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Daily Business Report-Feb. 11, 2015

Daily Business Report-Feb. 11, 2015

 A new hotel in Japan will have robots serving its front desks. (Japan National Tourism Organization)

Japan Announces Plans for

The First Hotel Run by Robots

Huis Ten Bosch is a Japanese theme park most famous for bringing the 17th-century Netherlands to Japan, complete with copies of Dutch buildings, canals and windmills. But beginning this summer, the park is bound to be known for a wackier — and more modern — attraction: a hotel staffed by robots.

The two-story, 72-room Henn-na Hotel, which is slated to open July 17, will be staffed by 10 robots that will greet guests, carry their luggage and clean their rooms.

A close-up of an actroid robot, modeled after a young Japanese woman. (Japan National Tourism Organization)

A close-up of an actroid robot, modeled after a young Japanese woman. (Japan National Tourism Organization)

According to The Telegraph, the robots, created by robotics company Kokoro, will be an especially humanoid model known as an “actroid.” Actroid robots are generally based on young Japanese women, and they can speak fluent Japanese, Chinese, Korean and English, as well as mimic body language and human behaviors such as blinking and hand gestures.

Three actroids will staff the front desk, dealing with customers as they check in to the hotel. Four will act as porters, carrying guests’ luggage, while another group will focus on cleaning the hotel. The hotel itself will also feature some high-tech amenities, such as facial recognition software that will allow guests to enter locked rooms without a key, and room temperatures monitored by a panel that detects a guest’s body heat.

The Henn-na Hotel (whose name translates to “strange hotel”), to be located on the Huis Ten Bosch grounds near Nagasaki, hopes to change the way guests typically interact with a hotel, and will be promoted under the slogan “A Commitment for Evolution.” The word “Henn” can also mean “change,” an intentional play on words that the hotel says reflects their commitment to a business that will “change with cutting-edge technology.”

The cheapest room will set visitors back about $60 a night, but the hotel estimates that even the priciest rooms will be well below the most expensive ones at other hotels in the park, noting that the robot labor will save money.

The hotel’s robotic staff will be supplemented with human staff, but if the experiment goes well, the human attendants might need to worry about job security. “We will make the most efficient hotel in the world,” Huis Ten Bosch company President Hideo Sawada said in a news conference, according to The Japan Times. “In the future, we’d like to have more than 90 percent of hotel services operated by robots.”

— Reported by

Target to Pay $3.9 Million For Alleged

Scanner Price and Injunction Violations

Target Corporation, which operates 19 stores in San Diego County and five in the city, is paying nearly $4 million to settle a consumer-protection complaint that accused them of overcharging customers.

The complaint accused the giant retail chain of charging higher prices at their cash-register scanners than were posted in the aisles and of misrepresenting the weight of its own packaged food products.

Under the settlement, in which Target admits no wrongdoing, the company will pay $3,352,500 in penalties, reimburse the investigating agencies $388,618 in costs, and pay $200,000 in restitution to consumers. Additionally, Target agreed to implement new compliance procedures to help ensure future price accuracy.

The complaint was filed by the San Diego City Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the District Attorney Offices in Contra Costa, Sonoma, Marin, Santa Cruz and Fresno counties. The Marin County District Attorney’s Office was the lead agency.

The settlement follows an investigation into alleged pricing violations by county Weights and Measures departments in all six counties that found hundreds of violations, including leaving inaccurate expired sale prices on items and then charging more for the item at the register.

The lawsuit also alleges Target failed to comply with the terms of an injunction issued against the company pursuant to a 2008 stipulated judgment.

Under the terms of this latest settlement, Target has agreed to implement additional price accuracy procedures in its California stores including weekly price audits.  Target will designate personnel to walk the entire store weekly to make sure that expired sales tags are removed from shelves.  Target also agreed to appoint a corporate representative to oversee a Compliance Program and to designate a Price Accuracy Team Leader for each retail location who is responsible for maintaining price accuracy.


City Council Gives Final Approval to Deal

For Downtown San Diego Office Building

A deal to keep city employees working in a privately held 18-story office building in the Downtown Civic Center complex was given final approval Tuesday by the San Diego City Council. The 20-year lease-to-own agreement involves the Civic Center Plaza, the brown tower across from City Hall where more than 800 municipal employees work, and a smaller adjacent building that houses the King/Chavez charter school. The city will own the structures at the end of the term.

According to a staff report, the city tried for three years to buy Civic Center Plaza, but purchase plans fell through when bonds used by the city became hung up in litigation.

The new arrangement, initially given backing last month, calls for a third party, Cisterra Development, to buy the buildings and lease them to the city at rates agreed upon during earlier talks.

The city pays around $4 million a year to rent 92 percent of the space in the building. Rent will increase March 15 to $5.2 million annually with the new deal.

If the council didn’t approve the agreement, Cisterra would have leased the space at market rates, leaving the city with a choice of either paying $6.5 million annually or vacating the building, said Cybele Thompson, the city’s real estate director.

She said if the council had chosen the latter route, it still would have had to pay market rates and incur moving costs. And since buildings in the area don’t have massive blocks of vacant space, the city would have had to spread operations around at least five different locations, she said.

