All articles by All Business Journal

5 Reasons a Flashy Upstart Can’t Upstage Mutual Funds for Investment Prowess … by Peter Bennett

You don’t have to Einstein to know that over time investing in mutual funds can be a wealth-building experience.

LA VERNE, Calif., Jan. 5, 2018 — Mutual funds have served as the standard bearer of investors for almost a century, but every so often a newfangled product rises up to challenge the top dog for supremacy. That pesky upstart today is the ETF or exchange traded fund.

While ETFs offer investors lower expense ratios, they can hardly compete with all the great benefits that mutual funds provides. ETFs are like the new toothpaste flavor of the week that promises brighter teeth. Their appeal is largely one dimensional, whereas mutual funds are like an amber box of Arm and Hammer baking soda with a 101 practical applications. Besides cleaning your teeth, the Arm and Hammer baking soda will also deodorize your cat litter box or soothe your sunburn.
Which would you choose.
Let’s take a closer look at mutual funds vs. ETFs

ETFs Offer Greater Variety

In the United States, there are close to 10,000 mutual funds available for all different types of investment strategies, risk tolerance levels and asset types. There are fewer than 2,000 ETFs. Mutual funds are the workhorse for retirement plans, such as 401(k)s. U.S. equity mutual funds have $6.3 trillion compared to $1.6 million for ETFs, per Morningstar.
In general, ETFs are passively managed indexed funds that invest the same securities as a chosen index in the hopes of mirroring its returns. While this is a perfectly viable investment strategy, it is pretty limiting. Mutual funds offer the same type of indexed investing options as ETFs, and they offer an impressive array of actively and passively managed options that can be fine-tuned to cater to investors’ needs. Investing in mutual funds allows you to choose a product that fits your specific investment goals and risk tolerance level. Whether you want a more stable investment that generates modest returns, an investment that provides regular income each year or a more aggressive product that seeks to beat the market, there is a mutual fund for you.

Mutual Funds Don’t Charge Commissions

Since ETFs trade like stocks, buyers must pay a brokerage commission every time they buy or sell shares. (Online brokerage commissions range from a few dollars per trade to $20 per trade, depending on the broker.) Those commission add up quickly, especially if you’re buying more shares each month. ETFs are great for lump-sum investors, but you should use a traditional index fund if you’re buying a little bit at a time.

Mutual Funds Offer Better Service

ETFs typically have lower expense ratios than mutual funds because they offer minimal shareholder services. Though mutual funds may be a slightly costlier option, fund managers provide support services. In addition to phone support from knowledgeable personnel, mutual funds may offer free funds transfers, check-writing options and other shareholder services that ETFs don’t provide.

Mutual Funds Are Perfect for Automatic Investing

Some of the most useful services offered by mutual funds that cannot be found investing in ETFs are automatic investment plans. These services facilitate regular contributions without your having to lift a finger, helping you grow your investment effortlessly.
By using these options, you can have your mutual fund investment automatically increased by a predetermined amount each month. This provides an easy way to grow your nest egg without having to make the monthly decision to allocate those funds to your portfolio or use them for other things. Given a few hundred dollars of discretionary income each month and the choice of how to use it, many people might elect to spend it on non-essential activities or purchases rather than making the smart choice of investing it. An automatic investment plan makes that choice for you.
In addition, mutual funds often offer dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) that allow you to use any dividend income generated by the fund to purchase additional shares. Like an automatic investment plan, DRIPs take the stress of decision-making out of the equation by automatically converting dividend distributions into investment growth.

Active Management Without Leverage Risk

ETF options tend toward the extremes – either extremely passive indexed funds that provide moderate returns with little chance of big gains or aggressively managed high-yield funds or risky leveraged products. Mutual funds, on the other hand, offer a sweeping range of security and risk.
If you want an investment that focuses on long-term capital gains, for example, you can find a mutual fund that primarily invests in proven growth stocks but also looks to benefit from early identification of up-and-coming businesses with outsize growth. Unlike ETFs, mutual funds don’t have to be all-or-nothing investments.
ETFs have had quite a run because of their passive, plug-and-play management style that has mimicked the almost 10-year bull market that began March 9, 2009. But eventually the rage of the day, or the decade, is likely to fade. If you need further proof, look for a tube of Pearl Drops toothpaste that was introduced a half-century ago (1968). You likely won’t find it anywhere in your home today, whereas you probably have the Arm and Hammer doing double duty right now, brightening your next wash load in the laundry room and neutralizing the smell of the leftover broccoli you stashed in the refrigerator last night.


LA VERNE, California, Jan. 31, 2018 — FREE CASH: Before thinking corporations have turned all soft, fuzzy and labor friendly, by announcing bonuses for their rank and file in the wake of the new tax bill, consider that the $1,000 bonus JetBlue Airways awarded to 21,000 employees amounts to less than a penny a share, pre-tax. It’s more likely that the tax-cut bonuses have been fueled by the need for employers to hold on to their valued workers at a time when the unemployment rate is low and unfilled job openings are high.


