Saturday, July 26, 2008

I Guess I Have to Give Credit

Those of you who follow this blog know that I am no fan of The Sacramento Bee. But this morning I read an article I actually liked! A tenant at an apartment complex, one of those people like me, who says, "I garden, therefore I am," was featured, complete with pictures of her gardens. She has, like most fanatics, taken over all the territory she can lay her hands on, including the bare space that formerly housed the garbage cans for a vegetable garden. Who knows, the editors might next do an article on choosing garden-friendly rentals and denounce garden-trashing landlords as evil. No, I get ahead of myself. That's asking too much.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poor Arnold

(Please note that I am an interested party. A state worker provides the majority of my income.)

Pity the poor Guvernator. He's having problems getting the State Legislature to agree on a budget. So to move the process along he's rumored to have decided to cut the pay of state workers to the federal minimum wage, $6.55 and hour. His argument is that, without a budget, the state coffers will be empty by September. So state workers, whose wages make up about 12% of the budget, will take the hit for the cause. (The worker bees would get their money back once the budget is passed.)

What this means is that all state workers (except the politically powerful Corrections Officers and the California Highway Patrol) will be paid approximately $1048 -- the federal minimum wage minus Social Security and Medicare taxes. Given that the average rent in Sacramento is above $950 a month, most workers could make the rent or mortgage payment and not much else. This means that many state workers would be digging into savings or hauling out the credit card to meet daily expenses. And for lower-wage workers, most of whom are women, and some of whom are single mothers, this would be an economic disaster. A couple of months of minimum wage would drive more than a few into homelessness, and for others, would require months of scrimping to recover.

Now the problem with the state budget is very simple. California's Constitution requires that the budget be passed by a supermajority (2/3) of the Legislature (Assembly and Senate). Both houses are overwhelmingly Democratic, but not quite overwhelmingly enough. So the Republicans hold the budget hostage every year, the Democrats posture, the Democrats then wimp out, and we eventually get a budget. It's never a very good budget, but it's a budget. Remove the 2/3 requirement and we'd have a budget on time most years.

So it's not state workers who are holding up the budget. And it's hard to see how reducing their pay would have the kind of impact on the Legislature that the Gov might be hoping for. The Republicans have never gotten much from state worker unions and therefore don't have much reason to capitulate to stop the Governor's plan. Democratic legislators aren't going to capitulate just because of this, and are enjoying the enhanced anti-Republican sentiment that the pay cut has, not unexpectedly, brought about.

State Controller John Chiang, who could just have pointed out that cutting state worker pay would be a logistical nightmare, said that (a) the state had enough money to pay everyone throught the end of September and (b) he wasn't going to do it. He could have pointed out that it would be a logistical nightmare to change the payroll for 200,000 people and that it would cost millions of dollars in overtime for his staff both to program in the pay cut and then reverse it once the budget was signed. Dude's aiming for higher office.

But what's most interesting is the reaction of our local paper, The Sacramento Bee. Once, long ago in prehistory, the Bee was a pro-union paper. But in the late 1970s the paper began breaking its employee unions and developed a love for the entrepeneurial spirit of the contract worker. (I might add that this process did nothing for the quality of the paper, which has gone downhill ever since.) But then came the foreclosure crisis and, somewhere, somehow, someone at the Bee noticed that, without state workers, Sacramento would go the way of, of, Stockton. (Stockton has the highest foreclosure rate in the country.) Suddenly state workers weren't so bad anymore. They were the backbone of the local economy and, not only was this bad for the workers, but for all the restaurants and shopping venues that are supposed to turn Sacramento into a world class city. (Yes, laughter is appropriate.) It's crass and self-serving of the Bee, but fun to watch.

And it's probably true that the Guvernator is posturing, hoping that by threatening something, anything, that he can get the budget negotiations going. What he really should do is find a couple of Republicans he can "buy off," thus getting the 2/3 vote necessary to pass the budget.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh, Why Do I Have To Be Right

About things like this, rather than six good numbers? There's nothing more depressing than being prescient when what happens is something you dread. But here it is. Last month on the Peter Viles LA Land blog, there was discussion of a proposal to enable communities to buy up foreclosed properties. While many of the bloggers were adamantly opposed to this, seeing it as another government attempt to prop up housing prices, I thought it was a great idea, and said so. If you're interested in reading the comments directly, go here. But I noted that there was a potential problem, in that local governments might decide to buy up all of the junk, rather than look for properties that made long-term sense as affordable housing (whether rental, co-op, communes or whatever).

