Posts tagged ‘Lake Havasu City’

Fiat Garbage

Radley Balko has a fascinating discussion about a switch in government policy in Fountain Hills, AZ  (a suburb of Phoenix and a town I visit for various reasons all the time).  Apparently, residents of the town got to actually select from competing trash vendors (lucky folks!) until recently when the town selected and enforced a monopoly trash provider.  Balko has a fascinating discussion of why progressives seem to universally support this decision and oppose the previous choice-based approach.

It may be odd at first to see a self-styled progressive mocking someone for criticizing a corporation for exercising too much power.  John Cole writes sarcastically:

My GAWD. I feel so violated. I'm going through my bills before the Steelers game and I just realized that Allied Waste is contracted to pick up my trash, so my personal liberties have been impinged by the creeping totalitarianism of nanny-statism. To show solidarity with the oppressed Fountain Hills trash protesters, I am going to dress up in my "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt, stand at the edge of my driveway at dawn during trash pick-up on Thursday, and throw pocket constitutions at the sanitation workers. We shall overcome, patriots!

This from a progressive bunch who runs to the government for legislation when their Big Mac has one too few pickles on it.  If you can understand why progressives attack any corporation that they voluntarily do business with for having too much power, but defend any corporation backed by government authority, you will start to figure out exactly what progressives are really after.  Just remember that progressives have a deep distrust of individual choice related to any activities that don't touch on sex.  And they are much more comfortable with lines of accountability that run through government officials (elected or not) rather than accountability enforced by competition and individual choice  (more on progressives here).

I will just add this to the story -- Fountain Hills is a suburb to which the verbs tony, wealthy, and exclusive could all apply.  Given its position in the foothills around Phoenix, it is perhaps one of the most attractive suburbs in the metropolitan area.  It is the last place one would point to as having some sort of problem with unkept houses and rotting garbage.  This is entirely a power play by the city -- it has nothing to do with the quality of the area.

Brad Warbiany has even more on the story here.

Mostly unrelated facts about Fountain Hills

  1. Fountain Hills was a development of the McCulloch family (of chain saw fame) as was parts of Lake Havasu City.  Both developments had a centerpiece attraction.  Fountain Hills has a spectacular fountain (one of the five highest in the world) while Lake Havasu City has the transplanted London Bridge.  As to the latter, the story goes that McCulloch thought he was buying the much more dramatic Tower Bridge, which American tourists often confuse with London Bridge.  As a further aside, I met the guy once who did the gunnite on the bottom of the transplanted London Bridge.  He was a pool guy and applying it over his head rather than under his feet was fairly new to him.  He said he never allowed his little kids to sing "London Bridge is Falling Down" in his presence, it made him too nervous.
  2. Our egregious Sheriff Joe Arpaio lives in Fountain Hills.  On a recent crime sweep of his home town, which he claimed had nothing to do with immigration, he arrested (or at least detained) almost all people of Mexican decent, in fact more Mexicans than I thought one could find in Fountain Hills, even on a bet.

Licensing Naivite

OK, so after the monks and coffins, here is the future licensing act ripe for abuse by industry incumbents to protect their position.

New state licenses required for anyone handling a mortgage application could help prevent a repeat of the bad loans that contributed to Phoenix's housing crash....

The law, passed in 2008, creates state oversight for people who take loan applications, gives consumers an avenue for reporting misconduct and establishes a fund to help repay borrowers who lose money because of unethical or illegal acts by their loan officers.

The law faces hurdles, as cash-strapped Arizona struggles to process thousands of new applications.

Still, advocates call it a success. Many of the risky - and sometimes illegal - home loans that helped lead to record foreclosures in Arizona might not have been made if the more than 10,000 unlicensed loan officers working then had been subject to more oversight.

