Friday, September 25, 2009

The fuss over Smartmeters and a student newspaper article on pole dancing: our issues of the day

 From the stink over "SmartMeters" to pole dancing to celebrating 10 years at the Kern County Community Foundation, short takes around our community:

 * ... SMARTMETERS UNDER FIRE: Lots of buzz and heat over these new SmartMeters that Pacific Gas and Electric is installing around town. State Sen. Dean Florez will hold a Senate hearing on the issue on Monday, Oct. 5, over at the Kern County Board of Supervisors chambers. Not to be outdone, state Sen. Roy Ashburn is now in the mix, trying to set up a Public Utilities Commission hearing on it. To me, this is one of those "where there's smoke, there's fire" issues. It just makes no sense that (even considering the rate increase) folks are seeing their utiliy bills double and even triple after the "SmartMeters" are installed. It's time to put a freeze on the installations until this issue is resolved, and time for everyone to show up at these meetings.

 * ... GARCES GALA GETS A MAKEOVER: Received a nice letter from Desiree Adams who took me to task for suggesting that the annual Garces Gala fund raiser is among the local events that needs a makeover. In fact, according to Adams, that's exactly what they did they this year with an overhaul of both the Gala and the "Casual Night" auction. These two events are huge fund raisers for Garces and are critically important for this private Catholic school that has served our community so well for so many years. (full disclosure: my oldest daughter is a proud Garces grad) Adams said she recognized the event had grown stale and instituted a host of new changes, including moving the "Casual Night" to Monsignor Leddy Hall and adding a DJ for music and dancing. She said the 2010 Gala is set for Saturday, March 13 and Friday, March 19.

 * ... HAPPY BIRTHDAY KCCF: The Kern Community Foundation celebrated its 10th birthday last Thursday night with dinner for its founding directors and donors over at Stockdale Country Club. Singled out for recognition was retired accountant Noel Daniels, who served as president and CEO from 2001-2008. Garrett Ming of Jim Burke Ford, past chairman of the board, did a nice job pacing the evening along. Also recognized were early donors and supporters Mort Brown and Peggy Darling. Judi McCarthy, chairman of the board, had to opt out of the evening to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit her son Rob who was just released from the hospital with a nasty MRSA infection. Rob, who works for Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) is apparently doing well and on the mend.

* ... I'LL TAKE POLE DANCING FOR $500 ALEX: In the best tradition of the college press, the Renegade Rip has managed to stir things with a feature on - of all things - pole dancing. The story in the Bakersfield College paper seems innocent enough to me but this is a town where some folks insist on imposing their morals on others, so you could have predicted some of the outcry, in letters to The Californian and in blog posts.  Be your own judge and read the story here. My advice would be: calm down. It's a college newspaper and the young folks are working on their craft. It ain't porn. (photo by David Karnowski and courtesy of The Renegade Rip)

Rep. Kevin McCarthy: allow a full hearing on health care and let's hear from the generals on Afghanistan

 A weekly update from Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield. Let him know how you feel.
 "I happened to run into “Dear Abby”.  She was very frank, and as we talked, it was very telling to hear her comment that most of the letters she receives are about jobs and the economy.  Americans are working to do their part, but Washington needs to do better.  Take the stimulus spending for instance: Congress should wisely look to cut the waste that isn’t creating jobs, and reprogram money towards small business tax cuts that will create jobs.  After all, American small businesses create over 70% of our nation’s jobs.

'While our state continues to suffer from record unemployment (12.2%), Congress seems fixated on passing a health care bill that most Americans do not support.  Rather than passing one large bill, Congress should start over and focus on areas of agreement. We can take up individual reform bills that pursue common sense solutions, like real medical malpractice reform and other reforms that lead to less government involvement and more choices for individuals and families.  Some news in the midst of all the health care debate is that my colleagues and I signed a discharge petition to allow for an up or down vote on a bipartisan bill that would allow the American public and Members of Congress to have 72 hours to review legislation before it is brought to the House floor for a vote.  The Speaker of the House this week said she supports having a final health care bill posted online for 72 hours before it is voted on, but she is not letting this bill come to the floor for a vote.  We need 218 member signatures (178 signed on as of Friday) in order to force the Speaker to bring this bill to the floor for a vote.  American taxpayers deserve more transparency and accountability so they can keep tabs on Washington planning and spending.  

