Quo Vadis California?

Patrick Dorinson
Host of The Cowboy Libertarian Radio Talk Show in Sacramento

It appears as of this writing that we now have a budget agreement. Pardon me if I don’t cheer this development, but I am in no mood to cheer because it is a cruel joke on the people of this great state.

What has happened to California over the last 50 years? I sure don’t recognize it.

I am a native Californian. I was born in San Francisco in 1952 and reared in Marin County when it was a Republican County. I always tell people that I am old enough to remember when the only place you could get a latte or cappuccino in those days was at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. Now you can get one every street corner. To this day I can’t seem to understand why anyone would pay $5 for a cup of coffee with some hot milk added, but that is a story for another day.

Fifty years ago in 1958, the New York Giants left the Polo Grounds of New York bound for the West Coast where they would become the San Francisco Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers left Ebbets Field arriving in Southern California where they would become the Los Angeles Dodgers. They had been bitter rivals in New York and in the years since they have moved here, the rivalry has been handed down from generation to generation to where no matter where they are in the standings a Giants-Dodgers series is still a blood feud.

1958 was also a pivotal year in California history. California had an explosion of growth during World War II as it became a key supplier to fill FDR’s “arsenal of democracy”. Planes from Lockheed in Southern California and ships from Kaiser in the Bay Area saw the state grow in population and national prominence. California was no longer a faraway outpost on the Pacific Coast; it had become one of the key engines driving America’s victory.

Postwar growth only accelerated California’s importance to America’s future. Many soldiers, sailors and marines who passed through California on their way to Pacific battlefields liked what they saw and returned after the war and settled in California. Large numbers of African American workers took trains from the Deep South to work in Kaiser’s shipyards. Add to that the Okies from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and you had a state that was in transition from an economy dominated by agriculture, mining and logging to one of great industrial strength.

By 1958 the state was bursting at the seams and needed huge investments in infrastructure for roads, water and power to feed the appetite of a growing California. The new Governor, Pat Brown was one of the leaders who helped steer this effort. The Legislature was part-time but still got the job done.

During his term many miles of freeways were built as was the California Aqueduct carrying water from North to South, a source of controversy to this day. Through the efforts of legislators, the Governor, business leaders and the people, California became the envy of the world and a trendsetter for the nation. If something started in California, the rest of the country soon caught up.

But the things we built back then to drive the economy and the well being of all Californians has been badly neglected, so much so that the cost of fixing the infrastructure we have and building more modern, environmentally sound infrastructure is almost incalculable.

I got to thinking about this last spring when I saw an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about the first Giants Dodgers game played at Seal Stadium in San Francisco. (For all you younger folks, that is where the Giants played until 1962 when Candlestick Park was opened which is where the Giants played before AT&T Park for those of you even younger!)

The story was accompanied by a picture of the front page of the Chronicle from April 17, 1958, the day after the first game. Other than the fact that the Giants lost, what struck me were the headlines for the news stories. One really stood out…

“Senate Offers Still Another Plan for the Budget” with a sub head that said “State’s Water War”

Sound familiar?

Here we are 50 years later, with a budget that is already 11 weeks late and will be out of balance for next year before the ink is dry from Governor’s signature. And the Legislature is AWOL in its efforts to get on top of California’s water problems. For state that is in a drought and depends on Mother Nature and the Colorado River for its water you would think there would be a sense of urgency.

Surely you must be joking. They need to pass the 1,000 bills that are introduced every year most of which are unnecessary or nanny state laws.

While we used to be able to get together and do what was necessary for the state. Some problems seem ageless. We still have budget problems and we still have not figured out what to do about our water supply.

My whole point is this. Back then there were only 15 million Californians and now there are 38 million and growing. While we had budget and water problems back then at least we were building for the future. Now we seem to be treading water to try to keep from drowning in a sea of red ink and the undertow of a crippled infrastructure.

And every year we postpone the critical decisions that we need to make, means it will only cost more and take longer to accomplish.

So the question we all need to be asking is “Quo Vadis California?”.

Blogger’s Note: For those of you who did not take 4 years of Latin in High School, “Quo Vadis” means “Where are you going?”

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