Cal Plays Games With Public’s Money Again

Compensation at UC Berkeley is back in the news. Plus more on the Don, the foreclosure crisis, possible water rationing, and those miraculous Oakland A's.

Boy, Victoria Harrison must really be good at what she does. When the UC Berkeley police chief notified her bosses that she was leaving for a better-paying job, the Cal bigwigs started forward and said, “Whoa whoa whoa, hold on there, sunshine. Wait till you hear our counteroffer. How’s about you retire, and we pay you, oh, $2.1 million as a lump sum retirement package. Then you just take your old job back, and we keep paying you about two hundred grand a year! And we’ll throw in $500,000 in additional pensions, and you get to roll over all those sick days you’ve accumulated over the past eighteen years. Now, that may not actually be legal, but hey, who’s gonna find out?”

The Contra Costa Times, that’s who. Last week, intrepid reporter Matt Krupnick broke the news of Harrison’s sweetheart pay package, prompting outrage from state legislators and local newspapers. For years, the university system has been rocked by allegations that administrators got fat pay packages and housing allowances, while student fees rose and low-level employees were asked to start dumping their paychecks back into their pension plan. The scandal more or less cost UC President Robert Dynes his job, and UC critics expected the system to put the years of quietly fattening their fattest cats behind them. Now, Cal’s back behind the eight ball, trying to explain how officials could be so cavalier with the public’s money.

The Perata Show Goes On

For weeks, friends of State Senate President Don Perata have watched with growing dismay, as his ruthless recall campaign against Republican state Senator Jeff Denham got nastier and nastier. But last week may have been the low point, as reports leaked that the Don has been browbeating lowly Senate staffers into “volunteering” to help the recall effort. When many Senate staff decided they had better things to do with their vacation time than help Perata make a mockery of the Democratic process, the Don sent out a letter expressing how disappointed he was in them. And when Perata is disappointed, you’ll be disappointed too — in the sorry future you have in state politics. Of course, the letter leaked, and newspapers made much hay out of how Perata does business behind closed doors.

And the scandal just kept getting better. An official working for the recall campaign allegedly sent a letter to a Senate interpreter, asking the interpreter to translate a hit piece against Denham into Spanish. When the interpreter wrote back and said that using staff time to engage in politics is illegal, the letter was accidentally sent to Denham’s office. Now, Denham has formally requested that the Attorney General and the FBI launch a criminal investigation into the two incidents. Perata spokesman Jason Kinney told the LA Times that Denham’s request was “politically motivated, frivolous, and an obscene waste of taxpayer resources.” Ahem.

No Water or Homes for You!

Here’s the bad news: California has seen so little rain in the last two months that the East Bay’s water district is considering rationing water if things don’t get wetter fast. No more washing your car or soaking those ferns in your backyard all day. But here’s the good news: if you’re like thousands of Bay Area homeowners, you won’t have to worry about how to tend your garden, because you won’t have that house much longer! According to DataQuick Information Services, banks foreclosed on more than 6,500 Bay Area homes in the last three months, in what may be grimmest local news yet to come out of the subprime market meltdown. In fact, the mortgage crisis is so low that North Carolina financial Wachovia has suffered a $393 million quarterly loss, mostly because it picked up a big chunk of bad debt when it devoured Oakland’s Golden West Financial Corporation. Wachovia’s CEO has personally apologized for buying Golden West, but shareholders are calling for his head anyway.

Safeway Finds Way to Make Money

On the other had, it looks like Pleasanton grocery giant Safeway has finally dug itself out of the hole it found itself in when Wal-Mart started opening supercenters around the country. Last week, Safeway announced that its earnings jumped 7 percent over the same period last year. Company officials were apparently so giddy that they slapped a slab or solar panels on one of its Dublin stores, making it the first solar-powered supermarket in the nation.

The Big Hurt Is Back!

Meanwhile, Billy Beane keeps making smart decisions you only wish you had thought of. The Oakland A’s general manager kicked power hitter Frank Thomas when he demanded a chunk of his salary up front, but now that his time with the Toronto Blue Jays has come to an ignoble end, Beane picked him up again to fill out a roster that has been raging across the American League West. And Toronto has to pay a portion of his salary!

Three Dot Roundup

Software firm Sybase will shell out $1.8 million in damages stemming from an employment discrimination case, after firing a female Filipina executive and making not-so-pleasant racist and sexist remarks along the way. … Oakland is suing Wall Street firms that handled some of its money, charging that the firms rigged bids and kept profits so low that they may have cost the city $500,000. … The Berkeley Daily Planet announced that the paper will only appear once a week, but that the move will make it stronger and better than ever. Apparently it will still be called “daily.”

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