Marketplace - American Public Media

Marketplace Investigates: Homeless in L.A.

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:59

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has grown 12 percent in the last two years. Why is this happening, and who are the people behind this statistic? Reporter Jeff Tyler investigates.

Produced by Preditorial | www.preditorial.tv Reporter: Jeff Tyler Director, Editor and Camera Operator: Rick Kent Cinematographer: Anton Seim Producer: Mimi Kent   PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) |  www.epath.org   Music Credits:   "Dirt Rhodes," "Intractable," "Backed Vibes," and "Mesmerize"  Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

 

Video: Marketplace Investigates: Homeless in L.A.

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:59

The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County has grown 12 percent in the last two years. Why is this happening, and who are the people behind this statistic? Reporter Jeff Tyler investigates.

Produced by Preditorial | www.preditorial.tv Reporter: Jeff Tyler Director, Editor and Camera Operator: Rick Kent Cinematographer: Anton Seim Producer: Mimi Kent   PATH (People Assisting The Homeless) |  www.epath.org   Music Credits:   "Dirt Rhodes," "Intractable," "Backed Vibes," and "Mesmerize"  Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)  Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

 

John Oliver is having a very interesting day

Tue, 2015-06-02 01:51
1998

That's when Sepp Blatter was first elected president of FIFA, and he announce Tuesday morning he would resign just a few days after being re-elected for fifth term. The world soccer organization has been rocked by more than a dozen arrests and corruption charges in the past week, with more reportedly on the way.

$45,984

That's how much Tyson Foods has given to Rep. Steve Womack's campaign since 2010. The chicken processor's headquarters are in Womack's Arkansas district, and the Republican was called out last month on John Oliver's HBO show "Last Week Tonight." Oliver reported on chicken farmers who are allegedly mistreated by several suppliers that make up 95 percent of the market. The story ruffled some feathers in the industry and on Capitol Hill, Politico reported, where longtime advocates say Oliver's report has given the issue more attention than it's had in years.

700,000

That's about how many individuals and couples filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy last year. And according to yesterday's Supreme Court ruling, those filers will no longer be let off the hook from a second mortgage. As the Wall Street Journal reports, the ruling concerns consumer advocates who worry it will only further hamper struggling homeowners.

$25,249

That's how much "Bob’s Burgers" writer Wendy Molyneux raised in a GoFundMe campaign as of Tuesday morning. The cause? Get her to see the "Entourage" movie. What started as a joke — Molyneux said someone would have to pay her $10,000 to see the film — escalated into a successful fundraiser for CureSearch, an organization focused on finding cures for children’s cancers.

7.72 percent

The average fee for sending remittances as of the first quarter of this year is on the decline but still quite high according to the World Bank. It's a huge business, larger than some countries' GDP, and still largely controlled by two companies. As technology has made crossing boarders easier and easier, sending money is still quite complicated.

$25

That's how much a "Future Voter Onesie" costs on Hillary Clinton's online campaign store. Emblazoned with the campaign logo, it's not even one of the stranger items you can purchase as candidates gear up for the upcoming presidential election. What else can you buy from presidential wannabes? We looked into it for you.

Video: The weirdest stuff candidates are selling

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:11

Produced by Preditorial  www.preditorial.tv

"Waunobe March" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Now there really is a start-up for everything

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

I dare you, dare you, to tell me we're not in a tech bubble.

There's a new startup called TrashDay — and as far as I can tell, this is a real thing — in San Francisco that will take your trash cans out to the curb for you on trash day.

You fill out a form, tell them where your trash cans are ... and I guess you never have to worry about it again.

Ten bucks a week, four to six cans. 

I'm kind of hoping it's a joke, and I just missed it.

Startup to take care of all your garbage woes

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

I dare you, dare you, to tell me we're not in a tech bubble.

There's a new startup called TrashDay — and as far as I can tell, this is a real thing — in San Francisco that will take your trash cans out to the curb for you on trash day.

You fill out a form, tell them where your trash cans are ... and I guess you never have to worry about it again.

Ten bucks a week, four to six cans. 

I'm kind of hoping it's a joke, and I just missed it.

