It’s just what environmental activists hoped would happen.  California is losing people.  It’s not because folks are dying sooner, either.  Both natives and newcomers have decided they’ve had it and are departing the state.  

What is different from other points in history?  Golden State residents have repeatedly endured the surging rents and sky-high costs of living like the ones they are suffering today.  Unlike in the past, however, these spikes were never accompanied by today’s destructive increases in wildfires, homelessness, taxes, water and electricity shortages, state mandates and economic lockdowns.

That’s why an ever-increasing number of California citizens are declaring they’ve simply had it and are leaving.  They want a new start somewhere else.

In many cases, the migrants haven’t traveled that far to get away from California.  Recent reports from Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon show many of the transplants settled there – a short distance from the homeland.  However, states further away like Colorado, Texas and Utah – and as far away as Montana – complain of “a new crowd from the Left Coast” having recently arrived.     

According to an evaluation of the U.S. census, California lost an estimated 190,000 residents last year.  And, that’s not new:  the state lost 130,000 people in 2017 and a recent UCLA study found that Los Angeles residents were unhappy with housing and related costs of living in the city, and were deciding to leave.  

While growth has remained robust in the Central Valley and counties east of Los Angeles it slowed to near zero or declined in most coastal counties.  Moreover, between 2015 and 2017, California saw a net loss of between 129,000 and 143,000 individuals to domestic out-migration, according to census estimates.  And, last year Los Angeles County lost residents for the second straight year. 

The public is getting mixed signals, too.  On the one hand, folks are being urged “to grow smart” and move downtown.  On the other hand, government – citing the COVID-19 scare – is discouraging regular “social contact” with other humans.

Frustrated, people are packing up and moving out of dense urban neighborhoods.

Environmentalists must be celebrating the news.  Their no-growth efforts over the past several decades appear to have paid off.  With their weapon of choice – the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – running rampant through the courts, evincing a “not here” message, growth opponents have prevailed.  Evidence:  for decades, California has failed to keep pace with housing demand.   

For these radicals – many of whom are worshipers of 60’s-era author and social commentator Paul Ehrlich and his epistle, The Population Bomb – “no more people” in California has been their aim for a long time.  

Over the years, they have followed and still do religiously follow Ehrlich’s teachings.  (It was The Population Bomb which famously predicted unless the rate of growth was reversed on the planet we, its inhabitants, would suffer catastrophic, worldwide hunger and starvation.  In the book Ehrlich said, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.  In the 1970’s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”)  

Ehrlich’s forecasts never came true, of course.  But, a movement was born back then as he scared enough people and made them cognizant of the power of public policy.  Especially housing and growth policy.  They organized – into the California League of Conservation Voters, the California Nature Conservancy, the Surfrider Foundation and others.  Together with the Sierra Club they became a formidable Sacramento lobbying enterprise.  

They had an increasingly popular message:  California was getting too crowded and growth was to blame.  New laws or changes in existing law were needed. 

Their main target?  Housing.  After all, what better way to limit the state’s population than to deny new residents a home?  These ever-fashionable politics gave rise to CEQA.  Soon, hordes of self-styled custodians of the environment, using CEQA – in the latter part of the 20th century – descended on the local land-use decision making process.  

Since the birth of this lobby and CEQA – and the NIMBY movement it cultivated – housing production has been on the decline.  Lately, things have gotten worse.    

As we’ve learned, CEQA is the most disruptive element of the local housing approval process.  The Sacramento Bee noted the continuous abuses of CEQA in an editorial not long ago.  Worried the Bee, “as the abuses and misuses mount, they create ammunition for industry groups that would like to see California’s landmark law revoked or seriously weakened.”  

Considering the state’s steep, housing deficit repeal or major reform of CEQA should happen.  (In this space, CEQA’s repeal and replacement has been continuously pushed.)  It won’t, though.  California legislators have in the past had several chances to do just that.  They’ve talked a good game for well over 30 years.  But, when it comes to voting, they’ve been AWOL.

QUESTION:  Will lawmakers remain AWOL when we’ve still got a housing mess and their voters, like Elvis, have left the building(s)?