The Corner

The End of the Golden State’s Golden Years?

From the Thursday Morning Jolt:

The End of the Golden State’s Golden Years?

As briefly mentioned yesterday, my trip out to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley couldn’t have gone better. Apparently it was taped for C-SPAN and if and when I know about the airing time, I’ll let you know.

But I noticed a strange phenomenon among California conservatives and Republicans. The state, indisputably, is now far around the bend, in a vicious cycle of instituting progressive ideas and then reacting with shock and horror to those ideas, and responding by instituting more progressive ideas. There are unbelievable water restrictions in effect because of the perpetually ongoing drought*; the slogan “brown is the new green.” Despite the enormous problems with the drought, environmentalists are opposing reopening desalination plants because of the carbon footprint. One was built in the 1990s and has been just sitting there, unused, because it wasn’t cost-efficient enough and there hadn’t been enough need.  Another new round of tax hikes. Yet construction continues on a much-delayed high-speed rail project that will never have enough riders to make financial sense.

The state is offering driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants – and is shocked to learn the demand was way higher than their projections:

Just months after driver’s licenses became available to immigrants living in California illegally, the product of legislation advocates had pursued fruitlessly for years before prevailing in 2013, 493,998 have sought licenses. The number has surprised officials who spent months bracing for an influx of new customers by hiring staff, opening new DMV offices and extending hours.

“The interest in this program is far greater than anyone anticipated,” DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said in a statement.

In preparing to offer the new licenses, the DMV estimated that about 1.4 million immigrants would apply over the course of three years. The new figures show they have handled one third of that expected total in three months, a rate double what the DMV expected, although the official estimate of the total number of eligible applicants remains the same.

Victor Davis Hanson points out that the drought is not an entirely natural phenomenon, but reflects poor planning of the past generation of California political leaders… who are, in fact, still the current generation of California political leaders:

Brown and other Democratic leaders will never concede that their own opposition in the 1970s (when California had about half its present population) to the completion of state and federal water projects, along with their more recent allowance of massive water diversions for fish and river enhancement, left no margin for error in a state now home to 40 million people. Second, the mandated restrictions will bring home another truth as lawns die, pools empty, and boutique gardens shrivel in the coastal corridor from La Jolla to Berkeley: the very idea of a 20-million-person corridor along the narrow, scenic Pacific Ocean and adjoining foothills is just as unnatural as “big” agriculture’s Westside farming. The weather, climate, lifestyle, views, and culture of coastal living may all be spectacular, but the arid Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay-area megalopolises must rely on massive water transfers from the Sierra Nevada, Northern California, or out-of-state sources to support their unnatural ecosystems.

Befuddled, half-amused incredulity has become almost a greeting among California conservatives: “Can you believe this?” “No, I can’t believe it. Can you?”

As far as I could tell in my short stay in Sunnyvale/Mountain View area, no one in the entire state turned on their air conditioning. I don’t know whether it was habitual from the usually nice California weather, or some sort of energy-saving approach. (If it was, sorry, Golden Staters. I cranked it up in my hotel room and probably undid all your progress.)

I was reminded of the cinematic classic… Predator 2. (Okay, “classic.”) Made in 1990, it depicted a sweltering, chaotic vision of near-future (1997) Los Angeles, where in addition to the city being torn apart by warring drug gangs, the city is enduring a 109 degree heat wave. Late-80s television loudmouth Morton Downey Jr., basically playing himself as a crime scene reporter, declares, “It’s like Dante’s Hell.”

I can’t find it online, but I distinctly remember a promotional insert in a comic book about the film back in 1990 that declared that Freon had been banned – and with it, air conditioning – making the city’s maddening heat exacerbated by some well-meaning but intensely consequential environmental regulation.

There have been a lot of hellish forecasts for California from Hollywood over the years: Blade Runner, Escape from L.A., Demolition Man, Southland Tales. Los Angeles blows up in the Terminator series. (I notice that these are mostly depictions of hellish future Los Angeles; future San Francisco seems to look okay in the Star Trek series.) Hollywood’s creative class loves to depict the sudden, violent destruction of its hometown: Independence Day, Volcano, 2012, Battle of Los Angeles, Skyline, the new San Andreas.

Even when L.A. isn’t collapsing or blowing up, there’s often a noir atmosphere of slow-motion decay. Just about every big filmmaker has made at least one movie aiming to remind us about the seedy underside, predatory ambitions, and corruption behind the Hollywood glamour, palm trees and sunshine: Michael Mann’s Heat, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive**, Robert Altman’s The Player, Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. Even the past of Los Angeles is about the hidden ugly side behind the famous beauty, like in L.A. Confidential, Mulholland Falls.

So maybe I’m primed to expect things to look grim when I arrive in California. Or maybe there’s been this steadily-building mood of pre-Apocalyptic dread in the state for years, and the films reflect it. There certainly seems to be enough reasons for pessimism:

The report of the Los Angeles 2020 Commission should serve as a stark reality check for those Angelenos who believe that with the end of the financial downturn, L.A. is poised for a healthy, happy recovery. The city, according to the report, is afflicted with weak job growth; high poverty; bad traffic; underperforming schools; weak, inactive government; red tape that stifles economic development; crumbling infrastructure; unfunded pensions; budget gimmicks and a disaffected electorate. 

As recently as Steve Martin’s L.A. Story in 1991, a filmmaker could plausibly tout California and specifically Los Angeles as a sort of libertarian paradise, where everyone is free to pursue his American dream as he sees fit:

Roland thinks L.A. is a place for the brain-dead. He says, if you turned off the sprinklers, it would turn into a desert. But I think – I don’t know, it’s not what I expected. It’s a place where they’ve taken a desert and turned it into their dreams. I’ve seen a lot of L.A. and I think it’s also a place of secrets: secret houses, secret lives, secret pleasures. And no one is lookinag to the outside for verification that what they’re doing is all right.

In an era when California cities are attempting to ban fireplaces, plastic bags are banned, when Fresno banned permanent markers, San Francisco makes armed self-defense legally impossible, and campus speech codes, could a character plausibly describe the state that way today?

* Naturally, it drizzled while I was there. 

** I originally mixed up Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Falls.

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