SINKING BONDS, RISING YIELDS: If you owned bonds in January, you lost money because Treasury yields are going up. As yields go up, bond prices fall. Behind the fall are banks around the globe reducing their bond purchases as the world economic recovery continues. As a result, to entice buyers, sellers have to raise interest rates, which hurts current bond holders. Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal are predicting the 10-year yield will rise to 2.98% by year-end. We’re betting here it goes higher.


$10 QUICKIES: A major factor contributing to the housing crash and near total collapse of the banking system in 2008-09 were the inflated and often fraudulent valuations assigned to houses. Rather than hiring licensed appraisers, many banks simply hired real estate agents who gave their value judgments, known as Broker Price Opinions or BPOs, of what they thought the properties were worth. After the financial meltdown, Congress banned the practice, but the prohibition doesn’t apply to investors buying tens of thousands of properties. Typically, a full appraisal runs about $500 and a BPO about $100. Reportedly, an Indian company will perform BPOs for $10 a house. Draw your own conclusions about building in protections to prevent 2008-09 happening all over.


OF PASSING INTEREST: The United States will spend more on interest payments than on the military by 2027, according to projects by the Congressional Budget Office.


WILL OLD TOOLS HOLD THEIR EDGE?: During and after the last three downturns, the Fed cut rates by 5.25 percentage points, 5.5 points and 4.75 points. But if we enter another downturn and rates are already so low that it’s impossible to cut rates as much as they have been cut in the past, that tool to get the country out of recession will have been dulled or even lost.


NICE GUYS FINISH … : “Sustainable,” “responsible,” and “impact” funds continue to capture the attention of do-good investors, but does corporate social responsibility pay off for them? According to the Wall Street Journal, of about 175 “socially responsive” companies that had full-year returns in 2017, 75% underperformed the market. The paper’s conclusion, if you choose nice over vice, you’re likely to come out a loser. Profits, not good intentions, are the best benchmark of a company’s value to consumers and society.


UNKIND SPREAD: Before the new tax law went on the books, developers could take a 20% federal historic tax credit incurred on many rehab costs. That 20% payback still exists, but is now spread over five years instead of one, which developers, preservationists and bankers say reduces its value.


10 MILLION BARRELS A DAY: U.S. oil production has roughly doubled since 2008, while Saudi Arabia output has been stable.


GOOD NEWS FOR HISTORY MAJORS: William Bain, the eponymous founder and later chairman of Bain & Co., which mentored Mitt Romney, took an unusual path to get to the top. He majored in history and dreamed of becoming a teacher. But later he found digging for research boring, so after graduation he went to work for Vanderbilt’s development office, soliciting donations from wealthy alumni, including many CEOs. “I was fascinated by how they got there, what they did, how they thought about their jobs,” he told Walter Kiechel, author of “The Lords of Strategy.”


THE CHOICE IS CLEAR: I always like to ask the question, if you could pick only one stock of the following to hold for the next 10 years, which would it be: Alphabet (Google), Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Netflix? While you could make a strong case for each one, Amazon would be my clear choice. Not only does Amazon own the retail space and have a big presence in the cloud, there’s no telling how big their advertising revenues can grow. Right now, Amazon doesn’t break out ad revenues as a separate category. It’s supposed to do about $3 billion this year compared to Google’s $73 billion, but Amazon is coming on really strong. Increasingly, companies believe they have to advertise on Amazon despite the roughly 33% bite it takes from advertisers (15% of the selling price, another 5% to 6% to have Amazon warehouse and ship your product, and another 12% or so for an ad sold through an Amazon ad). According to the WSJ, every time Amazon racks up another percentage point of the $5 trillion U.S. retail pie, another $50 billion in the kind of data that Google and Facebook relied on disappears from their systems.

RULING THE ROOST: Being at the Top of the Pecking Order Is Not All It’s Cracked up to Be

Chickens are rich in protein and puns.

JANUARY 8, 2017 — “Why did the chicken cross the road?” It’s an old riddle. The listener expects a simple twist or clever punchline — perhaps a little fowl play of words  —  but the straight answer is, “To get to the other side.”


Today, the modern spin on the old joke could be, “Why does Costco put its rotisserie chickens at the back of the store?” The truth is, Costco is hoping you will fill your shopping cart with other items on the way to picking up your $4.99 chicken.


That chicken is the centerpiece — the holy quail — of a retail marketing strategy to get consumers to complement their bargain bird with pricier sides, like hummus, bulgur salad a bottle of wine. The strategy is working. Costco’s stock is up 17% in the last year.


Altogether in 2017, 87 million Costco chickens crossed the road to the checkout stand and onto our lunch and dinner plates, about 14% of the nation’s total.


Because consumers continue to flock to the rotisserized roosters (and hens), Costco is building a $300 million chicken-processing plant in Nebraska. Far from ruffling any feathers, the move is designed to help Costco further trim its supply-chain costs so it can continue to offer its rotisserie chickens for $4.99.


