Monday, February 27, 2012

Loan Modification Pendulum Swinging Too Far The Other Way?

So the big banks have been getting a bad rep for being uncooperative in giving mortgage loan modifications to underwater borrowers. But at least my experience is that they're giving them too easily. I just found out that Chase put our mortgage under their loan modification program last November. Great, except I didn't ask for the modification. And my total mortgage balance is $17,000. As everybody knows, even a dog house in the Los Angeles is worth at least $17,000, so there was no chance there was an underwater loan.

Indeed, the manner in which I found out about the modification is bizarre. I had recently received a refund check from the Los Angeles County Tax Assessor in the amount of one property tax installment payment. I found this puzzling and initially attributed it to more government inefficiency, theorizing that they mistook the late December payment of the second installment due on April 10 for a duplicate payment of the first (December installment). Before I had a chance to call them up, my annual mortgage statement came in, and it showed a disbursement for property taxes, even though I don't have an impound account with the lender. A call to Chase then revealed that they paid the property taxes because my loan was part of the loan modification program.

Since my loan apparently qualified for an unsolicited modification by the lender, I would imagine that under these new standards, everybody now qualifies.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worst Traffic Jam in Los Angeles History

Given that traffic, and traffic jams in the Los Angeles are legendary, it is indeed saying something when describing last Sunday's 25 mile jam on Interstate 10 from Palm Springs as the worst in Los Angeles history. But what should be at most a two hour drive turned into an eight hour nightmare to those who were trapped, and to put it in more perspective, the jam area which should be traversed in half an hour took six hours to navigate. Indeed this was many times worst than the predicted Carmageddon from this past summer that never came to pass.

Now there have been massive traffic jams in Los Angeles over the years. Last summer's fire that blocked the Cajon Pass on the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the closure of the Hollywood Freeway into the San Fernando Valley by a traffic accident perhaps 15 years ago, and the panic during the South Los Angeles riots which turned a 10 mile drive across town into a four hour ordeal are those which come immediately to mind. However, the Palm Springs tie-up is different because it was caused not by some unforeseen disaster, but rather was the direct result of governmental ineptitude. (And where have we heard that story before?)

The story begins when Caltrans decided to make some overnight repairs to Interstate 10 outside of Palm Springs. The repairs were scheduled to be finished by 7 am Sunday morning, plenty of time for the traditionally heavy Sunday traffic flow back from the lower desert into Los Angeles. While the Los Angeles area has miles and miles and miles of roads and highways, there are a handful of locales that are connected by a singular route due to the topography. Los Angeles to Palm Springs is one of these, as similarly is the road to Santa Barbara. However, in a series of blunders that only a governmental agency is capable of committing, the Sunday drive turned into a living nightmare for thousands of motorists.

First of all Caltrans tore up more highway than they could replace on time. What? Isn't one of the first things you do is calculate how long it takes to complete a specified amount of work? How could that happen? That by itself is inexcusible. Then they discovered that the concrete order they placed was never filled. WTF? Don't you check on your supplies before your begin your project? Even a government agency should be able to figure this out. At this point in time you would probably warn residents that there would be a traffic problem so they would stay at home instead of taking to the roads. Of course, Caltrans didn't think about that until it was way too late. And by this time, traffic got so bad that the replacement concrete truck got stuck in the traffic jam that Caltrans created and couldn't get to the construction site for several hours. All in all, a project that was supposed to be completed at 7 am was not finished until 9:30 pm. Motorists were caught in this traffic jam truly of biblical proportions without gas stations, off ramps, bathrooms, and with spotty cellphone service. People ran out of gas, missed flights, missed the Grammy awards, and who knows what else. All thanks to your gasoline tax dollars being put to work.

Of course, Caltrans acted decisively in the wake of this debacle and "transferred" the engineer in charge of the project. This is to be contrasted to private industry where the engineer would have been fired on the spot. Or in Communist China where he would have been executed.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is Jim T. Mora the Next Pete Carroll?

I, like most Bruin football fans was disappointed when Jim T. Mora was hired as UCLA's new head football coach. We were all upset that the school didn't hire a name coach like Chris Petersen or at least an up and coming college coach, like Mississippi State's Dan Mullen or Baylor's Art Briles. The knock on Mora was dual--an undistinguished pro coàching career and no college experience, particulàrly in recruiting. One Bruin website was so mad they told their readers to call the chancellors office in mass to complain. This reaction is the initial parallel to Pete Carroll, as USC fans were up in arms a decade ago when they hired Pete Carroll, a washout NFL coach without recent college coaching experience, as USC's head coach. Everybody wanted a name college coach, and when Carroll was hired, the alumni protested en masse to athletic director Mike Garrett. As it turns out Carroll was a great hire and probably explains why Mike Garrett was able to retain his job as athletic director at USC despite a personality which could most generously be described as prickly, if not abrasive.

Actually, the parallel between Mora and Carroll was first raised prior to his hiring, by sports commentator Petros Papadakis, at the time when Mora was one of many potential candidates being discussed in the media. Papadakis thought that despite Mora's lack of college coaching experience, that Mora would actually be better suited for the college game than the pros, due to what Papadakis described as Mora's rah rah approach. It is this rah rah approach that was the hallmark of Carroll's success at USC, and which deriding UCLA fans used to refer to Carroll as Pom Pom Pete.

Now, with the passing of high school letter of intent day this past Wednesday, the Mora/Carroll comparison took another step forward. Despite his lack of college coaching, and particularly recruiting experience, Mora brought in a remarkably good first recruiting class for UCLA, perhaps as good as any in the Pac12. He did this by hiring ace recruiting assistant coaches as soon as he got the UCLA job, recruiters who were particularly familiar with the Los Angeles area. In so doing he was able to sign players that UCLA would never otherwise have been able to entice to attend to UCLA. Particularly impressive were players who flipped from commitments to other schools, such as Ellis McCarthy (Cal), Jordan Payton (Washington), Simon Goines (Missouri) and Kenny Walker (Cal). And he recruited blue chip out of state players such as Devin Fuller from New Jersey, T. J. Millweard from Texas, and Javon Williams from Arizona.

Now while the Mora/Carroll comparison continues to grow, UCLA fans are careful to not get carried away just yet. Shortly before letter of intent day, a national college football writer for Sports Illustrated graded all of the new college coaching hires for this past offseason, and rated Mora's hiring the lowest at "D." The commentary was that pro coaches are notoriously unsuccessful when taking over college programs, and Mora was an unemployed pro coach to boot. UCLA fans also know that successful recruiting does not necessarily make a good coach, since as good as Mora's first class was, on paper it's not any better than former coach Rick Neuheisel's first three recruiting classes. However, there clearly has been a major change in attitude over Mora among the UCLA naysayers, who at best are now enthusiastic about Mora, and at worst in a wait and see attitude.