People paid $10,000 to get one woman to see 'Entourage'

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

"Bob’s Burgers" writer Wendy Molyneux likes to joke with her husband about how much money it would take for them to do silly things, like drive to Vegas at that very moment, turn around, and come back. While watching "Mad Max," the trailer for "Entourage" came on, and Molyneux joked that someone would have to pay her $10,000 to see it. Except instead of brushing it off, she actually did something about it. On May 26, Molyneux created a GoFundMe campaign that would force her to watch "Entourage" if she was able to raise $10,000 for CureSearch, which focuses on finding cures for children’s cancers.

Her late nephew Oliver Cross lost his life to leukemia at only 5years old, so CureSearch was a cause close to her heart. To Molyneux’s surprise, she had met her goal in the first day, and even Jerry Ferrara, Turtle himself, donated to the campaign. As of today, the campaign has raised $24,000, which means she will be seeing the movie twice.

On meeting her goal:

I have to see it twice because I got to $20,000. I have to wear a pair of Drama Mama pajamas as a tribute to the character Johnny Drama, and my sister, Lizzy, who’s my writing partner made me a sipping cup for my soda that has Turtle on the outside. We’re well into this now.

On CureSearch:

They aggressively look for cures for pediatric cancer exclusively, because sometimes treating children’s cancer is very different than treating adult cancer…. We want to encourage people to get involved, even if you have to do something silly to be like, “Look over here at this thing that you don’t know anything about.” Because those cancers do strike randomly, it’s just nice to have people be aware that that cause is out there and to give them a little boost in their work.

42 charged two years after Bangladesh factory collapse

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

More than 1,100 garment factory workers were killed and more than a thousand more were hurt in the 2013 collapse of the Bangladesh plaza that made international headlines. It was the worst industrial catastrophe in the history of the country. Now, 42 people are facing charges ranging from building code violations to homicide; 17 of the individuals face murder charges.

The Bangladeshi government alleges that the Rana Plaza factory’s owner Sohel Rana, as well as several government officials, ignored warnings about the building’s safety issued just one day before. The reason? They did not want to risk a lull in productivity.

“The reaction so far is very positive from different quarters,” BBC reporter Akbar Hossein tells Kai Ryssdal. He adds that expectations are tempered, however, because the trial process is expected to take a long time.

The factory disaster reignited a global conversation about the safety regulations in garment-producing countries. More than 3,000 safety inspections have been carried out by American and European clothing manufacturers in the wake of the collapse. Hossein notes that there have been no major disasters in the years after the accident, but he is concerned about what will happen once the buzz dies down. “How long it will continue? That’s a big question.”

The surprising complexity of moving money across borders

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

People sending messages from the United States to relatives in the Dominican Republic have an array of cheap, instantaneous options, from Skype to email to new forms of phone call. 

People sending money, though, are still likely to begin at a place like Daysi Travel: A storefront in the mostly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City selling cell phones at a counter in front and Western Union money transfers at a window in back. 

Edrizio de la Cruz used to come to a place like this between college classes and a night shift as a plane mechanic at JFK airport in order to send money to his Aunt Virginia in the Dominican Republic.

"That experience is relatively painful, because you have to take time out of your day, stand in line, fill out a form," he recalls. At the time, he would pay a fee of at least 10 percent, but what he calls the most painful part was on the other side, in Santo Domingo — waiting for a long-distance phone call with a numerical code, walking to the distant Western Union agent and waiting in an even lengthier line.

He recalls his reaction: "Oh my God. this is like... "The Flintstones.' " 

In the 15years since, this messaging part has become simpler. 

"The messaging part is now almost free," says Dilip Ratha, an economist at the World Bank who tracks remittances. "And yet, the average fee is still about 8 percent. Eight percent."

 Eight percent is significantly less than it was 15 years ago, but it still seems too high to Ratha.

"The true cost of sending money is definitely close to zero," he says. "Or below 1 percent."

"We hear so much about, you know, 'This is so important for certain countries, why can't it be for free?' " says Pam Patsley, CEO of MoneyGram, the second-largest money transfer company, after Western Union. 

Patsley says MoneyGram's fees average 5 percent, half of which goes to the 350,000 agents at cell phone stores, banks and travel agencies. MoneyGram's 2 1/2 percent has to cover not just the sending of messages, but the tens of millions of dollars it is spending each year complying with regulations to fight fraud and money laundering. It must also cover running the system that actually moves money across borders, collecting the cash from the New York travel agency that sent it and paying back the agent in Santo Domingo who received it. 

