Sunday, March 29, 2015

Welcome to our abbreviated Bakersfield spring, sure to be followed by intense heat, which brings out the snakes along the road

 * … WEATHER: How great has our weather been the past week? I slept with my windows open
(making my tabby a happy cat) and I picked up the unmistakeable scent of meat on the grill throughout my downtown neighborhood. But it won't last long. On a bike ride to Woody on Saturday, I spotted no fewer than six snakes (two dead and four alive) sunning on the Granite-Woody Road, a sure sign that heat is on its way. Meanwhile, closer to home Californian photographer Felix Adamo snapped a picture of a rattlesnake on - where else? - on the bike path extension called Rattlesnake out at Hart Park.

 * … HOMELESS: Homeless encampments are cropping up in the dry Kern River bed west of Yokuts Park, the first time in my memory that this has happened that far toward Cal State Bakersfield. This is all accompanied by litter, trash and abandoned shopping carts that unfortunately the city has to periodically clean.

 * … WATER RATES: My comments about my sky-high monthly water bills drew this response from Sandy Dralle: "I just want to second the story from the woman in downtown. I am a single senior citizen living in East Bakersfield who pays $90 a month to California Water Service which recently raised the price by 12%. My friends in the more affluent Southwest are on meters and only pay $30 - 50 a month for water. Now they want us to conserve water and pay the same price. I don't mind paying for what I get but do resent paying for what I don't get."

 * … MS: I ran into my friend Ray Karpe the other day, a local businessman who also serves as a director on the Southern California Multiple Sclerosis Society Board. Karpe said researchers are in the early stages of trying to develop a reliable and effective way to measure the progression of MS. It is believed that finding new ways to measure MS susceptibility and progression will help scientists better understand the biology of the disease and identify treatments. Although the results are years away, The National MS Society is encouraged by this hopeful new development.

 * … SANDSTONE: Tim Horton sent me this message: "I read your column with regularity even though I live in Texas now. I remember the Sandstone on Truxtun as my grandpa would take me there after a trip to get my free roll at the Pyrenees bread store across from what is now thr Salvation Army in old town Kern. The reader is correct; they had everything in that store. I was always fascinated by the tree he referred to. That's one of the best memories I have of being with my grandpa. He would be over 100 tomorrow. Thanks for reminding me."

 * … MORE SANDSTONE: Add this from reader Mark Thompson: "Saw in Bakersfield Observed about the old Sandstone store. As a child I LOVED going there with my dad. As for the sequoia tree, in Kettleman City there is an awesome new place called Bravo Farms.  In their lobby is a cross section of an old sequoia with the dates of significant history events tagged to the rings.  Pretty awesome place, with BBQ and a ton of antiques.  Word of warning though, do not drink the water, soda or tea as it tastes terrible due to the LOUSEY water in the area."

House Majority Leader McCarthy: House budget includes better choice for our veterans, who deserve better care from the government they served

 House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy gives us his weekly view from Capitol Hill. In his words:

"To achieve great things, you must start from a strong foundation. You have to have a vision, but you also need the means and structure to achieve that vision. The vision for this nation that we have in the To turn that vision into action, Congress needs to pass a budget. Passing a budget is not only a showing of competence but it is also a document that lays out the path to achieve that vision.
House of Representatives is a freer and more prosperous America that empowers the individual, not Washington.

"This week, the House of Representatives passed a budget that ensures Washington lives within its means, doesn’t raise taxes on the American people, and sets the stage for a strong American future--a future with a simpler and fairer tax code,  a market-based health care system that empowers the patient, and one that doesn’t mortgage our children’s future with more reckless spending today.

"These pro-growth policies were combined with responsible support for our nation’s defense. As our nation and our allies face increasing threats from terrorists in the Middle East, Iran attempting to achieve the means to build a nuclear bomb, and aggression from countries such as Russia and Iran that threaten the sovereignty and democracy of free nations, House Republicans increased support for the men and women in our military.

