Saturday, March 7, 2009

Bakersfield Youth Symphony: headed to Korea

If you want to feel good about our town, get acquainted with the Bakersfield Youth Symphony Orchestra (BYSO), made up of 70-plus kids from throughout our community. This is a group of high-achieving seventh through ninth graders that give hope to the idea that young folks can embrace culture. The group is now raising money for a big-time tour of Bucheon, South Korea, where they will perform and stay with local families. BYSO board president Regina Pryor says the kids will "come back changed people." It costs about $1,700 to send each kid on the trip and much of that has been raised, but more is needed. (Contact Pryor at 661-332-9582 to help) The entire tour runs from April 1-9. BYSO is affiliated with the Bakersfield Symphony and rehearsals take place weekly at Thompson Jr. High. BYSO funding comes from corporate and private donations, player tuition fees and ticket sales.

Theresa Goldner new county counsel

There has been a whole wave of retirements from the county this year - Bernie Barmann as county counsel, Daphne Washington as head of waste management and Ron Errea as chief operating officer - and they all just happen to be not only highly competent but solid citizens as well. So it was good to hear that the Supervisors tagged Theresa Goldner, a U.S. Magistrate, to succeed Barmann. "Terrie," as she is known to friends, is a high achiever and one of the nicest folks you will meet. Her husband is Barry Goldner of Klein DeNatale and Goldner and their daughter Rachel is a brilliant student. Terrie takes over April 13 and her public profile will be magnified instantly.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obama's gift to car buyers: deduct the sales tax

Kyle Northway over at Jim Burke Ford sent me an email reminder about a valentine in the Obama stimulus plan that directly benefits car buyers: purchase a new car in 2009 and you can deduct the state or local sales or excise taxes. There are of course income restrictions (if you make over $250,000 a year, forget it) but the local car dealers are hoping this provides a much needed stimulus to car sales, which have been just awful. Plus, as Kyle correctly notes, buyers can save even more if they avoid the increases in the state sales tax (effective April 1) and the increase in the vehicle license fee starting May 19. Kyle says the deduction is limited to purchases up to $49,500, which is more than enough to buy you a mighty sweet Ford over at the Jim Burke lot. The local guys certainly can use a boost: In February GM, Ford and Chrysler saw sales drop 52.9%, 48.4% and 44% respectively. The imports didn't fare much better, with Toyota down 37.3% and Nissan down 37.1%.

Kern Jobless rate hits 13.8 percent (ouch!)

This one hurts. Kern County's unemployment rate hit 13.8 percent in January. That's up from 11.8 percent in December, and it's a full four percentage points above what it was last year this time, at 9.8 percent. Now it's true that our "seasonal" unemployment rate hovers around 9 percent because of migratory labor, but 13.8 percent is a staggering number no matter how you view it. By comparison: the jobless rate in California is 10.6 percent and 8.5 percent nationally. Anecdotally, saw my friend Jeff Simpson today - he's the owner of Sequoia Sandwich shop - and he told me that for every opening for a server, he is being inundated with resumes from people with college degrees and others used to making $20 or $25 an hour. Rough out there.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Kevin McCarthy (BFF!) and me: at least on Twitter

I was mildly surprised this evening when I went online and found that Congressman Kevin McCarthy, our Bakersfield Republican from the 22nd District, was "following" me on Now for the uninitiated, understand that Twitter is a type of social networking technology with important implications for businesses and individuals. You establish an account and people "follow" your thoughts (or tweets) online. That's it in its simplest form but if you are not on it, you need to understand it. To this point my Twitter network consisted of a daughter in New York who tweets about bad dates and late, late nights in Soho, a friend in LA who is into really bad haiku, a fellow gym rat and a dear friend in Maryland who is absolutely obsessive about guitars. So it was nice to welcome the chief deputy whip into my world - an upgrade!- but more interesting to see how our congressman is using the power of social networking to spread the GOP gospel and keep his constituents up to date on legislation. Of course Kevin has a website (check it out here) but it seems downright old school compared to the tweet.

H. Walker's: a company that markets to its "tribe"

One of the savviest marketers in town is Tracy Walker-Kiser, owner of H. Walker's Men Clothing Company, located downtown at the corner of 17th and K Street. Herb Walker's has been around for a long time, and Tracy recently took over the day-to-day control from her father, Herb. What impresses me is how well Tracy knows her market. Her audience - it's actually more like a "tribe" than an audience - is the Bakersfield that is connected, involved, aware and more likely than not to show up at a Rotary function or art show. And she targets her marketing dollars wisely, only using venues that speak directly to that audience. She's a regular in BakersfieldLife magazine, for example, a publication whose demographics skew older, better educated, wealthier and - this is important - involved in the community. It's one reason why her print ads - like the one shown here with Houchin Blood Bank's Greg Gallion and her father - are so well received. She's speaking to her "tribe."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Art Sherwyn: "I'm staying at Stockdale High"

Art Sherwyn tells me he's changed his mind and will be staying at Stockdale High School for another two years. A few days go I bumped into Art at the Bakersfield Museum of Art (check out the previous post here) and he told me he was taking early retirement from the Kern High School District. With any decision involving Art there's always a winner, and this time it's his art students at Stockdale High. Retirement can wait. His email to me:

"I feel kind of bad about this, but when I spoke to you about my retiring, I had not made the final decision as of that time. Even though retirement looked enticing, in my heart and my head I did not feel I was ready to leave yet; the art room is a magical place to exist. I decided today that I will stay at Stockdale High for two more years; I hope this does not screw up your blog. I’m very relieved with my decision."

