UC Raises, Loses Fortune

Good thing people are donating to Cal, because the endowment has fallen off a cliff.

Cal officials have been feverishly begging rich alumni for money in the last few months, launching a massive new fundraising campaign. And if the initial numbers are any indication, it seems to have worked. In the last few months, fundraisers have secured promises to donate $100 million to the university. This represents the second-largest amount raised in the school’s history. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, for the stock market’s crash has done a number on the school’s endowment. In the third quarter of this year, UC Berkeley’s endowment stock portfolio was devalued by an astonishing $1 billion, draining it down to $5.7 billion. The school depends on that cash for a variety of services, including medical and scientific research, faculty recruitment, and student financial aid.

Speaking of fundraising, the whole point of ripping out the Memorial Stadium grove of oak trees was to build a fancy sports training center, so Cal football coach Jeff Tedford would agree to stick around and build a winning program, so alumni and other fans would drop a wad on merchandise and advertising, so women’s sports could be funded in accordance with Title IX. What happened last weekend? The Bears choked again, losing their second straight game 34-21 against Oregon State, just before the big one against Stanford next week. Last year, an Oregon State thumping so destroyed Cal morale that they lost six more games before the end of the season. Is this the program we went through all that Sturm und Drang to build? Heckuva job, Birgie.

Death to Woodpeckers!

The good folks at the 9,000-strong Rossmoor retirement campus just want to live out their lives in peace, surfing for Internet porn without the incessant drumming of woodpeckers drilling holes in their dearly-bought homes. But the aviary aggravators just won’t play ball, systematically pecking little nut depositories for the winter, waking up the Geritol generation, and ruining the property values. Rossmoor’s residents have tried all sorts of nonlethal stratagems to scare away the bogeybirds, including robot spiders and recordings of woodpeckers being horribly devoured by predators broadcast over P.A. systems. Sadly, nothing has come of it. So now, Rossmoor’s leaders have turned to the nuclear option. They’ve hired a master sharpshooter to stalk the grounds of the campus, lying in wait for the pesky peckers, drawing a bead, and splattering their little bird brains all over the aluminum siding. Don’t worry: they’ve gotten the okay from the Fish and Wildlife Service. And who needs another glorious bit of fauna in the world, anyway? It’s not like they’re scrub jays or something.

Reports, Reports Everywhere

Who better than eggheads to tell you what’s wrong with the world? Let’s start with Boalt Law’s Human Rights Center, which issued a report last week on the destiny of men released from Guantanamo Bay and other American detention centers. According to the report, which tracked detainees after their release, former prisoners were largely rejected by their neighbors when they returned home, as they were considered either terrorists or spies for the Americans. Half of the detainees claimed they were abused or tortured by their captors, and two-thirds suffered some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder. Only 10 percent had found jobs and managed to start rebuilding their lives after their release.

Down at Cal State Fullerton, a new study has determined the economic cost of smog in California. According to the report, California loses $28 billion a year in medical bills and lost work time due to the health consequences of breathing disgusting particulate matter from car and industrial emissions. We sure could use that cash right about now, because a new report from the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has concluded that the state will face an annual $22 billion budget deficit until at least 2014. That means we could shut down every prison and every university in California and still face billions in debt. The study concluded with a call for new taxes, but there’s a certain Grand Old Party standing in the way.

Water, Water Everywhere

Zillow.com, the not-entirely-reliable online tracker of real estate values, has determined that twenty percent of homes in the Bay Area are “underwater,” or worth less than the mortgage borrowers took out to buy them in the first place. Here in the East Bay, the big losers are southern and western Berkeley, Oakland’s Elmhurst Park neighborhood, and pretty much all of Concord, Pittsburg, and Antioch. As if anticipating such news, the Contra Costa County Housing Authority let people apply for Section 8 affordable housing vouchers for the first time in years. County officials had 341 vouchers available, and they expected 20,000 applicants when they opened their doors. How many did they actually get? Try 40,000.

Three-Dot Roundup

Peet’s Coffee gave Starbucks an embarrassing lesson in how not to run a massive café chain last week, when both companies released their third quarter numbers. Starbucks reported $2.5 billion in sales, compared to a paltry $68.5 million for the East Bay coffee company. But when it comes to profits, there’s a different story; Starbucks reported just $5.4 million, while Peets snagged $2 million without breaking too much of a sweat. … Finally, big ups to former staff writer Kara Platoni, who just scored one of the most coveted awards in science journalism. The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced its 2008 science journalism awards, and gave Platoni first prize in the small newspaper category for her 2007 East Bay Express series, “In Search of Life.” Platoni’s fellow winners include the Los Angeles Times and the WGBH program NOVA. We’ll be bronzing her pocket protector next week.

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