What is it with the East Bay and birds these days? First, two Rossmoor retirement community housing associations reject pleas from the Audubon and Humane Society and vote to move ahead with their plans to hire a sharpshooter and slaughter fifty woodpeckers. Then someone drills a Castro Valley wild turkey named Pinky with an arrow, and the poor bugger is seen trying to move on with his life, even as the arrow is lodged in his aviary abdomen. Despite all the efforts of East Bay park officials to catch and treat him, Pinky is still roaming loose, unsettling small children unfamiliar with the concept of cruelty. Good luck to ya, Pinky!
HBO Discovers Oakland
But enough about birds and their troubles; everyone just wants to talk about pimps anyway. HBO officials are moving forward with plans to develop "Gentlemen of Leisure," a series about a middle-age pimp who tries to retire, but the game just keeps pulling him back in; along the way, we're sure to be treated to a menagerie of hookers, violence, thug life, and rap-fueled montages of life on the street. And wouldn't you know it, but producers have decided to set the series in Oakland! In fact, Oakland will serve as one of the main characters in the show, a hard-luck town where the bodies drop and the Glocks go pop. This has Oakland's elected officials, including City Councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Ignacio De La Fuente as well as Mayor Ron Dellums, howling with indignation. "The people of Oakland have come too far to have our city's name trampled upon in the name of entertainment," Dellums chief of staff David Chai told the Oakland Tribune. We trust we don't have to point out the absurdity of a city reeling under one of the most deadly years in its history complaining that some filmmakers are planning a show that depicts it as violent. Wait, we just did!
Let's turn to Sacramento, that other hard-luck town full of grim-faced men. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, you may recall, recently declared a fiscal emergency in California, effectively ordering the state legislature to come to work and not leave until it had hammered out a plan to deal with a structural budget deficit that is expected to rise as high as $42 million by 2010. The Democrats wanted a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes; the Republicans wanted spending cuts and not much else; the two-thirds majority rule meant they had to come to some sort of consensus, never a likely prospect in state politics. But then the Dems noticed that if they just slapped a new user fee on gasoline consumption, they could convert some gas taxes into a new sales tax, direct the revenue into the general fund, and get around the two-thirds majority rule with just a simple majority. This they promptly did, cutting the deficit by $18 million so far.
But even though the bill contained many of Schwarzenegger's own tax proposals, the governor has vowed to veto it, because it doesn't contain enough of his economic stimulus package or spending cuts. As if to show he means business, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order this weekend, forcing 238,000 state workers to take two days off per month without pay, the equivalent of a 9 percent pay cut. He also ordered state departments to begin mass layoffs to slash 10 percent in payroll expenses.
Economy Takes Its Toll
Jeez, where to begin? Let's start with your house. Last week, the realty research firm MDA Dataquick released its numbers for the month of November, and Bay Area homes have lost 44.4 percent of their average value in the last twelve months. The average Bay Area home is now worth just $350,000, a record drop from the value of $629,000 a year earlier. Meanwhile, the stock market bleeding has caused the Alameda County employee pension plan to lose 30 percent of its value, or $1.7 billion, in the first ten months of the year.
And individual East Bay firms aren't doing much better. UTStarcom, the Alameda-based telecommunications giant, announced it would have to lay off 500 workers and eliminate its Korea-based handset unit, in an effort to slash $100 million in costs. The PMI Group, the Walnut Creek-based mortgage insurer and until recently one of the East Bay's largest publicly traded companies, has sold off its Asia operations to an Australian insurance company. Up until two months ago, that company used to be called PMI Australia, until PMI sold it to GBE Insurance Ltd.
Finally, Bernie Madoff's shenanigans have destroyed the charitable JEHT Foundation, which relied on Madoff to handle its portfolio. The JEHT Foundation financed a number of worthy causes in the East Bay, including the Boalt Law School's death penalty clinic and Berkeley's Center for Investigative Reporting. But by the first quarter of next year, the foundation will simply cease to exist.
State water regulators have slapped C&H Sugar's Crocket refinery with a fine that could reach $500,000, for repeatedly dumping sugar, bacteria, and mercury into the Carquinez Strait. ... The state Commission on Judicial Performance has admonished Alameda County Superior Court Judge Christine Moruza for being a little too loose with her tongue on the bench; Moruza once declared that a man who beat his neighbor with a baseball bat for having sex with his wife and sixteen-year-old daughter was kinda doing the court's work for it.
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