Twenty-one years ago I began my first office job out of college. I was hired by a company that tracked the legislation of all fifty states. I lived in a California that was, at the time, the pinnacle of innovation and creativity. It was said that when California did something, the rest of the states would shortly follow. California was the leader, the ultimate influencer.
Or maybe this was what we were led to believe. I attended high school and college in California. I thoroughly bought into the whole California-is-the-greatest-state thing. In 2000 I moved east to pursue a career in the federal government. I soon found myself in an unfamiliar land known as the Washington, D.C. area. Shortly after my arrival I recall explaining to my somewhat bewildered aunt that California was superior to the rest of the country and, specifically, that Californians thought of people in Virginia and Maryland as uneducated, toothless hicks and hillbillies. How foolish I was.
Fifteen years later I returned to California to find a state largely in shambles. The once glorious California is now the state of the San Francisco poop patrol, tent cities and crumbling infrastructure. Crime-ridden and mismanaged, that is the California I now see.
What leads to this California hubris? More importantly, what led to the downfall of California? I tend to think it is largely due to the passage and approval of flawed laws and propositions. What leads seemingly intelligent people to vote for propositions such as Proposition 47 or 57, both public safety “reforms” that have made Californians decidedly less safe? What leads them to vote in favor of more taxation in the name of causes that have already been funded and the money squandered? Are people simply not paying attention?
Proposition 47, also known by its supporters as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, recategorized some nonviolent offenses as misdemeanors rather than felonies, as they had been previously categorized. Similarly, Proposition 57 allowed parole consideration for nonviolent felons, changed policies on juvenile prosecution and authorized sentence credits for rehabilitation, good behavior and education. The idea was that by converting nonviolent crimes such as drug and property offenses to misdemeanors, the overcrowding in the state’s prison system would be reduced, thus saving money. The money that would be saved would then go to school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, drug-abuse treatment and other programs designed to keep offenders out of prison and jail.
It all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?
The reality is that the list of crimes considered violent under California law is incredibly short. Raping an unconscious person isn’t officially a “violent” crime in California. Nor is pimping a child for sex. Spousal or domestic partner abuse is not considered a violent crime under California law. Felony hate crimes, assault with a deadly weapon and drive-by shootings are also not classified as violent under California law.
Currently, early release decisions are made by an unelected body whose members are appointed by the governor, with little if any input from victims, prosecutors or the public.
Most recently, the legislature passed SB10, which will abolish cash bail, a public safety tool that ensures people arrested for crimes show up to stand trial. A trial is where the accused and the accuser can be heard. If the defendant is not held accountable to appear, the process does not work. SB10 replaces the money bail system with a computer-based “risk assessment” algorithm. Unbiased studies as well as judges feel that this new system lacks the necessary strength to ensure a defendant appears.
Then we have SB1, the bill also known as the gas tax. Passed in November 2017, SB1 imposed a 12-cents-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a 20-cents-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel. It also increased the yearly vehicle registration fees. The idea was that the money generated would go toward California’s transportation infrastructure, including public transit projects, road resurfacing, and repairs of bridges and freeways.
Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want better roads and bridges?
The reality is that there were gas taxes already imposed prior to 2017. The newest tax does not have a ceiling. The money that these gas taxes have generated in the past has largely been diverted to other projects that are more politically rewarding than filling potholes and fixing bridges.
Voters had a chance to repeal the latest gas tax with Proposition 6, which was on the November 2018 ballot. Proposition 6 was defeated, so Californians will see no end in sight to their soaring gas prices. Where I live, most of the working people travel an average of one hour to their workplaces. The roads here are some of the worst I have seen. The roads and bridges do not appear to be getting any better, despite the numerous signs I see claiming we are “rebuilding California.” One particular project I have observed in passing has been going on since at least 2015 and shows no signs of progress. I have witnessed similar projects in other states that were completed in nine months to a year, if not sooner.
This is just a brief sampling of the laws and propositions that I feel are furthering the deterioration of California. From wanting to tax your text messaging (luckily this was shut down quickly) to your drinking water, the insanity just keeps coming. With the California legislature’s 2019 session in full swing there will be plenty more lunacy on the way! Let’s hope the people of California open their eyes and take notice.
This article was first published in 2019.