Saturday, August 15, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: spending the week in the district and getting ready for healthcare town hall meeting

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, gives us his weekly view here on Bakersfield Observed. I've received some email (anonymously I must add) complaining that Kevin is not being honest about the healthcare reform. Here's your chance to submit comments and I will ask him to respond. I post his views; it's up to you to take him to task.

"It is good to be back in California for the August district work period. Starting off the week, I was in Ridgecrest with neighboring Congressman, and Ranking Member on the House Armed Services Committee, Howard “Buck” McKeon (CA-25), to tour facilities at the China Lake Naval Weapons Center. I am always impressed with the hard work they do there to support our war fighters in theater.

"Because Kern County continues to deal with the challenges of unemployment, my office will be hosting a Small Business Forum on August 25. This is for anyone interested in starting a small business or for current small business owners looking for ways to expand. To RSVP, send an email to: or call my office: 327-3611.

"It has been encouraging to see strong interest and support from our community in participating in the August 26th Health Care Town Hall to discuss current health care reform proposals in Congress. I just wanted to let you know that in order to meet demand, the venue location has been changed to the Icardo Center at CSUB.

"Finishing up the week, I presented medals to veteran, Ervine Brown of Tehachapi for his service during WW II. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from June 1940 to October 1945, and completed 54 missions while serving in North Africa, Sicily, and Panama. We are all grateful for his service to our country. I was also able to attend the centennial celebration for the City of Tehachapi, a city that continues to grow and is a leader in renewable energy development, but has also had the ability to maintain its small town charm.
"Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Today's Twitter feed of the week: only in Bako can you actually see what you breathe

My favorite Twitter feed of the week comes from Don Martin, renaissance man of downtown Bakersfield and owner of Metro Galleries. He's an avid runner and braves our (often) smoggy days. His Tweet:

"Say what u will about good air quality, but I like to see what I'm breathing. I know where it's been."

Bako bits: From social networking as a marketing tool to rumblings at CSUB to upside down mortgages

Wrapping up the week and cleaning off my desk as we head into another weekend. School starts next week and fall is coming. Let's get to it:

* ... RUMBLINGS OVER AT CSUB: I seem to have hit a nerve with my mention that longtime Cal State community liaison Laura Wolfe had been ousted. (read previous post here) Got a couple calls from CSUB insiders who were lamenting the loss of Laura, who spent 14 years with the university building better relations between the school and the community. Laura worked for Mike Chertok, who retired and was replaced by Beverly Byl, brought in by President Horace Mitchell. Give Horace credit: he has single handedly raised the stature of the university in the community through sheer good will, focus and great personal charm. Which is why insiders are puzzled over the choice of Beverly, who one person described as one who moves through a room with sharp elbows. No doubt the dismissal of Laura Wolfe was a move that addressed two concerns: one budgetary and the other the desire to build your own team. President Mitchell called me and said there was no "personal agenda" in the firing of Wolfe but rather it was a consequence of the budget crisis. He noted, for example, that the state budget contribution to CSUB was less this year than it was five years ago when he came on board. Still, there's lots of chatter about Byl, including her desire to bring all the fund raising under one umbrella as opposed to athletics raising money for one thing and an academic endeavor for another. Folks are talking and the university really can't afford to squander the good will Horace has earned. No doubt there will be more on this later.

* ... MARKETING ON FACEBOOK? Read with interest a piece that said 63 percent of all companies planned to increase their spending on social media this year. That's not too surprising since a recent study by the Association of National Advertisers said 66 percent of marketers have now used social media in some form. The top platforms being utilized: Facebook (74 percent), YouTube (65 percent), Twitter (63 percent) and LinkedIn (60 percent). Locally, a good example would be Mary Christenson, the longtime high end Watson-Touchstone Realtor who has embraced Facebook and made it one of her marketing devices. If she lists a new home in Seven Oaks, she'll post a message on it. Trouble with appraisals? She's all over it. Mary is savvy enough to recognize there's a terrific audience and all it takes is her time. At The Californian, marketing director Rob Meszaros has used Facebook and Twitter extensively in marketing the new Monday-Friday tabloid that debuts next week.

