2009 in Brief

Hello, April.

Goodbye, March. Goodbye, February. Goodbye, January.

Honestly. Where’d you go already?

Your California Sales Tax Update

California’s state sales tax is going up by 1 percent–a penny on the dollar — at midnight tonight. That’s part of the deal the governor and Legislature struck to try to deal with our $40 billion (or is it $50 billion?) budget deficit. We didn’t manage to go out and buy anything major, like a car, semi tractor, or fusion-powered Water-Pik, that would have prompted self-congratulations for dodging the state’s nefarious revenue schemes.

The Associated Press and some other news services are saying the tax is increasing from 5 percent to 6 percent. That’s news to the millions who pay the tax and to the state Board of Equalization, the agency that makes sure the tax is collected. The board says the “total statewide base sales/use tax” is 7.25 percent. And checking county to county and town to town, that appears to be the minimum charged anywhere in the state. The highest rate charged, and remember it is about to go up, is 9.25 percent.

So what gives? Why the discrepancy between the news organs and the state bureaucrats and what shoppers up and down the state know?

Well, the sales tax is complex. Due to past budget crises and efforts to ensure local governments–and police and fire services, and transportation projects, have a more reliable source of funding–supplemental levies have been added to the sales tax. Currently, a nickel of tax for every dollar spent on a non-grocery item goes into the state general fund, where in theory it can be spent on anything. The extra penny of tax that goes into effect tonight will bring that general fund portion of the tax to 6 percent. So that’s what the media are talking about.

But then you need to start adding in the supplemental levies:

–An 0.25 levy that went into effect July 1, 2004, that goes to a “fiscal recovery fund.”
–An 0.50 percent levy that goes to a local revenue fund.
–An 0.5 percent levy passed by the voters for a local public safety fund.
–A 1 percent levy, effective July 1, 2004, dedicated to county transportation projects and county and city operations.

After midnight, adding the 6 percent to the General Fund and the various other levies equals 8.25 percent.

On top of that, many counties and cities have added their own sales taxes. San Francisco charges .5 percent for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (as do most of the other Bay Area counties), .5 percent for the county transportation authority, and .25 percent for a “public finance authority.” The total sales tax in the city is rising to 9.5 percent. In Alameda County, where I live, sales tax will hit 9.75 percent.

Two Los Angeles County towns appear to share honors for the highest sales tax rate in the state: South Gate and Pico Rivera both charge 10.25 percent as of midnight.

Here’s the Board of Equalization’s detailed breakdown of state sales and use taxes: http://www.boe.ca.gov/news/sp111500att.htm

Here’s a list of all the jurisdictions in the state and the sales taxes effective 4/1/2009: http://www.boe.ca.gov/sutax/pdf/Pending_Rates-4-09.pdf

And a historical note: The Board of Equalization includes a little table that recaps the history of the California sales tax. Interesting to see the state instituted the tax in 1933, also known as hard times. If I had more time, I’d delve a little into the political back-and-forth that must have accompanied that move.

Also interesting to note, at least by way of contrast, the sales tax in Oregon today: still nada.

Guest Observation: Antonio Carlos Jobim

Just watched “Synechdoche, New York.” I need to/want to/will watch it again to try to see if I really did miss something–it’s a Charlie Kaufman movie, so less that straightforward. One memorable moment is the final credits, covered by a ballad called “I’m Just a Little Person.” That made me think about “The Waters of March,” by Brazilian songwriter Antonio Carlos Jobim, which rolls at the end of Jerry Seinfeld’s movie, “Comedian.” Thinking back, I can’t remember how the end of the movie segued into this number, which combines a bossa nova jauntiness with a pointedly bittersweet flavor. The song has been done many, many times, but the version in the movie was by the late Susannah McCorkle, a Berkeley native and New York cabaret legend. The lyrics, as she sang them:

The Waters of March

A stick a stone
it’s the end of the road,

it’s the rest of the stump
it’s a little alone

it’s a sliver of glass,
it is life, it’s the sun,

it is night ,it is death,
it’s a trap, it’s a gun.

the oak when it blooms,
a fox in the brush,

the knot in the wood,
the song of the thrush.

the wood of the wind,
a cliff, a fall,

a scratch, a lump,
it is nothing at all.

it’s the wind blowing free.
it’s the end of a slope. …

Continue reading “Guest Observation: Antonio Carlos Jobim”

Lance and Us

Lance Armstrong is a renowned champion bicycle racer. Lance Armstrong is making a comeback this year after several years of celebrity and celebrity hangover. Lance Armstrong crashed earlier this week during a race and broke his collarbone. And now Lance Armstrong is starting his recovery training regimen. Today, and perhaps today only, Lance Armstrong’s workout routine resembles something I might recognize as human. Here it is, as reported on his Twitter stream: “Got on the spin bike for half an hour today.”

(And here’s the link to the Twitpic of Lance on said spin bike: http://twitpic.com/2jn5r.)

Mission Palms


Last night, at the northeast entrance to the 16th Street BART station. Beautiful, warm afternoon and evening. Lots of people on the street, and the scene at the plaza around the station had a little bit of crazy energy to it at the moment I showed up: some of the homeless and local SRO (single-room occupancy) hotel residents arguing, parents reprimanding kids, a mom yanking her kid by the arm as she took him into Burger King for dinner, people spilling out of a Muni bus that had just pulled up at the corner.

