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Janesville residents believe city registry is ‘good first step' to filling vacant properties


Shirley Worley considers the vacant building next door to be both an eyesore and a safety concern.

The Janesville woman lives next to an empty house on Linn Street, one of 101 properties originally listed on a vacant building registry compiled by the city.

The home has drab clapboard siding and a disheveled string of lights hanging above the door. The lawn is unraked, and in summer it is mowed only if Worley does it herself or if she complains to the city, she said.

Worley also remembers when someone tried to break into the house’s garage. Now she hopes the city—which recently took control of the foreclosed property—will take a more active role in finding a tenant.

Janesville’s vacant building registry gives the city an inventory of where such properties are. It also is intended to encourage those property owners to fix up their buildings and get them back on the real estate market.

A Gazette review of the registry shows the vast majority of properties are up to date with tax payments. And only a handful of entities—either banks or individual real estate developers—own multiple properties on the list.

Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said she wasn’t surprised that vacant building ownership was so dispersed or that most places hadn’t fallen into tax delinquency. If owners do fall far behind on taxes and lose their buildings to foreclosure, then the city typically takes control.

Now that it’s under city ownership, the Linn Street property meets an exemption and is no longer listed on the vacant registry. City officials now will work with the Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development and see which foreclosed properties the organization wants to rehabilitate.

Those not fixed by the partnership can either be fixed by the city, sold as is or razed, Bedessem said.

Though no longer on the registry, the house on Linn Street was one of 19 Fourth Ward properties included in the original document. It should be noted that vacant buildings can be found throughout the city and are not limited to the Fourth Ward, a neighborhood that has fought negative stereotypes in the past.

Teresa McKeown, a Fourth Ward resident and chairwoman of a neighborhood committee, said she’s encouraged the city is trying to fill vacant buildings. Finding a homeowner or tenant reduces blight and criminal activity such as vandalism.

“When you see a new coat of paint, maybe some flowers planted, we’ve seen like a domino effect where other properties nearby start doing things outside their properties, too, to improve and fix them up,” McKeown said. “It’s almost contagious. You don’t want to be outdone by your neighbor. It’s really made an impact.”

She called the registry “a good first step” but hoped the city had a backup plan in case the registry didn’t go far enough. Marketing the properties more aggressively could help them get filled more quickly, she suggested.

Greg Wallace was searching the back seat of his work truck Thursday afternoon when approached by a reporter. Standing outside a home on South Jackson Street, Wallace said he doesn’t live in the Fourth Ward but has worked as a rental property maintenance man here for nearly a decade.

Some houses in the neighborhood have been vacant as long as he can remember. Wallace said it frustrates him to see rental units go unfilled, especially because he knows families who are homeless.

The unoccupied buildings vex city staff at a time when Janesville is mired in a housing shortage. Officials have repeatedly touted the need for more available housing at all income levels.

Bedessem said the city cannot realistically take control of properties if the owners pay taxes on time. When the city acquires a building via foreclosure, it has some funding to do small-scale rehabilitation. But the city doesn’t have the capacity to do much more.

Still, it doesn’t make sense to her why a property owner would keep a building off the market and avoid earning income from it.

“We’ve had that discussion multiple times within our office, where it appears to be relatively decent, and yes, it may need some work to make it marketable,” Bedessem said. “But we ask that often. Why would you just continue to pay taxes and sit on this place? Sell it. I wish I had the answer to that.”

McKeown said reliable residents can make the Fourth Ward more welcoming and friendly. And despite not living in the neighborhood, Wallace knows there would be no shortage of people clamoring to live in the neighborhood if the properties were fixed up.

“There’s good people out here who want to have an apartment. Landlords should take more pride,” he said. “This isn’t a bad neighborhood. It’s a beautiful neighborhood that just went down.

“But it can come back.”

Shannon Hebbe contributed to this story.

Anthony Wahl 

Sisters Ada, left, and Norah Westness have their photo taken in front of the Christmas tree at Lower Courthouse Park on Friday following the lighting ceremony.

Anthony Wahl 

Children gather at the front of the stage as the lights for the Christmas tree are turned on at Lower Courthouse Park on Friday as part of Janesville’s Jolly Jingle, a weekend of holiday-related activities across town.

Marriott breach exposed data of up to 500 million guests


Hackers stole information on as many as 500 million guests of the Marriott hotel empire over four years, obtaining credit card and passport numbers and other personal data, the company said Friday as it acknowledged one of the largest security breaches in history.

