How To Kill A Golden State

The phenomenon is a more commonplace disaster in California than earthquakes, firestorms, or workplace shootings. Everyday, developers ply their despicable trade, turning our once picturesque state into a nightmare of prefab and ticky tackya trade that we, ourselves insanely wasteful and indulgent consumers, support wholeheartedly.

Where once newly arrived residents sent postcards back east of snowy peaks, orange groves and the stately victorian, now the joke is of endless rows of identical pre-fab tudors, ranches and neo-mediterraneans. Shoddily constructed, these new structuresthe tilt-up mega-complexes, the stucco minimalls, faceless office complexes and soul-stealing residential tractswill certainly not have the lasting power of important California edifices (one almost chuckles as one developers overpriced development slides down the hill as another fortune-seeker undermines the hill to make more room for his own luxury homes) like the Gamble house, Angelus Temple, Balboa Park and San Francisco proper.

It is the selling of space in California that has become its real gold rush. Gaze along our north/south highways at the rolling hills of grass and oaks. Now see them fall behind the blade of a bulldozer as thousands of acres are plowed under so we have more submarine sandwich options, more corporate-owned megastores stores and more fashion outlets peddling leftover knickknacks and
accessories.
Although William Bronson penned How To Kill A Golden State nearly thirty years ago, his ominous predictions and dark visions still hover ominously above us. Many have come true. The beautiful California of our past has become the ugly one of his predictions.

Ugliness, writes Bronson, like heat and noise, works a great hardship on man, and the tensions that rise in a hostile environment produce an incalculable loss manifested in in mental illness, alcoholism, divorce, malingering, juvenile delinquency, and the like.

Not to mention its just plain unpleasant to see quiet, tree-lined streets transformed into condominium-walled canyons, our grass-blanketed inland hills and valleys succumb to salmon-colored housing tracts (Curt Gentry wrote in his own doomsday epic, The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California, If Southern California had a symbol, it was the bulldozer.).

The ruination of California is the result of population impact on limited resources of land, air, and water in the absence of adequate public policy, planning and controls, wrote Bronson in 1968. True, and its lessons are still not heeded. If in 1999, the Newhall Ranch Company can get the go-ahead to smother the Santa Clara River valley with a development the size of Irvine with just a few well-placed donations to our elected Los Angeles council members, than what chance do we have? We are in, Bronson claimed, the Age of Paid Liars

If at the time of How To Kill A Golden States issuance California as a whole was losing its innocence, then thirty years on it is its southern countiesLos Angeles, Riverside and Orangewith a combined population of 15 millionthat have sustained irreperable damage.

In the years between 1980 and 1990, the population of Riverside county grew by nearly 80%the fastest-growing county in the state. Over one and a half million people now reside within its 7,000-plus square miles of, what its boosters claim are, fertile river valleys, low deserts, mountains, foothills and rolling plains. If youve driven through Riverside county you will see the the people do not live in fertile valleys or grassy plains, they reside in sequestered stucco communities with colorful Hispano-mediterranean names and common walls. Scraped out of hillsides by earth-moving equipment and violently landscaped, the planners of these villas and townhomes have not only ignored their natural surroundings, they have assaulted them.

Puny Orange County, at only 798 square miles, manages to cram more than 2.5 million people between its borders. Its secret? When older communities like Anaheim and Santa Ana become too dense with immigrants, the well-to-do head south into the canyons to new master-planned cities like Lake Forest and Aliso Viejo. Giant stairsteps sliced into the coastal mountainat the current rate of four acres a daywill provide more than ample foundation for the masses to come. According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, a mere 62% of the county has been developed. Theres plenty left

Bronson conveniently separates Mans modern follies into two distinct sections, Pollution and Destruction, the former encompassing noise, smog and advertising, the latter everything from logging our states last remaining redwoods to polluted harbors and the paving over of our farmlands. With chapters detailing billboard eyesores (Hard Sell in the Sky) and Northern Californias skyscraping joy center (Tahoe Tomorrow), How To Kill A Golden State is a self-described moral tract, fearless and unyielding, certain of its purpose.

And to what purpose? Hopes of halting, or at least recognizing, the damage that has been done to our environment. Look at the pictures that accompany the scathing texthills stripped of their ancient forests, smoke belching from automobiles on sterile freeways that bisect hideous, cookiecutter neighborhoods. Sure these are worst case scenarios, but they are the reality of an ever-growing and burgeoning menace. We as indiscriminate consumers are at fault, as are those among us whose only drive is greed, the satisfaction of a fat pocketbook outweighing the reassurance of a clean conscience and a bright tomorrow.

As long as we depend upon the developers, the real-estate hustlers, the bankers and the savings-and-loan folks to guide our development, we will see more of the same sad monotony and Disney-inspired sham that marks too much of our urban landscape. Bronson, like more of us should, in these self-absorbed times where a quick internet server is of higher consequence than unsellable commodities like compassion and natural beauty, questions our modern societys need for what he calls an ever-higher standard of living, extracted roughly from our fair lands at the price of clean air, sweet water, songbirds, uncluttered skylines, shaded streets, unspoiled landscape, and indeed our very health.

So which California do its inhabitants see? The beautiful Golden State of myth, or the overburdened reality? Curious, I asked a neighbor if she thought her state was the beautiful or the ugly.

There are palm trees everywhere, she gushed, You cant help but to see them silhouetted against a sunset

But for the powerlines, I said.

Theyre moving them underground, she retorted. And they are, Upper eschalon-communities statewide are busy putting their tax dollars to work burying their unsightly cables in order to preserve some beauty, not to mention property values.

The air is so bad, I cant see the mountains, said a friend as we sped down the 110 freeway.

But they say the air quality has improved. I recalled an article I had read recently. Remember the smog alerts in the 70s, when we werent allowed to go outside for recess and a thick orange cloud hung above the ocean all day?

I would not raise a family here, he declared rather matter-of-factly, stroking his upper lip.

Where then? I asked, Have you seen the traffic in the Gold Country? The wineries stripping the hills of the central coast? The skyrocketing rents of San Francisco?

There is somewhere better.

And so Bronsons warnings go unheeded as How To Kill A Golden States predictions come true before our eyes. A recent study showed that outlying suburbs are growing at four times the rate of their inner city counterparts. The compulsion to move on to something better, to one more promise of the good life, stirs in the Californians breast, wrote Bronson from Berkeley in 1968, and here in California in 1999, they are still moving out to where theres plenty of room.