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Brown appoints 3 in advance of big reorganization

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed three agency secretaries Tuesday in preparation for an epic consolidation of state agencies and departments.

Brown’s plan cuts the number of state agencies from 12 to 10 and eliminates or consolidates dozens of departments and entities. The Little Hoover Commission has said the plan – which it approved in May 2012 and the Legislature approved (by not rejecting it) in June 2012 – is the most ambitious of the 36 reorganizations it has reviewed since 1968.

For now, unrelated departments – like Caltrans, the Department of Real Estate and the Department of Financial Institutions – are housed together, while related programs are scattered across different agencies, sometimes with duplicative results. Brown’s plan aims to improve coordination and efficiency and make government more responsive.

Effective July 1, five existing state agencies will be replaced by the following three: the Government Operations Agency, which will be responsible for administering state operations such as procurement, information technology and human resources; the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which will be responsible for licensing and oversight of industries, businesses and other professionals; and the Transportation Agency, which will encompass all of the state’s transportation entities.

Marybel BatjerBrown on Tuesday named Marybel Batjer, 58, of Reno, to be secretary of the Government Operations Agency. Batjer has been vice president of public policy and corporate social responsibility at Caesars Entertainment Corporation since 2005. Although she’s a Democrat, she served as cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2003 to 2005, chief of staff for Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn from 2000 to 2003 and undersecretary at the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1997 to 1998.

Earlier, Batjer was chief deputy director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing from 1992 to 1997 and special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy from 1989 to 1992. She was a national security affairs special assistant for President Ronald Reagan and deputy executive secretary for the National Security Council from 1987 to 1989. Batjer was assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1981 to 1987 and director of political planning for the National Women’s Political Caucus from 1980 to 1981.

Anna CaballeroBrown appointed Anna Caballero, 59, of Salinas, as secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. Caballero has served as Secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency since 2011 and was a Democratic Assemblywoman representing the 28th District from 2006 to 2010.

Earlier, Caballero was executive director of Partners for Peace, a non-profit specializing in violence prevention work, from 2000 to 2006. Caballero was mayor of Salinas from 1998 to 2006 and served on the Salinas City Council from 1991 to 1998. She was a partner at Caballero Matcham and McCarthy from 1995 to 2007 and at Caballero Govea Matcham and McCarthy from 1982 to 1995. Caballero was a staff attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance Inc., representing farm workers in consumer matters, from 1979 to 1982.

Brian KellyAnd Brown named Brian Kelly, 44, of Sacramento, as secretary of the Transportation Agency. Kelly has served as acting secretary at the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency since 2012, where he was undersecretary in 2012. He was executive staff director for state Senate President Darrell Steinberg from 2008 to 2012 and executive principal consultant for state Senate President Don Perata from 2004 to 2008.

Earlier, Kelly was principal consultant for state Senate President John Burton from 1998 to 2004 and assistant consultant for Senate President pro Tempore Bill Lockyer from 1995 to 1998. He was a field representative for the California Senate Democratic Caucus from 1994 to 1995

All three of these appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, and each carries an annual salary of $180,250.

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Mark DeSaulnier named ‘Regionalist of the Year’

The Bay Area Council, a public policy group consisting of the region’s 275 largest employers, has named state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier as its inaugural “Regionalist of the Year.”

Mark DeSaulnierThe council called DeSaulnier, D-Concord, a champion of regional cooperation and solutions on issues of transportation, healthcare, economic, housing, land-use planning and environmental protection, among others.

“Sen. DeSaulnier throughout his career of service at the city, county and state levels has exhibited his commitment to the Bay Area as a region and his commitment to serve the needs of the Bay Area and all the people of this region not just those who voted for him,” council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a news release. “Mark understands that cities and counties and districts cannot succeed unless the region as a whole is working together to accomplish common and mutually beneficial goals. Sometimes regionalism does not play well at home, but Mark has always exhibited the political courage to do what is right for our region.”

As a Contra Costa County supervisor, DeSaulnier served on the boards of all three of the Bay Area’s regional agencies: the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He also served on the California Air Resources Board, and the council says he was “an early and ardent proponent of taking an integrated, regional approach to housing, land use and transportation planning – long before the approach was officially codified through the current Sustainable Communities Strategy.”