"With our priorities on paper, the next several months will be spent fine-tuning our broad path forward to achieve the conservative policies that will grow America’s economy from the ground up while reducing Washington’s influence in our daily lives. Known as the appropriations process, this is an exercise that will demand Congress’ focus until a budget in detail can be presented to the President.

"Our focus will not be exclusive to appropriations over the coming months. There is simply too much to do (or rather undo) to free our neighbors from the harm government has done.

"Perhaps the most egregious example of the failures of the bureaucratic state is the inefficiencies of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). And for our community, this failure was magnified by our local veterans having to travel all the way to Sepulveda to receive care while passing multiple medical facilities along the way. Not only is that wrong, it is maddeningly inefficient.

"That is why offering veterans choice to seek private care that is closer to their homes was a big part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability (CHOICE) Act that Congress passed, and the President signed into law last year. However, the VA’s rigid definition of distance eligibility still left many in our community ineligible for the program.

A"fter pressure from Congress, the VA smartly made the commonsense adjustments to open the program for many vets that live in our community, and communities across the country, that face long distances to receive VA care. This announcement is a big win for veterans in the west.

"So as House Republicans continue to plot the path forward for a brighter future, we will remain committed to holding our government accountable today. Important victories from the most recent VA announcement to the decision by the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Agency to back down from its plan to harm our 2nd Amendment rights are examples of the value and importance of remaining vigilant on Washington’s bureaucracy while working to achieve the vision for tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Oil magnate T. Boone Pickens predicts that the price of oil could jump to $100 a barrel by the end of 2016, and trying to decode the puzzle over residential water rates

 * … OIL PRICES: Oil producers have sharply curtailed drilling as the price of crude has plummeted, but it may not last for long. At least that is the opinion of oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, who predicted this week that oil prices would rebound to around $100 a barrel by the end of 2016. At the same time
Pickens, president of BP Capital, said the idea of "peak oil"—the point when oil production goes into an irreversible decline—shouldn't be dismissed considering the boom in domestic production. Crude oil is now selling at around $50 a barrel.

 * … ISRAEL: Keep an eye on the strained relations between the Obama administration and the state of Israel. The feud between President Obama and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu is personal and bitter, but should it affect our relationship with the only active democracy in the Middle East and our longtime ally? Former Florida governor and likely presidential contender Jeb Bush put it this way: "This is no way to treat an ally. Conducting the foreign policy of a great nation requires maturity and a strategic sense of America’s long-term interests. This is no time for schoolyard antics.”

* … WATER: Understanding how local water rates are established is like learning Sanskrit (where is Lois Henry when you need her?) so I submit this humbly. I live downtown, alone in a small house with no pool and xeriscape landscaping, and my most recent flat rate service water bill from California Watrer Service came to $90.56. Meanwhile, a married friend who lives in Laurelglen with a full lawn and pool paid a metered rate of just $13.19 for the same period. In a time of drought, either I am paying too much or someone else too little.

* … FOODIE BEST BET: Uricchio's Trattoria has a tasty new happy hour appetizer that is worth your attention. It's a plate of lightly fried clams, with tarter sauce, all for $6. Make sure you call ahead and ask if it is available that day.

* … WOMEN: Congratulations to four outstanding local women who are being honored as "Women with a Heart for Bakersfield" by Garden Pathways. They include Irma Cervantes, multicultural communications manager at Bright House Networks; Nancy Chaffin, vice president, administration and operations, The Bakersfield Californian; Dr. Naina Patel, mind and body medicine department head, Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center; and Wendy Porter, executive director, Wounded Heroes Fund. They will be honored at Garden Pathway's High Tea on Wednesday, May 13, at Seven Oaks Country Club.

