Wednesday, November 30, 2011
While unemployment is going down generally in California, it rose slightly in October in the Central Valley, according to new numbers from the states’ Employment Development Department.
California gained 26,000 jobs in October. That’s the third straight month. The rate has fallen to 11.7 percent. However, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties lost jobs.
In San Joaquin County, the unemployment rate rose to 15.7 percent in October from 15.3 percent in September. In Stanislaus County, joblessness rose to 15.2 percent from 15 percent in September.
However, both those numbers are better than they were a year ago when unemployment was 16.6 percent in San Joaquin County and 16.1 percent in Stanislaus County.
You can see the trends and the statistics for each job sector here: San Joaquin County, Stanislaus County.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Record Staff Writer
November 23, 2011 12:00 AM
STOCKTON - After listening for an hour to impassioned statements by San Joaquin County farmers, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday morning to preserve tax breaks for growers under the Williamson Act. In so doing, the supervisors chose to forgo adding up to $1.5 million to the county's cash-strapped coffers.
Supervisors Larry Ruhstaller, Steve Bestolarides and Leroy Ornellas voted to preserve the tax break, rejecting the recommendation of County Administrator Manuel Lopez. Supervisor Ken Vogel, a farmer, recused himself from the discussion and the vote, and Carlos Villapudua missed the meeting because of the death of his father. The supervisors could choose to revisit the matter a year from now if the staggering economy does not improve.
The Williamson Act provides farmers with tax cuts in exchange for keeping their land from being developed for 10 years. But California Assembly Bill 1265 allowed the county to reduce the tax break by 10 percent, a move the supervisors rejected.
About a dozen farmers addressed the supervisors in opposition to the proposal, as did Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation. All said the added tax would be one more burden they could not afford and that it would kill job creation and drive some out of business.
"We request that you allow us to keep the money we worked for," Escalon almond grower Daniel Norton said before the vote. "We will have an economic impact equal to or greater than the impact if we give this money to the county."
Nick Bokides, a Lodi grape grower, added, "This is a tax increase. This is a cost increase. We are faced with death from a thousand cuts."
Had supervisors approved eliminating the tax break, it would have brought additional revenue for law enforcement and social services provided by the county. The supervisors decided placing an additional burden on farmers was not the right away to narrow the county's budget deficit but acknowledged that the financial crisis is unlikely to abate anytime soon and that more pain is ahead.
"We're going to have to cut back and tighten our belts," Bestolarides said.
Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 email@example.com. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/phillipsblog.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Is the recession over? It depends who you ask.
Earlier this month, economists at University of the Pacific's Business Forecasting Center said the pall of recession should finally lift from San Joaquin County next year.
Not that things are all that rosy. Not that the prediction didn't come stuffed with qualifiers, as in real estate and construction need to turn around before the recovery feels real. And continuing state and federal layoffs, while not a huge factor here, don't help. Not that the steady downward spiral of the state budget won't slice into this region.
The somewhat positive Pacific forecast is based on two things: construction of the $900 million prison hospital under way in southeast Stockton; and the start-up of the Marine Highway at the Port of Stockton.
Those two projects will add hundreds of jobs, first for construction and later for the permanent middle-class wage jobs. Pacific predicts a 2 percent gain in county jobs next year.
OK, 2 percent employment growth isn't much until it's viewed through the lens of a 6 percent job loss two years ago, a nearly 3 percent loss last year and virtually no job growth this year. Suddenly, 2 percent seems like boom times.
Of course it isn't. Boom times, at least reasonably good times, will require job growth of 3 to 4 percent.
And that depends on a pickup in real estate and construction that is probably still two years away.
It also depends on the rest of the world. And this is where you start to realize all economists are not reading the same statistics.
The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, for example, said last week the chances of the nation slipping back into recession are 50-50. The bank blamed Europeans' failure to deal with their debt problems, a failure that makes the U.S. Congress look like a body of wise, learned and courteous scholars. European financial fighting has the markets fretting.
And then came Wednesday's report from the nonpartisan state Legislative Analyst's Office. It said the state is facing a $13 billion deficit in the next fiscal year. Revenues, the LAO said, just aren't what were expected because of high unemployment and low housing and construction activity.
The nation has been out of the Great Recession for months. Officially, anyway.
Again, that's a matter of perspective, and the perspective from this part of the West Coast is that an 11.2 percent jobless rate in October for the state and a 15.7 percent jobless rate for the county may not scream recession to some, but neither do they scream recovery.
Jobless rate edges up in S.J.
San Joaquin County unemployment edged higher in October, making its seasonal up-tick following the harvest season.
In October, the county jobless rate was 15.7 percent, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.
That's up from the 15.3 percent rate estimated in September but below the 16.6 percent rate of October 2010.
Job losses in agriculture accounted for more than half the 2,800-job decrease in the county. In addition to the 1,500 jobs lost in farming, 600 jobs were lost in manufacturing, many of those in food processing related to farming; 400 in trade, transportation and utilities, again many related to the harvest; and 300 in leisure and hospitality.
There were about 3,000 more jobs in the county in October than there were 12 months earlier, but 2,500 of those were in farming, the EDD said.
