Yet again, Livingston City Council postpones vote to hike water and sewer rates...JONAH OWEN LAMB
LIVINGSTON -- A divided City Council postponed a controversial vote on water and sewer rate hikes on Tuesday night for the fourth time.
Despite what has been described as a looming financial crisis if the rates are not increased, the council postponed an up-or-down vote in the face of a frustrated public.
To pass any rate increase the five-member council needed a supermajority -- four out of five -- that they did not have.
The two council members who have remained opposed to the hikes -- Rodrigo Espinoza and Margarita Aguilar -- refused to change their positions at the meeting.
Aguilar said that due to the economy she feared that few residents would be able to pay for the rate hikes. She said that she could not support any of the three scenarios proposed because of that concern.
"Are these people going to be able to pay?" she asked.
Espinoza said repeatedly that he was ready to vote on the item, but since the council is split three to two on the issue any motion to take a vote would probably have been shot down anyway.
Council member Martha Nateras said that she would support voting for the least onerous rate increase as a compromise and then return to the issue in six months, but none on the council spoke up in support of her idea.
"I know we'll be labeled as the council that raised water rates," she said, but added that the rate hike is something that the city needs to move forward on.
No one on the council had a new proposal to end the stalemate so eventually Mayor Daniel Varela made a motion to continue the item until the City Council's next meeting on the June 16.
The rate increases, the first since 1995, are needed, contended City Manager Richard Warne, because the city cannot continue paying roughly $30,000 a month from the general fund for a water and sewer system that are not paying for themselves. If nothing changes, the city may have to begin cutting the public safety budget, he said.
Whether or not anything will change by the next meeting remains to be seen. What is for sure is that public frustration over the City Council's stalemate is sure to increase.
Letter: Cardoza's sacrifices...LESA RASMUSSEN, Atwater
Editor: As someone who has spent time in the political trenches, both as staff and as an office- holder, I must address the recent comments regarding Rep. Dennis Cardoza's current mailing address.
It's foolhardy to think that a change of address equates to a total disconnect from friends, family and relation- ships held dear for more than 50 years.
Cardoza's Maryland ad- dress does not erase the character and the values he learned growing up in At- water. I believe he carries those deep within him no matter where he lays his head each night.
I know that his position is often a 24-hour, on-call demand for his time.
I think our Founding Fathers envisioned represen- tation that brought people from all corners of our country together to make important governing decisions. Though our world has changed con- siderably, that tenet remains firm.
I appreciate and applaud the sacrifices Cardoza and his family have made on my be- half. While we may not agree on every issue, I am certain that on the issue of residency vs. representation, Cardoza knows who he represents and has never forgotten where he comes from or what's impor- tant to those who put him there.
Jobless rates rise in all US metro areas in April...JEANNINE AVERSA, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON Jobless rates rose in all the largest U.S. metropolitan areas for the fourth straight month in April, according to government data released Wednesday.
The Labor Department reported all 372 metropolitan areas tracked saw their jobless rates increase in April from a year earlier. Indiana's Elkhart-Goshen's rate jumped to 17.8 percent, up 12.7 percentage points from a year ago. The Indiana region, which posted the largest increase from last year, has been pounded by layoffs in the recreational vehicle industry.
The second-highest jump occurred in Bend, Ore. Its rate rose to 15.6 percent, up 9 percentage points from last year. The region of North Carolina's Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton saw its unemployment rate rise to 14.9 percent, a gain of 8.8 percentage points from last year.
The figures aren't seasonally adjusted, making month-to-month comparisons far more volatile.
El Centro, Calif., continued to claim the highest unemployment rate in the country - 26.9 percent. The jobless rate there is notoriously high because there are so many unemployed seasonal agriculture workers.
Following close behind were Yuma, Ariz., with a jobless rate of 20.3 percent, Merced, Calif., at 18.3 percent and Yuba City, Calif., at 18.2 percent.
