said Marti Sinclair, chairwoman of the Sierra Club's national air toxics committee.
The plants in Cupertino and Davenport, near Moss Landing in Santa Cruz County, are among the largest in the nation. Their mercury emissions equal those of coal-fired power plants, and give the Bay Area and Monterey Bay Area the highest mercury levels in the state, officials say. The mercury comes, in part, from limestone feedstock, an ingredient used in making cement, and petroleum coke fuel, used in plant furnaces.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District regulate the plants, and haven't complained about unsafe emissions levels at either one.
Under required reporting laws, the Lehigh Southwest Cement Plant, formerly Hanson Permanente Cement in Cupertino, declared discharging 500 pounds of mercury in 2006. The plant is located south of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
Last month, the EPA put Cupertino's Stevens Creek Elementary School on a list of 62 schools nationwide that need nearby air-quality testing because it is located within 2 miles of the cement plant, officials said.
Cemex's RMC Pacific Materials plant in Davenport, reported 175 pounds of mercury compounds in 2006. The plant has been operating for 100 years.
Only one-seventieth of a teaspoon of mercury dumped into a 20-acre lake can make fish unsafe to eat, according to California health officials.
The Portland Cement Association, a trade group for the 99 plants with 163 active kilns, issued a statement Tuesday saying it is reviewing the proposed rule and would make comments.
For the past year, it has "worked with the EPA to collect data for this anticipated proposal and continues to support regulatory approaches that allow the industry to produce the cement necessary for constructing and rebuilding the nation's infrastructure in an environmentally responsible manner."
Los Angeles Times
Record number of Californians miss mortgage payments
More than 135,000 notices of default -- the first step toward foreclosure -- were issued in the first quarter of 2009. That's a steep increase from the end of 2008; still, actual foreclosures decline...William Heisel
A record number of California homeowners failed to make their loan payments in the first three months of 2009, even as the number of homes lost to foreclosure continued to drop, according to figures released today.
According to MDA DataQuick, the number of notices of default, the first step in the foreclosure process, rose to more than 135,400 for the period from Jan. 1 to March 31.
The numbers had been dropping since the second quarter of 2008, when they hit 122,673, but they shot up about 80% from the end of 2008. The trend holds true for every county in Southern California.
At the same time, foreclosures are slipping. There were 43,620 foreclosures recorded in the first three months of 2009, compared to 47,221 for the same period a year ago, a 7.6% fall.
Foreclosures peaked in the third quarter of 2008, when they reached 79,511. Much of that drop has been credited to a change in California law that made it more cumbersome for lenders to foreclose on homeowners. On top of that, some lenders, including the country's two biggest buyers of home loans -- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- declared moratoriums on foreclosures.
Those moratoriums have started to taper off. Fannie and Freddie announced at the beginning of April that they would begin foreclosing on homes again. That could start driving foreclosures upward. It is still too early to see the effects, if any, of President Obama's plan to help up to 9 million borrowers avoid foreclosure through refinanced mortgages or modified loans.
UCLA braces for competing rallies on animal research...Larry Gordon...L.A. Now
UCLA is bracing today for a pair of dueling rallies over the controversial issue of scientific research that uses primates and other animals. Officials said they are not expecting violent confrontations between the groups but are prepared nonetheless to have a substantial police presence.
The first rally, scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Le Conte Avenue and then move on to the campus, is sponsored by opponents of animal research who have long complained that UCLA scientists ignore the animals' suffering. Among the expected speakers is Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), an Ohio-based group that is in the forefront of protests timed as part of an annual observance of World Laboratory Animal Liberation Week.
The next rally, scheduled an hour later at the same spot, is more unusual. It is organized by a new group, UCLA Pro-Test, made up of faculty, students and staff who say they support the humane use of animals in research aimed at finding cures for human diseases. The pro-research forces also want to protest against a series of unsolved arsons and vandalism at UC faculty homes and vehicles over the past three years. Among the expected speakers is UCLA neuro-scientist J. David Jentsch, whose car was set ablaze and destroyed last month and who then decided to create the pro-research group. Jentsch uses monkeys in his research on schizophrenia and drug addiction, and although he kills some for postmortem exams, he says the animals do not suffer.
On Monday, authorities announced that two animal rights activists had been indicted for harassing and threatening UCLA researchers, but the pair were not charged with the arsons. UCLA officials said they were pleased that arrests had been made in some of the cases.
Worst foreclosure rates found in 4 states...The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- The 26 U.S. cities with the worst foreclosure problems are concentrated in four states _ California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada, a report released Wednesday shows.
The report on foreclosures for the first quarter by RealtyTrac Inc. said the highest foreclosure rates were found in Las Vegas, Merced, Calif. and the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area in Florida. Next on the list were the California metro areas of Stockton, Riverside, Modesto, Bakersfield and Vallejo-Fairfield.
Rounding out the top 10 were Phoenix and Port St. Lucie, Fla. Outside of the four high-foreclosure states, the worst foreclosure rates were in Boise City, Idaho (No. 27) and Greeley, Colo. (No. 29).
The number of American households threatened with losing their homes grew 24 percent in the first three months of this year and is poised to rise further as major lenders restart foreclosures after a temporary break.
Nationwide, nearly 804,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice from January through March, up from about 650,000 in the same period a year earlier, RealtyTrac said last week.
The big unknown for the coming months is President Barack Obama's plan to help up to 9 million borrowers avoid foreclosure through refinanced mortgages or modified loans.
The Obama administration expects it to make a big dent in the foreclosure crisis. But it remains to be seen whether the lending industry will fully embrace the efforts, despite a promise of $75 billion in incentive payments.
