Saturday, March 13, 2010

Good news in the local used car sales and another scam hits the Bakersfield housing market

* ... GOOD NEWS: I dropped by the impressive new showroom at Motor City Lexus Saturday afternoon for Coldwell Banker's 2nd Annual Wine Tasting and Auction to benefit the American Cancer Society. More than 400 folks showed up to enjoy tastings from 25 California wineries and support the fight against this dreaded disease, which took my own mother. While there, Motor City general manager John Pitre told me the entire Motor City group (Buick, GMC, Lexus) set a record for used car sales in February, up more than 30 percent over the previous high. That's an all-time record, reflecting what may be a pent up demand for quality used cars in the 2007-2009 range. We take the good news when it comes.

* ... RENTAL SCAM: As if selling a house weren't hard enough these days, a new scam is making the rounds. This one starts with someone pulling a picture of your house off a Realtor web site and then posting it "for rent" on the free classified site Craigslist. If someone is naive enough, they will pay a deposit to this "renter" and happily get ready to move in - all without the knowledge of the homeowner who is simply trying to sell her house. I'm aware of this scam because it happened to my wife and me. Three times prospective "renters" showed up at our front door, one pair peering through the window like a pair of peeping Toms, checking out the "rental." Realtors say this is happening all over town, from Seven Oaks to the Northeast. These scammers could be from anywhere, from Lagos, Nigeria to across town. So if your house if for sale, stay on your guard and expect the occasional surprise guest.

 * ... PROUD MOTHER: Shirley Strickler is a registered nurse at Kern Medical Center and an understandably proud mother of four girls, three of whom went off to school and didn't return. All Highland High graduates, they include Christina Strickler Clayton, a UC Santa Barbara graduate now living in Carpenteria; Natalie Strickler, a San Diego State graduate now in San Francisco, and Leslie Strickler, another UCSB Gaucho who is living in San Diego. "They have had wonderful worldwide adventures and are great women, open minded and aware - they have taught me much about lifelong growth and learning," their mother said.  "My husband Fred is a Bakersfield native who has four daughters, four sisters and three granddaughters. Is he one lucky guy or what?" Amen.

 * .... CASA GRADS: The largest class ever of volunteers for the Court Appointed Special Advocates graduated last week. These are the folks who work with the courts in cases involving minor children, and they do an awful lot of good in the areas of our community that have the greatest need. Kate Kenny is the volunteer recruiter coordinator and said there were 39 people in the class, all sworn in before Judge Jon Stuebbe. She said all were "excited about taking a case and making a difference in the life of an abused, abandoned or neglected child in Kern County." Hats off to this group.

 * ... BAKERSFIELDISMS: This one came from my friend Rachel Legan, morning host at KGFM 101.5 FM radio: "You know you're from Bakersfield when you spot wedding parties having their pictures taken in front of the rocks and water fountains at a mini-storage."

McCarthy: it's all about jobs while Pelosi deals with health care

 Rep. Kevin  McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, checks in from Capitol Hill. His weekly report in his own words:

 "As we have seen lately, the only economic indicators that seem to be growing are our nation’s unemployment, deficit, and debt.  Five years ago, the U.S. unemployment rate was 5.3%, California’s was 5.8%, and Kern’s was 10.3%.  Now let’s fast-forward to today-the U.S.’s unemployment hovers around 9.7%. Our state’s unemployment has risen to 12.5%, and our County’s unemployment rate has soared to 17.1%.  This means that in the United States there are currently 14.8 million unemployed Americans. When you count those who’ve given up looking for work, and full-time jobs seekers who have settled for part-time work, the number of unemployed Americans increase to over 24 million.
 "We cannot lose our confidence with numbers like these, we are still the greatest country in the world, and we can overcome any obstacle in our path.  Economic certainty is vital to improve our business climate, but Washington is contributing to the uncertainty with burdensome regulations that stifles job creationWhat we need are jobs-my number one priority.  I hosted a local job expo in Bakersfield on Monday and I saw first hand the sheer number of qualified Americans (close to 2,000) who are out of work and in the process looking for a job.  This reaffirmed my belief that the President and Congressional Democrats are out-of-touch with main street-we need common-sense solutions that create an environment of confidence and fiscal certainty that promotes economic growth to get Americans back to work in our communities.  The progressive agenda of more debt is the wrong approach.

