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Archive for the ‘San Carlos’ Category

Man attempts to sandbag ‘foreclosure tsunami’

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
March 14, 2007

One local businessman is kicking off an effort to rescue locals from losing their homes to foreclosure.

Walter Moeller, a San Carlos resident and businessman, took action after seeing the number of foreclosure warnings rise nearly 400 percent. Statewide, notices of default — those stern letters people receive from their mortgage lenders when they stop making their mortgage payments — rose 37 percent between the third and fourth quarters of 2006, according to DataQuick, and continue to rise, Moeller said.

In response, Moeller founded the Home Preservation Institute, whose mission is to identify homeowners who are behind on their payments and recruit local nonprofit organizations, grant funds and other resources to keep people from losing their homes.

In cases in which people can’t recover, the institute will make sure those homes wind up in the hands of nonprofits so that they can be renovated and sold to low- and moderate-income locals.

“I think many buyers were misled, and they went in with a half-percent of interest, and they’re shocked when it goes up,” Moeller said. “Now, the market has slowed down and the value of the home is less than what their loans are. People are under water.”

The increase in foreclosure rates is something local agencies, such as the Housing Leadership Council, are monitoring, according to Director Chris Mohr. People buying entry-level homes, or homes on the edge of their income level, are at the highest risk.

“Their ability to make the monthly payments may be conditioned on a low introductory rate and their ability to refinance later,” Mohr said. “That works well when the market is trending upward, but if appreciation falls it may be more than the household can afford.”

One problem may be that borrowers often see mortgage brokers as the badguy once they become unable to meet their payments. To that end, lenders are beginning to reach out more to homeowners and attempt to resolve payment problems before foreclosure happens, according to Dustin Hobbs, spokesman for the California Mortgage Bankers Association.

Despite those efforts, borrowers refuse to respond 60 percent of the time, according to Hobbs. Not only does that hurt homeowners, but it leaves lenders stuck with properties — not their area of expertise.

“We have lenders who say, ‘Let’s talk, let’s work something out.’ They’ve got an interest in making sure the borrower stays in the home,” Hobbs said. “No one wins in a foreclosure situation.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

March 14, 2007 at 10:41 PM

Posted in Housing, San Carlos

Town still reeling from Katrina

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
January 26, 2007

Residents, city officials and police in San Carlos’ adopted town of Pass Christian, Miss., are still living and working out of portable trailers 17 months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast city, according to members of a recent local delegation.

To date, San Carlos officials, service organizations and schools have sent more than $125,000 in aid to the Gulf Coast city, as well as gifts and volunteers, but the need for help continues, officials said.

“What I saw was the need to rebuild — churches, civic buildings, schools, roadways and infrastructure. Their sewer lines are still above ground,” said San Carlos City Councilman Matt Grocott, who returned Tuesday night from a long weekend in Pass Christian. The Interstate 90 bridge is still out,and Wal-Mart, once a major source of tax revenue for the city, won’t return until it’s back, he said.

Cleanup alone took nearly 14 months. In the process, more than 1.5 million cubic yards — two football fields stacked 150 feet high — of debris was hauled away, said Pass Christian Alderman Lou Rizzardi, who hosted Grocott’s visit. Before Katrina, the city had 6,800 residents. Now, it has roughly 2,500.

In the months after Katrina, donations and unskilled volunteers poured into the city to help with cleanup. Now, what Pass Christian needs are skilled workers — people who can install sheetrock, electricity and ventilation systems — so that new buildings can be made to code, Grocott said.

Donations of money and gift cards, such as the Home Depot cards that helped residents purchase water heaters, are also helpful, according to Sheryl Pomerenk, chairwoman of the San Carlos Chamber of Commerce.

Back at home, the Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA recently found a home for the last of 66 pets it took in shortly after Katrina left thousands of animals stranded, according to director Ken White. Of those, only two were euthanized because they were too sick to survive — the rest were reunited with families or placed in new homes.

Garnering aid for hurricane victims a year and a half later is an ongoing challenge.

“In the American psyche, we don’t have a lot of attention span,” Rizzardi said.

However, Rizzardi added that it’s heartening for cities like San Carlos to adopt Pass Christian. “It’s good to know that folks will be willing to make the long-term commitment, because it will take years for us to come back.”

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 26, 2007 at 10:09 PM

Posted in San Carlos

Local firm designs electric car

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
June 12, 2006

Martin Eberhard is tired of having to choose between a car that’s fun and fast and one that’s easy on the environment. So he’s designing his own.

Eberhard is the CEO of San Carlos-based Tesla Motors, which has spent the past three years developing the first all-electric sports car. If everything goes according to plan, Tesla’s first models could hit the streets next summer.

His design is, in part, a reaction to the predominance of Priuses and other hybrids that still rely on petroleum — not to mention the reputation all-electric cars have for being slow and for running out of juice too quickly.

