Monday, February 18, 2013

The Finances of New Economics

There has been a great deal of discussion in the comments about OPAL, so I thought I would post some information related to their finances. Below is information from their 990 Form from 2010 (the latest year I could find online). It shows over $8 million in net assets ($10 million in gross assets), with revenue of over $3 million, which includes public funding of about half a million in 2010.

The business model seems pretty sweet. With all the talk about land being held in common, it's easy to forget that someone (i.e., the OPAL organization) actually does own the land, and the economic benefits of land ownership accrue to the balance sheet of OPAL rather than to individual homeowners. OPAL owns the underlying land asset, receives income from the sale of housing, and receives public funding on top of that. That's hard to beat, especially when OPAL receives funding to purchase the land debt-free and receives tax relief for being a 501(c)(3) (and because of County waivers too).

The New Economy is very profitable, but it is a model of economic dependency ... dependency on outside subsidy and tax breaks. It is not a model of economic self-sufficiency. It is not a model of economic productivity.

In our modern mixed economy, there should always be a place for projects like this of appropriate scale in our communities, but it can never be a model for the whole community. It is unsustainable.

Click to Enlarge - OPAL Finances in 2010


  1. Yes. Our dear Progressive Friends just have an utter inability to comprehend that Socialism is just wonderful until you run out of other people's money.
    For example, just how much more land in the County do the myriad of Enviro and Social Justice groups want to remove from the tax roles? 10%?
    50%? All? Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. This is not an economic model for local self reliance.

    However, we are being sold that this is a model for local self reliance and community resilience.

    This is untrue.

    Do not imagine that simply because OPAL as an organization holds land equity in trust that there is no economic power or influence over the community, families, children, individuals.

    With what charity and selfless motive may one rise to the ranks of a board member or executive ... let's face it ... a monopoly trust.

    And after a time, being well prepared from the experience and connections to move on to higher office.

    Rhea Miller - LCLT
    Jamie Stephens - LCLT
    Lovel Pratt - SJHT
    Lisa Byers - OPAL

    If we are going to follow the money, I'd love to see balance sheets that aggregate all three community land trusts into a single entity.

    Since, politically anyway, the obviously are.

    If you live in a community land trust, how comfortable do you feel speaking on certain issues? Do you feel any pressure, subtle or otherwise, on how best to go along to get along?

  3. I would like to see what each OPAL house costs the taxpayers. Real numbers that include County fee waivers and state and federal grant funds.

  4. Opal Income and Expenses

    I probably don't understand the economics.

    I suspect that Opal purchased the land with grants or received the land as a donation.

    Opal then rents/leases it out and receives "ground rent" from each building owner.

    The county receives reduced (or no) taxes on the property and the land rent goes to run the "Non-Profit".

    The administrators of the "Non-Profit" use the ground rent and tax benefit to pay for their salaries and benefits. Thus the tax paying citizens of the county directly subsidize each and every "Non-Profit".

    Will someone explain if I am right or wrong?

  5. You are right. You understand it perfectly. That is the Land Trust economic model (the housing trust part of it anyway).

    You missed a key source of revenue however, because OPAL also receives various grants for sundry things, which amounts to several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in extra income. In fact, despite the favorable economic model, in many years the "profit" of OPAL is due almost entirely to the supplemental grant income. In other words, even with all the special circumstances, OPAL often just breaks even on its own operations and the supplemental grants push it into the black -- by a long way, I might add.

    We criticize banks in this country for privatized gains and socialized risk, but the Land Trust model has taken a page from Wall Street. There is no genuine economic risk endured by OPAL (or the other housing trusts), and whatever gains accrue to it or to its residents are privatized. In the end, it is public funding of privatized gains.

    Many of the residents (of the Lopez Land Trust at least) have chosen it for lifestyle reasons (e.g., downshifting). Undoubtedly, some are truly needy, but some are quite well off, and others aren't even US citizens. As for neediness, while some residents may have needed help at some point, they are long past that stage but continue to accumulate personal wealth while owing nothing to the community that provided for them.

    It's a sweet deal alright, but it's no model for a community. The trusts migh have "community" in their names, but their view of community is to have benefits largely flow to themselves rather than the other way around.

