Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Barack Obama takes South Carolina

(Sing to the tune of the chorus of "Kokmo" by the Beach Boys)
Bara-ack Obama, takes South Carolina
Bara-ack Obama, Oooh, pretty mama ...
Obviously, I'm quite thrilled about Barack Obama winning the Democratic Primary in South Carolina (along with the Iowa Caucus, & finishing a highly respectable 2nd place in New Hampshire ... or as folks back in the North East call it, New Hamster). My husband & I originally supported John Edwards, but have grown increasingly drawn to Mr. Obama over the course of the campaign.

We also like Hilary Clinton (& her potential first laddie, Bill Clinton), & know that she would be a heck of a lot more competent than "Shrub" (Texas-based syndicated columnist Molly Ivins' apt nickname for the junior Mr. Bush who currently occupies the White House). Alas, we find ourselves unable to overcome a feeling that I can only manage to describe as the "ick" factor, & which my husband more aptly explained as: "I cannot handle another 8 years of 'Li'l Abner' in the White House giving the Republicans easy ammunition."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

She'll Rue (Furch) the day ...

According to today's article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Rue Furch owed a whopping $71,310 in property taxes for the past 7 years & finally forked up a $45,420 chunk (more than many families make in a year around here) to avoid having a lien placed on her house! For those of you who don't know, Ms. Furch is running for Mike Reilly's post as 5th District Supervisor, along with Tom Lynch, Jim Maresca, & Maddy Hirschfield.

But back to Ms. Furch ... Hmmm ... let's do the math: $71,310 divided by 7 years comes to ... Good heavens! that's $10,147 & change per year! Man, Ms. Furch must live in some pretty danged swanky digs! (Reporter Robert Digitale describes it as her "home overlooking Laguna de Santa Rosa north of Sebastopol").

Ms. Furch claims that: "The qualifications I bring to this position don't change because . . . I went through an economic recession," she said. "My qualifications, my experience and my values aren't changed."

Um ... I beg to differ. While I do sympathize with Ms. Furch -- she's a capable person & long-serving planning supervisor who has taken intelligent positions & property taxes ARE so awfully danged high throughout California (obligatory disclosure: My husband & I fell 6 months behind last year & have finally managed to catch up) -- falling 7 years behind is truly ridiculous! We have NOT experienced a 7-year "economic recession." She had plenty of time to realize that her consulting business wasn't making enough money & ample opportunities for selling her place while the market was still hot.

Quite frankly, I'm surprised that Ms. Furch would consider running for a higher-level public office with such a major financial issue hanging over her head. Of course none of us are perfect, but in politics, you at least need to look good on paper. This incident is bound to affect her candidacy & cast doubt upon her ability to handle a supervisory role for the County. Alas, Ms. Furch appears to possess intelligence, a good heart & many other positive qualities, but the poor woman has made some bad choices & seems to be totally lacking in pragmatic business sense. And right now, Sonoma County desperately needs someone with some business sense.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Attention local realtors: How NOT to seize the day!

Speaking of creative marketing campaigns for local real estate agents ... here's an example of how NOT to do it!

Janna Anderson, from Creative Property Services (CPS) in Graton at www.jannaanderson.com ran an advertisement in the January 17th edition of the West County Gazette on page 7, which reads as follows:
Now is the Right Time to Buy!
Take advantage of the softening market. I can help you find the best deals and foreclosures.
Nice, Ms. Anderson, real nice. I'm sure that all of the West County Gazette's readers (Hmmm ... Vesta now has a circulation of 16,000) who are facing the possibility of foreclosure -- or who KNOW people who do -- will find your advertisement to be utterly charming. NOT. Or perhaps foreclosures aren't an issue in Graton? The last thing we need are the flocks of vulture capitalists descending upon the carrion of our neighbors' misfortunes & predatory financing arrangements, whom your advertisement blatantly appears to target.

Your advertisement may also prove to be misleading. Yes, the real estate market is in a downturn, homes are lingering longer on the market, & there are some good deals to be had. However, there are several factors working against your marketing approach, because the majority of people who buy homes around here tend to be strongly entrenched in this community & are pretty danged determined to hang on to their property:

(1) Many folks bought their homes ages ago, have low mortgage & property tax payments; & can hence afford to take their homes off the market if their minimum price can't be met; (2) Those facing loan re-sets can & often do find a way to make these payments until they are able to refinance through extra jobs, & help from their friends, families, & their communities (I know of one family that started a non-profit for themselves & launched a fund raising campaign for their historic old house, & another which received funds collected by their church); (3) Some sellers choose to take advantage of the Internet & do For-Sale-By-Owner & owner financing deals & hedge their potential losses by refusing to pay commissions to realtors; (4) The sort of speculators whom you assume would be attracted by your advertisement are like sheep & they're running away from real estate investments just like everyone else; & (5) Purchasing foreclosed properties is a risky & arduous process which is not for the scantily-capitalized or faint of heart.

