Friday, March 27, 2009
This report in the current issue of Forbes Magazine is chock full of aphorisms about the tarnish now building up on the Golden State. Importantly, more than just the weather moves eastward from California - economic and social trends head that way as well.
There has been many a time in California's history when it seemed to outsiders to be barreling toward a cliff and to insiders as a place for unbounded optimism. A favorite Silicon Valley bumper sticker says, "Dear God, one more bubble before I die."Is it just me or is it fast becoming conventional wisdom that we need a new bubble to take up the slack created by the bursting of the last two?
Despite the rhetorical flair of the new President on the subject of future bubbles, it seems clear to me that, given the deleterious effects of the current bubble's demise, the entire nation would jump headlong into a new bubble of any kind if some asset prices somewhere would start to rise and if job losses would ebb.
Anyway, back to the troubles in California.
Tent cities of displaced homeowners have sprung up in the state's Central Valley--even in the capital, Sacramento. Anthony Sanders, a professor of real estate finance at Arizona State, terms the huddles Mozilovilles, after the former Countrywide Financial chief executive. "Fresno is a nuclear wasteland. I wish there were a nicer way to say it," says Patrick Lashinsky, chief executive of ZipRealty in Emeryville.The airwaves are full of advertisements urging residents to make that automobile purchase before next Wednesday when the sales tax goes up by a full percentage point - in some parts of the state, the tax will top 10 percent.
The squatters living in abandoned homes are a greater threat to the economy than unemployment and crashing housing, Lashinsky says. "The damage done to the homes makes the ultimate resolution of foreclosed properties even more expensive to investors and banks." In Riverside suburb Lake Elsinore, families of bobcats have taken up residence in vacant homes. The cats miss just as many mortgage payments, but at least they don't steal copper pipes.
Not all businesses are struggling. Bank Repo Bus Tour, whose red-topped buses cruise the Central Valley's foreclosed-home cul-de-sacs, is doing a land-office business selling tickets to people looking for speculative buys. Thanks to sales of statuettes of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of home sellers, revenue from California customers is up 25% from a year ago at Catholic Supply, a firm in St. Louis, Mo.
Santa Cruz, along with larger cities like Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, helped lead the screwball state to its worst performance ever in our annual rankings of Best Places for Business and Careers. Without Flint, Mich. competing, California would have had a stranglehold on the bottom six positions on our list. High business costs, negative job-growth projections, high unemployment and high crime make this a scary place. California has 36 million people and 480 incorporated cities and as recently as two years ago fielded four metro areas in the top 100. This year only Riverside cracked the top half.
"If I even mention California, they throw me out of the office," says Ronald Pollina, president of relocation firm Pollina Corporate Real Estate in Park Ridge, Ill. "Every company hates California."
If all goes well, we'll be leaving California on a permanent basis in exactly two months.