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Archive for June, 2010

California gets foreclosure-prevention funding

State Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) in California and four other states can start using $1.5 billion in “Hardest Hit Fund” foreclosure-prevention funding under plans approved by the Obama Administration, the Treasury Department announced this morning.

President Obama established the fund in February to provide targeted aid to families in the states hit hardest by the housing downturn. The states approved to receive aid today as part of the first round of funding each experienced a 20 percent or greater decline in average housing prices.

Each state HFA gathered public input and created Hardest Hit Fund programs designed to meet their own states’ unique challenges. The plans were submitted to the Treasury Department in April, and the approved states can now set up and roll out their programs.

California’s share is $699.6 million, with which the state will implement its plan:

    Unemployment Mortgage Assistance (UMA) – Intended to help homeowners who have lost their jobs. CalHFA will provide a temporary mortgage payment subsidy of varying size and term to unemployed homeowners who wish to remain in their homes but are in imminent danger of foreclosure due to short-term financial problems. These funds could provide up to six months of benefits with a monthly benefit of up to $1,500 or 50% of the existing total monthly mortgage, whichever is less.
    Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program (MRAP) – Intended to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. CalHFA will provide limited money to reinstate mortgage loans that are in arrears in order to prevent potential foreclosures – up to $15,000 per household or 50 percent of the past due amount, whichever is less, with a required dollar-for-dollar contribution match from the lender, servicer, insurer and/or borrower.
    Principal Reduction Program (PRP) – Intended to help homeowners who have severe negative equity – or are “underwater,” in the common slang. CalHFA will put up money, matched by participating financial institutions, to reduce outstanding principal balances of qualifying underwater borrowers. Principal balances will be reduced to market levels needed to prevent avoidable foreclosures and promote sustainable homeownership. The principal reduction program should most likely be a prelude to loan modification.
    Transition Assistance Program (TAP) – Intended to help stabilize communiteis by giving homeowners help in relocating when it’s determined that they can no longer afford their home. CalHFA’s transition assistance will be used along with servicer/investor short sale and deed-in-lieu of foreclosure programs to help borrowers transition into stable and affordable housing elsewhere. Borrowers will be responsible to occupy and maintain the property until the home is sold or returned to the lender as negotiated. Funds will be available on a one-time only basis.

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, issued a news release praising the funding.

“Every family in our community has felt the effects of this severe economic recession and the problems in California’s housing market,” he said. “People have lost their jobs and their homes through no fault of their own. This new federal program is intended to help homeowners in our state and to help stabilize our economy.

“Of course there is more to do, and we’re continuing our work in Congress to save and create good American jobs to turn the economy around and get people back on their feet. In the end, the best way to help avoid foreclosure is to get more Americans back to work. We’re making progress in that direction but that remains our top priority.”

The other states cleared for funding today were Arizona, Nevada, Michigan and Florida.

Posted on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
Under: Barack Obama, housing, Obama presidency | 3 Comments »

Senate committee OKs ‘open carry’ ban bill

A bill to ban the “open carry” of unloaded handguns in public places was approved by the state Senate Public Safety Committee on a 4-3 vote yesterday.

AB 1934 by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, D-San Diego, earlier this month passed the Assembly on a 46-30, party-line vote. It now moves to the state Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor.

Saldana called Tuesday’s vote a crucial test for her legislation, as the state Senate is usually more reluctant to pass public safety measures than the Assembly. “I believe the committee members understand the risk to the public and to law enforcement if this unregulated practice is allowed to continue without putting at least some restrictions in place,” she said in her news release.

Gun-rights activists have seized upon open-carry laws in states across the nation as a means of expressing their political beliefs, acting individually or gathering to carry their weapons both as an exercise of constitutional rights and for self-protection. They say they’re both protecting their rights under current law as well as advocating for changes so that more people can get permits to carry concealed weapons, something that’s sharply limited under current law.

Advocates of Saldana’s bill say open-carry practices should be banned for the sake of public safety, and to protect the safety and conserve the resources of police officers who must check to ensure the guns aren’t loaded in accordance with state law.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office says he hasn’t taken a position on the bill yet.

Posted on Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010
Under: California State Senate, gun control, Public safety | 7 Comments »

AB 32 rollback measure qualifies for Nov. ballot

An initiative funded in large part by two Texas-based oil companies to roll back California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law has qualified to appear on November’s ballot, Secretary of State Debra Bowen has just announced.