I'm sure you're a lovely person in real life, Ms. Anderson. Don't you also run that cute little grocery store in downtown Graton? Alas, you do do really need to have a nice chat with the person who does your copywriting. What works in a city like Santa Rosa might actually offend people in a more intimate, small-town setting like Western Sonoma County.

I feel that the bursting of the housing bubble could actually be a good thing for us River Rats & Rattinas of Western Sonoma County. Our housing market was totally out of whack. When local housing costs dramatically outstrip people's earning power in the local job market, a "market correction" is due. People have historically relocated to Western Sonoma County because it's beautiful, inexpensive, laid back, & is hence an ideal place to pursue our dreams & "do our own thing." This is why our community manages to be so vibrant & yet so livable. I would like to see home ownership opportunities once again be open to local residents & various dreamers.

Perhaps I sound like some sort of wild-eyed liberal communist, but I'm not. We bought our home at the height of the market in 2005 & wish it had appreciated enough for us to get a home equity loan in order to make a multitude of expensive & necessary repairs. But what the hey, we can keep placing plastic tarps over the leaks in our roof, & pray that the two redwood trees leaning against our roof don't burst into our kitchen one day for a few more years.

Home prices are bound to appreciate someday. But I love our community & immediate neighborhood & don't want prices to accelerate so quickly that nobody interesting can afford to live here any more. After all ... the towns of Berkeley & Sausalito used to be so fun, vibrant, creative & inspiring & look at them now. They can be nice to visit, but -- unless you're a multimillionaire -- they aren't terribly livable.

Attention local realtors: Seize the day!

The looming recession has cast a gloomy gray cloud over our local economy, & the general mood often seems to match the bleak weather outside. This may sound crazy, but I believe that local residents, businesses & real estate professionals should be BENEFITTING from the recent crash in the housing market instead of suffering from it. I would also like to see people who need to sell their homes be able to do so & for our real estate market to stabilize so folks who need to refinance will be able to do so.

What we need is for local realtors to launch a niche marketing campaign to potential home buyers who are currently priced out of the rest of the San Francisco Bay area. They should run advertisements in various niche publications throughout the Bay area (family/parents’ papers, arts ‘zines, & gay publications), which tell people that home ownership is still affordable here & explain why the Russian River is such a great place to live.

There’s no way that this would result in our being overrun by rich, snooty yuppies, because these folks do not share our core values & probably wouldn’t want to live here. I also sincerely doubt that real estate speculators & absentee landlord-types would be terribly interested at this point in time. But if we could entice some potential year-round residents to buy some of the homes currently languishing on the real estate market, it would revitalize our tax base, our economy, & our community as a whole. I also wish that some wealthy benefactor would purchase a bunch of houses & provide low (or zero) down payment, low-interest financing to potential local buyers, but that’s an entirely different subject altogether.

This sort of advertising would also boost the overall reputation of our community. Most people see the Russian River as a summer resort, meth-haven & party place. They don’t know about all of our local amenities & services (excellent schools, low crime rates, friendly neighborhoods, great restaurants, lots of fun local festivals & events, several churches, a lively assortment of organizations & groups, a thriving arts, music & literary scene, & more). Here, it is still affordable & possible to start your own business, have one partner/spouse stay home with the kids, pursue one’s creative dreams, or buy a cheap fixer home & actually have some money left for fixing it up. Even if the ads only attracted a few buyers (which could still amount to some nice chunks of change for the realtors running these advertisements), at least folks “on the outside” won’t wrinkle up their noses & think we’re druggies when we mention that we live here!

We could also attract a new breed of tourist to our area: let’s call it “real estate tourism.” My husband & I lived in San Francisco for 6 years & in Berkeley for 3 years. In these places, real estate is an obsession, which almost amounts to a new sport. When there’s an open house on the block, all of the neighbors attend – whether or not they’re actually planning to buy a home – because they want to see what it’s selling for, how the house compares to theirs, etc. Since many people with decent credit & good incomes can’t even come close to affording to purchase a home in the Bay Area, they often fantasize about moving elsewhere. My husband & I spent YEARS coming out here on holidays & weekends looking at houses, drooling over how cute & affordable they were, & wondering how we could pull it off before we finally took the plunge & plunked ourselves down here. During these holidays & weekends – year ‘round, regardless of the season or the weather – we spent money on local hotels, restaurants & shops.

