Speigel Online ran an article yesterday about American Cities drowing in debt (click through the picture for the article.) The feature story is San Bernardino – where I spent a great part of my childhood:
“San Bernardino, California, has gone from being the birthplace of McDonald’s, one of the world’s most successful companies, to a mound of unpaid debts. It’s a sad example of what a lack of infrastructure investment and an almost religious aversion to higher taxes have done to cities across the United States.”
They go on to say: “On August 1, 2012, San Bernardino filed for bankruptcy. Today this city, located an hour’s drive east of Los Angeles, is one of the poorest, most violent cities in the United States. Once the setting for one of America’s greatest success stories, the city can no longer even afford to pay its police officers and is rotting in its own waste.”
The same day the Wall Street Journal posted a graphic of the best states for business per a survey by Chief Executive Magazine. California ranks dead last. #50.
Having lived my entire life in California, and half of my pre College years in San Bernardino, makes all this really tough to understand. This isn’t the state I grew up in or remember. I sometimes wonder if it was all just a dream.
I remember Disneyland being built. Aerospace jobs everywhere. Freeways being built. Safe elementary schools with green grass and big playgrounds. A UC System that actually catered to the California resident at a price that was next to nothing for the student (today the UC system by its own admission is composed of over 60% foreign or out of state students – higher tuition rates to the system).
This isn’t fantasy. It existed. Many explanations have been offered on what happened to tilt California from the land of opportunity and the Golden Gate to the state that business wants to flee from and that hosts three cities in bankruptcy.
Joel Kotkin addresses this change with this summary (http://www.city-journal.org/2010/20_3_california-economy.html):
“What went so wrong? The answer lies in a change in the nature of progressive politics in California. During the second half of the twentieth century, the state shifted from an older progressivism, which emphasized infrastructure investment and business growth, to a newer version, which views the private sector much the way the Huns viewed a city—as something to be sacked and plundered. The result is two separate California realities: a lucrative one for the wealthy and for government workers, who are largely insulated from economic decline; and a grim one for the private-sector middle and working classes, who are fleeing the state.”
Public sector unions, a rising immigrant class, social spending in lieu of infrastrucure investments have all contributed to this decline. In simple terms, I wonder if this state would have/could have tolerated this decline if it were not for the beaches, sunshine, motion picture industry, silicon valley, and incredibly productive farmland areas that add an attractive and seductive face to the real decay that is becoming increasingly difficult to mask over.