Power line comment period is extended 60 days...The Record
San Joaquin County residents, business owners, farmers and government officials concerned about plans to build 90 miles of high-voltage transmission lines on 100- to 150-foot towers through the county have two more months to voice those concerns.
The Transmission Agency of Northern California has sketched out a project of roughly 600 miles of new and upgraded transmission lines, towers and electrical substations stretching from Lassen County to Turlock and the Bay Area.
A series of public hearings and initial public comment concluded in April, but increasing interest prompted the agency to extend the comment period through May and, now, through July 30.
"We had numerous additional requests to extend the comment period," agency spokesman Patrick Mealoy said Tuesday. Those included city and county officials, and members of Congress whose constituents were affected by the project.
In addition, Mealoy said the transmission agency wants to get help from residents, landowners, environmentalists and public agencies in refining its proposed transmission routes.
Agency officials have said its initial plans were broadly drawn on large-scale maps. As a result, those routes are sometimes obviously flawed as, for example, where one segment cuts directly across homes and business in north Stockton's Spanos Park West development.
That has touched off considerable protests, including during a May meeting in Tracy where about 70 people raised concerns about the project's impact on their homes and farms. Even the Manteca Chamber of Commerce board of directors recently voted its formal opposition "due to the potential substantial detrimental effect upon the quality of life and the property values of the citizens of Manteca."
Mealoy said the agency wants to address those concerns.
In the meantime, anyone interested in more information about the transmission project can visit the environmental review site at www.wapa.gov/transmission/ttp/htm and the TANC project Web site at www.tanc.us or telephone the project hot line (916) 353-4777.
To make written comments on the project through July 30, send a letter to David Young, National Environmental Policy Act Document Manager, Western Area Power Administration, Sierra Nevada Region, 114 Parkshore Drive, Folsom, CA 95630; send an e-mail to TTPEIS@wapa.gov; or fax to (916) 353-4772.
Animal refuge deal finalized...The Record
PARDEE RESERVOIR - Officials finalized an agreement Tuesday that will provide refuge for rare frogs, beetles and salamanders.
The deal between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the East Bay Municipal Utility District is the largest of its kind in California and one of the largest in the nation, federal officials said.
Under the so-called Safe Harbor Agreement, EBMUD agrees to harbor the threatened species on lands surrounding Pardee and Camanche reservoirs, with the understanding that the district won't be punished if the critters occasionally are harmed by its actions.
EBMUD uses the reservoirs to deliver drinking water to 1.3million customers. The agreement, signed by both parties in a ceremony Tuesday, means the utility must enhance and create habitat across 28,000 acres for the Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, California red-legged frog and California tiger salamander.
Throughout the country, about 4million acres are covered by Safe Harbor Agreements.
Group wants Delta flood report halted
Quake threat exaggerated, some contend...Zachary K. Johnson
STOCKTON - Local officials Tuesday asked the state to put the brakes on a Delta flood risk report, claiming that it exaggerates the risk of earthquakes to the levees protecting the estuary's islands and much of California's water supply.
Such overstatements are already being used to justify proposals that could affect the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region's future, local officials told the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.
The board then passed a resolution calling on the state to keep the study from moving forward until concerns raised in earlier independent reviews are adequately addressed.
"It is not ready to be used as a basis for major policy decisions," Mark Connelly, engineering manager of the county's Flood Management Division, said in a presentation to the board. "We believe there are serious technical questions."
The science behind the report is sound and has been reviewed by expert consultants and the U.S. Geological Survey, said Dale Hoffman-Floerke, executive environmental manager at the state Department of Water Resources. "We stand by the information that's in the document."
Released in March, the report caps the first phase of the Delta Risk Management Strategy, which began with legislation in 2005 to study risks of floods, sinking land, earthquakes, climate change and rising sea levels on the Delta water supply.
More than 1,000 miles of levees hold back Delta water, including around islands used for agriculture. Those levees also hold roads and pipelines. The Delta supplies drinking water to about 25million Californians.