AB 32, the state’s global warming law, requires that California’s greenhouse-gas emission levels be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, a cut of about 15 percent from current levels; to that end, state authorities are working on formulating a “cap and trade” system in which California businesses would be able to choose between installing new equipment to clean up their emissions or buying emissions credits from those who do.

This “California Jobs Initiative” would suspend AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate – now at 12.6 percent – drops to 5.5 percent or below for four consecutive quarters; the measure’s proponents claim leaving the law in place will cost the state jobs it can’t currently afford to lose, while opponents claim leaving the law in place will actually create jobs in the burgeoning green technology sector.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is joining Sierra Club Chairman Carl Pope, San Francisco Baykeeper Executive Director Deb Self, Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Gina Solomon and Environmental Defense Fund West Coast Political Director Wade Crowfoot for a news conference tomorrow afternoon on San Francisco’s Pier 7 to decry the measure.

They’re holding their event by the Bay to remind voters of the Cosco Busan oil tanker accident of 2007, in which 53,000 gallons of bunker fuel spilled; the measure’s opponents have made much of the fact that oil companies have continued to bankroll this measure even as the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster continues to unfold.

Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Under: 2010 election, ballot measures, economy, energy, Environment | 7 Comments »

Local funds protection measure qualifies for Nov.

The initiative to stop the state from raiding local government and transportation funds has qualified to appear on November’s ballot, Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced today.

Supporters of the “Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act of 2010” submitted more than 1.1 million signatures to ensure they would meet the 694,354 threshold necessary to qualify the measure.

“More than 1 million California voters signed the petition to stop State raids of local government and transportation funds,” League of California Cities Executive Director Chris McKenzie, a co-chair of Californians to Protect Local Taxpayers and Vital Services, said in a news release. “We will now turn our attention to educating the voters to support this initiative to protect funding for the vital local services that they rely upon.”

The Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have taken about $5 billion in local government, transit and redevelopment funds in the 2009/10 budget cycle and billions more in past years, the initiative’s proponents say. In tandem with the economic recession, this has led to tough cutbacks in local police and fire services, parks, libraries, street repairs, public transit and other local services.

“Reduced revenues are putting a strain on front-line fire protection, emergency response and public safety services,” California Fire Chiefs Association President and Alameda County Fire Department Chief Sheldon Gilbert said in the proponents’ news release. “We must pass this measure to prevent future state actions that erode local public safety funding.”

The measure, if passed, would bar the state from borrowing local government property tax funds vital to public safety and other local services; from taking or borrowing the Highway User Tax on gasoline (HUTA), which now funds city, county and state road, highway, transit and other transportation improvements and services; from redirecting or diverting locally levied taxes such as parcel taxes, sales taxes, utility user taxes, Transit Occupancy Taxes (including taxes on hotel or motel rooms and rental cars), and others; and from taking, borrowing or redirecting Public Transportation Account (PTA) revenues dedicated to public transit. The measure also would add new constitutional protections to prevent the state from raiding redevelopment funds or shifting redevelopment funds to other state purposes.

“Cities and counties throughout California have been forced to make devastating cuts to law enforcement and other public safety services, due in part to state budgetary raids,” Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) President Ron Cottingham said in the news release. “On behalf of 62,000 public safety members, PORAC urges a YES vote on this initiative to protect public safety services by stopping state raids of local funds.”

Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Under: 2010 election, ballot measures, state budget | 3 Comments »

Don’t miss a word of this gubernatorial campaign

California Watch – the nonprofit investigative reporting team based at the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley – yesterday launched Politics Verbatim, a new website that will track every quote, promise and statement made by California’s two major-party gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. The idea is to let users sort the candidates’ statements by various categories and issues so that they can track where the campaigns are going, and hold the next governor accountable for his or her words. Check it out.

Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Under: 2010 governor's race, Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman | 4 Comments »

Oakland’s Budget Crisis: The Movie

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, whose seeming lack of public engagement in the city’s budget crisis and impending police layoffs has left some nonplussed, last week uploaded these videos in which he’s being briefed on the crisis by his staff:

What do you think – is this a mayor who’s adequately on top of the problem? Are these videos an appropriate and adequate way to communicate the problem’s parameters to the public, and to guide the process of solving the problem?

