(AP) -- San Anselmo, Calif. has approved a new downtown park to be built on land donated by filmmaker George Lucas that will feature statues of Indiana Jones and Yoda, two of his most popular characters.
The Marin Independent Journal reported that the San Anselmo Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday to approve the park, which could be completed as soon as June 1.
Lucas donated land for the 8,700-square-foot park. A commercial building on the site will be demolished at Lucas' expense, and an historic fresco relocated.
A fund is being established by a community foundation to pay for ongoing maintenance and care of the park, officials said.
The park's Yoda fountain will be similar to the one located at the Letterman Digital Arts Center in San Francisco.
(Bloomberg) -- HomeServices of America Inc., the home broker owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A), said it bought Guarantee Real Estate to expand its presence in central California.
Guarantee, which is based in Fresno, operates 13 offices and in 2011 had $634 million in volume, Minneapolis-based HomeServices said Wednesday. Terms weren't disclosed.
First Solar in Chile
(AP) -- Solar panel maker First Solar Inc. has purchased Chilean solar development company Solar Chile as energy demand continues to rise in the region.
The companies provided no financial terms in announcing the deal on Wednesday.
First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR), which is based in Tempe, Ariz., bought Fundacion Chile's stake in the company. First Solar and Fundacion Chile created a strategic working alliance with each other in October 2011. Fundacion Chile will continue to provide consultation services.
Solar Chile has photovoltaic power projects totaling approximately 1.5 gigawatts in northern Chile. Its five employees will join First Solar.
Hendricks & Partners sold
(Bloomberg) -- Berkadia Commercial Mortgage LLC, the joint venture of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and Leucadia National Corp. (NYSE: LUK), has acquired Hendricks & Partners to expand in apartment sales and research.
Hendricks has 37 offices throughout the United States, including San Diego, according to Horsham, Pa.-based Berkadia.
D.R. Horton rises
(Bloomberg) -- D.R. Horton Inc., the Fort Worth, Texas-based homebuilder, rose to the highest level in two months on reports showing an improving housing market.
D.R. Horton's (NYSE: DHI) intraday high Wednesday of $21.41 was the highest price since Nov. 8. The shares have gained 64 percent in the past year.
The number of “improving” housing markets rose for the fifth straight month in January to 242, according to the National Association of Home Builders/First American Improving Markets Index released Jan. 7.
The company is scheduled to announce earnings for the first quarter of 2013 before the market opens on Jan. 29.
The average analyst 12-month target price forecast for D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI) is $21.62. The company has nine buy ratings from analysts, 14 holds and two sells.
(AP) -- The Chinese company that bought MiaSole, a California producer of thin-film solar panels, said it can make the emerging technology successful where others have suffered huge losses.
Hanergy Group's strong finances will help MiaSole invest in research and ride out a downturn in the global solar market, while its links to customers in China and abroad will help build sales, chairman Li Hejun said Wednesday.
Hanergy said it is China's biggest privately owned renewable energy company, with interests in hydro, wind and solar power.
Santa Clara-based MiaSole was one of several well-funded U.S. startups that invested in thin film, which is more efficient than traditional silicon cells.
But they struggled after a plunge in prices of silicon cells due to a glut of supply from China hurt sales of the new technology.
The acquisition reflects a growing trend for Chinese companies, flush with cash from the country's boom, to speed their development by acquiring foreign technology and brands.
Sandy site tests
(AP) -- Tests done at Superstorm Sandy cleanup sites show that the level of contaminants does not exceed federal workplace exposure limits.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released initial results from tests of dozens of cleanup sites in New York and New Jersey.
The agency tested for employee exposure to contaminants.
While some of the sites showed the presence of contaminants including asbestos, carbon monoxide and lead, none were above OSHA's permissible exposure limits.
The sites will continue to be monitored. The agency warned that the results aren't an “all clear” to employers.
OSHA didn't test sites that were previously known to be contaminated.
The agency said that at sites with known chemical spills, it's up to the employer to report exposure and assess the situation before employees return to work.
(AP) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo is stressing the need to fortify New York's power and telecommunication systems after Superstorm Sandy in his annual State of the State.
The November storm damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units in New York and more than 265,000 businesses were disrupted in the state. More than 2 million customers lost power.
Cuomo said Wednesday that New York customers cannot afford to face catastrophic power losses every few years when powerful storms hit.
Cuomo has named a series of commissions to look at infrastructure issues and is seeking federal funding to upgrade systems.
Health REIT buys
(AP) -- Health Care REIT Inc. said Wednesday that it completed its acquisition of the Sunrise Senior Living Inc. property portfolio, the sale of Sunrise's management company and the acceleration of all planned joint venture partner buy-outs.
The Toledo, Ohio-based real estate investment trust that invests in senior housing and healthcare real estate, said it has so far spent $3.4 billion on the acquisition.
That amount expected to rise to $4.3 billion by July when the company exercises its rights to acquire additional joint venture partner interests at fixed purchase prices.
The investment is expected to include a total of 120 wholly owned properties and five joint venture properties concentrated in affluent areas of London, Southern California, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Montreal.
Immediately before the acquisition of the Sunrise properties, an entity led by the investment firms Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP (NYSE: KKR) and Beecken Petty O'Keefe & Co. acquired the Sunrise management company for about $130 million.
