Ed Driscoll

'America's Most Miserable Cities, 2011'

California cities dominate nearly half of Forbes’ Bottom-20 List:

Arnold Schwarzenegger was sworn in as the governor of California at the end of 2003 amid a wave of optimism that his independent thinking and fresh ideas would revive a state stumbling after the recall of Gov. Gray Davis.

The good vibes are a distant memory: The Governator exited office last month with the state facing a crippling checklist of problems including massive budget deficits, high unemployment, plunging home prices, rampant crime and sky-high taxes. Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings hit 22% last year, a record low for any sitting California governor.

California’s troubles helped it land eight of the 20 spots on our annual list of America’s Most Miserable Cities, with Stockton ranking first for the second time in three years.

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Florida and California have ample sunshine in common, but also massive housing problems that have millions of residents stuck with underwater mortgages. The two states are home to 16 of the top 20 metros in terms of home foreclosure rates in 2010. The metro area with the most foreclosure filings (171,704) and fifth-highest rate (7.1%) last year is Miami, which ranks No. 2 on our list of Most Miserable Cities.

The good weather and lack of a state income tax are the only things that kept Miami out of the top spot. In addition to housing problems (prices are down 50% over three years), corruption is off the charts, with 404 government officials convicted of crimes this decade in South Florida. Factor in violent crime rates among the worst in the country and long commutes, and it’s easy to understand why Miami has steadily moved up our list, from No. 9 in 2009 to No. 6 last year to the runner-up spot this year.

California cities take the next three spots: Merced (No. 3), Modesto (No. 4) and Sacramento (No. 5). Each has struggled with declining home prices, high unemployment and high crime rates, in addition to the problems all Californians face, like high sales and income taxes and service cuts to help close massive budget shortfalls.

The Golden State has never looked less golden. “If I even mention California, they throw me out of the office,” says Ron Pollina, president of site selection firm Pollina Corporate Real Estate. “Every company hates California.”

But does Sacramento consider that a bug or a feature?

(Needless to say, Obama’s past and present homes of Chicago and DC, and — of course — Detroit, that great exporter of fine automobiles, also make the list.)