That water supply would be in jeopardy if a major earthquake causes the simultaneous failure of multiple levees, according to the risk report. Such a failure could create a vacuum that would suck water in from Suisun Bay, making Delta water too salty for irrigation, for nearby water districts, and for those receiving water from the state and federal pumps.
The report claims there is a 40 percent chance a major earthquake could cause 27 or more islands to flood simultaneously before 2030.
County officials said the risk is overstated. The statistic they cited was the historical number of Delta levee failures caused by earthquake: zero.
But that doesn't mean the levees are not vulnerable, Hoffman-Floerke said. "The levees haven't been tested."
County Supervisor Ken Vogel said exaggerated threats serve as a manufactured crisis to help justify the building of a peripheral canal, a controversial plan to divert water around the Delta to state and federal aqueducts.
The second phase of the risk strategy process is to develop strategies to manage those risks.
Tuesday's resolution requests that the second phase doesn't begin until "significant technical concerns" have been addressed.
A 2007 draft report was criticized after being reviewed by a panel of experts and, separately, the Corps of Engineers, according to the county. The independent panel found that the draft's critical analyses were incomplete and that the report had other shortcomings, including poor documentation and a lack of methodology for assessing impacts.
The final report still contains significant concerns and requires further review, including another review by the Corps of Engineers, according to the county.
On Tuesday the board heard from three members of the Delta risk-strategy steering committee. Members expressed their own concerns throughout the process.
The report is meant as a tool for policymakers, but it doesn't reflect the caveats or uncertainties it should, said Marci Coglianese, former mayor of Rio Vista and a committee member.
"This study should not be used for making policy until the concerns are addressed," she said.
Delta debate rages five years later
Some say Jones Tract disaster played key role...Alex Breitler
JONES TRACT - Engineer Tom Rosten drove the winding levee road three times that June afternoon.
The next morning, Rosten, still wearing his bathrobe, answered the telephone. Thirty-five minutes later he stood at the edge of a 200-foot abyss where the road he had traveled hours earlier had crumbled away and torrents of water spewed onto farmland.
"When I got up there and saw what had happened, I said, 'Oh, my God,'" Rosten said. "There's just nothing we can do."
Indeed, at that point it was a question only of how long it would take the water to spread across Upper and Lower Jones tracts, flooded five years ago today.
More than 12,000 acres of farmland was swamped, dozens of farm workers were displaced, and only a mad rush saved Highway 4 and prevented floodwaters from spreading to the south.
Eventually, the islands were pumped dry. The breach was fixed. Many of the farmers returned. Jones Tract today is a verdant bowl of green, where big rigs loaded with stacks of hay maneuver the narrow roads and corn stalks blow in the breeze.
But the berm that mysteriously crumbled on a sunny day is still a reminder that you can't take a levee - any levee - for granted. And some believe the Jones Tract disaster prompted, at least in part, a flurry of Delta debates that continue today at the state level: debates over how to manage the estuary in the future and whether to build a peripheral canal.
"I think in 20 years, when they write the history of what the Delta has become, the catalyst will have been Jones Tract," said Ron Baldwin, coordinator of the San Joaquin County Office of Emergency Services.
Not everyone shares Baldwin's view - a peripheral canal, for example, has been argued over for decades, and levee breaks are nothing new. But a recent state report warning that the Delta's levees are vulnerable to earthquakes says the Jones Tract flood "heightened concern over the sustainability of the Delta in its current form."
"I don't think Jones Tract was the catalyst, but I think (the state) took advantage of it," said Dante Nomellini, a Stockton attorney for Delta farmers.
The portion of levee that burst without warning was "one of the best levees in the Delta," Rosten said. Whatever the cause, it was promptly washed away.
The engineer theorizes that dens of burrowing rodents, probably a beaver and a squirrel, connected beneath the levee, providing an avenue for water to squirt out the dry side. At high tide, pressure mounted until the levee burst.
There was no hope of immediately plugging the breach, Rosten said; the water was moving too fast.