By City News Service

San Diego County Home Sales Down

Home sales in San Diego dropped significantly in January compared to December, according to new housing statistics from the Greater San Diego Association of Realtors.

Activity at the end of 2014 took precedence over the new year, as the number of previously owned single-family homes sold dropped 36 percent in January. Condominiums and townhouses fell similarly. Single-family home sales were down about 10 percent compared to January 2014.

Prices remain stable. The median price of single-family homes in San Diego County ticked up to an even $500,000, and condos and townhomes were virtually unchanged from December, at $332,000.

Active listings on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) remain at just under 6,000, about the same as one year ago, representing about 2.5 months of housing stock. (Five to six months is considered a healthy inventory level.) In January, the average number of days homes remained on the market stood at 52, up slightly from previous months.

“Sales have slipped but it’s encouraging to see values appreciate, and interest rates remain at historic lows,” said SDAR Board President Chris Anderson.

In January, the ZIP codes in San Diego County with the most single-family sales were:

92065 (Ramona) with 30

92057 (Oceanside) with 29

92037 (La Jolla) with 27

92028 (Fallbrook) with 27

92114 (Encanto) with 27

92027 (Escondido) with 27

The most expensive listing sold in the county in January was a six-bedroom, seven-bath, 11,300-square-foot beach home in Rancho Santa Fe that sold for $8.5 million.

San Diego Ranked High in Size

Of Down Payment on Home

A new report by LendingTree, a national online lender, finds that San Diego ranks third nationally in the size of the average down payment on a home.

The average down payment in the San Diego metro area in the fourth quarter of 2014 was $90,200. The only cities with higher average down payments were San Francisco at $101,953 and San Jose, the center of Silicon Valley, at $103,815.

Nationally the average down payment was lower by almost half at $47,585 in the fourth quarter, though that was up from $45,545 in the same quarter last year.

“The improving job market, rising home values and low mortgage rates have helped to bring borrowers with sizeable down payments in to the housing market during fourth quarter,” said Doug Lebda, founder and CEO of LendingTree. “It’s encouraging to see responsible borrowing behavior.  A substantial down payment will allow borrowers to build home equity, ease lender risk, avoid paying PMI and reduce monthly mortgage payments, all of which will help to further strengthen the overall economy.”

If you’re looking for areas with lower down payments, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma boast figures in the low $30,000 range, and South Dakota comes in at under $28,000.

Air Law Institute and California Western

Establish Air Law Institute Collaborative Center

The nonprofit Air Law Institute of San Diego and California Western School of Law announce the creation of the Air Law Institute Collaborative Center, to be hosted on the law school campus.

“San Diego has a significant aviation presence, and knowledge of the field will be an advantage for our students as they seek employment,” said Niels B. Schaumann, president and dean of California Western. “This arrangement benefits both the law school and the Air Law Institute, and we look forward to the collaborative center successfully advancing this area of study in our region.”

The primary mission of the Air Law Institute Collaborative Center will be to plan and manage the annual Air & Space Law Symposium each year, of which some events will be held on the law school campus. The Air Law Institute and the law school are also exploring offering elective courses in the field of aviation law.

National Homebrewers Conference

To Be Staged in San Diego in June

For the first time since 2011, the American Homebrewers Association’s National Homebrewers Conference will take place in San Diego June 11-13 at the Town and Country Resort & Convention Center.

Special seminars and events will be offered to cater to beer enthusiasts and amateur brewers of every level.

The 37th annual conference is also home to the final round of judging in this year’s National Homebrew Competition, the world’s largest beer competition, which recognizes the most outstanding homebrewed beer, mead and cider produced by amateur brewers worldwide.

Southwest Airlines Offering $3.2 Million

In Free Medical Flights to Care Centers

Southwest Airlines announced Tuesday that it will offer $3.2 million in free flights to families in need of specialized care at 101 facilities around the country, including two in San Diego.

Rady Children’s Hospital and Scripps Health are among the nonprofit health care institutions taking part in Southwest’s 2015 medical transportation grant program.

“We care about the communities we serve and are honored to partner with like-minded hospitals and medical transportation organizations,” said Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines’ vice president of communication and outreach. “We are proud to help fill the gap between where patients live and where the doctors they need practice so patients can receive the treatment that best supports them.”

Airline officials said it will be easier for patients to get high-quality health care when they don’t have to worry about transportation costs. The $3.2 million total is 14 percent higher than last year.

Families interested in participating in the eight-year program are asked to contact their hospital’s social work, travel/concierge or patient assistance offices, according to Southwest.

— By City News Service

Food & Beverage Association

And Chefs De Cuisine Form Alliance

The Food & Beverage Association of San Diego and the Chefs De Cuisine Association of San Diego have formed an alliance to better serve the local hospitality industry.  Each will remain independent while working together on common issues and opportunities.

“Forging a strong alliance enhances the ability of both associations to achieve our mutual goals of operating safely, legally and profitably, while providing education of food service professionals,” said Stephen Zolezzi, president of the Food & Beverage Association of San Diego.