 * … MEMORIES: Randy Martin wrote to ask if anyone remembers the old Sandstone store on Truxtun Avenue that was a locally owned version of a Home Depot. "It had everything that the big box stores have and more," he said. "There was a train car out front that served breakfast and lunch. Another interesting item was a cross-section of a giant sequoia. It had tags on it that documented the tree through history. I remember one of the rings was when Columbus landed. I wonder where that tree went?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Canyon Hills Assembly of God takes over the Golden State Mall and promises a total rehabilitation, not a homeless shelter, while out in the Southwest Grand Island at Serven Oaks gets some added security

 * … MONTGOMERY WARD: It's amazing how quickly rumors circulate in this age of social media and instant messaging. Yesterday, rumors were flying that the old Golden State Mall on F Street was about to be turned into a homeless center run by its new owner, Canyon Hills Assembly of God. Facebook and message groups buzzed with concern, particularly among homeowners in the Riviera Westchester and downtown area who were worried about an even greater influx of homeless patrons in their neighborhoods. So I tracked down Canyon Hills Pastor Wendell Vinson and met him for coffee at the Village Grill to get the truth. A homeless center? Not true, Vinson told me. Instead, Vinson said the church plans a $3 million rehabilitation to turn the 165,000 square foot mall into a multi-use "hub for church revitalization… We are a church but we are neighborhood friendly. We will create a bright spot in this historic location to serve our community." Plans are early, but Vinson said he could envision a pre school, a church affiliated with Canyon Hills, community meeting rooms and perhaps a food court. The church is also negotiating with an international disaster relief organization to assume some 30,000 square feet. Vinson noted he lives in the area and would settle for nothing less than an "irresistable environment" much like what the church has created at its Auburn Street campus in the northeast. The building, he noted, "is a complete mess" but he promised a total rehab job to create a "vibrant, beautiful and useful addition" to downtown.

 * …SPOTTED: Zach Martin, son of Covenant Coffee founder Randy Martin, posted this: "Trying my hardest to #live like Jesus. Woke up this morning and turned #water into #coffee … #biblestudy #crossroads #hopeinacup.

 * … SECURITY: I noticed that the entrances to the Grand Island neighborhood at Seven Oaks are getting an additional layer of security. Spike strips, the kind that prevent a car from entering the wrong way, are being installed at all of the gates. Entering through the exit gates is a dangerous practice as well as a security concern, and the traffic control spikes are being installed to prevent this from happening.

 * … RAFTING: The cancellation of the season for rafting on the Kern River because of the drought prompted this note from Diane Hopkins over at tghe MARE Riding Center. "I was so sad to read about River's End rafting trips being cancelled for this year.  Darron Nilsson has always been very generous to MARE Riding Center with their fundraising rafting trips. They were always a highlight of our summer fun. We are hoping next year will be a better year for River's End."

* … SCAMS: I heard from another reader who received one of those threatening calls from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service demanding money. This is an old scam and my advice: hang up the phone. If the IRS has a problem with you, they will do it in writing and in a way you can easily verify.

* … MEA CULPA: I forgot to mention that a group of students from West High School helped pitch in to make the West Rotary Cioppino Feed a success. Said Jodie Hare from West High: "I loved the fact that you both attended and mentioned Bakersfield West Rotary’s annual Cioppino feed; it is a wonderful event that serves a great cause. However, I feel obliged to remind you that Centennial was not the only school there that night; in fact, West High School’s Interact club provided the bulk of servers for Cioppino - and has done so for over fifteen years."

Sunday, March 22, 2015

California Gov. Jerry Brown defends hydraulic fracking on Meet the Press, checking up on the Meals on Wheels program and another successful Cioppino Feed by West Rotary

 * … FRACKING: Gov. Jerry Brown launched a no nonsense defense of hydraulic fracturing on Meet the Press Sunday, dismissing host Chuck Todd's concerns that the practice uses too much water and could be dangerous. Brown noted California oil companies have been fracking for decades, safely, and that the practice does not use excessive amounts of water. He also reminded Todd that California
imports 70 percent of its annual oil consumption, and banning fracking would hardly make a dent in consumption but force the state to import yet more oil on rail cars.

