By Joe Badalamenti
When one thinks of California, they will most likely picture several specific things. Perhaps they will think of Hollywood, inhabited by many wealthy actors, or maybe they’ll think of Silicon Valley, and the prosperity achieved by innovation of digital technology. However, this is a very general view which ignores many important details, such as the decay of cities through issues such as the housing and homelessness crisis. While these problems do exist elsewhere, they cause daily issues in California cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
So, what exactly is happening in California? Well, one of the biggest problems is homelessness, primarily in the cities. According to a 2018 Forbes report, California contains three of the five cities with the highest homeless population, with about 7000 in San Francisco and almost 50000 in LA. This is important because a large homeless population can produce many negative effects, primarily poor sanitary conditions and makeshift housing within the city. For example, tents and used needles are a common sight within the city of San Francisco. These conditions have led to the spread of harmful diseases such as Bubonic plague. Additionally, these conditions have effects on the mental states of the people living there. While homelessness may be one of the biggest issues in California there are other issues, such as wildfires, that combine to produce a crisis. While these problems are very severe, this doesn’t mean that these problems are unsolvable.
So, what is the reason for all these problems? It is a complex issue with a number of causes, they can primarily be traced back to the actions of the California state government. Let’s take the housing situation for instance. In the cities of California, the government has imposed many regulations against industries such as construction. These regulations include licencing or permit requirements in order to begin construction as well as numerous fees that increase the cost of these projects. Additionally, these projects must wait long periods of time for approval by the city. These regulations have resulted in the decrease of new construction projects including apartment buildings within cities such as San Francisco. As a result, the supply of housing units has remained artificially low despite the high market demand, resulting in abnormally high prices for simple apartments within these cities. Because apartment space is so limited, many have resorted to renting what are called “pods.” These pods are communal shelters that provide beds and utilities, but not much else. The issue here is that people are paying large percentages of their income in rent in order to live in places that can barely meet one’s needs. Another cause of this homelessness is mental illness and drug abuse. While these cities do provide an abundance of resources to help these people, these policies have been ineffective at lowering the number of homeless people in these cities. The city of San Francisco offers food insurance and even financial assistance to anyone in need, but despite these generous benefits, the number of homeless in San Francisco keeps increasing. In fact, some “solutions,” such as the handout of free needles, actually worsen these problems. Moreover, police are unable to do anything to prevent this dangerous lifestyle and can only help in drastic situations. Furthermore, the high taxes required to support these programs further raise the cost of living for the citizens. Despite the high costs and bad conditions, California continues to pass and enforce economic regulations. Recently a regulation was passed that restricts jobs in the gig economy. As a result, many jobs that people have relied on in areas such as trucking and journalism have been lost. Another result of these regulations is emigration from the state of California. In fact, this outward migration is so massive that California is predicted to lose an electoral district in the electoral college.
So, what solutions exist to solve these problems? Well there are two solutions which can reverse the damage caused by these problems. The first is to repeal many of these regulations and let the market solve the demand for resources. Removing regulations will lead to an increase in construction projects in order to satisfy the housing demand. An increase in the supply of housing will result in lower prices for housing units, and therefore reduce homelessness and improve quality of life. The main obstacle is the overwhelming Democratic majority within the state government of California. In both houses of the state legislature, Democrats have a two-thirds majority in seats. With supermajorities such as these, one party can pass whatever bills it desires without consulting opposing assemblymen so long as they maintain their majority. Additionally, this issue has been exacerbated by political polarization and the spread of socialist and authoritarian ideas within the Democratic Party. If this trend of migration continues and the populations of these cities decrease then perhaps this supermajority may narrow out.
The second solution involves using the local community in order to ease the effects of these problems. Traditionally, local communities within society such as churches, temples, charities, and clubs have come together in order to provide relief in the form of homeless shelters, food pantries, and more. These organizations are usually successful at causing positive change and improving conditions. Additionally, these organizations are represented by individuals who are better than connecting with people than government agencies. In this situation these communities would volunteer to pick up trash as well as finding and providing the necessary tools for the homeless to get help. Hopefully these communities could come together in order to improve their cities. Until then, California looks to be stuck in crisis.