* ... UPSIDE DOWN MORTGAGE? Amazed to read in The Californian yesterday that fully half of all mortgages in Bakersfield are now upside down. That means the homeowners basically owe more than the home is worth, thanks to months of falling housing prices. That can't bode well for future foreclosures. The depth of recession cannot be underestimated. Last week it was reported that one in every 10 mortgages in the entire state of California is in foreclosure.

* ... LATIN SHOW AT METRO GALLERIES: Don Martin over at the Metro Galleries downtown is busy preparing for Latination, a project sponsored by his gallery and MAS magazine. The deadline for entries for the show is next week, so drop them off between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Wednesday over at Metro, 1604 19th Street. Selected pieces in the juried exhibit will be displayed at the gallery during September. Contact Don with any questions at 634-9598.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

RIP Les Paul: an American legend, inventor of the Les Paul guitar

Les Paul, inventor of the Gibson guitar that bears his name, died today. Along with Leo Fender, who invented the iconic Telecaster from his shop in Fullerton, these two men are widely recognized as the most influential inventors in the history of the American guitar. Good night, Les.

Short takes around town: McCarthy's healthcare town hall meeting will be huge; Wendy Wayne's recovery and more economic storm warnings

Lots happening around town and more warnings that we have a long way to go before we can dig out of this hole. Here we go:

* ... HEALTHCARE REFORM: Spent lunch at downtown Rotary listening to Rep. Kevin McCarthy's take on the nation's political pulse and the battle over health care. Kevin said his upcoming town hall meeting on health care reform, set for Wednesday Aug. 26, has proved so popular he has been forced to move it a second time. It will now be held at the Icardo Center over at Cal State Bakersfield to accommodate an ever growing crowd. "We went from 300 confirmed to 800 overnight," he said. Kevin is dead set against the Obama legislation, but given the conservative temper of our community, it promises to be a lively forum nonetheless. Kevin always gets a warm reception at downtown Rotary, where he is a member and the membership consists of prominent business owners across town. It's a friendly audience and his message that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is crafting the reform legislation without input from either the White House or opposition was well received. Rotary president Duane Keathley, a partner with CB Richard Ellis, got a laugh when he presented Kevin with a special gift: a doctored picture of Duane and Speaker Pelosi for Kevin's desk.

* ... WENDY WAYNE AND A NIGHT OF MARGARITAS: The same Rotary club held its summer social Wednesday night at the home of Lou and Sheryl Barbich up in the Bakersfield County Club area. Lou and Sheryl are always terrific hosts but clearly one of the highlights of the evening was seeing Wendy Wayne, the former First Five Commission director who has been battling non Hodgkins lymphoma. (read previous post here) Wendy just underwent the grueling stem cell procedure and said the followup tests have all been positive. Though professing to some fatigue, particularly later in the day, she looked fabulous and seemed like her old self. Among the others attending were potato farmer Dick Porter and wife Becky, Castle and Cooke President Bruce Freeman, CASA director Coleen McGauley, the aforementioned Duane Keathley and wife Corey, H. Walker's Men's Store owner Tracy Walker-Kiser and husband Brian, Patti Houchin, AGM Radio Group president Rogers Brandon and wife Esther, Memorial Hospital CEO Jon Van Boening and wife Phillis, Uniglobe Travel owner Ray Watson, Northwestern Mutual's Paul Sheldon and wife Nesi and Steve and Pat Loyd of Loyd's Aviation.. The picture features Rotary president Duane Keathley and past presidents Dick Porter, Rogers Brandon and Richard Beene surrounding longtime Rotary secretary Evelyn Johnson.

