From the daily archives: Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By Chris Furguson

Photo by Chris Furguson

Looking from Brawley’s North Best Avenue, the former Luckey Ranch looks like any other development in progress.  Once you approach the handful of homes built, however, and the real problem is apparent.
All the houses, at least from a distance, look presentable.  However, when approaching the small block of homes, the feeling of being in a modern day ghost town takes over.
Vehicles traveling on Best Avenue can barely be heard over the whistle of the wind through overgrown tumbleweeds and trees.
Even with the newly finished roads and barely driven, the desolation is apparent.
Lawns show the brown of dirt and the yellow of dead plants, overgrown trees obscure the view of the houses, broken windows and doors the aftermath of long departed transients looking for an evening’s shelter or longer.
“It almost feels like people suddenly disappeared one day and nature just took over,” said one resident.
The Luckey Ranch development is only one of several such housing projects in Brawley that were abandoned when the housing economic boom busted a few years ago.
The Ranch, if completed, would have consisted of two parts.  The first part would have been a development of single family homes called “Wild Horse” with the other unnamed portion filled with closely packed multi-family dwellings.
“I don’t blame the city,” said one nearby resident.  “This was part of the economy.  Still, why did the city allow people to move in there [Luckey Ranch] when it wasn’t finished?”
A late victim of the housing market, Luckey Ranch wasn’t unique in that the developers were allowed to sell and build homes for tenants before all the necessary work was finished.
According to the city, during the development of Matthews Homes, there was a feeling of urgency by potential homeowners, the community and the developers to allow the incoming residents to complete funding and attain their certificates of occupancy.   This was part-in-parcel with actions taken by most communities during the economic boom.
No one had any idea that the good times would end so suddenly.
“Therefore, the City issued a certificate of occupancy on some homes so owners could complete their financing since the sewer work was scheduled to be completed before occupancy was expected,” explained Burroughs.  “Regretfully, this did not occur.”
At the time, A&R Construction was contracted by Matthews Homes to work on both the eastern portion of Best Road and the sewer pump connections from those homes to the city’s main sewer line and the area’s retention basin.
The reason why work was not completed was that A&R had not been paid for much of their labor and the company was using the sewer pump as leverage for payment.
Meanwhile, residents of the newly constructed houses were without some services and, eventually, all of the houses were abandoned by their owners. and eventually condemned by the city.
Soon afterwards, most of the houses were occupied by transients until the city kicked them out.  Now, the homes lie dormant.
Currently, the city of Brawley is looking at declaring land like this and other properties as “blighted,” which is defined by the California Redevelopment Agency as “Areas that exhibit substantial and prevalent adverse physical and economic conditions requiring redevelopment assistance.”
If Brawley, by January 2011, moves forward and performs the actions necessary to declare Luckey Ranch and the other similarly abandoned areas as “Brawley Redevelopment Agency Project Areas,” the city could then receive a larger share of any taxes the land produced.  This money would go towards facilities and certain services that benefit the blighted area.
According to presentations given to the City Council, the taxes generated could be as much as $80 million over the next few decades.  This is a simplified version of a very complex issue, however.
After three years, JP Morgan-Chase Bank now owns the property after the developer’s sudden departure, but the city has no authority over the current houses.  The city did spend more than a year negotiating with the property’s bonding agency to get Best Avenue finished, the sewer lift station and other property improvements that began in June.
Until then, the buildings still stand as a monument to a nation’s fast economic rise and an equally quick fall from grace.

 

By Chris Furguson
Eddie, a grandfather in his 60’s from Brawley, waited until midnight at the Brawley Wal-Mart to buy a special toy for his grandson.  His son, Junior, would wait until 5 a.m. for a chance at a discount television.
James, a father in his mid-40s from El Centro, spent most of his Thanksgiving night in the cold outside the Best Buy waiting for computer equipment for his home office and gifts for his family.  He was one of hundreds that circled the building before the 5 a.m. opening.
Juanita, a 17-year old student in El Centro, spent hours at the Imperial Valley Mall waiting outside the Gap for specials while her parents waited outside the Disney Store.
Stories like these and many others are part of the shopping spree known as “Black Friday” or the day after Thanksgiving.  Black Friday is so named because it is usually the day when a store finally turns a profit and, historically, could start using black ink in their ledgers instead of red.
This year, over 212 million customers spent $45 billion during this, the largest Black Friday weekend since 2007 and the first significant increase in shopping since the recent economic collapse.
Many stores had midnight openings, including Wal-Mart, while others opened their doors at 5 a.m.  The Imperial Valley Mall had a midnight opening with some stores, including long lines outside Aeropostale and The Disney Store.
Some of the earliest shoppers waited hours, camping out in the cold and wind looking for holiday gifts.
“It’s a tradition,” said James.  “We spend our Thanksgiving warm with our families and our Friday in the cold with the other shoppers.”
While the vast majority of customers were simply trying to shop, there were a few incidents involving shoppers across the country:
In Buffalo, New York, a video of a near stampede at a Target that showed several customers almost getting trampled went viral in the early hours of Black Friday.  The video would show that, after the fallen customers were helped to their feet in spite of the overeager shoppers, some were grimacing in pain before rushing to find bargains.
A Middletown, New Jersey man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a peace officer when he attempted to cut in line at a Target.  Christopher Melchionna, age 28, is alleged to have attempted to cut in line twice, the second time charging into an officer, and refusing to follow instructions which led to his arrest.  According to an official statement of the incident, Melchionna was intoxicated at the time.
In Madison, Wisconsin, a 21-year old black woman named Lanissa Lattimore was trying to cut in line at a Toys R Us when confronted by those already in line.   When confronted and told to get to the end of the line, Lattimore allegedly threatened to get her gun and start shooting.  She was later arrested for disorderly conduct when police arrived and could not find any firearms.
Customers at a Saginaw, Michigan mall saw a small brawl that wound up with seven arrested.  All arrested were between the ages of 14 and 21.
In Sacramento, California, pushing and shoving among customers and store security personnel at a Wal-Mart caused local police and store managers to evacuate the store, directing all customers to leave their carts and wait outside until order could be restored.
There were no reported Black Friday deaths this season.  Other incidents of Black Friday shopping rage were reported around the country, but most were minor.
In the Imperial Valley, some enthusiasm for early holiday bargains was tempered by a more than two hour wait at the Mexicali-Calexico border.  Many critics suggested that the wait could have curtailed an additional 30% increase in sales for local businesses.
Many of the local big retailers were still packed with early morning shoppers, but reports from downtown El Centro paint a mixed picture there.  Other downtown areas reported similar results on Friday.
For some, holiday shopping didn’t begin until Cyber Monday, when many workers used their office’s online connection to do some of their holiday shopping.  This year, online bank PayPal said that there was a 25% increase in online traffic through their service compared to 2009.
Websites like Amazon.com, Walmart.com eBay and others posted larger than ever web visits compared to previous years.
It was estimated that almost 107 million sales would be generated on Cyber Monday, as compared to 96 million last year.  While the majority of those sales would come from a computer, a growing percentage would come from cell phones, showing the increasing power of the portable devices.
Cyber Monday is expected to generate nearly $22 billion in retail sales.
While Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the holiday season, many retail experts say that excellent deals will be available until December 24th and beyond.

 

Today
Nov 30

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