Instead, the immediate fear became the levee along Highway 4 to the south. Would the water overtop it?
Baldwin remembers one of his early conversations with Rosten:
We've got a problem, Rosten told him.
The levee's too low.
I don't know.
Officials had been surveying levees to determine their exact elevation, but the Highway 4 levee had not been checked. A surveyor was brought in to hurriedly get the correct number; they had about 48 hours before the water would fill Jones Tract.
Water was lapping at the top of the Highway 4 levee by the time officials had dumped enough dirt to make the levee hold.
"We were lucky, because it was summer," Baldwin said. "If it was winter water levels, our goose was cooked."
On Jones Tract, farmers had salvaged everything they could, moving machinery and pesticides to higher ground. Migrant workers were evacuated; no lives were lost.
"I was amazed at how well those guys came together and handled what was a catastrophe for them," Rosten said.
Critical infrastructure - railroad lines and water pipes serving more than 1 million people in the East Bay - also survived the flood, and there was little disruption of Delta water exports to two-thirds of Californians.
Some of the farmers moved on.
"They didn't want to make the investment because of the risk of the levee breaking again," said Rudy Mussi, who now farms on Roberts and Union islands.
"It took us a few years, but we recouped financially. We survived."
So did Jones Tract, where officials expect in the coming days to receive a $600,000 payment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for further levee rehabilitation.
Chris Neudeck, another Delta engineer, said Jones Tract is a simple reminder that a levee is merely "a dirt pile that you have to maintain and operate."
And despite that disaster, he said, "We've done a very good job of it."
Since 1950, a summertime levee failure has led to the flooding of a Delta island only eight times, according to a report commissioned by the state Department of Water Resources. Sparse data make it impossible to say how many sunny-day failures took place before 1950.
Overall, since 1900, levee failures have swamped Delta islands 166 times.
Central Valley Business Times
State’s largest ‘safe harbor’ land deal signed...6-2-09
What’s being described by its proponents as an “historic” 28,000-acre “safe harbor agreement” to protect a frog, a salamander and a beetle is being signed today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
It covers land in the Mokelumne River watershed in parts of San Joaquin, Amador and Calaveras counties.
Under a Safe Harbor Agreement, participating landowners voluntarily undertake management activities on their property to enhance, restore, or maintain habitat benefiting species listed under the Endangered Species Act. SHAs encourage private and other non-federal property owners to implement conservation efforts for protected species by assuring that the owners will not be subjected to increased property use restrictions as a result of their efforts to attract and help listed species on their property.
The 30-year agreement is the largest in California and among the largest single-party SHAs developed in the nation, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.
It covers three federally protected species: Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, California red-legged frog, and California tiger salamander.
“We are very pleased to be signing this landmark agreement with East Bay MUD,” says Susan Moore, field supervisor with the Sacramento office of the Fish and Wildlife Service. “It is the result of a cooperative effort between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EBMUD, and Environmental Defense Fund, to provide for enhancement and management of habitat for federally listed species within EBMUD lands in the Mokelumne River watershed.”
“With this agreement, the East Bay Municipal Utility District is helping to restore Mark Twain’s celebrated jumping frog to Calaveras County,” says Eric Holst, managing director of the Center for Conservation Incentives of Environmental Defense Fund.
The EBMUD agreement centers on habitat surrounding two large dams and their reservoirs, Camanche and Pardee, plus lands adjacent to the Mokelumne River for a half-mile below Camanche Dam.
Current and recent land use practices on the property include management for water supply, flood control, grazing, aquaculture, hydroelectric power, wastewater treatment, facility maintenance, residential use, and recreation.
The agreement and the associated permit authorize EBMUD to incidentally take the three federally-listed species during specific maintenance and operation activities and in exchange, EBMUD will enhance, create, and manage habitat for listed species on their property.
