Surprise! California haunted by the same old issues
Just in time for the new year, the usual suspects are here again to show us what’s wrong with California. There are too many homeless people on the streets, experts say. Housing costs a lot. The government is not doing enough to respond to climate change and drought. School test results are listed.
Here’s a news flash: Punditism is not rocket science. (As a reader of this column, you should know that.) By now, frustrated Californians know this list by heart because they’ve seen and heard it all before — and they know the pundits aren’t wrong.
Words and dollars are spent, but we have the same old woes. While Los Angeles was spending more than $1 billion to find housing for homeless people, the number of homeless men and women increased. While the state government was touting its commitment to green energy, it just extended the life of a nuclear power plant (with the help of $1.1 billion in public funding).
So what are we to make of California’s version of the human condition?
As was true last year and the year before and the year before that, state and local government needs to stop talking and start doing.
As veteran political columnist Dan Walters explained in last Sunday’s Press Democrat, “Each of these crises can be labeled existential — something that threatens California’s economic and social future — and collectively they should tell the state’s politicians , including the recently re-elected governor. Gavin Newsom, that it’s time to stop promising effective answers and start delivering them.”
In California’s two most famous cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, homeless camps have become a constant source of discouragement for people who want to believe in government and believe in the future. The same can be said for other cities. Santa Rosa, for example.
The US Department of Housing and Community Development estimated that 30% of all homeless people in the country – 172,000 people – live in California.
The problem, of course, starts with the fact that state and local governments exist in an echo chamber where everyone thinks the same way. If only the public understood how intractable these problems are, say the politicians themselves.
Well, yes. We knew the problems were hard when we saw that the problems were not being solved. As the pundits remind us every January, last year’s problems are this year’s problems.
As it should be, the Democrats are to blame. Except in rural counties, the Democrats enjoy an overwhelming majority. (On the list of most pressing problems, the economic decline of the state’s rural counties deserves some attention, but that’s a topic for another day.)
It might help if the other political party, the Republican Party, were less determined to marginalize itself with its extreme views, or if a faction of Democrats were willing to serve up an alternative vision of effective public policy. But so far no one has volunteered.
In October, veteran Los Angeles Times political writer George Skelton described Gavin Newsom’s impending re-election: “Most California voters think the state is headed in the wrong direction, yet they intend to re-elect the governor who’s leading us there.”
Skelton blamed political polarization in a state in which “most voters have lost faith in the Republican Party.”
It is also true that most Californians, like most people, are not good at adapting to change. In this way, the state is not as liberal as its reputation suggests.
Despite a chronic housing shortage, are Californians ready to welcome new housing to their neighborhoods? Are Californians eager to reform Proposition 13 and other examples of a dysfunctional tax structure? Do Californians realize that today’s wages and salaries do not keep up with the cost of living?
The answers are no, no and no. If you’re disappointed by California’s indifferent response to a changing economy, it’s only because you’re paying attention.
However, more than 39 million people choose to live here. While no one should defend the status quo, it’s worth noting that California’s economy continues to grow. The state will soon be home to the fourth largest economy on earth, surpassing Germany and behind only the US, China and Japan.
For all its recent problems, including a slight population decline, it’s still California, a place blessed with a mild climate and all that comes with it—farming, Wine Country, beaches and more. Not many of us would choose to live anywhere else.
Do you want to live in Iowa or Mississippi? Maybe no.
“Welcome to 2023,” wrote Emily Hoeven at CalMatters, “a year that will likely be pivotal in California’s efforts to address some of its most pervasive challenges, from housing and homelessness to climate change.”
“I try to live in the present, but a lot of our political power structure is based on election years,” Ryan Fonseca wrote in the Los Angeles Times’ Essential California newsletter. “This inevitably means that a lot of media attention (especially nationally) is fixed on 2024. But what will political leaders across California do this year to improve the lives of Californians?”
Good question. After many years of inertia, we hope the answers will change in 2023.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email it to [email protected]
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