KTVU Channel 2’s Randy Shandobil aired a piece on Dellums’ apparent lack of engagement last night, and it sounds as if the often-prickly mayor had his dander up. It’ll be interesting to see what he has to say at today’s news conference; watch for our report from city hall reporter Kelly Rayburn…

Posted on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Under: Oakland, Ron Dellums | 1 Comment »

A shout-out to the OSA Class of 2010

tassle malfunction - photo by D. Ross CameronJerry Brown’s campaign stop gave me an opportunity to watch the Oakland School for the Arts Class of 2010’s graduation ceremony today at the Fox Theater, and although it didn’t fit with today’s political story, I’d be remiss not to describe the joyous scene.

Student body president Arielle Wilburn and valedictorian Myriah Nottage gave stirring speeches; literary arts graduates Maja Magnusson, Tony Shavers, Alexander Travis and Shelby Williams gave a fantastic ensemble reading; instrumental music grads Deario Austin, Korina Davis and Anthony Majors performed a vibraphone, violin and drum selection inspired by Bach, (and inspired in and of itself); and vocal music grads Kwame Grant, India Harris, Cartier King, Merkell Williams and Arrielle Wilson delivered the most moving, knock-your-socks-off rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” that this reporter has heard in a long time.

That was just a sampling of the talent loosed upon the world today; OSA Executive Director Donn Harris, his faculty and the Class of 2010’s parents have a lot of which to be proud.

Posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2010
Under: Oakland | No Comments »

Brown keeps the Nazi story alive

Jerry Brown kept alive the Nazi propaganda story today by remarking on it during his regular Thursday morning appearance on KGO — a gift to Meg Whitman’s campaign, which seems bent on getting as much wear out of its shiny new victim’s outfit it’s had on all week.

Brown said he hadn’t intended for his remarks comparing Whitman’s campaign to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels to become public, so he meant no harm. He’d made his Nazi remarks to KCBS reporter Doug Sovern while taking a break from a run in the Oakland hills last week.

“We had a chat,” Brown said. “I made mention of propaganda and I referenced that fella from Germany which I probably shouldn’t have. But this was just a private conversation. Nobody had a pencil, nobody said by the way, this is a statement you’re making in public. Normally, people say I’m taking this down.

“Normally, when you take a few hours in the morning to get some exercise in the hills and you’re cooling down from a very vigorous workout and some guy comes up and he’s friendly and you’re chatting around, you don’t think you’re at a press conference or that you’re publishing an official record for the Congressional Record or something.”

Not only that, he said, but there was no tape recorder — not to suggest he hadn’t said what he said but that he let his guard down. “So when you have the context of where we were, what time it was and who was there, and then you get it into quotes, pretty soon it becomes far more impactful than it was ever intended,” he continued.

“So, yeah, I got the word. Once I’m in my position, I can’t really ever say anything just musing on my mind. But it really does mean that politicians are always very controlled and not very spontaneous in their communications.”

So, Brown is playing the victim here, too! Because he isn’t up to speed of the new world of instantaneous gotcha journalism, he shouldn’t be held accountable for his words. But he also makes a point that many would agree with: that there is something sad about a political environment in which everyone has their guard up, politicians speak only in poll-tested, focus-grouped phrasings, and their only means of communications should be through TV ads.

Interestingly, there is some ambiguousness over whether Brown has apologized for the remarks. The Associated Press reported he apologized — or, to be more precise, expressed regret over the remarks — to the the Jewish-rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, but there is no public record of him apologizing to Whitman.

Andwhen asked whether he’d broken his pledge to avoid mudslinging, Brown said:

“It wasn’t mudslinging,” he said. “It was just kinda cooling down and having a conversation with a couple guys sitting on their bikes or standing next to a water fountain in the Oakland hills.”

Whitman campaign spokeswoman Sarah Pompei responded by asking, “how is it that Jerry Brown can say his comparison of Meg Whitman to a Nazi leader is not ‘mudslinging,’ especially while at the same time his campaign’s union backers are spending millions of dollars on television ads attacking her? Brown has failed to honor his pledge to end ‘mudlsinging’ in this election.”

It’s a curious point of attack, since Whitman’s team has made no such commitment and is preparing to go on a heavy barrage of attacks very soon. Brown had agreed during a previous KGO appearance to avoid mudslinging, though it was hardly a pledge.

