Saturday, July 11, 2009

BakersfieldObserved is on vacation: enjoy this video

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Rep. McCarthy: fighting Democratic spending and the Obama health care reform package

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, brings us up to date with what is going on in Washington, in his own words:

"It was a busy week in Congress as we continued work on appropriations bills. We voted on three: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. I continue to be concerned with the alarming spending rates initiated by the Democrat controlled Congress given the lack of time and transparency necessary to target waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars. During these tough economic times, we need to be careful how we spend taxpayer dollars and focus our efforts on long term job creation that Californians need.

"Tuesday night, Treasury Secretary Geithner joined a bipartisan group of Members for an informal, off-the-record discussion about the current economy and financial regulatory reform. He provided some insight behind the Administration’s financial regulatory reform plan and we had a spirited discussion.

"I started off the week in the Financial Services Committee reviewing the Section 8 (public-housing) Voucher Reform Act of 2009. I was able to offer an amendment which would have provided Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with the ability to quantify the effectiveness of public housing authorities (PHAs) in deconcentrating poverty. Unfortunately, this attempt at much needed accountability was voted down. Next week the committee will continue reviewing this legislation, and I intend to offer another amendment that would have the Government Accountability Office do a study to provide data on Section 8 vouchers in the Lancaster area. In the future, I hope to work with Housing Subcommittee Chair Maxine Waters (CA-35) to continue to look at ways we can improve accountability in Section 8 programs for our local communities.

"While the Administration is confident of passing health care reform legislation in the near future, House Democrats are not in agreement with one another, or the President on the best path forward. According to a study by the independent Lewin Group, their analysis of the House Democrats’ health “reform” plan will dramatically increase the cost of private health care coverage, and could force 114 million Americans out of their current private health coverage. We need to keep what works for individuals and not increase government involvement and control in the process. That will only limit access and bring down high standards of quality care American families need. I will continue to work for solutions that allow patients to choose what is best, improve on successful prevention methods and bring down costs that come from waste and abuse.

"Chairman Barney Frank and I have a difference of opinion. He has introduced legislation that would take dividends paid by TARP and spend them on new and existing government programs. I believe that any TARP funds repaid should go to pay down our immense public debt, which under the proposed Democrat budget is projected to double in five years and triple in ten years. You probably remember from past blog posts, I introduced legislation to have repaid TARP funds pay down the debt – alleviating the burden that will be put on our children and grandchildren. My colleagues and I have also sent letters to Secretary Geithner and the President asking him to use repaid TARP funds to pay down this debt. The government borrowed money to pay for the TARP program when it began, so we need to repay them first, rather than establishing a revolving line of credit for Washington bureaucrats and politicians. I believe that we should be helping Main Street – through fast-acting tax relief for middle-class Americans and job-creating small businesses.
"Thursday, I joined several of my California colleagues in cosponsoring legislation (H.R. 3105) that allows for the continued operation of the Central Valley Project, regardless of a recent biological opinion that could further restrict water deliveries to our farms, families and businesses. We need to keep the pumps in the Delta on, and this legislation is a common-sense solution that will keep the water flowing to our homes and local businesses to help reverse the jobs losses in our communities and grow the food to feed our nation.

"I concluded my week in a meeting with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for a general update on the economy and discussion of the Administration’s regulatory reform proposal. As always, Chairman Bernanke provided a frank assessment of the challenges our economy is facing, and I am looking forward to his semi-annual testimony to the committee on monetary policy in a couple of weeks.

"Friday, I started the morning early with Congressmen Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Heath Shuler (D-NC), to meet and work out with the founder of a workout program I have been using to stay in shape, P90X. The founder, Tony Horton, was on Capitol Hill this week and he led a 1-hour workout session with Members that I joined. Horton may not be too far off in his theory that if Members are fit and healthy, Congress may operate more efficiently.
"Thanks for reading, have a good weekend, next week we continue working on more appropriations bills.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cal State art students unleash their creativity on Californian newspaper racks

Not sure who had the idea, but I love what The Californian has done to spruce up some of its newspaper racks around town. The project was a partnership between the paper's marketing department and CSUB art students, who took on about a dozen newspaper racks to express themselves. To see the entire gallery, go to The Californian's Facebook site here. The Californian will have a story on it this Saturday, and here's a short excerpt:

"We just wanted to create a buzz for the newspaper and get a little recognition for the art students at Cal State," said Rob Meszaros, marketing manager at The Californian. "Obviously there are some talented students around town so it was a perfect marriage of the two organizations to do it." Joyce Kohl, professor of fine art at CSUB, jumped at the opportunity to have her students display their artistic talents."

