Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Several weeks ago, I wrote about Assemblyman Pedro Nava’s legislation, AB 1588, which proposes to require lenders to enter into discussions, or mediate loan modification requests, when property is headed for foreclosure.

See “As foreclosure crisis keeps growing, lenders, borrowers need mediation,” by John Hardisty

The Santa Barbara assemblyman proposes to set up a system that already exists in several other states.

As Nava’s bill makes its way through the California Legislature, the Bank of America now is boasting that it is stepping up its efforts to reduce mortgage-loan balances to avert foreclosures. According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan is the mortgage industry’s boldest move yet to address the plight of millions of U.S. homeowners who are “underwater,” owing more than the current values of their homes.

“It enhances an agreement Bank of America reached 18 months ago with state attorneys general to settle claims they made over certain high-risk loans made by Countrywide Financial before Bank of America acquired that lender in mid-2008,” according to The Journal.

But just this week, cold water was thrown on the Home Affordable Modification Program, the $75 billion effort to bring “underwater” homeowners relief. Neil Barofsky, the Treasury Department’s special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, called the existing definition of success for HAMP “essentially meaningless.”

The conclusion: It has been oversold by the Treasury Department and is likely to be a failure when it wraps up in 2012.

Why? Partially because lenders are not compelled to even acknowledge troubled borrowers when they request loan modifications.

For an on the ground “reality check,” go to Steven B. Porter’s blog

Porter is an attorney and mediator who lives in Tehachapi, Calif. In a blow-by-blow account (which would be funny, if it were not so serious) he details more than five hours on the telephone trying to even find someone at the Bank of America willing to talk to him about a client’s mortgage problem.

“A funny thing happened to me on the way to trying to obtain some information from the Bank of America today (March 23, 2010). What follows is true, and the actual events are not made up, and the names were not changed to protect the innocent.”

He was finally referred to a department within the bank that was closed for the day.

“Just in case you thought this issue was unique to the Bank of America, I recently had a similar experience with Chase over a two-day timeframe,” Porter wrote. “With Chase, I spoke to 17 individuals before I was put in contact with a person who could answer my questions.”

John Hardisty is a Bakersfield-based mediator and land-use consultant. His company's website is

Sunday, March 21, 2010


The hills around Bakersfield, Calif., definitely are alive with wildflowers. If you haven’t visited the foothills, do so quickly before the blistering Central Valley heat melts the flowers away. I was out taking photos in the hills above Arvin, on the border of the massive Tejon Ranch. The number of wildflowers was nearly rivaled by the number of “viewers” and photographers.

In a photo posted here, Ron Siemens of Bakersfield seemed to be engulfed by wildflowers as he takes a photograph in a field as part offered through the Levan Institute for Life-Long Learning at Bakersfield College. The institute offers low-cost enrichment classes to local people in the boomer and beyond age bracket. Information about the institute and the class schedule can be found at

The Kern County Board of Trade has launched a wildflower blog at
where you can find information and a map noting good viewing areas. More information can be obtained by calling 661.322.WILD

It’s times like this that makes it great to live in Kern County, which is the San Joaquin Valley’s southern-most county, separated from Southern California by the Tehachapi Mountains.

(Photos taken by John Hardisty , who also is in the Levan Class)

Friday, March 19, 2010


Freelance writer Dianne Hardisty writes about Stacy Carlson, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., who signed on to be Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s speech writer in the closing months of the Bush administration. Her predecessor assured her that the office pace would be relatively slow and she would have lots of time to complete projects. Carlson was in for a rude surprise.

Early warning signs appeared in late 2007, but Paulson and others in the Bush administration believed the U.S. economy was in for just a “correction.” The warning signs grew, the correction turned into a crisis. And Carlson was tasked with turning Paulson’s words into clarity and reassurance for an increasingly frightened America.

Carlson writes in a plainspoken manner about her job, the efforts of Paulson and others to head off an economic meltdown, and the causes of the crisis in her first book, “You, Me & the U.S. Economy.”

Dianne Hardisty writes in The Bakersfield Californian how Carlson found herself in the eye of this economic storm. Read Diane Hardisty's story by clicking onto

Stacy Carlson is shown in photograph.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


A recent story in The Modesto Bee reported California dairy farmers’ concerns that they are being targeted by the U.S. Humane Society and other “advocates.” They are correct to have that fear. Just look at the 2008 election and the targeting of egg ranchers. And, it worked! Why? Because "city folks" have become so removed from their food supply that they will believe anything. Happy chickens? Happy cows?

No doubt dairy farmers' reflex response is to recoil and hide. Keep people out. Don't attract any attention. Great, but that allows others -- including the U.S. Humane Society -- to establish the industry's "image."

California dairy farmers have now joined together in a statewide program to promote good animal care practices as well as evaluate dairy farms and verify that they are performing up to state and national standards. FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) has a five-point strategy that plans to:

 Adopt National Dairy Farm standards.

 Hold workshops and provide educational materials to orient dairy farmers to the standards.

 Hold on-farm evaluations of dairies and provide a benchmark to measure improvement.

 Support and assist animal care improvements.

 Provide third-party independent verification of farm practices.

Michael Boccadoro, executive director of Dairy Cares, a statewide coalition supporting animal care and economic and environmental sustainability in the dairy industry, reports that about 80 percent of the state's dairy farmers have signed on to the program. Dairies and dairy products are the top agricultural industry in nearly every California county.

