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Call to Action

March 27, 1988

It is one thing when Gov. George Deukmejian ignores or ridicules the pleadings of his critics to recognize the problems facing California and to fashion a real agenda for the future. The governor denounces their ideas as just more costly social engineering. But now a high-powered group of business and industrial leaders--those who normally would be counted as the governor's firmest supporters--has issued a compelling call to action, declaring that business-as-usual simply is not good enough for California.

And how did the governor react to this challenge? First, by ignoring some of the most important points in the group's report titled "Vision: California 2010." Then, by fuzzily embracing its general goals--primarily that of creating a healthy economy, everyone's goal. And, finally, by sending the meaty parts of the report out into the nether lands of his Administration for more study and the compilation of detailed action plans, to be monitored and coordinated by a task force.

If California could soar into the future on the wings of cliches and buzz words, it would be there now, powered by the governor's phrase-makingas he outlined the report to the state Chamberof Commerce. Sample: "Together, we must builda consensus for action that will move our state swiftly and resolutely toward the positive and prosperous future which is indeed within our grasp." Consensus surely is important. But no consensus can get anywhere without having someone out in front, and the only leader who has the institutional ability to get such a program moving is the chief executive of the state.

Give the governor some credit. He did help create the California Economic DevelopmentCorp. and charge it with studying California's long-term problems and offering solutions. And since all but two of the corporation's current 55 board members are business leaders (and all but three are male), it is not surprising that the report is heavily oriented toward private enterprise. Still, the group recognized some vital facts that the governor glossed over:

--That the Gann spending limits are too restrictive and must be relaxed.

--That the state must deal with growth, or the environment will be damaged irreparably.

--That the education system is not preparing youths for the jobs and demands of the future.

--And that a business-as-usual attitude is not good enough for the 21st Century.

The group shuns the term land-use planning , usually anathema to the business world, but says that the state must play a strong new role in transportation by integrating planning and management with local, state and private interests. The report extols business for creating wealth, but recognizes the reality that "the public sector creates the environment that fosters private investment and growth."

The report constitutes a bold leap into the future, its authors say, since little steps will not do. Actually, nearly all of these proposals have been made in past reports, in bolder fashion. But the fact that these ideas have been endorsed by business and corporate leaders should make the governor more alert to the urgency of the problems.

Both the report and the governor's speech are riddled with modern cliches like bold long-range strategies and development of human capital. These terms sound good, but they are no substitute for simple concepts like leadership, hard work and political will.

California can have a multitude of public-private partnerships forging consensus to develop the technological edge that will give the state a competitive advantage. But it will mean nothing unless there is a leader with the guts to make tough choices and start the ball rolling. The leader must talk common sense, knock some heads together and get the job done. Now.

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