Let us know what you think.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Today's economy: a low-grade fever that refuses to go away, and why the end is nowhere in sight

If it's true we all misjudged the depths of this recession - and we all did - it's also true that the days of expecting miracles are over. Talk to business people around our community and you'll hear it over and again: "I'd like to be optimistic, but my financials and my instincts tell me we're in for the long haul." With each day that passes there are further indications that this recession is deeper than anyone imagined, and will last longer than anyone dared to fear. Consider these sobering facts:

* UNEMPLOYMENT ... The jobless rate is approaching 15 percent in Kern County, and that doesn't count the number of "underemployed," meaning those on part time status or earning meager wages on a cash basis. Count those in and almost one in five people cannot make ends meet.
* A BANKRUPT STATE... California is nearing bankruptcy and issuing IOUs that are fetching only 80 cents on the dollar in the open market. Does anyone have any hope that our dysfunctional Legislature can agree on anything?
* FEDERAL BAILOUT ... There's a growing sense that the Obama stimulus package is not working, leading companies and individuals to hunker down and spend less.
* MORTGAGE MESS ... It's been well documented here but the housing crisis may be getting worse, not better, and ham handed attempts at regulation are causing appraisals to come in consistently low, scuttling many otherwise legitimate deals.

* BANKS IN TROUBLE ... U.S. bank regulators closed seven more institutions last week, a clear indication that the loans on the books of many banks continue to deteriorate, forcing the Feds' hand. No doubt there will be more.
* RAIL TRAFFIC CRIPPLED ... One key indicator is the amount of material carried by rail, be it construction material or food headed for processing. One study last week showed overall rail traffic down more than 20 percent year over year.
* PROPERTY TAX APPEALS ... Counties across the country are being beseiged by appeals to lower property taxes, further hamstringing the ability of local governments to spend on roads and repairs.
* GAS PRICE SPIKE ... The price of gasoline is showing signs of another move up, and if that happens the consumer will be even more strapped.
* LOCAL BUSINESS PULLBACK ... Local businesses say they simply aren't hiring, and probably won't even if things get considerably better. Why? Stung once by the recession and worried about spending, they will simply be content to remain smaller.
* COMMERCIAL BUST? ... Some analysts predict that the next big shoe to drop will be in commercial real estate, with some predicting the worst will come in mid to late 2010.

All of this is bad news for the "consumer led" recovery that experts say we need. Until the credit crisis passes and people have jobs, there will be no recovery of any significance.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Bako Bits: Brain drain at the county, more drunks on the road and a bid to spike car sales

Cleaning off my desk preparing for a little vacation on the other coast. Wish I had better news on the local economy but it's chugging along the bottom, not getting any better but not getting much worse either. Let's wrap up some loose ends:

* FATHER OF THE YEAR? ... Just as we suspected, the driver who crashed head-on into another vehicle on Enos Lane on Sunday was drunk, according to the cops. And I suppose it should come as no surprise that the driver, 27-year-old Pedro Munoz of Delano, had been arrested on drunken driving charges two years ago. The tragedy is that Pedro's lack of responsibility led to the death of his wife and his two daughters, and the injury of a family of innocents in the truck he hit. Pedro's first mistake was driving drunk and his second - and fatal - mistake was trying to outrun a CHP officer who clocked him going 83 mph on Enos. Father of the year? Don't think so. By the way, that stretch of Enos between Panama Lane and Stockdale Highway is always treacherous. You have traffic heading to Interstate 5 and then trucks towing boats and RVs coming from the Lake Buena Vista Recreational Area. Be careful out there. (photo below courtesy of KGET TV)

* COUNTY BRAIN DRAIN ... Didn't want to let it pass without noting the pending retirement of David Price III, the chief of the Resource Management Agency. Dave is a longtime county bureaucrat and a good one at that, and it never hurts when you are blessed with a keen sense of humor and wit. Dave is heading to the bucolic hills of east Tennessee where his wife has family. He's worked at the county for 21 years. Price joins a number of other longtime county employees to leave recently, including County Counsel Bernie Barmann, waste management director Daphne Harley and Schools Superintendent Larry Reider.

* CLUNKERS FOR CASH ... Nice piece in today's Californian on the "clunkers for cash" program aimed at getting high polluting cars off the road. Turns out the California New Car Dealers Assn. is advising members to hold off until details can be worked out. One dealership eager to get in on the deal is Jim Burke Ford, where general manager Dan Hay reports a lot of interest. The deal: you get up to $4,000 for a trade-in toward the purchase of a new more fuel efficient vehicle but there are some small hiccups the program has to hurdle. Questions? Call your local car dealer for details.