  6. I wonder if the TH commentators have any idea who pays what taxes in this country much less county... do you not mind subsidizing a for-profit corp.s reaping of huge dividends for their shareholders? Probably not if your a shareholder.

    Are you as derogatory toward GE or Facebook or the Catholic Church as you are toward Opal/Landtrust for the tax breaks they get that YOU DON'T? This isn't to say that those organizations, while acting lawfully, are acting immorally at worst or unpatriotic at best. Shine some light on that!

    Are your shorts in a knot knowing you are helping Google Corp. invade home owners privacy by helping them identify street addresses from photos, on the TH "prove your not a robot" captcha (not to mention the intellectual property rights involved in the illicit scanning of books you are helping to decipher)?

    Don't you wish you had your straw-man life organized a little better so you could reap some of those benefits reserved for thems what can lobby? Own property but don't have it through a corp.? Awe... too bad. Can't take 10% fees on millions of NFP $$ cause you didn't have the foresight to set up the infrastructure? Couldn't fight it cause you don't know what your up against?

    Start a NFP/church, do your paper work, and quit your griping. Seeking justice under the law is one thing, but cognitive dissonance is another.

    Looking sideways at your neighbors for getting a better deal than you think you got is the worst kind of sour grapes. Anyone renting from any of the land lords in this back water have to "go along to get along" and I can only speak for the "legal" rentals... At the least, Rhea, Jamie, etc. are open to the public, and very Unanonymous. Question them openly, post your results. Or are we scared to get stuck with a radioactive umbrella or some spooky thing?

    Ban on spoof lyrics not-withstanding:

    "No visible means of support and you have not seen nothin' yet
    Everything's stuck together
    I don't know what you expect staring into the TV set
    Fighting fire with fire"

  7. I believe the last commenter has missed the point. Neither Sergei Brin nor Jeffrey Immelt nor the Pope are running for Council or promoting "New Economics" or "Transitions" or whatever the slogan of the day is for "what's ours is ours and what's yours is negotiable."

  8. ... funny, I thought the Pope had been doing that for as long as there was one... ahh well.. history is now online... read some! It may be different than what was taught in grammar school. The point was that in venues national or county, dissonance abounds... with all the nods to agenda 21 etc. one would think there would be a general understanding that these "new economics" are an international policy trickle down that started hundreds of years ago. But hey that stuff could be just irrelevant to the local players running for office... or not.

  9. xD

    I never thought I would see Land Trusts, Google, the Catholic Church, GE, and Facebook mentioned in the same comment, and to top it all off we have a reference to Polonium 210 and the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko too.

    Lyrics notwithstanding. I don't want to be stuck together, at least not on someone else's terms.

  10. welcome to planet earth... "want" in one hand...

  11. Pleased to see the privacy debate elevated here. The right to be left alone. You think this is about greedy property rights wing-nuts?

    Nope. This is about the right to be left alone. Privacy,

    Google? Give me a break. Google is nothing compared to the surveillance power of the County built into the Polaris system. Who needs a drone? And $500,000 is being poured into upgrading Polaris?

    Who is invading people's privacy, taking photos, casually trespassing? A little boat with a camera cruising just off shore? Who pays for that? Sergei Brin? Try the Bullit Foundation.

    Who is encouraging neighbors to file anonymous complaints about each other to the county? You have a problem with that? I do.

    Communitarian philosophy because it pushes away from private property ownership, basically has little respect for privacy. The thought leaders behind the concept of eco-conmmunitarianism work hard to accommodate individual privacy in their world view but its pounding square pegs into round holes.

    More on this later. Very glad to have the privacy issue raised. We need this debate.

  12. Try to get a Progressive (or whatever they call themselves) to describe the end state of Progressivism. Usually it takes one of two forms. One, there is no end state, only a continuous process of addressing injustice and inequality on a global scale.
    Or, two, there is a state of "sustainable equality", which is some form of gauzy
    environmentally sound global socialism.

    The common factor is the unbridled enthusiasm with which the Progressive will use the infinite coercive power of government to impose their vision of utopia.

    It is Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" run by the EPA and enforced by the UN.

