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Category: San Francisco

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Bay Area housing market weakens in October

The Bay Area’s housing market weakened in October with sales slumping and prices falling.

Sales of all condominiums and houses fell 3.3% from September and 22.8% from October 2009 to 6,122, according to San Diego real estate research firm MDA DataQuick.

It was the slowest sales pace for any October since 2007 and the second-slowest October since DataQuick began tracking sales in 1988.

The median Bay Area home price was $395,000 in October, a 3% decline from September and a 1.8% drop from October 2009.

-- Alejandro Lazo

Happy Meal ban closer to reality in San Francisco

Happymeal It won't go into effect until next year, but San Francisco's ban on handing out toys with children's meals that have more than 600 calories or too much fat, salt and sugar gained final passage Tuesday.

San Francisco supervisors (they're called supervisors because San Francisco is both a city and a county, and in California, counties are overseen by supervisors) voted 8 to 3 in favor of the measure. It now goes to Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has promised to veto it. But the board has enough votes to override his veto.

The measure has been widely ridiculed in some circles, with opponents saying it's up to parents to choose what their children eat -- not politicians. But public health advocates welcomed the action, calling it a small step toward combatting escalating levels of childhood obesity. 

“It’s time for fast-food companies to stop exploiting children in order to sell more junk food, and this measure would at least set basic nutrition standards for meals sold with toys," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington. "Fatty meat, French fries, white flour, and sugary drinks are the last foods we should encourage kids to eat.” 

Supervisor Eric Mar, who introduced the measure, said supporters were part of a growing movement to help children fight obesity and nutrition-related diseases. "From San Francisco to New York City,
the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country is making our kids sick,
particularly kids from low-income neighborhoods, at an alarming rate," Mar said. "It's
a survival issue and a day-to-day issue."

-- Sharon Bernstein

On Twitter @sharonbernstein

Photo: A McDonald's Happy Meal. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images

San Francisco Happy Meal ban (and a little more on McRib)

San Francisco became the first major city in the country to ban restaurants from giving out toys with meals that have more than a set amount of calories, fat and salt, or that don't include fruits and vegetables. (Here's our story.)

Ironically, the vote came on the very same day that fans of McDonald's McRib (500 calories, no ribs, 26 grams of fat) rejoiced to see the sandwich back on menus nationwide for a six-week period.

Daniel Conway, the California Restaurant Assn.'s spokesman and lobbyist, was struck by the concurrent outpouring of desire for McRib and the apparently growing movement to limit fast-food marketing to children. He was also impressed with our call for McRib haiku, and suggested that people also write haiku about the San Francisco supervisors who voted for the Happy Meal ban.

And in a last McRib thought, I heard again today from barbecue chef Neil Strawder, of Bigmista Barbecue catering in Long Beach. He'd gone out and tried a McRib just so he could come back and tell us what he thought. Here's his review: "I ate it. I tried some of the meat without the bread. I tried some of the bread without the meat. The only thing with any flavor was the pickles." He directs us to the Barbecue Brethren blog, where BBQChef33 offers a recipe for a sandwich made with meat from real baby back ribs.

-- Sharon Bernstein

Follow me on Twitter @sharonbernstein

Gap backtracks, says it will not use new logo after consumer outcry

A week after Gap announced that it would roll out a new logo, the San Francisco apparel retailer has changed its mind.  Gaplogo 

Shopper outcry was rampant at the new logo, which featured a smaller blue box, an updated font and lowercase letters. Many consumers took to social media sites online to profess their disdain for the new look.

Monday, Gap released an apologetic statement saying it had reviewed the feedback and decided to stick with the long-standing logo.

"We've learned a lot in this process," said Marka Hansen, president of Gap Brand North America. "And we are clear that we did not go about this in the right way. We recognize that we missed the opportunity to engage with the online community. This wasn't the right project at the right time.... There may be a time to evolve our logo, but if and when that time comes, we’ll handle it in a different way."

-- Andrea Chang

Bay Area home sales cool off in July

Prices slid and home sales stalled in the Bay Area last month as potential buyers took time out to evaluate the state of the market now that federal tax credits have expired.

