Category Archives: California

Chief Investment Officer of Largest US Public Pension Fund Has Deep Ties to Chinese Regime

(Nathan Su) Newly discovered deep ties between the chief investment officer (CIO) of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) and the Chinese government, along with CalPERS’s China investment holdings, have provoked controversy about the operations of the largest public retirement fund in the United States.

CalPERS manages more than $350 billion for public employees either retired from or currently working for most of the state and local public agencies in California.

The fund holds tens of millions of shares in equities of Chinese companies. Among other things, these companies develop advanced weapons for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and, according to one expert, are involved in unethical business practices and human rights abuses, including the concentration camps holding Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

According to a 2017 report by People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), CalPERS’s current CIO, Yu “Ben” Meng, as of 2015 was a participant in the Chinese government’s prestigious headhunting program called the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP).

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‘They Waited For Failure’: Report Exposes PG&E’s Inability To Replace Equipment That Sparked Deadly Wildfire

The now-bankrupt PG&E has put together a contingency plan that would plunge millions of unsuspecting Californians into rolling blackouts reminiscent of the early 2000s (when the utility was last pushed into bankruptcy protection thanks to the market-manipulation hijinx of Enron and other electricity brokers), but as WSJ revealed in an explosive report published Wednesday – a report that was probably the result of months of battles between the paper’s lawyers and California’s Freedom of Information Commission – PG&E’s long history of deterring maintenance on its lines and towers, a practice that directly contributed to causing the deadliest forest fire in California history.

The utility knew for years that hundreds of miles of high-voltage lines running in high-risk fire areas were at risk of failing and sparking a fire. And instead of acting swiftly to make the necessary upgrades, it appears the company routinely failed to identify the infrastructure most in need of maintenance.

Last year, a 100-year old line failed and sparked the Camp Fire, which eventually caused the deaths of 85 people.Documents obtained by WSJ – mostly internal emails and reports – revealed that the utility knew that 49 of the steel towers that carry the electrical line that failed needed to be replaced entirely.

For years, PG&E, which operates one of the oldest long-distance electricity transmission systems in the world, much of it having been built in the early 1900s, was able to get away with neglecting its lines and towers. But that changed in 2013, when California entered a punishing and prolonged drought.

It dried out much of the state, exponentially amplifying the risk of wildfires. In a 2017 internal presentation, PG&E said it needed a plan to replace towers and better manage lines to prevent “structure failure resulting [in] conductor on ground causing fire.” But inscrutably, the company opted instead to focus its efforts (and billions in capital) on upgrading substations, and instead labeled many of its transmission lines as low-risk projects.

Now, let’s look at the Caribou-Palermo line, the line that failed and caused the Camp Fire. PG&E delayed work on that line for more than five years, despite acknowledging that it, and dozens of aluminum lines and towers, needed urgent work “due to age.”

Similarly, PG&E’s regulators did nothing to change the company’s plans because no regulator keeps a close eye on these projects. PG&E told federal regulators it planned to overhaul the Caribou-Palermo line in 2013, yet no improvements had been made when a piece of hardware holding a high-voltage line failed last November, sending sparks into nearby dry grass and sparking the fire.

What’s worse, the company appears poised to make these same mistakes again as wildfire season progresses. PG&E has delayed maintenance work on several lines in Northern California’s highest-threat fire areas, including at least one near the Plumas National Forest, according to documents obtained by WSJ.

The company hasn’t detailed the scope of the work needed for each line, but it has disclosed that some require upgrades similar to those needed on the Caribou-Palermo line. Across northern California, WSJ able to identify dozens of lines in high-risk fire areas that were as old or older than Caribou-Palermo, and need similar types of maintenance.

One researcher at the University of Pittsburgh offered a damning assessment of their business model: “We have known for a long time that we are dealing with aging and antiquated infrastructure,” he said. “In a lot of cases, the business model was to wait for a failure and then respond.”

Unfortunately, forcing the company to make these repairs can be difficult without intense public scrutiny, given that none of the agency’s regulators has authority over the utility’s projects and maintenance work.

Whether this WSJ report spurs the state to act remains to be seen.

Source: ZeroHedge

CA Voters Not Happy With Free Medical For Illegals

Free health care for illegals may have Gov. Newsom and the Dems grinning as voters grimace…


(Authored by Sarah Cowgill via LibertyNation.com,)

As the California state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom dislocate their shoulders in the hearty backslapping of their self-congratulatory moment in American history, the rest of the nation is snarling and spitting over the lunacy of the left coast Democrats.  That is, according to the new Rasmussen Reports poll, which asked if illegal immigrants should receive free health care.

