Friday, July 3, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: honoring veterans, celebrating the Fourth and remembering those who served

It's the July Fourth weekend, important things happening with our country and in Congress. Here's an update from Bakersfield Rep. Kevin McCarthy, in his own words:

"This week, I have been home working in the Bakersfield office for July’s district work period, and also getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July.
"As you might have heard, last week ended with a vote to pass Speaker Pelosi’s cap and trade bill, which unfortunately imposes a national energy tax on our local families, small businesses, and farms. As unemployment in our local communities rises, I believe Congress should focus on creating small businesses and American jobs, not taking more in taxes. The alternative solution, the American Energy Act, promotes an all-of-the-above energy plan with strong investments in American
renewable energy that can power our economy, create needed jobs, and
leave our environment cleaner and safer.
"I started the week in Tehachapi and spent some time with Dr. Robin Matuk, Dick Rutan, and other supporters of the Kern Veterans Memorial Foundation. Doctors Rabinder and Madhu Bhogal were kind enough to open their home for the gathering. The main topic of discussion was raising awareness for the second phase of our Kern Veterans Memorial.

"I also spoke at the Thomas Roads Improvement Program (TRIP) groundbreaking ceremony for the Seventh Standard Road widening project. The project will widen Seventh Standard Road to four lanes in order to reduce traffic. This road widening is one component of the larger TRIP project that will reduce traffic congestion for all drivers in Bakersfield and contribute to local economic growth.
"In between work events, I was able to catch some of my son’s basketball games at Bakersfield High School. I am proud he wanted to go to my alma mater; once a Driller, always a Driller!

"In my district office, I met new summer interns interested in learning more about public service and policy making. We are fortunate to have them working in all our office locations: Bakersfield, Atascadero, and Washington D.C. Most spend 2 weeks in one of our district offices
before going to D.C. for 4 weeks. If you have questions about the program, please visit my website ( By the end of the summer our offices will have had 24 interns, working on behalf of our Congressional District. We have been privileged to have hard-working interns from all parts of the district this summer.

"Wednesday, our new National Cemetery in Bakersfield opened and I gathered with others to honor the first local veterans who were laid to rest. The new National Cemetery serves as a reminder for future generations of those who served and sacrificed for our freedom. We
are a grateful nation and I am pleased that our community has such a fitting resting place for our nation’s heroes.
"Thursday, I attended Major Jason E. George’s funeral at the Bakersfield National Cemetery. Major George was from Tehachapi. His heroic service, and ultimate sacrifice fighting for our country in
Iraq, will not be forgotten.
"On Thursday, I also held a medal presentation ceremony at my district office to honor World War II veteran Walter Truax of Bakersfield. He served in the United States Army from January 7, 1941 to November 3, 1945. The medal ceremony featured a surprise. Mr. Truax’s grandson, Corporal Sam Pascale (who currently serves in the Marines), drove five hours from 29 Palms to present his grandfather with the World War II victory medal. It was an emotional moment, as the family united to
honor their grandfather’s service. Mr. Truax served as squad leader
in the European theater, and after serving in the Army, Mr. Truax started his own local small business, Truax Optical, in Bakersfield on 17th Street. He has since sold his business and is now retired. Mr. Truax, having never received the medals he deserved, was awarded the following: the Silver Star, Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign medal,
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 bronze service stars, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, and the Honorable Service Lapel Button. I am glad we could help honor his service to our nation.
"Be sure to check out my facebook page for more photos from my district work period. Thanks for reading, and have a good & safe 4th of July. Let us also remember our men and women currently serving overseas to
protect our freedoms.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Remarkable: creating a digital "Sixth Sense" and a view into the future of technology

This is a blog post for those of you who like to dabble in technology and catch a glimpse of the future. It's only about Bakersfield and Kern County in the sense that all of this stuff will change our lives, much as the evolution of technology is already changing our lives. This is a clip from TED, a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with the annual TED Conference in Long Beach, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford UK, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Program, the new TEDx community program, this year's TEDIndia Conference and the annual TED Prize. Sit back and enjoy.

One more thing to worry about: Why low appraisals may be scuttling the housing recovery

It was a few weeks ago that Watson-Touchstone Realtor Mary Christenson tipped me off to the latest hiccup standing in the way of a housing recovery: new federal regulations that are leading to flawed appraisals and derailing sales. Here's the deal: a buyer and seller come to terms to sell a home for say $400,000, yet the appraisal comes in consistently low, say $350,000. And the home had multiple bids and the comps hold up in the area. So what's wrong here? Mary and others point to rules that went into effect May 1 requiring lenders that sell loans to Fannie Maie or Freddic Mac to set up a firewall between appraisers and loan officers. All this to prevent "improper influence" between the appraiser and the Realtors. (Check out a Seattle Times story for a more complete explanation.
Now I see CNBC has picked up the story and I include a brief report from their website here. This is a serious issue, folks, and another case where over-regulation has simply gummed up the works. We have a market that is struggling to find its sea legs and regulation that is killing legitimate deals. Enough already.

