I was born the fifth generation of my family in Southern California sixty years ago. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe, but in the early years of my parent’s life and of my own, Southern California was a paradise. Wages were high, housing was inexpensive. Employment at every level, from Janitor on up, was easy to find. There were economic expansion and an ongoing shortage of labor. We made things here, lots of things and we had some of the best bridges, parks, sewerage systems, water supply, natural gas and electrical infrastructure in the United States. Our roads were smooth, California’s highways and freeways were international legends. We had smog, but we also had a climate. Well into my early adulthood there were still vineyards and orange groves on old Route 66 east of Azusa, and numerous local providers of dairy and eggs. I recall fondly my Grandmother’s weekend drives to her favorite egg producer in northern Azusa.
My niece and nephews are in their late teens and early twenties. My brother and I, and our wives tell them about how Southern California once was, but they really can’t grasp it. They think we are lying, until we point out that when I was born Mom and Dad were the oldest son’s age, and on Dad’s job as a nondegree aerospace worker, Dad supported Mom, bought a house, owned a truck AND a slightly used car, and soon had a son. My Nephews are in their middle twenties struggling with attaining car ownership while working at Starbucks because at Starbucks free online college (if business courses are taken) is a benefit. They can not believe Community College was once free and the CSU system was once nearly free. We show snapshots, the few bits of the 16mm film we have and direct them to historic Southern California sites on Facebook. Our past is still unimaginable to them, and to us seems like what was, what we have lost, could never really have been.
California used to be a State that planned for the future. Indeed the future was our core identity. We actually thought of ourselves and the lives we lived in THE FUTURE. Often. however, this planning was done for the People, without their knowledge or their consent. What consent was given was done without a clear explanation of the consequences of various decisions.
In the early 1970’s California was already becoming crowded and the ecology was degrading. Smog and unhealthy air were ever-present dangers. The Government of California began passing laws to reduce the creation of smog. Most well known are the regulations that affected automobiles, but many laws reducing the emissions of various gasses from solvents began to affect the aerospace and electronics industry. Electronics and aerospace have been so closely related and intertwined in California since the 1930’s that it is difficult for us natives to think of them separately. My Father’s employer, Aerojet (Founded by Theodore Von Kaarman and Jack Parsons) was deeply involved in the electronic systems used in spacecraft, surface to air missiles, and early computers. Aerojet actually perfected the vapor deposition of metals onto circuit boards, a technology vital to our present daily life, that was once almost entirely Californian, and now is almost entirely Chinese.
Microcircuitry left California because the expense of complying with various codes for cleaner air made circutboards, even at the astronomical prices of those early days, unprofitable. Production went from California to Taiwan to Japan to Mainland China. No one ever mentioned to the aerospace workers of California that in exchange for cleaner air, they would give up their high paying high status jobs. The same happened in the furniture production business, the paint manufacturing business, plastics, orange production, dairy and egg producing businesses, aluminum, steel and bronze foundries, fastener producers, fabric manufacturers and dyers. Clean air mandates either from the California State Legislature or the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) drove them out of business in California, and took their high paying middle class jobs with them.
It was in this suddenly and unexpectedly shrinking economy that the California State Legislature decided to plan a host of new infrastructure initiatives and developments for the State of California because they expected a increase in population, and to tax the People now for those infrastructure improvements rather than the traditional method of a partial pay by land developers of infrastructure improvement and a partial pay by the general fund. The California Legislature in it’s boundless wisdom had the concept that not costing the developer would lead to more development more rapidly…As this plan emerged, the California middle class panicked and their Champion, Howard Jarvis arrived. Jarvis was a rough, gruff Midwesterner who had come to California in order to buy the Pasadena Star-News but had decided in the early 1970’s that the paper had no growth potential. While in California, Jarvis began to look for other business opportunities as our climate was much more kind to his arthritic joints than Indiana. Jarvis found as he examined California businesses that they were, even then, overburdened with regulation and taxation. It became Howard Jarvis passion to starve the beast of California government so that it could no longer inhibit business in California. Jarvis knew the legislature was making big plans and partnered with the insurance industry to write Proposition 13. This measure gave corporations special tax breaks and particularly insurance companies, but Jarvis was clever, he also gave a break to every property owner in the California. He filed his initiative so that it would be voted on just weeks after the new tax bills arrived. My parents, middle class people, would wait every year in terror for their property tax bill, never knowing what it would be. In the two years before Prop 13 their bill had gone from $180 a year to almost $300. In those days that was a bite of money. When the bill came before the election on Prop 13, it was $1850, roughly 8% of Dads income. I remember my mother opening the bill, staring in disbelief and then crying that we were going to lose our home. scenes like that happened in every home in California. Then California politicians during press conferences in unguarded moments of casual truthfulness said amazing things like “In the near future most of the residents of the State of California will be renters. there is nothing wrong with that.” The fury of California homeowners and realtors came to resemble a angry mob going after Frankenstein’s monster, only a with a LOT more feelings of betrayal fueling the fury. That anyone didn’t vote for Proposition 13 is a mystery, but it did pass and the California Supreme Court upheld it. My parents taxes actually ROLLED BACK to $240.
Howard Jarvis with the passage of Proposition 13 declared ” I have left the governments of California with enough money to either serve the people or themselves, but not enough for both. We shall see if they be honorable men or not.” I don’t know if Howard Jarvis knew how that would work out, but in very short order the answer was clear. The Governments of California went on a rampage of service cutting and fee impositions. Every service that ever had been free was now fee based, ranging from a extra levy (Now six separate ones) imposed on paying your parking tickets, to Junior College tuition, to developer per unit fees of $20,000-50,000 per unit of new housing and break outs attached to your property tax bill of various special districts that were once included in the general levy. These were not honorable men and women. They would not be constrained by the peasants known as taxpayers.