May 2007 Archives

May 1, 2007

Silicon Valley Startup to Build World’s Largest Photovoltaic Solar Power Plant in Canada

“A solar power plant in the Great White North? Thin-film solar startup OptiSolar has signed a deal to build a 40-megawatt photovoltaic power station about 180 miles west of Toronto. The project, to be rolled out in 10-megawatt stages, will be – for the moment – the world’s largest PV power plant. Canada isn’t exactly known for its sunny skies but it does offer something solar power companies won’t find south of the border: a premium price for green electricity. The Ontario government will pay OptiSolar 42 (Canadian) cents a kilowatt hour – nearly 10 times the standard rate. In this case, Ontario signed a 20-year contract at that rate with OptiSolar’s Canadian subsidiary.”

Filed under Canada, Energy Industry, Silicon Valley by

L.A. Executives bullish, but they don’t like L.A.

“L.A.-area executives are bullish on their companies’ performance and the local economy, yet they still believe L.A. is not a good place to do business, according to an annual survey from KPMG LLP. Sixty-three percent of the 104 executives surveyed in early March said their companies plan to hire additional employees in the next 12 months, while 72 percent said they expect their companies’ financial performance will be better than last year. What’s more, despite the continuing real estate slowdown, 45 percent of the executives said they expect the L.A.-area economy to improve over the next 12 months, while another 29 percent said it would remain the same. That’s a much better outlook than for the national economy, which 77 percent said would be the same or worse off over the next 12 months. “Unlike the last housing bust in the early 1990s, interest rates haven’t gone up and people haven’t lost their jobs. Those factors override the housing sector concerns,” said Mark Hutchins, managing partner in KPMG’s downtown Los Angeles office. Yet despite the executives’ rosy outlook, 56 percent said that the L.A. marketplace is not an attractive location for businesses to relocate to. Comparatively high tax rates in Los Angeles and California are a major factor in this gloomy assessment, with 45 percent of the executives saying state and local taxes negatively impact their businesses. L.A.’s legendary traffic congestion also weighs on executives’ minds, with 43 percent saying it negatively impacts their businesses.”

Filed under California Economy by

California-Armenia Trade Office names Executive Director

Due to some strange politics, California has only one legal foreign trade office and it is in Yerevan, Armenia of all places. They have just named an Executive Director for the non-profit organization that manages this trade office:

Entrepreneur and long-time business consultant Johnny Nalbandian was named by the Foundation for Economic Development as the Trade Specialist for the California Trade Office of Yerevan, Armenia last month… The initiative to form CATO was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger in September 2005. With an office already established in Yerevan, CATO is once again expanding operations with the addition of Nalbandian in Los Angeles…. Nalbandian, who grew up in Los Angeles, has become a successful and highly demanded business consultant and marketer. His private firm J III & Co. is based in Commerce, CA. For the past four years, Johnny has advised businesses of all industries and sizes regarding expansion, trade, and investment opportunities. “My dream,” notes Johnny, “is to introduce California-based businesses to new market opportunities so that we can both strengthen there foundations while play a leading role in the development of these emerging economies.”

“Given its current economy and geography,” Nalbandian believes, “Armenia is the perfect gateway to the regions served by the office. This frontier of opportunities for California’s businesses and investors are endless.”

CATO began its work in October 2005 under the auspices of the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and is California’s only foreign trade representation. The bill authorizing its creation was passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support in the California State Assembly and Senate. Serving the greater Eastern Europe, Western Asia, and former Soviet States, CATO is operated by a California-based non-profit organization called the Foundation for Economic Development, for which Nalbandian serves as the new Executive Director.