 "For instance in Washington this week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the current Senate heath care bill, which will now cost $875 billion over 10 years. This figure coupled with the Treasury Department’s recent announcement that in February the government ran its largest ever monthly deficit of $221 billion – a 10.5% increase from the $194 billion deficit in February 2009 – only illuminates the out-of-control Washington spending that’s not producing jobs.

 "This week, Speaker Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues chose not to bring any bills that would promote job creation to the House floor for a vote because they were too busy twisting arms and in back room discussions strategizing a way to ram through their government takeover of health care.  It’s time to get our priorities straight. We need to reduce our national debt, get our fiscal house in order, and put Americans back to work.  After that we can start over on a health care bill that includes common-sense solutions Americans actually want.

 "Mid-week, I was honored to be present as the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their sacrifice and service during World War II.  These were the first female pilots to fly military aircraft.  I am glad we recognized all of these amazing pilots, including the three who live in our communities. Flora Belle Reece, Irma “Babe” Story, and Marguerite “Ty” Killen, are all examples of true American patriots who served our country with dedication.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A local connection to the Oscars, more kids come home to roost and others are off to college

 * ... OSCAR CONNECTION: How many of you knew there was a strong Bakersfield connection to the Academy Awards? That's the word from Dennis Thelen, a partner at the LeBeau-Thelen law firm, who told me one of the winners of the "Best Original Song" Oscar used to call Bakersfield home. The song is titled "The Weary Kind"and is from the movie "Crazy Heart" featuring Best Actor winner Jeff Bridges. Ryan Bingham and T. Bone Burnette shared the Oscar for the song, and it turns out Bingham lived here for eight years before his family moved back to Texas and New Mexico. "Some will remember him as a very talented AYSO soccer player and Southwest Little League baseball player before he got interested in the guitar," Thelen said. Thanks for sharing, Dennis.

 * ... ANOTHER COMES HOME: I enjoyed a nice email exchange with reader Marie Parks who wanted to share the story of her son Jim Parks, yet another local product who went to college out of town, worked elsewhere but chose to return to our community. Jim graduated in 1989 from North High School, was an All Area varsity basketball player and a member of the National Honor Society. He graduated from Long Beach State (CSU Long Beach), worked in San Diego, married but decided to come back  home. His wife, Melanie, is from Tehachapi and the couple just had their first child, a daughter named Mahaila. By the way, father Jim Parks coached at CSUB in the 1980s and this week will be inducted into the California Community College Coaches Association Men's Basketball Hall of Fame. As Marie said: "I am proud of both of my boys!"

 * ... COLLEGE BOUND: Reader Lisa Bell let me know that her daughter, Allison Bell, a senior at Centennial High School, is headed for Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, this summer. Also, local Wells Fargo commercial banking vice president Michael Congdon (and his wife Lanette) report that daughter Lacey, also a Centennial senior, will be attending Baylor University. Congratulations to both these young women being accepted to these outstanding schools.

  * ... GET WELL EDDIE: I heard that local businessman Eddie Paine suffered a mild heart attack earlier this week. Eddie checked himself into Mercy Southwest Hospital after experiencing what seemed like indigestion and promptly received a heart stent. He's doing well and under doctor's orders to lighten up on the stress. Always easier said than done. Eddie is a longtime Bakersfield resident and his wife Maria is head of human resources over at Jim Burke Ford. Daughter Rachel is at Stanford University. Get well,  Eddie. 

