County CEO's salary up dramatically during his tenure...CORINNE REILLY
Merced County CEO Dee Tatum’s yearly pay has increased by more than $100,000 since he took the position in 2001.
Including all bonuses, perks and allowances, Tatum earned $261,000 last fiscal year, from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008, according to figures provided by the county.
That’s a 64 percent increase compared with Tatum’s compensation during his first full fiscal year as CEO from 2001 to 2002, when he earned $158,800. Tatum, who is 62 and set to retire at the end of this year, is the highest paid employee at the county. Only 12 of California’s 55 county executives receive compensation packages more costly than Tatum’s, according to a report by the Public Pay Institute, a private, for-profit company based in Sacramento that tracks compensation paid to local government officials across the state.
The report, released this month, is based on information gathered by the Public Pay Institute from all California counties that employ chief executives; three counties do not. Besides base pay, the report’s rankings take into account allowances, bonuses and benefits including medical, leave and retirement.
Since beginning as CEO, some of Tatum’s pay increases have come through raises, some through standard cost-of-living adjustments, and others through policy changes approved by the Board of Supervisors, such as one that boosted the number of unused vacation hours the CEO may cash in each year.
Including a 5 percent raise approved by the Board of Supervisors last July and a subsequent cost-of-living increase, Tatum’s base salary now stands at $230,856. Besides his base pay, Tatum earned $39,300 last year by cashing in unused vacation and sick time. He also was paid $15,000 in car, cell phone and expense allowances. After Tatum, the next three highest paid county employees are all medical doctors: the county’s mental health medical director, who earned $258,120 last fiscal year; a mental health staff psychiatrist, who earned $222,520; and the county’s public health officer, who earned $204,300. ] As CEO, Tatum is the county’s highest ranking administrator. He oversees all of its departments, its 2,400 employees and its $470 million budget. He declined to comment for this story.
Members of the Board of Supervisors have praised him as an exceptional leader who deserves every penny of his compensation.
In particular, supervisors have credited Tatum for bringing consistency and order to the county and for what they’ve called his strict fiscal discipline; they say his guidance has left Merced County far better positioned than many others in California to survive the recent recession.
In an interview this week, the board’s chairwoman, Deidre Kelsey, acknowledged that Tatum is “paid quite highly.” But she added that if the county failed to offer competitive salaries, recruiting and retaining qualified top managers would be impossible.
“We have to be able to compete, and having a highly skilled, highly capable person in (Tatum’s) position is vital to everything the county does,” Kelsey said. “He’s well worth what he’s paid, and I’m concerned about what’s going to happen when he’s gone.”
Kristy Waskiewicz, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local 2703, which represents most county employees, said she recognizes the importance of paying executives competitive salaries. But she questions how the county has prioritized its spending in recent years.
Since 2004, Waskiewicz noted, the county has used layoffs at least eight separate times to take dozens of employees off its payroll to cut costs. “That affects the employees who are laid off, the employees who are left and the services the county provides to the public,” she said. “So I’d ask what the real expense has been (for Tatum’s pay increases).”
Waskiewicz added that rank-and-file workers across county departments have seen far smaller wage increases relative to top managers over the last several years. “We’re certainly not opposed to fair raises, but all the boats need to rise, not just the yachts,” she said.
Tatum began working for the county in 1996 as director of its mental health department. He was promoted to the position of assistant county administrator in 1998 and named CEO three years later.
He is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and holds a bachelor’s degree from CSU Hayward and two master’s degrees -- one in public administration from Central Michigan University and another from CSU Fresno.
Late last year the Sun-Star reported that the Board of Supervisors approved a 10 percent raise for Tatum’s wife, a manager at the county’s mental health department, though the supervisors apparently didn’t know they’d done so. The pay hike was buried so deeply as part of a budget amendment that none of the supervisors was aware of it, they each have said. Tatum has said he had nothing to do with the proposal, though it originated in his office. The raise was later rescinded.
In January the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which investigates accusations of government corruption, began examining a real estate transaction between Tatum and a local developer.
The FPPC launched the investigation after the Merced County Sheriff Employees Association complained that the local developer essentially gave Tatum a gift by selling him land in Planada in 2005 for less than what it was worth -- a claim that Tatum has denied and that could be difficult to prove because land prices are always in flux. The Merced County Housing Authority signed over the land in question to the developer, Pacific Holt Corp., the same day that Pacific Holt sold it to Tatum. An FPPC spokesman said Friday that the agency’s investigation remains open.
Twelve California counties provide their chief executives with more costly compensation packages than Merced, according to the Public Pay Institute.
