Friday, August 28, 2009

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: health care town hall reaffirms my faith in our country

Rep. Kevin McCarthy offers his weekly view of the world. Have something to say? Support or in opposition? Post a comment. His week:

"This past Wednesday night’s town hall celebrated the great attention and care that our community takes in civic engagement and public policy discussions. I was proud to host a health care town hall at the Icardo Center and appreciated the 3,000 people that showed up in person to participate – that figure amounts to about one out of every 100 residents in the Bakersfield area taking time out of their busy schedules to engage in a discussion about the future of American health care. And that doesn’t count all the people that watched complete coverage of the event on KGET, KBAK, and KERO TV.

"After seventeen days of the House Democrat leadership trying to jam through health care reform legislation through the various House committees of jurisdiction, I heard from many of my constituents who called and emailed wondering what this bill was, and how it would affect their own health care. Earlier in August, I called over 100,000 households to participate in several tele-town halls and heard many questions from concerned neighbors about what they had heard was included in H.R. 3200 and their concerns, and sometimes outrage, over legislation that centralizes Washington’s role in the health care of millions of Americans. I have read and analyzed the bill, and my position on H.R. 3200 is clear – I oppose it and I will work hard to defeat this bill so we can pass better solutions and better ideas than a massive Washington spending bill that includes a government takeover of health care through a new “public” plan. Despite my opposition to H.R. 3200, I know that Congress works best when it listens to the people that it represents, and having a town hall allows me to listen to my constituents, and allows our neighbors to express their thoughts and concerns to their fellow neighbors in a public forum, leading to better policy results.

"At the town hall, over 1,300 people filled out health care surveys that contained multiple ideas to fix our health care system. It was democracy in action where we discussed ideas to create a better health care system. In September, I will take those ideas back to Congress. Despite being able to take many comments and questions during the two-hour town hall, with 3,000 people in attendance and hundreds wanting to ask questions, some were unable to ask their questions during the town hall, and I appreciated the patience of everyone who stayed after wards with me – and for some, two hours after the end of the event – so that I could hear everyone’s questions and comments.
"Anyone and everyone in our community were invited to come and participate, and people arrived with differing opinions – ranging from specific elements of the specific health care bill moving through Congress, how much the bill would cost Federal taxpayers and in premiums, why this particular bill was being rushed through the Congress so quickly, and whether there were better solutions. I know there are articles after-the-fact about what I should have said or should have allowed, but in the end, I believe that a town hall should allow our neighbors to discuss issues in an open and unfiltered manner. If people had questions and concerns about the bill, they have a right to express those concerns, and allow me and their fellow citizens to be aware of those concerns so everyone could analyze them further. That is something a town hall should foster, and based on some interviews after the event on the site, it seems that we did:

"I agree with many of the town hall participants that health care is too expensive and that pre-existing conditions should be taken care of. I believe in the free-market and I don’t believe that a government takeover like the one proposed in H.R. 3200 is the answer. We can level the playing field and help bring down the costs.

"There is a better way than H.R. 3200. We need to control the costs of health care and make insurance more accessible and affordable. We can work together to fix health care, without passing the controversial public plan that could restrict health care choices for millions of Americans. One way we can save money (between $60 billion to $108 billion annually) is by limiting lawsuit abuse which leads to defensive medicine (over-testing because of liability fears). We can also provide smart tax incentives to low-income Americans who need assistance to purchase health care, but do not qualify for Medicaid or CHIP.
"We can also improve health care by empowering individuals and small businesses with more opportunities to purchase affordable health care they need, by further allowing small businesses to band together to increase group purchasing and allowing individuals to buy insurance across state lines or even through the Federal employee health program. We must also end the practice of insurers excluding people with pre-existing conditions by ensuring everyone can be issued health insurance, without regard to a person’s health status or gender.
"I hope that participants and TV viewers found the town hall to further the public discussion of H.R. 3200 and health care in America. This town hall was only the beginning of the journey to improve our health care system. We will continue the debate on better solutions, and insist"

FDIC warns of new wave of bank failures and new cracks in the housing recovery: hold that champagne for later!