“I’m an electrical engineer. I know what an electric motor can do if you design it right. There’s no reason they have to be wimpy,” Eberhard said.

Eberhard is no stranger to technological innovation. He founded NuvoMedia, creator of the Rocket eBook, and made a healthy chunk of change when Gemstar/TV Guide International bought the company in 2000. Much of Tesla’s $60 million in venture capital comes from techie sources, including PayPal co-founder Elon Musk and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

“It’s very clear to me that I’m not the only one who is interested in a car that’s fun and beautiful and environmentally friendly,” Eberhard said.

He hasn’t set a sticker price yet, but promises it will be neither outrageously expensive nor remarkably cheap.

Eberhard’s timing couldn’t be better. While Bay Area commuters watch in frustration as gas prices continue to rise, filmmaker Chris Paine is releasing a documentary called “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which documents GM’s recall of its immensely popular — and all-electric — EV1.

Meanwhile, officials from Redwood City-based CalCars recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they showed Congress how to force the Prius and other hybrid cars to operate in all-electric mode. Since 2002, CalCars has been selling kits that allow hybrid owners to “hack” their cars, according to spokesman John Davi.

“A plug-in hybrid is a nice mix,” Davi said. “It’s cheaper, cleaner and based on domestic energy sources, and it’s enough to power your commute.”

Although CalCars officials are happy to teach people how to change the settings on their hybrids, they are fighting to force car companies to make that option available in the showroom.

“Our whole goal is to get auto makers to sell these. We don’t want to sell conversions forever,” Devi said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

June 12, 2006 at 9:57 PM

Posted in San Carlos

King convicted of felony fraud charges

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 18, 2006

After three days of deliberations, the jury found King, 64, guilty of submitting a false claim with the intent to defraud the South County Fire Protection Authority and guilty of conspiring with political consultant Margaret “Peg” Collier, 68, to submit the false claim. The convictions carry a maximum possible sentence of three years in jail.

King’s attorney, Chuck Smith, squeezed his client’s shoulder as the verdicts were read.

Smith intends to move for a new trial June 9, when Judge Barbara Mallach is scheduled to deliver King’s sentence.

“There’s a lot more here,” Smith said. “I want to look into his impeccable background.”

Collier was owed nearly $17,000 for her help in the failed November 2003 Measure I campaign, which would have raised money for the fire agency through a parcel tax. In early 2004, King faxed a detailed invoice to Collier — which he claimed was simply a template — and allegedly told her to bill the Fire Authority for helping find firefighters new jobs, work Collier admits she never did.

Belmont officials took the invoice to the district attorney after it was submitted to City Manager Jere Kersnar, who was serving as the Fire Authority’s chief executive.

King’s trial started March 30. The jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon and returned the verdict Tuesday. “They were grappling with whether Collier had an intent to defraud that was equal to King’s intent,” said Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher, who prosecuted the case.

Smith, in closing statements last Wednesday, said King could not be guilty of conspiracy because Collier had no intention of committing fraud. “King’s intent was clear to [the jury] early on,” Gallagher said.

Though Gallagher did not know what sentence his department would ask for, he doubted King, who is eligible for probation, would be sent to jail for three years.

Collier pleaded no contest to misdemeanor fraud charges in December of 2005, in exchange for testifying truthfully in King’s trial. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 27.

“This verdict sends a reminder to people in politics and government that no matter how many good things you do for the community, you can’t bend the rules,” Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

San Carlos Mayor Matt Grocott said King’s actions could be seen as an example of questionable practices that have earned the city multiple grand jury investigations.

“This verdict closes the door on an ugly part of San Carlos history,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 18, 2006 at 10:12 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Carlos

Closing arguments in former mayor’s trial center on conspiracy

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 12, 2006

Closing arguments in the fraud trial against former San Carlos Mayor Mike King focused on whether he and political consultant Margaret “Peg” Collier were in collusion when Collier submitted false invoices to the South County Fire Protection Authority.

The sample invoice King gave Collier was too detailed to be a hastily prepared example, argued Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher. King, in other testimony, has said he told Collier to fill in her own hours and rates before faxing the invoice to then-Belmont City Manager Jere Kersnar.

Meanwhile, Collier, in her own testimony, admitted to billing the Authority for helping firefighters find jobs — work she never did — and claims King told her exactly what to do.

“Peg Collier said she had no intent to defraud,” said Chuck Smith, King’s attorney. “It takes two — if she had no intent, then there is no conspiracy.”

Collier was owed approximately $17,000 for her help in the failed Measure I campaign, which would have raised money for the Authority and prevented the layoffs of several firefighters. Collier has since pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fraud charges, and her upcoming sentence depends upon her agreement to testify truthfully in the felony case against King.

Gallagher challenged character witnesses who depicted King as a man of honesty and integrity.

While Collier’s story has remained “relatively consistent” throughout the course of the investigation and trials, King “has an evolution to his story that continues right into this courtroom,” Gallagher said. “They are lies, period.”