The biggest loser in the country’s hunger-panging passion for poultry is the chicken, of course. Commercial breeders get can get them from hatchling to slaughter in as few as four weeks. Plumper chickens require 11 weeks.


What’s the moral of our story? Maybe always trying to get to the other side isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!



THE REAL DIRTT: Please End the Confusion Over All the Different Kinds of Home Lenders

Bank of America’s Charlotte, N.C. headquarters.

LA VERNE, California, Dec. 18, 2017 — I’m looking for my first home, which I be financing. My problem is, I am confused over all the different kinds of home lenders out there — mortgage bankers, mortgage brokers, my local bank, etc.. Can you help me make sense of the differences?



Honestly, I don’t know why there are so many different kinds of lenders. If I were at all cynical, I would tend to believe all this market confusion is part of a deeper marketing strategy to overwhelm the consumer so at some point they just throw up their hands and leave everything up to “the experts” — and you know how that usually turns out. To be fair, however, some of the confusion arises from the constant differentiation taking place in our capitalistic marketplace. Lenders are always trying to one-up one each other and show why their lending platform or niche is best (We’re the best; forget the rest!).


Okay, now that caveat is out of the way, let’s get started and try not to over-complicate things.


Retail Lender


If you bank at, say, Chase or Bank of America or Wells Fargo (also known as money-center banks), and you inform the teller that you need information about a home loan, you’ll likely be sent to the home loan desk or be asked to schedule an appointment with the branch’s home loan officer. It’s that simple. If you obtain a loan through one of these institutions, your purchase is regarded as a “retail” transaction, no different than if you purchased an ice cream cone at 31 Flavors. Your loan provider is a retail lender.


Wholesale Lender


Many big banks also have wholesale lending departments. That simply means that if they can’t sell you a home loan product in one of their branches, they want you to buy it from another financial institution offering their products. This other institution (let’s call it Lender B) doesn’t specialize in home loans, but it doesn’t want to send you, their customer, back at the door, so as a convenience and a courtesy and a way to make a little extra money, it takes all of your loan information and starts the loan origination process. But the loan you obtain is actually funded by the bigger bank’s wholesale operation (unit or channel).


Correspondent Lender


Now let’s say this same smaller (Lender B) institution is a doing a pretty brisk business in providing home loans and decides it now wants more recognition for all the loans it’s making in that other institution’s name. It’s thinking, “Why should Wells Fargo get all the credit!” Therefore, Lender B negotiates a corresponding relationship with Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo, looking to grow another channel of business, outside of its retail and wholesale operations, could also initiate the relationship. Either way, Lender B makes the loan in its name, then Wells Fargo agrees to buy it after the loan closes. If, however, any of these loans, in this correspondent arrangement, are later found not to meet the standards of Wells Fargo or one of Wells Fargo’s investors (the secondary market to whom Wells Fargo eventually sells the loan), Lender B has to buy the loan back, which could delay the entire home purchase transaction, making the homebuyer very upset.


Mortgage Broker


Instead of walking into a large bank, you visit a mortgage broker. Unlike a retail, wholesale or correspondent lender, mortgage brokers don’t lend out money directly. Rather, acting as a middleman or your agent, they shop different lenders to help you find the best price (loan rate, terms, points, etc.). It’s a great idea on the surface, but, generally, the broker, in business to make money, has to tack on a fee for his time and service. So, after this markup takes place, your savings will be minimal, if any.

Mortgage Bankers


Mortgage bankers, despite the term “banker” right in their title, are not bankers. They are non-banks. So where does their money come from to lend to people like you who want to buy homes? Great question. Their money comes from huge lines of credit provided by warehouse lenders (usually large money-center banks, who have so much money that they need a warehouse, not a vault, to store it — just kidding). Like retail lenders (also known as direct lenders), large mortgage bankers often boast wholesale lending and correspondent lending departments. The key difference here, mortgage bankers get their money from banks or other deep-pocketed institutions, whereas retail lenders (banks) are the bank (they lend their depositors’ money back out). That said, large mortgage bankers, the ones big and ambitious enough to also support wholesale and correspondent lending departments, often refer to their own branches, supported by their own loan officers, as “the retail side of the bank” — even though, I repeat, THEY ARE NOT BANKERS!


I hope these explanations help, but it’s takes some sorting out. Lines blur between each group. In the end, choose the institution and lender that offer you the best value and service, along with the most transparency.

Colleen is a longtime Realtor serving the San Gabriel Valley from Claremont to La Canada. If you have a question for Colleen or want more information about buying, selling or investing in real estate, call Coll at 909.374.4744.

HOLIDAY SURPRISE: Westfield Exits the Mall Business, But Its Name Will Live On

ARCADIA, California, December 14, 2017 — Remember when teenage kids hanging out at the mall was a rite of passage? Well, now those same kids, and a lot of their friends, young and old, are hanging out online to do their shopping. As a result, one of the world’s biggest mall operators, Westfield Corporation, which owns Westfield Santa Anita in Arcadia, is exiting the business with their sale on Tuesday to Unibail-Rodamco SE.


