Why California's Salad Days Have Wilted


“Science,” wrote the University of California’s first President Daniel Coit Gilman, “is the mother of California.” In making this assertion, Gilman was referring mostly to finding ways to overcoming the state’s “peculiar geographical position” so that the state could develop its “undeveloped resources.”

Nowhere was this more true than in the case of water. Except for the far north and the Sierra, California – and that includes San Francisco as well as greater Los Angeles – is essentially a semiarid desert. The soil and the climate might be ideal, but without water, California is just a lot of sunny potential, but not much economic value.

Yet, previous generations of Californians, following Gilman’s instructions, used technology to build new waterworks, from the Hetch Hetchy Dam to the L.A. Aqueduct and, finally, the California State Water Project and its federal counterpart, the Central Valley Project. These turned California into the richest farming area on the planet and generated opportunities for the tens of millions who came to live in the state’s cities and suburbs.

Read the entire piece at The Orange County Register.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.  He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Photo of Lake Palmdale California Water Project by Kfasimpaur (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Plenty of blame to go around

As usual you and I are in broad agreement. But the details...

Pat Brown did indeed build, build, build, build, build - just as Texas is doing now. I was born in California and was the recipient of much of the good fortunes that came to lower class families that gradually become middle-ish class. No argument from me about Pat. Jerry Brown? He's a well intentioned guy who is the product of his time. I have no love for woo-woo Boomers. Again, no argument from me about his crunchiness. But...

In the year I was born California had a population of 19 million. Today it's pushing 39 million. That's a lot of new people, a lot of new cars, a lot of new lawns and swimming pools, a lot of new freeways, etc. Let's not forget that Arizona, Nevada, and Utah have had similar population increases and we all suck up water from the same few sources. I don't think it's unreasonable to have a policy that says each family should use a little less. Raising the price of a scarce commodity is an excellent market mechanism to get supply and demand back in equilibrium. Pat Brown's freeways are now fifty and sixty years old. How do you feel about jacking up the gas tax to cover the ongoing maintenance costs? How about tolls for the roads that need to be rebuilt? Or is it nut job socialism to expect drivers to pay for the roads they use? Or do you shift the cost to someone else?

The photo you used is of Palmdale. It's the last frontier of affordable Republican family friendly suburbia in Los Angeles County - and it's in economic free fall. The market has spoken and people don't want a five bedroom tract house with a pool three hours from civilization. The cost of new public infrastructure is greater than the value of the stuff being built on it.

And by the way, the much maligned tech class of liberal Bay Area elitist blah, blah, blah that conservatives love to hate - they were created by conservative economic policies during the Reagan Revolution. Open up boarders, deregulate industry, cut taxes, dismantle labor unions... Let the meritocracy reign free as innovation works its magic in a free and open market. And that's exactly what happened. The problem is the "wrong" people rose to the top and then began to assert their opinions on the political stage. This isn't any different from coal, steel, or railroad barrens throwing their weight around in previous generations. Common people didn't like them much either. It's what people do when they become rich. A shrinking middle class, growing lower class, and wild income disparities are the direct result of decades of conservative national policies. Don't blame the geeks for rising to the top when they played by the rules.



Imagine a California where wise politicians use $100 billion on improving the water infrastructure instead of on a high speed rail. Instead our politicians institute consumer fines for maintaining what was initially encouraged by them.