But, Goebbels’ remark aside, did Whitman’s team really expect Brown to remain pacifist even as they bombard him with their own attacks? And if he indeed broke the “pledge,” is he now released from his responsibility? Or, if he hasn’t acknowledged that he broke a pledge, is it still intact?

Curiously, the amount of energy spent on pushing the Nazi story further along corresponds with the Whitman team’s desire to keep quiet on a New York Times story reporting that Whitman had to pay a $200,000 settlement to an eBay employee, Young Mi Kim, allegedly shoving her.

Brown’s spokesman Sterling Clifford said it was ironic that the Whitman team, after trying to shame Brown into providing his economic plan, has kept Whitman out of reach of the media since the Times story ran.

“Where has she been for the last (four days) to answer some legitimate questions about her behavior as a CEO of eBay?” Clifford said.

The Whitman campaign said Whitman hasn’t faced reporters this week because they had no public events planned, but that it expects that she’ll give a full explanation of the incident if asked.

“Meg has plans for public events next week and we’ll see if questions are asked,” said Tucker Bounds, her communications director. “Meg isn’t hiding from anything.”

Bounds added ”my advice to the Brown campaign is if their candidate can’t stop making excuses for making offensive comments instead of apologizing and moving on, maybe their candidate should stop talking.”

The campaign also stands behind its earlier comment that the altercation between Whitman and the employee was a “verbal dispute” that in a “high pressure working environment” wasn’t “out of the ordinary.”

Clifford thought that was rich. “If it’s so common, are they saying a $200,000 settlement happens all the time?”

Posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2010
Under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Union endorses marijuana legalization measure

When about 100 workers at several Oakland medical marijuana businesses voted last month to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, some wondered what the new nexus of labor and cannabis might mean for the Tax Cannabis 2010 legalization measure on November’s ballot.

Today, we might be starting to see the answer. Oakland-based Communications Workers of America Local 9415 – with about 1,700 members in Northern California and Hawaii – endorsed the measure as a job creator.

“The labor movement is coming together behind this initiative,” Local 9415 President Sally Venable said in a news release. “With California’s state budget in disarray, and people out of work, it’s time to harness this incredible revenue stream and create tens of thousands of high quality, union jobs, by controlling and taxing cannabis in California.”

The release cited an estimate by the California Chapter of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) that a controlled and taxed cannabis market could create 60,000 to 110,000 new jobs and $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion in new wages for workers each year.

UFCW Local 5’s Dan Rush, who oversees statewide ballots matters for the union, has been assigned to work full time on the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign. “California is laying off teachers, firefighters, and nurses left and right,” he said in the news release. “Controlling and taxing cannabis will generate billions in revenue to help us save these vital services and jobs.”

Check our print editions this Sunday for my story about how marijuana – long an underground, counterculture province – is taking its place as just as much part of the political and business establishment in California, just as much “The Man,” as traditional corporate interests like power utilities and insurance companies.

Posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2010
Under: 2010 election, ballot measures, marijuana | 5 Comments »

One House Republican’s epic fail

The “Tone-Deaf Politician of the Year” award might go to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who – during BP CEO Tony Hayward’s testimony to Congress today – apologized for the Obama Administration’s “shakedown” of the oil giant for a $20 billion escrow account to cover some of the costs of the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Joe BartonAn apology. For a “shakedown.” Of a company that caused the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history. Which also is wrecking an entire region’s already-fragile economy. Riiiiiiight.

This from a guy the Wall Street Journal once called the “House GOP’s leading expert on energy policy.” But, hey, can you guess what industry he worked in before his election to Congress? Oh, I just KNEW you could.

Even his own party’s House leadership wasted no time in hanging Barton out to dry today. Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio; Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.; and Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, R-Ind., issued this statement:

“The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation’s largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.

“The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration. It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.”

Fine, but… wait a minute. “Natural disaster?” Seriously? Perhaps they meant “disaster for nature,” but that’s not what “natural disaster” means. This is a man-made disaster, one very likely born of negligence and greed, and nobody should forget it.

UPDATE @ 4:26 P.M.: Well, THAT was quick. Unfazed by the GOP leadership’s disapproval of Barton’s comment, the liberals are on the warpath:

Posted on Thursday, June 17th, 2010
Under: energy, Environment, U.S. House | 12 Comments »