The property has known occurrences of the valley elderberry longhorn beetle and the California tiger salamander. Although California red-legged frogs have not been found on the property, it has extensive suitable breeding habitat, and the frogs are known on adjacent privately owned property. The agreement is intended to result in an increase in species populations throughout the property, resulting in a net conservation benefit for the three federally listed species.
EBMUD serves 1.3 million water customers and 640,000 wastewater customers on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. Most of its water delivered to customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties comes from the Mokelumne River.
Contra Costa Times
Proposed ban on dirty diesel trucks at Port of Oakland fails...Janis Mara
A proposed ban on pollutant-spewing trucks at the Port of Oakland failed to gain approval at a Port Commission meeting Tuesday.
The board rejected a ban on truck models older than 1994 that would have taken effect starting Jan. 1, as well as a ban on models from 1994 to 2006 not equipped with filters, as part of its comprehensive truck management program. Later-model trucks have much cleaner emissions technology than those of previous years.
The commission agreed to reconsider the bans, and the comprehensive truck management program they are part of, at its June 13 meeting.
"I'm disappointed but hopeful for a better outcome next week," said Doug Bloch, director of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, which supported the bans.
He and his group of environmental and social justice activists were part of a crowd of about 200 that jammed the port's public meeting room in Jack London Square, spilling into an overflow room. About 30 residents commented on the proposals.
Citing what they say are compelling reasons for the bans, environmentalists point to a 2008 study by the California Air Resources Board that found one in five children in West Oakland has asthma and that West Oakland residents have a life expectancy 10 years shorter than other residents in the city.
The Port of Los Angeles adopted a plan involving a registry and progressive truck ban in October and has seen an air quality improvement of 25 percent to 35 percent, according to representatives of that port.
The comprehensive truck management program would have mandated that the estimated 2,000 trucks that pass through the port daily would conform to a rule passed by the California Air Resources Board barring old diesel trucks from visiting ports after Jan. 1 unless they are retrofitted with filters.
Bay Area air-quality regulators, environmentalists and some neighbors say the Port of Oakland should do more to improve air quality ahead of the regulatory deadlines.
"We want to recognize the courage of the board," said Chuck Mack of the Teamsters union. Like the majority of the 30 or so speakers, Mack supported the comprehensive truck management program. The proposed truck ban was one of a number of options suggested in the program.
Critics say the Oakland port has lagged behind the Los Angeles port and its sister Long Beach port, which have adopted freight container fees to fund clean-air measures, and adopted a ban ahead of the state deadline on old diesel trucks using ports.
"At present, part of the comprehensive truck management program is underway — a truck retrofit program that was approved in April. The port is spending $5 million to help finance retrofitting trucks at the port along with a $5 million from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District," port spokeswoman Marilyn Sandifur said.
"In addition, we may be getting up to $10 million in additional funds from the California Air Resources Board to help with retrofits and truck replacements. This will go toward cleaning up hundreds of trucks at the port. We expect the trucks at the Port of Oakland will be compliant (with CARB standards) on Jan. 1, 2010," she added.
Area Wal-Mart Workers Join Effort to Unionize...Ylan Q. Mui
The United Food and Commercial Workers union held organizing campaigns at several Wal-Mart stores across the country this week -- including one yesterday in Landover Hills -- as it renews pressure on the world's largest retailer to increase pay and improve health benefits.
In the Washington area, union representatives said they have been responding to increased inquiries from workers. UFCW Local 400 spokesman Mark Federici said hundreds of Wal-Mart employees in the area have signed union authorization cards, but he declined to give a specific number.
"They see their company actually being a rare success story in this tight economy, and they rightfully are asking where do they fit in to all that," he said.
Similar rallies were held at stores in Seattle and Miami this week, a few days before Wal-Mart will hold its annual shareholders meeting Friday at its Bentonville, Ark., headquarters. The UFCW is hoping to build on momentum from a rally it held in April that drew Wal-Mart employees from 17 states to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act, the labor movement's top legislative priority. The bill would allow unions to organize through signing cards rather than a secret ballot election, as many companies require.