It didn’t take the Oracle of Delphi to read the handwriting on the wall. U.S. malls have been slammed by the consumer shift to e-commerce. Perennial mall anchors like Macy’s, Sears, and Penny’s have been slashing staff and closing stores in wake of declining foot traffic.


Although Westfield’s glitzy portfolio encompasses malls from Los Angeles to New York’s World Trade Center, Westfield is actually a Sydney, Australia-based company. Owner Frank Lowy, a Holocaust survivor, started in the business with a deli he opened in a western Sydney suburb.


Despite the $15.7 billion price tag, the France-based Unibail, still found the deal enticing. It operates malls across Europe, where online transactions represent only 8 percent of retail sales compared to 13.9 percent in the United States.


Globally, the combined entity will comprise 104 malls, which all be branded under the Westfield name.


“There’s money to be saved by advertising only one brand,” Unibail CEO Christophe Cuvillier told The Wall Street Journal.



THE REAL DIRTT: It’s Not the Principal That Counts … by Realtor Colleen Bennett

PASADENA, Calif., December 14, 2017 — You can’t say the U.S. government doesn’t have a big heart.

After the 2008 financial collapse, the federal government provided about $4.6 billion in principal forgiveness from 2010 to 2016 to help homeowners, owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth, avoid foreclosure.

As an example, if a homeowner owed $600,000 on a home that had a market value of $500,000, the government might have reduced the homeowner’s principal by, say, $50,000, leaving a $550,000 mortgage balance. With a smaller balance, policymakers thought homeowners would continue making their monthly mortgage payments. By 2010, approximately 24 percent of all U.S., residential properties were underwater, according to Core Logic, a data and analytics company, so it was critical that the government’s response was effective.

Despite the program’s good intentions, however, each avoided foreclosure ended up costing taxpayers $800,000. Those are the findings of a new study by Pascal Noel, an assistant professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Peter Ganong, an assistant professor at University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Preparing for the next crisis, the study’s authors wanted to know whether the government’s response had been the best use of public funds.

Turns out it wasn’t. A more effective program, according to the authors, would have been to temporarily lower the underwater homeowners’ mortgage payments, freeing up cash flow and thus spurring consumer spending to help lift the country out of recession.

After analyzing some 1.6 million underwater homeowners who received principal reductions (reducing their loan-to-value ratio), Noel and Ganong found that foreclosure rates decreased by less than 1 percent.

One of the reasons that the principal reduction program was so ineffective was that in spite of the government’s intervention, the majority of homeowners were still underwater on their mortgages, leaving them unable to qualify for a home equity line of credit or a second mortgage — money that could have been pumped back into the economy to stimulate consumer spending.

Job loss and other income shocks that affect cash flow are what prevent most people from keeping current on their mortgage, the study found. Having a smaller mortgage balance, in and of itself, doesn’t have much influence over whether you will pay your mortgage.

Had the government instead provided mortgage payment relief over the same period, defaults would have decreased by 1 percent for every 1 percent reduction in monthly mortgage payments, the authors concluded.

“That is a much bigger effect than we get from reducing mortgage principal without changing payments,” Dr. Noel said.

While it’s comforting to know the U.S. government has a big heart, it will feel even better to know that in the next housing crisis, financial assistance will be directed at where it can do the most good — reducing the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payment.

Lesson learned: It’s not the principal that counts!

For everything Real Estate, contact longtime La Verne Realtor Colleen Bennett (CalBRE #1013172), 909.374.4744.

Bah Humbug, 10 Things I Really Hate About Trader Joe’s

MONROVIA, California, December 14, 2017 —  Like In-n-Out, Trader Joe’s has achieved almost mythical status, but I’m not buying all the hype. If I were talking to Mr. or Ms. TJ, here’s what I’d get off my chest:

Your parking lots are accidents waiting to happen!

Before I go to TJs, I always check with my insurance agent to make sure my collision insurance is current. Once inside, I don’t worry about banging into anyone, because I’m using your cart.

Your two-buck chuck is three-buck chuck!

I didn’t see Costco changing the price on their hot dog and a coke special (still a $1.50) or rotisserie chicken (still $4.99).

The dress code sucks!

I get the Hawaiian theme you’re going after, but it’s time to trade out those faded Hawaiian shirts for something fresh!

Who are you, anyway?

If 80 percent of Trader Joe’s products are store brands, I would at least like to know who your suppliers and sources are. And I don’t care what anybody says, Joe’s O’s will never taste as good as General Mills’ Cheerios.

Your free samples are never really free!

I always seem to buy whatever you sample, but when I microwave the same stuff at home it’s rarely as good.

Demo the demo area!

It’s a human rights issue. No self-respecting chef would shoehorn himself into a space not fit for a hamster.

Too many of Trader Joe’s items are prepackaged in plastic!

What if I want only one zucchini?

All those bells are making me dingy!

It would be one thing if the ringing of the bell meant another angel was earnings its wings, but one bell simply means, open another register; two bells mean, further questions need to be answered at checkout; and three bells mean, management, please solve this! There’s got to be a better way to manage the floor.