How?  If people were selling illegal home loans before, they were already breaking the law and the state obviously was unable to enforce the law.  How is adding a piece of paper that must be applied for each year going to help?  My company has all kinds of silly licenses - liquor licenses, guiding licenses, health licenses, tobacco sales licenses, over-the-counter drug sales licenses, even egg licenses - and in not a single case does the issuer of these licenses exercise any sort of oversight of our operations.  If they get their extensive paperwork (so workers have an excuse to retain their jobs - after all someone has to process the paperwork) and their check, that is generally the sum of interactions with these organizations.

Now, some of these licenses were hard to get in the first place, but not for any reason of my character or ethics or business model.  They were hard to get because their issuance has been co-opted by incumbent businesses in the state who use the process to limit competition.  Liquor licenses are a great example - in places like Shasta County CA and Lake Havasu City AZ, we had a real problem getting the liquor license over opposition from existing businesses.

This is almost mindless naivete:

"Loan-officer licensing is long overdue in Arizona," said Felecia Rotellini, who for five years served as superintendent of the Department of Financial Institutions, the state agency regulating the mortgage industry. She is running for Arizona attorney general.

"A lot of bad loans wouldn't have been made if we had it before," Rotellini said. "It gives me peace of mind for consumers to know we have licensing now."

The author of the article just throws the following statement out there without any source, as if it was an axiom with which we all would agree

In Arizona, the housing boom and crash were partly fueled by loan officers, how they operated and how they were paid.

In fact, the author's incredible confidence in licensing is undermined in this adjacent statement:

Mortgage brokers, who run firms that connect borrowers with the best loans, have long been regulated by the Department of Financial Institutions.

Brokers employ loan officers, who work directly with borrowers, collecting their Social Security numbers and financial information to determine whether they qualify for a loan. Loan officers usually recommend types of mortgages and lenders.

These officers, sometimes called originators, weren't subject to state scrutiny. They worked under the licenses of their brokers, much the way an apprentice would work for a licensed contractor. Previously, that oversight was considered sufficient.

So the firms these guys worked for were licensed, but the individual employees were not. But if that licensing of firms, which after all is the level where loan practices and compensation policy are set which supposedly are at fault, how does licensing individual employees help? This is a typical political step that a) gets some state organization more money and power, b) generates one sound bite in a news cycle for some politician to tell voters that they care and c) does zero for consumers.

At the end of the day, the real cause of the housing boom was easy credit, and yes loan officers participated in this given that their commission-based incentives caused them to want to make every loan possible.  But this incentive outcome would not have been some kind of insight to the people and system that employed the loan officers.  In fact, everyone from the loan officer to the Congress wanted easy credit, and to blame one link in the chain of delivering this credit to consumers is madness.  Going forward, there is absolutely no evidence that the government is going to reduce its history of promoting easy credit, as evidenced by any number of federal loan modification and lending programs over the last 2 years.  So the likelihood that a government regulatory agency could have somehow headed off the bubble and its bursting is just silly.  The government was a party to it.

In the long run this mechanism will almost certainly be co-opted by current loan issuers as a way to limit competition, much as real estate agents and lawyers and funeral home directors already do.  As a minimum, this is a way for mortgage brokers to outsource some of the cost of running background checks and such on their employment candidates onto taxpayers.  In fact, I wonder who was behind this law in the first place?

Backed by mortgage brokers and real-estate regulators, the law quietly went into affect on July 1

I Hate the Liquor Licensing Process

I have liquor licenses in about six different states, and like sales taxes, the process varies a lot by state.  But one universal impression I have is that the whole liquor licensing process has long ago ceased to serve its original purpose and has instead become either become captive to rent-seekers or has become a bureaucratic jobs program or both.  Al Capone died more than half a century ago.  And while one might argue there is some government interest in making sure minors don't buy the product and similar rules are followed, the liquor licensing process is orders of magnitude more complex and onerous than, say, getting a license to sell cigarettes or to prepare foods on site, both of which have similar features.