The full scope of the failure was not immediately clear. Marriott was trying to determine if the records included duplicates, such as a single person staying multiple times.

The affected hotel brands were operated by Starwood before it was acquired by Marriott in 2016. They include W Hotels, St. Regis, Sheraton, Westin, Element, Aloft, The Luxury Collection, Le Méridien and Four Points. Starwood-branded timeshare properties were also affected. None of the Marriott-branded chains were threatened.

The crisis quickly emerged as one of the biggest data breaches on record.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 and up, this is one of those No. 10 size breaches. There have only been a few of them of this scale and scope in the last decade,” said Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode, a security company.

By comparison, last year’s Equifax hack affected more than 145 million people. A Target breach in 2013 affected more than 41 million payment card accounts and exposed contact information for more than 60 million customers.

Security analysts were especially alarmed to learn that the breach began in 2014. While such failures often span months, four years is extreme, said Yonatan Striem-Amit, chief technology officer of Cybereason.

It was unclear what hackers could do with the credit card information. Though it was stored in encrypted form, it was possible that hackers also obtained the two components needed to descramble the numbers, the company said.

For as many as two-thirds of those affected, the exposed data could include mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and passport numbers. Also included might be dates of birth, gender, reservation dates, arrival and departure times and Starwood Preferred Guest account information.

“We fell short of what our guests deserve and what we expect of ourselves,” CEO Arne Sorenson said in a statement. “We are doing everything we can to support our guests and using lessons learned to be better moving forward.”

The breach of personal information could put Marriott in violation of new European privacy laws, as guests included European travelers.

Marriott set up a website and call center for customers who believe they are at risk.

The hackers’ access to the reservation system could be troubling if they turn out to be, say, nation-state spies rather than con artists simply seeking financial gain, said Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of cybersecurity at the University of Maryland University College.

Reservation information could mean knowing when and where government officials are traveling, to military bases, conferences or other destinations abroad, he said.

“There are just so many things you can extrapolate from people staying at hotels,” Varsalone said.

The richness of the data makes the hack unique, Wysopal said.

“Once you know someone’s arrival, departure, room preferences,” that could be used to incriminate a person or for a reputation attack that “goes beyond your traditional identity theft or credit-card theft,” he said.

It isn’t common for passport numbers to be part of a hack, but it is not unheard of. Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific Airways said in October that 9.4 million passengers’ information had been breached, including passport numbers.

Passport numbers are often requested by hotels outside the U.S. because U.S. driver’s licenses are not accepted there as identification. The numbers could be added to full sets of data about a person that bad actors sell on the black market, leading to identity theft.

And while the credit card industry can cancel accounts and issue new cards within days, it is a much more difficult process, often steeped in government bureaucracy, to get a new passport.

But one redeeming factor about passports is that they are often required to be seen in person, said Ryan Wilk of NuData Security. “It’s a highly secure document with a lot of security features,” he said.

Email notifications for those who may have been affected begin rolling out Friday.

While the first impulse for those potentially affected by the breach could be to check credit cards, security experts say other information in the database could be more damaging.

The names, addresses, passport numbers and other personal information “is of greater concern than the payment info, which was encrypted,” analyst Ted Rossman of said, citing the risk that thieves could open fraudulent accounts.

An internal security tool signaled a potential breach in early September, but the company was unable to decrypt the information that would define what data had possibly been exposed until last week.

G-20 summit stumbles on trade, climate


Divisions among the world leading economies emerged from the moment their leaders gathered Friday in Argentina: Donald Trump struck his own deals and angered allies, and the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia bonded amid criticism from European powers.

U.S. negotiators blocked progress at the Group of 20 summit on managing migration, slowing climate change, and streamlining how world trade is governed, according to European officials involved in the discussions.

Security concerns also weighed on the two-day talks in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s security minister said eight gasoline bombs were discovered in an area of the capital several miles from the summit venue where a protest in the afternoon drew thousands of demonstrators who held up banners with slogans like “Go away G-20” and “Go away Trump.”

The whole point of the G-20—formed in the wake of the global financial crisis a decade ago—is finding ways to solve global problems together, but diplomats in Buenos Aires struggled to find enough things all the leaders agree on.

Trump sought to use the summit to make his own trade deals, and angered the Argentine hosts by misconstruing their position on China’s trade practices.