July sales hit their lowest level in 15 years as 6,773 new and resale homes closed escrow in the nine-county region, down 19.1% from June and down almost 23% from July 2009, according to MDA DataQuick of San Diego.

The median price paid for all new and resale houses and condos combined was $402,000, down 2% from June but up almost 2% from July 2009 in San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa, Napa, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Solano and Sonoma counties.

Last month marked the first in which the median -- the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less -- fell month-to-month since April this year, when it dipped 2.6% from March.

"There was more to last month’s sales drop than expiring federal home buyer tax credits, but we think they were the main reason the decline was so sharp,” said John Walsh, president of MDA DataQuick. “As the boost from the credits waned, low mortgage rates just weren’t enough to outweigh the weak economic recovery and low consumer confidence."

There has also been a pause in the market, Walsh said.

"Some potential buyers – including those who held off until the tax credits expired – will take their time to assess market conditions, searching for signs of renewed price cuts," he said.

Depending on the economy and other factors, that might be what some of them find, he said, especially in areas with growing inventories of unsold homes, including distressed properties.

Last month, foreclosure resales made up 26.1% of the total, an increase of less than one percentage point from June and down from 33.6% in July 2009.

-- Roger Vincent


Navy gets 1,500 gallons of algae-based fuel from Solazyme

The U.S. Navy is 1,500 gallons closer to its goal to operate half of its fleet with renewable fuel by 2020.

The Navy said Monday that it had received the batch of algae-based jet fuel from Solazyme Inc., a South San Francisco company. Algae-based biofuel, which is considered to be more eco-friendly to produce than corn or sugarcane ethanol, has seen a boom in interest in recent years.

The firm won the contract with the Defense Department in September 2009 and confirmed that it met all of the Navy’s rigorous quality requirements after testing the fuel in an independent laboratory. The company is not disclosing the value of the contract.

Dubbed Solajet HRJ-5, the fuel supposedly results in an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional fossil fuels, Solazyme said.

The company has a separate contract with the Navy to research, develop and deliver 20,000 gallons of algae-based F-76 marine fuel in two weeks for use in military ships. Solazyme is also in talks with the Air Force for a possible contract.

The Navy has been trying out other biofuels over more than a dozen flights, including a test with a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet in Maryland on April 22. The 45-minute Earth Day flight involved a blend of 50% conventional jet fuel and 50% camelina-based fuel.

The Navy put in a $2.7-million order with Sustainable Oils, which has operations in Washington and Montana, for 40,000 gallons.

Camelina is a domestic plant that grows well in difficult soil.

-- Tiffany Hsu

California Energy Commission approves $114.3 million for electric and ethanol vehicle infrastructure

Owners of eco-friendly vehicles in California are now $114.3 million closer to having workable options for charging and fueling up.

The California Energy Commission approved three awards to help set up electric- and ethanol-powered vehicle infrastructure around the state. Of the funds, $15.4 million comes from state coffers, $49.6 million is federal money and $49.3 million comes from private sources.

One project, a partnership between Electric Transportation Engineering Corp. and Nissan Motor Co., will establish up to 1,000 residential chargers and 1,300 commercial ones, as well as 60 “Level 3 fast chargers,” in San Diego County.

Program participants will shell out $32.6 million on top of the $8 million provided by the energy commission and $39.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Nissan will deploy 1,000 of its new Leaf electric vehicles in the market and study their performance, leading eventually to the release of 242,000 Nissan electric vehicles by 2015.

The commission awarded a $3.4-million grant to a project by Coulomb Technologies of Campbell, Calif., to build 1,667 charging stations in the San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles areas, adding almost $3.4 million more in federal stimulus funds. Coulomb, already involved in a project to set up 4,600 stations for free around the country, and its partners will put up $508,000.

The third grant from the commission, worth $4 million, will go toward building 75 ethanol-based fuel filling stations around the state. Partners, including California’s Department of General Services, Propel Fuels Inc., the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition, CALSTART and the Local Conservation Corps of California will provide $16.3 million in funding. The federal energy department will pitch in $6.9 million.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Consumer Confidential: Buffett lunch, sales dive, Chevy lives

Here's your FIFA-tastic Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- Call it the ultimate condiment: A bidder has offered just more than $1.5 million for a steak lunch with investment guru Warren Buffett. The bidder, whose identity is still secret, would be able to bring as many as seven pals to the meal, presuming no one outbids him or her by the time the auction closes Saturday on EBay. Proceeds will go to the Glide Foundation, a nonprofit group in San Francisco that provides meals and care for the homeless and people in distress. While $1.5 million is an impressive tab for lunch, even with Buffett at the table, it's still below the $2.1 million paid by a Hong Kong investor in 2008. I guess that's the recession taking its toll.

