* ... OFFICE SPACE: Economists have been warning for months that the commercial real estate market is flirting with a meltdown, and now comes word that the national office vacancy rate is showing new signs of stress. According to the Wall Street Journal, office buildings across the country lost 1.8 billion square feet of occupied space in the second quarter, "pushing the national office vacancy rate to 17.4 percent, the highest level since 1993." Locally the commercial market is under great stress, and you don't have to do much more than drive around town to spot the alarming number of vacant buildings. This seems particularly acute in the Northwest where brand new strip centers sit empty. One local businessman who owns part of a Northwest shopping center told me this weekend he was current on his payments but out of compliance with his loan covenants, and now his banker is demanding a higher monthly payment. "I told them I'd be better off declaring bankruptcy and then renting my space back at a lower cost, or looking for a smaller space. Is that what they want? Another empty building?"
* ... ENGAGED: Nice to hear that Melissa Vreeman, the morning weather anchor over at KERO 23, is engaged to be married to Brian Dignan, assistant men's basketball coach at Cal State Bakersfield. Melissa told me they have been dating for almost a year and a half and hope to wed sometime in April 2011. Brian served both as a player and a coach at Cuesta College and Brigham Young University and has been with the Runners since for nine seasons. Melissa was born in Washington State but grew up in Southern California. She joined KERO TV in January 2008.
* ... SPOTTED: Long holiday weekends in Bakersfield never fail to result in trashed parks, and this year was no different. Fourth of July revelers left our parks full of trash, bottles, cans, wrappers and remnants of fireworks littering the sidewalks and the bike trail. Doesn't anyone pick up after themselves anymore?
* ... BAKO OLD TIMER: Self described old timer Don Kurtz sent me his own list of Bakersfieldisms: "How about Tiny's Diner downtown, or Clarks Broiler at Union and Monterey? Or the hamburger grill across from Jefferson Park at Beale Avenue? Or the Foster's Freeze at Niles and Union or Blue Jays Ice Cream Parlor on Bernard Street across from Longfellow School. This is just a start of really bringing back good memories of East Bakersfield and a little bit of downtown."
* ... BAKERSFIELDISM: You know you're a Bakersfield old timer if you "remember what used to be where Sinaloa is now. (Flor d' Italia)