Less Glitters In The Golden State

Susan Page
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Wednesday - February 02, 2011
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This was a trip I didn’t want to take.

California’s image hasn’t been so spectacular as of late because of the state’s serious financial emergency, so I imagined a depressing scene, sort of like the dust bowl of the 1930s with gaunt faces in sepia tones.

Also, Southern California and I have history, a bit of a love/hate thing.

Anyway, I went, and it turned out that, despite misgivings, husband Jerry and I had a wonderful five business/pleasure days in Southern California. Among other things, we visited the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, enjoyed dining in Venice Beach, revisiting some of my old haunts from an early ‘90s business venture, drove south to La Jolla and then on down to see family in Coronado and go aboard the USS Dewey, where Jerry gave an inspiring talk to the sailors.

I was reminded again and again that problems we see in the news are rarely visible to the visitor unless they read the newspaper or listen to the radio. In hotels and on freeways, evidence of a failing economy didn’t surface - and, believe me, I was looking for it.

The I-5 freeway south teemed with fine, late-model cars, their drivers apparently unfazed by the high price of fuel. On a Tuesday night, a pricey restaurant our client treated us to was packed. Malls seemed busy, and the Hilton Hotel and Resort in La Jolla, where the Farmer’s Open PGA Golf Tournament was just starting, was sold out of rooms for the week.

I know these are misleading indicators.

Off the freeways and beachside resorts, the truth is that California, with the world’s eighth largest economy, is now saddled with a $24.5 billion deficit.

The Golden State is now the municipal bond market’s biggest debt issuer and holds Moody’s Investors Service’s lowest state credit rating (alongside Illinois).

Unemployment is in the double digits.

My sister-in-law Cherrie, who works for the California State Welfare Department, joined us for a couple of days of needed R&R, and she affirms the dire straits lurking behind the shimmery curtain. Her workload has become overwhelming. It’s different than the chronic welfare recipients she usually sees. A new breed has emerged: People who have had good jobs, good credit and low debt are suddenly jobless and homeless.

Personally, it makes me sad that, because of bad fiscal practices, California has slipped and may never climb out of its dumps.

You’d have to picture where I grew up to appreciate what California meant to me as a girl in the early 1960s. West Texas was brown - both the land and water. California was bright blues and greens, a promised land for color-starved ranch-town teens like me - a mecca. To escape, I went to every shallow beach movie. Gidget starring my idol Sandra Dee, and nicknamed surfers cavorting at Malibu beach inspired me. I spent a lot of time California dreamin’.

Years later, an adult, I was lured to California by business opportunity, not bikinis and beaches. Operating a number of retail stores in malls with employees in the hundreds, I was exposed to a different California, one in which over years of legislative irresponsibility, has created law that encourages people to “work the system” rather than work (and I’m not talking about those coming over the border, most of who seek jobs not handouts).

California is still a desirable place to visit and live because of its natural beauty, great weather and recreational opportunities, but a day may come when - like our business partners learned back in the recession of the early ‘90s - the price of beauty is too high to pay.

We in Hawaii have to hope that California, one of our Pacific partners in tourism, makes a comeback.

Meanwhile, with our own deficit looming, we need to learn from their mistakes. I hope they’re paying attention at the state Capitol.

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