The deal included a Health Care REIT (NYSE: HCN) investment of about $26 million for a 20 percent ownership interest, the company said.
Sandy mold remediation
(AP) -- New York Sen. Charles Schumer said the second part of the Sandy relief aid package includes as much as $1 billion to help homeowners deal with mold remediation.
Schumer estimated as many as 300,000 homes in New York alone suffered flood damage in the October storm. Many of those homes are now inundated with dangerous mold.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) strictly limits reimbursements for mold relief. However, Schumer said part of the $51 billion aid package to be voted on by the House next week includes money to address the problem.
He said the money would be distributed through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, not FEMA.
No water for rice
(AP) -- Texas rice farmers probably won't get irrigation water to flood their fields for an unprecedented second consecutive year after officials overseeing major reservoirs in Central Texas voted Tuesday to cut off downstream allotments if there's no significant rain by March.
The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) unanimously voted in Austin to withhold the water if the combined storage of Lakes Travis and Buchanan is less than 850,000 acre-feet on March 1.
The lakes are currently at just more than 825,000 acre-feet, and it is unlikely there will be enough rain in the coming months to fill the reservoirs.
Texas is the fifth-largest rice producer in the United States, and the economies of three downstream counties are heavily reliant on the industry that contributes $1 billion annually to the state's economy.
Rice is typically grown in paddies, or flooded fields.
The water helps rice grow in clay-like soil that is not good for most other crops and helps deter pests.
The state, though, has been dealing with a severe drought for several years, including a historic one-year spell through 2011 that was so hot and dry that many lakes and rivers still have not recovered. Those waterways feed the irrigation canals and streams upon which rice farmers rely.
Boardwalk by summer
(Bloomberg) -- Belmar, a New Jersey shore town damaged by Hurricane Sandy, will have its boardwalk rebuilt by the summer, Mayor Matt Doherty said Wednesday.
The borough will begin construction Wednesday on the 1.3-mile, $6.6 million boardwalk, he said.
New Jersey towns are “hesitant” to start rebuilding until federal aid is approved, said Democratic U.S. House Rep. Frank Pallone.
Delays in passing the $60 billion legislative package could jeopardize efforts to rebuild for the summer tourist season, he said.
(Bloomberg) -- PNC Financial Services Group Inc., the seventh-largest U.S. bank by deposits, recorded a $254 million pretax provision in the fourth quarter for expected increases in mortgage repurchase demands from Fannie Mae (OTC: FNMA) and Freddie Mac (OTC: FMCC).
The provision boosts the reserve to $614 million as of Dec. 31, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday from the Pittsburgh- based lender.
PNC (NYSE: PNC), run by Chief Executive Officer Jim Rohr, 64, had previously indicated repurchase demands from the government-backed enterprises were declining.
“The mortgage putback charge could have been larger than what some were expecting,” said Terry McEvoy, an analyst for Oppenheimer & Co., adding that there was no consensus estimate for that figure.
Last June, PNC increased its mortgage-repurchase reserve by $350 million to cover demands for refunds on faulty loans.
(Bloomberg) -- The chief executive officer of Royal Bank of Canada (NYSE: RY) and other bank heads forecast a “soft landing” in housing even after home sales tumbled almost 20 percent in major cities and new home construction grew at its slowest pace in a year.
“When you read the press these days, it almost sounds like we're in the midst of a crisis -- and we’re not,” Gordon Nixon said Tuesday. “Our expectation is that the overall real estate market in Canada is still relatively solid.”
The country's housing market is slowing after policy makers tightened mortgage rules to cool prices which had surged as much as 136 percent in Vancouver and 74 percent in Toronto in the decade to December.
Nixon said he sees a modest decline in Canadian real estate, with a pullback in markets such as Vancouver, the country's third-largest city.
Consumer loans, including mortgages, are due for single-digit growth in 2013, he said.
(Bloomberg) -- Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd., a closely held Irish clean energy developer, is seeking environmental permits to develop a $240 million wind farm in Chile's southern Bio Bio region.
The Alena wind project will include as many as 43 turbines with a total capacity of 107.5 megawatts, Dublin-based Mainstream said Wednesday.
The project includes 21.4 kilometers (13.3 miles) of power lines and a substation.
(Bloomberg) -- Canadian housing starts fell a fourth straight month in December on multiple-unit projects, bringing the rate to the slowest in a year, government figures showed.
The annual pace of work fell 1.7 percent to 198,000 units on an annual basis from November's revised 201,400 figure, Canada Mortgage & Housing Corp. said Wednesday.
Multiple-unit starts in urban areas fell 4.7 percent to 111,500 units, while singles increased 8.6 percent to 67,400 units in December, according to the report.
“The homebuilding sector, once an engine of growth for the Canadian economy, is on a clear softening trend,” said Emanuella Enenajor, an economist at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
(Bloomberg) -- Argentina opened five bids Wednesday from companies interested in building two dams worth $5 billion in the southern province of Santa Cruz.
China Gezhouba Group Co. and Sinohydro Group Ltd. of China; Brazil's OAS SA and Construtora Norberto Odebrecht SA; Argentina’s Industrias Metalurgicas Pescarmona SA; and Eduardo Eurnekian’s Helport SA were among the companies that each paid $500,000 for the right to bid in the auction, said Julio de Vido, an official with the planning ministry.
The dams will produce 1,740 megawatts and companies have until Feb. 21 to submit financing letters.