"Your receiver may have picked up their money within an hour. But we won't pay that receive agent or collect from that send agent until maybe eight hours later," says Patsley.

This is the part of the money transfer business that hasn't changed much. It still relies on a process that sends money from bank account to bank account, a chain of account-settling that involves more than 800 accounts in total for MoneyGram. 

It's this tangled web that Edrizio de la Cruz hoped to cut through when he started a company called Regalii right across the street from the Daysi Travel in Washington Heights. But instead of replacing the MoneyGrams and Western Unions, Regalii tries to partner with money transfer companies. 

"It's like: If you want to go to California, you can take a railroad and stop at like 20 different cities — or you can take a jet," explains de la Cruz. "We're not taking jets yet, money transfer, we're taking railroads."

Regalii rides the rails of the money transfer companies, but cuts out the last station — the Western Union agent in Santo Domingo — making it possible to pay his aunt's electricity bill directly, for a slightly lower fee.

Like many entrepreneurs in the remittances space, he's not trying to build a jet — a totally new way to send money across borders — but he is pushing for a slightly faster and cheaper train.

 Three facts about remittances:

1)  The amount of money sent in remittances each year exceeds the GDP of Sweden. (Remittances in 2015 are estimated at $586 billion, according to the World Bank; GDP of Sweden in 2014 was $559.1 billion.) 

2) Remittance fees have declined over the last decade, but the average total cost of sending remittances remains relatively high: 7.72 percent in the first quarter of 2015 according to the World Bank.  

3) Some countries are extremely reliant on remittances. Remittances made up 47.5 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP in 2012. (Haiti and Nepal are also high up on the list, with remittances adding up to more than 20 percent of GDP.)

The merch tells the mood

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00
Bumper stickers are so 2012. Today's campaign merchandise has moved way past the rear end of a car, or posters on a dorm room wall. Howard Belk, co-CEO and chief creative officer of global branding firm siegel+gale, says if you look carefully at the merchandise offered up by a campaign, you can tell how confident a candidate is feeling. Look no farther than Hillary Clinton.

“She’s got this great little onesie there," he says. "There’s kind of a wit and cleverness not only to the swag and the graphics on it, but even how they’ve named it." Clinton's merchandise, the "Future Voter" onesie, the "Think Tank" tank top or a "Hats Off to Hillary" baseball cap,  reflects a sense of confidence on the part of her campaign, Belk says.

“Hillary has essentially been coronated as the Democratic candidate – unless something really surprising happens,” he says. But on the Republican side, “it’s a dog fight,” he says.

Because the Republican field is so crowded, many candidates are afraid to be funny, Belk notes. After all, a poorly received joke could alienate potential voters. As a result, every coffee mug and lapel pin that could bare a candidate's name is being cautiously scrutinized, which can result in merchandise that can leave a little something to be desired.  But "I really like the stuff I’m seeing from Rand Paul," Belk adds.

"It’s unlikely that any of these folks will end up in retail or merchandising," says Scott Galloway, a clinical professor of marketing at NYU's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, of the candidates offerings, regardless of party affiliation. "These aren’t what I’d call an inspiring product mix."



It my @RandPaul swag in today!!! #standwithrand #RandPaul2016 pic.twitter.com/7NKtyFX36Q

— that liberty girl (@ladyliberty1215) April 21, 2015

For a campaign, lackluster products, or even merchandise that misses the mark, can mean more than the possibility of parody skits on late-night TV. Though millions are spent on ads, says Galloway, it's important that campaigns not overlook the power of the humble $30 T-shirt, which has the potential to prove that a consumer is authentically passionate about a candidate.

"Nothing says that more than wearing the name of someone on your person," he says.

Candidates are brands too, notes Jonah Berger, a professor of marketing at Wharton and author of "Contagious, Why Things Catch On."  “Consumer psychology drives the decisions we make, whether it’s from the milk we buy at the store to the person we elect for president," he says.

We’re more likely to support a candidate, Berger says, if our friends and family do. When it comes to what products candidates sell, all the campaigns could do better, he says.  So what does he think all that merchandise says about the candidates?
 The answer sounds a bit like what a cynical voter might say about politics in general.