Gary Crabtree, one of the foremost experts on the issue locally, said the issue is complicated by the fact that local appraisers are being "low balled" by outsiders who know little of the market. I'm excerpting parts of an email Gary shared with me. Feel free to contact him for a fuller explanation. Said Gary:

"The reason the appraisals are holding up the closings is that the AMC's now control the purse strings of the fee. Once the appraiser would receive $375 to $400 for his services, today they receive as little as $175 to $285 from these AMC's. The experienced and ethical appraisers can not afford to produce a creditable report for that kind of money. So who is doing the appraisals? The lesser experienced, geographically incompetent and sloppy appraisers who are forced to produce a 'shoddy' product because they don't have the time to do a "creditable" report. To exacerbate things, now that they have independence from pressure from lenders, they can 'low ball' to their hearts content and not have to worry about anything. I have been swamped with calls from agents, buyers, sellers wanting to know why their appraisals are low? Well, see above for the answer.

"So who is hurt by HVCC (Home Valuation Code of Conduct)? Well lets see, first the experienced and geographically competent appraisers like Rich and me; the buyers who have been 'low balled' and lose the deal or has to come up with additional cash down; the sellers who are sometimes forced to lower their price to make the deal; the mortgage broker who can't close a deal because they are held captive by the AMC's on appraisal delivery and fees; the taxpayers who get to pay for the 'write downs' of the banks, Freddie, Fannie all of whom have been subsidized by the TARP money... How is the market to recover with this type of forces in play? "

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bako bits: a video tribute to a fallen friend, the shame of Roy Ashburn and a holiday weekend

We're heading into a holiday weekend with temperatures (mercifully) down a full 10 degrees to the high 90s. (You know you're from Bako when a weekend high of 98 sounds good). Let's wrap up some news around our town:

* TRIBUTE TO A FRIEND... I'm still mourning the loss of Alton Saceaux, one of the tribe of avid recreational cyclists around town. (see my previous post here) I was moved by what he told Californian reporter Steve Swenson some years ago, that you simply have to "assume you are invisible" to try to stay out of harms way. I do a good bit of riding and can't count the number of times when you hear the truck behind you and wonder if your time is up. You simply can't worry about it and have to concentrate on holding a straight line. There will be a memorial ride Thursday evening starting at the Bike Bakersfield headquarters downtown (everyone is asked to have lights on their bikes) beginning around 6:30 p.m. One of Alton's friends posted this moving video tribute which I'd like to share. Keep his family in your thoughts.

* THE SHAME OF ROY ASHBURN:.. Columnist Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times took Bakersfield's Roy Ashburn to task today for being one of two state senators to refuse to join others in agreeing to a voluntary 5 percent pay cut. Ashburn is already in the hot seat for voting with the Democrats to break a budget logjam and I can't imagine this will endear him to his constituents. Roy gave a Times reporter a pitifully lame excuse for failing to do so, saying the money may simply go back to the budget controlled by Senate Democrats. Really Roy? I'm just stunned how these guys just don't seem to get it. Folks are being laid off, struggling, and everyone I know (including employees at The Californian) have suffered pay cuts as well as cuts in the 401(k) match. Roy's earlier move was hailed by some as an act of courage; I see this an act of self serving cowardice. (Photo courtesy of Justin Sullivan/Getty Images North America)

* SKEET CHAMPIONSHIPS ... Can't get enough of explosives this weekend? Head out to the Kern County Gun Club next to Lake Buena Vista Recreation Area for the California State Skeet Shooting Championships. Two hundred of the best skeet shooters in the state will be on hand for three days of busting clays. There's no cost to come watch these incredible shooters. Among the stars will be some junior shooters from Bakersfield who have made names for themselves, including Brian Foley, a recent Ridgeview High grad headed to Lindenwood University in Missouri on a skeet scholarship. Brian is the reigning world champion in the 12 gauge. Also, Bakersfield High sisters Brooke, Emily and Rachel Shuford will be there shooting the lights out of the targets. Shooting runs Friday through Sunday all day.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cyclist run down and killed on South Union; the second Kern County cyclist killed within 72 hours