Meanwhile, two men under heavy criticism from the West lately—Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—appeared to seek refuge in each other, bonding with a tough-guy hand grab as the leaders sat down around a huge round table for talks.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri kicked off the summit by acknowledging divisions within the G-20 while urging world leaders to have a “sense of urgency” and take actions “based on shared interests.”

Diplomats from the Group of 20 countries were haggling hard over a final summit statement, with deep divisions over what language to use on the Paris climate accord and the World Trade Organization.

Two European officials involved in the discussions said the U.S. was stymieing progress on both.

So an unorthodox solution emerged: An official in the French president’s office said the statement may have language that sets the U.S. apart. For example, a draft says 19 of the participants agree on the importance of upholding the Paris climate accord, but the U.S. doesn’t.

Asked about the European concerns, a U.S. official said progress was being made on the joint statement and the White House was “optimistic” about the document as a whole.

Later the Argentine official shepherding the G-20 finance talks, treasury official Laura Jaitman, said Trump was “very active and committed” in the dialogue and said progress was made in Friday’s talks on finance and trade.

“There’s a very positive message of how trade has been an engine of growth for the next decades and how it will continue in the future providing benefits for all citizens,” Jaitman said.

Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said trade talks were moving forward and nations were continuing to work on climate change wording.

Despite Trump’s dismissal of concerns about global warming, China, France and the United Nations came together Friday to pledge their support for the Paris climate accord. Their declaration was meant to encourage other G-20 members to do the same, and to provide a boost for an upcoming U.N. climate summit.

Overall the G-20 summit is meant to focus on issues such as labor, infrastructure, development, financial stability, climate sustainability and international commerce.

But as the gathering got underway, those themes seemed like afterthoughts, overshadowed by contentious matters from the U.S.-China trade dispute to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Russia and Ukraine have traded blame over the weekend seizure of Ukrainian ships and their crew—which Trump cited in canceling a much-awaited meeting with Putin at the G-20. Russia’s foreign minister regretted the cancellation, but said “love can’t be forced.”

Also looming large amid dozens of bilateral meetings in Buenos Aires: The gruesome slaying of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul Consulate and how the Saudi crown prince, who is alleged to have ordered the killing, is received by world leaders.

As soon as he arrived, the crown prince was confronted by French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed him on the Khashoggi investigation and the Saudi-backed war in Yemen.

Bin Salman told Macron not to worry, but Macron countered, “I am worried.”

Saudi Arabia has denied that bin Salman played a role, but some leaders were concerned about seeming to legitimize a man who U.S. intelligence agencies concluded ordered the killing. Trump’s administration, however, has made clear it does not want to torpedo the longstanding U.S. relationship with Riyadh.

It is the prince’s first significant appearance overseas since the killing. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been sharply critical of Saudi Arabia over the incident, is also in attendance.

Leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico, meanwhile, met in the morning to sign a trade deal replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement that was struck following months of tough negotiations that analysts say left a bitter taste among the partners.

It must still be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries, and passage in the U.S. could face a tough road in the House of Representatives after Democrats won a majority in November midterm elections.

While Trump canceled his meeting with Putin, the U.S. president was still scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but analysts were not optimistic about prospects for a major breakthrough on the two countries’ trade disputes a month before U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods are set to ramp up.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived late after her plane suffered a technical problem.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s attendance at the summit marked the first time a U.K. prime minister has visited Argentina’s capital. The only other prime minister to visit the country was Tony Blair, who went to Puerto Iguazu in 2001. The two countries have long been at odds over the South Atlantic islands known as the Falklands in Britain and the Malvinas in Argentina.

Faurie, the Argentine foreign minister, said the recent establishment of more flights to the disputed islands was a positive development.

“We are not withdrawing our historic claim,” he added. “The focus of this opportunity is in the reestablishment of trust.”

In downtown Buenos Aires, meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators flooded the 9 de Julio Avenue waving flags and holding up banners. Several marched topless with colorful national flags of summit countries painted on their chests.”

About 22,000 police officers and other security forces are guarding the leaders during the summit.

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 1, 2018

Shirley M. Cormany Nelson

Carol L. Plante

Anthony Wahl 

Janesville Jets’ Stanislav Dosek corrals the loose puck during the second period of their home game against the Minnesota Wilderness on Friday, Nov. 30.