Filed under Armenia, International Development by

California snowpack supply seen lowest in 20 years

“California water officials said on Monday they expect the water level in the Sierra Nevada mountains snowpack this year will be the lowest in almost 20 years, crimping supplies for hydropower and other water uses and raising concern about 2008. The California Department of Water Resources will conduct its fifth and final snowpack survey of the winter season on Tuesday, but new figures point to about 29 percent of normal water content, down from 34 percent at the beginning of April. ‘The figures will be quite low, probably the lowest since 1988,’ said Don Strickland, a spokesman for DWR. That figure was 30 percent. ‘We are suggesting to water agencies that they consider what to do if 2008 is a dry year,’ Jeanine Jones, DWR’s interstate resources manager, said in a conference call with reporters. California depends on the snowpack to generate almost one-fifth of its electricity supplies, help irrigate the biggest agricultural economy in the United States, fill reservoirs, and support recreation on the state’s rivers.”

Filed under Environment and Climate, Water and Wastewater by

Villaraigosa To Discuss Gangs, Tourism In El Salvador, Mexico Visits

“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will travel Tuesday to El Salvador and Mexico to discuss ways to boost trade and stem the rising wave of gang members who illegally enter the United States. Villaraigosa will meet with business leaders, elected officials and law enforcement officials from both nations during the four-city trip, according to Villaraigosa’s office. He is scheduled to return to Los Angeles on May 9. Villaraigosa will also speak with executives from airlines based in Mexico and El Salvador to chart out new routes that will involve all of the facilities operated by the city agency that oversees Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Palmdale Regional and Van Nuys airports. Villaraigosa is also expected to discuss clean air initiatives with port officials in both nations. Villaraigosa’s trip will begin with a two-day stop in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, where he and Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton will meet with President Elias Antonio Saca to discuss trade and transnational gang violence. El Salvador, with a population of 6.8 million, logged an average of 10 homicides a day in 2006, about 70 percent of which were committed by gang members, according to the FBI. In February, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Saca announced a joint cross-border effort to combat Los Angeles-based Mara Salvatrucha and other street gangs. Villaraigosa will travel on Thursday to Mexico City, where he will meet with President Felipe Calderon and business leaders to discuss investment and business opportunities in Los Angeles. Villaraigosa will then stop in Guadalajara on May 8 and conclude his trip the following day in Leon, according to the mayor’s office.”

Filed under El Salvador, Foreign Relations, Mexico by

May 2, 2007

Oakland non-profit to host Buddhist film Festival in Signapore

“For the first time ever, the International Buddhist Film Festival will be held in an Asian country. The festival starts May 17 in Singapore. Organized by the Asian Buddhist Film Festival in conjunction with the Buddhist Film Society, an Oakland, California-based non-profit, the festival will span four days. The festival “presents, archives and preserves Buddhist-themed and -inspired cinema of all kinds: features documentaries, animation, experimental work, children’s films and television programs,” according to the event’s Web site. Kicking off with “Shower,” a 1999 Chinese film, the festival will showcase films from nine countries. Buddhist-themed episodes of “The Simpsons” and “King Of The Hill” will be screened.”

Filed under Media and Entertainment, Singapore by

Multi-State border authority proposed

“A Southwest border regional authority to coordinate economic development efforts among four states would be created under legislation recently introduced in Congress by U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. The Southwest Regional Border Authority would be a mechanism for border areas to receive federal funding for economic development plants, Reyes said in a news release. The joint federal-state agency would be modeled after other economic development commissions, including the Appalachian Regional Commission. The Southwest authority would be led by a federal representative and the governors of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.”

Filed under Immigration, U.S. Government by

LAEDC releases International Trade Report

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. has released its annual International Trade Trends and Impacts report. As is usual for this otherwise reputable organization, they have lumped all imports and exports onto one category with frequent references to what that they call “the total value of two-way international trade”. It isn’t until the discussion of individual trade partners is there any mention at all about the huge trade deficits with these countries, and we can only assume that Los Angeles Ports must be shipping a huge number of empty shipping containers back to Asia. With China, for example, there is a regional trade deficit of 83 billion dollars- a nearly 5 to 1 import to export ratio with Southern California. In spite of this, the LAEDC did not even mention the stunning difference between imports and exports in their list of “challenges” facing the industry.

Filed under California Ports, Economic Development, Opinion by

California Democrats Pass Impeachment Resolution

“Sparked by an insurgency among delegates, the California Democratic Party has taken an historic step forward on the issue of impeachment. In a resolution affirmed by the full state party convention Sunday, the Democrats called on the U.S. Congress to use its subpoena power to investigate misdeeds of President Bush and Vice President Cheney – and to hold the Administration accountable “with appropriate remedies and punishment, including impeachment.” The delegate insurgency was coordinated by Progressive Democrats of America and its allies. While Speaker Pelosi had declared impeachment “off the table,” the Democratic Party rank-and-file has demonstrated its commitment to putting the issue “on” the table. And it’s no longer just the rank-and-file: Even among the members of the convention’s Resolutions Committee (appointed by the California Party chair), the impeachment resolution was the top vote-getter (tied with one other resolution). Coming on the heels of mass actions and resolutions across the country in support of impeachment, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s introduction of Articles of Impeachment against Cheney, this action by the powerful California Democratic Party builds on the pro-impeachment momentum. The resolution refers to Bush and Cheney having acted in a manner ‘subversive of the Constitution’. “

Filed under California Politics, U.S. Politics by

May 5, 2007

Mayor cuts trade mission to address LAPD clash with immigration protesters

“Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cut short his trip to Central America and Mexico in the wake of the May Day clash between Los Angeles police and protesters, is scheduled to speak this afternoon about the matter, into which the FBI has opened an inquiry. The mayor, speaking to reporters Thursday in Mexico City on a stop during a trade mission, said he would welcome the FBI’s investigation into the violence at the end of mostly peaceful immigrant rights marches and rallies. The mayor, who was seeking to stimulate trade and encourage international cooperation in fighting street gangs, announced late Thursday night that he was flying back to Los Angeles today”

Filed under Foreign Relations, Immigration, Legal and Criminal Issues, Mexico by

May 8, 2007

California "in denial" about population growth

Excerpt from Dan Water’s column in the Sacramento Bee entitled: “California can’t avoid expansion”:

The exact dimensions of growth are less important than the fact that it continues, and as it does, it will remain the most important factor in the state’s social, economic and political evolution. A half-million more Californians every year — more in some years — translates into a demand for about 200,000 additional units of housing, a quarter-million jobs and space on the roads for several hundred thousand more cars and trucks, for instance, as well as more water, more desks in schools and so forth.

Those demands fuel political conflicts — over water and housing development, to cite but two examples — that are made even more contentious by the fact that California’s population growth is almost entirely immigration-driven, both directly and through births to immigrant mothers. Environmental groups, for instance, often oppose housing developments, water projects, highway construction and retail complexes to serve population growth, while ignoring immigration issues out of fear of alienating Latino political figures…

Arnold Schwarzenegger, to his credit, has been more willing than any recent governor to acknowledge that population growth generates political conflicts that should not be ignored. He often cites the state’s relentless push toward 50 million people in urging other politicians and voters to invest in the infrastructure that was shamefully neglected for decades because of political denial and ideological gridlock.

Schwarzenegger doesn’t see growth as a cause for celebration, as Pat Brown and others of his era did, nor as something to be ignored, as Brown’s son and his successors often did, but simply as an inescapable fact of California life.