Before we get too giddy about signs the economy has turned the corner, it's wise to remember that there are plenty of lagging indicators pointing to a long, slow slog back to anything regarding normalcy.
First, I was struck reading two different takes on the ongoing crisis in the financial industry. The first (read the entire post here) said that according to the FDIC, fully 5 percent of all banks in the country are now considered "troubled." Yet another (read the story here) said there had been a 36 percent rise in the number of banks put on the FDIC's "watch list." The reason?

"Many of the new failures (or potential failures on the trouble list) are seeing weakness due to traditional personal and commercial loans going bad. While the headlines may not be a blaring as we saw in late 2008, the underlying reason is much more worrisome. Essentially the slow economy, low employment, reduced consumer spending, and generally poor business environment has caused many business loans to simply be unserviceable. So on bank balance sheets as they write off these loans as uncollectible, it means that their assets (receivables from borrowers) fall well below their liabilities (balances owed to depositors) which creates insolvency. The pace of more traditional banks going under (there have been 81 so far this year) points to sustained economic weakness which could quickly choke off the current “green shoot” economy."

Finally, local appraiser Gary Crabtree alerted me to a posting on the Appraisal Institute website which says we need to be careful about getting too giddy about recent indications that home sales have picked up. (read the post here) The institute says the numbers of homes on the market may be skewed because some folks are simply taking unsold homes off the market and converting them into rentals, which in itself could cause problems down the road. From the post:

"However, although prices may be nearing the bottom in many markets, there are reasons for consumers to remain cautious. It is not surprising that some markets saw increases in sales with two temporary short-term fixes hitting the market: an $8,000 refundable tax credit for first-time buyers as well as lower mortgage rates. In addition, the inventory of housing may not appear what it seems with many unsold homes taken off the real estate market and simply put up for rent, especially in hard-hit markets such as Miami. Moreover, because it can take several months for delinquencies to turn into foreclosures, there may be a new wave of distressed properties entering the market soon as last winter’s casualties begin to surface."

All in all we have room for optimism, but keep it guarded. There are lots of factors that could throw this recovery off point.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bako bits: from dust allergies to the heath care debate to a stunning Latin art show downtown

Getting ready to leave town to get the kid settled into college in a town far away. (Is there a better way to weather the recession than to spend it on a college campus?) Lots going on, so I leave you with these nuggets around our town:

* ... JOHN BROCK AWARD: Vince Rojas, the longtime and retiring head of the Kern Schools Federal Credit Union, will be honored next week with the John Brock Award. The annual dinner and celebration is set for Seven Oaks Country Club next Thursday (Sept. 3.) As always, the proceeds will benefit the John Brock Endowment Fund for the School of Business and Public Administration at Cal State University Bakersfield. The Brock dinner always attracts a "who's who" in the Bakersfield business community. Past recipients have included Ray Dezember, Bernie Herman and Greg Bynum.

* ... IF IT'S AUGUST IN BAKO, YOU MUST BE SNEEZING: One of the downsides of living in one of the nation's richest agriculture areas is the annual almond harvest. To the uninitiated, almonds are harvested when huge belts are wrapped around the treet trunks and a tractor violently shakes the tree. This allows the almonds to fall harmlessly to the ground but also creates an incredible dust storm, triggering allergy attacks and sending folks running to their doctor's offices. The good news is the price of almonds have stabilized and is actually up a bit, and local farmers think this crop may be a good one. (harvest picture below)

* ... HEALTH CARE TOWN HALL: The much anticipated town hall meeting on health care will be held tonight over at the Icardo Center at Cal State Bakersfield. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) says more than 2,200 people have confirmed they are coming. Let's hope the tone is civil and Kevin creates an atmosphere where all sides can be heard. If you don't want to brave the crowd, KGET-TV channel 17 will be covering the event live I believe. No matter how you feel, you should tune in.