Your bread is for the birds!

All your loaves are so dry that you probably single-handedly spawned the bake-your-own-bread movement.

Torch the Fearless Flyer!

Every product you sell doesn’t need its own cutesy bio. Sometimes, I just want pepper to be pepper, and salt to be salt. But this holiday season, you’ve been hyping Cookie in a Jar or whatever you call your quick-mix creation. Really? How much effort does it take to toss some flour, sugar and baking soda into a bowl at home?

Merry Christmas

IN THE NICK OF TIME: The Real Truth About Santa!

Nat B. Read has the real scoop on Santa.

PASADENA, California, December 11, 2017 — ‘Tis the time of year when mere mortals don the robes of Santa Claus, with his cheery, red velour suit and cap with white fur trim and black belt and boots.

But dressing like Santa Claus, it turns out, is the easy part.

How to actually master the role of being a good, professional Santa, well, that takes training. The best Santas aren’t born; they’re made.

And nobody knows this more than 78-year-old Nat B. Reed, who among his many talents (historian, retired Navy captain, undercover vice squad cop, PR executive) trained department store Santas for 17 years when he was the West Coast communications and public relations director for Sears, Roebuck and Co. That was at a time when Sears was the No. 1 retailer in the world and accounted for 1 percent of the United States gross domestic product.

“There’s a lot more to being Santa Claus than just saying, ‘Ho, ho, ho,'” said the nattily attired, red-vest wearing Read, who is also known as the Dean of U.S.C. (the University of Santa Claus).

Santa Tips

The cardinal rule of Santa Clausing is “Never promise anything,” he said.

Successful Santas also will know how to relate to different groups.

“To be Santa Claus, you have to understand there are three completely different clienteles and which one you’re talking to,” Read said.

“Two and three year olds are paralyzed with fear and fixated on an apparition they’ve never seen in life before, who wants to take them away from their mother. They are just terrified, terrified.

“The second group,” he continued, “is the perfect group, these are the 5 and 6 year olds — the Art Linkletter kids who say the darndest things.

“Then there are the 7 and 8 year olds. They are either in on the secret or want to test it out. They’re going to be pulling your beard to see if it’s real. They want you to name all the reindeer. They will constantly challenge you, like saying, ‘I walked all the way around the mall and I never saw your sleigh. What’s your answer to that, Santa?'”

This is where the art and artifice of playing Santa comes in.

Read’s recommended reply for the “missing” sleigh is genius.

“It’s on the roof,”  Read said, adding that the response “is logical, and they can’t test it.”

A rosy glow rushes to Read’s cheeks as he reveals more Santa tips.

“Santa Claus never goes to the bathroom,” Read said. “Santa Claus,” says, “‘Oh, my reindeer need feeding.’ That’s the line you use.”

Another rule: “You don’t ask the child his or her name. You’re Santa Claus. You already know their name.”

Another unmentionable: “Never say the word, ‘parents,’ s in, ‘Did you do everything your parents told you to do?’ You don’t know what a child’s circumstances are. They might be living with a grandmother or be in a foster situation.

“So the correct term is ‘folks.'”

When Read was literally writing the book on the right Santa behavior, including scores of how-to-Santa articles that appeared seasonally in all the major magazines and dailies, from The Wall Street Journal to The Saturday Evening Post, he occasionally slipped on Santa’s suit, putting himself in Santa’s shoes as it were, to give his advice more authenticity and legitimacy.

“You never lift a child on your knee,” Read said, adding yet another tip. Otherwise, you will be at the chiropractor by the end of the day.

“Rather, let them lean against your leg. That also protects you from the knee-wetters.”

Read’s advice ran deep, and touched on some realities that parents, guardians and human resources department should also be aware of.

Dark Secrets

“The dirty little secret about Santa Clausing, is who wants to take a minimum wage job in November and put themselves out of the job market until the end of the year?” he asked. “Who would be attracted to that job?”

Although you could anticipate his answer, you didn’t want to hear it.

“Tragically, the pedophile,” he said. “Google ‘Santa Claus Arrested’ or ‘Santa Claus Convicted.’ The page after page of search results is staggering.”Another unsavory cohort attracted to Santa Clausing, according to Read, are alcoholics.

“Why does a person not have a job?” Read asks, letting the listener fill in the blanks. “Drinking is a major thing that the personnel department has to guard against.

“So another Santa Claus rule, ‘Don’t drink.'”

Read explained how some Santas can unwittingly tip toward inebriation. Before putting on the suit at a big party, the scenario goes, they might have a couple of drinks and then when they go in the back room to change, they may, at some point, have a couple more.

“Kids are going to smell the alcohol, so don’t drink,” Read reiterated.

Myth Busters

Although Read is a modern-day Emily Post when it comes to Santa Claus etiquette, he doesn’t want to be some sort of Santa Clause spoilsport. As a historian, with five books to his credit, he’d rather revel in Santa Claus’ rich, albeit, surprisingly brief history.

