November 8, 2016 was a devastating, demoralizing day for many of us. We learned that many white Americans are either supportive of or indifferent to racist, mysogynist, homophobic rhetoric and actions. We also learned that the GOP's ongoing efforts to destroy voting protections across the majority of states has successfully enshrined that party's power, even as, despite all that, the GOP *still* lost the national popular votes for President, the US Senate, and the House.
For those of us in California, we also learned something else. Here, we voted 2-to-1 for Clinton over her opponent, handing her a 4 million-plus vote margin of victory; our US Senate race came down to two Democrats; we legalized recreational marijuana; we gave overwhelming approval to taxes for progressive causes; and we provided Democrats with a two-thirds super majority in both state legislative chambers to go along with the all-Democratic statewide elected offices. Here, even in notoriously-GOP Orange County, Clinton won the majority of the vote.
For many people across the country, California is going to be the proverbial "shining city upon the hill." We have already been that for many years now for a large portion of the nation's economic engine, most recently in tech, but now we'll have even more attention shed on us, as millions of our progressively-minded brethren, particularly those in the deepest red of states, look to us and see opportunity and, frankly, refuge.
In other words, California could be poised to grow even faster as the nation lurches beyond this destructive election and numerous states regress even further, leaving more and more of their residents in the impossible position of having to choose between their homes and their livelihoods.
California could be that welcoming place for many of our nation's future political refugees. However, if we are to do so, we have two enormous challenges that we must confront, with as much clarity and vision as possible. Those challenges are, in no particular order:
- Housing, and
- The Environment
This is not sustainable, and it is the result of California's booming economy coupled with its citizenry's continued (and generally successful) aversion to the construction of new housing. Add in future new pressures from political refugees (even if we're only talking a few more tens of thousands of people a year out of the nation's 300 million residents), and we are beyond the point of crisis.
If California chooses to continue to resist the construction of new residences, particularly in our most urban settings where it makes the most sense, we are going to see the price pressures push up so high that whole industries will simply go elsewhere. New opportunities for economic development that we haven't even had a chance to yet realize will end up in other places; places that may be less accepting and accommodating of people from diverse walks of life and backgrounds. All the values that we hold near and dear, many of which we have led the nation on, will be much harder to find (let alone export to) other corners of the country these next many years. As a result, California will be relatively diminished in its ability to affect positive change beyond its borders, and fewer people both in our state and outside of it will benefit from the progressive values that we bring to bear.
All the talk of the need for higher wages in California is a direct corollary to the need for more housing. People need better-paying jobs to be able to afford keeping a roof over their heads. And providing housing directly impacts our ability to welcome more people into our state's progressive vision and to establish industry standards for that vision that raise the bar everywhere. This means we need to provide housing in places that want it and in places that don't. It also means that we can't just leave new housing construction to the whims of a locally-engaged citizenry whose concerns do not extend beyond their localized boundaries.
California is in the midst of an historic drought. We are also a coastal state, which puts us at inordinate risk as seas inch upward and our ports and major cities have to adapt to a new climatological (and geographic) regime. All of these things require radical change for how we do business. None of them mean that California is unable to accommodate more people or to continue to lead the nation's economy or its progressive movement. California is an innovator, and climate change (felt acutely at this time in the drought) demands innovation.
In order to meet this challenge, California must both continue to address the sources of climate change as well as begin to address its adaptability to the already-changing climate.
In the first category, this means we need to address our reliance on fossil fuels with new land use patterns, rapid reduction of auto-dependence, and quick development of green energy sources. We also need to continue to reduce our per-capita water usage through radical approaches like eliminating water-dependent, non-native landscaping (i.e. lawns) and recycling and reusing water as much as possible, rather than our continued drawdown of dwindling new water supplies. This also includes creation of new housing that is inherently more eco-friendly, with apartments and condos and small-lot homes replacing city single-family residential uses, particularly along our walkable, bikeable, transit corridors.
In the second category, this means we need to prepare for the migration of tens of thousands of people from low-lying communities to higher ground. To the degree possible, we need to shore up our ports and our infrastructure to guard against seawater intrusion. We also need to create additional layers of redundancy in our water and energy supplies to guard against rising temperatures and massive year-to-year swings in precipitation that will be the new norm rather than the exception.
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I am hopeful about all of these things. This election has been a wake-up call for many people who felt, in some way, that things were mostly "ok." Particularly in California, it's a vivid reminder both of our differences with the rest of the nation and also of why so many people continue to seek opportunity and refuge in our cities. It's also a stark reminder about how far from "ok" we still very much are.
If California is to embrace this challenge and accept our place under this new national regime, then we must open our arms as widely as we can to new people and we must tackle our environmental challenges as forthrightly as we can. We have already shown that, at least in addressing the latter of these two challenges, we can do this in a way that continues to grow our economy. With that lesson learned, it's time for us to accept our responsibility to our current and future residents and to the rest of the country, and it's time for us to lead by example.