Historically, county unemployment peaks in the winter months, falls in the spring when farm activity and construction picks up, climbs in the early summer and then falls during the harvest season in late summer and early fall.
Statewide, the unemployment rate fell slightly to 11.2 percent from 11.9 percent a month earlier as the state added nearly 26,000 jobs in areas including professional and business services, education and health services.
The job gain is remarkable in light of the fact that the United States added a total of 80,000 jobs in the same period, Michael Bernick, a former EDD director who is now a fellow at the Milken Institute, told The Associated Press.
"This is one of the best job numbers, best job months we've seen in the past four years," Bernick said. "On the other hand, it's still an economy that's going to have a number of fits and starts. We still have a long way to go to make up those 1.4 million payroll jobs lost between 2008 and 2010, and we still have over 2 million Californians unemployed."
Of the total Californians unemployed, 46,500 of them are in San Joaquin County.
Upbeat business outlook
The future is now
EDITOR'S NOTE: Making our homes more energy efficient shields us from rising energy costs. It stabilizes the state's energy supply.
Today, the focus shifts to a new development of zero-energy homes under construction off Farmington Road.
A net zero-energy home. It sounds like some mansion of the future, where a talking computer controls the lights and temperature, and even the dog house has solar panels.
But they're being built today, along Farmington Road east of Highway 99. And you won't see lots of gadgets and gizmos on the walls - these are regular homes where regular families should enjoy an irregularly small electric bill.
The 22 modular homes by Visionary Home Builders will be Stockton's first net zero-energy development. Each year, the all-electric houses should both create and conserve almost exactly as much energy as their owners will use.
Across California, energy-efficiency efforts have shifted toward retrofitting existing homes, including thousands in Stockton.
But when building picks up again, how we construct new homes will also be paramount.
It is California's goal, in fact, that all new residential construction should be net zero-energy by 2020, followed by commercial construction in 2030.
But there's a reason that's referred to as the "big, bold goal."
"When someone said this four years ago, people were saying, 'You've got to be kidding.' Now some production builders are getting into the market," said Mike Hodgson, president of the Stockton-based energy consulting firm ConSol, which helped pencil out the numbers for Visionary's Tierra del Sol development.
But, Hodgson added, "The industry's view of net-zero homes today is it probably costs about $50,000 to $70,000 premium. In today's market that's just unacceptable."
The nonprofit Visionary is giving it a try, albeit on a relatively small scale.
Its net zero-energy 1,268-square-foot homes were actually built in a Sacramento warehouse by ZETA, a company that specializes in zero-energy.
The homes were trucked down to Stockton and placed atop concrete pads at the new Tierra del Sol development. Twelve have been installed and 10 more are coming.
They'll be sold to qualifying lower-income residents - precisely those who could benefit the most from near-zero electric bills.
"This is where the state of California is going," said Visionary CEO Carol Ornelas, who led a group of Realtors through the first finished house last week.
You don't just throw together a zero-energy home. Every detail, every potential kilowatt-hour of electricity, had to be carefully considered by the builders and energy consultants.
Here's their secret: Instead of throwing massive, expensive solar panels on the roof to offset wasteful energy use in the home, the designers looked for a compromise. They installed smaller panels to increase each home's energy supply, while reducing demand with energy-star appliances, insulation, triple-pane windows and other features.
Where increased supply and decreased demand meet, there you find that elusive "zero-energy."
On any given day, of course, these homes might create more energy than their owners use. Or vice versa. That's why it's "net" zero-energy - success is measured over the course of an entire year.
Success also depends on the habits of the homeowner. As Hodgson joked, these homes are zero-energy "as long as we don't let people live in them."
While they probably shouldn't leave every light on in the house or crank up their air conditioners in April, neither are owners going to have to shiver away all winter to meet that zero-energy goal, said Andrew Silverman, vice president of project development for ZETA.
"You never want it to feel uncomfortable," he said. "Everything will feel as it should."
Few and far between
Zero-energy homes aren't unheard of in Stockton or anywhere else. But most have been built by single individuals, as opposed to production builders.
Nationally, only in the last several years have some larger builders moved in that direction.
New Mexico-based Artistic Homes was one of the first builders in the United States to offer zero-energy construction as an optional upgrade, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The extra cost was estimated at $42,000 to $62,000, although the developer says the cost is substantially lower when incentives and tax credits are applied.
"It's a very expensive proposition," said John Beckman, CEO of the Building Industry Association of the Delta. "I don't know the actual price tag."
While net zero is a nice idea, Beckman said, it's important to remember that new homes in Stockton are already consuming about 25 percent less energy than homes built just 10 years ago.
The California Energy Commission argues that while it might be difficult for builders to accept the initial cost of improved efficiency, those costs are "completely justified" based on the savings that homeowners will enjoy.
The commission says it's possible to make new homes 50 percent to 70 percent more energy efficient without sacrificing the comfort of people who live in them. Zero-energy homes are also considered an important part of California's mandatory greenhouse gas reduction measures.
Builders' shifting strategies can be attributed to the housing market collapse that began in 2007, Silverman said.
Until that time, there was no reason to change.
"Now you're seeing opportunities for new and different thinking," Silverman said.
Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/breitlerblog.