* … MEALS ON WHEELS: I stopped by the Rasmussen Senior Center last week to check on the remarkable Meals on Wheels program run by the North of the River Parks and Recreation District. Five days a week the program feeds 255 homebound seniors and another 150 show up daily for lunch. The program is so popular that there is a waiting list. It's hard to overstate how important this program is for so many seniors who live alone and don't have the means to provide for themselves. Hats off to some of the NOR executives involved in the program, including Lisa Plank, Diane Hooper and Mishelle Ulrich.

 * … CIOPPINO: I would not have wanted to be anywhere else this past Saturday evening than at Monsignor Leddy Hall in La Cresta, where I joined a few hundred other folks at the annual Cioppino Feed. West Rotary has cracked the code on a successful fund raiser: feed the crowd with steamed clams, salad and cioppino (a fish stew), keep it simple with wine and a silent and live auction and send everyone home happy and smiling. A special thanks to our server Alyson Amestoy and her group of Centennial High School volunteers who worked the room to keep everyone fed. The club expects to make some $80,000 which it will dole out to deserving charities.

 * … BAD FORM: Shame on whoever decided to dump an old jacuzzi off Round Mountain Road at the foot of someone's driveway. Think about it: it likely took three or four strong young men to lift the 500-plus pound piece of plumbing into the back of a pickup, but instead of taking it to the dump, they unceremoniously left it on the side of the road.

* … DOWNTOWN: The deadline is fast approaching for grant applications focused on improving downtown Bakersfield. The Bakersfield Californian (family) Foundation will accept applications up until April 3 for projects devoted to beautifying, or improving, the downtown area. Go to for details.

* … KINDNESS: Teri Snow Gamblin was riding on the back of a motorcycle near Sierra Summit recently when she was thrown from the bike onto the highway. Her companion was not injured but she suffered some serious cuts and found herself bleeding in an area with no cell phone service. The 61-year-old woman shared what happened next. "A young boy maybe 10 cautiously approached, and I asked  him for help. He said they had heard the crash, his mom was coming and that she was a nurse.  I was taken into their cabin where she cleaned the wounds and bandaged my hand until I could get a ride to the hospital. Mom said they came to the cabin for the weekend, so she could help her son with his homework. She kept me warm and even cut one of her t shirts to bandage my hand with. Her son and his dog went down to the highway and flagged down the car that was taking me to the  hospital… As mom helped me into the vehicle she took my head into her hands and kissed my forehead and wished me well. In the shock of it all I didn’t get her name,  however she is a Kaiser nurse working behind San Joaquin hospital. Richard it would be greatly appreciated if you could share this story and hopefully someone that knows this beautiful, kind person can let her know how much I truly appreciated the kindness she and her son bestowed on a total stranger."


Friday, March 20, 2015

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy: The EPA uses suspect science to punish the Central Valley for on clean air standards

 Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Leader, gives us his weekly view from Capitol Hill.

 "There is a troubling trend occurring within the agencies that make up the executive branch where legislating and creating law has overtaken the original charter to execute the laws that Congress writes
and passes. In the House, we are committed to reforming our government to make it efficient, effective, and accountable. This week, accountability took center stage as we passed two bills that establish greater accountability within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

 "Perhaps the greatest example of this is its latest proposal to regulate activity in our community.
 "Throughout the Central Valley we know all too well that the EPA wields too much power over how we live and how we do business.  We know that exhaust and pollution from our big city neighbors like San Francisco and Los Angeles gets blown in and trapped because of our topography. But we also have that topography (and soil) to thank for the richest land to grow food in America.

 "But an unfortunate result is that our air is notoriously worse than other parts of the country.