 "The Financial Services Committee held a hearing on H.R. 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act, also known as the “Audit the Fed” bill.   I am a cosponsor of this bill, which now has 295 cosponsors, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to bring additional transparency to the Fed.   Secretary Geithner was also on Capitol Hill this week to discuss the Administration’s plan for financial regulatory reform.  I continue to be concerned about Democratic proposals that would create new bureaucracy.  Next week Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies about the Administration’s plan, and it should be a good hearing, as we have seen differences in opinion between the Secretary and Chairman over these issues.  I’ll update you next week.    

"The Administration should allow General McChrystal, the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, to testify before Congress soon and also spell out its overall strategy for stabilizing the country and continuing to eliminate the threat of terrorists in the region that could attack us.  Our men and women serving our country deserve our support, but also the resources and strategy necessary for successful engagement. 

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Bakersfield Commons: is the huge development at Coffee and Brimhall about to become reality?

How many times have you passed that huge swath of undeveloped land at Coffee and Brimhall roads and thought: why hasn't this ever been developed? Well, got an update on the long-stalled project there, called the Bakersfield Commons, when project rep Daniel Niemann briefed the downtown Rotary club. The owners, World Oil, have ambitious plans for a huge retail, office park and residential development that - at least on paper and in PowerPoint - looks upscale and a definite plus for our community. Niemann is talking anchors like Dillard's, Macy's, JC Pennys and boutique retailers all surrounding lush greenery, pedestrian malls and housed on 255 acres. He says the closest thing to it is Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga, which I haven't seen. The project  has been stalled in the city over traffic impact issues but Niemann claims this is classic infill - hard to argue with that given its location - and that he has even received the blessings of the Sierra Club.

 The project is planned over 20 years and the first phase includes  800,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of office space. Eventually they claim there will be movie theaters, modern offices, parks, possibly a police substation and GET bus transit center and lastly - 80 single-family homes built in the first, second and third phases of the project. If you want to tour its website, check it out here. I've been in town long enough to remember when there were plans for a water slide park there, and I've always been puzzled why this prime acreage has not been developed. And there's always the question why anyone - any developer - would want to move forward in this lousy economic environment when capital is so hard to come by and retailers are cutting back, not expanding. My guess? The City Council will give its blessing. We'll have to wait and see exactly what develops over the next couple decades. Niemann said with City Council approval, they'll be moving dirt within the year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bako bits: more concerns about housing and Bakersfield prepares to look for a new police chief

 Some short takes around down on this first day of the Kern County Fair...

 * ... AS IF BUSINESS ISN'T BAD ENOUGH: Turns out the decision to close the courts once a month to save money has had the unintended consequence of hurting the businesses of downtown eateries. If you remember the local courts are now furloughed every third Wednesday. If you work downtown, as I do, you know how strongly the court system fuels downtown commerce. Restaurants like Uricchios and the Sequoia Sandwich Co. thrive off the court clerks, jurors and bailiffs who dine there for lunch, and denying them that commerce once a month can be devastating. Jeff Simpson, one of Sequoia's owners, says the furlough has cost him 25 percent of his business on that one day. Just one more example of tough times all around.

 * ... POLICE CHIEF RECTOR ON HIS WAY OUT: It's well known that Police Chief Bill Rector has been thinking about retiring, and now I hear he's made the decision to leave in early January and is likely to announce it in November. It's no coincidence that Rector will turn 50 in January, thus making him eligible for the lucrative city pension that has come under such scrutiny lately. Insiders say the leading candidates to replace Rector are Assistant Police Chief Lyle Martin (pictured right) and Capt. Greg Williamson. (that's him on the left) My money is on Martin, who would become the city's second African-American chief following the popular Eric Matlock who preceded Rector.

 * ... MORE HOUSING CONCERNS: The complexity and depth of this Great Recession cannot be understated, and you do so at your own risk. Real estate, for example, has certainly shown some signs of life, but most of the sales are on the low end of the market reflecting the continuing purge of excess inventory and foreclosures. While it's certainly appropriate to celebrate any good news, it's also wise to be cautious. Which is why a story in today's Wall Street Journal was so disturbing. It noted the growing number of "delayed foreclosures" caused by "legal snarls, bureaucracy and well meaning efforts to keep families in their homes" which are "slowing the flow of properties headed toward foreclosure." It continued:

 "While that buys time for families to work out their problems, some analysts believe the delays are prolonging the mortgage crisis and creating a growing 'shadow' inventory of pent-up supply that will eventually hit the market. The size of this shadow inventory is a source of concern and debate among real estate agents and analysts who worry that when the supply is unleashed, it could interrupt the budding housing recovery and ignite a new wave of stress in the housing market."