"That’s a little tough for me, because I’m not sure there’s much variation."

The Patriot Act's new name

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

On Sunday night Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired. The intelligence community, President Obama, and many members of Congress say this places the U.S. at greater risk of missing intelligence that could be used to thwart a terrorist attack.

But also on Sunday night, the USA Freedom Act advanced in the Senate. It's already passed the House of Representatives, so it's likely to be the successor to the expired provisions in the Patriot Act. The new bill would shift the responsibility of data storage from the NSA to telecom companies.

Tim Shorrock, author of "Spies for Hire," says the relationship between the NSA and telecommunication companies goes back to the 1950s.

"The NSA used to send a guy up to New York every morning to bring back the metal recordings that the telecoms had made of the telephone calls going to and fro, between the U.S. and foreign countries," Shorrock says. "And the NSA would go through those calls."

Schorrock says in times of crisis, U.S. telecom companies have been quick to comply with national security requests. "NSA leaders, directors just called the CEOs of these companies and said 'you've got to do this,' " Shorrock says. "And when there's an incident like 9/11, obviously you know, people react."

In fact, in 2008 Congress gave telecoms retroactive immunity for forking over customers’ data to the intelligence agencies. So, if the USA Freedom Act were to give telecoms more control, it might not change much in terms of citizens’ privacy. But one thing has changed — the country’s attitude toward NSA surveillance.

So what if one internet provider or phone company decides to take a stand and advertise its new role as the protector of privacy, keeping customer data safe?

That might not make much of a difference either, says Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"So if you’ve got a small ISP and it sits on top of AT&T or on top of Sprint, even if they couldn't get it from the little ISP or the little telecom carrier, they could go upstream and generally those records are available," Cohn says. 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

And the award goes to ... Instagram!

Mon, 2015-06-01 13:00

The Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Fashion Awards is tonight, and it will be giving its Media Award to Instagram. CEO Kevin Systrom will accept the award from presenter Kim Kardashian, who has more Instagram followers than anyone except Instagram itself. She announced she would be presenting via a selfie.   

Fashion and Instagram have a special relationship borne out of their shared visual foundation. 

“It is an entirely visual medium,” says Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester Research. “Instagram is all about beautiful pictures. That’s one of the biggest selling aspects of any piece of fashion is the visual story you can tell about it, and the aspiration that represents.”

There are other similarly visual networks, notes Mulpuru, such as Pinterest. But Instagram users tend to check their accounts more frequently.

For users like Rachel Fuentes, the social network is a way to follow, discover and shop for fashion. 

“Instagram has become my one way of shopping,” says Fuentes, who follows local boutiques right on up to large brands like Nordstrom. “If I catch their Insta sale – which is an Instagram sale – and if it’s cute and if I like it, I will automatically purchase it.”  It’s much easier than going to malls or decentralized stores, she says. 

Fuentes doesn’t consider the photos she sees coming through her feed as ads, but rather simply as nice photos of models or outfits. 

“Trying to sell, posting something that looks like an ad, it’s a turn off,” says Marlene Morris Towns, teaching professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.  “You can have unknown people who end up being the biggest social media celebrities because they’re relatable or represent a lifestyle, as opposed to someone paid to do an airbrushed photoshoot.”

The authenticity factor and the focus on the image allow brands to advertise without demeaning themselves by advertising. 

“It gives luxury brands who have struggled with social media a way to maintain the integrity of their brand but also reach a much larger audience,” Morris Towns says. Instagram users can see posts from exclusive fashion events, which mass markets brands even as it emphasizes their exclusivity.

At the same time, Instagram has become something of an equalizer, says Gretchen Harnick, professor of fashion marketing at the New School. “It’s really allowing startups to have a voice right alongside of bigger brands.”

Instagram followers are recipients of this kind of brand promotion by choice, which is advertising gold.

“There is definitely a gain in the fashion industry from Instagram,”  Morris Towns says. “I think it has done wonders for brand awareness and people actually engaging with the brand.”

And they do engage.  Gucci, for example, has 4 million followers on Instagram. Nike has 16 million.

 

Just how do national days get on the calendar?