 "Our community is a community of doers and problem solvers. When we are faced with an issue, we work together to do what it takes to solve it. That is why as we are faced with poor air quality, we are doing whatever we humanly can to clean the air up. We want to make sure our community is healthy and that our children are safe when they go out for recess or out to play with their friends.
 "Not surprising, our community’s resilience and commitment has yielded positive results. Our air IS getting better. In fact, last year was the cleanest on record.

  "Despite our progress --- despite the fact our air problems often originate elsewhere --- and despite pushing our technology to its current limit --- the EPA wants to issue even more stringent ozone regulations. The EPA says “science” demands they do more and more and more.

  "But to echo Bakersfield Californian columnist, Lois Henry there is a very reasonable question:  “What science?” The EPA is trying to impose more regulations based on conclusions that no one can check.

 "That bears repeating. The EPA wants to harm businesses and hurt our economy with rules based on studies that they won’t let anyone else see. Not the public --- not independent scientists --- not even the United States Congress.  If this sounds outrageous --- it’s because it is. It’s called “secret science.” and it’s wrong.
 "If the EPA or most any agency is going to propose a rule --- the people have every right to know why. By hiding the science they use from public view and independent analysis --- the EPA is asking us to trust them.

  "They are asking us to trust them even while they propose costly carbon and ozone rules on our economy and attempt to regulate puddles as if they were navigable waterways. They continue to grab for more power while the people see fewer benefits and more costs.

 "This House wants government accountability. We want transparency --- just like this Administration continues to promise. And we want to stop unnecessary secrecy in government.
 "That is why the House passed H.R. 1030, the Secret Science Reform Act which opens up the science behind regulations to the American public. Our community and country needs more accountability from its government, which can start by ending this type of unnecessary secrecy.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Along with basketball, March Madness brings a spike in vasectomies and TV upgrades and three big local events in May will compete for our wallets

 * … MARCH MADNESS: It turns out that our obsession with the NCAA Basketball Tournament has to do with a lot more than simply college basketball. According to researchers, doctors report up to
a 50 percent rise in the number of vasectomies during the NCAA tournament, presumably so the men can spend their recovery in front of the big screen TV. Further, 27 percent of respondents to a 2014 survey say they watch games at work, and 12 percent would upgrade to HDTV if their favorite team made it to the Sweet Sixteen.

 * … MORE MADNESS: And speaking of March Madness, few households are more excited about the tournament than the home of Grimmay Farms counsel Jeff Green and his wife, District Attorney Lisa Green. Consider this: their son Matthew Green graduated from UC Irvine, brother Andrew graduated from UCLA and sister Rebecca from Indiana University. Jeff, meanwhile, is an alum of San Diego State. All four schools -San Diego State, UC Irvine, Indiana and UCLA - are represented in the tournament. Only Fresno State, Lisa's alma mater, failed to make the Big Dance.

* … EVENTS: Three big events are on a collision course for competing for our attention (and dollars) in late May. It is all starting on Saturday, May 23, when George Martin's huge rock and country show will feature over 30 acts at the Kern County Museum, all for a price tag of $130 a ticket. On the same day, the Bakersfield Craft Beer Festival will be at the CSUB Amphitheater, hosted by Imbibe Wine and Moo Creamery. And then, just a few days later, the Eagles will be appearing at Rabobank Arena, and you can bet tickets won't be cheap for that. Those are three popular events that will make a serious dent in your wallet, and how effectively they cannabalize each other will determine how successful they are.

 * … SPOTTED: A young mother holding the hands of her two very young daughters jaywalking across a busy south Chester, forcing two cars to veer into oncoming traffic to avoid running over them.

* … STARBUCKS: So what do you think of the Starbucks campaign to spark a conversation about race by writing provocotive messages on our coffee cups? As a frend told me: "Can I just have a cup of coffee please? I don't need a morning conversation on race with my local barista."