The answer was a resounding no.  No way, no how, nuh-uh, nada.

It was a brief two-question survey that spoke volumes: “Do you favor or oppose making health care benefits available to young low-income illegal immigrants in your state?  Is it offensive to refer to someone who has entered this country illegally as ‘an illegal immigrant?’”

Out of 1,000 online and telephone respondents, “31% of Likely U.S. Voters favor making health care benefits available to low-income illegal immigrants under the age of 26 in their state. Fifty-five percent (55%) are opposed, while 13% are not sure.”  One can only imagine the responses to question number two.

The only surprising statistic is that 13% had not yet picked a side in what might be the watershed issue for 2020 presidential candidates.

Force Fed Mandates Gag Americans

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Last week, Newsom’s quest for universal healthcare – including illegal residents – was passed by the legislature as part of a $215 billion budget.  He was self-assured and puffing in his peacock fashion, declaring, “We’re going to get it. We’re committed to universal health care. Universal health care means everybody…We will lead a massive expansion of health care, and that’s a major deviation from the past.’’

Laurel Lucia, health care program director at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, gushed excitement at expanding Medi-Cal to illegal immigrants while forcing taxpayers to foot the bill through individual-mandate penalties.  “The bigger reason to do this is about values,” says the woman who seems not to care about legal citizens in need of health care benefits.

And to boil it down in dollars, for those Californians who do not buy insurance, they will now be hit with a penalty of $695 or 2% of their household income, whichever figure is higher.

But Lucia went a tad over the top with “What kind of state do we want to live in?”

Funny you should ask. Many Californians – and other Americans, for that matter – are aghast that 130,000 plus people in the Golden State are homeless, living in undeniable squalor, and not only contracting highly contagious medieval diseases but spreading them to others. Perhaps the state should round up the unwashed American masses, clean them up, and give them free healthcare so the rest of the nation can avoid the Black Death.

Newsom’s Noose

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Gov. Newsom campaigned in part on universal healthcare, and it’s no secret he has his sights on a national run in the future – perhaps president in 2024 depending on whether President Trump trumps the progressive left in the 2020 winner take all contest.  But protecting illegal aliens before addressing the most significant crisis his state faces – homelessness – is not going to help him avoid the political gallows.

The state’s current crisis of reality — highest poverty rate in the country, no affordable housing, taxpayers fleeing to points east, and vicious identity politics ranking California much further left of the nation as a whole — are becoming serious millstones for this progressive governor.

Add to the list of Newsom’s liabilities, the boilerplate individual health plan in California starts with premiums of more than $5,000 a year and annual deductibles can skyrocket to several thousand dollars each year.  Which means folks are going to have to decide to pay thousands for private health plans or be taxed in penalty thousands to pay for illegal aliens.

Perhaps the good governor should take stock of what Americans think about his plan to give aid to illegals as his fellow countrymen suffer on his once gold-paved streets.  He may find his holier-than-thou ideology could soon blow up on him — and signing this budget might be the match he strikes and regrets.

Source: ZeroHedge

Developers Are Pulling Out All The Stops Amid Los Angeles’ Mega-Mansion Glut

Builders and brokers are throwing blowout bashes and testing an array of marketing stunts amid the area’s spec home bubble

(WSJ) Heavy duty vehicles line both sides of many of the winding two-way streets in the Hollywood Hills, making them treacherous single-lane thoroughfares. Construction workers wave stop signs as trucks laden with glass and steel back slowly out of driveways. Empty parcels of land all over Los Angeles’s poshest neighborhoods are being transformed into lavish mansions with price tags in the tens, or even hundreds, of millions.

“Every time I drive up there for any reason, if I return without getting my car dinged I breathe a sigh of relief,” says Andy Butler, a real-estate marketing consultant.

Real-estate experts estimate that there are about 50 ultra high-end spec houses under construction in the area, from Beverly Hills to Bel-Air and Brentwood.

The unprecedented wave of development has its roots in the heady days of 2014 and 2015, when foreign buyers poured into Los Angeles and luxury markets across the country logged record sales. A couple of local megawatt deals—including the $70 million sale of a Beverly Hills compound to billionaire Minecraft creator Markus Persson in 2014—inspired the construction of bigger and pricier homes, most of which were built as contemporary cubes. Some were built by inexperienced developers; many had price tags north of $20 million.