From highest to lowest compensated:
County executive's base pay
Santa Clara $297,381
Los Angeles $319,300
San Mateo $270,233
San Bernardino $252,410
San Diego $263,931
San Joaquin $241,883
Contra Costa $250,000
* The Public Pay Institute's ranking of county executive compensation takes into account base pay, allowances, bonuses and benefits including medical, leave and retirement. Pay listed here includes only base salary, as of January 2009.
First Lady Michelle Obama to deliver UC Merced graduation speech...DANIELLE GAINES. Michael Doyle from the McClatchy Washington Bureau and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
A grass-roots campaign by UC Merced students to bring first lady Michelle Obama to campus has paid off.
Obama will deliver the keynote speech at the graduation of the first four-year class at the university, the White House confirmed Friday morning.
Efferman Ezell, who is graduating this year with a degree in psychology, organized the "Dear Michelle" campaign with other student leaders a few weeks after the presidential inauguration.
The group sent more than 900 handwritten Valentine's Day cards, created a YouTube video and wrote personal letters to the Obama family's inner circle.
Ezell said he found out that the student proposal was being considered a couple weeks ago when the White House contacted the student government office's main phone number.
Given their busy student schedules, no one from UC Merced got back to Obama's office until Desiree Rogers happened to call back when Ezell was in the office.
"They said they got the letter, thank you, and that they would see what they could do," he remembered. "I was so excited, I forgot to ask for (the caller's) name."
He got that bit of information later when Rogers, the White House social secretary, called Ezell's cell phone. He didn't answer then either, because the number popped up as "unknown" and he was giving prospective students a tour of the 104-acre campus. Rogers left a message, Ezell said.
He now laughs at the thought that he missed so many phone calls from the White House, but the gravity of the situation doesn't escape him.
"It's going to mean a lot to a lot of people. It will be different for everybody," Ezell said. "Words can't really explain it. It really is a great feeling."
The students had other campaign events in mind, including a plan to break world records and then dedicate the feats to Michelle Obama. Those plans never got off the ground because Ezell never dreamed the student organizers would hear back so quickly.
"We were all touched by the students' campaign," Semonti Mustaphi, the first lady's deputy press secretary, said Friday. "It was very sweet."
Mustaphi estimated the first lady's office has, so far, received roughly 50 letters as part of the UC Merced campaign. These included letters sent by students as well as from the students' family members.
Because of security precautions that include irradiating letters, Mustaphi added that the first lady's office may not yet have received all of the letters that were sent.
Mustaphi declined to say how many other commencement speech invitations were received.
"This does go along with Mrs. Obama's background," Mustaphi said. "She really likes to connect with students who are passionate."
The fact that the UC Merced class of 2009 is the first full class to graduate from the new university was another part of the appeal, Mustaphi added.
"The first lady is looking forward to speaking to students and their families who have worked so hard to achieve this milestone," Mustaphi said.
A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle Obama formerly worked for the University of Chicago and with a Chicago program that prepares youth for public service.
Mustaphi added that "the date is still a little far out" for the first lady's office to know whether she will be doing other Merced events beyond delivering the commencement address.
The first lady has been confirmed for one other commencement address this year at Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter, in Washington D.C., Mustaphi said.
Area lawmakers are also applauding Obama's decision to speak at the college.
"I'm very pleased the first lady is coming to Merced and I'm thrilled for the students and the university," said Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. "It was clear when I contacted the White House that the students' efforts had made a significant impression. I'm sure Michelle will get one of the greatest and most appreciative welcomes she will have ever seen."
Students also reached out to Charles Ogletree, a native of Merced who is now a Harvard law professor and mentored both Obamas when they attended.
Earlier this month, the Merced City Council passed a proclamation to throw its support behind the student organizers. Councilman Bill Spriggs said he also asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein to support the students' cause.
"UC Merced is rapidly becoming our crown jewel," Spriggs said. "This will really show off the campus and show off the university. It will cast the city in a good light as well."
On campus, UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang praised the student campaign.
"I heartily congratulate our students who have actively spearheaded the initiative to secure Mrs. Obama's participation in the graduation ceremony of our first full senior class," Kang said in a press release. "This is a true testament of the founding class' vision, hard work and can-do attitude that will take them far in life."
Student body president Yaasha Sabba said he was thrilled the event was finally confirmed.
"We've been searching her Web site and the news," Sabba said. "We found out this morning just like you."
Sabba, Ezell and a few others were at least expecting the official announcement. For other students, the news spread quickly.
"I just got a bunch of text messages," sophomore Nibal Halabi said. "Friends, people across the Central Valley."
Hilabi, president of the UC Merced Democrats club, said the first lady's trip to the tiny campus is a testament to the overwhelming spirit of its pioneering class.
"It finally puts us on the map," Hilabi said. "Regardless of how small our school is, we can work on something together and bring someone as big as Michelle Obama to our campus."
Hilabi said he was not sure if he would be able to hear the first lady speak since he is not among the 430 graduating students.
Still, "Who wouldn't want Michelle Obama to come to their community?" he said.
Transportation and hotel arrangements for the first lady have not been set for the Merced trip, Mustaphi said.
Our View: A proud day at UC Merced
First lady Michelle Obama accepts invitation to speak at commencement.
Persistence and enthusiasm certainly seem to work with first lady Michelle Obama.
Students at UC Merced got the word Friday that the first lady would be happy to give the keynote address at the university on May 16.
You will recall that the students launched their campaign before Valentine's Day when they sent 900 handwritten cards to the White House. They followed up with a YouTube video and personal letters to the inner circle at the White House.
Efferman Ezell, who is among the first four-year class of graduates, organized the "Dear Michelle" campaign shortly after the presidential election.
The campaign grew and was joined by the Merced City Council that passed a proclamation supporting the students. Councilman Bill Spriggs asked Sen. Dianne Feinstein to support them as well.
No one at the university expected to get a response so quickly from the first lady.
"It was very sweet," said Semonti Mustaphi, Mrs. Obama's deputy press secretary. "She really likes to connect with students who are passionate." The fact that this is UC Merced's first, full graduating class is part of the appeal, she said.
The first lady has confirmed only one other commencement address this year at the Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter in Washington, D.C.
Mrs. Obama is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She had also worked at the University of Chicago and with a Chicago program that prepares youth for public service.
"It's going to mean a lot to a lot of people," Ezell said. "Words can't really explain it. It really is a great feeling."
Great feeling, indeed.
UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang responded immediately in a press release: "This is a true testament of the founding class' vision, hard work and can-do attitude that will take them far in life."
Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, said, "I'm sure Michelle will get one of the greatest and most appreciative welcomes she will have ever seen."
And the news spread quickly around the campus Friday morning, via texts, Twitters and Facebook.
"I just got a bunch of text messages. Friends, people across the Central Valley," said sophomore Nibal Hilabi, president of the UC Merced Democrats club. "It finally puts us on the map."
University of California President Mark Yudof and members of the UC Board of Regents also plan to attend.
The campus, which opened in 2005, eventually is to house up to 25,000 students and 6,000 faculty. It now has 2,700 students and 162 faculty members.
We wonder who are going to be keynote speakers at UCLA and Berkeley?
Yes, there is plenty to be proud of on the tiny UC Merced campus this weekend.
Dan Walters: Can we spend our way out?
Arnold Schwarzenegger is on one of his infrastructure kicks again, talking up the notion of federal and state public works spending as an antidote to California's severe recession.
He touted it last week in a series of California media events that crow about how quickly the state is spending federal "stimulus" money, including a joint appearance with President Barack Obama in Southern California. He then flew to Washington to ask for more, even suggesting that the feds should raise the gas tax to finance more projects.
"So as you know, for every billion dollars that we spend on and invest in infrastructure, it creates another 18,000 new jobs, so this is why we are so eager to get this money from the federal government," Schwarzenegger said during a stop in Merced.
Two days later, it was revealed that California's unemployment rate had jumped again to 10.5 percent, with just under 2 million California workers jobless, not counting those who are missed in the count, who have dropped out of the labor force, and/or who have downsized their employment.
And that raises this question: Will the money that federal and state politicians are shoveling out under the rubric of "stimulus" actually have a material impact on what appears to be the worst recession to hit California since the Great Depression? It's time to have some fun with numbers.
Even in recession, California's economy is a relative powerhouse, $1.5-plus trillion a year or the eighth largest in the world. It's unclear how much federal stimulus money California will receive, but the initial estimate is about $85 billion.
That's a figurative drop in the bucket of such a large economy, and the vast majority would not be spent on public works. So far, it appears that only about $10 billion would go directly to job-producing work.
By Schwarzenegger's arithmetic, each $1 billion would create 18,000 jobs. It's a somewhat suspicious number, but even by that calculation, $10 billion would create just 180,000 jobs, roughly 1 percent of the state's labor force.
Construction has certainly been the hardest-hit employment sector, dropping by some 18.5 percent in the last year, according to state data. But construction accounts for just 4.6 percent of the state's entire employment, so that 18.5 percent loss has been just 200,000 jobs.
Even were all the public works stimulus money spent on construction jobs, in other words, it would fall short of making up for just the last year's losses in that sector, and its impact on the state's overall economy would be infinitesimal.
At 18,000 jobs per $1 billion, it would take at least $50 billion to reverse the effects of the recession so far. And with economists' projections that California's unemployment rate is headed to as high as 15 percent next year, another half-million workers could find themselves jobless.
There are no easy answers to this economic meltdown, and it does no good to raise false hopes.
Los Banos Enterprise
Train stop wanted in Los Banos
Officials plan to lobby for station...Corey Pride
As the California High-Speed Rail Authority continues to accept comments on the proposal for the state's first bullet train, some city officials are determined to fight to get a stop in or near Los Baños.
"I will not agree with them no matter what," Mayor Tommy Jones said of the officials who made the decision to not give Los Baños a station along the train's route. "I think there should be a stop on the Westside. It only makes logical sense. I think we still have a fight ahead but I think we will end up winning."
The high-speed train proposal consists of a 700-mile passenger rail system that would connect Los Angeles to the Bay Area and travel at speeds of up to 220 mph. The state rail authority estimates that construction of the project will cost $40 billion.
In 2007 a route through Pacheco Pass was chosen as the path for the system's trains. City officials said last week that originally the train was proposed to stop in Los Baños, but the plan was changed.
"During the course of the project with the environmental impact report there was a question on whether Los Baños should have a stop because of the environment," City Manager Steve Rath said. "My take on that was I think it's something that could have been mitigated."
Los Baños is located near wetlands.
Councilman Joe Sousa said not having a stop in Los Baños is "purely political."
Aside from the environmental argument, those opposed to Los Baños having a bullet train station say that there needs to be enough space between stops to allow a the train to achieve a speed of at least 200 mph,which qualifies it to be considered high-speed rail.
Planning Commissioner Ann McCauley, who attended a March 18 meeting on the rail project, said the speed argument is contradicted by the stops already planned along the train's route.
"They've blown that to smithereens. If you look at Merced, Stockton, Modesto, you can't tell me there are more miles from stop to stop than there are from Gilroy to Los Baños," McCauley said. "We know, just driving from any one of those cities, it's not even an hour's drive."
McCauley is also skeptical of the environmental reasons for not having a bullet-train station. She referenced the city's population increase a few years ago.
"We had an environmental problem when we had thousands of people driving over Pacheco Pass. Is anyone looking at that carbon footprint?" she asked.
McCauley said she believes a station could be located anywhere from Santa Nella to Henry Miller Road near Highway 165.
Part of the reason city officials are so upset about Los Baños not having a stop is because of the state's plan for the city to be one of three areas in the Central Valley expected to be a hub for population growth in the next few decades.
"I don't think it takes a lot of thought and analysis to realize that Los Baños/Santa Nella is in the major growth pattern just because of our tangential relationship with the proximity to the South Bay," Rath said. "That being said, we were legislated out of a stop."
Jones agrees with Rath.
"You can't tell us at the state level that this will be a growth center, but you're going to move (the stop). That don't even match up," Jones said.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority is accepting comments about the rail proposal until April 10. City officials are urging the public to lobby for a Los Baños station.
Comments on the project can be e-mailed to email@example.com or faxed to 1-(916)322-0827. letters on the proposal can also be mailed to Dan Leavitt, California High Speed Rail Authority, Attn: San Jose to Merced HST, 925 L St., Suite 1425, Sacramento, Ca. 95814.
Ohio to review if Wal-Mart reneged on tax deal...The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Economic development officials in Ohio say they will check whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated terms of a tax agreement by closing an optical lab near Columbus.
Ohio gave the world's largest retailer a $1.8 million job-creation tax credit in 2001 on the condition that the company create and maintain jobs there.
Wal-Mart on Friday announced that it will close the lab, cutting 650 jobs. The lab makes eyewear for vision centers in Wal-Mart stores.
Kelly Schlissberg, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Development, says the agency is reviewing its agreement with Wal-Mart to determine if the state can recoup money.
A message seeking comment was left Saturday for a Wal-Mart spokesman.
Michelle Obama to speak at UC Merced graduation...Jim Boren
First Lady Michelle Obama will speak to graduates of the University of California, Merced, on May 16 during commencement ceremonies. Here's the breaking news story.
UC Merced students got the first lady to commit to speaking to the university's first full graduating class by waging a successful letter-writing campaign on the topic. That's very cool. Good job, Bobcats!
Our sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, has this story about the Obama visit to UC Merced.
Student body president Yaasha Sabba said he was thrilled the event was finally confirmed, accordng to the Merced paper. "Sabba and dozens of other students at UC Merced began a "Dear Michelle" campaign on campus earlier this fall in an attempt to woo the first lady to the graduation of the university's inaugural four-year class."
David W.S. Cheng|March 27, 2009 4:29 PM
Here is the video we put together for Michelle Obama from UC Merced.
Brian Murray | March 28, 2009 6:42 AM
I hope "The Presidential Garden" does not suffer due to her absence. May is an important month as anyone who has tended a garden well knows.
jkeyes | March 28, 2009 7:39 AM
I wonder if she will show? Does she know where Merced is located? This is the horribe San Joaquin Valley and we want to have farming, We do not care about the Delta Smelt; and we Valley citizens actually work for a living.
San Francisco Chronicle
Lawsuit filed over Staples Ranch project...Peter Fimrite
Environmentalists and advocates for safe streets filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Pleasanton officials of improperly approving a huge development on the former Staples Ranch without first determining the impacts on the environment.
The suit, filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Alameda Creek Alliance and Safe Streets Pleasanton, claims the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act when it approved the extension of Stoneridge Drive through the development.
At stake, the plaintiffs claim, is the habitat for sensitive species such as the California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, western pond turtle, the San Joaquin spearscale and steelhead trout.
"The major screaming issue is that the EIR (environmental impact report) stated flat out that it would not include an extension of Stoneridge Drive and then the City Council approved the extension," said Ralph Kanz, the conservation director for Alameda Creek Alliance.
The Pleasanton City Council approved the 124-acre Staples Ranch development in February. It would include an auto mall, retail development, an 800-unit senior center, a 17-acre park and a two-story skating center with four ice rinks built by the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
The property, on the corner of Interstate 580 and El Charro Road, is owned by Alameda County, but it will be annexed to Pleasanton once the development is built.
Jennifer Hosterman, the mayor of Pleasanton, said every possible environmental impact was analyzed over the course of 20 years. There are enough documents addressing the road extension outside of the EIR to satisfy even the staunchest environmentalist, she said.
Michelle Obama to address Calif. uni's first class...GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writer
Seniors at the University of California, Merced couldn't rely on a wealthy and established network of alumni to reel in a famous speaker for this year's commencement address.
That's because the UC system's newest campus has yet to graduate a full senior class and only has a handful of alumni.
But that didn't keep this year's seniors from landing one of the most sought-after speakers of the season, first lady Michelle Obama.
Since February, the 430-member founding undergraduate class has organized a nonstop campaign to draw the first lady to the campus in the heart of California's Central Valley, bombarding her office with letters, emails — even hundreds of Valentine's cards.
It set up a Facebook page to attract attention and help direct students' efforts. By Friday, the Facebook page for "The 'Dear Michelle' Campaign" had more than 540 members.
The campaign included pleas from students, faculty and local residents. One student even recruited more than a dozen family members to send letters of support, said Semonti Mustaphi, the first lady's deputy press secretary.
"Mrs. Obama was touched," Mustaphi said Friday, after the first lady announced she would speak at UC Merced's May 16 commencement. "She's very committed and connected to these young people's drive and wants to recognize the leadership that they've already exhibited."
Student organizers acknowledged their effort was a long shot when they began.
Surrounded by orchards and vineyards, UC Merced sits far from the spotlight of its sister campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley. Many of its students are the first in their families to attend college.
"We had been watching her speeches and found them incredibly inspiring, and we just wanted to hear her in person," said Sam Fong, a 22-year-old business major from the San Francisco Bay area city of Fremont who set up the group's Facebook page. "I'm not sure what it was, but something inside me was really confident that she would respond to our efforts and our passion would show through."
Yaasha Sabbaghian, the student body president, said being a part of the fledgling campus' first class had helped him develop a sense of leadership, which he felt would resonate with Mrs. Obama.
As he and other students mused over how to attract her to the graduation, he hit on another selling point: the diversity of UC Merced's student body mirrored that of the Obama administration.
Students also reached out to Charles Ogletree, a native of Merced who is now a Harvard law professor and mentored both Obamas when they attended the school.
University spokeswoman Patti Istas said campus officials were "absolutely thrilled" when they learned the first lady had accepted the invitation, especially since administrators had cautioned students to develop a backup plan.
"This is a true testament of the founding class' vision, hard work and can-do attitude that will take them far in life," said Chancellor Steve Kang, who will participate in the ceremony.
University of California President Mark Yudof and members of the UC Board of Regents also plan to attend.
The campus, which opened in 2005, eventually is to house up to 25,000 students and 6,000 faculty. It now has 2,700 students and 162 faculty members.
The first lady will give another graduation speech to students at Washington Mathematics Science Technology Public Charter High School in the District of Columbia on June 3.
The president plans to speak at Arizona State University on May 13, the University of Notre Dame on May 17 and the United States Naval Academy on May 22.
Michelle Obama to deliver commencement address at UC Merced...Joe Garofoli...Politics Blog
This just in from the White House: First lady Michelle Obama to deliver the commencement address this spring at UC Merced. She'll be speaking to the school's first full senior class. The FLOTUS (first lady of the United States) will be in lovely Merced May 16.
Said the Office of the FLOTUS: "UC Merced students actively sought out the First Lady as commencement speaker by writing letters to Mrs. Obama, her office, and her friends and family."
Details to come.
dsgonzale6 3/28/2009 11:03:19 AM
Vince, you're AOTUS.
cogitoergosum 3/27/2009 9:48:06 PM
Will that be a virtual commencement, since the campus is billed as a virtual campus? I hope it's podcast.
fouryearslater 3/27/2009 7:05:26 PM
welp... one of the most beautiful parts of our state - the capitol of vernal pools - and it will soon be ripped up to provide for trailers that we will call "classrooms". U.C. Merced could have done a better job. Hopefully someone who graduates will learn to create fabulous educational facilities without destroying the environment that they exist in.
VinceFoster 3/27/2009 3:36:53 PM
will she bring TOTUS?
littlepal 3/27/2009 12:44:05 PM
Good for her. Maybe she'll give the school a boost. God knows it needs it, the offspring of the University that couldn't plan straight and the not ready for prime time county. It's been a disaster up to now, perhaps this will help turn it around.
dsgonzale6 3/27/2009 12:41:14 PM
I hate those acronyms, and that one in particular.
Michelle Obama agrees to speak at UC-Merced's graduation...Jessie Mangaliman
"!!! We did it !!! First lady Obama is coming to speak at UC-Merced!!!"
The Facebook headline says it all, posted within an hour of learning the official news, summing up the impassioned student campaign waged by the inaugural class of University of California-Merced to have first lady Michelle Obama speak at its May commencement.
"The first lady is looking forward to speaking to the students who worked so hard to achieve this important milestone," said Semonti Mustaphi, Obama's deputy press secretary. "We were touched by their 'Dear Michelle' campaign. It was very sweet. It was really the students who convinced us." It is one of just two commencement addresses the new first lady will deliver, with the other going to high school seniors in Washington, D.C.
Obama will deliver the May 16 address to the 400 graduates of UC-Merced, the 10th and newest campus in the University of California, having opened four years ago. This is the university's first graduating class to have been there four full years.
"This is huge for Merced," said an overjoyed Yaasha Sabba, 22, a graduating senior and student body president. "This will shine the light on Merced."
Sabba, a San Francisco resident who is earning a degree in molecular and cellular biology, led the "Dear Michelle" campaign. Last month, students sent 900 handwritten valentines to Obama to persuade her to accept their invitation to speak.
Obama will also be the guest speaker in the June graduation at the Washington Math and Science Technical High School.
"We were strong in our confidence and optimistic in our spirit," said UC-Merced senior Sam Fong, 22, "that she'll listen to our passionate efforts."
Fong and other students wrote to Obama and argued that her commencement address to a pioneering group of graduates, in one of the poorest regions of California, will have special resonance, in history, and to the valley residents.
"I told her how meaningful this was for San Joaquin Valley and the students of Merced," said Fong of Fremont. "This is an underserved region and people need hope.
"I told her she's a very inspiring individual," he said, "and she can give that to them."
Initially, he said, everyone around them believed that getting Obama was a long shot. But determined and unflagging, the students enlisted the chancellor, the mayor of Merced, and the Harvard University friends of Obama to join the campaign.
"They were very gung-ho, very ambitious," said UC-Merced university spokeswoman Patti Waid Istas. "We did tell them we needed a backup plan."
The students created a "Dear Michelle Campaign" on Facebook. It has 537 members.
They created a red and blue poster in the style of the iconic campaign image of President Barack Obama. It read, "Michelle Meet Merced.""Our university is only 4 years old and the first lady is coming to speak at my graduation!" said Efferman Ezell, 22, of Los Angeles. "This shows we're not just a blip on the radar."
Next month, Merced will meet Michelle.
Los Angeles Times
Not so pure well water...Bettina Boxall, Greenspace
More than a fifth of the private domestic wells tested nationally as part of a federal study had at least one contaminant at worrisome levels.
A sampling of water from private wells in 48 states including California by the U.S. Geological Survey found that most of the pollutants "of potential health concern" were naturally occurring -- such as arsenic and radon.
Nitrate -- associated with human activities such as fertilizer use, livestock operations and septic systems -- was the exception. It was found in elevated concentrations most commonly in agricultural regions, such as California's Central Valley and the Midwest Corn Belt.
Nationally, the USGS says about 43 million people draw water from private domestic wells, which are not regulated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act or by California. However some counties, including Los Angeles, do regulate them.
The State Water Resources Control Board estimates 1.2 million to 1.5 million Californians get their household water from private wells.
First Lady Michelle Obama to speak at UC Merced graduation...Seema Mehta
Lady Michelle Obama will deliver the commencement speech at UC Merced, the White House announced Friday.
The UC campus opened in 2005, so Obama will be addressing the first full senior class when she speaks May 16.
The graduation speech is one of two Obama is scheduled to deliver this spring. The other is at a Washington, D.C., charter high school.
Posted by: Henzy Ripon | March 27, 2009 at 08:02 PM
BillTerror is the armpit of America. How did that comment get through the moderator?
Posted by: Agi | March 27, 2009 at 06:03 PM
Why would she choose Merced? Odd.
Posted by: BillTerror | March 27, 2009 at 04:24 PM
Michelle is FINE!!!! I'm going! I just feel sorry for her because she has to go to Merced. Merced is the armpit of America.
Michelle is the only good thing about our President.
FDIC orders changes at six California banks
The banks, including two in Los Angeles County, received 'cease and desist' orders in February that spell out what the banks must do, such as boost capital levels and rein in risky loans...E. Scott Reckard
Revealing the recession's rising toll on financial firms, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disclosed Friday that it had ordered six more California banks to clean up their acts in February after the agency examined their books and operations.
The banks -- two in Los Angeles County, two in Riverside County, and one each in Stockton and La Jolla -- received "cease and desist" orders that spell out publicly what the banks must do, such as boost capital levels, beef up management and rein in risky loans.
The number of such regulatory actions has been increasing rapidly.
The FDIC, a primary regulator of many state-chartered banks as well as the guardian of federally insured deposits, has announced 10 public enforcement actions against California banks and bankers in the first two months of this year, compared with 24 in all of 2008 and no more than seven in each of the preceding three years.
By the end of 2009, two-thirds of the state's banks will be operating under cease-and-desist orders or other regulatory actions, Anaheim-based banking consultant Gary S. Findley predicts.
"While it is not quite Sherman's march to the sea, the examination process for most has been disappointing, brutal, contentious and the basis of severe frustration among the bankers," Findley writes in a newsletter to be published next week.
Most banks targeted in such actions eventually tighten up operations and continue in business or merge with stronger institutions, but regulators are preparing for a major wave of failures.
The FDIC recently began working to hire as many as 600 employees to liquidate the assets of failed banks in the West from a new office in Irvine. FDIC chief Sheila Bair predicts that failures will cost the federal deposit insurance fund $65 billion over the next five years.
To keep the fund sound, the FDIC is raising premiums on the insured banks and thrifts that pay into the fund, which because of failures dropped from $34 billion on Sept. 30 to $18.8 billion on Dec. 31. The fund can borrow from the U.S. Treasury, so there is no chance it could run dry, FDIC officials have stressed.
In addition to public cease-and-desist orders, banks are subject to a variety of regulatory sanctions, including so-called memorandums of understanding, which are informal directives to correct problems. Regulators don't release those memos, but banks sometimes disclose them to shareholders.
In his upcoming newsletter to clients, consultant Findley describes sitting in on 11 final conferences between regulators completing examinations and bank officials. To drive home their points, he said, the regulators have been using such adjectives as "severe," "significant," "excessive," "out of control" and "rapid."
Not all the banks in the latest announcements were criticized for loan problems. The crackdown at Stockton's Bank of Agriculture & Commerce deals with a sideline business that helped a client route Social Security checks electronically to retailers and check-cashing businesses for people without bank accounts.
Regulators were requiring such detailed monitoring of the third parties involved that the bank is exiting the transfer business, Chief Executive Bill Trezza said. He described the incident as embarrassing, but said it was nothing like the problems plaguing much of the industry.
"There are more than 300 banks in California, and the reality is that more than a third of those are losing money," Trezza said.
Here are the other banks listed in the FDIC's log of February enforcement actions:
* Calabasas-based First Bank of Beverly Hills was ordered to raise capital after suffering heavy losses on real estate lending. The bank recently agreed to a takeover by a Chicago financial firm that pledged to provide new capital.