Now that we’re here, we pay property taxes, buy local goods & services, are active in the community, & volunteer in our daughter’s school. Sure, my husband has a long commute, but we manage to make it work, & we know a lot of people who drive just as far to live in places that aren’t even half as beautiful & livable as our little community here on the Russian River.

I know that launching a niche marketing real estate campaign sounds totally crazy ... Then again, so is continuing to advertise real estate the same way as during the boom.

Some thoughts on our homeless population

We’ve had a cold & rainy winter so far, & like many people around here, I feel sympathetic towards our homeless population in general & have even developed a fondness for some of them as individuals, including: friendly, effusive, round-faced Halle the biblical scholar who declares himself an “Essene” (I didn’t even know that sect existed any more & he’s a long way both time- & distance-wise from the biblical deserts in which they prayed & meditated for 40 days & 40 nights); the scruffy blond guy on roller skates; & the nut-brown, wiry, older gentleman with the long & scraggly gray beard who lets my daughter bang away on his bongo drum when we go to skip stones along the river.

Many folks around here work hard to reach out to the homeless & provide for their material & spiritual needs, even though they don’t necessarily have much themselves, including: My friend Andrea & her family from the Mill Street Thrift Store; Pastor Pam & her husband Zack Tinnan from my church (the Guerneville Community Church on Armstrong Woods Road); Elisabeth Middelberg, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church; Betty & Tom Thoemke of the Guerneville Community Church; & Brian Plaugher (Music Director at the UCC in Sebastopol, Director of a local hospice, father of one of my daughter’s schoolmates & a major mover in getting the River Child Care Services building rehabilitated & who has been honored by them with a dedicated pantry in the building with food, diapers, & other supplies for our homeless & low-income residents); & also Larry Lane & other members of Coalition for the Homeless.

I applaud these people’s compassion & efforts, yet something REALLY bothers me about all this. And it finally came to me: What about everybody ELSE? It seems like the social services, homeless advocates & other community organizations can’t help anyone or provide much support until they’ve already hit rock bottom financially, emotionally, physically, or all of the above. We don’t provide the safety nets that other modern, Western, industrial societies support – like universal health care, universal childcare/preschool education, & unemployment or disability insurance that people can actually afford to live on until they find a new job & train for a new career if necessary.

While I know many people who try to help the homeless, I also know many other perfectly nice people who would never hesitate to lend you a hand when you run into trouble, & who nonetheless seethe with resentment over the effects of the homeless on our community’s general quality of life, & say things like this:

  • They camp out along the river; pollute the river by defecating into it; leave broken glass, garbage, drug paraphernalia, & other unsavory items lying around; & generally turn our beautiful surroundings into a dumping ground;
  • They get their disability checks at the beginning of each month & go on a wild drug, drinking, & partying spree until the money runs out & then come looking for handouts;
  • We can’t build public restroom facilities for our recreation & shopping areas because They will abuse them;
  • They aggressively panhandle & act obnoxious, & hence We don’t like to shop in our downtown shopping areas, or take our kids to the playground;
  • They make huge demands on our medical & social services & there are no funds or resources for anything else, while We play by the rules & struggle to make ends meet

At first, I smiled tolerantly at these statements while mentally sweeping them into my ideological rubbish bin. After all, the homeless population seems so small, non-aggressive & unobtrusive compared to belligerent & intimidating hordes of panhandlers so ubiquitous to our former San Francisco & Berkeley communities; & the infamous “squeegee men” from my New York childhood (the guys who would go up to cars in gridlock traffic jams, splatter buckets of dirty water on your windshield & force you to pay them to clean it up before the light turned green).

But gradually, it occurred to me: These friends & neighbors have a right to their feelings, & they’re feeling angry & alienated. Don’t their feelings & opinions count, too? Why SHOULDN’T we have nice riverbanks, public spaces & public restrooms so we can hang out here instead of fleeing to parks in Sebastopol & Santa Rosa? Why should the presence of our homeless population determine what we can & cannot have? Coming from the intense urban areas I mentioned above, I personally don’t think the homeless problem is so bad & find our parks & public spaces to be beautiful & don’t mind occasionally picking up some trash. But if local citizens are feeling encroached upon, shouldn’t we consider their needs too? Why should they be subjected to my low standards? After all, these folks didn’t move to the city, I moved away from the city? And do we have the right to write them off as cruel & heartless just because the homeless situation makes them feel resentful, intimidated & encroached upon?

