Con­trary to ex­perts, Cal­i­for­nia dream far from dead

Antelope Valley Press - - OPINION - Thomas Elias [email protected] Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]

It hap­pens al­most ev­ery win­ter: Pun­dits from East­ern news out­lets make week­long pil­grim­ages to Cal­i­for­nia, in­ter­view top of­fi­cials here and gen­er­ally re­port back that there’s some­thing rot­ten in the state of the Golden State, as Shake­speare might have put it.

Rarely have they had more fod­der for push­ing that nar­ra­tive than this year, when mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans spent chunks of the last few months with­out cer­tain ba­sics of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion, in­clud­ing elec­tric­ity and the use of their long­time homes.

The im­pli­ca­tion of all this, they say, is that the Cal­i­for­nia Dream, the myth­i­cal force which drew mil­lions here over the last 150 years, has some­how died.

Wrote a long­time con­trib­u­tor to the New Yorker mag­a­zine, who fairly re­cently fol­lowed the old path from East Coast to West Coast, “The prob­lem with the dream is that it is one, founded on a lie.”

She cited a wild­fire his­to­rian say­ing “Cal­i­for­nia is built to burn.

And it’s built to burn ex­plo­sively.”

No kid­ding. Most of Cal­i­for­nia fa­mously has sta­ble weather, with sea­sonal changes not nearly as ob­vi­ous as in parts of Amer­ica that of­ten spend their au­tumns cop­ing with hur­ri­canes and win­ters dig­ging out from un­der bl­iz­zards. But each year this state has a “fire sea­son.” That’s been true for all time.

The New Yorker’s Dana Goodyear seems sur­prised that a fire swept through much of Mal­ibu last year. But this hap­pens al­most ev­ery year, and for of­ten-re­peated rea­sons like ar­son, poorly-main­tained power lines, high winds, low hu­mid­ity and high tem­per­a­tures dur­ing most Oc­to­bers and Novem­bers — some­times ear­lier.

“Un­til re­cently,” wrote Goodyear, “it was pos­si­ble to re­press a sneak­ing aware­ness of the weather fal­lacy, stuff it in the back of the closet, along­side the earth­quake kit, and tell one­self that all was well in par­adise.”

What weather fal­lacy? While record cold and snow rav­aged much of the East and Mid­west this fall, tem­per­a­tures in Los An­ge­les reached the 90s in late Novem­ber and even foggy San Fran­cisco saw highs mostly in the up­per 60s.

Earth­quakes? No one here hides that. It’s part of the bar­gain most non-na­tive Cal­i­for­ni­ans made when they moved here: They weighed the risk of los­ing many of their ma­te­rial re­sources against the benefits of much warmer weather than where they came from.

At about the same time as the New Yorker took its cheap shot at Cal­i­for­nia, just when it was suf­fer­ing se­ri­ous dam­age, the Wall Street Jour­nal did much the same.

On the state’s hous­ing prob­lems, “Politi­cians have bull­dozed mar­ket forces.” But as doc­u­mented in this col­umn sev­eral times, mar­ket forces have not been “bull­dozed” at all; rather, they are a big rea­son for Cal­i­for­nia’s hous­ing dif­fi­cul­ties: So many peo­ple want to buy in the choic­est parts of this state that prices are too high for many would-be buy­ers. When buy­ers evap­o­rate, prices nor­mally drop. But there is no sign of that to­day. This is mar­ket forces at work, as ex­pen­sive prop­er­ties do ac­tu­ally sell.

On the pub­lic safety power shutoffs: “Cal­i­for­ni­ans are learn­ing to live like the Amish.” If so, that’s partly the fault of politi­cians, but mostly of util­ity ex­ec­u­tives who redi­rected main­te­nance money paid by elec­tric cus­tomers for decades, rather than us­ing it to fire­proof their trans­mis­sion lines and other equip­ment.

On high gaso­line prices, “Blame Democrats.” Are most oil com­pany ex­ec­u­tives Democrats?

This is merely the lat­est in­stall­ment of east­ern-based fic­tion about Cal­i­for­nia, which is any­thing but on its knees. In fact, con­struc­tion is boom­ing all over Cal­i­for­nia, from fire ar­eas where re­builds abound to big cities where new, large hous­ing projects aim­ing to ease short­ages are un­der­way.

And what if a few thou­sand more Cal­i­for­ni­ans de­parted Cal­i­for­nia in re­cent years than have ar­rived here?

One thing that does is al­le­vi­ate Cal­i­for­nia’s hous­ing and traf­fic prob­lems just a lit­tle. Not enough, as any­one who has house shopped or driven a free­way in the last year knows.

But there is no way the Cal­i­for­nia Dream is dead, or even se­ri­ously threat­ened.

That’s be­cause the con­cept of a bet­ter life here has never been absolute, but al­ways tem­pered by the fact that there can be trou­ble in par­adise, as seen lately via high winds, ar­son­ists, de­gen­er­at­ing power lines and the big fires they com­bine to push.

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