“Community policing” in my hometown

My son and I just returned from a fun Friday morning outing in Nevada City, where we “shopped locally.”

We ate breakfast at the South Pine Cafe ($20) and bought a pair of Merrell shoes at Fur Traders ($80).

Our 45-minute outing cost us an extra $25, because a ticket was on our windshield (and the car next to us) for parking in a space next to South Pine. “Posted private parking. Owners request,” read the ticket from one Officer Ellis, with the box “all other violations” checked.

The owner must be Taylor-Drake, where the parking lot largely was vacant. The store had been open for less than 15 minutes.

Our bad. We’ll drop off a $25 check at City Hall, which just happens to be around the corner from the parking spot.

But here’s a thought: Perhaps the merchants and police could get together and collaborate on a more “pro-shop locally” parking plan in the worst recession in generations.

It reminds me of when the Grass Valley police were cracking down on merchants for putting signs in the road to drum up some business in the downturn. Enforcement has lightened up since it was publicized.

“Community policing” is a balancing act: Weighing the need to enforce the law with the risk of shooting yourself in the foot. It’s a judgment call for sure.

Fake news story runs as A1 ad in L.A. Times

Many journalists, ad people — and readers — are angry at the publisher of the L.A. Times for agreeing to run an ad for NBC’s new show “Southland” that is a fake news story in column one on the front page.

Page One ads are old news, but ones that masquerade as news stories on Page One — even if in a different font — generally are frowned upon, because they might confuse readers.

The L.A. Times front page ad is here. Check it out.

I’ve dealt with this first hand for decades: At CNET, advertisers wanted to run the intrusive flash ads, or at newspapers, they wanted to run the fake news stories as ads. In both cases, I always argued for clear labeling.

I also felt ad people vastly underpriced their ads for such premium space in order to close a deal (and receive a commission). Except for the top sales people at tech companies, for example, too many ad people are trained as “order takers.”

I understand the business side of publishing and respect it. After all, it’s better to have some ads than none at all — and no newspaper.

But it’s not that hard to finesse a compromise if you put your mind to it. Very few advertisers will walk away; they just like to push the envelope.

Trouble is, many publishers are in a near panic nowadays — for their paper and their own careers. The guy at the L.A. Times forgot the only real capital that newspapers have left: Your credibility with your readers.

The fallout is a pragmatic one, not just a principled one: You risk losing even more readers. Lower circulation translates into lower print ad rates, the only moneymakers that newspapers have left.

I also find it ironic that the ads creating the most controversy, this one as well as one in the New York Times, are from the broadcast networks, NBC and CBS. They’re even worse off than newspapers.

It’s like throwing an anvil on a deflating rubber raft: the whole thing just sinks faster.

Will Michael Moore report on the Hastert case?

Michael Moore
Michael Moore
We’ve specialized in “boom and bust” economies in the Sierra foothills forever — going back to the gold-rush era.

Real estate is now our “gold,” and its boom and bust cycle is epitomized in the government charges filed against Thomas Hastert of Loan Sense in Grass Valley. This is one of the most egregious cases of alleged loan fraud anywhere, part of a national crackdown.

In February Hastert was charged with 73 criminal counts of embezzlement, securities frand, conspiracy and filing false documents.

Hastert alleged brokered more than 270 hard-money loans in Nevada, Sacramento, Sutter, Butte, Placer and Yolo Counties between September 2004 and September 2007 for real estate development. Hard-money loans typically provide high returns for private investors and are secured through collateral such as real estate.

Now there’s a Hollywood twist: Filmmaker Michael Moore, who is known for his biting satire, has his hands on the information, according to my sources.

Who knows whether Moore will pull the trigger. The filmmaker is in the middle of shooting his next movie. It is expected to focus on the Wall Street abuses that led to the worst financial crisis in decades, according to an email sent to his fans.

This month Moore also is relishing the recent ouster of the latest GM chief executive as part of the Obama administration’s bailout package. His “Roger and Me” movie in 1989, focusing on GM turning Flynt, Mich., into a ghost town, put Moore on the map.

As many of you know, Moore, whose sister Anne has lived here, also has focused on our little neck of the woods. In 2000, in the “Awful Truth,” he took a trip here to explore how “defendants who live in poverty (allegedly) were being denied their 6th Amendment rights.”

“While working at the public defender’s office in Nevada County, Anne saw poor people being railroaded into taking guilty pleas,” Moore alleged. “At first she tried talking to her co-workers, but when that didn’t work she blew the whistle and reported the Defender’s Office to the county board.”

This led to a big shake up in the public defender’s office. People such as Thomas Anderson came into the public defender’s office in the aftermath to help change the culture, and now he’s been elected one of our judges.

