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Tarnishing the Golden State 

It's been nearly 50 years since I first visited California's Central Coast. Between repetitive tours of duty in Vietnam, I spent a brief leave with a friend in Arroyo Grande. His dad had discovered the area during WWII, bought land, and retired there after a long military career.

It was during this visit that my friend introduced me to Cuesta College, at the time a collection of old WWII Army single-story buildings with an abundant supply of mud between the classrooms. He assured me it really was an accredited college and the tuition was only $15 a semester plus books. That was hard to believe, but after my last overseas tour and upon receiving California residency that's where I ended up.

The G.I. Bill paid only $220 a month at the time, but I had some savings and was able to survive for the first year and integrate into the community. It was a time when gas only cost about 30 cents a gallon and even the 1974 quadrupling of oil prices after the Yom Kippur War only raised the price of gas up to 50 cents a gallon. We were shocked when told it might rise to as much as a dollar a gallon.

In those days California was just beginning to change from a land of prosperity for the middle class to a regulatory leviathan that fed upon the dreams of ordinary people. Housing prices had begun to escalate, quadrupling in value before the end of the decade. Seniors were suddenly fearful of losing the homes they had paid off due to escalating property taxes. Visions of being forced from their homes and middle-class comfort during their final years became a reality for the unfortunate. Nevertheless, the state regulatory machinery continued to place ever more restrictions on what was once a relatively freewheeling way of life. Small businesses were suddenly under scrutiny and heavily fined for insignificant infractions. Government agents seemed to look for any excuse to punish people.

Major industries once lauded as benefactors of prosperity were suddenly vilified in media, entertainment venues, and academia. An entire generation came of age indoctrinated to believe that the energy industry was necessarily rapacious, greedy, and acting against the public interest. Oil spills with spectacular media coverage reinforced the most negative images and provoked a public backlash against the failures of industry to sufficiently safeguard sensitive areas. Images of devastated wildlife provoked even harsher hostility by the public against apparent indifference to wildlife and economic losses to local economies. The outrage was largely justified, but the result was the creation of a regulatory regime with an insatiable appetite for consuming local control. As it grew, so did the budgets required to support the massive bureaucracy needed to enforce its quest to create an ecological "nirvana."

Industry is being slowly crushed, especially anything related to energy production. Traditionally, these occupations produced incomes for head-of-households, allowing for working-class Americans to enter the economic middle class and share in the aspirations once relegated to the very wealthy. Cuesta College was an outgrowth of this prosperity that allowed virtually anyone to aspire to higher education and the life it promised.

Those days are gone as will be soon the industries that fueled the economic engine that made affordable higher education. Energy prices are artificially high, not due to greed but as a result of a government regulatory regime that keeps them high with promises to make them higher, with onerous impacts upon the working poor. For example, the Democrat-controlled state Legislature has imposed regulations that increased fuel costs by 12 cents a gallon in November of 2017 and will increase it by another 8.5 cents a gallon by July 2019. Globally, there's an oil and natural gas glut with many states enjoying energy costs a third to half as much as California's prices.

America, lectured 15 years ago about "Peak Oil" and future oil shortages has now increased domestic oil production to more than 9 million barrels a day and rising. Since everything we have and eat depends upon fossil fuels, increasing production normally means lower costs for all we use, except in California.

The regulatory monster is not limited to oil but seeks total control of our lives. New regulations will strip communities of the right to determine how local development occurs, with the state overriding local planning to permit high-density, high-rise development within a quarter-mile of any main transit corridor, regardless of the will of the people. Mandatory, permanent water rationing is in the pipeline, regardless of rainfall or local water supplies. Mandatory proposed home retrofits for water conservation could cost homeowners about $7,500 in compliance costs.

Taxes will be increased. The feds gave you tax relief, but Democrats are proposing a mileage tax to offset the unintended loss of gas taxes due to the public driving more fuel-efficient cars. Democrats also introduced legislation to prohibit the DMV from registering gas-powered vehicles within 22 years. All this and more awaits Californians, even as those who are able will leave the state, as will the industrial engines that once made this state "Golden." Δ

Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor atclanham@newtimesslo.com.

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