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Filed under California Government, Governor Schwarzenegger, Immigration by

OC Register covers CFEE funded junkets

The Orange County register has given it’s take on junkets being funded by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy, a non-profit organization founded by several large Corporations in the Energy and Telecommunications industry. Their take is that this abuse of non-profit status is similar to the Abramoff case and could be considered “bribery” – though it would be difficult to prove. Our take has already been written here. We wouldn’t begrudge Schwarzenegger Administration officials and California Legislators an occasional junket if there were doing a decent job of international business development in the interests of California companies and citizens- but they are not doing a decent job- they are doing a crappy job. Also, where are the “trip reports” for these junkets? I can’t find them, and they certainly don’t seem to be on the CFEE website. How can the recipients of these junkets claim they were in the public interest, if the information they (should have) generated is not available to the public? Excepts from the OC register article:

At the end of March, lawmakers and members of the Public Utility Commission joined corporate executives on a trip to Japan. The expenses, valued at $8,000 to $9,500 per person, were picked up by the California Foundation on the Environment and the Economy – a nonprofit in San Francisco funded and connected to firms represented on the trip.

Lawmakers say trips like these are valuable educational experiences; government watchdogs say they’re attempts to buy influence and circumvent the law, which bars corporations from buying trips for government officials or funneling money through organizations that can.

But without evidence, like a memo or an e-mail, directly linking corporate money to officials’ travel, the law says it’s OK. ‘It’s extraordinarily frustrating,’ said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer and Rights. The foundation recently uncovered documents showing the value of the Japan trip. ‘You don’t need a smoking gun in California to know a $10,000 gift to the Speaker of the Assembly is illegal,’ Balber said. ‘But the law does require that smoking gun if that $10,000 gift is funneled through a nonprofit organization. And that’s absurd.’

The Jack Abramoff case illustrates the kind of concrete evidence needed to substantiate such a connection. By now, it’s known the disgraced former lobbyist used the National Center for Public Policy Research and other nonprofits as intermediaries for himself and his clients to pay for trips to Scotland and other things. (At the time, businesses were allowed to pay for House of Representatives trips; Abramoff was trying to dodge a rule that required trip sponsors to be directly connected to the reason for the travel.)

But proving those links required a mountain of documentation and testimony: e-mails showing Abramoff arranging pass-through payments; donations dated the same day trips were taken; sworn statements by insiders. I asked Bryan Sierra, a Department of Justice spokesman, why political corruption cases require reams of evidence. He said the burden of proof can be incredibly high.

For bribery, he said prosecutors have to prove the intent of two parties: the briber, who must be shown to have offered something of value and delivered it, and the bribed, who must be shown to have taken an official action directly because of that thing offered or delivered.

Filed under California Legislature, Governor Schwarzenegger, Legal and Criminal Issues, Opinion by

Republicans diss Schwarzenegger on Foreign-born President issue

Exchange at the Republican party debate with Governor Schwarzenegger looking on. All except Giuliani indicated that they would not change the constitution to allow for a Foreign born President. McCain tried to weasel his way out of the question with a lame joke:

Moderator: One of our prized guests here today, Governor Schwarzenegger — looking this man in the eye, answer this question — I’m going to go down the line, starting with Governor Romney. Should we change our Constitution, which we believe is divinely inspired to allow men like Mel Martinez, the chairman of your party, born in Cuba, great patriot, the senator from Florida, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to stand here some night?

Romney: Never given that a lot of thought, but with Arnold sitting there, I’ll give it some thought, but probably not.

Mike Huckabee: After I’ve served eight years as president, I’d be happy to change the Constitution for Governor Schwarzenegger.

Duncan Hunter: We haven’t seen his endorsement yet, that’s a no.

John McCain: Depends on whether he endorses me or not.

Giuliani: When he called me up to endorse him, he got me on the phone, he said, “Will you endorse me?”, and I was too afraid to say no. I would say yes.

Tom Tancredo: Intimidating as he might be, I’m saying no.

Filed under California Politics, Governor Schwarzenegger, U.S. Politics by

May 10, 2007

Draper Fisher Jurvetson launches Brazil affiliate

The San Jose / Silicon Valley Business Journal reports that: “High tech venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson said Wednesday it is opening a Brazil-based affiliate in partnership with FIR Capital Partners. Menlo Park-based DFJ said it will enter the Brazilian market with an initial $40 million and focus on funding ‘extraordinary entrepreneurs with the vision to build leading global companies.’ As part of the agreement the two firms will launch a $100 million fund, DFJ FIR Brazil Fund II, targeting offshore investors, which will invest in innovative Brazilian companies in high-growth industries. A timeframe for that launch was not disclosed. FIR is a Brazil-based investment banking, private equity firm focused on investing in high growth industries in Brazil and Latin America.”