Wal-Mart has long been at loggerheads with the labor movement, particularly over health care. After heavy union criticism, the retailer introduced plans with nominal premiums and decreased the waiting period for part-time employees to qualify for coverage. It also slashed the cost of many generic prescription drugs to $4 at its pharmacies, forcing competitors to follow suit.
"We don't think our associates have any reason to be more interested than before, and looking at all we offer, many of our associates just don't seem to feel that union membership would be a better deal," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore said.
Efforts to unionize Wal-Mart employees in Canada have gained traction. In April, workers at a store in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, won the only collective bargaining agreement in North America after four years of legal wrangling. Last year, Wal-Mart shut down the tire and lube department of a store in Gatineau, Quebec, after a handful of employees secured a union contract.
Wal-Mart is the country's largest private employer with about 1.4 million workers. Shoppers have flocked to the behemoth retailer known for its low prices as the recession has taken a toll on their wallets. The company trimmed about 800 workers from its headquarters staff this year but avoided the mass layoffs that have plagued other retailers such as Macy's and Home Depot, which each eliminated about 7,000 positions.
New York Times
Analysis Finds Elevated Risk From Soot Particles in the Air ...FELICITY BARRINGER
A new appraisal of existing studies documenting the links between tiny soot particles and premature death from cardiovascular ailments shows that mortality rates among people exposed to the particles are twice as high as previously thought.
Dan Greenbaum, the president of the nonprofit Health Effects Institute, which is releasing the analysis on Wednesday, said that the areas covered in the study included 116 American cities, with the highest levels of soot particles found in areas including the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles and the Central Valley of California; Birmingham, Ala.; Atlanta; the Ohio River Valley; and Pittsburgh.
The review found that the risk of having a condition that is a precursor to deadly heart attacks for people living in soot-laden areas goes up by 24 percent rather than 12 percent, as particle concentrations increase.
A variety of sources produce fine particles, and they include diesel engines, automobile tires, coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.
Comparing exposure within the New York and the Los Angeles metropolitan areas, the study found that the risks were evenly distributed in the vicinity of New York while some areas around Los Angeles, including neighborhoods near the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, had elevated health risks.
The extended epidemiological analysis, which draws on data gathered from 350,000 people over 18 years, and an additional 150,000 people in more recent years, was conducted for the Health Effects Institute by scientists at the University of Ottawa.
The institute was created by the Environmental Protection Agency and the industries that it regulates with the goal of obtaining unbiased studies.
The link between fine particles, the diameter of which is smaller than a 30th of a human hair, and cardiopulmonary disease has been established for two decades, and the E.P.A. has regulated such emissions since 1997. In 2006, despite mounting evidence that the particles were deadlier than first thought, the agency declined to lower chronic exposure limits.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declared that decision inadequate, and the Obama administration is now considering what level is appropriate.
Mortgage applications sink
As rates jump, home refinancing demand drops off, according to a report from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- U.S. mortgage applications fell last week, reflecting a plunge in demand for home refinancing loans as interest rates surged to their highest levels since late January, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.
The Mortgage Bankers Association said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage applications, which includes both purchase and refinance loans, for the week ended May 29 decreased 16.2% to 658.7.
Tom Marano, chief executive of mortgage operations at GMAC, said in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Tuesday that home loan volume at GMAC is about 75% lower now than when mortgage rates hit record lows several months ago.
"Up until the past week and a half, the Federal Reserve had been successful at bringing interest rates on mortgages down," he said.
Borrowing costs on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, excluding fees, averaged 5.25%, up 0.44 percentage point from the previous week, its highest level since the week ended Jan. 30.
That level was also significantly higher than the all-time low of 4.61% set in the week ended March 27. The survey has been conducted weekly since 1990. Interest rates, however, were well below year-ago levels of 6.17%.
Thirty-year mortgage rates had mostly been on a downward trend since the Fed unveiled its plan to buy mortgage-backed debt in late November.