Mon, 2015-06-01 11:36

Have you thought lately about how excellent you are? Well start thinkin’ about it—because at Marketplace today, we’re recognizing National Say Something Nice Day. So thanks for being you.

There are random and off-beat national days almost every day of the year.  This prompted one of our podcast listeners, Katie Rowles, to send a question all the way from Australia for our series, “I’ve Always Wondered.” How do these days get declared? Who’s in charge of the list of days?

We start with International Talk Like a Pirate Day, one of the days Katie mentioned in her question. It’s celebrated across YouTube each September 19, and it turns out a couple of guys declared the day a few years ago because, well, they’re fond of talking like pirates.

But just to narrow it down, we’re focusing on today, Monday, June 1. It’s a pretty busy for random national days: There’s Go Barefoot Day, started by an organization that gives shoes to underprivileged kids. The woman behind Pen Pal Day is a pen pal enthusiast out of Chicago. And of course, Say Something Nice Day — Mitch Carnell of Charleston, South Carolina, is behind that one.

“Because once you say something, it’s out there, you can’t call it back,” he says. Carnell submitted his idea back in 2006 to Chase’s, the yearly almanac that acts as a sort of loose gatekeeper for national days and months.

But not all national days are listed in Chase’s — the more extensive resource is the website nationaldaycalendar.com.

“There’s a couple ways it can happen," says the site’s co-founder, Marlo Anderson. “Of course, a company or an individual can just declare it, and a lot of people do.”

Point being, really anyone can make up a national day, and there’s no accreditation process or government agency. Though Anderson says they don’t approve just any old day that comes across their desk.

“In the last year we’ve received over 10,000 requests for national days,” he says.

Out of the 10,000, he says they typically take about 20 to 25 days each year. They’ll focus on iconic items over brands — say, National Coffee Day as opposed to National Starbucks Day (which, as far as we know, hasn’t been declared). And they look for things everyone can enjoy or be a part of.

The most common request they say no to?

“You know, it’s my girlfriend of three months and she’s changed my life forever, can I have National Heather Day ... that’s a very very popular thing,” Anderson says.

But most of these national days are recent inventions that have spread around on social media. As far as we can tell, only one of the June 1 celebrations goes back to before the internet: National Heimlich Maneuver Day.

“I do not know who wrote the article on it that made it come about,” says Dr. Henry Heimlich. He’s 95 and living in Cincinnati. Heimlich published an article about his life-saving maneuver on June 1, 1974.  “Immediately lives were being saved.”

At some point, a day was declared, though he’s not sure exactly how. Heimlich is pretty amused to learn that he’s now competing with National Hazelnut Cake Day.

“I guess people could choke on that too,” Heimlich says, laughing.

Well, hazelnut cake might not be for everyone, but it’s your day — go celebrate! Take off your shoes, say something nice, help out a choking neighbor, and meanwhile, start polishing up on talking like a pirate.

PODCAST: Researchers take an uber

Mon, 2015-06-01 03:00

First up, we'll talk about where all those disappearing Carnegie Mellon professors went. Hint: they took Uber. Plus, the spectrum auction does not happen until 2016, but there's already a lot of interest in what's for sale. The reason? The spectrum that's for sale is primo. And T-Mobile wants a big piece of it. 

California farmer is 'minimizing the hurt'

Mon, 2015-06-01 02:43

Farmers in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta hold some of the most secure water rights in the state. But as the drought deepens, even those privileged “riparian rights” holders might have to sacrifice their water.

That's why many of them have agreed to slash their water use 25 percent in exchange for a promise they won’t face harsher mandatory cuts this growing season. Farmers say they’ll do that by fallowing fields, shifting to less thirsty crops and using less water to irrigate low-profit crops.

“It’s about minimizing the hurt,” farmer Rudy Mussi says.

Click the media player above to hear more.

T-mobile wants more beachfront spectrum

Mon, 2015-06-01 02:00

The Federal Communications Commission is going to auction off more of the airwaves next year, to wireless companies. All the phone companies want more spectrum, as we use more of those airwaves to stream stuff.  

And the spectrum the FCC is auctioning off is primo.

“Yeah, this is beachfront,” says Kathleen O’Brien Ham, T-Mobile’s Vice President for Federal Regulatory Affairs.