    You will not be left alone, because you make incorrect choices which hurt
    the commons. Obeying the law, paying taxes, contributing voluntarily to
    that which you choose, and living your life is utterly insufficient. Your freedom is a threat to the planet. And there is not enough time for you to come around to the "right way of thinking". Your lifestyle will be corrected.

    Property must be made common...

    Yes, I have seen Black Helicopters!

  13. Al Bartlett article. Link:

    Al is a Colorado University professor well known for his articles on arithmetic, population dynamics, and energy consumption. A quote from the article referenced:

    "The lesson I got from this is that when you have large numbers of individuals practicing free enterprise in an unregulated society, with each individual (or today it could also be each company) acting in his or her (or its) best interest, the result can be disastrous to all."


  14. What's this election about?

    We are the Eco-Borg Collective
    You will be assimilated
    Resistance is Futile ...

    (But if you recall your Star Trek Next Generation, Data injected a command into the Collective to return to the recharging pedestal. He put them all sleep. And the Federation gleefully blew them to Hell.)

  15. Oh my goodness. In the first place, as was astutely mentioned in the original post, we live in a modern mixed economy. This means we live in an economy where free markets and regulation exist in like measure. However, regulation does not drive the economy, free markets do.

    As for people not acting in their own self interests, do you really believe that people are capable of not acting in their own self interests? It is human nature to act in your own self-interest and failure to recognize that is what leads to the tragedy of the commons. The trouble comes when people disguise their self interest as something else, like community blah blah or eco blither blather. Does anyone really believe that Byers, Bishop, R. Miller, Devaux, Buffum, or (fill in the blank) are not acting in their self interest?

    Acting in your self interest is perfect fine. It is natural. I don't mind people nakedly pursuing their self-interest. If you want to live in a "community land trust" and work two-days a week or spend the winter in Costa Rica, that's fine with me. Just don't send me an envelope asking me for money to support "your" community.

    Paraphrasing Bartlett, it is the mixed message that can be disastrous to all. If anyone can find a successful economic system based on something other than individual pursuit of self interest, let me know, but until then, I won't be holding my breath. I won't be in Costa Rica either.

  16. It all comes down to externalities. There is no magic here. Regulation works best when externalities are internalized and the true costs of production can be accounted for by the producer. The economic problem with sharing and community, insofar as those are catchwords that imply holding ownership in common, is that such a strategy exacerbates externalities rather than diminishes them.

    Planning and regulation that restrict without providing a cure for any externality are simply undemocratic practices with no economic purpose. I believe Bartlett, who is a physicist not an economist, has even called Planning undemocratic.

  17. And something I come back to often is the fact that, given human nature, when you take responsibility away from people they become irresponsible. When you take away personal control people need to be controlled. I just don't get at all where anyone with half a brain could not see that! Boggles me.

  18. Yes, bravo to the previous poster regarding externalities. In the Dust Bowl article, Bartlett uses very simpleton logic and general labels to portray free enterprise as leading to the Dust Bowl Tragedy of the Commons and "socialistic" FDR policies as being the cure. He then draws parallels to global warming. Wow ... he has ecological-economic ADD the way he jumps around from topic to topic.

    Nevertheless, as the previous commenter described, the Dust Bowl and global warming are externalities and regulation is needed to address externalities. That's a fitting role for regulation, as long as it addresses real problems within its span of control.

    Don't mistake those big environmental issues with what is happening in San Juan County however. That would be a mistake. That's what the Friends want you to believe, but they just want power and money. The CAOs aren't about solving anything. Those ordinances just project Friends power, and the CAOs provide the Friends with a tool-chest to meddle in everyone's life, just because they can.


  20. "Washington’s SB 5737 – 2013-14, introduced Feb.13 by three Seattle Democrats, like many similar bills, includes an outright assault weapons ban. Individuals already possessing an assault weapon are “allowed” to retain them, but with the proviso that the owners submit themselves to annual police home inspections."

    "San Juan County's proposed revision to SCJJ Title ___, introduced by
    all three County Council members on May 1st, like many similar bills, includes an outright ban on gasoline powered garden implements. Individuals already possessing a gasoline powered garden implement are “allowed” to retain them, but with the proviso that the owners submit themselves to annual Planning Department home inspections."

    "property must be made common" - vote for the commons, vote for Gaia!