DeSaulnier played a key role in creating the Joint Policy Committee, a leadership group of the Bay Area’s main regional agencies aimed at improving their efficiency and integration. And he has championed several critical regional transportation projects, including the expansion of Highway 4, BART to eastern Contra Costa County, and the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore.

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New tips for voting while in foreclosure

A new report highlights the confusion that people who’ve lost homes to foreclosure feel when determining how they can cast a ballot this November, and lays out ways to protect their voting rights.

The Fair Elections Legal Network’s report, “Lose Your Home, Keep Your Vote: How to Protect Voters Caught Up in Foreclosure,” is accompanied by guides tailored to 15 states – including California – on how and where people can vote depending on where they are in the foreclosure process.

“Voting is the foundation of our democracy. People dealing with the foreclosure process or whose homes have been foreclosed upon have enough to deal with without worrying about their vote counting,” network president Robert Brandon said in a news release. “With foreclosures on the rise again, the question shouldn’t be if a voter facing foreclosure can vote but where that voter can cast their ballot, and that question should be clearly answered by election officials.”

Brandon said election officials “have a duty to make sure voters have the information they need to cast a ballot and have it counted. They should be extra vigilant as Election Day nears to issue directives and educate the public and local election officials on how voters who lost their home can maintain their right to vote.”

California had the highest number of new foreclosure filings last year and, according to RealtyTrac, during the month of June 2012, California had the highest foreclosure rate nationwide this past June.

California has been hit hard by foreclosures in recent years; some areas, including the now-bankrupt city of Stockton, have been devastated. California in August was among the states with the greatest decreases (42 percent) in foreclosure starts compared to one year earlier, according to RealtyTrac, yet still posted the nation’s third highest state foreclosure rate: One in every 340 California housing units had a foreclosure filing in August, which is twice the national average.

And seven of the 10 U.S. metro areas with the most foreclosure activity in August are in California: Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and Chico.

Like all movers, those who facing foreclosure also face hurdles to voting such as needing to update their address and/or re-register to vote in a new jurisdiction. What a particular person must do might depend on where he or she is in the foreclosure process; for example, someone who has lost a home might still have a legal “right of redemption,” a period of time in which they could repurchase their home and during which time they can still vote from that address.

In California and 17 other states, a person can keep voting at the address of their foreclosed home until they establish a new residence in which they intend to remain. In other states, the correct polling place for a foreclosure victim is often more confusing.

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House members urge Obama to act on housing

More than two dozen California House Democrats – including almost the entire Bay Area delegation, and led by three Bay Area members – have urged President Barack Obama to make a recess appointment that could bring a national mortgage-refinancing wave which in turn could stave off countless foreclosures.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa led the effort to convince the president to appoint a new director to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the FHFA has been without a permanent director for two and a half years.

“Republicans in the Senate have been playing games with the American people by blocking the Federal Housing Financial Authority from having a proper leader,” Lofgren said in a news release. “These are difficult times and we need to be doing everything we can to prevent foreclosures and keep families in their homes. I urge President Obama to take immediate action and appoint a permanent director.”

As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein blogged yesterday, there’s some bipartisan consensus that “the agency could write the rules so that anyone with a loan backed by Fannie and Freddie and current on their payments for six months would be automatically approved for refinancing.”

“The effect on the economy would be twofold: First, the refinancings would act like a high-powered tax cut for those homeowners who took advantage of them,” Klein wrote. “As Hubbard and Mayer write, ‘Empirical evidence suggests that consumers spend a larger portion of permanent increases in income than temporary increases.’ And as these refinancings would lower payments, they’re as permanent as you can get in government policy. Second, it would make the Fed’s efforts to keep interest rates low more effective in stimulating the economy.”

More than two million California homeowners are considered “underwater” because they owe more on their homes then their homes are worth; that’s about three in 10 of all California homes with mortgages.

Eshoo today said the national economy “cannot fully rebound unless and until housing is addressed. The current situation of foreclosures is unacceptable.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, issued a release noting this region has been disproportionately affected by the financial and housing crises.

“Families are faced with foreclosures, even as unemployment remains high. We can’t wait to have leadership to help folks stay in their homes,” he said. “Keeping folks in their homes is critical to the economic health of our communities. More has to be done to give people a clear path to avoiding foreclosure.”