The liquor licensing process in most states was crafted in the 1930s, with the end of prohibition.  At that time, the primary concern was to keep out organized crime interests who had run the liquor business during prohibition.  So the process includes FBI background checks, as well as minute disclosure of every single person who has ever loaned you money, so they can be checked out to make sure you are in no way beholden to anyone who is a bad guy in the FBI computers.  The licenses take months to obtain (including a fingerprinting process) and cost thousands of dollars a year, presumably to offset the bureaucracy required to review all the applications.  Here in Arizona, minuscule errors, such as abbreviating "Boulevard" in an address to "Blvd" can cause the application to be rejected and have to be resubmitted.  Believe me, I know.

Worse than the ridiculous jobs-program-and-mindless-bureaucracy-fighting-a-threat-that-no-longer-exists problem is the way liquor licenses are now used in many locales for rent-seeking.  The worst offenders are states that purposefully artificially limit the number of liquor licenses.  This is quite obviously an incumbent protection program, protecting current liquor businesses from new competition.  California is one such state.  Even after I had purchased an existing license for a ridiculous amount of money ($5000 I think), I still had to make my case to the local county planning board who had final approval as to whether they would allow me a license into the county.  I asked them why this was necessary, and they were very up front about it (the following is paraphrased but accurate):

If we issue too many licenses, then it would be hard for you to make money.  We are really just helping you.

Sorry, but I don't need help.  I am willing to take the risk.  And does anyone really think that Shasta County California is looking after me, an out-of-state business just entering the area?  Of course not.  What they are really saying is "let us decide if all our buddies here in the county who we play golf with and who donate to our campaigns are OK with you competing with them."

In fact, this is exactly what happens in Lake Havasu City, AZ.  Though Arizona is not a state that limits liquor licenses, Lake Havasu required some kind of local board meeting to approve our license in that city.  The stated reason was that they wanted to make sure the new liquor business would not bring down the image of the city.  Which is hilarious, for anyone who has been to Lake Havasu City, particularly in spring break.  In fact, I am pretty sure it was an excuse for all the local interests to decide if they could tolerate another competitor or not.

All this comes to mind after I read this article by Radley Balko.  It is a good example of what can happen to you if your business depends on a government license and the local rent-seekers decide that your business needs to go.  A very brief excerpt:

I'll get into the
harassment, entrapment, and defamation Mr. Ruttenberg has endured in a
bit. For the moment, I'd like to focus on possible reasons for the
harassment. Why has this been going on for several years? I think there
are a few minor motivating factors. For one, I think there is,
unfortunately, some antisemitism at play. There's also a strange
rivalry Mr. Ruttenberg had with a Manassas Park police officer over a
girl. And I think part of this may be driven by city officials who for
whatever reason simply began to harbor a grudge against Ruttenberg.
Remember Milton Friedman's old axiom: Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.

But I think something else is going on, here. And Black Velvet Bruce
Li has hit it. I believe there is some very strong circumstantial
evidence suggesting that Mr. Ruttenberg's bar was targeted by the city
of Manassas Park because the city had its eye on the property as a
possible site for an off-track betting facility for the Colonial Downs
horse racing track in New Kent County, Virgina.

Update:  I guess this is the day to blog about outdated 1930's liquor legislation.

When the Legislature wrote the first alcohol laws after
Prohibition was repealed in 1933, California defined what a beer is and
what wine is. The definition was simple"”anything added to beer or wine
renders it something else. Sometime thereafter beer and wine producers
started adding things such as preservatives, flavor enhancers and other
things. So narrowly reading the law there is NO such product as either
beer or wine sold in California today. Now common sense and alcohol
regulators know that is not true and so for years have ignored this
narrow interpretation.

Last week [on December 13] a bare
majority of the Board of Equalization voted for the narrow
interpretation of the law, and have begun the process to tax all
alcohols with any additives as distilled spirits. This will increase
the taxes charged on beers, wines, flavored malt beverages, and
flavored beers to the level on hard liquor.

The dated California
law defines beer as having no additives whatsoever. No beer that I know
of"” except perhaps some home brews"”meets this definition.

