The state's top elections officer, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, thinks there may be a big problem this coming statewide election if the U.S. Postal Service closes 18 regional processing centers as planned -- a move that could put a crimp in mail-in balloting. In the last statewide primary, more than 12,000 ballots got waylaid in Riverside County because of mailing problems, but that could be miniscule compared to a statewide mail meltdown.
From Timm Herdt in the Ventura County Star: "A sample of what could be in store for much of the state already has been experienced in Ventura County, after a distribution center in Oxnard was closed in July. Bowen's office reports that the closure increased the time required for vote-by-mail ballots to reach elections officials to five to seven days. It had been one to three days."
"The Oxnard center is one of three of the 18 targeted centers that already have been closed. Fifteen centers from San Diego to Redding are still on the chopping block."
"I'm in complete agreement with Secretary Bowen on what she's trying to do," said Ventura County Clerk-Recorder Mark Lunn, who last fall took extraordinary steps designed to ensure that no ballots would be left stranded at the new processing center for west county mail in Goleta."
There's a lot of attention focused this year on the Sierra Nevada because of the snow -- or lack of it -- and fears that global warming may have something to do with it. But whatever the climate implications, a new study shows that Sierra snowfall has been consistent over the past 130 years.
From Peter Fimrite in the Chonicle: "The analysis of snowfall data in the Sierra going back to 1878 found no more or less snow overall - a result that, on the surface, appears to contradict aspects of recent climate change models."
"John Christy, the Alabama state climatologist who authored the study, said the amount of snow in the mountains has not decreased in the past 50 years, a period when greenhouse gases were supposed to have increased the effects of global warming."
"The heaping piles of snow that fell in the Sierra last winter and the paltry amounts this year fall within the realm of normal weather variability, he concluded."
The foreclosure process is painful enough -- especially for those losing their homes -- but the overwhelming majority of the foreclosures also were flawed, at least in San Francsico. In more than four out of five cases, the people doing the foreclosing didn't have the authority to do so.
From Ryan Jacobs in the Bay Citizen: "In 85 percent of the loans, homes were lost to people or corporations who lacked the authority to foreclose on properties, the auditors found.
In 84 percent of the loans, the analysts identified "what appear to be one or more clear violations of law."
"And 82 percent of the loans contained "suspicious activity," including "fabricating documents" and "backdating of documents," according to the study."
One side effect of the scandals that plagued the city of Bell is to raise suspicions among the public that other cities may be doing the same thing. To deal with that misperception, the cities and city managers formed a joint effort to point out the good things the cities do. It seems to be working out.
From John Howard in Capitol Weekly: "So the League partnered up with California’s city managers to create an initiative called “Strong Cities, Strong State,” a sort of communications broadside aimed at combating the aftermath of the Bell meltdown while offering a positive view of cities generally."
"It’s part PR push, part information campaign and part promotion, but it’s drawing traction among the cities, which feel they need all three."
"Nearly a hundred cities have been profiled on the Strong Cities, Strong State web site since the program was launched last August and more are coming. The program hopes to have all 482 cities profiled over 18 months. The profiles include such positive things as local success stories, road improvements, special events, local officials’ and descriptions of the job of city managers – topics that the cities believe don’t make it into the public consciousness."
Median home prices continue to drop in Southern California, partly because cash-rich investors are grabbing low-cost homes. But there is some good news: The heavy investment activity could mean the decline is nearing the bottom.
From the LAT's Alejandro Lazo: "At $260,000, the region's median home price was only 5.2% above the low hit during the worst of the recession in 2009, according to San Diego research firm DataQuick. January brought a 3.7% decline in the median price, the point at which half the homes sold for more and half for less, compared with both a month earlier and a year earlier.
Foreclosures, tight mortgage credit and high regional unemployment remain significant impediments to a housing recovery, though experts warn that January is not indicative of how the rest of the year will play out. Many observers expect the long-suffering housing market to finally hit bottom in 2012, particularly if the jobs picture brightens.
"While we are seeing year-to-year declines in home prices, I think we should probably see things level out as we get further into 2012," said Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "As we get further into the year we may see home prices stabilize."
And now from our "Am I Blue?" file comes a tale from the isolated hills of Kentucky where generations of inbreeding actually have turned a family's skin blue. We couldn't make this up.
"Dating back to the early 1800s, an isolated family in eastern Kentucky - who can trace their roots back to a French orphan - started producing children who were blue."
"As a result of a coincidental meeting of recessive genes, intermarriage and inbreeding, members of the Fugate family were born with a rare condition that made them visibly discoloured."