 One Irvine real estate  consultant predicted a "flood (of bank owned homes) listed for sale at some point." Stay tuned. We're not out of the woods yet.

 * ... MINTER FIELD HANGAR DEDICATION: Don't forget the big to-do out at Minter Field in Shafter this weekend. They'll be dedicating an historic hangar and there will be a B-17 flyover to highlight the weekend. It promises to be a perfect weekend weatherwise. This is a splendid event for youngsters to give them a sense of history, and for history buffs of all ages. The show runs Friday and Saturday and admission is free. The B-17 will be flying in the morning and around noon so don't arrive too later. And you gotta love their poster promoting the event.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The spirit of one boy and classmates who wouldn't quit until they succeeded: the story of Jens Nielsen

A friend turned me on to this inspiring and uplifting story on a young man at Porterville High School, Jens Nielsen. For those who have been around Bakersfield for a while, he is the son of Curt Nielsen, who apparently was the first men's tennis coach at Cal State Bakersfield before leaving in 1986 to purchase the Porterville Racquet Club. Enjoy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A jobless recovery, celebrating the golden era of Minter Field and looking back on a 1968 classic: Harvard versus Yale

 Starting the week reflecting on some sobering economic statistics, but looking forward to some end of the week diversions.
 * ... WHERE ARE THE JOBS? Fed chairman Ben Bernanke may be declaring the recession technically over, but it sure doesn't feel like it. First came the sobering news last week that Kern County's unemployment rate remains around 14.4 percent, a stunning statistic under any circumstance. The Bakersfield area is faring a tad better, around 10 percent. Still, most economists will tell you the real number of jobless is much higher, because these numbers never include the number of people who have given up the job search. Then there is the dormant real estate market, which is struggling to find some kind of traction. Gary Crabtree, author of The Crabtree Report, reported this week that "the employment picture is bleaker than it looks on the surface" since all key job sectors reported losses last month.  to give us some hope. The local appraiser
 As reported here earlier, Crabtree says we are entering the "off peak" season in which reduce sales volume and lower prices can be expected. He added:

 "The question remains how severe  will this 'off peak" season be? Based upon pricing, it does not appear to be as ominous as the market has bottomed and is unlike the previous three years in which the monthly decline as 5.3 percent (2008), 5.3 percent (2007) and 3.4 percent (2006) as the market was in 'free fall.'"

 So that's encouraging but yet the signals remain mixed. Here's something scary from Gary's report:

 "In the past 12 months, the Bakersfield MSA has recorded a total of 7,787 foreclosures equating to 1 in every 23 homes in the MSA and the Bakersfield Metro area. According to RealtyTrac, the Bakersfield MSAA remained the 7th worst foreclosure market in the nation..."

 * ... WHEN HARVARD BEAT YALE: Noticed that the popular Flics program at the Fox Theater will be featuring the movie "When Harvard Beat Yale" this Friday, Sept. 25. Not that we have a lot of Ivy League grads in town, but this movie is appealing on two levels: first it's a terrific look back at a famous college football game and second it features Bruce Freeman, the local Castle and Cooke president who was  key Harvard player back then. (Tommy Lee Jones was a classmate who also played on the Harvard squad) The movie looks at this classic game when both teams entered undefeated and it ended in a tie, a virtual win for the Harvard underogs.

* ... CELEBRATING MINTER FIELD: Don't forget that this weekend is the dedication of the old Minter Field Air Museum hangar. Minter Field is bursting with history and if you haven't been, it's worth a visit.  The museum is housed in the original fire station built in 1941. It is one of the last examples of this architecture left on the base. The base was a major basic training facility where nearly 12,000 pilots received basic training in BT-13s, UC-78s, AT-6s, P-38s and B-25s. One of highlights of the weekend will be a "flyover" by a restored B-17 Flying Fortress, seen in the file picture below.