For several blocks, I had watched the light above change and looked for an opportunity to try and catch it. Not that it’s so important; but in a way these pictures are a little like postcards to myself, reminding me of a place, a moment. This was my last look at the street scene before heading down the escalator to the train.  

Neighborhood Art Tour: Fence

A fence I pass every day. On 16th Street in San Francisco, between South Van Ness and Capp, and right next to Theatre Rhinoceros. The fence surrounds a parking lot, site of a defunct AM/PM minimart and a dead car-tuneup place. Nearby is an empty Jeep/Chrysler dealership. The fence, though–it’s doing fine.


Oakland: The Coverage

Working for the news department of a local radio station, I’ve been paying close attention since Saturday night to the incident in which a paroled armed robber shot and killed four police officers. One observation, in the age of disappearing media sources and shrinking newsrooms: lots of good coverage from the journalism dinosaurs, little or none from our next-generation darlings, the blogs. The former have been swarming the story; the latter offer rehashes of what the dinosaurs report. Not to say that new-type media have not been useful: the Twitter stream on Oakland has been a good source for both news links and to sometimes disturbing online reactions (“disturbiing” defined: rationalizations/justifications for the killing of the police officers; more on that later). If one is looking for an object lesson in what news organizations do well that independents and bloggers do not do well–yet, anyway–the reporting in this case over the last several days is a decent example. Below are some notable examples of local coverage from the last day. I’m starting with a story that we at KQED produced yesterday evening. Reporter/anchor Cy Musiker, who began hustling after the story as soon as he heard about it Saturday afternoon, did a great job at capturing the city’s mood. The rest of the links are to stories that appeared sometime Monday.

KQED Radio News: Oakland Mourns Police Officers

Cy’s Monday evening report.

San Francisco Chronicle: Oakland Killer Was Linked to Rape

Chronicle reports, and OPD confirms, that on Friday (day before shootings) the OPD had learned of a DNA match linking Mixon to a rape earlier this year. OPD reportedly investigating link between Mixon and second rape, too. The Chron did a good job with court records and turned up details of the crime (attempted carjacking) that sent Mixon to prison. Good details on his background as known at the time of his trial and conviction. The story also expands on earlier reports that Mixon was suspected of an earlier murder.

Los Angeles Times: Lovelle Mixon’s parole record

Very detailed chronology of Mixon’s contacts with parole officer.

Los Angeles Times (blog post): Slaying of four Oakland officers raises concerns about parole system

“Concerns” is putting it mildly.

San Francisco Chronicle: Gunman had spent years in and out of prison

Contains a few more biographical details for Mixon.

Oakland Tribune: Parolee stood over wounded police officers and fired again

More details on shooting, per OPD sources. Mixon is said to have disabled both motorcycle officers, then fired again at close range to finish them off. Also, the story names the type of rifle Mixon is supposed to have used in his shootout with SWAT officers, an SKS (Soviet origin; see: http://www.sks-rifles.com/ or http://www.hk94.com/sks-rifle.php and prepare to be charmed).

San Francisco Chronicle: Woman says she pointed police to Oakland killer

Anonymous first-person account from woman who says she hesitated before telling an officer where suspect was hiding. Also note the Monday details of neighbors prying plywood from apartment door to inspect shootout scene.

S.J. Mercury: Cop killer was depressed about heading back to prison, family says

A little more detail from family on Mixon’s background, and other reaction across the city. Interesting detail from one resident of shootout neighborhood: “One woman, hosing down her driveway two doors down from the apartment where Mixon was killed, said some of those lives could have been saved. She said neighbors knew immediately where Mixon had run, but they didn’t tell police — who combed the neighborhood — until nearly an hour later. But in East Oakland, lamented the woman, Elaine, who didn’t give her last name, that cooperation doesn’t easily happen. “It makes you feel bad. But you just don’t want to be a snitch. The word, ‘snitch,’ it’s almost worse than murderer.”

Oakland Tribune: Street shrines for slain officers draw crowds, debate

A pretty good writeup on the range of emotions expressed in Oakland on Monday–especially at the scene of the shootings.

Usurpations and Abuses


Corner of Vine and Walnut (in front of the Friends meetinghouse, across the street from a Mormon church, diagonally across from the being-refurbished original location of Peet’s Coffee–home of Berkeley’s one true religion).  

The nailed-up candy heart got our attention first. Then the “long train of usurpations and abuses” flyer.

Neighborhood Art Tour


On the side of an auto body shop, adjacent to a mostly razed building at Potrero and Mariposa. I love the boldness and scale. Looking at the picture, someone’s been at work in the cellar below the mural wall, too. (Click for larger image.)

Sponsoring Your Smile


A bus shelter at 17th and Bryant in San Francisco. The ad has been there for gee, at least six months. I like the image and the legend “Patrocinador de tu sonrisa.” Spanish-challenged as I am, I imagined that “patrocinador de tu sonrisa” had something to do with “sunrise.” Naturally, it doesn’t. It translates as, “Sponsor of your smile.”

And the text below?

¿Qué hace una rata en una esquina? Esperando un rato.

It’s a joke (Nesquik sponsors your smile), but one that relies on a pun, one that I can’t fathom, so can’t translate well:

What does a rat in a corner do? It waits a while.

(Spanish-speaking friends, please jump in here.)