California: A Failed State?

California: A Failed State?

The famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, once said, “America was tilted, and everything loose was sliding into Southern California.”

If Mr. Wright were alive today, he presumably would be taking about all of California.

What Mr. Wright might also be saying is that California is on the verge of becoming — or has become — a failed state.

To stop the rot in California, groups like Livable California have come into existence.

Livable California (, which began operations in early 2018, has grown in stature and membership.  This group wants local control over land use, not authoritarian control by the State of California.  

According to Livable California’s website, “We support local strategies for communities to meet all housing needs.  We oppose State overreach and big money influence.”

California had a golden era that went from about 1946 to 1966.  During this interval, the governors of the state were Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, and Edmund G. (Pat) Brown.  Mr. Warren and Mr. Knight were Republicans.  Mr. Brown was a Democrat.

Pat Brown, now deceased, was the father of Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat.  Jerry Brown was governor from 1975 to 1983 and again from 2011 to 2019.  Jerry Brown, after 16 total years as governor, left office on Jan. 7, 2019.

During the 1946 to 1966 golden era, California’s population grew rapidly.  By the mid-1960’s, California became, in terms of population, the largest state, surpassing New York State.

In that golden era, people from all over America (and other countries) poured into California.  Any observant person would see vehicle license plates from every other state in the union as well as license plates from other countries.

During the golden interval, California was building a first-class system of higher education, new freeways, and big water projects.  In that era, tuition at the University of California system reached a level of $180 a year.  Today, tuition is about $13,000 a year.

California’s coastal region does not have snow or cold, dreary winters.  In mountainous regions (like Lake Tahoe and Lake Arrowhead), there is skiing.  In milder parts of the state, there is year-round golf, tennis, and swimming.  

Surfing in waters off the state’s coast became a phenomenon as did the music of the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean.  The image of surfing in California became indelibly etched in the minds of people all over the world.

From 1966 to 1999, California still continued to grow.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley emerged in and near San Jose.  California firms like Apple, Intel, Facebook, and Google became some of the largest companies in the world.  These firms hired thousands of employees.  In August 2018, Apple reached a market value of $1 trillion, the first company in the world to attain that level.

Today, California may be on the brink of collapse.  A decent home in coastal California can cost $1.5 million to $2 million (or more).  There is a statewide  shortage of affordable housing.  Recent surveys show that many residents are considering leaving the Golden State.

In June 2018, the Bay Area Council, a business group, released a survey showing that 46 percent of Bay Area residents might leave the state.  In November 2018, a weekly publication of the California Chamber of Commerce reported that more than three-quarters of the state’s voters say that “earning enough income to enjoy a middle class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible . . .”

California’s tax burden is enormous.  The state has the nation’s highest sales tax of any state, the highest top bracket for the state income tax (13.3 percent), and the highest or second highest gasoline tax.  In November 2018, the state’s voters rejected a ballot measure that would have overturned a 12-cent-a-gallon gasoline-tax increase imposed in November 2017.

In recent years, the state government has demanded that local communities build more housing or face a cut-off in state funds for projects like road repair.  In addition, the state has imposed a Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), requiring local communities to create housing for individuals having different income levels.

In 2017 and 2018, the state legislature began imposing more land-use controls on local communities.  Assembly Bill 2923, which, in September 2018, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, has given BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) authority to construct high-rise, high-density housing on BART-owned land.

Currently, Senate Bill 50 has been introduced in the state legislature.  This bill, if enacted, would impose additional high-rise, high-density housing construction in areas within one-quarter mile of a frequently-used bus stop or one-half mile of a train station.  The bill would require that a certain amount of new housing be set aside for people of different income levels.

State workers are eligible for generous pensions.  Estimates show that much of the money needed to pay for these pensions is not available.  No one knows how much extra money might be needed, but news media reports state that unfunded pension liabilities range from $250 billion to $1 trillion.

In a December 2018, interview with the Sacramento Bee, Gov. Brown warned that public agencies in California are headed for “fiscal oblivion” if they cannot adjust retirement benefits for their employees.

In California’s big cities, there are thousands of homeless people.  California businesses like Google are planning to expand operations in other states (like Texas).

California has been a land of opportunity.  There is no guarantee that opportunity will exist in the future.  Unless there are reforms, it’s time to consider living elsewhere.  ν

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