Now, there are simply too many, and not enough buyers to go around. “It’s created its own monster,” says Stephen Shapiro of Westside Estate Agency. “We have an enormous oversupply of these white boxes. There’s years of inventory out there.”

This Bel-Air home shaped like an airplane propeller is asking $56 million. A rendering of the home. Matthew Momberger

A review of the Los Angeles multiple listings service shows close to 100 homes on the market asking over $20 million in Los Angeles County, at least 35 of which could be classified as spec homes, and more are under construction. And those are just the listed ones: Appraiser Jonathan Miller says more than a third of homes in that price category are never entered in the MLS. Some of the city’s most expensive are notably absent.

The surplus mirrors a similar situation in New York, where high-end developers rushed to build pricey condos amid a market upswing, and are now faced with enormous competition for buyers.

But unlike New York, smaller, private lenders and wealthy individuals have provided much of the financing for the Los Angeles spec homes.

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Don Hankey, a California businessman known as the king of subprime car loans, says one of his companies has provided close to $300 million on high-end homes in the Los Angeles market, including on spec homes. Public records show Hankey Capital provided about $82.5 million in financing to “The One,” an almost-built megamansion by Los Angeles developer Nile Niami, who plans to list it for $500 million.

That asking price is more than twice the record paid for a home in the U.S., a record set earlier this year by hedge funder Ken Griffin’s purchase of a nearly $240 million penthouse in New York. The record price for a Los Angeles area home was set by the $110 million sale of a Malibu mansion in 2018.

“You have to be concerned,” Mr. Hankey says of the oversupply. “We’ve cut back. We’re not as aggressive in the financing.”

Other lenders on pricey spec homes include Axos Bank, formerly Bank of Internet, which financed a massive $180 million monolith built by plastic surgeon and newbie developer Raj Kanodia.

The debt load for developers can be substantial. “If I’m living in my house and I put it on the market for sale, I’m still living in my house,” Mr. Shapiro says. “These are empty houses, and the developer is spending a lot every month to keep them.”

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Andy Warhol’s 1974, two-toned, Rolls-Royce Shadow can be included in the deal for a new Trousdale spec home that’s branded around the artist. Photo: Darren Asay

In this environment, and amid signs that prices are falling, developers and their agents are going to extraordinary lengths to differentiate their listings from the pack. They are throwing themed bashes in lieu of traditional open houses, thinking up gimmicky new amenities and hiring marketing experts to reimagine homes as individual brands with their own names, logos and stories. Some developers are relisting plots of land, hoping to get their money out without sinking more money into construction.

“People come to us because they want to stand out,” says Alexander Ali, whose marketing and public relations firm the Society Group is finding a growing business in creating brands for megamansions. “There are so many new homes coming to the market every day.”

Mr. Ali’s latest exercise: Turning a roughly 7,600-square-foot contemporary home in Trousdale into “WARHOL 90210,” a property branded around artist Andy Warhol. Mr. Ali and the developer, Wystein Opportunity Fund, joined with a local gallery to display Warhol prints in the home. At a Warhol-themed disco to be held on site, a Warhol look-alike will be filmed striding through the party; the resulting video will be blasted out on social media. (The house has no connection to Mr. Warhol.)

Amid a surplus of luxury spec homes, developers and their agents are going to extraordinary lengths to differentiate their listings from the pack, like throwing themed bashes in lieu of traditional open houses. Photo: Joshua Bobrove

David Parnes, Mauricio Umansky and James Harris of The Agency, which threw the party. Photo: Joshua Bobrove

Mr. Ali convinced the agent that Mr. Warhol’s onetime car—a 1974, two-toned, Rolls-Royce Shadow—and the Warhol prints featured in the home should be included in the deal. “It defines the house as a collector’s dream,” Mr. Ali says. The whole package seeks $17.75 million. The house can be sold separately for $15.625 million.

In February, Mr. Niami threw an elaborate party inspired by Dutch artist Hieronymus Bosch’s painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in a home he is listing for $39.995 million. Its three levels were organized into heaven, earth and hell, and models in colorful tulle dresses swam in the property’s glass bottomed pool, said Mr. Ali, who organized the party.

There were actors posing as Adam and Eve while hosting a virtual reality game that allowed guests to enter a rendition of the Bosch painting. People drank whiskey infused with the body of a dead cobra, and dancing women dressed in leather, whips and chains. A camel stood at the entrance to greet guests.

