by Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh
“As goes California so goes the nation”. This phrase came to be from the overwhelming influence our great state has had on America for over a century. From the gold rush of the nineteenth century, to the birth of Hollywood, and the revolutionary innovations of Silicon Valley, California has always been seen as an awe-inspiring place of boundless opportunity. People came from across America and all around the world to find a better life for themselves and for their families. This California, our California, nurtured the best environment to found the next great American company or develop the next groundbreaking technology that shapes society.
This is the California that drew my grandfather to pursue a better life for his family through the Bracero program, the California that provided two first generation immigrants who arrived from Mexico at the ages of 16 and 18 the opportunity to start a successful small business and raise a family. That family was the start of my very own American Dream.
Unfortunately, in recent decades our state leaders have lost their way, and California no longer provides the unmatched opportunity and quality of life that made it the envy of the rest of the country for more than a hundred years. 2018 Census data showed in 2018 that for the second year in a row California saw negative net migration, with more Californians choosing to leave the state than moving in.
Census data also showed that middle- and working-class Californians make up the majority of the vast numbers leaving the state. Why are the middle class families that constitute the foundation of our state’s great communities fleeing for other states? The first reason is pretty simple: it costs too much more for middle class families to live here.
The Council for Community & Economic Research recently found that California has the highest overall cost of living in US after Hawaii and DC. It’s unsurprising then that 61% of California voters between ages of 18 and 34 said they can’t afford to live in the state.
In 2019, Democrats in the state legislature proposed over $20 billion in new taxes, fees, and regulatory costs, with $4.4 billion eventually being signed into law. We have the highest gas taxes of any state and one of the highest income taxes in the country. Ever increasing taxes on businesses have driven hundreds of companies out of the state, taking tens of thousands of jobs with them. The only California tax that isn’t already sky-high is the property tax, because long-standing protections have kept our rates fixed. But now cash-hungry legislators in Sacramento are even trying to increase property taxes by using Proposition 13 to strip those protections away.
For most Californians housing is their largest monthly expense. According to the California Association of Realtors, the median housing price has risen to $590,000, more than double the price for the rest of the country. Rental prices are no better, with a median rent of $2,640, compared to $1,590 for the rest of America. This means California renters pay an average of $12,600 more annually to live here.
Unending increases in the cost of living aren’t the only threats to the quality of life in California: Deteriorating air quality and aging infrastructure weigh heavily on those hoping to realize their own American Dream.
California has the worst air quality in the United States, with seven of our cities ranking in the American Lung Association’s ranking of the ten cities with the worst air quality. Levels of ozone and particulate pollutions seen in cities across the state have been linked to higher levels of lung and respiratory diseases and increases risk of premature death.
New technologies like electric vehicles and clean energy sources developed right here in California are offering promising potential to reduce the emissions causing much of our air pollution. Unfortunately, excessive regulation out of Sacramento has slowed the widespread of adoption of these crucial innovations preventing improvements. In addition, current harsh regulations Sacramento claims are aimed at improving air quality have had no positive effects. They have only made it harder for business to thrive, create jobs, and address the housing and infrastructure crises of our state.
Just as the incompetence of our legislators have slowed the adoption of new technologies, it has also stifled the innovation of local communities. We need to improve our water and road infrastructure, but any local mayor or city council who wants to build a road or a water line runs up against a high, unscalable wall of red tape and environmental studies.
Rising cost of living, falling air quality, and bad infrastructure: this is the dark image of California we see today, and this is the dark image of California the rest of America sees, too. That’s why Californians are leaving the state, and that’s why Americans are no longer flocking to California to find their own American Dream.
But this dark image of California isn’t the real California we know and love. It’s not the California of our cherished past, and it doesn’t have to be the California of our future.
Our state legislators should allow private industry and non-profits to develop innovative housing solutions that address our extremely high housing costs; they should enact broad reforms to the state’s tax structure to reduce the costs of living for middle class families; they should coordinate and cooperate with local governments and private industry to finally allow real investment in infrastructure. Our state legislators have the power to bring the American Dream back to life in our California. All they need is the courage to do the right thing. For the sake of my family, of my neighbors in the Inland Empire, and of all Californians, I hope they do.