I grew up in Michigan where winters were so hostile that unless you confined yourself to heated bubbles, you risked hypothermia. Too much of the year the place was about as habitable as the moon.
As a child I dreamed of a distant Elysium with year-round summer, where soft breezes caressed rolling hills dotted with beautiful trees, their umbrella-like canopies creating pools of shade on knee-high grasses. Just beyond these hills, were sparkling silver seas where foaming white waves washed over wide sandy beaches.
I thought that maybe this place really existed — maybe somewhere far south of Michigan. I was right that it existed, but wrong about where.
In 1969, driving over the Sierra Nevada and down into the foothills of the Sacramento Valley I saw California’s park savannah for the first time. My childhood dream came true right then and there, and after spending my first winter in Santa Barbara, I was determined to stay.
I had found Elysium.
Back then there was a widely shared mystique about California. At the western edge of the continent, California was a magical place of spectacular natural beauty with a near-perfect climate and a creative culture fostered by a mix of avant-garde artists, various free spirits and entrepreneurial visionaries.
Pioneering California was the leading edge of western civilization — exotic, exciting and exceptionally alluring.
Fifty years later, California’s legendary luster has dulled. Certainly, climate change has taken off some of the shine. Droughts are severe, long-lasting and more frequent, forcing increasingly draconian water restrictions on residents. Wildfires are catastrophically massive and recurrent. Fire season is year-round now and accompanied with widespread deliberate power shutoffs imposed for days at a time on hundreds of thousands of residents.
California’s mild climate is a magnet for the homeless. Hordes of them haunt California’s streets threatening public health and safety, disrupting local commerce and effectively disenfranchising citizens from the quiet enjoyment of public places.
California’s infrastructure groans under twice the load it was built to carry. Traffic inches along like thick sludge on freeways designed for high speed. Rain storms send sewage flowing to the ocean, fouling beaches for days while vehicle emissions and wildfire smoke pollute the air.
Along with these flickering Third World conditions, residents endure a cost of living that is among the nation’s very highest, with housing, fuel and taxes topping the list.
Not surprisingly, more people are now leaving California than are coming in — and that’s a good thing, because the root cause of California’s declining conditions is overpopulation.
And yet, rather than discourage population growth, the state’s short-sighted, misguided politicians promote it by passing laws that override local zoning and growth restrictions to force increased population density on communities.
The state government’s philosophy seems to be that everyone must settle for reduced living conditions so that additional population can be accommodated in some kind of egalitarian mediocrity.
Those Californians who simply want to keep what they have — a home in a quiet uncrowded neighborhood, a town with uncongested streets, uncrowded schools, reliable electric power, and enough water to maintain a First World lifestyle — are vilified as “nimbys.”
It is not immoral to want to keep what you have fairly gained. Nor is it moral for the state to take it from you because others are clamoring for it.
California’s new ADU laws, effective Jan. 1 just six weeks from now, facilitate construction of Accessory Dwelling Units, and have the very real potential to virtually destroy the ambience of existing residential neighborhoods.
These laws nullify all local ADU ordinances and replace them with state mandates that allow any residential property owner to construct up to two additional dwelling units on their lots, regardless of lot size. New units can be as large as 1,199 square feet, up to 16 feet high, and require side and rear setbacks of only 4 feet. Local design approval for architectural compatibility, landscaping, adequate parking et al is no longer allowed.
Think about this for a moment. Let’s say you have a home with a view, on a quiet street without many cars parking along it. Your next-door neighbors will soon be allowed to build, just four feet from your property lines, structures 16 feet high that could easily obstruct your view and invade your privacy. Your quiet uncrowded street would likely have more traffic and more cars parked along it. More garbage to pick up, more delivery trucks, more service calls — more hub bub.
Eventually, your nice quite neighborhood could resemble a Brazilian favela with a hodge-podge of glorified huts shoe-horned onto lots intended for single-family homes.
California’s political class struggles with the line between what is the general welfare and what is collectivistic confiscation. It is the line between desire and necessity, between envy and equity, between human rights and property rights. And, no matter where or how these lines are drawn they get even murkier when emotive notions of “social justice” are applied.
Not everyone who wants to, can or should live in California. While Americans are free to move anywhere they like, they are not entitled to a certain lifestyle when they get there.
California is expensive and overcrowded. There are far less costly and less impacted places to live.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.