This beachfront property? It’s super spectrum, which can cover long distances and travel through buildings in a single bound. T-Mobile wants to expand its reach and compete more.  

“That competition is giving consumers great choice, great pricing,” says O'Brien Ham.

T-Mobile wants the FCC to set aside half the spectrum to be auctioned off - so only smaller companies can bid on it. But the FCC may not go for that, because it has to strike a balance.

“Between trying to promote competition versus generating ample competitive bidding revenues from the auction," says Robert Frieden, a professor of telecommunications and law at Penn State University.

Neil Grace, a spokesperson for the FCC,  says the spectrum speculation is premature.  “No decisions have been made.”

Startup tries to raise the dirt-cheap price of water

Mon, 2015-06-01 02:00

Here's a question for you: How much is water worth?

We aren't talking anything fancy here, just regular old tap water. The answer is pretty darn little — less than a penny a gallon in most places around the country.

That is even true in California, where there is a historic drought. It's become so bad that the state has mandated water cutbacks and is considering fines. One Bay Area company has a different idea to encourage conservation. It wants to change the value of water.

Many of us waste gallons and gallons of water. And that’s not talking about watering large lawns or weekly car washes, but simple things like letting the shower run to warm up. Yup, we just let all that water go right down the drain. But not Alice Green.

Green lived in California during the '70s when the state was in another drought. “I knew then that we didn't have water to waste,” she says.


Alice Green conserves water and could start earning rebate money with the startup MeterHero. (Sam Harnett)

Green started taking conservation measures back then. She saves “warm-up water” from her showers and uses it to flush her toilet. Instead of a lawn, she has planted drought-resistant native plants. 

Today, Green lives in a co-housing neighborhood, which is a kind of hippier version of a condo association. It has signed up for MeterHero, a startup that tracks your water usage and gives rebates if you conserve. It pays one dollar for every hundred gallons less used.

Green's neighbor, Raines Cohen, says the 14-house co-op has been working hard on conservation in the past year. It has cut back nearly a thousand gallons a day with things like landscape and irrigation improvements. That kind of conservation would net them $10 a day with MeterHero's rebates.

 “We will see if we can keep that up, but now we have a strong incentive because of rebates,” Cohen says.

The concept seems pretty straightforward. MeterHero offers a cash carrot to get you to cut back. But the end goal is bigger than that, says founder McGee Young. 

“We can't raise the price of water,” Young says, “but what we can do is put a value on water, and specifically a value on water conservation.”

The rebates effectively make the water worth more. You are a lot less likely to flush a cash rebate down the toilet than water. But how do we know what price-per-gallon will make people stop taking water for granted?

“We don't," Young says. "It's a big experiment. No one has tried to put a price on conservation.” 

To conduct this experiment, MeterHero needs money to fuel the rebates. Right now, it is using its own cash, but the plan is to get businesses to sponsor the rebates. Companies get some nice PR—save water, save the planet. It could also help sell products, like fake grass.

Brad Borgman is with Heavenly Greens, an artificial turf company that is working with MeterHero. Borgman sees the rebate as a pitch to potential clients.

“You know it never hurts to get a little money back when you're trying to do your best to conserve,” he says.

Borgman adds that the rebates help connect water-conscious consumers with companies like his. “It seems like an obvious mutual fit so far, a kind of win-win-win for everyone,” he says.

MeterHero is just getting started, and so far it has handed out about $5,000 in rebates. There is a long way to go before most of us start thinking twice about all that water we flush down the toilet.

In a homeless district, growing numbers raise tensions

Mon, 2015-06-01 02:00

In the last two years, Los Angeles County has seen a 12 percent increase in homelessness. One result is that homeless encampments are appearing across Los Angeles. But traditionally, homeless people and services for them have been concentrated downtown, on Skid Row, and the increase is changing conditions there, too.

In the shadows of skyscrapers, homeless encampments occupy the sidewalks. On one block after another, people sleep in tents and live on the streets, with constant activity 24-hours a day.

But on those same blocks, companies are doing business. 

“I would call it a war-zone down here,” says Mark Shinbane, president of Ore-Cal Corporation. It’s a seafood importer and distribution company that’s operated here since 1961.

