A Californian Warns: ‘Don’t Go West, Young Man’

California, the preferred destination for travelers who took publisher Horace Greeley’s long-ago suggestion to “Go West,” is a mess. According to Josiah Bushnell Grinnell, an Iowa U.S. Representative who served during the mid-1860s, Greeley told him that in the West he would find “health in the country, and room away from our crowds of idlers and imbeciles…”

Forget that. With California’s population fast-approaching 40 million, finding open space anywhere is a challenge. And as for “imbeciles,” some of Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown’s harshest critics describe his administration’s priorities as imbecilic. Brown and his pals ignore the state’s societal problems, and instead act to make them more insoluble.

In Greeley’s day, back when California had just been granted statehood and its population was 400,000, his counsel to head west may have been sound. But today, for multiple reasons, California is a good place to flee or avoid for relocation. Identifying California’s most immediate problem is tough, but at the top of the list is the state’s homeless population, especially in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orange County. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lists four California cities in the nation’s top ten for most unsheltered residents. San Diego and San Jose make the list, too.

San Francisco’s homeless census taken every other year found that the city’s unsheltered problem is, despite spending $305 million toward finding a solution, as Supervisor Jeffrey Sheehy said after a walking tour though needles, garbage and human waste, worse than ever. The homeless, an estimated 7,500, have started to migrate toward suburbs like Antioch in an effort to find safer, more comfortable surroundings.

To the Bay Area’s south, Los Angeles County has the second largest homeless population of any U.S. region. At 55,188, it lags only New York City’s 76,501, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 2017 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. However, the report found that 95 percent of New York City’s drifters were sheltered versus 25 percent in Los Angeles, small comfort.

Los Angeles’ surging homelessness is, in large part, driven by an increase in the Hispanic demographic. County data shows that that Latino homelessness grew 63 percent in 2016, the largest percentage increase in a county that saw its overall homeless population shoot up by 23 percent, despite increasing efforts to get people safely off the street.

Obviously, a California priority should be to slow population growth. That would help reduce, or at least level off, homelessness. Instead, Brown, through the state’s sanctuary status, has encouraged people to seek safe haven in California. Brown and his Attorney General Xavier Becerra have picked a fight with Immigration and Customs Enforcement whose mission it is to remove convicted criminal aliens which would lower the overall population.

Brown’s recent priorities include passing legislation that would create single-user restrooms, control cow flatulence and restore voting privileges for low-level felons. Little wonder that U.S. News & World Report named California the nation’s worst state to live in.

Full disclosure: I’m not a dispassionate observer of California’s wreckage, but a Los Angeles native and old-timer who vividly remembers the state’s golden days. My family album is full of pictures of our Santa Monica Beach family picnics which show we had the beach all to ourselves. Our drive to the beach took ten minutes; today, the bumper-to-bumper trip takes an hour. In 2008, I sadly left California. Perhaps more accurately expressed, I would say that, no longer able to recognize the magnificent California of my youth, I fled.

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