As I’ve written, the investigation in the Hastert case is ongoing. Some people expect more “shoes to drop.”

Hard-money loans were common in the “go-go” days, helping to create a boom – and now a bust.

It’s a good yarn for Hollywood — no doubt about that. Lots of colorful anecdotes.

(photo from Wikipedia)

Whiskey at five months

whiskey1Here’s a photo of our fox-red English labrador retriever, Whiskey, at five months. That’s her frog toy, which she snatched from my son.

We named her Whiskey because her coloring resembles a bottle of Woodford Reserve whiskey. Ray Shine, a fellow Cal alum who helps us interview incoming Cal students for an annual scholarship, pointed out correctly that the spelling is “Whisky” for a UK dog named Whisky.

Since Woodford is Kentucky bourbon whiskey, we went with the American spelling. It’s on her AKC papers.

We also debated the merits of having our seven-year-old son run around the house shouting “Whiskey, whiskey,” as he does regularly. But that didn’t last too long: We’re older parents and kind of laid back about this sort of thing.

A history of the fox-red lab is here and here. It’s a cool dog with a gentle personality. I can bath her in the sink, and she just sits there, loving it.

“Fox red is not a separate color of the Labrador but only a shade of yellow,” according to the write-up. “In the early years of the breed development, fox red or dark yellow was the original yellow shade of the Labrador Retriever.”

We miss our previous yellow lab, Gretchen, terribly. We had to put her down just before Thanksgiving after more than 13 years. But Whiskey keeps us focused on the future, not the past.

At the same time we got Whiskey, we made a donation to a local shelter for homeless dogs — a mounting problem in the recession.

Suit against newspaper: “He made us pray”

I’ve heard about praying for a rebound in the newspaper business. But, if true, this seems a bit extreme.

According to a lawsuit filed by an ad salesperson of the Glenwood Springs Independent, a sister paper of The Union, “her former supervisor ended staff meetings with prayers and ordered her to spend her lunch hours attending church.”

The woman claims she was improperly fired, because she didn’t share her boss’s religious beliefs.

The report appeared in realvail.com, a rival to Colorado papers owned by parent Swift Communications.

Let’s be fair here: Anybody can file a lawsuit, and we don’t know what really happened. Still, it seems strange, or at least timely, given the newspaper industry’s need for help from a “higher authority.”

California’s tax revenue free-fall vs. other states

I’ve written before about the free-fall in California’s tax revenue, suggesting that spending cuts alone won’t do the trick to close the gap.

While unpopular, you have to turn to tax hikes or gut basic services. This is why the politically motivated Tax Day Tea Party protests next week are misguided. As reported, a county like ours is quite dependent on government and social services because of our demographics.

A chart outlining the falloff in tax revenues, courtesy of Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, is here.

One of the ways to help bail us out is a run-up in the stock market, providing money from capital tax gains. More than half of Americans own stock. The argument about Wall Street fat cats is overstated.

Meanwhile, a county-by-county breakdown for falling tax revenues in our state would be good information to include in any newspaper’s Web data base.

New blood at NCTC — sort of

With little public fanfare, the new lineup for the Nevada County Transportation has rolled out.

Larry Jostes, of the county Sheriff’s Search and Rescue group, has replaced Russ Steele as the appointed at-large member. I know other applicants included some of the young people who belonged to “The Exchange,” a group of up-and-coming business people who want to make Nevada County their home. The background is here.

Jostes doesn’t seem to have an anti-global warming blog, as his predecessor did.

I always find it odd how our nonpartisan posts often are filled with vocal partisans: reflecting a real provincial mindset and giving rise to the perception of a “good old boys network.” We’re an insular bunch.

I’d applaud pollinating *more* of our appointed posts with young entrepreneurs who choose to come here and settle down, with all the obstacles they face — setting a role model for others and providing insights as people who are looking “in,” not the other way around.

I’m a big fan of the county Economic Resource Council’s “bring them home campaign” to attract younger people to our area.

“Young people sometimes aren’t the loudest voice and can be lost in all the political noise,” one of them once told me.

I at least hope the NCTC updates its Web site, not just its newsletter, with a list of the new members. Bios would be helpful, too. This is a vitally important group.

The 2009 group is: Nate Beason, Nevada County District I Supervisor; Tim Brady, Chairman, Member-at-Large; Carolyn Wallace Dee, Vice Chairman Truckee Town Council; Sally Harris, Nevada City Council; Larry Jostes, Member-at-Large; Chauncey Poston, Grass Valley City Council; Ed Scofield , Nevada County District II Supervisor (replacing John Spencer).

The next meeting of the Nevada County Transportation Commission is scheduled on: Wednesday, April 15 at 8:30 a.m., Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chambers, 950 Maidu.