“This will make both stronger and better able to serve the rapidly expanding food service field,” said Chef David Chenelle, president of Chefs De Cuisine. “This exciting move will benefit both groups and the dining public.”

With the exponential growth of restaurants, food trucks, caterers and brew pubs, the move offers better training, consultation, and support for the hospitality scene in San Diego, the organizations said.

NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, or DSCOVR, tops rocket set to lift off today. (Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft, or DSCOVR, tops rocket set to lift off today. (Photo: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Satellite With Scripps-Designed

Instrumental Payload Set for Launch

A satellite that will be positioned between Earth and the Sun to provide a comprehensive view of our home planet is scheduled for launch today at 3:03 p.m. The scientific objectives and instrumental payload were originally proposed and designed by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

The NOAA-led Deep-Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) will measure the solar energy reflected back to space by Earth as well as the infrared radiation emitted by the planet. Such observations are essential to determine Earth’s energy budget, which is the fundamental driver of climate.

Space weather measurements are the mission’s principal focus. A suite of solar instruments designed and built by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center will observe solar flares, solar wind, and the Sun’s magnetic field variations during solar flare activity. These phenomena can disrupt a wide variety of processes on Earth, from satellite communications and control to electrical distribution systems.

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Air Force are sharing the $340 million cost of the refurbished satellite and its launch operations. All the original instrumentation for Earth and solar research remain a part of the payload.

DSCOVR will be launched aboard a rocket built by SpaceX. The launch date is weather-dependent and subject to change.

DSCOVR was originally scheduled to launch on Tuesday, but the mission was scrubbed because of upper level winds. Launch was reset for today.

Click here for the full story.

Port Commissioners Hear Proposals

From Ferris Wheels to Sky Towers

San Diego’s port commissioners heard presentations Tuesday on five proposals to build a giant Ferris wheel or observation tower at the Downtown waterfront.

‘SkySpire San Diego’ would be a 250-foot-tall cylinder-shaped tower, topped with a restaurant that offers 360-degree views of San Diego Bay. Passengers would be lifted to the top in enclosed gondolas that spiral to and from the observation deck.

‘SkySpire San Diego’ would be a 250-foot-tall cylinder-shaped tower, topped with a restaurant that offers 360-degree views of San Diego Bay. Passengers would be lifted to the top in enclosed gondolas that spiral to and from the observation deck.

The “observation wheels” have become an “in” thing for tourist attractions. Eighteen are now in use around the country, and one that opened 11 months ago in Las Vegas is the world’s tallest at 550 feet. Another wheel in Orlando is set to open this year, and one is in the planning stages for New York City, according to staff for the San Diego Unified Port District.

No decisions were made by the commissioners.

The proposals for San Diego’s waterfront include:

• A 450-foot-tall observation wheel proposed by Discovery Point LLC — which includes SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment — that would charge riders $25 to $30 and generate an estimated $70 million in revenue.

• A 450-foot-high version from the same developers of the Orlando project.

• A wheel up to 250 feet high from developers of five previous attractions that would charge riders $15 each.

• A wheel 175 feet high by Pier 57, a waterfront development firm that wants to replicate the Seattle Great Wheel in San Diego.

• An observation tower at least 250 feet tall that would be topped by a restaurant, proposed by U.S. Thrill Rides, which has created attractions for Balboa Park, Universal, Six Flags and Mall of America.

A port staff report says some of the proposals are more fleshed out than others at this point, and all are unsolicited.

If the port commissioners eventually accept one of the ideas, it will be one step in a very long regulatory process. According to port staff, such a project would be subject to a thorough environmental analysis and would have to be cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration, state Coastal and Lands commissions, U.S. and state wildlife agencies, and possibly other government organizations.

The Faa has already come out against the Discovery Point wheel as being an aviation hazard at Lindbergh Field. The FAA indicated that a structure 277 feet or lower would be acceptable.

— By City News Service                 

Personnel Announcements

Attorney Jeff Rector Elevated to Partner

Jeff Rector, an attorney with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton’s Del Mar office, has been elevated to partner of the firm. Rector is an energy project finance specialist, a member of the Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental practice group. He represents project developers, investors, and lenders on domestic and international transactions involving new investments and financings of energy and other infrastructure projects.  Rector received his J.D. from Stanford Law School, his Master of Pacific International Affairs from UC San Diego and his undergraduate degree from UC San Diego.


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Voice Your Opinion

We Want Your Opinions on San Diego’s Big Issues In the coming months, Probosky Research (one of California’s leading opinion research firms) will continue its partnership with SD METRO to survey San Diego residents about topics of interest to our readers. We’d like to throw open the door for suggestions for topics. What do you want to know? What do you think you know, but aren’t sure? What are you certain you know, but want to prove it beyond doubt? Ideally, we’d like to see questions that have to do with public policy.

Some areas may include Mayor Filner’s first 100 days job performance, should the city be responsible for economic growth and the creation of new jobs, how important are infrastructure improvements to our daily lives (streets and bridges, etc.), how important is water independence, how satisfied are residents with public transit or how do city residents value Balboa Park and other open spaces? Do you believe the City Council should revive the Plaza de Panama plan for Balboa Park?

You can email Probolsky Research directly with your ideas: