The nation's economy may finally be on the rebound. The index of leading economic indicators showed that the country experienced three straight months of growth from April through June. The Associated Press reported that seven of the index's ten indicators rose last month, including building permits, stock prices, and manufacturers' new orders for consumer goods. There was even good news on fuel prices, as experts predicted that gasoline would remain under $3 a gallon for the rest of the summer.
There also are indications that the housing crisis — which launched the recession in the first place — may be easing. Bay Area home prices increased in June for the third straight month. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the median home price in the Bay Area jumped 7 percent in June in comparison to May to $360,000 — although that's still down 29.4 percent from June of last year. In addition, 6,518 homes sold last month in the Bay Area, an increase of 27.8 percent over the last year. A government report last week also showed that new home construction rose in June to its highest level in seven months.
However, the good housing news was tempered by a jump in the number of foreclosure filings in the first half of this year. The Chron reported that lenders made 391,611 foreclosure filings in California, up almost 14 percent from the last six months of 2008. And when those foreclosed properties come on the market, they likely will decrease home prices further, spurring even more foreclosures and threatening the recovery.
Moreover, people are still having a tough time finding jobs — an indicator that the recession could drag on. Nationwide, the unemployment rate stood at 9.5 percent in June, and in California, it was 11.6 percent — the sixth highest in the country, the Chron reported. In the East Bay, unemployment was 11.1 percent. Moreover, the full effects of unemployment may be just starting to be felt as public agencies across the nation lay off workers because of the economic downturn.
Students Get Gouged, Again
Two institutions that are being hit especially hard are the University of California and California State University systems. Last week, the UC Board of Regents voted to slash the UC system's budget by $813 million. The Chron reported that the deeps cuts, which include the elimination of college courses, came despite widespread criticism from top university officials, professors, and researchers. UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau warned during a public hearing that cutting so many classes would force students to take an extra half-year of courses just to graduate. And UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal said the cuts would harm the UC system's ability to conduct important research.
The CSU Board of Trustees, meanwhile, is expected to raise student fees by 20 percent this fall to help bridge a $584 million budget gap. The board also is prepared this week to slash enrollment at the ten-campus system by 40,000 students over the next two years, impose employee furloughs, and eliminate classes. If approved, CSU undergrads would have to pay an additional $672 a year in fees, raising the yearly total to $4,827. The 20 percent fee hike would come on top of the 10 percent increase approved in May. In addition, CSU employees would be required to take two unpaid furlough days a month. CSU Chancellor Charles Reed admitted that the cuts in enrollment would ultimately lead to layoffs.
Cops Shoot Unarmed Man
Locally, the Oakland Police Department learned a hard lesson about tempting fate. Last week, department brass called a press conference to boast about a significant drop in the number of officer-involved shootings. The department reported that Oakland cops had only shot two people in 2009, down from eleven officer-involved shootings last year and ten in 2007. It was good news, except that one day after the press conference, two Oakland cops shot a man to death in the city's San Antonio neighborhood.
At first, it looked as if the shooting was justified. Oakland police reported that Parnell Smith, who was thought to have been a rape suspect, had been in a running gun battle with Officers Phong Tran and Scott Hewitt before they shot him. But then it turned out that Smith wasn't a rape suspect after all, although he was wanted on a parole violation. It also was later revealed that Smith had dropped his gun and may not have fired it at all before the cops killed him.
The Chron reported that the cops' attorney says the officers shot Smith anyway because he had allegedly brandished a gun at them, along with a cane, and then allegedly reached for his waistband just before they opened fire. It remains to be seen how much this changing story will continue to evolve. And as for the number of officer-involved shootings, Oakland is now on pace to have six this year — and probably no more press conferences on how well the department is doing.
The Oakland City Council, meanwhile, delayed an effort to finally select a master developer for the former Oakland Army Base, according to the Oakland Tribune. Local developer Phil Tagami is the leading candidate, but the council put off making a decision after Council President Jane Brunner said she needed more information. ... The Chron reported that Oakland's increased parking fees and fines and longer parking meter hours — designed to help the city solve its financial crisis — is causing a citizens' revolt. ... And San Francisco authorities found the body of a man linked to Oakland's now-defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery. The man went missing not long after journalist Chauncey Bailey was assassinated.