* ... DOVE SEASON OPENS SOON: The Kern County Gun Club is extending its hours to give hunters a chance to tune up for dove season. The new hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. The club is located near the Lake Buena Vista Recreation Area west of town. Go to for complete directions.

* ... LATIN ART SHOW: Don Martin over at the Metro Galleries downtown is gearing up for "Latination," a show featuring works by local Hispanic artists and other local talent. I got a sneak peak at the offerings and some of the art is simply stunning. The show is sponsored by the Hispanic magazine Mas and will kick off next Friday, Sept. 3, during the monthly "First Friday" event. Make sure you check it out. Two pieces are featured below, photographers courtesy of Californian photographer Felix Adamo.

(Huelga painting by Larry Jason and chicken art by Claudia True)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Greens: Bakersfield's power couple featured in this weekend's BakersfieldLife magazine

"Power couple" is an overused and cliched phrase but it's hard to argue that it doesn't apply to Lisa and Jeff Green, the Bakersfield couple who will be featured on this Saturday's BakersfieldLife magazine. Lisa of course is the long-time deputy district attorney who is lined up nicely to succeed Ed Jagels as the county's chief prosecutor when he retires next year. She's tough as nails and has handled some of Kern County's most notorious murder cases, including vice principal-turned-killer Vincent Brothers. Jeff is chief counsel of Grimmway Farms, the nation's largest carrot producer, and like his wife he's active in the community. He did a term of the First Five Commission, asking tough questions others would not about this once ill managed group, and he served an interim term on the Bakersfield City Council. Beyond their public service, these are good people and good neighbors and it's good to see them featured in the magazine. Local writer Lisa Kimble did another thorough job bringing these folks to life.

The magazine also will have a short profile on Rogers Brandon, president of American General Media (the company owns a half dozen radio stations in town, including KERN news talk featuring Inga Barks) as well as the "Dining Divas" featuring eateries about town. Make sure you look for it in your home delivered Bakersfield Californian.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Crabtree: local real estate market has hit the bottom, but don't break out the champagne yet

Here's some long-awaited good news: it looks like we've finally reached the bottom of the real estate meltdown. At least that's according to Gary Crabtree, one of the most well respected authorities on our local market. Gary sent me a copy of "The Crabtree Report," a detailed, no-holds-barred look at our local market. It's always a sobering read, but there is a glimmer of hope. Said Gary:

"Overall, it can be opined that the Bakersfield market has reached a bottom and is experiencing a stabilization of prices with one quarter of slightly increasing prices brought about by a continuing decrease in supply and reasonable demand."

That said, he warned that the current market conditions "should be met with a healthy amount of caution" because we are nearing the end of the prime marketing season, meaning sales will naturally begin to decline as we move to the seasonal "off peak" period."
Gary's report is rich in detail and to my knowledge, it's without peer in terms of of research and analysis. Some highlights include:

* ... EXISTING HOME SALES: Sales of existing homes in July came to 657, slightly down from June but 11.7 percent better than last year.
* ... EXISTING MEAN SALE PRICE: The mean sale price was $154,211, again slightly higher than June but 27 percent lower than last year.
* ... CURRENT LISTINGS: There were 1,340 listings in July, fully 59 percent less than last year when there were 3,293 on the market.
* ... DAYS ON MARKET: The average days on the market came in at 18 compared to 35 last year.
* ... MEAN PRICE PER SQ. FOOT: In July it was $90.87 compared to $122.94 last year.

That gives you an idea of the state of things. Gary warned that unemployment continues to be a factor, hovering around 10.1 percent in Bakersfield, and we are still experiencing problems with inexperienced appraisers working in our market. Still, all in all, we take good news when it comes. Stabilization is a good word these days.