  21. Markets or the State?

    This pendulum has been swinging back and forth for at least 10,000 years.

    P.J. O'Rourke the satirical libertarian columnist for Rolling Stone of Sat. Night Live fame went on a fact finding trip to the New Russia in the mid-90s.

    In a very funny column, he reported with horror that all of his notions of Free Markets (which he thought had won) had been shattered.

    Why? Anarchy,oligarchs,robber barons,really scary mafias with lots of cash.

    Since in the old Soviet Union property and businesses were pretty much run by the State, they had no need of Tort Law.

    But. But. Only the State can create and enforce Tort Law, O'Rourke discovered.

    How can there be open commerce and a free market without the government intervention of Tort Law???

    Governments shape markets. A "free market" deals in cocaine, child prostitutes and heavy weapons. A regulated market is civilized.

    An over regulated markets is self-defeating and stupid.

  22. Thanks for the first year of TH.
    Now its time for the print version in every mailbox.

  23. the point is that Lisa's expertise is in running nonprofit land trusts. Financed by grants. donations,tax breaks, volunteerism,gala fund raisers and collecting rent. Is that how she planning to run the county? Have no doubt if elected to the council she will try to sieze control by what ever means. Not used to not being in charge. "How many of you want electric cars? Lisa asked the crowd. Me!! gleefully responded the crowd of 6 year olds. To bad Lisa didn't tell them how much they cost.

  24. It doesn't matter how much they cost. The "deserving" will be provided with electric cars. The "xcess carbon emitters" will foot the bill. After all, a 30 mile range is perfectly adequate in the Islands. Going off Island? Why, just reserve a "community" electric GEM truck, Again, a 30 mile range will get you around Anacortes just fine. If you need to go further, you should think very hard. You're not "localizing". There is nothing you need more than 15 miles from the Ferry dock. With the money you save from not buying gasoline, you will be able to pay for the increase in the Land Bank levy.

    "property must be made common"

  25. Ayn Rand, champion of rational self-interest smoked/amphetamined herself into an early grave. Rational? Self-interested? Falsely premised? Subtle?

  26. In review: Excellent in almost all. Beautiful first line in 8:35am.

    Completely agree with 1:51pm. Does not any person have a basic right to privacy? If you are not doing bad things, why should the government of a Lovel Pratt have interest in attacking you? Do you not have the right to be LEFT ALONE?

    And thank you to 12:36, I do think there's a possible high BP here that should be checked for your own good.

    For Brian:

    McClerren! Clearly An Independent Choice.

    PS: Brian, TH says the max donation is $900 NOT $1,800 as your web site seems to say...perhaps you ment for a couple?

  27. Went to the eye doctor today, and I must agree with that post about the "prove you're not a robot" comment. (His eye chart was duck soup.)

    If you can get by this "prove" puppy you belong on the TH. (OK, I don't cut the mustard maybe, but I have this special magnifying glass to cheat with.)

  28. @ 7:11... High BP? What means this BP? British Petrol?

  29. What this Ayn Rand stuff about? I don't get the sense there are too many Ayn Rand acolytes around here, might have read her stuff in high school along with Herman Hesse and Ken Vonnegut. Not a lot of Wall Street tools here. Commenters in the TH talk about social contracts, leveling playing fields, taxes, some are even *gasp* Democrats.

    Look, you have a growing number of potential voters with a need to know more about the underlying political and economic philosophy of our candidates. In other words, what informs their decision-making?

    Fair enough?

    So we want to know how the CLT business model works and how it got woven into our comprehensive planning and why a number of elected officials to planning commissioners seem so active on land trust boards. Lisa, Lovel and Jamie are quite involved with the land trusts. It is something they have in common.

    As for rational decisions, Jerry Garcia left this world too soon as well but left great beauty behind.

    Oh, I kind of enjoy the spoof lyrics. Takes up too much room, understand, maybe just short juicy bits. Fighting fire with fire works for me. You might get what you're after.

  30. I would like to see opals current finances. They buy the land with donations,grants,gifts. They collect payments ,rents and fees from the tenants. Each developement and project should be self sustainable when occupied. They have five developements from 32 to 6 homes, two apartment buildings and offices for rent. I think they have changed thier own definition of the needy over the years.

  31. It is about control.