Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last week that the recession is "very likely over." The Associated Press reported that the nation's leading economic indicators rose for the fifth straight month. But here in California, it's hard to find positive economic news. The state's economy remains in the doldrums and there are indications that things could get worse before they get better.
In August, California's jobless rate jumped to 12.2 percent — the highest on record dating to 1976. In the East Bay, unemployment reached 11.5 percent — the worst since 1990, according to the Contra Costa Times. And nationwide, the Associated Press reported that 42 states posted job losses last month. The only bright spot in California was the total number of job losses — 13,200 — was less than the 35,800 in July and the 114,000 in February, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
But the ease in job losses may only be temporary if the housing market is any indication. In the Bay Area, both the number of homes sold and the price of houses plummeted in August, declining for the first time in four months, the Oakland Tribune reported. The number of houses sold declined 14 percent compared to July, although it was 4 percent higher than August 2008. At the same time, the median home price plummeted 8.9 percent from July to $360,000.
And in the coming months, the foreclosure crisis could ramp up again. According to the Chron, thousands of homeowners are sitting on adjustable-rate mortgages scheduled to readjust upward in 2010 with significantly higher interest rates, thereby making their homes too expensive to afford. ARMs started becoming widespread in 2005 and most are on five-year terms. The problem promises to be especially bad in the East Bay, which ranks third nationally in the total value of ARMs. It also could severely affect middle- and upper-income residents, because the average price of a home with an ARM is $824,000 in the Bay Area.
Expensive Park Closures
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's plan to close more than one hundred state parks could end up costing tens of millions of dollars, the San Jose Mercury News reported. An internal memo written by lawyers in the state parks department warned that the mass closure of parks could prompt private vendors to sue for lost profits. Those concessionaires generated $89 million in gross sales last year. In addition, park closures could open the state to liability if people are injured or set fires while trespassing.
The legal memo also warns that the state could face federal fines if poachers kill endangered species while trespassing in the closed parks, and says the state could be held liable if the closures force California to miss a court-ordered deadline to make parks accessible for the disabled. The governor ordered the mass parks closure during last-minute cuts he made to the state budget. Last month, Democratic State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg sued the governor to block those eleventh-hour cuts.
First Woman District Attorney
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors appointed Nancy O'Malley to be district attorney, making her the first woman to hold the post. O'Malley replaced DA Tom Orloff, who retired last week and had strongly recommended her for the job. The board of supes voted 3-0-2 for O'Malley, with Supervisors Keith Carson and Nate Miley abstaining. They believed that the board acted too quickly in selecting Orloff's replacement, and should have sought more public input. The board, however, would have been hard pressed to find a more deserving candidate than O'Malley, who put together a strong record in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, which has long had the reputation of being an old boys club. According to the Tribune, O'Malley plans to run for a four-year term in next year's election.
Oakland's First Woman Mayor?
Oakland City Councilwoman Jean Quan announced last Friday that she officially launched an exploratory committee for the 2010 mayor's race. The committee allows Quan, who represents Montclair and the Laurel districts, to raise money and gauge support for her candidacy. Quan told the Trib that she will officially announce her candidacy if she can attract a volunteer base of at least 500 people and raise sufficient campaign funds. Quan would then join ex-state Senator Don Perata as the only two official candidates in the race. If elected, Quan would become Oakland's first woman mayor. Mayor Ron Dellums has not yet announced whether he plans to run for reelection.
The temporary "S-curve" installed in the Bay Bridge over Labor Day weekend is slowing traffic by more than 50 percent, according to the Chron. Motorists are having a difficult time negotiating the elongated curve at Yerba Buena Island. It's expected to be in place at least until 2013, when the new eastern span opens. ... Oakland-based solar giant BrightSource killed its plan to build a large solar plant in the eastern Mojave Desert, after facing stiff opposition from environmentalists and US Senator Dianne Feinstein, who wants to turn the area into a national monument. ... The City of Oakland is refusing to disclose what guns Lovelle Mixon used to kill four police officers earlier this year. A pro-guns group wants to prove that a bill by state Senator Loni Hancock, banning certain types of rapid-fire ammunition, would not have stopped Mixon from shooting the cops. ... The City of Oakland helped the City of Berkeley keep pharmaceutical giant Bayer from leaving town and laying off 1,400 people. Oakland expanded its enterprise zone into Berkeley, thereby handing Bayer a $6 million tax break. ... The Alameda County Food Bank reported a record number of requests for food in July and August, according to the CC Times. ... And a respected environmental group estimated that the San Francisco Bay shoreline is choked with more than 1 million plastic bags.
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