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The Cutting Edge: COMPUTING / TECHNOLOGY / INNOVATION : Russians Visit the Mecca of Real Estate for Reform Tips

November 16, 1994|AMY HARMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A delegation from the Russian Federation is touring the Southland this week, viewing high-tech demonstrations of land record systems in hopes of picking up tips on how to handle that odd form of ownership known as private property.

Hosting the group is a welcoming committee of equal size from Infotec Development Inc., a Santa Ana firm that stands to make a tidy bundle off the planned transfer of an eighth of the world's land from public to private hands.

Infotec heads a team of U.S. companies bidding to supply Russia with a massive mapping and land-management information system that aims to propel the federation simultaneously toward capitalism and the cutting edge of computer automation.

Among other things, it would give the nation's new property owners a guaranteed legal title to their land and enable the state to collect taxes. It is also expected to spur investment, as international firms are given more assurances that what they're buying or leasing is actually theirs.

"Four years ago, there were no property owners in Russia," said Nikolai Vasilyevich Komov, chairman of the Russian Center for Scientific Support of Land Reform. "Now there are 60 million. You can only imagine the volume of work that needs to be done . . . " Until now, transactions ranging from granting a family a title to a small apartment to surveying the boundaries of a large farm have been done via pen and paper--similar to the systems still in place in most of America's 50 states (many developed before that other revolution, the one in 1776).

But not for 1990s Russia, this analog approach: "So much is developing with the information superhighway," said Arkady S. Golubkov, the government's chief technologist. "It's very important to us to have the most advanced technology."

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The World Bank has pledged $80 million toward the project, which, just to get off the ground, will involve the purchase of 50,000 personal computers, assorted scanning equipment, printers, global positioning systems to photograph and mark property boundaries and intensive technical training programs for government employees.

At the Southern California Assn. of Governments on Tuesday morning, the Russians saw a demonstration of geographic information systems, a rapidly growing computer technology that combines mapping with non-geographic information (such as employment statistics) to predict patterns such as residential development and traffic congestion.

GIS will be a key piece of the Russian system. But as association officials explained how 184 cities in Southern California use it to coordinate development plans, their Russian visitors interrupted with more practical questions.

"Who is the owner of this system and where did you get the funds to set it up?" one asked. And another: "Can I ask a more simple question: How much did it cost?"

Komov's committee, known as the Roscomzem, has been working for two years to figure out the best way to install the cornerstone of capitalism into its economic and legal systems. Unlike many nations in a more advanced stage of capitalism, Russia intends to have a centralized system.

"In many ways they have an advantage because they're starting basically from scratch," said Richard Mader of SCAG.

Since property taxes are a well-known revenue generator under capitalism, there is considerable pressure on the Russians to implement a land management system quickly.

"Take me, for example. I now have a country house, and I want to know it is really mine, my legal status, my title," said Dmitri Jouravlev, a member of the Roscomzem. "It's a rare historical occasion that the interests of the state are the same as mine."

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