 * ... THE BUZZ: It was disheartening to hear that our unemployment rate had jumped to 17.1 percent, a pretty clear signal that this long recession is far from over. There is no better barometer about the health of our economy than the number of folks out of work, and the release of this new number was like a dagger to the  heart. Once you factor in those who are considered under-employed or have simply stopped looking for work, our jobless rate is well north of 20 percent. Think about that: one in every five people in Kern County is either out of work or earning too little to make ends meet.

 * ... BAKERSFIELDISMS: You know you're from Bakersfield when "One of your friends owns a house on a spot where you had field parties in high school.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

College decision time for high school seniors and the pain of Roy Ashburn

* ... TATUM'S COMEBACK: Behind every fund raiser and worthy cause there are a thousand inspiring stories. One of them belongs to Tatum Holland, a high achieving youngster who was diagnosed with cancer when she was just 15 years old. Today, six years cancer free, she is a lively, intelligent, healthy 22-year-old student at Sacramento State making her parents proud every day. Tatum, who graduated from Liberty High School, overcame a rare form of bone cancer that led to chemotherapy and surgery. She is one of the reasons that her father, Greg Holland, and his team over at Coldwell Banker are sponsoring the "Relay for Life Wine Tasting and Auction" fund raiser. It will be held this Saturday (March 13) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Motor City Lexus on Gasoline Alley to benefit the American Cancer Society. There will be plenty of wine (featuring 25 Central Coast wineries) and food so pick up your tickets at any Coldwell Banker office or at Imbibe Wine and Spirits on Truxtun Avenue. Proud father Greg  told me: "We have seen first hand what this disease can do and we have also seen how God works in the lives of those people affected by this terrible disease. So thank you very much!" Tatum's mother, Janet Sanders, and step mom Stephanie Holland are both deeply involved in cancer fighting and fund raising efforts. (Tatum is shown in the picture below.)

 * ... ROY'S SAGA:  Nobody should take any joy in the drama surrounding state Sen. Roy Ashburn, the conservative Bakersfield legislator whose arrest on DUI charges in Sacramento (after leaving a gay night club) led to his "coming out" as a homosexual on the Inga Barks KERN Newstalk radio program. There's a deep sadness to all this, if for no other reason than one can only imagine Ashburn's pain in dealing with his sexual identity. Which is why I thought it was piling on when Pastor Chad Vegas told Barks that Ashburn's admission was a "perversion... a sin ... a corruption of Roy." I'd prefer to let Roy work this thing out himself without playing moral judge and jury. Pastor Vegas and others should remember what my late mama always told me: "Live and let live."
 * ... DECISION TIME: It's that time of year when high school seniors all over Bakersfield are getting their acceptance letters or emails from colleges around the country. Some of the most popular local choices - UCLA, UC Berkeley and USC - won't be heard from until early April. These are stressful but exciting times for both our kids and their parents. My advice: enjoy these special moments because you wake up, and your children are gone. Seems like just yesterday that my youngest was at Christa McAuliffe Elementary in Marsha Ketchell's class and today she's wrapping up her sophomore year at Michigan in Ann Arbor. If you'd like to share where your sons and daughters are going to college, shoot me an email and I will compile a list.

* ... GAUCHO COCKROACHES: Speaking of universities, one of my work colleagues is reporter Gretchen Wenner, who has some deep roots at UC Santa Barbara. Not only did she graduate there, but her father is a retired UCSB biology professor. One of her favorite memories was the live collection of giant African cockroaches her father kept at the portable biology trailer, housed in plastic garbage cans that he would put on counters so the janitors would not accidentally trash them. Her parents, by the way, met at the University of Michigan. "So there's Wolverine and Gaucho blood there," she said. That's some good heritage.

 * ... BAKERSFIELDISM: You know you're from Bakersfield when "You know the ingredients in a George's Special and you have had a 'Black and White' for lunch."

