"I believe the difference between the literature of California's past and the literature to come will be the difference of expectation. There are children growing up in California today who take it as a given that the 101 North, the 405 South, and the 10 East are unavailable after two in the afternoon."
– Richard Rodriguez's essay "Disappointment"
Joel Kotkin's cover story titled Sundown for California in The American magazine says: "The Golden State appears headed, if not for imminent disaster, then toward an unanticipated, maddening, and largely unnecessary mediocrity."
He marshals depressing data on slowing job growth (CA has third highest unemployment rate in the country), the collapse of the housing market (taken a drive around suburban Sacramento or Riverside recently?), and poverty rates in high-end cities like San Francisco which now lack a real middle-class. Out-migration statistics show residents are very aware of these problems: they're leaving. Read the whole thing.
Why is this decline "largely unnecessary"? In part because of years of breathtaking incompetency of State legislators in Sacramento especially on financial matters. Just in the last few days we've seen them argue over how to close this year's $11.2 billion deficit. This time the shitshow features a weak Arnold Schwarzenegger fighting Democrats so handcuffed by unions that they cannot accept rational modifications to the payroll system. As the Sacramento Bee editorialized, "California has seen epic failures of leadership before, but never over such an extended period and at such a perilous time."
This morning tech exec Jeff Nolan called for "massive civil disobedience" from Californians:
[T]he state is now saying that they will be paying their bills with IOUs come February. Taxpayers of this state should respond in kind with a massive civil disobedience campaign, let’s pay our taxes with IOUs to express our displeasure with the political leadership in Sacramento.
My question: Why aren't more Californians talking about the dire straits of our state? Why don't more citizens focus on local government?
Day-to-day, local politics and policies affect Americans as much as federal ones. Potholes, parks, schools: these are the issues of your city, county, and state government. Yet, most people follow politics only at the national level. This past election, lots of Californians flooded battleground states for Obama while ignoring pivotal issues closer to home. I know more than a few Obama volunteers who, stunned to return home to find gays stripped of rights, are wondering whether their efforts at progressive change should have been focused on their own community.
Obama and Washington D.C. will dominate the headlines the next few months. Let's not forget about working for change at the local level, especially in California. California needn't devolve into mediocrity. We still attract the best and brightest from all over the world, Silicon Valley and Hollywood are still engines of creativity, the weather still rocks, the culture / lifestyle still attracts misfits and rebels and people looking to find themselves. In other words, the ingredients that have made California the "Coast of Dreams" are still there. It's up to Californians themselves to tune in to local issues and fight to make sure this unique slice of paradise survives the next generation.