Thursday, Aug 26 2010 11:00 PM

Commission studying economic meltdown coming to Bakersfield

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian government editor

The commission created by Congress to investigate the collapse of the U.S. economy announced Thursday it will soon hold four field hearings in some of the nation’s hardest-hit communities, the first one in Bakersfield.

The bi-partisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission wants to hear from “main street” after having listened to major, national and international experts in banking, investment and federal regulation, said commission Vice Chairman and former Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield.

Few details about the Sept. 7 hearing were released, including the venue and names of people testifying. That was still being organized and more information will come out closer to the date, Thomas said.

But the hearing will be open to the public. In fact the commission said in a news release it wants to “hear testimony from people on the ground about the causes and effects of the financial and economic crisis in their communities.”

Bakersfield and Kern County have been hard hit by foreclosures and unemployment.

“This is the first time we’re going out to the community level,” Thomas told The Californian, noting all the commission’s hearings so far have been in Washington, D.C., and New York. “There’s (comparison of) Main Street versus Wall Street. This is going to be Main Street.”

The other hearings are to be held Sept. 8 in Las Vegas; Sept. 21 in Miami; and Sept. 23 in Sacramento. Commission Chairman Phil Angelides, also a former California state treasurer and Democratic nominee for governor, is from Sacramento.

The 10-member commission has been holding hearings this year on such topics as complex financial derivatives, credit rating agencies, government-sponsored enterprises, the shadow banking system, subprime lending practices and securitization. Its findings are to be presented in a report to Congress and President Barack Obama by Dec. 15.

The cities chosen as sites for field hearings have been ground zero for aspects of the economic meltdown.

In Las Vegas, the construction industry boomed and then soured and the huge service industry has suffered due to people having less money to spend, Thomas said. Miami, he pointed out, has seen a lot of mortgage fraud.

Thomas said Bakersfield and other parts of Kern County are interesting places to study because of their high foreclosure and unemployment rates. Kern also is home to many small credit unions and one huge one whose fortunes could affect the whole local industry, he said.

And Bakersfield has many “pretty solid and long-lasting commercial development people” who can speak to the issue of getting financing over the years, Thomas said.

Bakersfield real estate appraiser Gary Crabtree called the scheduling of the hearing here significant given the significance of the commission, which he likened to the 9/11 commission.

He said there are lessons to be learned in Bakersfield, where at its peak homes were appreciating by 48 percent a year and at its bottom declining by 45 percent.

We, too, can speak to mortgage fraud issues, Crabtree said.

“This is not an honor, not by any means,” he said. “But we, of course, were one of — and still are one of — the hardest impacted communities in this whole real estate crisis.”


Established: By Congress and the President, May 2009

Deadline: Report findings by Dec. 15, 2010

Budget: Allocated $8 million for inquiry

Chairman: Democrat Phil Angelides, former California treasurer

Vice Chairman: Republican Bill Thomas, former Bakersfield congressman

Democratic members: Brooksley Born, former chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission; Byron Georgiou, a Las Vegas-based businessman and attorney who serves on the advisory board of the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance; Bob Graham, former Florida senator and governor; Heather H. Murren, a retired managing director for global securities research and economics at Merrill Lynch; and John W. Thompson, chairman of the board of directors of Symantec Corp.

Republican members: Keith Hennessey, former National Economic Council director; Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former Congressional Budget Office director; and Peter J. Wallison, co-director for financial policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute

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