Monday, March 8, 2010

Roy Ashburn tells Inga Barks: "I am gay"

 Roy Ashburn, the rock conservative Bakersfield state senator popped for DUI last week, today confirmed the long-held rumors that he is a homosexual. Ashburn told Inga Barks on her KERN Newstalk morning radio show, "I am gay." It was an interesting forum to come out so to speak, given Barks' own extreme right-wing views. But Barks and Ashburn have always had a bond and apparently he felt it was a safe place to come clean. But Barks didn't do Ashburn any favors by bringing on the self righteous local Pastor Chad Vegas after Ashburn left. Vegas condemned homosexuality as "a perversion... a sin"  and did little to acknowledge what must have been a painful period for Ashburn. Read the Californian story on the interview here.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Driller-Gaucho cabal and celebrating the renewal of old downtown Bakersfield

 * ... DRILLER-GAUCHO CABAL: I received a long, thoughtful and witty email the other day from Daniel Ketchell, who was eager to weigh in on the "brain drain" of local young people who leave Bakersfield and never come back. Daniel is a graduate of Bakersfield High and UC Santa Barbara and the son of Marsha and Gary Ketchell. Marsha is a former teacher at McAuliffe Elementary and now principal at Berkshire Elementary. One of my daughters was blessed to have Marsha as a teacher at McAuliffe; she's truly one of our community's outstanding educators. Daniel says though he now lives in Sacramento - he's just 25 - he may return one day. "I haven't thought about it too much but I'd love to end up in Bakersfield at some point. I hope that as the city grows (and it's obvious from your blog it is growing up every day), more and more people my age will feel the same way and come home to help Bakersfield keep moving on up. Also, while we're at it, two other former Drillers are hiding up here in Sacramento and are not on your list. It's my duty to rat them out. Jon Bertran-Harris (BHS 2002, UCSB 2007) and Ben Tragish (BHS 2005, UCSB 2009) That's right a Driller-Gaucho cabal."

 * ... DOWNTOWN RENAISSANCE: It was another successful First Friday in the downtown arts district, the latest in the rebirth of the central business district. If you gave up on downtown years ago, it's time to give it another look. The opening of the Padre Hotel and newer upscale restaurants like Enso sushi bar on 19th Street have joined longtime venues like Uricchios Trattoria, theWall Street Alley and the new arts galleries to give the area a new charm. Among those folks I spotted out and about were Lou and Sheryl Barbich, Mel and Darci Atkinson, Bruce and Jane Haupt with daughter Alyse, Michelle Mize, Barbara Reid, Joe and Mimi Audelo, Lisette Stinson and Kim Jessup, David Gordon, Scott Garrison, Jan Bans, Wendy Wayne and Gene Tackett, Bill and Sharon Thomas, John and Ginger Moorhouse, Joan and Bernie Herman, Dr. Javier and Laurie Bustamante, Lance and Jan St. Pierre, David Coffey, Jim Scott and Bart and Napier Hill.

* ... GARCES GALA: The folks over at Garces Memorial High School are preparing for the Garces Gala this Saturday, the Catholic school's annual black tie fund raiser featuring cocktails, hors d' oeuvres, live and silent auctions, dinner and dancing. This is a huge event for the private school and special events coordinator Desiree Adams tells me it will be "new and improved" from previous years. The theme this year is "Polynesian Paradise." My older daughter is a proud Garces grad and I've attended a number of these galas. The highlight for me is the annual auctioning of a sweet puppy at the end of the evening when the crowd is "loosened up" and the wallets come open. Tickets are $125 each and it all starts at 5 p.m.

 * ... CIOPPINO: Speaking of fund raisers I attended the annual Cioppino Feed at Garces Memorial High School Saturday night. This is one of my favorite charities, not only because of what it benefits but also because of its sheer unique character. More than 500 folks dined on fresh steamed clams, salad and cioppino fish stew. Sponsored by the Bakersfield West Rotary Foundation, this annual event has supported a number of well deserving charities. Hats off to the many West Rotarians who made this happen, including Mike Rubiy, David Gay, Rick Kreiser, John Falgatter, Jim Darling and so many others.



 * ... BAKERSFIELDISM: Reader Esther Brandon spottted a Bakersfieldism and submitted it: You know you're from Bakersfield when you "drive by an estate sale at a mobile home park."