Another performer floated on the surface of the pool in a transparent bubble. Photo: Joshua Bobrove

In Bel-Air, real-estate brokerage firm the Agency recently threw a “Great Gatsby” themed event to launch a $35.5 million spec house. A female performer in a bedazzled costume hung upside down from a trapeze to pour champagne for guests, while another floated on the pool in a transparent bubble.

Mr. Ali says developers will pay anywhere from $20,000 to hundreds of thousands to throw such events.

In addition to the parties, developers are always on the hunt for creative new amenities. “It’s about the wow factor,” says spec home developer Ramtin Ray Nosrati, whose under-construction mansion in Brentwood includes a secret room for growing and smoking marijuana.

The ventilated room, accessed by hitting a button hidden inside a living room bookcase, will have tinted windows that darken for privacy. The house, slated to ask between $30 million and $40 million, will also come with a budget for an employee to supervise growing and harvesting. Mr. Nosrati compared the amenity to “having your own vineyard.”

Despite all this, price cuts are the order of the day. Bruce Makowsky, a handbag designer-turned-developer who sold the Minecraft property, lowered the price of his latest project, a lavish Bel-Air house with a candy room and a helipad, to $150 million, down from its original $250 million asking price. Mr. Niami slashed the price of a sprawling 20,500-square-foot house known as Opus to $59.995 million, down from $100 million.

Developer Ario Fakheri has chopped the asking price for his Hollywood Hills home with a roughly 300-gallon indoor shark tank to $26.995 million from $35 million.

Sales are still happening: Approximately 11 deals have closed for more than $20 million in Los Angeles so far this year, and a Saudi buyer recently paid $45 million for a spec home built by diamond manufacturer Rafael Zakaria. But buyers know they have the upper hand. “People are making lowball offers,” says Mr. Shapiro of Westside Estate Agency. “They’re not being shy.”

Doug Barnes, the founder of Eyemart Express, sold a contemporary home in Beverly Hills for $34.65 million in April, or nearly 40% off its original $55 million asking price, records show. British restaurateur and Soho House co-owner Richard Caring is listing a home he bought in Beverly Hills for $29.995 million; he paid $33 million for it in 2016, records show.

As for “The One,” the $500 million property was originally slated to come on the market in 2017 but has yet to be listed. The developer blamed construction delays.

Corrections & Amplifications: Stephen Shapiro of Westside Estate Agency said buyers know they have the upper hand in negotiations to purchase high-end spec homes. An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that sellers have the upper hand. (May 30, 2019)

Appeared in the May 31, 2019, print edition as ‘The Spec Home Bubble.’

Source: by Katherine Clarke | The Wall Street Journal via @kathieClarkeNYC

California’s Housing Bubble’s So Bad, 100s Forced To Live On Boats

California’s housing affordability crisis is getting worse. Affordability in San Francisco is now at 10-year lows, and only one in five households can afford to purchase a median-priced single-family home in the Bay Area. The crisis has driven many people onto the water, living on makeshift boats, outside marinas, and wealthy communities.

Sausalito officials and other agencies have been stepping up efforts to manage ‘anchor out’ mariners and floating debris in Richardson Bay. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)

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Garbage Rates Spike As Majority Of Recyclables End Up In Landfills

China phasing out imported waste is driving California recycling rates through the floor.

Carlos Guzman, operations manager at Republic Services, next to “The Pile” in Anaheim, CA, on Friday, May 17, 2019. The Pile is what they call the mound of recyclables waiting to be sorted. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

(Orange County Register) The market for recyclables is tumbling, the diversion rate of trash headed to dumps is shrinking and trash bills are going up as the cost of recycling increases.

“We used to pay haulers for recyclables,” said Bob Asgian, assistant department head of Los Angeles County’s recycling and landfill operations.

“Now, they’re paying us (to take them).”

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Federal Railroad Administration Cancels $929 Million In California High Speed Rail Funds

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Thursday it was formally cancelling $929 million in previously awarded funding for California’s high-speed rail program after rejecting an appeal by the state.

FILE PHOTO – California Governor Jerry Brown’s name and others are pictured on a railroad rail after a ceremony for the California High Speed Rail in Fresno, California January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

The U.S. railway regulator, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), said on Thursday it had canceled the funding awarded in a 2010 agreement after it said the state had “repeatedly failed to comply” and “failed to make reasonable progress on the project.”

In a statement, the FRA said it was still considering “all options” on seeking the return of $2.5 billion in federal funds the state has already received.

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