Open your wallets: it's charity fund raising season

If it's March in Bakersfield it means it's time for a charity fund raiser virtually every weekend and many weekdays. Pretty soon the golf courses will be in full swing for the non profits: Link to Life, Monsignor Leddy, the Plank Foundation tournaments just to name a few. It will be interesting to see how this sour economy affects the non profits; there's already ample evidence that they are suffering and local giving is way down. Just a few of the events coming up:
* The "Architects of Hope" dinner benefiting the St. Jude Dream Home giveaway is this Wednesday (March 4) t the Petroleum Club.
* CASA kicked off his annual round of parties and events this past weekend with the Hayden family's "Field of Dreams." Next up: Don Martin hosts "An Evening at the Historic Brownstone" on Saturday, March 21.
* Kern County Women in Art will hold a "celebration and auction" at the Icehouse Framing & Gallery on Thursday, March 19. The Women and Girls' Fund, part of the Kern Community Foundation, is the beneficary.
* And finally there's always the annual Cioppino feed hosted by Bakersfield West Rotary over at Monsignor Leddy Hall at Garces High School on March 28. This is one of my favorite fund raisers of the year and the cioppino is outstanding. This year it benefits the Bakersfield Memorial Hospital Foundation for the pediatric care unit, the local Ronald McDonald house and the Boys and Girls Club.
Stay tuned. These are just a few of what will be a tsunami of fund raisers this year.

A list Bakersfield finally didn't make (but might deserve): the nation's unhappiest cities

Bakersfield and Kern County have a way of showing up on all the wrong lists: worst air, highest rates of urban poor, highest unemployment, not to mention obesity and teen pregnancy. So how did we miss out on being one of the nation's "unhappiest cities?" Speaking for myself, there sure seems to be a lot of anger out there, and we do have an unemployment rate hovering around 12 percent, along with a county adult illiteracy rate approaching 25 percent. Maybe we're poor and happy, but I suppose it's good this is a list we didn't make. So here they are, as reported by BusinessWeek (read the entire report here), the nation's unhappiest cities:

1) Portland (pictured, courtesy of BWeek)
2) St. Louis
3) New Orleans
4) Detroit
5) Cleveland
6) Jacksonville, Fla.
7) Las Vegas
8) Nashville
9) Cincinnati
10) Atlanta
11) Milwaukee
12) Sacramento
13) Kansas City
14) Pittsburgh
15) Memphis

From BusinessWeek: ranked 50 of the largest metros based on a variety of factors including depression rates, suicide rates, divorce rates, crime, unemployment, population loss, job loss, weather, and green space. The most heavily weighted factors were the depression, suicide, jobs (unemployment and job loss), and crime rates. The depression rate is based on drug company data on antidepressant sales. The rate of depression within a place, the total number of reported depression cases divided by the total population.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Education's loss is a gain for local art aficianados

Ran into Art Sherwyn and his daughter Liz at a recent museum opening and he let it drop that come May, his teaching career is over. Seems the budget crisis led to an offer from the high school district that allows him to retire early, bringing an end to a long career at Stockdale High School. Some know Art as the tennis coach and art teacher at Stockdale, where he led the Mustangs girls tennis team to three straight Valley championships. But his real passion is art, and it was last December when the Bakersfield Museum of Art featured his work and that of his daughter, Liz. It was the first time the two accomplished artists held a joint show. Art is a natural teacher and an even more natural artist. Having had a daughter who graduated from Stockdale and was fortunate enough to play for art on the tennis team, his retirement will be a huge loss. But it will allow Art to throw himself completely into his art, which has always been his greatest passion. Check out his website here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Trying to keep up with an eighth grader

One of my passions is the relatively obscure sport of competitive skeet shooting. It's a difficult game that takes a lot of practice, honing the game out at the Kern County Gun Club near Lake Buena Vista. But no matter how good you get, there's always someone better, and this weekend it was an eighth grader at Tevis Jr. High who served me a dose of humble pie. I shot (what I thought) was an impressive 98 X 100 in my class only to be bested by Rachel Shuford, a sweet Tevis kid with braces and a deadly aim who posted a 99 (pictured). Actually Rachel is not the only Shuford girl who has beaten me. Her older sister, BHS junior Emily, regularly outshoots me at skeet and in fact Emily beat everyone this weekend at the Black Gold Skeet tournament by claiming 20-gauge gun champ. Emily posted her very first 100 straight targets, meaning she ran the field without missing. Emily, Rachel and older sister Brooke (she's a BHS swimmer) all shoot and are class acts who make our city proud.

Why our kids should remember that posting to the web is like a tattoo; permanent and hard to erase

Marketing tsar Seth Godin (check out his blog here) has a reminder for the kids out there about the consequences of posting to MySpace and other social networking sites. Too many kids believe they can post whatever they want - photos of them binge drinking, passed out, atop a table dancing and flashing their breasts - with little consequences. Seth recalls a friend who was looking to hire a housekeeper on Craigslist and used Google to check out the applicants:

"The first search turned up a MySpace page. There was a picture of the applicant, drinking beer from a funnel. Under hobbies, the first entry was, "binge drinking."

"The second search turned up a personal blog (a good one, actually). The most recent entry said something like, "I am applying for some menial jobs that are below me, and I'm annoyed by it. I'll certainly quit the minute I sell a few paintings."

"And the third? There were only six matches, and the sixth was from the local police department, indicating that the applicant had been arrested for shoplifting two years earlier.

Three for three. Google never forgets."

RB's footnote: a few years ago we rescinded a job offer to a young man who had passed our drug test and was ready to join the staff but then posted on a social networking site how he had "beat the Californian's drug testing." Brilliant. We now routinely do Google searches of all applicants.