Both attorneys said the entire situation could have been avoided.

“There were other ways to get Collier her money,” Gallagher said, referring to discussions about holding a fundraiser or finding Collier legitimate work. “There was a lot of talk, but nothing was ever done.”

Meanwhile, Smith painted Belmont officials as “seeing crime and fraud around every corner,” who took Collier’s invoice to the District Attorney’s Office rather than asking King about it directly.

Closing arguments will conclude this morning, after which the jury will begin its deliberations. If convicted, King faces up to a year in jail.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 12, 2006 at 10:08 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Carlos

Key witness Collier to testify in trial of San Carlos ex-mayor

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Beth Winegarner
Examiner Staff Writer
April 6, 2006

Political consultant Margaret “Peg” Collier is expected to testify today in the case against former San Carlos Mayor Mike King, who is accused of attempting to defraud the South County Fire Protection Authority of $13,320.

In addition to being a key witness in King’s trial, a plea agreement Collier made in December 2005 requires her to testify against King. King is accused of telling Collier to submit invoices falsely claiming she helped South County firefighters find jobs — in order to recoup more than $15,000 she was owed for assisting in a failed parcel-tax campaign in the fall of 2003.

In a recording played in San Mateo County Superior Court on Thursday, Collier told District Attorney’s Office Inspector Mike Scheffler that she had made a mistake in submitting those invoices and thought they had been retracted.

“I told Mike, ‘I don’t think we can do this; talk to the Fair Political Practices Commission,’” Collier told Scheffler. She said she did not do the work described in the invoice and thought the invoice had been withdrawn.

In her recorded statement, Collier said the matter would have ended if former Belmont Mayor George Metropulos and Councilmember Dave Warden had not seen the invoice.

Warden testified Thursday that he learned in June of 2004 that former Belmont City Manager Jere Kersnar had received Collier’s false invoices two months earlier. Warden asked for copies and, along with former Councilmember George Metropulos and Councilmember Coralin Feierbach, took them to District Attorney Jim Fox that August, launching the fraud investigation.

Warden also testified that King told him in February or March of 2004 that he had found a method by which Collier could be paid the money she was owed.

“I didn’t like the debt, and I thought maybe there was something we could do — give her work related to the assessment,” Warden said. Although King and others suggested holding fundraisers to earn the money, that never happened, and Warden heard no more on the topic until he saw the invoices, he said Thursday.

Warden’s testimony continues today, after which Collier is expected to testify, according to Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. King will take the stand early next week, along with character witnesses in his defense. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail.

The trial is expected to conclude late next week. Collier’s sentencing is scheduled for April 27.

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

Written by Beth Winegarner

April 6, 2006 at 10:10 PM

Posted in Courts, Crime, San Carlos

Floods plague San Carlos businesses

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
January 6, 2006

San Carlos Chamber of Commerce President Sheryl Pomerenk has spent much of this week removing flood-soaked carpets from her offices and moving the agency’s belongings into storage.

The chamber headquarters, located on South Laurel Street near El Camino Real, has flooded five times in the past three years — including twice since Christmas, Pomerenk said. By Tuesday, it will have new vinyl floors that should fare better when the storms come again.

“We can sweep the water out, and it will dry faster,” she said.

This week, Pomerenk sent all of her staff members home to work on projects, and even had to turn down new members because everything was packed up. Replacing the flooring will cost $6,000, but she couldn’t estimate the cost to move belongings in and out of the building or to hire blowers to dry the walls.

“It’s so frustrating,” she said. “You don’t know who to blame, what to do, or how to pay for it.”

After 18 inches of water swamped the building in late 2004, San Carlos public works crews installed a backflow valve on the stormwater drain at Laurel Street and Saint Francis Way. The chamber office didn’t flood for some time after that, even though rains were heavier in January and February.

“It was designed to keep the creek water at high tide from coming back up the drain and down the street, and that has been working very well,” said Public Works Supervisor Paul Baker. But when the city gets a high tide combined with too much rain — as it did on Monday — only so much can be done.

Baker said the areas hardest hit by the New Year’s storms included parts of eastern San Carlos, particularly along Industrial Road. Kindercourt, a child-care center that recently moved into the former State Farm office on Laurel Street, also flooded, according to Pomerenk. Kindercourt officials would not comment.

San Carlos officials continue to work toward obtaining permits from the federal government to perform ongoing cleanup of vegetation and debris along flood-prone Cordilleras Creek, San Carlos Public Works Director Parviz Mokhtari told the Daily News last November.

Even so, public works crews must work constantly during storms to keep drains and catch basins clear of leaves, according to Baker.

“Even if it isn’t high tide, they plug things up,” he said. “We had guys on all the creeks, and we were very fortunate this last storm (that) we were able to keep the creeks from going over.”

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

Written by Beth Winegarner

January 6, 2006 at 9:49 PM

Posted in San Carlos