This program’s purposes are to educate and bring dairy farmers up to standard, and to reassure the public that someone is verifying what dairies are doing.

But this isn’t going to be good enough for some. Kristina Addington, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told The Merced Sun Star that the dairy industry is rife with animal abuses. "I think it's an initiative to create a false appearance that they care about the welfare of cows and that's a priority when clearly it's just a smokescreen for cruelty.”.

FARM is a good step. But it’s not enough. What the industry needs to do is open its doors. Invite the public in. Let "city folks" see what a modern dairy looks like and how they make cows "happy" -- or at least healthy and highly productive. How can you tell if a cow is "happy?" Some would like to ascribe human emotions, such as happiness, to cows.

Check out the video about Fair Oaks Farm in Indiana.

This "factory farm" has more than thrown open its doors. It created an educational/information center that has become a tourist attraction.

Rather than hide and hope no one notices you -- yeah, right, a big, sometimes smelly dairy on the outskirts of town -- California dairy farmers need to pull together to create a center along the line of Fair Oaks'.

Of course, I think that center should be in Bakersfield, where some of the state's newest and innovative dairies are located, and close to a huge urban center -- Southern California.

John Hardisty
Bakersfield, California

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Recently I attended a local energy/economic summit where the representative of a national homebuilding/development company revealed he had installed his own meter in his home to monitor his electrical use. The one he installed was called TED. If you go to Amazon.Com, you will find a wide range of alternatives, with a wide range of prices. The homebuilder explained that his meter – as opposed to P.G. & E.’s “smart meter” – can better pinpoint usage and allow him to cut back if necessary. Likely it could also help him check the accuracy of the utility company’s controversial “smart meters.”

After some foot-dragging, the California Public Utilities Commission said it would soon select a contractor to test the accuracy of P.G. & E.’s “smart meters,” which have sent some customers’ energy bills soaring. Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, has been hammering away at the CPUC to get an audit going. He also wants a moratorium on installing “smart meters” until the audit is completed.

Customer outrage over this remote monitoring of energy bills is spreading, with utility companies nationwide watching with great concern the “Bakersfield Problem” – so named because the rollout of “smart meters” was spearheaded in blazing hot Bakersfield. Early complaints seemed to be “dismissed” until customers in the Bay Area experienced similar spikes in their energy bills after “smart meters” were installed.

Not all of us can afford to have an electrician come out and install a TED monitor in our homes. But there are cheaper alternatives. And some of us might be using other methods to check up on the accuracy of the “smart meter” attached to their homes, or to curb their energy use.

What are you doing? Post your suggestions here, or e-mail John Hardisty (Jack) at

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Lee Jay Berman, a mediator, president of the American Institute of Mediation and host of the syndicated weekly radio talk show “Talk It Over,” will be the keynote speaker at a daylong conference in Bakersfield that will highlight the benefits of mediation.

The conference, which will be held on Wednesday, March 17, in the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Building, is being presented by the Kern County Superior Court and Kern County Bar Association, in conjunction with the American Institute of Mediation.

The event is part of Mediation Week, which was established by the California Judicial Council to be held annually the third week of March.

“Mediation programs offer the public an important alternative to resolving disputes outside the traditional adjudication system,” explained Chief Justice Ronald M. George, chairman of the Judicial Council, when the observation was established last year. “Mediation Week is an opportune occasion to educate the public about the availability and benefits of mediation programs, and to recognize the people who make those programs successful.”

California courts operate and collaborate with mediation programs to help resolve many types of cases, including family law, juvenile dependency and delinquency, criminal, and small claims and general civil cases.

The cost of attending the seminar is free, with the exception of attorneys, who are requesting educational credits. The charge for credit attendees is $35.

The program will begin with Berman’s discussion of the role and benefits of mediation at 9 a.m. Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Frank Ochoa will speak at lunch about the myths and misconceptions about court annexed mediation programs. Judge Ochoa has been acclaimed for his use of alternative dispute resolution in the courts.

Panel discussions will include:

What’s going on in with mediation in Kern County – William Palmer, Kern County Superior Court judge; Kelly Lazerson, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) administrator, Kern County Superior Court; attorney Richard Owen; and Liz Gavin, director, Better Business Bureau.

Update on the Kern County Bar Association ADR Section – mediator Joe Ferra, section president, and attorney Ken Byrum, past president.

Selecting the right mediator – attorneys Jack Draper, Steven Porter and Susan Salvucci.

Non-monetary solutions – attorneys Brent Rosenbaum and Robert Fairman, and mediator Laurelyn Irving.

Mediator secrets, tips and closing the deal – attorneys Ken Byrum, Alan Saler and Craig McCollum.

The daylong seminar will conclude with a panel discussion led by attorney Douglas E. Noll on the topics of confidentiality and ethics in mediation. Noll is a full-time peacemaker and mediator, who specializes in difficult, complex and intractable conflicts. He is a recognized author and has been named one of the Best Lawyers in America since 2005 by He will be joined on the panel by local mediators Joe Ferra, Jeannie Gillen and John “Jack” Hardisty.

To register for the seminar, e-mail

Kelly Lazerson is the author of this article and Kern County Superior Court coordinator for alternative dispute resolution. She can be reached for general information about the seminar at or call 868-4940.