One myth Read wants to correct is that Santa Claus is a European or, in particular, a Nordic invention.

“Santa Clause may fly around the world on Christmas Eve, but he flies on an American passport,” Read said.

In particular, three Americans, Clement Moore, Thomas Nast and  Haddon Sundblom, underscore Read’s claim.

According to Read, Santa Claus flew into prominence after Clement Moore, a religious man, retreated to his New York study one wintry night in 1822 and penned the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Santa Claus is the Dutch name for St. Nicholas.

“‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ was the most important poem written in the English language, by far, Read said. “Oh, absolutely!”

Although St. Nicholas was a relatively minor saint, St. Nicholas Day, celebrated on Dec. 6 in the bishop’s honor, became known as a day for sharing gifts. For his poem, Moore took artistic license and moved St. Nick’s gift-giving tradition to Dec. 25, the birthday of Jesus Christ. With the shift came the gradual secularization of Christmas.

Until then, Christmas was a day and observance far less important than Easter. “People would go to Christmas services the same way they would go to a Good Friday or a Maundy Thursday (the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples, known as the Last Supper),” Read said.

The poem, however, was largely responsible for creating our modern-day conception of Santa Claus, regarding his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and his novel way of dropping in on his guests to deliver toys.

As time went by, cartoonist Thomas Nast continued to refine the portrait of Santa Claus. He added a North Pole home for Santa, a workshop for building toys and a large book filled with the names of children who had been naughty or nice. In all, Nast contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly from 1863 through 1886, and Santa is seen or referenced in all but one.

But it was Haddon Sundblom in 1931, working for the Coca-Cola Company, who delivered the coup de grace, portraying Santa as a pleasingly plump fellow with an irresistible, grandfatherly charm. Trained at the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art, Sundblom painted wholesome, healthy, vibrant people who became comforting icons during the dark days of the Great Depression. It was hardly a coincidence that Sundblom created another rosy-cheeked icon, the Quaker Oats Quaker, known to millions of breakfast and raisin oatmeal cookie lovers.

Coca-Cola poured untold millions of dollars into subsequent advertising campaigns showing Santa delivering toys (and playing with them!), pausing to read letters and always enjoying a refreshing Coke.

Santa may not be the only reason for the season, but the jolly red-suited fellow has spawned a cottage industry that will employ thousands of Santa imitators this yuletide season, and, at least, one historian hoping they’ll stay true to the Santa code.

On December 13 at 3 p.m., Nat Read will appear at the Maury Smeltzer Lounge at Hillcrest, 2710 Mountain View Dr., La Verne, as the guest of the La Verne Historical Society. He will speak on “The Real History of Santa Claus.” The talk is free and open to the public.

For the truth and Real Dirtt in real estate, seek out one of Santa’s key helpers, Colleen Bennett, longtime La Verne Realtor. You can reach her at 909.374.4744.

Construction Authority Begins Procurement Process to Hire Design-Build Team to Build $1.5 Billion Light Rail Project

Contractors are encouraged to go for the gold and submit their winning bids.

MONROVIA, California, Nov. 8, 2017 — Today, the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority (Construction Authority) issued the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the Alignment Design-Build Project; initiating a year-long process to hire the design-build team that will build the $1.5 billion, six-station Foothill Gold Line light rail extension from Glendora to Montclair. The RFQ is the first of a two-step, competitive process, that will result in a short-list of the most qualified teams to compete for the work. The RFQ requires interested teams and/or firms to detail their qualifications to complete all elements of the light rail project, experience completing similar projects, credentials of their key personnel, a staffing plan and their expected main subcontractors. They must also demonstrate financial and legal qualifications to conduct the work.

As the first Measure M-funded rail project out of the gate, we know that interest in the project is very high in the industry, stated Construction Authority CEO, Habib F. Balian.

“We have developed a procurement process that will provide the Authority the best contractor for the best price; but it starts by identifying the most qualified teams and focusing our search on those teams.”

“Statements of Qualifications in response to the RFQ are due in January 2018; and will be evaluated by a committee of experts who will recommend the short-list of the most qualified and experienced teams to the Construction Authority board of directors. Only those teams short-listed through the RFQ process will receive the Request for Proposals (RFP), to be released in Spring 2018. The RFP will require the short-listed teams to review the engineering and planning for the project and provide their proposals to complete the project.

“We know that there are many qualified teams that could complete this project,” explained Balian.  “This initial step is critical, as it allows us to narrow the field to those that are most qualified, so we can feel very confident moving into the next step.”

The RFQ can be viewed on the Contracting Opportunities section of Construction Authority website at

Damien Plays by the Rules with the Help of Two NBA Refs

Damien Head Coach Mike LeDuc introduces NBA officials Justin Van Duyne, left, and J.T. Orr, who both make their homes in La Verne.

LA VERNE, California, November 6, 2017 — You don’t become a coaching legend (702 wins at Glendora before continuing your legacy at Damien where for the 2016-17 season he was named the San Gabriel Valley Tribune Coach of the Year) by getting out-coached, outfoxed or outmaneuvered. You always keep a few tricks up your sleeve to maintain your winning edge.

