(AP) -- The property manager for the billionaire investor Vinod Khosla has said it was his decision to block public access to a once-popular Northern California beach.
Steven Baugher, who Khosla hired to manage Martins Beach, testified Tuesday in San Mateo County Superior Court that he consulted with his legal team in 2010 before closing a gate and blocking public access to the beach.
But Baugher said he never talked to Khosla himself, who bought the property in 2008 for $37.5 million.
The testimony came during the civil trial to determine whether Khosla, a Sun Microsystems co-founder, violated the California Coastal Act.
On Monday, Khosla testified that he didn't remember seeing certain documents, including one from a judge saying he would need approval to close off access to the beach, which can now only be reached from the ocean.
Dam water tap
(AP) -- Officials said Tuesday that for the first time in decades they plan to tap water stored behind a dam east of Fresno, as they try to help California farmers through the ongoing drought.
Pablo Arroyave of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said that low water levels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have forced officials to turn to Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River. The dam forms the Millerton Lake reservoir.
Millerton Lake water is needed to meet the bureau's contractual water obligations to the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, which holds senior water rights.
The exchange provides irrigation water to about 240,000 acres of farmland between Patterson and Mendota.
The bureau has relied solely on Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to meet the exchange's needs. The additional water will begin to flow through the Friant Dam on Thursday, Arroyave said.
“We continue to be in a very serious drought with very serious impacts,” Arroyave said. “This drought is painful, I think, on all fronts.”
In 1939 the federal government reached an agreement with the exchange to take its water from the Delta rather than the San Joaquin River, unless the Delta couldn't meet the need. In the drought, the Delta cannot provide enough water, marking a first since the agreement was struck.
The bureau also announced that it is increasing from 40 to 65 percent of normal the amount of water to wildlife refuges south of the Delta.
Aside from these changes, the allotment of irrigation water to many Central Valley farmers is expected to remain at zero for the rest of the year, officials said.
Birds not chippered
(AP) -- No endangered birds died in a wood chipper earlier this month as a company trimmed trees outside a Northern California post office, federal officials said Tuesday.
Investigators interviewed witnesses, reviewed a bystander's video and examined the wood chipper, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Steve Martarano said.
The investigation followed onlookers' horrified reports to police on May 3 that bird chicks and their nests toppled to the ground and some were ground up in the wood chipper outside the main post office in downtown Oakland.
Five young black-crowned herons were hurt after they fell about 25 feet from the trees as workers clipped away at branches. The birds were rescued by the onlookers who took them to International Bird Rescue in Fairfield.
The finding supports previous statements from police, the U.S. Postal Service and a tree service contractor who said no birds were killed, The Oakland Tribune reported.
A spokesman at the rescue center said last week that the birds were in good condition after suffering scrapes and bruises from the fall. One bird also had a fractured beak. Black-crowned herons are an endangered species.
The tree service has offered to pay for the injured birds' treatment. The trimmings occurred as postal officials were concerned about birds defecating on mail trucks parked outside the post office.
Investigators have not determined whether the trimmings violated the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal law designed to protect migratory birds, and their nests and habitats.
A violation of the act would be considered a misdemeanor offense resulting in a jail term up to six months, a $1,000 fine, plus $100 for any bird or nest that is harmed.
HOA gets 'the right stuff'
(AP) -- Chuck Yeager, the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound, has been ordered by a California judge to pay more than $40,000 in fees to a homeowners association.
Superior Court Judge Judy Hersher in Sacramento issued the ruling Monday after a trial earlier this year.
The Park River Oak Estates Homeowners Association had filed suit against Yeager, a 91-year-old retired Air Force brigadier general, and his 55-year-old wife Victoria, claiming the couple hadn't paid their association fees on two units they own in a Sacramento complex.
Hersher said the Yeagers owed fees totaling $43,150 for services performed on the units and benefits that they received over the past eight years.
The Sacramento Bee reports that both the plaintiffs' attorney, Eugene Haydu, and the defendants' attorney, Michael Thomas, said they were happy with the decision.
Airbnb subpoena blocked
(AP) -- A New York judge has blocked a subpoena from the state's attorney general seeking information about people using the global website Airbnb to make short-term apartment rentals in New York City.
Justice Gerald Connolly writes that the subpoena filed last year by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is “overbroad,” granting Airbnb's motion to quash it.
State investigators are seeking information about Airbnb's hosts going back three years, noting many listings appear to offer unoccupied apartments for very short periods, violating the law against unregulated hotels.
The subpoena sought host names, addresses, rental rates, lengths of stays and tax data first requested last fall.