So this morning I made the mistake of reading the paper. Foolish me. What do I find? Our local Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) has announced that they will use the $12-30 million that they will receive to buy up the drek de la drek. Noooooooo. Bank-owned properties that constitute a public nuisance should be dealt with through code enforcement, just like any other blighted property. In fact, the State Legislature, as part of SB 1137, allows communities to fine banks $1,000 a day if the banks don't keep up appearances.

Worse than that, the whole blocks of blight that SHRA is talking about buying are not the newer housing in moderately-decent working class neighborhoods. What they're going to buy is the stuff that no bank should ever have touched, that in Sacramento's bubble run-up, was only salabe because it was the cheapest stuff around, and which should probably just be declared dead and torn down (at the banks' expense, of course).

What this proves is not that communities shouldn't be purchasing affordable housing, but that it shouldn't be left to local power structures with more interest in subsidizing the real estate industry than providing affordable housing.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Proposition 8

The results of a Field Poll on the initiative to ban gay marriage in California was published yesterday in the Bee. For people outside California who haven't been following this issue as closely as those of us here, this initiative might, or might not, overturn the decision of California's Supreme Court that determined that denying gay and lesbian Californians the right to marry was not constitutionally permissible--in other words, legalizing gay marriage. Proposition 8 would essentially overturn that decision and reinstate the ban on gay marriage. Now it's possible that the Supreme Court would overturn the initiative once it passed, but that's not a given.

What J and I both noted was that the age grade most opposed to Proposition 8 was made up of people between 50 and 64. Younger people were more likely to support the ban, although the 18 to 29 age sample was too small to give a definitive result. Earlier surveys had shown that older people opposed gay marriage in larger numbers than younger people. If this is true, I want to know something--what's with these young fogies?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Summer Mornings in the Smoke

Last week, during the Smoke Attack, I took some pictures of my front garden. The smoke, whatever its evil health effects, made the sun less harsh, but did not, unfortunately, improve the quality of my pictures.
We planted it in October and for the next six months I fretted that the plants might be dying. This wasn't true; they were just resting and waiting for warmer weather and more sun. In April the plants sprang into action--growing, blooming, trying to liberate territory from their neighbors. The butterfly bush is a bit gangly, and has attracted only one butterfly (a swallowtail), but is providing food for the hummingbirds presently residing in the eucalyptus and all the local bees.

The very large agastache may have to move, as there's a rose that only grew to two feet behind it, but I'll wait until fall before I make J dig them up and move them. (I once made him dig up and move a plant six inches. He allowed that my re-placement of the azalea was better, but asked that I make these decisions before he planted the plants the first time.)

You can see the low-hanging smoke in the butterfly bush picture. At one point the air quality was so bad that it was "extremely unhealthy for everyone," and people were urged to limit outdoor time to an hour or less at a time.

I have discovered, of course, that pictures that seemed like a good idea at the time should be deleted as awful. In fact, I should probably consider hiring a good photographer to take pictures...

I've also developed a devotion to soaker hoses, the tenant's version of the drip irrigation system. It allows for deeper watering of the plants, so they don't wilt quite so much during our heat waves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tenants and Evictions in Sacramento

Sometimes I wonder why I bother to read the local newspaper. Stories like this leave me fuming. Really, how hard is it to explain that tenants who are evicted as a result of foreclosures have to receive notice (now 60 days) and be evicted through a court process? See, I just did it in a sentence. But if you read Jim Wasserman's article in The Sacramento Bee, you'd think that tenants who didn't take the lender's meager "cash for keys" offer would be put out by the Sheriff within days. But given that the real estate industry is promoting the same misinformation (see this), I guess I shouldn't be surprised. And the Bee has provided a lot more help to owners (including landlords) facing foreclosure. Pay particular attention to the sidebar, where the realtor interviewed suggests that owners on the way out could rent out the property. But what else should we expect from McClatchy, which bought a bunch of papers in growing (read: bubble) markets and now has to make the best of it.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hot Hot Hot Again

It's supposed to be very hot this week--highs about 108--for much of the week. And the breeze that blew the smoke away from us has disappeared. So it's hot and smoky--everyone should stay inside with the air conditioning on for the duration. I keep the plants well-watered, but don't try to do outdoor work during heat waves. The plants will just have to fend for themselves as I languish on the sofa. I've threatened to take off for the Bay Area, but I'd have to go outside to get there.