So there was Coach Mike LeDuc yesterday at Damien, inside the team room no less, inviting in hostiles, as it were, to address his players.

“It’s well documented I’m not a real big fan of refs,” he said by way of introduction and with tongue slightly in cheek, “but as God is my witness, there are a couple of referees I do respect, and I thought it would be a really good idea for us to hear what they want to share with us.”

Then without further adieu, he yielded the floor to J.T. Orr and Justin Van Duyne, two  National Basketball Association officials who both live in La Verne, making La Verne the only town in the United States to serve as the home of two NBA refs.

“The odds are certainly astronomical that two of us would live in this tiny community of La Verne,” Orr said.

That’s because there are only 64 NBA refs nationwide. It’s a fraternity rarer than the 100 men and women who make up the U.S. Senate (I mean how often do you see a U.S. Senator walking around).

And LeDuc to his credit had two of them addressing his players two months before the high school basketball season even started. The guy’s brilliant.

BUSTING A MOVE: J.T. Orr refereed a high school game in which future NBA official and colleague Justin Van Duyne competed.


Pop Quiz

But if his players thought they were going to catch a breather and have an easy day, they were sadly mistaken. Instead of running suicide wind sprints or undergoing some other pre-season conditioning torture, they were the recipients of an 11-question pop quiz that rivaled the SATs in terms of difficulties. There were few gimmes on the exam, and it appeared by all accounts that Orr and his NBA running mate, Van Duyne, took special delight in humbling Damien’s talented players with their brain-busting questions.

But Orr and Van Duyne simply wanted to help the players in the room up their games. As former players themselves (Van Duyne excelled as an All CIF and All San Gabriel Valley selection from Los Altos High School), they too had thought they were young hotshots who had all the answers and knew all the rules.

“The reason we’re going through this,” Orr said, beginning to read the questions aloud, “is we want you to think.” A thinking player who knows the rules can take advantage of game situations that an uninformed player cannot.

“What do you guys play, maybe 30 games a year?” Orr asked. “In those games, how many times as a team were you upset about a call? Fifteen times a game?”

If a few players were slouching in their seats at the beginning of the “clinic,” they all became model students moments after they saw Orr and Van Duyne begin to pass out NBA swag (shorts, jerseys, sweatshirts, backpacks, etc.) to players who could answer their questions correctly.

“How many officials are there in the NBA?” Orr asked. Somebody answered “33.” The answer was barely in the ballpark (or arena), but it happened to be the best answer and earned a prize.


CLEVELAND, OH – FEBRUARY 10: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers posts up against Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 10, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Referee Resumes

In between their good-natured ribbing, both Orr and Van Duyne briefly shared their refereeing resumes. Both had risen through the ranks, advancing from high school games to the college ranks and eventually the NBA’s developmental league, now called the “G” league for Gatorade’s sponsorship announced this year. On the night Orr finally broke into the NBA refereeing ranks, a Memphis-Cleveland contest, LeBron James scored 43 points to lead his team to an 111-109 overtime win.

“For that to be my first regular season game, in a sold-out arena, with 17,000 or 18,000 screaming fans, it was just phenomenal,” Orr recalled.

While both Orr and Van Duyne continued to climb the ladder, they never gave up their day jobs. Orr worked as a counselor at both McKinley’s Children Center and the LeRoy Haynes Center. Van Duyne after graduating from the University of La Verne taught school for two years before serving as an Ontario police officer for another nine years.

“No way can you have a family by just reffing high school basketball,” Van Duyne, dosing his players with a measure of reality. “So keep that in mind.”

Still they continued to chase their dreams. Along their journey, they continued reffing, attending coaching clinics, improving their games and learning new respect for the game.

“They guys who ref just aren’t refs,” Van Duyne added. “They’re teachers, coaches, insurance agents. They continually test and work out and they are trying to be the best they can be for you and the game of basketball because the game deserves that.”

NBA brothers.

Staying Connected

Orr, recognizing that everyone who was in the room was there because of their love of the game (“Why else would you put up with all that running and the coach yelling at you.”), urged players to stay connected to the game after their playing days were over, which would likely be high school for the majority of them.

“Be a coach, a referee, a mascot, work the scorer’s table,” he said. “I loved refereeing. I never did it for the money. I simply loved being on the floor.”

Van Duyne reffed freshman and JV games when he wasn’t playing games on the varsity at Los Altos.

Then the talk the turned to the finer points of the game. LeDuc was particularly interested in learning what referees’ “trigger points” were, thinking that if his players could better understand what referees” hot buttons were, they could stay on the floor longer rather than picking up a silly foul or, worse, being ejected.

“Respect and professionalism are always going to take you a long way,” Van Duyne said.

Interestingly, Orr noted that officials address all players by their first name. “It’s part of being professional,” Orr said. “As part of my pregame regimen, I memorize all the names of the players.”