New American Nomads

Every year, between November and January, tens of thousands of modern nomads descend on the lower Colorado River.Spread out from Yuma to Lake Havasu City, but with their center in the normally small town of Quartzite Arizona, RVers will join together for a month or two in the Arizona desert.  Barren fields alont Interstate 10, totally desolate and empty for 9 months of the year, suddenly become a huge encampment.

One of the little talked about trends within the larger story of the aging of America and the growing population of retired people is the substantial number of people who have given up the traditional notion of a fixed home and neighborhood and headed for the open road. While some still own a home, and travel for many months of the year, an increasing number have sold their home, bought an RV, and live on the road -- with absolutely no attachment to any fixed location. They may spend a day or several months in any one location, but most tend to drift north during the summer and back south for the winter.  These are not people who take their RV out on vacation -- these are people who live on the road 365 days a year.

For reasons of weather and tradition, while you can find RVers in the summer months in every state, in the winter months a large number will converge on Quartzite. Friendships will be renewed. Business will be transacted. Jobs for the summer months will be solicited. A thousand and one vendors will pitch a tent in the desert to sell their wares. These gatherings remind me of how the old western trading posts may have looked during the winter, surrounded by wintering Indians and trappers. The only difference today is that most of the nomads are Caucasian, and many of the trading posts, in the form of Casinos, are run by the Indians.

Some of these new nomads are able to completely retire and live off their savings. Others need to work to bring in a bit of cash, or at least to pay for a place to park and hook up their RV to utilities. In our business, we hire over 400 of these folks a year, usually working the summer months in exchange for a free site for the RV and some money for relaxing in the winter. RVers are generally comfortable with fairly modest pay, but they won't stand still for very long if they don't like the job or their boss or their co-workers. After all, they all have wheels on their houses and can leave with little notice.

As you might imagine, in this Federalist country we live in where most government services occur at the state level, this nomadic lifestyle can lead to confusion. If you spend the entire year traveling around the country, where is your voting precinct? Where do friends send you mail? How do you get bills? Where is your bank? In which state do you pay taxes? If you think you have trouble getting W-2's out to your employees, trying tracking down 400 nomads with no permanent address!

To a large extent, technology has helped solve a number of these problems over the last decade. Cell phones provide telephone service nearly everywhere in the country. DirecTV does the same for television. With a national ISP like EarthLink or AOL, email doesn't care where you RV is parked "“ it will get to you.

In addition, a whole cottage industry has arisen to serve the needs of full-time RVers. Despite advances in technology, most people still need an address for the mail to go, and the IRS still is kindof fussy about having a mailing address for folks. So, entrepreneurs, mainly in Texas and Florida, have created huge PO box operations to serve RVers, with flexible options for holding or forwarding mail. Full-time RVers, living 365 days in their vehicle, have demanded and gotten larger and more elaborate RV's from manufacturers, up to and including RV's built on bus frames. And, new, more elaborate and upscale RV parks are being built to accommodate the more affluent new RVers.

Other people, including, predictably, the government, have not caught up with this trend. For example, many RVers are living on retirement and social security payments. Most state revenue departments have laws in place that if you are a resident of that state for some number of days, then you have to pay income taxes on earnings, even retirement pay or investment earnings, in proportion to the time spent in the state. These laws are mainly put in place to snare some incremental taxes from wealthy athletes and traveling sales people, but they can can hurt RVers.

An RVer who is totally honest about the states they were a resident in during a year might end up having to fill out five, six, or more state income tax returns. No one wants to do that, especially for small sums, so very very few people observe these tax laws. In fact, that is why PO Box drops are in Texas and Florida, because neither have state income taxes. Their pension and investment and social security checks go to those states, and no one has to be any the wiser about what other states they may have parked their RV in for a while.

There are a number of places to get more information about full-time RVing. Web sites and magazines line the Roaming Times and Trailer Life cater to full-time RVers. Working RVers can find information about work camping jobs and camp hosting as well as the whole workamping lifestyle.  Finally, look for good places to camp at goRVing.com, at ReserveUSA, or of course at my company's directory of forest service campgrounds.