Is the Recession Over?

Signs of a recovery emerge amid dismal jobless figures. Plus, higher education gets gouged and Oakland cops learn to not tempt fate.

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.

Three-Dot Roundup

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.

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