* … GOOD FORM: Don't you love it when people surprise and delight you? From Sheila Blackburn: "I read your column regularly and know that you often pass on a thank you to good samaritans in our community. I would like to publicly thank the kind gentleman who came to my elderly mother's aid following a mishap on Manor Street on Saturday morning, making sure she was okay, getting her car to the side of the road, and delivering her safely to my home  We didn't get his name, but we wanted to publicly thank him for his kindness. My mother couldn't stop talking about that 'nice man.' We are very grateful to him. The world needs more people like this thoughtful, caring gentleman."

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The private story behind the life of the latest victim of a hit and run, Monty Byrom set to appear at Temple Beth El, and Nordstrom Rack gets ready to open its first Bakersfield location

 * … RIP SHORTY: Every death is accompanied by a personal story and most of them go unnoticed by the public. Joe Sacco wanted me to know that the death of 66-year-old Lauren "Shorty" Bristol was not one of them. Bristol was killed in a hit and run incident at Calloway Road and Palm Drive a few days ago, the latest pedestrian death in a long line of tragedies locally.  "The
gentleman killed was the longest tenured employee at our family business Sierra International Machinery. We used to be Sierra Bag and over any years we transformed into recycling and machinery. The loss has rocked our company and family. He was a man of the highest integrity, he mentored me an my brother and many others. He was loved by all and we at Sierra are in a state of shock. He was a great husband , father and grandfather who loved his family the way we all should love our families. I wanted you to know that this man wasn't just a random man killed but a beloved employee and family man."

* … BEST BETS: One of this weekend's best bets will happen Sunday at the Bell Tower Club when local rock and blues singer Monty Byrom and his band will be appearing to benefit Temple Beth El. It is a 2 p.m. show and the cost is $25 a ticket. On Saturday night, the Bakersfield West Rotary will holds its annual Cioppino Feed at Monsignor Leddy Hall at Garces Memorial High School, a can't miss even here in the charity fund raising season.

 * … NORDSTROM: The next big retailer to open at The Shops at River Walk will be Nordstrom Rack, which opens its doors on Thursday, March 26. Get ready for another mob scene as Bakersfield welcomes a new retailer, and it no doubt will test a parking lot that is already jammed with the opening of Sprouts Farmers Market and BevMo!

 * … BURTON: I had a chance to catch up with Kevin Burton, who runs the foundation over at San Joaquin Community Hospital and has been eyeing a run for mayor if Harvey Hall chooses not to seek reelection. Burton said he is definitely interested, has been overwhelmed with the amount of support her has garnered, and will decide only after consulting his family and friends.

 * … FITNESS: And don't forget about the 6th Annual Bakersfield Health and Fitness Expo set for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rabobank Theater. This is a free event and will feature dozens of vendors focusing on healthy living.

 * … SCAM: Are you ready for another telephone scam targeting the elderly? Consider this from Norma Jackson. "The newest scam comes from an e-mail I received this morning from the 'Attorney General Office of South Carolina. They told me I was now going to be arrested regarding a lawsuit which is filed on my name and gave me a case file number. The first big tip off was the horrible grammar. They were also going to 'update this thing to your employer place and we are sure you will get terminated from your job with the immediate effect' [sic].  It provided a number for me to call; they also [very nicely] provided me with an Attorney Retainer Agreement for me to retain The Bennett Law Firm to represent me. I called the South Carolina Attorney General's Office and spoke with a Winifred there, who told me it was a fraud and I wasn't the first one.  She gave me the number for consumer affairs to report it.  On calling them I spoke with Matt in the fraud division, who knew about scam.  He gave me the website for internet crimes and also phone number for Federal Trade Commission, which I did call.

* …ACHIEVER: More on the good news front: Congratulations to Alicia Sandoval Gilliam, an alumni of East Bakersfield High school class of 1994, for  being honored by the National Association of Social Worker (San Jose Unit) last week. Alicia is the city of Sunnyvale's Youth, Family and Resources Coordinator. Thanks to her proud mother, Vickie Gilley, for sharing this.