Orr and Van Duyne also addressed how and when players should approach refs during the game, and yes, language matters. “It’s much better communication,” Orr said, “if you say, ‘Hey, ref, can you tell me why you passed on that?’ rather than, ‘Hey, ref, you missed that!’”


“Think about what you say and how you say it,” Van Duyne echoed.

Unlike baseball, which is black and white, according to Orr, where the ball is either a ball or a strike or fair or foul and a player is either safe or out, the NBA deals in more shades of gray or judgment calls, despite having a rule book that is very specific.


Hearing that, Damien players in the room wanted to know if their protests or complaints could influence a ref to reverse a call.

“In all my years refereeing, and it’s been almost 20 years now, I have never changed a call. It’s not going to happen,” Van Duyne said. He was talking about foul calls,not an out-of-bounds call where two officials might disagree initially before conferring or reviewing video to get the call right.

Then the pair put to rest popular misconceptions that home teams get more favorable calls than the road teams or that star players receive preferential treatment over journeyman players or rookies.

“I’ve never seen it,” Orr said squarely. “The guys who come to work your games don’t care at all who wins your game. They could care less. They just care that the game is played according to the rules and that they do the best job possible.”

Another misconception they tried to dispel is that all players travel (take an extra step) in the NBA. “Traveling rules in the NBA are written differently,” Orr explained. “It’s not that we don’t call traveling. We call it according to the rules.” In the NBA, players are allowed a “gather” or “zero,” step, which Orr then demonstrated for the Damien players.

Only Human

Orr and Van Duyne will be among the first to tell you they don’t get all their calls right. But they are students of the game, constantly critiquing their games to improve. “Joey (Crawford) said, ‘Bad officials are bad because they don’t know their bad and good officials are good because they know when they’re bad,’” Orr noted.

As for referees bringing a regional bias to games, they poked a hole in that myth as well. “I live in Los Angeles, and I think I did one game in L.A. all year,” Van Duyne said. “It was a Clippers home game. All the rest were on the road.”

If Orr and Van Duyne have an inside edge it’s that they both live in the same town, so they regularly get together to study the rules and work out so during the regular season they can keep paces with the best athletes in the game. Van Duyne has also hired a personal trainer. Officials run up and down the court between four and five miles during NBA games. They also ref summer league games and attend refereeing clinics to stay sharp.

Both Orr and Van Duyne prefer anonymity to popularity but with all of electronic and social media devices with everyone’s reach, they know it’s tough to stay under the radar. They both have families — Orr and his wife Tanya and their daughters Shea and Serenity, and Van Duyne with his daughters Madison and Brooke and son Jared — and are regularly out in public.

“People see you in a restaurant or at the store,” Orr said. “In a small town like this, they look at you and know who you are.”

Coach LeDuc certainly knows who they are and, more important, where to find them, and his team his clearly the better and wiser for it.

And now for that test Orr and Van Duyne put the players through. Let’s see how you measure up. The Answer Key follows the questions. If you find yourself struggling, don’t be too hard on yourself. The tops scores were seven out of 11, or 63%, about Shaq’s free-throw average and we’re being generous. Good luck!

  1. How many minutes are there in a high school game?
  2. After picking up your dribble and establishing your left foot as your pivot, can you lift your left foot without being called for a violation?
  3. True or false: During a jump ball, the jumper can never be the first player to possess the ball?
  4. During warm-ups, a player stuffs the ball through the rim, but doesn’t touch the rim in any way. Is there a penalty?
  5. What’s the maximum number of players each team can have on the free throw lane lines?

Offense:______________ Defense:______________

  1. What’s the size of the ball?
  2. Can you ever jump from your frontcourt, catch the ball and land in your backcourt?
  3. During a throw-in, the player with the ball steps with his right, then steps with his left without releasing the ball. Is this a violation?
  4. Offensive player A1 shoots a hook shot in the lane? The ball doesn’t touch anything (air ball) and player A1 catches the ball and begins dribbling again. Is this a violation?
  5. Offensive player A1 takes a jump shots with 7 seconds on the shot clock. The ball doesn’t hit anything (air ball) and is caught simultaneously by A2 and B2 with 5 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Team A has the arrow and is awarded the ball out of bounds. How many seconds will be on the shot clock for the inbound.
  6. Following a held ball, team A is inbounding since they had the possession arrow. Before the ball is released on the throw-in by A1, an illegal screen is called on A5. Which team will receive the next alternating possession throw in?


Answer Key:

  1. 32 minutes
  2. Yes
  3. False
  4. No
  5. 2 and 4
  6. 29.5 inches in circumference
  7. Yes
  8. No
  9. No (in high school, if officials determine a shot was made, you can retrieve shot, it’s not a violation.)
  10. 35 seconds
  11. A gets the ball again


For more on La Verne’s first-ever NBA referee, see the following La Verne Online article:

If you want to know the score on real estate, reach out to Realtor Colleen Bennett, Sotheby’s International Realty, CalBRE#01013172. You can always call Coll at 626.396.6806 or 909.374.4744. Also follow Coll’s real estate column, THE REAL DIRTT