Check out the nearby photo, which I took yesterday, Jan. 22, at 4:57 pm during the weekend deluge. The men in yellow slickers are filling in large potholes in Atlanta Avenue just east of Beach Boulevard, California Highway 39. The yellow light is a flashing caution sign. The rain did not create the potholes, but made much larger holes than already existed.
The median home price in this area is $700,000, so there’s plenty of money to fix the roads. It just gets siphoned off for other purposes, mainly state and local public-employee salaries and pensions. As recently as 1998, the median home price was $169,000, still affordable for most families. Recent home construction in this area only is of “McMansions” starting at $1.2 million.
When I drove around Silicon Valley in 2013, I was amused to see the same pattern: Homes in Steve Jobs’ old neighborhood, where he and Woz started Apple in Jobs’ parents’ garage, are well over $1 million. But the roads on which the billionaire tech moguls drive their Bentleys and Veyrons are as bad as anywhere in the state, crumbling and potholed.
So billionaire Tom Steyer, who just saddled smokers –nowadays mainly poor people – with $1.4 billion in higher taxes from Proposition 56 – has to drive on crummy roads. It funds his pet projects. Although he, unlike poor people, can afford new shock absorbers.
Like the rest of California, especially coastal areas, Huntington Beach’s economic demographics keep trending toward the Third World. There’s a small elite of oligarchs and government workers at the top. They live for themselves, not caring about the rest of us. The tech bosses enjoy record profits, but backed Hillary Clinton for president. The government workers also live for themselves, sticking taxpayers with the bills for their exorbitant salaries and lavish pensions.
What a contrast to the California of 1978-79, which I enjoyed when the U.S. Army sent me to Monterey’s Defense Language Institute to learn Russian. Due to idiotic federal government polices under President Jimmy Carter, in particular energy price controls later ended by Reagan, gas shortages forced long lines at the pump. But when I could get gas, the California highways and byways were gleaming examples of efficiency.
That was a bad time for my native Michigan. The 1974 Depression, caused by the Nixon Shock of 1971, “to create a new prosperity without war,” as he promised, did the opposite. It included tax increases, wage and price controls and taking us off the gold standard. The result was a temporary, inflationary boom that brought him re-election in 1972 – and the Depression that hit especially badly in the Motor City in 1974.
Those were the Global Cooling years, with temperatures dropping down to a Siberian -30 degrees Fahrenheit. In cold climates, you really have to keep up road repairs or the whole system falls apart. Which is what happened in Michigan. First Gov. George Romney (1963-69; Mitt’s pa), then Gov. Roger Milliken (1969-83), vastly increased spending on government giveaway (“welfare”) programs; both were Republicans.
When the ’74 Depression hit, they sharply cut back spending on roads, producing the Third World conditions of the late 1970s and 1980s. So my sojourn to learn Russki in California was like moving from Cold War-era Moscow to the Côte d’Azur. The giant California building programs of the Pat Brown-Ronald Reagan era, California’s Golden Age – schools, universities, libraries, dams, reservoirs, power plants, roads – was a wonder to the world.
New Gov. Jerry Brown “Era of Limits” during the 1970s only was starting. But instead of no growth, California’s population grew 27% in the ’70s, 18.6% in the ’80s and 25.7% in the ’90s. So instead of “limits,” the population more than doubled from Brown’s 1970s governorship until today. Some “limits.”
And no, it wasn’t the Proposition 13 tax limitation of 1978 that caused the descent into Third World status. Rather, Prop. 13 saved the state – temporarily. In particular, it ended the horror of grandmothers being ejected from their homes because they couldn’t pay massive property taxes. Moreover, along with President Ronald Reagan’s national tax cuts, Prop. 13 set the stage for the vast growth of the computer industry by not taxing away the vital seed capital needed by new companies to grow.
Brown in the 1970s also set the stage for Third World status by signing bills to allow collective bargaining by the public-employees unions. Instead of advancing the “freedom” of collective bargaining, it did the opposite by attacking taxpayers: union bosses sat on both sides of the negotiating table, representing the “employee side” as the union, but buying off the “employer” side by electing politicians favorable to their views, such as Brown and, later, Gov. Gray Davis in 1998.
A puppet of the powerful government unions, Davis signed the massive pension-spiking bills that have plagued state budgets ever since, nearly doubling costs.
And in 1972, California voters were tricked into creating the California Coastal Commission, a knockoff of a Soviet Planning Ministry. The CCC – whose acronym even is similar to Cyrillic letters of the old USSR, “CCCP” – ever since has destroyed housing along the coast, which is the major cause of Coastal California’s Third World housing structure: a few rich people owning homes, the rest living in hovels.
For example, recently the CCCP – excuse me, the CCC – denied the construction of new homes on an abandoned oil-drilling site, Banning Ranch in Newport Beach. The construction company even promised to remove the old oil infrastructure and clean up the polluted area! But that wasn’t good enough for the CCC Kremlin.
Meanwhile, other states have bounded ahead with sensible policies. In particular, Texas has no state income tax, yet excellent highways and schools that perform above average, way above California’s bottom-dwellers. Yet both states have similar demographics. For example, in the 2010 U.S. Census, Texas was 37% Hispanic, California 37.6%.
Texas is a First World state with no state income tax that enjoys great roads and schools. California is a Third World state restrained from getting worse only by its umbilical-cord attachment to the other 49 states, a cord the Calexit movement wants to cut, but won’t get to.
California is Venezuela on the Pacific, a Third World state and wannabe Third World country; a place with great natural beauty, talented people, natural resources – and a government run by oligarchs and functionaries who treat the rest of us as peons.
29-year Orange County Register editorial writer now writes freelance. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org