I’m curious … have any individuals, organizations, or government agencies collected any data? Seriously, how many homeless people actually collect disability checks around here? And where do they go to receive these checks (a P.O. box? West County Services?)? Do the local bars, liquor stores & medical marijuana distributors & drug dealers experience upward spikes in business shortly after these checks are distributed? (Alas, there is probably no reliable way to gather valid statistical data from drug dealers). Is there a mathematical correlation between the number of local homeless residents & the level of water contaminants in the river & the amount of litter, broken glass & drug paraphernalia? I would also like to know the number of occurrences & dollar amounts of police, ambulances, hospitalization & other emergency services which can be attributed to our homeless population.

At last count (according to the January 2008 issue of the Russian River Monthly), there were over 200 souls living along the Russian River with no roof over their heads. Our homeless population is indicative of larger problems in our society – like mental illness, addiction & the high cost of housing & health services – and the fact that we, as a society, don’t take good care of one another to begin with. I know at least two families who don’t appear to be homeless & whose children are nice kids who do well in school & yet they ricochet back & forth between hotels, the couches of friends & relatives, their cars, & the occasional apartment which they can never afford to keep for very long. I know other families who are totally melting down due to bad luck or financial & emotional stress who won’t or can’t seek help because they can’t manage all the paperwork & fear the stigma of being “in the system” & accepting “charity” (never mind that we all pay taxes for these services & hence should use them when necessary).

And most of all, I wonder: Aren’t there any ways for us to address EVERYONE’s issues & take steps towards making our community cleaner & more livable while providing for the needs of our homeless population?

For starters, I feel that we should consider associated some of the services our community provides to the homeless (distribution of clothing & sleeping bags; fundraisers; & our soup kitchens) with local, volunteer clean-up events. Encouraging the homeless to constructively participate in the civic life of our community, while encouraging others to work side-by-side with them & see them as individuals & human beings would be beneficial for all of us.

We already do have a few examples of projects & events which help the homeless but which also draw participation from a broader range of our local population, including:

  • Andrea at the Mill Street Thrift Store already succeeds in doing this sort of thing on a smaller level. She feeds & clothes homeless people, but she also requires them to be sober when they’re in her store, & often gives them odd jobs to do. People seem to absolutely adore Andrea & enjoy doing things for her. The store also provides a valuable service to the community because we can all purchase clothing, household items & toys that some of us could not otherwise afford (& these things are almost always in excellent, working condition). It also functions informally as a community center with lots of folks volunteering on a regular basis to help sort clothing, cook food, & gather around to exchange information & local gossip.
  • Pastor Pam from the Guerneville Community Church has also started a Street Ministry, which meets on the Guerneville Bridge at 1pm on Sunday afternoons. It’s a fun little gathering with a brief sermon & upbeat music from our talented singer-songwriter-guitarist, Michael (who owns the snack bar, Flavors with his wife Carolyn), followed by delicious soup & sandwiches prepared by Nancy (a member of our church) & others. It’s a nice way to socialize & obtain some robust nourishment for our souls & our tummies.
  • West County Services has recently launched an Empowerment Center to provide mental health services & emotional support to the homeless & others in our community.

  • River Child Care Services' new food pantry (in partnership with Brian Plaugher & others).
  • And, of course, there’s the annual holiday Christmas dinner held at the Guerneville Veterans Hall, which is organized by Leslyn Dooley from River Plumbing & others. I haven’t gone to it yet, but I’ve heard that it’s fun, that the food is good, & that Santa distributes nice Christmas gifts to all of the children who are present. I definitely want to volunteer for this next year.

Leslie Warren writes up RRROC meetings for "Russian River Times"

I want to thank Leslie Warren, a reporter for the Russian River Times. She did a great job of re-capping the last RRROC meeting in detail & I hope she'll continue doing so (especially since I missed the latest one held last Thursday). Elise Roberts also provides good coverage in her articles for the Russian River Monthly, but the Times seems to devote more column space for this purpose. Pick up the latest issue for all the juicy details on the sounding of the final death knell for the Monte Rio Sewer District (at least in its current form).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I'm a meth mom magnet

I'm a meth mom magnet. Dunno why. They just seem to like me.

My daughter's classmate says that the reason she can't come over to play is because "my mom says your mom talks funny." Obviously, this woman isn't doing enough meth.

