Sunday, September 13, 2020

California is Toast

At WaPo, "Warmer. Burning. Epidemic-challenged. Expensive. The California Dream has become the California Compromise":
SAN FRANCISCO — The cityscape resembles the surface of a distant planet, populated by a masked alien culture. The air, choked with blown ash, is difficult to breathe.

There is the Golden Gate Bridge, looming in the distance through a drift-smoke haze, and the Salesforce Tower, which against the blood-orange sky appears as a colossal spaceship in a doomsday film.

San Francisco, and much of California, has never been like this.

California has become a warming, burning, epidemic-challenged and expensive state, with many who live in sophisticated cities, idyllic oceanfront towns and windblown mountain communities thinking hard about the viability of a place they have called home forever. For the first time in a decade, more people left California last year for other states than arrived.

Monica Gupta Mehta and her husband, an entrepreneur, have been through tech busts and booms, earthquakes, wildfire seasons and power outages. But it was not until the skies darkened and cast an unsettling orange light on their Palo Alto home earlier this week that they ever considered moving their family of five somewhere else.

“For the first time in 20-something years, the thought crossed our minds: Do we really want to live here?” said Mehta, who is starting an education tech company.

It would be difficult to leave. They love the area’s abundant nature and are tied to Silicon Valley by work and a network of extended family members, who followed them west from Pittsburgh. But Mehta says it is something she would consider if her family is in regular danger.

“Yesterday felt so apocalyptic,” Mehta said. “People are really starting to reconsider whether California has enough to offer them.”

This is the latest iteration of the California Dream, a Gold Rush-era slogan meant to capture the hopeful migration of an old nation to a new, rich West. For generations, the tacit agreement for California residents resembled a kind of too-good-to-be-true deal. Live in the lovely if often drought-plagued Sierra, or beneath the beachfront Pacific Coast cliffs, and work in an economy constantly reinventing itself, from Hollywood to the farms of the San Joaquin to Silicon Valley.

But for many of the state’s 40 million residents, the California Dream has become the California Compromise, one increasingly challenging to justify, with a rapidly changing climate, a thumb-on-the-scales economy, high taxes and a pandemic that has led to more cases of the novel coronavirus than any other state.

During the course of his term, President Trump has singled out California, a state he lost by 30 percentage points, as an example of Democrat-caused urban unrest, irresponsible immigration policy and poor forest management, even though nearly 60 percent of the state’s forests are managed by the federal government. Several are burning today, with millions of acres already scorched.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has responded specifically in some cases, but in others, he has invoked the California Dream, an aspirational noun attached to no other state. In his January 2019 inaugural address, Newsom warned that “there is nothing inevitable about” that dream.

“And now more than ever, it is up to us to defend it,” he said.

As the state’s climate has shifted to one of extremes, soaking wet seasons followed suddenly by sharp, dry heat and wind, no region has been safe from fire. This year — even before peak fire season has gotten underway — widespread fires have forced evacuations, from San Jose in Silicon Valley to the distant hamlet of Big Creek along the western slopes of the Sierra.

More than two dozen major fires are burning around the state and have consumed a record 3.1 million acres of land, more than 3,000 homes and at least 22 lives. Los Angeles has reported the worst air quality in three decades as a result of fires surrounding that city, already notorious for orange air and seasonal dry cough.

Wine Country has burned four straight years, with a number of vineyards lost. Homes have been destroyed far to the south in San Diego County, and more than 200 campers had to be airlifted to safety amid the Creek Fire, still burning hot and fast between Fresno and Mammoth Lakes...
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