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California and the West | ON CALIFORNIA

Just Add Water

April 04, 2001|PETER H. KING

At last, offered exclusively in this space, a fully generic, all-purpose California commentary, a column designed to be applicable to any and all state crises, regardless of season, scope or county of origin. Not available in stores. Use only as directed. Sherry Bebitch Jeffe sound bites sold separately.

Mistakes have been made, big mistakes. No doubt about that. As these things go, this is the worst by far that California has seen in a long, long time. By comparison, the great Medfly invasion was a mere infestation of small insects.

The Chamber of Commerce warns that, unless things turn around soon, businesses will begin fleeing the Golden State in droves; the chamber suggests tax relief for its members. Time magazine has a cover out, proclaiming The Dream is dead. Harvey Rosenfield has begun to circulate a petition. No, this is big.

How did we slip into such a mess? Wasn't the lottery supposed to take care of such things? If nothing else, this ought to be a wake-up call for Hollywood to clean up its act. At least they can't pin this one on the fruit pickers, or can they? The day we start paying public school teachers the salaries of big league shortstops will be the day these sorts of crises fade into history. So far, the media have missed the real story.

This is what term limits have brought. Sacramento seems to have been asleep at the switch. The politicians should have seen it coming. As with earthquakes, it wasn't a matter of if, but when. Let's make helmets mandatory for lawmakers. Of course, it all goes back to Howard Jarvis. Follow the money.

*

It's unconscionable. It's an outrage. For this to be happening in one of the richest, most advanced societies the world has known is an absolute scandal. I mean, this is California. The Beach Boys were no accident. California is where the future begins. California is not just a state, it's a state of mind. You'd think we were Mississippi or something.

Europe is laughing at us.

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned leadership? What this situation cries out for is the vision of a Pat Brown, the communication skills of a Ronald Reagan, the political cunning of a Willie Brown. What's needed is the integrity of a Chuck Quackenbush; or maybe not. In hindsight, Jerry Brown was ahead of his time.

Consider the wisdom of Sun Tzu: "Of the five elements," wrote the ancient general, "none is always predominant; of the four seasons, none lasts forever; of the days, some are long and some short, and the moon waxes and wanes."

Absolutely.

Or, as Joan Didion wrote. . . .

Or, as Raymond Chandler wrote. . . .

Or, to quote California historian Kevin Starr. . . .

Let's not overlook the lesson of the Gold Rush, in which the real money was made by those who sold blue jeans and picks. It also should be noted that, in California, whiskey is for drinkin' and water is for fightin'. Finally, to quote Joan Didion quoting Raymond Chandler, when the Santa Ana winds howl "meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks."

Just something to keep in mind.

*

What's needed now should be obvious to all. The governor must appoint a czar. Let's put out a call to Peter Ueberroth. The 1984 Olympics, now those were the days.

This much is clear. If something isn't done soon, the cities will blow and the farmland will be buried under asphalt. Above all else, we must think of the children. They are our future.

None of the solutions proposed so far would solve anything. The barn door has been nailed shut after the horses galloped away. Einstein's definition of insanity comes to mind: Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting the result to change. Worse, they are trying to balance this burden on the backs of the little guy, on the backs of dental hygienists and truck drivers and podiatrists.

The whole approach makes about as much sense as trying to pass off prunes as "dried plums." This is the exact same mistake Pete Wilson made. Not all of us have the option of moving to Montana. No, the Auburn Dam is not the answer. Statistics don't lie. You got to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em. What is it about "illegal" they don't understand? The last time I checked, this was still a free country.

At the end of the day, this is not so much a crisis as it is a challenge. If we can make the desert bloom, we can find a way to muddle through this mess. As the screenwriter observed, every Hollywood blockbuster must begin with words on a page. Thirty-four million Californians can't be wrong. Things will get worse before they get better. And yet, they always do get better, unless they don't.

Time will tell.

Anyway, it's snowing in Wisconsin.

So there.

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