Or, to put it in algebraic terms: (A) Meth moms like me; (B) Moms who don't do meth don't like me; (C) My daughter's classmate's mom doesn't like me; THEREFORE (D) My daughter's classmate's mom doesn't do meth.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy New Year! Rattina's Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful

River Rattina's Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful
  1. RAIN!: Let's cross our fingers & hope for a high-flow summer.
  2. New editions of local newspapers on the stands: I was getting tired of looking at Mark Weiss' body on all the front pages. No offense, Mark, but it was getting to be too much of a hot thing ... oops, I mean, too much of a good thing.
  3. New developments: Have you seen the newly rehabilitated Monte Rio Community Center (AKA Koret Club) & River Child Care Services buildings? They are absolutely gorgeous! I was also amazed to discover that we actually have a new Music Conservatory in downtown Guerneville with classical performances & music lessons & more. It also looks like the new skateboard park & youth center are really going to happen. I'm excited because our local kids will finally have a place to hang out.
  4. Monte Rio Sewer project flushed: Now that the over-priced & poorly-planned project is finally DOA, Monte Rio residents can start working on a solution that is actually affordable & viable.
  5. Somewhat dry land: So far, we've managed to avoid flooding, though my rain boots are caked with mud.
  6. Electricity: PG&E managed to quickly restore power to most of us during last week end's storm. Blackouts really make me appreciate modern technologies, that's fer sher.
  7. Good schools: Having moved here from the city, I am highly grateful for our wonderful local schools. ESPECIALLY because my 5-year-old is back in Kindergarten (as many parents would understand, we thoroughly enjoyed spending quality time together during the holiday break, but now we need a vacation from our vacation!).
  8. Giant rain puddles: Free entertainment for my daughter & me!
  9. Good neighbors: When we do have floods, at least we get stuck with nice people. Plus, it's fun to watch neighbors kayaking down the street. I'm also talking about our community in general. Many folks have fallen on hard times, but many more have stepped up to offer a hand.
  10. Mill Street Thrift Shop: Nice things for bargain prices & a warm, lively atmosphere. It's always fun to visit & hear the local gossip. I love most of the businesses around here, but I'm mentioning Mill Street because (a) it's relatively new; & (b) we REALLY needed a good thrift store.
Happy New Year to all my fellow River Rats, Rattinas, & Rattikins!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Rattina's Rants: Why can't I find little girl rain boots?

It's the middle of January & the height of rainy season in Northern California, one of my daughter's rain boots has cracked open in the back for some reason, & I CAN'T FIND NEW RAIN BOOTS ANYWHERE!!!!! At least not anything reasonably appealing to my five-year-old daughter for under $40 in a toddler girl's size 11 (yes, she does have rather tiny feet). I've checked out Lark's in downtown Guerneville (which often does have fabulous & stylish apparel & accessories in all sizes); both the mall-rat AND online stores at Target, Walmart, JC Penney & Payless Shoes; & ... Nada.

I think it is TOTALLY ridiculous that I cannot replace my daughter's damaged rain boots while it's pouring rain outside, because stores perversely refuse to keep them in stock at the height of need. What's the use of Internet retailing, globalization & low job security if I can't even get a crummy pair of size 11T rain boots in Northern California in January? Alas, these folks are already too busy stocking & promoting their spring lines of shoes.

Sigh. I suppose I can find a pair of rain boots at Sole Desire at Coddingtown or one of those chi-chi shoe stores or children's boutiques in Sebastopol, Windsor, or Healdsburg. I'm sure these stores have TONS of rain boots left in my daughter's size, because so few souls in their right mind could -- or would want to -- pay what they ask for a cheaply-made (is there any other kind?) pair of rubber rain boots which will be outgrown in six months or less.

K-Mart isn't even an option as far as I'm concerned. The items in their shoe department don't merely look cheap to me (not-so-terrible, since my daughter's frequent growth & resulting size changes, accompanied by her constant clamoring for loud, gauche, pink & sparkely things have permanently lowered my standards). They also appear to be so bizarrely mis-shaped & ill-proportioned that I seriously wonder whether their entry-level managers are sent to other solar systems to develop products for hostile, intergalactic races who look almost exactly like us & can only be visually distinguished by their long, skinny & prehensile feet.

We finally found a stray pair of generic black, rubber rain boots with rust-colored soles at WalMart in a boys' size 12T for a mere $10 & immediately grabbed it. Sure, they flop & squelch miserably on my daughter's feet & she thinks they're hideously ugly. But I promised her that we can decorate them any way she likes with water-proof paint & she is now excited about doing the entire project by herself.

Alas, I will soon need to follow through on this promise, am likely -- as a mother -- to be held responsible for the results (ill-fitting, floppy, & crazily designed rain boots), & feel filled with dread by the prospect of eventually being contacted by Child Protective Services & the local insane asylum. But what the hey ... since the winters often get so boring around here, this may prove exciting.