The judge writes there is evidence “a substantial number of hosts” may be violating the law and tax provisions.
(Bloomberg) -- The largest U.S. mortgage servicers, including Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), are improving treatment of borrowers in danger of foreclosure, according to a court-appointed monitor.
The banks have fixed problems ranging from failing to notify customers when loan-modification documents are missing to failing to terminate force-placed insurance policies in a timely manner, Joseph A. Smith said in a report released Wednesday.
Mortgage servicers are rated on dozens of metrics for how they treat customers as part of a 2012 legal settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and 49 state attorneys general.
“Certainly in our measurement of the servicers' activities through the metrics, there has been an improvement,” Smith said. “Each of them had one or more fails and all of them have corrected the problems.”
There is still work to do, Smith said. He has just begun reviewing how well the banks are complying with additional requirements, including a prohibition on foreclosing while simultaneously offering borrowers a loan modification.
The servicers, also including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), were additionally required to provide $25 billion to consumers in the form of loan forgiveness or short sales, in which lenders agree to allow homes to be sold for less than the mortgages against them.
Wyoming wind farm
(AP) -- The developers of what could become the largest wind energy project in the U.S. have submitted their application for a state permit in Wyoming to build the wind farm.
The Power Company of Wyoming submitted its industrial siting permit application on Tuesday for its proposed Chokecherry/Sierra Madre wind farm south of Rawlins.
The Power Company is a wholly owned affiliate of Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz's The Anschutz Corp.
It proposes to install 1,000 turbines that would generate enough electricity to power 1 million homes.
The state Industrial Siting Council will hold a hearing on the application within 90 days. It then has another 45 days to issue a decision on whether to approve the application.
The project also is seeking various federal permits.
Saving the Astrodome
(AP) -- Efforts to protect the Houston Astrodome from demolition have taken a new turn, with a Texas agency looking at designating it as a “state antiquities landmark.”
After voters last year failed to approve a referendum that would have authorized up to $217 million in bonds to turn it into a giant convention and event center, the Astrodome seemed likely headed for the scrap heap. The stadium has been closed since 2009 and various ideas over the years to refurbish it -- from waterpark to sports memorabilia museum -- have gained little traction.
But efforts to save the so-called Eighth Wonder of the World gained momentum after an advisory committee of the Texas Historical Commission voted late last month to recommend that the Astrodome get the antiquities designation. The commission is expected to make a final decision during its meeting on July 30-31.
If the Astrodome is designated a state antiquities landmark, any proposals to alter or demolish it would have to be approved by the commission, making it more difficult to tear it down.
Opened in 1965, the Astrodome hasn't been home to a sports team since 1999 and has been closed to all events since 2009. While still structurally sound, the iconic stadium had fallen into disrepair. Stadium seats, pieces of AstroTurf and other Astrodome items were sold to the public late last year.
The stadium's most prominent use in recent years was as a shelter for Louisiana residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In January, the National Park Service added the Astrodome to its National Register of Historic Places. While this federal designation was mostly honorary, it was needed for the state antiquities designation to proceed.
Higher rent earnings
(Bloomberg) -- British Land Co., the U.K.'s second-largest real estate investment trust, said annual earnings rose 8.4 percent as tenants paid higher rents.
Underlying profit before tax for the year through March increased to 297 million pounds ($500 million) from 274 million pounds a year earlier, the London-based company said. The value of office and residential projects climbed by 14.5 percent.
British Land has raised 1.5 billion pounds of debt finance in the last 12 months to spend on acquisitions and development as the company seeks to take advantage of rising values and an improving economy.
U.K. commercial real estate values rose for the 11th consecutive month in March, according to Investment Property Databank Ltd.
“Our 2010 development program is nearing completion,” Chief Executive Officer Chris Grigg said in the statement. “It has now generated 608 million pounds of profit with a further 45 million pounds estimated to come.”
Net income rose to 1.1 billion pounds from 284 million pounds as the value of the company's assets rose. Net rental income increased to 313 million pounds from 281 million pounds a year earlier.
Taming a success
(AP) -- Six months after introducing unusual rules to try to tame a booming housing market, New Zealand's Reserve Bank said Wednesday those measures have been a success.
Last October, the bank introduced rules that require most borrowers to stump up a 20 percent deposit in order to buy a house.
In a report on the country's financial stability, the Reserve Bank said the measures have contributed to an 11 percent drop in home sales since the measures were introduced.
It also estimated annual price increases have been limited to 9 percent instead of an estimated 11.5 percent without the restrictions.
The Reserve Bank said homes are still overvalued when compared with historic averages and remain among the most expensive in the developed world when compared with incomes and rents.
Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler said household debt remains high and the country's financial stability would be threatened by a sharp drop in home prices.
The bank said the earliest it would consider removing the home lending restrictions would be late 2014. The rules require banks to restrict low-equity mortgages to a maximum 10 percent of their mortgage portfolios.
Indian solar duties
(Bloomberg) -- India may recommend duties on U.S. and Chinese solar imports after finding evidence of dumping, broadening a global trade dispute in the $130 billion market.
More than 20 overseas suppliers, including First Solar Inc. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co., sold equipment in India for as little as half the cost as in their home markets and undercut local prices by as much as a third, according to a summary of a 1.5-year probe by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry sent to the parties involved Tuesday.
The document indicates the ministry will recommend duties on imports from the U.S., China, Taiwan and Malaysia, said Jagdish Agarwal, spokesman for the Solar Independent Power Producers Association, which opposes tariffs.
If Asia's third-biggest solar market imposes duties, it would escalate a protectionist trend that’s threatening the viability of projects as they compete against conventional power sources.
The U.S. applied tariffs as high as 250 percent on Chinese products in 2012, and the European Union followed with its own measures a year later. Australia Wednesday announced a dumping probe.
India, which had virtually no solar power in 2010, has built $10 billion worth of projects and driven down the cost of generation by half, making it cheaper today than grid power in Delhi and Mumbai.
Tariffs will derail that trajectory, making solar power more expensive and causing projects to fail, said Vinay Rustagi, joint managing director of Bridge to India Energy Pvt., a New Delhi-based consulting company.
Toll road bailout
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union is pressing Spain to provide details of a 3.5 billion-euro ($4.8 billion) plan to bail out a group of bankrupt toll roads.
Joaquin Almunia, the EU's competition commissioner, said the Brussels authority is seeking “information and clarification” from the Spanish government over plans to set up a state highway company and grant debt relief to banks and construction companies.
“The Spanish authorities have not yet provided the information requested, alleging that the measures are in the planning stage and may be subject to changes,” Almunia, a former leader of Spain's main opposition Socialists, said in a May 12 written answer to a European lawmaker.
The government has been searching for a formula to rescue highways owned by builders including Ferrovial SA, Sacyr SA and Actividades de Construccion y Servicios SA.
The concession companies are struggling to meet debt repayment after traffic flows fell short of their expectations and taxpayers are on the hook for at least part of their liabilities under a 1972 law governing public concessions.
Solar glass tariffs
(Bloomberg) -- The European Union imposed five-year tariffs on solar glass from China to help EU producers counter alleged Chinese subsidies and price-undercutting, heightening trade tensions over renewable energy.
The duties as high as 36.1 percent punish Chinese exporters such as Xinyi PV Products (Anhui) Holdings Ltd. and Zhejiang Jiafu Glass Co. for receiving trade-distorting government aid and selling solar glass in the EU below cost, a practice known as dumping.
The glass is used in solar panels, which are themselves the target of European anti-subsidy and anti-dumping levies against China.
The five-year duties will take effect Thursday.
Singapore developer drop
(Bloomberg) -- City Developments Ltd., Singapore's second-largest developer, posted a 13 percent decline in first quarter profit on lower divestment gains from property holdings.
Net income fell to S$119.7 million ($96 million) in the three months ended March 31, from S$137.7 million a year earlier, as sales slid 5.4 percent to S$734.2 million, the developer said Wednesday.
Profit from sales of investment properties dropped to S$1.2 million from S$31.5 million in the same period a year ago.
City Developments is seeking to expand overseas amid declining demand in Singapore.
“The Singapore residential market is expected to be cautious with moderated volumes,” City Developments said.
The developer is “actively seeking new opportunities in mature markets such as the U.S., Japan and Australia,” it said.
Landlord profit rises
(Bloomberg) -- Deutsche Wohnen AG, Germany's second-largest residential landlord by market value, said first-quarter profit rose 91 percent after the company took advantage of rising share prices to buy more homes.
Funds from operations excluding divestments, a measure of a property company's ability to generate cash, climbed to 59.1 million euros ($81 million), from 30.9 million euros a year earlier, Deutsche Wohnen said Wednesday.
FFO per share rose more slowly, to 21 cents from 20 cents a year earlier, as the Berlin-based company issued more stock to pay for acquisitions.
Deutsche Wohnen has been buying apartments to take advantage of rising rents, its ability to raise capital on the stock market at favorable terms and low interest-rate loans.
The company owns about 149,000 apartments in German cities after tripling its holdings in the past two years.