-- Just when everything was going so well: Even though we've seen a passel of recent indicators suggesting that the economy's on the mend, the latest word from the retail front isn't so rosy. Sales in May posted the largest decline in eight months, down 1.2%. While that might not sound like a lot, it's more than analysts had been expecting and suggests that consumers are circling their wagons a bit amid continuing worries about jobs and home prices. So do us all a favor: Go out and buy something this weekend.

-- On Thursday came news that General Motors no longer would refer to Chevys as Chevys. Now they'd be Chevrolets to avoid any confusion, especially overseas. Apparently the company realized it was being pretty foolish. It subsequently issued a memo saying its earlier memo had been "poorly worded" and that it wasn't really discouraging people from calling their vehicles Chevys. A company executive called the debacle "a bit of fun." Now we can all safely sing "American Pie" again.

-- David Lazarus

Maybe we will get more of a V-shaped recovery after all


There's been a lot of bellyaching about the current economic recovery, with economists predicting high jobless rates and slow growth for years to come. But a paper released by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco on Monday is a little more optimistic: It says that this recovery might be more V-shaped than recent ones have been.

To explain: After World War II, most economic recoveries were rapid, with production ramping up as quickly as it had slowed down. The growth rate of real gross domestic product averaged about 5.5% over the first two years after the low point, producing an economic model that looked like a "V." In recessions between 1988 and 2005, however, growth was slower -- only about 2.9% in the first two years after the low point. It looked more like a "U."

Forecasters, pointing to debt held by U.S. households and lingering effects of the banking crisis, had predicted that this recovery would be U-shaped as well. But in their paper, economists Justin Weidner and John C. Williams say that factors that usually contribute to a V-shaped recovery are more present in this economy than they were in previous ones.

This time around, there are larger gaps in output, more rapid growth of potential output, and real interest rates much lower than the natural interest rate, they said.

These factors "point to a moderate pace for the current recovery, somewhere between the U and V shapes of the past," they wrote.

-- Alana Semuels

Photo: A bit of optimism from San Francisco. Credit: Kangotraveler via Flickr

Average U.S. closing costs fall; San Francisco grabs the No. 4 spot

Closing costs are steep in the city by the Bay The average cost of getting a mortgage dropped about 12% nationwide over the last 12 months, according to a new study by Bankrate Inc.

Nationwide, the average closing fees on a $200,000 mortgage, with 20% down and a 30-year fixed-rate loan, totaled $2,732, down from $3,118 in 2008, the study found. Closing costs for home buyers haven't been this low since 2007, the survey said.

San Francisco had the 4th-highest closing costs in the United States, with average expenses of $3,117, a decline of 6% from $3,321 in 2008, the study said. Last year, San Francisco was ranked 11th in the survey, Bankrate said.

New York had been the most expensive state for closing fees for four consecutive years, with Texas holding steady in second place, the study said. But, in the most recent study, the two states switched spots.

On a $200,000 mortgage, closing costs in Texas averaged $3,855, the survey said. Closing fees in New York averaged $3,408, the study said.

Nevada was the cheapest state for closing costs with an average of $2,276.

The decline in closing costs for home buyers is a testament to the downward price shift in the real estate market, Bankrate said.

Researchers chose ZIP Codes in the largest cities of each state, analyzing the closing costs for a $200,000 home mortgage to figure out their averages, the survey said.

California was the only state to be broken in two for the study -- San Francisco and Los Angeles, Bankrate said. Average closing fees in Los Angeles came in at $2,861, which was good for the 14th spot. That's down 12% from $3,250 in 2008.

Bankrate's survey includes lenders' origination fees and title and settlement fees. Taxes, insurance, homeowners association dues or prepaid items weren't included in the study.

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: A recently sold home in San Francisco. Credit: Getty Images


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