On the Net: RealtyTrac Inc.:http://www.realtytrac.com
California, Florida Metropolitan Areas Lead in Foreclosures...Dan Levy
April 22 (Bloomberg) -- California and Florida metropolitan areas led the U.S. in foreclosures in the first quarter as unemployment and falling property values deepened the housing recession, RealtyTrac Inc. said.
Las Vegas had the highest overall rate of foreclosure filings, with 4.5 percent of households receiving a default or auction notice or being seized by a lender. California had 13 cities among the top 25 with the highest rates. Florida had eight while Nevada and Arizona each had two, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac, a seller of default data.
“Unemployment is bound to get worse,” Stephen Miller, professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said in an interview. “The real issue is when will prices bottom?”
Home prices in the U.S. fell every month since January 2007 on a year-over-year basis and dropped a record 19 percent in January from a year earlier, according to the S&P Case/Shiller index of 20 cities. The U.S. jobless rate increased to 8.5 percent in March, the highest since 1983, and household net worth declined $11.2 trillion last year, the Labor Department and Federal Reserve said.
Sellers who can find a willing buyer face an additional hurdle of restricted lending. About 65 percent of U.S. banks made it tougher for consumers to get credit in the three months through January, and not one bank reported easing credit on prime residential mortgage loans, according to the Fed’s quarterly senior loan officer survey released Feb. 2.
Even borrowers with secure incomes and good credit are delaying purchases, said economist Ed Leamer, director of the Anderson Forecast at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Housing has a chicken-and-egg problem where banks won’t give loans when prices are falling, and you can’t stop prices from falling without buyers getting a loan,” Leamer said.
A record 803,489 U.S. properties received a foreclosure notice in the first quarter, 24 percent more than a year earlier, RealtyTrac said last week in a separate report. The company counts default and auction notices and bank seizures in data going back to January 2005.
Six of the nation’s top 10 metro foreclosure rates in the first quarter were in California, according to RealtyTrac. Merced ranked second with 4.2 percent of households in some stage of default. Stockton was fourth at 3.7 percent and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario was fifth at 3.5 percent. Modesto, Bakersfield and Vallejo-Fairfield ranked sixth through eighth.
California’s unemployment rate rose to a record 11.2 percent in March, the highest in data dating to 1976, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Non-farm businesses eliminated 116,000 jobs in February, the California Employment Development Department said.
Florida’s jobless rate jumped to a record 9.7 percent in March. The state’s Cape Coral-Fort Myers area was third on RealtyTrac’s foreclosure list with 3.9 percent of households receiving a notice. Port St. Lucie ranked 10th.
At ninth on the list was Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, Arizona, which rounded out the top 10. RealtyTrac’s survey included 203 metro areas with populations of 200,000 or more.
The Washington area ranked 59th with 0.7 percent of households in default. The area comprising New York, Northern New Jersey and Long Island ranked 147th at 0.2 percent.
Las Vegas tops foreclosure list
26 of the cities hardest hit are concentrated in Nevada, California, Florida and Arizona, according to a report from RealtyTrac...Catherine Clifford
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The 26 cities with the highest foreclosure rate in the nation are all located in four hard-hit states, with Las Vegas topping the list, according to a report released Wednesday.
Metro areas in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona topped the foreclosure filing list for the first quarter of 2009 in a report from RealtyTrac, an online marketer of foreclosed properties. A foreclosure filing includes default papers, auction sale notices and repossessions.
Las Vegas had the highest rate of foreclosures of any city, with one in every 22 homes subject to a foreclosure filing in the first three months of the year. The rate of foreclosure filings was 4.5%, seven times the national average.
Merced, Calif., had the second highest rate, with Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., Stockton, Calif., and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif., rounding out the top five.
"The metro areas with the highest levels of foreclosure activity in the first quarter of 2009 paint a picture of concentrated problems in a relatively small number of hard-hit areas," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac, in a written statement.
Foreclosure rates have been very high in the 4 key states throughout the bursting of the housing bubble, and so it was to be expected that cities from those states would pepper the top of the list.
However, it was a surprise to see the list so top heavy, according to Rick Sharga, senior vice president at RealtyTrac.
"The concentration of troubled metro areas within the hardest-hit states, candidly, was even more severe than we expected it to be," Sharga said. "The degree to which those four states dominated the rankings surprised even us."
New problem cities: Meanwhile, some metropolitan areas had a surge in foreclosures. Boise City-Nampa, Idaho, in 27th place, Provo-Orem, Utah, in 37th, and Charleston-North Charleston, S.C., in 51st were examples Sharga gave of areas that had particular strong gains in filings.
Sharga said the rise of foreclosures in additional regions indicates new factors influencing the housing market as the recession drags on.
"What we believe we are seeing is some of the areas with unemployment problems," said Sharga. "These are people living paycheck to paycheck and, when the paycheck is gone, suddenly they can't afford to make their mortgage payments."
The data for RealtyTrak's metro area foreclosure report is collected from 2,200 counties across the nation, and those counties represent more than 90% of the U.S. population. Some 203 areas are covered by the report.
Across the nation, foreclosure activity in the first quarter hit a record high, according to another RealtyTrac report issued last week. Total foreclosure filings reached 803,489 in the first three months of the year, the highest monthly and quarterly totals since RealtyTrac began reporting in January 2005.
The national report also found that the worst of the foreclosures were centralized in a handful of worst-hit states. California, Florida, Arizona, Nevada and Illinois accounted for nearly 60% of the total foreclosure activity in the first quarter, with 479,516 properties received foreclosure filings in those states.