Filed under Brazil, Venture Capital by

Fresno recognized for Economic Development Programs

“FresnoStartUp.com and Municipal Restoration Zone programs, created by the City Economic Development Department, received statewide recognition from the California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED) on May 2, 2007. The two programs were created to help improve the economic outlook for the City of Fresno. FresnoStartUp.com is an informational based web site that serves the business community. The site was created as a one-stop-shop for individuals interested in starting a new business in the City of Fresno. The Municipal Restoration Zone (MRZ) is an initiative of Mayor Autry’s created in January of 2006 to help end the tale of two cities by providing significant fee and tax incentives, in addition to the initiatives already in place as part of the Federal Empowerment Zone and State Enterprise Zone, to businesses located within the City’s urban core.”

Filed under Economic Development by

Franchise Tax Board data shows Bay Area counties have highest incomes

“FTB’s statistics on the statewide median income for all personal income tax returns show an increase of 2.7 percent in 2005, and 4.1 percent for joint returns. Four Bay Area counties again top California’s 2005 median income report. For the past 34 years, the counties of Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara have consistently reported the highest median incomes. Median income is the point where one-half of the tax returns are above and one-half are below the midpoint of the range of income values. Median income represents the income reported by a typical California individual or couple. Taxpayers filed 14.8 million 2005 California income tax returns with the FTB, reporting slightly more than $1 trillion of adjusted gross income, minus specific tax deductions before Federal Schedule A itemized deductions. This is an increase of 4.2 percent over 2004 figures. Marin County still has the highest median income for joint returns, reporting $107,856 – an increase of 8 percent from 2004. San Mateo County ranked second with $89,672 (4.3 percent increase), Santa Clara County ranked third with $89,618 (4.6 percent increase), and Contra Costa County ranked fourth with $83,605 (3.5 percent increase). Los Angeles County taxpayers filed 25.6 percent of all 2005 income tax returns in California.”

Filed under California Economy by

Orange County has 8 months-plus of homes for resale

“Spring may come and go without the usual annual home-buying rush, says the math of Steve Thomas at Re/Max Real Estate Services in Aliso Viejo. He calculates “market time” or a benchmark of how many months it theoretically takes to sell all the inventory in the local MLS for-sale listings at the current pace of pending deals being made. By this Thomas logic, it would take 8.33 months for buyers to gobble up all homes listed for sale at the current pace of deals vs. 7.75 months two weeks earlier and vs. 4.43 months a year ago. And Thomas notes: Believe it or not, the Spring market is almost over. This month we can anticipate more of the same, buyers sitting on the sidelines digesting and slowly moving past the fading spotlight of the subprime debacle. However, with the growing inventory, dropping sales, increased foreclosures (nothing compared to the Inland Empire and Central Valley), we can anticipate additional media attention which could continue to dampen demand.

Filed under California Economy, Real Estate and Housing by

Schwarzenegger announces Chinese contracts worth $3 billion with California corporations

Governor Schwarzenegger has issued a press release announcing that 11 major California corporations have signed contracts with Chinese businesses totaling more than $3 billion, and additional contracts will be signed later this week in Chicago. It is unclear from the press release whether these contracts had been jointly negotiated or why they were being jointly announced. Here is the full text of the press release:

Several California companies today signed contracts with Chinese businesses totaling more than $3 billion, with additional contracts for California employers to be signed later this week in Chicago. The contracts announced today are with 11 different California employers including Qualcomm, Applied Materials, HP, Oracle and CISCO.