The only Bay Area House member who didn’t sign the letter was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

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Lawmakers weigh in on new home refinance plan

Local members of Congress applauded President Obama ‘s announcement today of new policies meant to shore up the shaky housing market – a plan that could help a lot of Bay Area homeowners refinance “underwater” mortgages at historically low interest rates.

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“I am very pleased that the administration is taking these steps to help responsible homeowners refinance at historically low interest rates. Allowing these homeowners to refinance at today’s record low rates will keep families in their homes and boost the economy by putting thousands of dollars back in the pockets of borrowers. I urge FHFA to move swiftly to assure that these new policies will help as many homeowners as possible.”

From Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton:

“I am glad that a step has been taken in the right direction. I hope this has a positive effect, but if it does not deliver, I will continue to hold the Obama Administration accountable and demand relief for homeowners. We must do more to help the people of California who have been plagued by the foreclosure crisis from day one.

“For far too long, I have heard heartbreaking stories from people in our region: tales of people doing everything they can, and still being foreclosed upon. I will continue to fight for more real, commonsense solutions to the housing crisis and to keep the pressure on the folks in Washington to help our community.

“We need to relieve some of the financial burden for homeowners who are ‘underwater,’ not only to more foreclosures, but to generate more money that will go into our local businesses. Helping the people of our region stay in their homes is step one to restoring our economy.”

From Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto:

“The President took a positive first step today to help address the catastrophic housing situation in the country. It’s not enough though. Up to a million families nationally could be helped, but there are two million underwater homeowners in California alone.

“We need meaningful principal reductions on a large scale. It’s time to implement a Homeowner’s Bill of Rights that ends dual-tracking and creates a single point of contact for borrowers. The size and scope of this housing crisis requires us to think big. Our nation’s economy simply will not recover until the crisis of foreclosures is over.”

From Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough:

“Finally, relief for the middle class families of America! I applaud the FHFA for taking bold and needed action. I and many of my colleagues had appealed directly to Mr. DeMarco, the head of FHFA, to take these actions to refinance middle class America, and he has responded. In particular, the decision not to put a cap on the loan-to-value ratio that is eligible to be refinanced via a fixed rate mortgage will mean that potentially millions of homeowners will be eligible. Given that Fannie and Freddie are owned by taxpayers, this decision is a win for them as well. There are reduced odds of losses from the guarantees issued by these two agencies, and there is no cost to taxpayers because Fannie and Freddie will fund this refinancing activity through new bonds. If the wave materializes, it could also help to stabilize the housing market in neighborhoods where refinancing occurs frequently, and could potentially put thousands of dollars into the pockets of a strapped homeowner who refinances. All in all, I only wish that this process could begin immediately, but I understand that banks aren’t set up to handle a wave of applicants. Hopefully, competition between lenders will force them to participate in this new program and drive them to get set up rapidly.”

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Lawmakers urge Obama to act on housing

Much as the state’s U.S. Senators did yesterday, members of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation today urged President Obama to act immediately to address the troubled housing market.

The letter, drafted by delegation chairwoman Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, calls on President Obama to urge the Federal Housing Finance Agency to establish a plan to refinance all mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and to push for a major principal reduction plan for underwater homeowners, such as modifications in coordination with Chapter 13 bankruptcy filings.

It also asks the president to institute a “Homeowner’s Bill Of Rights” that would apply to HAMP, FHFA, HUD, VA and private servicer modification programs. The lawmakers want this to make the process homeowner-friendly by ensuring a single point of contact; requiring servicers to review documents within a timely fashion and disclose information; and banning “advanced fees.” They also want it to eliminate obstacles to effective modifications by allowing for flexibility in the debt-to-income ratio; ending the requirement that homeowners be delinquent in order to be eligible for a loan modification; ending dual tracking; and requiring that servicers not report adverse credit information while trial or permanent modification is underway.

Finally, they want this bill of rights to ensure accountability and establish an appeals process by creating an Office of Consumer Advocate, authorizing random audits of modifications, and establishing an independent appeals process for homeowners who believe their modification has been improperly rejected or handled in violation of program rules.

Among those joining Lofgren at a Capitol Hill news conference announcing the letter this morning were Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto.

They all signed the letter, as did Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez; Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and other House Democrats from across the state.

Read the letter, after the jump…
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