Missing the California of My Youth

There were areas in Los Angeles and the Bay Area that featured neo-socialist zoning laws, mandates, urban sprawl, crime, and moral decay, but again, such was mostly off the public radar at the time and not part of the “typical” California experience, like that which I lived.

Today when I happen upon a city left unexplored since my youth, California’s incredible decline is like a splash of icy-cold water early in the morning. Save for the highly sought after and prohibitively costly coastal areas and affluent inland neighborhoods, the California transformation into a socialist, Third World underworld is breathtaking. Once brimming and shiny urban areas from the Oregon border to south San Diego are wrought with crime and decomposition, bearing no visual difference to the myriad slums of Mexico. Businesses are shuttered or replaced with marijuana dispensaries. Foreclosure signs continue to litter middle-class streets everywhere. The collective mood is near-depression and the near-depression 22% unemployment rate is left unabated.

Much of the acceleration of this decline is due to the financial crisis of 2008 and the heavy blow dealt to the state as Sacramento central planners in the past looked forward to continual prosperity and left rainy day planning for another day. The depth and severity of this economic downturn makes it much different than the dot-com blowup of the 2000s and in fact a structural crisis -- especially pertaining to the state’s pension system -- that the state may never recover from.

State parks have been shuttered or put on the auction block to stave bankruptcy. A recent San Diego example of this situation points to this -- the world famous Del Mar Fairgrounds, owned by the state of California, was under tentative discussion to be sold to the city of Del Mar for $120 million, an effort to raise cash for the bleeding state coffers. Conservative independent estimates of the land put the value at five times that and some estimates are close to a billion dollars. But California, like a homeowner in foreclosure, has no choice but to sell off this prized state land at a fire sale price.

With my own eyes in California I have witnessed the perils of socialism and top-down collectivist government, the havoc wreaked by a blind eye turned to the rule of law, and what creeping and crippling regulations and taxes do to a once-thriving middle class. Neo-Bolshevik state lawmakers beholden to radical special interests joined hands with a neutered opposition party to fleece the world’s 8th largest economy, and my state reminds us of the moral destruction that the entitlement mentality and unfettered entitlements create.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, Barack Obama promised to fundamentally transform the nation. California is what a truly progressive government transformation looks like. Thus, in a sensible America, the decline of California would be the canary call in a coal mine for the nation. How can we let the progressive nightmare continue to happen to the nation when a state of almost 40 million (nearly a nation unto itself) has already experienced the disaster first?

Atlas has shrugged and California has changed -- government has ruined this place and I will never forget it.

-- Inspiration for this piece comes from Victor Davis Hanson’s National Review article, “Two Californias.”