Monday, July 6, 2009

No place for "green" here: Fresno top "green" city in Valley; Bakersfield (surprise!) down the list

It seems like an exercise in futility: studying which cities in the Central Valley are the "greenest" in terms of land use, zoning, transportation and economic development. Let's face it: the only thing "green" in this Valley are our magnificent farms that make us the country's bread basket. (We ain't got no stinking green here!) The rest of the story - our air, our congested roads, our short-sighted policymakers who have always put growth ahead of planning - would hardly qualify us as "green" in the environmental sense. (Now, green in the economic sense - read that profits - is another story) So I read with interest a story that, according to a study by UC Davis, Fresno came out tops among 100 Valley cities in terms of "the greenest ideas for growth over the next three decades." (read complete Fresno Bee story here) I'm still scratching my head because it's hard to imagine any cash-strapped Central Valley town as being "green" in any sense, but I suppose if you grade on the curve, then someone has to come in first. Lead author Mark Lubell suggested revising Prop 13 (good luck) which he said led to more uncontrolled growth. Said the story:

"These issues soon will become more important, Lubell said. The Central Valley -- which includes the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys -- is forecast to expand from 7 million to 12 million residents by 2040, making it one of the fastest-growing places in America. For the last 18 months, Lubell and a team of researchers looked at Central Valley cities to see whether they are preparing for sustainable growth. In the study, sustainable growth refers to such factors as air quality, ground-water recharge, high-density residential land use and renewable energy sources, such as solar."

Bakersfield apparently ranked No. 9 on the list, which in itself proves the bar wasn't set too high. Bako does have recycling, but it was only adopted after a couple of civic activists shamed the City Council into acting, and the percentage of folks who pay next-to-nothing for the blue recycling bins is abysmal. This has always been a community that has prided itself on being one of the cheapest places in California to live, and now we're living with the consequences: thousands of those cheap homes are in foreclosure, the roads remain congested and air is foul. And so it goes.

(photo of garbage truck courtesty of The Fresno Bee)

Coming off a weekend of extreme highs and lows: from shootings and crashes to high achievements

Where does one begin after a weekend like we just had? We had the usual weekend fare in Bako: a suspected gangland shooting that leaves one person dead and others wounded, and of course the routine multiple car fatality out near Interstate 5. Let's get to it:

* CRASH CLOSES ENOS LANE... Looks like at least three people were killed - a mother and her two small children - when an SUV collided with a truck towing a trailer out on Enos Lane near Interstate 5. (read KBAK's story here) Who knows if alcohol was involved but it sure sounds like it. Turns out a highway patrol officer saw the SUV speeding northbound on Enos, turned and chased it. The SUV, according to KBAK, was passing cars going 80 mph or faster when it slammed into the truck. A mother and her kids were killed and the driver of the SUV (can we assume it was the dad?) was slightly injured. The picture, courtesy of the KBAK TV website, pretty much tells the story. What are the chances booze was involved in this one?

* SHOOTING ON T STREET... Then there is this from the KGET website: On the evening of July Fourth a couple of teenagers walked into a home on T Street and simply opened fire, killing 37-year-old Anthony Mack Johnson and wounding five others. In one of the great understatements of the year, KBAK reported it like this:

"It was the typical Fourth of July family reunion-type of a party until three teens walked up to the party and one pulled out a semi-automatic handgun. Five party-goers were hit."

Yep, that will quickly turn the typical to the atypical.

* THESE KIDS SHOOT BUT FOR SCHOLARSHIPS ... I spent the weekend way off Enos Lane at the Kern County Gun Club where the California State Skeet Shooting championships were held. Winning for his second year in a row was 17-year-old Brian Foley, a recent Ridgeview High graduate headed to private Lindenwood University in Missouri on a skeet scholarship. Lots of kids involved in this sport, including Richard Riddle, a 16-year-old from San Diego, who won the 20 gauge gun title. He's shown in the picture here with his 13-year-old sister Diana, who shot her first 25 straight targets. These kids shoot, but in controlled environments that can often lead to free college tuition. Hats off to them.

* SKUNKS AND SEVEN OAKS ... Heard from a friend who lives in Seven Oaks that skunks are proving to be quite a problem for folks who live along the golf course. Apparently these skunks are fond of taking over the California kit fox dens that are common on the golf course, and they are making a pest of themselves with golfers and homeowners alike. I did notice, while riding my bike early in the morning through the Cal State campus in the Southwest, that a family of kit fox that have a den in central campus are now gone and yes, there is now a family of skunks living there.