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Newsom Won the Recall Vote, but California's Problems Remain

Steve Chapman on

Having won a smashing victory in his recall battle, California Gov. Gavin Newsom can bask in his rout of the Republicans who dreamed of unseating him. But he may also remember W.C. Fields' joke about a contest whose first prize was a week in Philadelphia. Second prize? Two weeks.

Newsom raised some $83 million for this referendum -- taking liberal advantage of state rules on contributions for a recall campaign and spending with abandon. By comparison, he raised $50 million in his multiyear campaign for governor and saw no need to spend $15 million of that.

For his latest outlays, he will have the privilege of enduring the next 16 months presiding over a state whose problems loom larger than the Sierra Nevada. Increasingly, the Golden State appears to be composed of pyrite -- better known as fool's gold.

Some of its immense challenges are not the fault of those currently in office. Always prone to drought, California is suffering through the third-driest year since record-keeping began more than a century ago. In 88% of its land area, the drought is classified as "extreme."

This summer has been the hottest ever, featuring a July heat wave that pushed the temperature in Death Valley to 130 degrees Fahrenheit -- the highest reading ever recorded on this planet. Last year was the state's worst ever for wildfires, torching 4.2 million acres, and 2021 is keeping pace with it.

Nature plays a big role in all this, though it has gotten a generous assist from carbon emissions. If things weren't bad enough, climate change is guaranteed to fuel drought, heat and forest combustion.

 

But other crises are entirely the product of human decisions. Housing prices have soared, largely because of governmental regulations that prevent new construction.

In San Francisco, the typical home now sells for $1.26 million, making it the priciest real estate market in America. In Los Angeles County, the typical single-family house goes for $820,000 -- up from $377,000 a decade ago.

Some residents spare themselves these high housing prices by going without shelter. The state now has enough homeless people (161,000) to make up a good-sized city, and many urban sidewalks feature obstacle courses of human feces.

It was not always thus. "In the 1970s, there was an adequate supply of affordable units for every low-income household that needed one -- and we really didn't have homelessness," Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, told NPR.

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