* ... COMMERCIAL LOAN COLLAPSE: I've been warning about the next shoe to drop: commercial real estate and loans. Lots of evidence that things are tough and could get tougher, Moody’s predicts the default rate on corporate loans could rise from 2.4 percent last year to 12.8 percent by the end of this year – the highest level on record. Moody's says that isn’t surprising when you consider companies need to roll over $1.4 trillion in high yield bonds and loans in coming years, with more than half coming due in the next five years. Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, is warning investors that the chances for a “double dip” recession remain significant.

* ... MORE HOUSING WOES: A study by the National Association of Realtors finds that 82 percent of people don’t have enough money for a down payment and 80 percent are waiting for the job market to stabilize before buying a home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The state of Kern County woman: new report paints a bleak picture. Dealing with domestic violence, low pay and low expectations

The Kern Community Foundation released an important new study today, looking at the "Status of Women and Girls" in Kern County. This is important stuff and - to my knowledge - it may be the first of its kind in our community. I admit to some bias here. First, the Foundation chairperson and brainchild behind the report is Judi McCarthy (picture below with CSUB president Horace Mitchell) who happens to be my neighbor, but beyond that is one of our community's under appreciated doers. She is the founder of the Women and Girls Fund, which is now under the Foundation umbrella and whose sole purpose is to lift up the fortunes of our women and girls. Second, I have two daughters of my own and as my wife wisely counsels: "The quickest way to make a man a feminist is to give him a daughter." So the success of women in general and opportunities afforded them are near and dear to my heart.

The full report can be read here, but warning: it's not for the faint of heart. As the report said, the most pressing issues faced by women and girls in Kern County are "domestic violence, substance abuse and self esteem." And it goes without saying that incidences of domestic violence run higher than the state average as a while. Consider some of these dismal findings:

* ... Thirty-three percent of Kern County women could not afford enough food to sustain their families in 2007.
* ... In 2006, the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter reported that 66 percent of those who received services were women.
* ... For the second quarter of 2008, Kern County women made 60 cents for every dollar earned by Kern men. The greatest income disparity by gender was among doctors, dentists and diagnosticians.
* ... Only 13 percent of new mothers received any cash aid assistance in 2005.
* ... In 2007 more than 25 percent of Kern County women over age 25 did not have a high school diploma, and only 12 percent of our women had a college degree.
* ... Forty-eight percent of Kern women were either overweight or obese.
* ... A higher proportion of women statewide are methamphetamine users compared to men. Meth is the most common drug for women users in California.
* ... Kern County has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in California.
* ... The top issues facing Kern County women were domestic violence, substance abuse, low self esteem, education, lack of mentors, poverty, transportation, resources, teen pregnancy and lack of role models.

So let's see: our women and girls are abused, overweight, under educated, prone to drug use, likely to be paid less than men and less likely to receive public assistance. Seems like we have some work to do. Hats off to Judi McCarthy and Foundation, in partnership with Cal State Bakersfield, for getting this data out of the public.

(In photo with Judi are report authors Janet Armentor-Cota and Monique Ferranto-Joyner)

Staring down the barrel at a double dip recession, Laura Wolfe out at CSUB and country clubs feeling the pain

Right when you think things are getting better - a slight uptick in housing sales, a successful "cash for clunkers" program - the talking heads and analysts start warning us of a "double dip recession." Don't mean to be alarmist but more than a few noteworthy economists think we are far from out of the woods, and are fearing the current good times on the stock market will soon give way to a darker new reality. Consider:

* ... LAURA WOLFE OUT IN CSUB SHAKEUP: Before we get to the economy was saddened to hear that Laura Wolfe, longtime vice president of development for the university, has lost her job, allegedly due to the budget crisis. At least that's what a memo from Beverly Byl, new vice president of university advancement, says. Other insiders speculate it's Byl's way of using the budget crisis to build her own team, and it's leaving many folks with a bad taste in their mouths. Laura is a longtime fixture in the community, well liked and well respected, and one who has worked hard on behalf of the university, even when so many campus academics felt that building community relations was beneath their pay grade. I spoke with Laura who said simply she was looking forward to spending more time with her family and preparing for her son's bar mitzvah. She said she "hopes to do well by doing good." Now that's a class act.