* Imperial Capital Bank of La Jolla, whose delinquent loans more than quadrupled in the last year, was ordered to raise capital and hire a chief executive "with proven ability in managing a bank of comparable size, and experience in upgrading a low-quality loan portfolio." The bank said in a recent news release that it had made "significant progress" toward strengthening itself.
* First Regional Bank of Los Angeles was ordered to raise capital and tighten lending standards after sustaining losses on commercial real estate mortgages and loans to builders. A bank official said First Regional had received $12 million in new capital from its parent company and was changing the composition of its loan portfolio to reduce risk.
* Desert Commercial Bank in Palm Desert was ordered to strengthen its management, raise capital, reduce its exposure to commercial real estate and overhaul its lending standards. Bank officials couldn't be reached for comment.
* Temecula Valley Bank was ordered to bring in managers capable of "upgrading a low-quality loan portfolio [and] improving earnings," raise capital and dispose of troubled assets. Frank Basirico, the bank's new chief executive, said in a news release this month that the bank had begun dealing with the FDIC's demands.
21st bank failure this year
Omni National Bank, based in Atlanta, Ga. was shuttered Friday. The failed bank had total assets of $956 million...Catherine Clifford
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Bank regulators closed a Georgia-based bank Friday, marking the 21st bank to be shuttered this year, according to a statement from the FDIC.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was named the receiver for the Omni National Bank, based out of Atlanta, Ga.
The FDIC entered into an agreement with the SunTrust Bank, also based in Atlanta, Ga. to protect the depositors.
The FDIC expects the cost to its Deposit Insurance Fund to be $290 million.
The failed Omni National Bank had $956 million and total deposits of $796.8 million as of March 9, 2009, according to the FDIC.
Omni National Bank, founded in 2000, had six full service branches located in Atlanta and Dalton, Ga.; Chicago, Ill.; Tampa, Fla; and Houston and Dallas, Texas.
SunTrust Bank (STI, Fortune 500) will operate the six former branches of Omni National through April 27, 2009. During the month-long transition period, banking activities will operate normally.
At the end of the 30 days, all the branches of the failed bank will close. Depositors in Georgia and Florida can open an account with SunTrust or terminate their account and receive a check, according to the FDIC. Customers of those branches will automatically be transferred to SunTrust if they do not make a decision otherwise.
Meanwhile, customers of the failed bank branches in Illinois or Texas who have not closed their accounts will automatically get a check mailed to them.
According to the FDIC, the temporary arrangement with SunTrust bank allows for uninterrupted service with direct deposits and gives customers a cushion of time to find a new bank.
The FDIC fully insures individual accounts up to $250,000 through the end of 2009. At the time of the Omni National Bank closing, however, there were around $2 million in deposits that potentially exceeded the insurance limits, according to the FDIC, although those estimates will likely change as further information comes in from customers.
Brokered accounts are considered separately. The FDIC will pay the $320.1 million in brokered deposits directly to the brokers for the total of their insured funds.
The failed bank also had two loan production offices, one located in Birmingham, Ala. and another in Philadelphia, Pa.
Federal regulators said they took control of Omni after the OCC found "the bank had experienced substantial dissipation of assets and earnings due to unsafe and unsound practices." The OCC also found that the bank has "depleted most of its capital," and that it couldn't "become adequately capitalized without Federal assistance."
Banks fall like flies
So far in 2009, 21 banks have been shuttered. Last week, three banks were closed.
Twenty five banks failed in 2008, crippled in the wake of the housing meltdown. Plummeting home prices rendered a slew of subprime mortgages nearly worthless. As the recession took hold, unemployment surged, and default rates on loans - for homes, autos, and on credit cards - increased, further squeezing banks.
Plagued with toxic assets on their books and increasing default rates, banks started hoarding cash. With banks scared to lend money, credit pipelines virtually dried up, which only served to accelerate the rate at which the economy fell into recession.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Timothy unveiled details of his plan to take those toxic assets off the balance sheets of banks, giving them the confidence to lend again. Geithner alluded to the plan in broad strokes last month, but investors were skeptical until they heard more specifics about the plan.
Under the new so-called "Public-Private Investment Program," taxpayer funds will be used with private investors cash to buy up toxic assets backed by mortgages and other loans. The goal of the plan is to cover at least $500 billion of assets and loans.
The FDIC has been charged with the task of overseeing the toxic-asset plan that Geithner introduced. The FDIC has already been hit hard by the increase in bank failures, and the increased rate of failures has put pressure on the FDIC's funds.