Facebook has two pages that are, unsurprisingly, picking up a host of new followers: “Leaving California” and “Life after California.” These pages caught my attention because as a native-born Californian who left the state, and discovered life after California, I’m curious about what Facebook members considered to be the last straw in their decision to relocate. And I’m unable to decide whether leaving California is tougher for disappointed out-of-state transplants or natives who remember California in its former splendor – the unspoiled grandeur that attracted millions of midwestern and eastern seaboard dwellers to the Golden State.
The further back native Californians go in their life experiences, the tougher watching the state’s accelerated decline becomes. And I go back a very long way, all the way to when Republicans Richard Nixon and Pete Wilson served as California’s U.S. Senators. A few years later, Republican conservative Ronald Reagan became California’s governor, and Wilson eventually went to Sacramento.
San Francisco and Los Angeles have the dubious distinction of being the twin symbols of California’s decline. The former has fallen so fast from being a prized living location to an urban hellhole that even The New York Times chronicled its collapse. Calling the migration from the Bay Area “real,” an understatement, The Times wrote that residential rents in San Francisco are down 27 percent from a year ago, and office vacancy rates spiked to 16.7 percent, a high not seen since the 2008 mortgage meltdown.
In Southland’s Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populated with 10 million residents, renter households are the majority, and the nation’s most expensive. Since Los Angeles area renters pay about 45 percent of their incomes on rent, achieving the California middle-class lifestyle has become increasingly elusive.
Watching California from my new Pennsylvania home, I can barely fathom what’s happening out west. The problems that have driven California into the abyss are all-too familiar: overcrowding, taxes, homelessness, crime, sanctuary state status and high cost of living. California’s steady demise has led to the sixth citizens’ recall effort launched against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom which has gained steam since the infamous French Laundry debacle. And since that fateful evening when a maskless Newsom dined with fellow maskless elitist friends and lobbyists, he imposed strict stay-at-home orders that increased the ire of frustrated Californians.
With many good reasons, Californians are understandably angry and want Newsom recalled. One million of the approximately 1.5 million necessary signatures have been gathered that would qualify the recall for the ballot. The signature deadline is mid-March. A look back into recall history provides a cautionary note however: be careful what you wish for
Many Californians unilaterally blame the Democrats, who have a stronghold on the state’s political offices, for California’s precipitous decay. But in 2003, then-Democratic Gov. Gray Davis was recalled, and action hero, movie star and nominal Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger took over. Hopes were high that the nationally popular Schwarzenegger, an immigrant turned U.S. citizen, turned governor, could use his popularity both within the state and in Washington, D.C. to help California effectively deal with its growing illegal immigration population.
In 1994, Californians approved by a 59 percent margin Proposition 187 which would have excluded unlawfully present aliens from receiving public benefits except for emergency medical care. But a consortium that included Davis, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU and various judges worked to overthrow the election’s results. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that Prop 187 would have saved the state about $200 million annually.
Schwarzenegger couldn’t have restored Prop. 187, and any attempt to do so would have been folly. But he could have, citing his personal immigrant story, attempted to create new but reasonable restrictions on immigration which Californians including Schwarzenegger had overwhelmingly voted for. Instead, Schwarzenegger ended up endorsing more liberal visa regulations that included granting work permits to illegal immigrants.
In the end, on illegal immigration, Schwarzenegger was no different than Davis. He did nothing to curb illegal immigration or slow the state’s unsustainable population growth. When Schwarzenegger took over as California’s governor, the state’s population was 35.3 million; today, it’s 39.4 million.
Newsom deserves to be recalled. But replacing him won’t automatically be a panacea. Californians will have to find a worthy replacement that can fend off the entrenched establishment, and work to save the state, a huge and possibly insurmountable challenge. One name being bandied about is former San Diego Mayor and Republican Kevin Faulconer, a moderate who signed the petition to recall Newsom. Should he prevail, Faulconer will need a steel will to reverse the downward trend that has been California’s ruination. Good luck to him or whoever may replace failed Gov. Newsom.