Today at the State Capitol, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger met with Madam Xiuhong Ma, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce, and her delegation to thank her for encouraging Chinese companies to invest in California. During the meeting, Vice Minister Ma announced that the Chinese company Jiangxi Greatsource Display Technology Co., Ltd. will invest $95 million to build a research and development center in San Francisco.

“Since I’ve come into office, California has nearly doubled its sales to China. A key part of California’s economic success is export-led growth that recognizes the enormous potential outside California and the United States. The marketplace is now the whole world and that offers tremendous growth potential for our companies, but our competition is also worldwide. This means we must keep our costs under control, including our fast-growing healthcare costs, and make our infrastructure competitive and I will continue to travel the globe to promote California goods and services,” said Governor Schwarzenegger.

In November 2005, the Governor led a trade mission to China encouraging Chinese businesses to buy California products and invest in California. Since he took office California exports to China have grown 82.5%, and have grown by more than 27 % since the China trade mission.

In 2006, exports from California to China totaled almost $10 billion – almost doubling from $5.5 billion in 2003 when the Governor took office. California is the number one state in terms of total exports to China and top exports include computers and electronic products, waste and scrap materials, transportation equipment and heavy machinery.

Filed under China, Foreign Relations, Governor Schwarzenegger by

Chief Minister of Indian State of Andhra Pradesh on trade mission in California

“A popular state leader from India is on a trade mission in California. The idea is to forge new alliances between California’s Silicon Valley and the booming Indian economy. The popular Chief Minister of Andhra Pardesh, India is making a splash in Silicon Valley. Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy comes armed with a trade video touting his southern region of India, and desire for new investment. Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, State of Andhra Pradesh: ‘So the synergy’s we have with California, we want to enlarge for that the synergy’s we have with Silicon Valley, we want to enlarge with that.’ India predicts its demand for semiconductors will be a $35 billion dollar market by 2015. Many Silicon Valley companies are already there and expanding, others are moving in… This is a busy day for the Chief Minster. After networking in Silicon Valley, he went to Sacramento to meet with Governor Arnold Schwazenegger and then back to San Jose for an event tonight with Lt. Governor John Garamendi… Chief Minister Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, ‘The Californians they should try to go into more research and more value added things and try to outsource less important things to developing countries like us and have it be a win-win situation for both.’ Dr. Reddy may not be able to sell his ideas to everyone, but he is eager to sell Andhra Pardesh India to California.”

Filed under Foreign Relations, India, Silicon Valley by

May 11, 2007

Intel invests in Skype competitor Jajah

“Web-based phone-calling company Jajah Inc. has won Intel Corp.’s backing for its bid to blur the distinction between phones and computers, the two companies said Wednesday. Jajah, which has more than 2 million users of its free or low-cost global calling service, said Intel has agreed to marketing, patent and distribution deals with it and Intel’s venture capital arm is leading a $20 million financing round. ‘Computers are becoming phones and phones are becoming computers,’ Jajah Chief Executive Trevor Healy said in an interview. The deal gives Jajah access to Intel’s sales channel of thousands of dealers, personal computer makers and software developers, and could lead to Jajah becoming a desktop icon on PCs later this year, Healy said, although no plans are set… Intel Capital’s undisclosed investment was one of six new investments totaling $31 million it announced Wednesday at its annual CEO Summit in Carlsbad, California. A second strategic Jajah investor will be revealed later. Other investments were in China’s largest social network company, 51.com, and Chinese chip designer Phoenix Microelectronics; two Israeli companies: Aternity, a maker of application management software, and portable computing firm Ceedo, and U.S.-based education network Tutor.com. Intel Capital President Arvind Sodhani said his venture firm invested $1.07 billion in 91 deals during 2006. Jajah was founded by two young Austrian entrepreneurs but relocated to Mountain View, California, in Silicon Valley, at the urging of its original outside investors, Sequoia Capital.”

Filed under Telecommunications, Venture Capital by

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