Redding Record Searchlight
May 20, 2011
It's no secret that Californians are starkly divided — socially, economically, philosophically — to the point where, when our political leaders debate, they hardly seem to be talking about the same state.
Well, maybe that's because, in an important sense, we live in different states.
No, the state of Jefferson hasn't seceded and the California Highway Patrol still has jurisdiction from Oregon to Mexico.
But a newly released "Human Development Report" by the United Ways of California — measuring residents' education, incomes and access to health care — reveals stark gaps from region to region.
It's not just that Marin County is rich and Merced is poor. It's much more dramatic.
In fact, if the San Francisco Bay area were its own state, the report found, it would have the highest "Human Development Index" of any state, easily topping prosperous Connecticut.
Meanwhile, if the San Joaquin Valley — Stockton to Bakersfield — were its own state, the report says, it would be tied with West Virginia as the worst off.
Rural Northern California including Shasta County, meanwhile, fares a little better. As a state, we'd fall between Kentucky and Tennessee, 45th in the country.
The bottom line is that some of the wealthiest and poorest parts of America are literally within commuting distance of each other.
This regional economic gap opens a window onto the state's gridlocked politics, especially when it comes to the perennial arguments over jobs and environmental regulations.
North state residents complain a lot about crackpot environmentalists — usually from the Bay Area — with their job-killing laws, and our industries, especially timber, have indeed carried a huge share of the burden of environmental rules. From the perspective of someone living in Silicon Valley, though, things are working out nicely indeed, even with the recession.
And that helps explain why most people in our region see laws like the greenhouse-gas-fighting Global Warming Solutions Act and can only think, "Here we go again," while other Californians — indeed, the majority, to judge by election results — see a challenge they're eager to meet and even the bright prospect of "cleantech" jobs.
For conservatives in the north state who just can't fathom why California politicians make the decisions they do, it might at least help to realize that, for many of their constituents, the seemingly broken system with its overbearing bureaucracy is in fact working.
We just wish those people would realize what it's doing to the rest of California — and find some middle ground.
Read United Ways of California President & CEO Pete Manzo's response to this editorial.