* ... IT'S UGLY OUT THERE: Okay, back to the economy and folks, it ain't pretty. The American Bankruptcy Institute reports consumer bankruptcies jumped 34.3 percent in July, compared to last year, as high debt and unemployment took their toll. Also:
SECTOR ANALYSIS: A new survey of real estate investors by PricewaterhouseCoopers projects that over the next 12 months, apartment values will fall 7 percent, regional malls will drop 8.5 percent, warehouses will drop 8.2 percent and office values will decline 11.4 percent. This is the long expected commercial real estate crunch and no doubt we don't be able to avoid it.
BANK FAILURES: While we have been averaging 5 to 7 bank closures per week the past few weeks, it is interesting to note that the high was set in 1989 when 60 banks were closed in one week.
HOUSING DECLINE: Home ownership in the US reached nearly 70 percent in 2004, but has since fallen to 67.4 percent as of the second quarter of 2009. Interestingly, about 57 percent of housing units that are added to the market become rentals these days.
HOUSING SUPPLY: A study by ZipRealty finds the supply of homes available for sale in major metropolitan areas fell 2.5 percent in July compared to June. Yet, as reported here earlier, fully one in 10 home mortgages in California is now in a state of default

* ... MEANWHILE, OUT AT THE COUNTRY CLUB: Also learned that privately owned Seven Oaks Country Club has been hit so hard by this recession that it is reducing its full equity initiation fee from $30,000 to $10,000. In a letter to members, general manager Don Ciota says the club has sold only four new full equity memberships this year. Good news for new members but what about the folks who paid full retail? Another sign of the times.

* ... INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE: Lastly, spotted this Facebook post from Realtor Mary Christenson and thought I would pass it along. It's a good one:
"You never know when one act, or one word of encouragement can change a life forever." ~ Zig Ziglar

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bako bits: From cash to clunkers to breakfast and email in the morning and a recurring rumor about cell phone privacy

Starting off a new week and bracing for a return of temperatures above 100, cleaning off the desktop. Some short takes around our community:

* ... CASH FOR CLUNKERS BUT WHAT TO BUY? Have a friend who is looking for a specific model of new car, is ready to plunk down $25,000 and change in a cash deal but - surprise! - the local dealer doesn't have the car. Turns out this is happening a lot lately between the success of the "cash for clunkers" program and the dealers' natural tendency to reduce inventory in a slow sales period. There's just not a lot of choose from, particularly in economy and hybrid models. And it's apparently happening all over. Last night NBC Nightly News had a story on the exact same problem: folks who are ready to buy just can't find the cars on the lot. (photo courtesy of Fox News)

* .... FACEBOOK WITH YOUR CEREAL: Fascinating story in today's New York Times about the changing habits of readers and families. The piece focused on how so many people (not only young folk) are now in the habit of checking email, Facebook and Twitter first thing in the morning, much as they used to spend time with their local newspaper. (read the entire story here) Not that folks aren't still reading their papers, but this is all about time management and priorities, and it's amazing how our personal habits have changed in such a short period. Ask yourself: how long did it take you to check email or Facebook after you awoke this morning?

* ... FACING DOWN OVER HEALTHCARE: Amazing to watch the healthcare debate unfold in America and the partisan lines drawn on both sides. The left dismisses the folks showing up at the congressional town hall meetings as part of a vast right-wing conspiracy being orchestrated by talk radio, while the other side blames the left for failing to listen. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonen makes a good argument in the Wall Street Journal that you ignore these folks at your own peril (read her column here) while Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein takes the other view. (Read his piece here) Draw your own conclusions but don't forget to keep your mind open.

* ... CELL PHONE PRIVACY: Meanwhile this is about the fourth time in the past two years that I have gotten emails from friends warning me that my private cell phone number is about to be turned over to marketers. This is a recurring urban myth that needs to be put to rest once and for all. Read the Snopes piece on it here.