But the Fed has met resistance in the bond market. Treasury yields have risen sharply in recent weeks, and mortgage rates have responded in kind.
However, demand for home purchase loans, an indicator of home sales, rose last week. The increase may help gauge how the hard-hit U.S. housing market is faring this spring, the peak home buying season.
The MBA's seasonally adjusted purchase index rose 4.3% to 267.7, its highest level since the week ended April 3. The index, however, came in well below its year-ago level of 333.6, a drop of 19.8%.
Overall mortgage applications last week were 31.1% above their year-ago level. The four-week moving average of mortgage applications, which smoothes weekly volatility, was down 9.0%.
Weekly refinancing activity plunges
Celia Chen, senior director of housing economics at Moody's Economy.com in West Chester, Pa., said government policies are helping to stabilize the housing market but does not expect much of a rebound this year or even in the first half of next year.
"Prices will continue falling because of foreclosures," she said. "Without policy, conditions would be even worse."
"Mortgage rates are rising again, but the Fed's intention is to keep them low, so it will likely take steps to do so," she said.
The U.S. housing market is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression, and its impact has rippled through the recession-hit economy. Economists contend the economy might not emerge from its slump unless the housing market stabilizes.
The Mortgage Bankers' seasonally adjusted index of refinancing applications decreased 24.1% to 2,953.6, its lowest level since the week ended Feb. 6.
The index was up 97.4% from its year-ago level of 1,496.1.
The refinance share of applications decreased to 62.4% from 69.3% the previous week.
Fixed 15-year mortgage rates averaged 4.80%, up from 4.44% the previous week. Rates on one-year ARMs increased to 6.61% from 6.55%.
13 cities post unemployment higher than 15%
93 metro areas at 10% or more. Rates rise year-over-year in all 372 metropolitan areas for fourth consecutive month...Julianne Pepitone
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- There were 13 unlucky cities with unemployment rates topping 15%, and another 93 saw joblessness climb above 10%, according to a government report released Wednesday.
Just seven cities reported unemployment rates above 10% last year, the Labor Department said in its report, which is not seasonally adjusted.
April was the fourth consecutive month that unemployment rose in all of the nation's 372 metropolitan areas compared with the same month in the prior year, the report said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics releases metropolitan-area data each month, but the report lags behind the department's statewide unemployment statistics, which showed the national jobless rate was 8.9% in April.
Highest and lowest rates: El Centro, Calif., continued to have the highest rate at 26.9%. The town is located near the Mexican border and relies on agricultural employment, according to economists. As a result, the area's jobless rate tends to rise and fall depending on the farming season.
For areas with 1 million or more residents, Detroit was the worst hit, posting a rate of 13.6%. Portland, Ore., showed the largest increase, jumping to 11.6% from 4.7% in April 2008.
The least affected of the big cities was New Orleans, at 5.3%. At 3.2, Iowa City, Iowa, reported the lowest overall rate in the country.
Year-over-year comparisons: Jobless rates of at least 15% were reported in April in 13 areas, compared with only one - El Centro, Calif. - the previous year.
The number of metropolitan regions that had unemployment rates under 7% dropped sharply to 117, down from from 347 in April 2008. Only 31 areas reported unemployment rates below 5% in the current report.
A total of 33 metro areas registered unemployment rates that were at least 6 percentage points higher than a year ago, and another 44 areas' increases were 5 to 5.9 percentage points.
Big City Unemployment - High
Of metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, these had the highest unemployment rates in April 2009.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics
Big City Unemployment - Low
Of metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, these 5 had the lowest unemployment rates in April 2009.
New Orleans, La.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
San Antonio, Texas
Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics
Nationwide Unemployment - High
Top 5 cities with the highest unemployment rate in April 2009.
El Centro, Calif.
Yuba City, Calif.
Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics
Nationwide Unemployment - Low
Top 5 cities with the lowest unemployment rate in April 2009.
Iowa City, Iowa
Source:Bureau of Labor Statistics