The neighborhood has always had issues, but Shinbane says they’ve gotten much worse. “There’s a lot of thievery. We’ve had people break in to the property. They’ve stolen equipment – copper off the roofs.”

Homeless people have threatened and tried to assault his staff. Shinbane says the situation makes it hard to hire new workers, “because they see the area, they drive by and they keep on driving. So, we have to interview more people. I may have to offer higher wages in certain cases to get people to come down and work. It’s a real challenge.”

It’s also an issue for a school in the heart of Skid Row called Inner-City Arts. It has some students who are themselves homeless. But increasingly, the people living on the surrounding streets are more aggressive and potentially dangerous.

“For 25 years, we did not feel the need to have a security guard at our entry gate. And now we do. And that’s an increased cost for the campus that takes away from the free education we’re providing the students,” says the school’s CEO, Bob Smiland. 

Security and sanitation issues have forced businesses to chip-in to support the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District, which pressure-washes sidewalks and employs a team of security guards.

Executive director Raquel Beard says members pay according to the size of their business. “Some can be as much as $20,000 or $30,000 a year.”

Beard has watched some companies move out of the neighborhood. But selling property on Skid Row isn’t very profitable. 

“You can’t get the money that you would get in other parts of downtown,” she says. 

Critics talk about gentrification driving the poor from downtown Los Angeles. But Beard says gentrification hasn’t come to Skid Row. And she doubts it ever will.

 

Start-up tries to raise the dirt cheap price of water

Mon, 2015-06-01 02:00

Okay, here's a question for you. How much is water worth?

We aren't talking anything fancy here, just regular old tap water. The answer is pretty darn little—less than a penny a gallon in most places around the country.

That is even true in California where there is a historic drought. It has gotten so bad the state has mandated water cut-backs and is considering fines. One Bay Area company has a different idea to encourage conservation. It wants to change the value of water.

Like many of us, you probably waste gallons and gallons of water. And that’s not talking about watering large lawns or weekly car washes, but simple things like letting the shower run to warm up. Yup, we just let all that water go right down the drain. But not Alice Green.

Green lived in California during the seventies when the state was in another drought. She says “I knew then that we didn't have water to waste.”


Alice Green conserves water and could start earning rebate money with the start-up MeterHero. (Sam Harnett)

Green started taking conservation measures back then. She saves “warm-up water” from her showers and uses it to flush her toilet. Instead of a lawn, she has planted drought-resistant native plants. 

Today, Green lives in a co-housing neighborhood, which is a kind of hippier version of a condo association. It has signed up for MeterHero, a start-up that tracks your water usage and gives rebates if you conserve. It pays you one dollar for every hundred gallons less you use.

Green's neighbor, Raines Cohen, says the fourteen-house co-op has been working hard on conservation in the past year. It has cut back nearly a thousand gallons a day with things like landscape and irrigation improvements. That kind of conservation would net them 10 dollars a day with MeterHero's rebates. Cohen says, “We will see if we can keep that up, but now we have a strong incentive because of rebates.”

The concept seems pretty straight-forward. MeterHero offers a cash carrot to get you to cut back. But the end goal is bigger than that says founder McGee Young. 

“We can't raise the price of water,” Young says, “but what we can do is put a value on water and specifically a value on water conservation.”

The rebates effectively make the water worth more. You are a lot less likely to flush a cash rebate down the toilet than water. But how do we know what price-per-gallon will make people stop taking water for granted? Young says, “We don't. It's a big experiment. No one has tried to put a price on conservation.”

To do this experiment, MeterHero needs money to fuel the rebates. Right now it is using its own cash. The plan is to get businesses to sponsor the rebates. Companies get some nice PR, you know. Save water, save the planet. It could also help sell products, products like fake grass.

Brad Borgman is with Heavenly Greens, an artificial turf company that is working with MeterHero. Borgman sees the rebate as a pitch to potential clients. He says, “You know it never hurts to get a little money back when you're trying to do your best to conserve.”

Borgman adds that the rebates help connect water-conscious consumers with companies like his. He says “It seems like an obvious mutual fit so far, a kind of win-win-win for everyone.”

MeterHero is just getting started. So far it has handed out about $5,000 in rebates. There is a long way to go before most of us start thinking twice about all that water we flush down the toilet.

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