Received some horrible news this afternoon when I learned that Alton Saceaux, a 55-year-old local cyclist, was run down and killed on South Union Monday night. I didn't know Alton well but did know him from the occasional ride (I am also a cyclist) and last saw him in Starbucks on California Avenue and Stockdale about a month ago. Alton was always - and I mean always - utterly upbeat and effervescent. The guy loved cycling and personal fitness was a his lifelong personal mission. The cops say the guy who ran him down was likely drunk. This is a tragedy of enormous proportions: we lost a friend, a good man, a father of a couple kids, a husband, a good citizen. Kerry Ryan, owner of Action Sports over off Brimhall Road, knew Alton since 1994 and described him as "incredibly upbeat, high energy type of guy, always trying to get people into cycling, kind of a Norm Hoffman kind of guy." Norm of course was the longtime cyclist and Bakersfield College professor who died when his bike was crushed by a driver off Fairfax Road in 2001. (no alcohol involved in that) Added Kerry of Alton:

"He crewed on the 2004 Race Across America (which Action Sports won) and he was just always upbeat and willing to do anything. He'd come into the store and say 'Kerry we need to get so and so on a bike! He wants to get in shape.""

Alton is the second Kern County cyclist to die on a bike in just a few days. The other death happened in Malibu and has yet to be reported by the local press, but it involved a Tehachapi man who was completing a "double century ride" (that's a 200 mile ride) with his 14-year-old son on the back of a tandem. According to a story in the Ventura County Star, Rodrigo "Rod" Armas, 45, died at the scene after his bike was hit about 1:30 a.m. Sunday on Pacific Coast Highway. His 14-year-old son was injured but is expected to recover. You might ask why they were riding in the dark so early in the morning. The reason: these 200-mile rides take all day and last into the night, certainly dangerous in any circumstances. Once again, the cops say the man who hit the cyclists showed signs of being legally drunk. And so it goes. We lose another one. Thoughts for the families. (photo courtesy of The Bakersfield Californian)

Museum of Art goes podcasting: shrewd marketing in a digital world and why it matters

It's nice to see when our local non-profits start to understand the power of digital marketing and what it can mean in building an audience and talking to the most loyal members of your tribe. Which was why I was pleased to hear from Beth Pandol, the creative marketing director over at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, who posted an email on the museum's Facebook page reading simply: "Here's our first podcast." That was followed by a second posting for a second podcast, this one devoted to Liz Sherwyn, winner of the museum's recent Visual Arts Festival. The second is posted below and this is terrific stuff. The wonderful thing about this kind of technology (hand held cameras and videos done by amateurs) is that they don't need to be professionally done. This is not about slick production but rather about spreading your message, and the museum has done a terrific job so far. Think about it: they shoot the video, post it to the museum Facebook page (check it out here), and simply send out a message to their fans telling them it's there. As simple as that. Not sure if the museum is on Twitter posting the same, but it should be. If you're running a company and you're not fluent in this technology, it's your loss.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Will this recession serve as a "great awakening?" Why business may never be the same again

Wow, what happened to those cool mornings of June? Just when we thought it would last, summer and temps well north of 100 have become the norm. Lots going on, so here are some short shots around our community:

THE GREAT AWAKENING... As I make my rounds in the community I'm beginning to hear two familiar refrains from local business owners: first, it's all about cash management right now and second, the enduring lesson from this recession is that businesses may never return to their former size. The cash part is easy: with sales down 30 to 50 percent in some cases, your focus has to be on preserving and managing cash until things get better. To avoid nonpayament, one local business is making customers pay half upfront. Others have simply turned the screws hard down on expenses and are delaying any capital expenses like new computers, cars and equipment. The second part is more worrisome for the long term: businesses that have downsized their staffs have realized that while folks are working harder, things are going just fine. In other words they're thinking: were we too big earlier? And going forward: we're going to stay lean.

As one owner of a prominent business in town told me recently: "think of the money that would have dropped to the bottom line if we hadn't gotten so big."

This tells me that the recovery - at least in terms of employment - may lag far beyond metrics like sales and topline revenue growth. Faced with higher taxes from both the state and federal side and stung from the last recession, there will be a tendency to stay small, and that means fewer jobs in a community that already is job starved. Folks are skittish, and if you can get by without authorizing another hire, you'll do just that.

PETTY THEFT OR SIGNS OF MORE TROUBLE? ... I'm amazing at the sheer number of stories I hear about petty thefts, robberies and overall criminal activity of late. A friend had to call the cops because some weirdo was peering into his window one night, and a few days later his office was broken into. Another friend was in Los Angeles and had her car window smashed and personal items stolen. Recently, my neighborhood has been the victim of a string of thefts. Weird stuff like pool floats, a poolside refrigerator (along with two bottles of champagne) furniture cushions, outdoor lamps even a couple of front door welcome mats. Have things gotten so bad that people are driving through neighborhoods stealing welcome mats? In the grand scheme of things this is all small stuff, but the thought of some nut wandering around your back yard, or crawling over your gate hauling away your personal stuff while you're inside asleep is maddening, not to mention a bit frightening.